Thursday, July 31, 2008

Day 50, Just another day on the bike

Day 50, Baker City, OR – Mount Vernon, OR 95 miles (3753 total)

July 30, 2008

Time on bike: 8:43:03

Avg: 10.8

Daily Ascent: 4347 ft (46 ft/mi)

Elevation at days end: 2900 ft

Max: 39.5 mph

I took the day off yesterday to get rested up. I spent my day off exploring Baker City and photographing the town as well as uploading pictures. I also visited the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. The Oregon Trail began in 1843 and it took emigrants as long as 6 months to get from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon. There are still wagon ruts visible near the Center.

From Baker City today there’s a 60 mile stretch without any towns, restaurants or convenience stores, with the exception of McEwen Country Store. I opted for a 3 mile detour off the route to Sumpter for a bite of lunch about 30 miles into my ride. Lunch included a salmon sandwich and a waitress who refused to let my Coke get beyond ½ empty.

After lunch I had 3 passes to climb in a 30 mile stretch. Each mile went up 1,000 feet from the valley below: Sumpter Pass, Tipton Pass and Dixie Pass. From Baker City the land was still arid and dry, covered with sagebrush, but about 15 miles past the rolling hills became covered with pine trees making it a pleasant ride. It’s amazing what adding one accessory can do to improve the whole landscape wardrobe. My ride continued through pine tree lined route 7. I did stop at McEwen’s Country Store, or at least trying to. From a ways off I could see the Coca-cola sign hanging up, but I couldn’t see the store. Only a church. Behind the church, where the sign was hanging was a house. I recognized the barn from my guidebook so I was sure this was the place where the store once was. The old barn was covered with a myriad of antlers and old rusty tools, and I mean covered! A boy of maybe 7 saw me pushing my bike up the hill and shouted inside, “Grandma, someone’s comin’.” “Is the store open?” I asked. “Grandma, is the store open? …Nope, not today, but you can get some water if you need it.” I talked to the boy for a while. His name was Lucas and he was visiting for the summer now that summer school was out. He’d never heard of Virginia, where I’d started, but he’d heard of Florida. He told me the names of the 3 dogs who were very interested in smelling me and all my stuff. Eventually “Grandma” came out. She was very friendly and I showed her the picture of her barn in my guide book. She’d never seen the picture before. It was taken 12 years ago and the barn had a new metal roof put on since then. Before it had a wooden roof. She’d been out weeding around the barn yesterday. She called her husband over to have a look at the book who had just come out of the garage. We talked about biking and about other bikers who had come through. They said they were almost all friendly except for a few. The store they opened on occasion but there just wasn’t much business. “Grandpa” talked about the friendliness of people he’d met when he’d ridden his Harley to Sturgis. He looked like a Harley rider, for sure! I wanted a picture of him just for the heck of it but was semi-afraid to ask. He actually used the word ‘bitchin’ at one point. A true Harley rider. They were both super friendly though and I could have stayed and talked to them all morning, but I had riding to do.

The road I was on was being redone with tar and gravel, so it made riding difficult. If I rode in the road it wasn’t much different than a gravel road, but the narrow shoulder where they hadn’t worked wasn’t bad.

I’m noticing veins in my legs where I didn’t even know veins were supposed to exist!

Riding today through the pine forest smelled like a Hallmark store around Christmas time.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Day 48, From Halfway to a half day

Day 48, Half.com, OR (Halfway, OR) – Baker City, OR 60 miles (3658 total)

July 28, 2008

Time on bike: 6:28:50

Avg: 9.3

Daily Ascent: 3082 ft (51 ft/mi)

Elevation at days end: 3500 ft

Max: 42 mph

From Halfway to a half day. Boy! Last night! What a night! I camped out in the city park at the waitresses suggestion. It was quaint. Only a playground next to a Lions Club picnic shelter. I set up the tent and crawled in. Shortly thereafter I heard a dog sniffing around and growling. It was a growl as if to say, “There’s someone here, I can smell him! Someone in MY park!” He was close and I knew that all that separated me and whatever kind of dog this was, was the thin canvas of the tent. I waited in silence for something to happen. Preferrably for the dog to move on. A few more low growls and he eventually did. That was followed by a “Hup! Hup” and a “clip-a-tee-clop, clip-a-tee-clop” as a girl on a horse meandered by the park… “Weird,” I thought. So I fell asleep. The dog came back and growled at my invisible self some more before deciding to move on for the night.

Then at around 1:30 am an ENORMOUS rain storm hit all of a sudden! No sprinkles or anything, just a pelting on my tent! I sat straight up in bed ready to hold my poor tent up if necessary, but the rain was funny. It was just on the back half of my tent and I thought in that moment that it must be a very slow moving storm system…

Then it stopped. As quickly as it started. But there was a sound left behind. The sound of water hitting the tree behind me… It wasn’t a storm! The sprinklers in the park had come on!!! I debated whether to try to just go back to sleep, but the idea of pounding ‘rain’ hitting my tent every 5 minutes wasn’t something I figured I could sleep through, so I got out and in-between showers I uprooted the stakes and moved my tent, though it wasn’t far enough. I had to do it a second time before it was just right. Ah the adventures continue!

This morning I biked 12 miles to the next town, 8 of which was up a steep incline. There I found wireless internet and a friendly waitress. I was also noticing for the first time some chaffing which I hadn’t had this whole trip. If you’re unfamiliar with the word ‘chaffing’, let me just say it’s where skin rubs together and creates a rash. I found some petroleum jelly in town and applied and continued. The next 45 miles were generally up-hill and through the dessert, sagebrush area. The chaffing, unfortunately, worsened.

Somewhere in the midst of the climbing, sun, sagebrush, and heat I decided that I was going to take a half day and stop in Baker City and then maybe even take the next day off entirely to heal up. No sense cycling in pain! I stopped at Baker City Café for a sandwich and was very warmly greeted and served by the gals working there. I had 3 servers in a sense. The first one took my drink order, the second my food order and the 3rd got my refills. I lingered to do some computer work and before I knew it they were mopping the floor. Apparently they had closed at 3pm and it was now 3:30 and there I was working away.

I apologized for my delinquency and got to talking to Brandi, the owner of the café. She was super sweet and we chatted about the café and the town. I was asking if there was a campsite around or at least a place to get a shower and she jumped on the phone and began to make some calls. Before I knew it she had me set up at the YMCA for a shower for $6 which she insisted on paying for! She said that she wanted to leave a good impression on “small town people” as she said it. She also told me to get in touch with Bev, a local bicycle enthusiast who owned an organic market just down the street next to the Y.

I enjoyed my 1st shower in a week, sorry to say, (I had sponge bathed between times) and then sought out a place to put up my tent for the night. Upon meeting Bev I could tell that she was an enthusiastic soul, enthusiastic about life in general and possessing a special passion for cyclists. She immediately began talking about bike racing and a race that was put on in Baker City for cyclists that was done in 3 stages (3 days) and how she wanted to compete in it sometime before she turned 50, “I’m gonna hit 48 soon, so I’d better do it straight away!” She even had a wall of fame with magazine clippings of cyclists up on the wall in her market! I grabbed an apple and a vanilla cream soda. “Those apples are a bit tart, but they are organic. I’m just warning you. They’re great in apple pies!” I then asked if she knew of a place I could camp and she merrily offered her back yard for me to camp in, so here I am, sitting on an Adirondack chair in her back yard just feet away from a bustling stream flowing into downtown.

I’d hate to take a day off tomorrow. I haven’t done so during the entire trip. But if I have to then Baker City, OR looks to be a great little “small town” to have a day off in.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Day 47, Half.com, Oregon

Day 47, New Meadows, ID Half.com, OR (Halfway, OR) 105 miles (3598 total)

July 27, 2008

Time on bike: 9:43:17

Avg: 10.7

Daily Ascent: 4213 ft (40 ft/mi)

Elevation at days end: 2600 ft

Max: 41 mph

No, seriously. The town’s name where I’m staying tonight is “Half.com”. They changed the name of the town a few years ago from Halfway to Half.com. They are the only .com city in the world. But nobody calls it that. And the local’s “hate” the name, or so my waitress tells me. “Tourists come in and say, ‘so, this is Half.com, eh?’ but that’s about it. I don’t know who decided to change the name to Half.com. That was so long ago. Like 2001 or something.”

Another day on the bike. Another day, another state! The 10th state I’ve reached on my trip and most importantly the last state! Go on, say it. “The final frontier!” I’m cranking out the 100 mile days now because I want to get to the ocean so badly! Not that I want the trip to end, because it has been fantasticly superb, but I want to accomplish it. To put it in the books. I want to say, “I rode a bicycle clear across America one summer!” How cool does that sound?

Right as I crossed the state line I saw Chuck and Leah who were touring on bikes on their way to Maine. Chuck was Leah’s uncle and he was super curious about my recumbent, asking an assortment of questions. I told him that it rode great, was a little tough up hills, but otherwise I had no problems with it and would tour with it again if given the opportunity.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Day 46, DON'T TRUS THE LOCALS!

Day 46, Kooskia, ID – New Meadows, ID 108 miles (3493 total)

July 26, 2008

Time on bike: 10:56:31

Avg: 9.9

Daily Ascent: 5700 ft (53 ft/mi)

Elevation at days end: 3800 ft

Max: 48 mph

I wanted to do it. I thought about it all the rest of the day and it haunted me. It would have made for a fantastic story, really. Why I didn’t, I really don’t know. I had just eaten a FULL plate of sausage gravy and biscuit and as I was heading out of Kooskia I noticed people pining numbers on and stretching for a run. Looks like “Kooskia Days” involved a 5k run. I rationalized that I didn’t have my running shoes and thus I couldn’t run, but I desperately wanted to! I haven’t ‘run’ in over 2 months and I would love to know how well I can run after biking 8 hours a day for the past 45 days. I decided that I should have asked to borrow somebody’s extra shoes or even run barefoot. I’ve done it before. How cool would that have been to have run a 5k and even placed in a reasonable time and to have done it barefoot.

The landscape from Kooskia was barren and dry and rolling. It reminded me of a desert in not only the shape and color but also the heat. I was now around 1,200 feet in elevation, quite different from just a couple of days ago when I was over 6,000 feet high. My ride after lunch began an incline that would generally last the rest of the day. I began to follow the Salmon River upstream. The color of the water made me wonder if Nestle Quick chocolate milk had a factory upstream. It was chocolaty and thick in appearance. I listened to the water as I slowly passed beside it. I really saw a number of different things from it as well: bubbling, swirling, waving, foaming, rushing, babbling. Eventually I began to see rafters on the river enjoying the rapids. That gave way to more rafters. It was, after all, a Saturday afternoon and people seemed to be enjoying both the lazy parts and the swift parts of the river. I passed one pull-off where a man yelled at me, “Want some cold water?” and held up a bottle. “I’ve got beer too if you want some.” “I’d better stick with water, at least until I’m done riding for the day,” I replied. He asked me where I started from and I told him Yorktown, Virginia. “Hey kids! Come here and hear this!” and then the rest of them, family and friends, gathered around. “Tell them where you started from!” So I told them where I started and how long it had taken me to get there. They also gave me some berries they had been picking along the roadside. We talked for a while more about the bike and the trip and then I thanked them for the water and set off for the next town.

Along the way I heard a motor running across the river and I could see a generator or a pump just sitting there. I followed the line from it and then saw a man hosing off a blackened area of the hillside. Surround him were a number of other black areas, some smoldering and some still ablaze. Up the river I saw at least a half a dozen firemen fighting these brush fires. Some had the pumps and hoses and others had an ax and were fighting the fires with dirt.

Riggins was clearly a recreation town with rafting companies and RV parks set up all over town. Rafting trailers and buses buzzed around town. I stopped in at a gas station as 3 shirtless guys all walked out. Apparently they quit trying with the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” rules. That or they realized that they’d lose business if they did. I fueled up on Gatorade and Fig Newtons and asked how far the next town was. By this time it was 5:30pm. They said it was only about 35 miles away. “Isn’t it up a steep incline?” I asked. “No. It’s very gradual,” both the clerk and the firewoman behind me assured me. “You can make it by tonight.” From this I learned a VERY important lesson. DON’T TRUST NON BIKERS ABOUT THE TERRAIN! What should have been a 2 hour journey turned into a 4 hour journey and ended at 9:30pm as darkness was settling in. All along the way I was looking around for a place where I could stealth camp, but I was in a canyon with a river stream running beside me and pine forest land around me. I could scarcely find a flat piece of land and I was quite sure there may be grizzlies in these woods. Finally the “slight incline” did end and I found flat land. It’s one thing to be in a car and only have to push the gas pedal down another ½ inch to get up a hill and to be on a bicycle where your average drops from 13mph to 7mph on a ½ degree incline. Those hills really make a difference on a bike! DON’T TRUST THE LOCALS!!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Day 45, Like biking through a calendar photo

Day 45, Lolo, MT – Kooskia, ID 136 miles (3385 total)

July 25, 2008

Time on bike: 10:39:23

Avg: 12.8

Daily Ascent: 2349 ft (17 ft/mi)

Elevation at days end: 1400 ft

Max: 41 mph

Like I was cycling through a calendar. Last night I met Jim. A 70 year old cyclist from London (originally from Scotland) who was cycling across America going west to east. We shared a campsite outside of Lolo. It was more of an empty lot across from trailer homes, but we were able to get hot showers. He was doing about 60 miles a day and had taken the day off of cycling. He said that when he reached Missouri that his wife was going to fly over for 10 days and he would take that time off of cycling to drive around a bit. I told him I thought that he should throw his gear in the car and have her drive a support vehicle. In classic Scottish response, he said, “Well now, that wouldn’t be much of a vacation for her now, would it?” Jim and I shared an interest in running also and we talked late into the evening about marathons and triathlons.

I had breakfast #1 from McDonalds just before I set out. Breakfast #2 came 26 miles up the road at Lolo Hot Springs which was 8 miles from Lolo Pass (elevation 5,235 ft) which was also the Idaho/Montana state line. The climb up wasn’t terribly difficult or steep. The descent wasn’t steep either… just looooooonnnnngggg and gradual. Over the course of the next 100 miles I gradually descended nearly 4,000 feet and there was a 70 miles stretch without a house, gas station, restaurant, or any services whatsoever except an occasional rest area which only included an outhouse. It was highway 12 and it ran along the Lochsa River. From Lolo Pass down was just a scenic ride along a gradually widening mountain stream with old pine trees lining the mountains on each side. The road curved along the river for mile after mile after mile. The scenery never changed for the next 70+ miles but it was like I had cycled into a scenic calendar of the mountains. This isn’t what I thought Idaho was supposed to look like. Where are the potato fields, for crying out loud? Not that I’m complaining. The sun was shining and the fresh mountain water was glistening. I passed 3 cyclists peddling up the hill. Each one seemed to be cycling alone and each one had his headphones in when I passed. At one point I had to go and get into the water and splash around a bit. Man, was it cold! I saw a number of fly fishermen trying their luck.

It really was the same scenery all day. Gorgeous, but I was ready for civilization, which finally came at the end of the day. I entered the town of Lowell and the sign read “Population 24” with the 24 crossed out and 23 written in its place. I asked the clerk at the gas station what that meant and she replied, “I think it’s someone’s idea of a joke.” Since I crossed the state line into Idaho, I entered into Pacific time so I took advantage of the extra hour and added another 25 miles to my day for a total of 136. My 2nd highest total since I entered into Mountain time when I did 175. I like high mileage days but they take their toll.

So I’m now at a Chinese Restaurant in Kooskia which is on an Indian reservation. They are having “Kooskia Days” and the locals are doing burnouts on Main Street and creating a plume of white smoke. There are a few booths set up selling knives and whatnots, but mostly people are just hanging around on Main St.

Weather permitting, I should reach Astoria, OR in 8-9 days or so. It’s difficult to believe that the trip is coming to an end, but I still have all of Idaho and Oregon yet to go, so there’s still plenty to see and do yet.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Day 44, In a roundabout way

Day 44, Hamilton, MT – Lolo, MT* 70 miles (3249 total)

July 24, 2008

Time on bike: 6:17:59

Avg: 11.2

Daily Ascent: 1145 ft (16 ft/mi)

Elevation at days end: 3200 ft

Max: 29.5 mph

I forgot to mention the coolest part of yesterday. I had just finished up my Poweraid and Reece Cups and crossed a river when I noticed up a head a herd of wild… something-or-another. They looked like deer but they had horns like rams. There were 35 of them and they weren’t too afraid of me. I cycled up pretty close to them and watched them graze along the side of the road and cross as traffic stopped to watch. Some of the young ones were up on the rock-face and I was amazed at their ability to climb and then to scale down the side! It was just so serene to watch them and to feel like I was just part of the scenery and that they didn’t mind me being there. Especially being on a bike and not being separated from them by a windshield and being totally vulnerable, I felt like such a part of everything around me.

Early morning today at 5am and on the bike by 5:45. The goal was to put on some MAJOR MILES. Missoula was coming up and it’s about 60,000 in population, plus it’s a college town. Missoula is also quite the bicycle town! I can’t remember seeing so many bicycles. They were parked outside of almost all of the shops in town! There were a number of marked bicycle paths on the roads for the bikes as well. I saw another recumbent as I entered the town. It seemed funny to me that Missoula would be so into bikes, being that they have summer probably only about 2 months out of the year…

As I left Missoula my rear tire went flat. Upon checking it I found a 1” sheet metal screw lodged into my tire as if someone had drilled it in there! It chewed up my innertube to the point that patiching it wouldn’t suffice. So, I put on another tube which already had a hole, patched that one, and biked back into Missoula to the bike shop to buy 2 additional tubes which I should have done in the first place. While there I figured that I’d just go ahead and do some laundry and also wash my sleeping bag which hasn’t been washed in I don’t know how many YEARS!!

To top it all off I found out that Missoula isn’t even on the route but it’s 13 miles off the rounte at which point you have to turn around and bike 13 miles back. So, all’s told I only biked about 50 miles towards my final destination but 70 in total.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Day 43, One little rain cloud

Day 43, Jackson, MT – Hamilton, MT 93 miles (3169 total)

July 23, 2008

Time on bike: 6:53:12

Avg: 13.4

Daily Ascent: 1924 ft (21 ft/mi)

Elevation at days end: 3600 ft

Max: 49 mph

The morning was cool as I cycled out of Jackson, MT with snow covered mountains on my left across the flat valley. Irrigation is big in these parts as fields have sprinklers watering them. I passed some men in a field who were moving the pipes of the irrigation to another section of the field by hand. The mountains off to the distance were picturesque to say the least. The sun was shining and the sky was an early morning blue. Talk about feeling alive!

I had the house specialty for breakfast at Wisdom, MT, 2 pancakes, sausage and 2 eggs, served by a cute, friendly waitress. I’d heard that the girls in Montana are the cutest on the trip and that may yet prove to be the case, we’ll see. So far so good. While there I got to talking to a guy named Jeremy. Jeremy’s story is that he’s a ranch-hand who hitch-hikes around to make a living. He has a golden retriever named Rusty who goes with him. To find his next job he goes on a Montana state website and looks for ranch-hand jobs and then calls the number listed and asks for a job, then he hitch-hikes there. I let him ride my bike around to try it out while I held his dog.

I pulled over just outside of Wisdom, MT to the Big Hole National Battlefield. I saw 2 other pairs of west-bound cyclists. The first couple was in their late 40’s to early 50’s and the other couple was probably late 50’s. They were all on road bikes with panniers and no trailers. They had stayed in Wisdom the night before. The battlefield was where the Indian tribe Nez Perce was attacked by US troops. Nearly 100 men, women and children lost their lives and a museum of sorts is there in their memory and honor. After watching a film about the site I came to discover a flat tire. In trying to repair the tire I pinched the tube and had to put on 2 more patches, bringing the total up to 4 on that particular tire!

From the battlefield I had a mountain pass to climb. It was a gradual incline up to the base of the climb, but it was through beautiful pine forested area. The trees were lush and green and there were no pine-beetle infected trees that I could see, just healthy green trees. The climb eventually came to an end and I then found a fast, windy downhill and a new set of snow covered mountains to view off in the distance. I reached nearly 50mph on the downhill. Fast, yes, but that’s part of the excitement!

By now, after the flats and the hill, it was 4pm and I was ready for lunch, but the gas-station/restaurant only served breakfast! Go figure! So I opted for Reece Cups and a Poweraid and figured I’d get to the next town for lunch/supper. Once at the next town I figured I was only an hour away from the next town where I could bed down for the night after grabbing supper, so I opted for that. In the way to that next town (Hamilton) a tiny rain cloud that couldn’t have been bigger than 100 yards across settled right over me and dropped down big drops of rain. It was sunny and blue skies all around except for this one cloud which kept dousing me with rain. For 15 minutes it proceeded to soak me in what felt like a cartoon like situation. I couldn’t seem to shake it either! But I eventually dried out and reached my destination of Hamilton. So here I am finishing off my ribs ready to put another day to bed!

Day 42, Mpola mpola

Day 42, Twin Bridges, MT – Jackson, MT 76 miles (3076 total)

July 22, 2008

Time on bike: 8:48:09

Avg: 8.7

Daily Ascent: 3770 ft (50 ft/mi)

Elevation at days end: 6500 ft

Max: 38.5 mph

“Mpola mpola” (“slowly by slowly” in Uganda) Montana is nicknamed “Big Sky Country” and it is that indeed! The expanse of sky from mountaintop to mountaintop is breathtaking. I’ve seen a number of log-cabin barns and other small farm structures along the way. It’s become my visual identity of Montana thus far.

I decided to cycle 25 miles before breakfast, but uphills and headwinds prevented me from getting there until 11am. Breakfast was in Dillon, MT, population 3,752. After Dillon was a long, barren stretch up 2 mountain passes. First was Badger Pass, elevation 6,760 ft and then Big Hole Pass, elevation 7,360 ft. A lot of slow climbing today, and into headwinds, not that they make much difference when you’re peddling 4 mph. Before the 2nd climb the sky started to darken on me quickly and I could see that it was raining off to my left. Then it began to drizzle on me. I threw on my rain gear and explored my options. There was a ranch just up ahead, but the rain didn’t look to serious. I started to forge ahead when I saw a corrugated steel, cylindrical building which had sand inside. Must have been owned by the state or something. I decided to pull in there and wait to see what was to happen. Sure enough, bigger than life, it started to pour! Nasty wind and rain! It’s a good thing I stopped, too, because there wasn’t much up ahead after my little shelter I found out.

I finally made it into Jackson and found a hotel with some hot springs. After a day of climbing and rain I figured I needed a night in a warm bed!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Day 41, Day of Dowhnills (and one big, honkin' uphill)

Day 41, Junction of 287/87 – Twin Bridges, MT 82 miles (3000 total)

July 21, 2008

Time on bike: 6:06:14

Avg: 13.5

Daily Ascent: 2429 ft (30 ft/mi)

Elevation at days end: 4650 ft

Max: 50.0 mph

A day of downhill (and one big, honkin’ uphill) Flat tire!!?? Not a good way to start the day! I spent the morning putting a patch on my rear tire before I ever got started. From the looks of it I may have ran over a piece of glass. Fortunately this wasn’t an omen for the day to come.

I biked through a valley with mountains on both sides and a babbling mountain stream ((Madison River) on my left. Clearly this is the state where fly fishermen master their trade. The rivers and streams are typically filled with them. Downhill I cycled to the town of Ennis (Hey Ken! Remember Curtis P?).

After Ennis came “The Hill” as the natives refer to it. An 8 mile climb up a 7% grade. It took me 2 hours averaging 4 mph to reach the top. Actually I reached a pseudo top where the road seemed to go downhill and around a corner before going uphill again for another mile! I managed to ride the entire time even passing by the scenic overlook near the top to keep climbing. Its frustrating climbing hills at such a slow speed. Not frustrating, exactly, but more… “grrrrrrrr” as my friend Kate Reuther likes to say.

The 8 mile climb was followed by a 3 mile descent into Virginia City where I reached a top speed of 50 mph! Super fast! I was actually speeding at times when I entered the city and the speed limits read 45 and then 35. I was actually hoping to get a ticket! Wouldn’t that be a great story!

Virginia City is an old mining town. At one time it was the capital of the Montana Territory boasting some 10,000 residents but having no law enforcement whatsoever, except for vigilantism. The town was a literal Gold Rush when within weeks of Bill Fairweather discovering gold in May of 1863 the town sprang up. The entire town of Virginia City is listed as a National Historic Landmark and it’s the only town to have that distinction. Most of the buildings in the town are the original buildings and to top it off they have an array of theatrical performances that take place. I stopped in at “The Creamery” where I saw a 1 hour “hometown” musical which was written and directed by the same fellow. The cast of 4 performed admirably the plot which was set in 1865 where the town marshal had his Stetson Hat stolen, presumably by someone in the audience. Come to find out that it was the piano player who stole the hat, and the piano player was none other than Calamity Jane in disguise. (Calamity Jane actually did live in Virginia City for some time). After buying some fudge I looked at the map and saw that 30 miles down the road was Twin Bridges and then NOTHING ELSE for the next 26 miles so I set my sights. Downhill again all the way there. A front was creeping in and I raced it cycling with tailwinds through sprinkles to get to town before real rain hit. I’ll bet I averaged over 20 mph for the next 30 miles, no joke. In fact, if you take out my 8 mile, 2 hour climb up the hill, then my daily averages goes from 13.5 to 18.5 mph.

So I’ve reached Twin Bridges where it looks like I’ll be putting up my tent right outside of their high school football field.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day 40, Hello Montana!

Day 40, Grant Village, WY (Yellowstone Lake) – Junction of 287/87 88 miles (2918 total)

July 20, 2008

Time on bike: 7:20:18

Avg: 11.9

Daily Ascent: 2726 ft (31 ft/mi)

Elevation at days end: 6200 ft

Max: 39.5 mph

Hello Montana! It was a cool 20 miles to Old Faithful from my campsite. There must have been hundreds of RVs and campers at the site. It was, after all, a Saturday night. Apparently, 15 minutes before I arrived last night there was a grizzly bear around the campground. I guess I should have peddled faster to see it!

Old Faithful was erupting as I arrived, so I didn’t have to wait to see it. It was interesting but to be honest I thought it was a bit over hyped. A hole in the ground where water shoots up 30 ft. Eh, it was alright. Interesting. On the way to Old Faithful I crossed the Continental Divide 3 times! Biking up the Continental Divide 1 time is impressive enough, but 3 times! That’s just craziness. Three times within 10 miles at that! Absolute craziness!

Yellowstone was beautiful. Clearly the fire that swept through 20 years ago is still apparent. The land is covered with dead trees both standing and lying everywhere with young pines growing up all around. It certainly looks creepy. Like “The Nightmare Before Christmas” creepy. I did see some wildlife. A bald eagle, a buffalo and an elk. Mostly I saw groups of tourists with their cameras crowded along the sides of the roads trying to get shots of the animals. I almost wanted to photograph the tourists more than the animals. I thought they were the bigger spectacle. One guy, as I biked passed some pulled over cars said, “You’re my hero, man.” People were even taking pictures of me on my bike! I felt like I was in Uganda again. Like I was one of the attractions!

I finally reached Montana. There was a small wooden sign that welcomed me saying, “Entering Montana”. I stopped at a town called West Yellowstone for some cherry pie and a Coke and then continued on.

I road past Quake Lake, a lake that was created by an earthquake in 1959 that registered 7.3 on the Richter scale. The quake formed an 80 million ton landslide dam on the Madison River. The landslide traveled down the mountain at an estimated 100 mph and killed 28 people who were camping along the river. Another 250 campers and hikers were stranded within the lake region and had to be rescued via helicopter. Quake lake still has many trees that are upright and visible around the lake, creating an eerie reminder of how the lake was formed.

As I peddled I had my sights on my map for a campsite but more importantly a restaurant. There was one marked on the map but I wasn’t sure if it would be open or not. Wyoming wasn’t the friendliest of states and I had no idea how a backwoods bar/restaurant would be in Montana. I saw a restaurant/bar/RV park and took a shot. Talk about friendly people and a great place! An amazing burger and probably the best onion rings I’ve ever had! Wireless internet! Friendly, friendly, friendly people. I’ve been sitting on the porch of the restaurant talking to the owner, cook and local people for the past few hours, and if you know me, that’s sometimes like pulling teeth for me to do that… Hopefully that’ll continue!

Day 39, Yellowstone

Day 39, Jackson, WY – Grant Village, WY (Yellowstone Lake) 84bmiles (2830 total)

July 19, 2008

Time on bike: 7:55:54

Avg: 10.6

Daily Ascent: 3676 ft (44 ft/mi)

Elevation at days end: 7800 ft

Max: 41 mph

I was out from the moment my head hit the pillow until my alarm went off at 6:30. It was so nice and comfortable sleeping in a real bed in an actual home. I allow myself some extra sleep when I get an actual bed to sleep in. I awoke to a fresh cup of coffee and said goodbye to Laurie and Chelsea.

I headed out of town towards the Teton Range. I decided to take a different route than yesterday, this one running right along the base of the mountains. The cute park ranger at the gate let me pass for free on my bicycle instead of paying the $12 charge which is typical for bikers. Chicks dig the recumbent bike. The cycling was majestic as the road passed so close to the Tetons that I stopped and took pictures nearly every 5 minutes. They were just so spectacular. I stopped for a short break at Lake Jenny and also took some photos there. The lake water was frigid as I waded in to sit on a rock in the lake. The whole day was sunny and beautiful and I had a brisk tail wind that pushed me along for some easy cycling.

As it neared time for lunch I was passed by another cyclist. I couldn’t tell if he was touring or not. He had a small backpack on and a rack on the back with some things but no trailer or panniers. At 1pm I pulled into one of the only available places I had seen in some time for lunch and found my fellow cyclist had also pulled in. “Wanna share a table?” he asked me. So we ate our lunch sitting by the window overlooking another lake (maybe Jackson Lake?) and looking up a the snow covered Tetons. Incredible to say the least. His name was Rex and he was cycling to Glacier Park he told me. He began his trip in Denver but had cycled down to New Mexico before heading back north. Sixteen hundred miles in all. He said he does 1,000 a month. I’m pushing closer to 3,000 a month so I don’t think we were paired up really well. At any rate, it was good to share a meal with a fellow cycler and share some tales of the road. We cycled together for a while. Not really together, mind you, but together . He got ahead of me before my break and I didn’t see him again and I’m not sure if he’s at this camp site tonight or if he pulled up at the one before this. Doesn’t really matter I guess.

I reached another pay gate and this time the guy at the gate wouldn’t let me by on my looks alone. I had to pay the $12, but my receipt will get me through all the other gates, he said. I started to ascend as I entered Yellowstone National Park. It was a narrow road with no shoulder and I was passed by numerous campers and big pickup trucks and SUVs, always keeping my eye on my rearview mirror to know exactly how much room I had available. I road through pine tree groves and the riding was somewhat monotonous and yet gloomy as the dead trees poked through the newer trees. I guess there were wildfires here in ’88 and ’03 (or maybe ’05) which destroyed some of this area.

I found a campground area called Grant Village which has everything: gas station, grill, campsite with shower, etc. I entered the park looking for my lunch pal, Rex, but after circling for a while and not seeing any bikers I decided to get a site. Upon entering the park there was a sign that read, “Campsite Full”. I was a bit scared to say the least because I figured that if this site was full then it was 15 miles to the next site and it might also be full. It is a Saturday night after all. I approached the counter for registration and asked the lady if there was anything available. “Are you a hiker or a biker.” “I’m a biker.” “Then, yes, we have something available. We save sites for hikers and bicyclists.” So I got a site, put up my tent and headed for the Grill.

As I pulled up I saw a couple of girls sitting outside. “Cool bike!” one of them said. “Do you want to ride it?” I asked? “Sure!!” So they hesitantly came over to give it a try. Unfortunately their legs were too short to pedal it so they couldn’t really ride it. They told me that they were from Japan and that they were volunteering in the park for the summer. I asked if they wanted to join me for supper and they said ‘sure’.

Their names were Nozomi and Yoko and they were college students from Tokyo but they had each lived in the US before, Nozomi in Pittsburg and Yoko in New Jersey. Nozomi was studying International Studies and Yoko biology. They were really interested in my bike trip and I was interested in Japan and Tokyo after having taken Japanese in high school. Unfortunately the Grill closed not long after we got there so we really didn’t get much of a chance to talk, but they were really fun to hang out with. We tried hanging out outside but the mosquitoes were brutal so that had to come to an abrupt halt.

Tomorrow I’ll see Old Faithful for the first time and I’m excited to do so!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Day 38, Off route to Jackson, WY

Day 38, Wilderness Boundary Restaurant, WY (20 miles past Dubois, WY) - Jackson, WY 69 miles (2746 total)

July 18, 2008

Time on bike: 6:25:07

Avg: 10.8

Daily Ascent: 2553 ft (37 ft/mi)

Elevation at days end: 6095 ft

Max: 36.5 mph

Off route to Jackson, WY. Two things I forgot to mention. Yesterday when I was biking I must have been passed by 40 Porsches or similar cars. Small sporty cars, in other words. Sometimes they would be in groups of 4-5, other times by themselves. There must be a Porsche gathering like there is for Harleys in Sturgis… don’t know. Also, along the same lines though, a long time ago in Colorado I saw something very funny: a Porsche with a roof rack carrying a kayak.

I must say that spending the night in a cabin as opposed to a tent way up here in the mountains is divine. Instead of waking up to temps in the upper 30’s the cabin stayed toasty warm. When I pulled in last night I had my choice of $15 for a camp ground or $20 for a small, unfinished cabin. All that wasn’t finished was to run electricity to it for lights and the electric heater. But that little thing didn’t need a heater to stay warm.

I was at the midway point of climbing up to Togwotee Pass, so I knew I had some work to do. I began the ascent layered up with my long tights on and my fleece on as well. I was on the lookout for Bears as I ascended figuring that if I did encounter a bear I would turn around and head down the mountain as quickly as I could. I avoided the temptation to drop $50 on bear spray.

Up and up I went. The grade of the road wasn’t steep. Maybe 4-5%. Sometimes it would level out and sometimes it would go downhill for a quick minute, but mostly it was a climb, which I didn’t mind as my fingers and toes began to get numb with cold. I cycled passed pine trees with rocky cliffs not far up ahead of me in the distance.

I finally did reach the peak only to find snow still on the ground. Just as I hit the top a familiar black car passed me and pulled over. It was Melody and Morgan, the wife and daughter of John and Little John, father and 12 year old, who have been biking with me off and on. Come to find out that after a 120 mile day and a 115 mile day they took a day off in Dubois to get rested up.

At the top of the hill was one of my favorite signs. The one with the semi truck pointing down a steep incline! Yipee! The sign read, “6% Grade Next 17 Miles”. Music to my eyes. Downhills are great, but downhills in the cold are somewhat bittersweet to say the least. Downhill = speed. Speed = wind. Wind = windchill. Windchill = very cold! Not to mention that I’m not peddling so that makes me even colder. I kept wrapped up in my fleece, at times burying my face inside the fleece. There was road construction part way down so I had to stop for a flag woman just before the place they were dynamiting the road. She basically fit right in with the other Wyoming drivers in telling me that she hated cyclists and that we never use the shoulder of the road (because it’s full of rocks and debris). Eventually she let me pass and just a few miles down was a lodge and gas station where I picked up some hot chocolate before finishing the descent.

The descent opened up a spectacular view of the Teton Mountains off in the distance. The view was hazy, however, which I later learned is a result of some California brush fires. My pictures scarcely show the mountains but it was a beautiful sight to ride into. Grand Teton, the highest peak of the range, is 13,770 feet above sea level and there are 8 peaks over 12,000 feet.

I reached the junction and had to decide whether to go off route 30 miles to Jackson or to continue on the trail. Mark had suggested that I go into town, so I mentally flipped a coin in my head and headed to Jackson for the day. The ride into town could not have been more spectacular. The snow covered Teton Mountains lay just off my right shoulder and towered above me. I cranked up my iPod and sang show tunes at the top of my voice for most of the ride into town. It may seem funny to have passed a former shop teacher wearing Spandex and wailing on the likes of Rent and Aida but I really didn’t care at that point.

I wheeled into Jackson at around 1pm ready for lunch. Jackson is a gorgeous little town. “It’s regarded as one of the best towns in America,” my friend Ashby tells me. It must be. Several famous people have a home here: Harrison Ford, Tiger Woods, Sandra Bullock, Gary Shaw, and Vice President Dick Cheney to name a few. Jackson is located near Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park and the National Elk Refuge, home to 11,000 elk. On my way into Jackson I encountered a handful of wild buffalo, but no elk. (There’s 11,000, how did I miss them??)

Angela’s dad lives here and is the chief of police here. Angela is a friend from Peace Corps, so I called up her dad who was out of town but he insisted that I stay at his place with his wife and step-daughter, so I ventured over there. They live in a beautiful log cabin home that looks out on some rolling hills. They were gracious hosts who fed and entertained me for the evening. It was nice to sleep in an actual home and eat a home cooked meal for a change. Thirteen year old Chelsea had stories galore for me about everything from playing violin in school orchestra to her future home which included a tennis court, soccer goal and trampoline.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Day 37, Picturesque Wyoming

Day 37, Lander, WY – Wilderness Boundary Restaurant, WY (20 miles past Dubois, WY) 95 miles (2677 total)

July 17, 2008

Time on bike: 9:23:36

Avg: 10.2

Daily Ascent: 3916 ft (41 ft/mi)

Current Elevation: 7800 ft

Max: 42 mph

When I opened up the tent flap this morning I was peering at the sunrise over the town of Lander. The RV Park was perched on a hill overlooking the town and my tent site was right on the edge of that hill. I was on the road by 6 and peddling solo for the first time in a long time. I had my iPod going as I listened to ESPN’s Mike & Mike in the Morning as I biked through more of what has become somewhat infamous sagebrush and rolling hills of Wyoming. I first stopped off at Fort Washakie which is located on Wind (like a road winds) River Indian Reservation, which was apparent by the townsfolk. An Indian man in an extended cab, Ford pickup greeted me as I parked my bike and asked where I was going to make small talk. On a side note, Sacajawea’s son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, has a memorial there.

From there it was on to Crowheart. The only thing in town was a gas station, grocery store and a post office. Coincidently they were all the same store… I met some east bounders who flagged me down shortly after leaving Crowheart. One of their riders was sick and they wanted to know where the nearest town was. “It’s 50 miles to Lander,” I told them and they dropped their heads. Seems like one of them may have gotten some food poisoning or something. I wished them luck and continued on.

Wyoming all of a sudden became beautiful. Just like that, out of nowhere. The rolling hills gave way to steep, rocky, canyon like walls where it appeared that a lake may have been and that gave way to red rock cliffs which reminded me more of Arizona than Wyoming. The town of Dubois (pronounced doo-boys) was at the 75 mile mark for me, so I stopped in for a 2nd lunch and to email. Dubois was originally called Never Sweat, WY because of its warm and dry winds. The postal service, however, found the name Never Sweat unacceptable so it was changed to Dubois. It looks like a nice little touristy town with a number of log-cabin like buildings and quaint shops lining the main street. I stopped in to a pizza/deli place and had a fantastic ham sandwich.

The terrain past Dubois was alleged to go uphill and it didn’t disappoint. I managed a mere 20 miles into headwinds on my way up to Togwotee Pass. Togwotee pass often receives annual snowfall of 25 feet in any given winter (with reports of over 50 feet). The road is often shut down for days. I was told that they are working on the roadway and dynamiting from 7-8pm and they close the roads down through the night for it. I’ll find out tonight what that’s like. I stopped 17 miles short of the pass and found a restaurant/RV park where I decided to put down for the night. They convinced me to take a small cabin for $20 to avoid the grizzly bears. I kindly accepted.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Day 36, Mark's sendoff

Day 36, Sweetwater Station, WY – Lander, WY 40 miles (2582 total)

July 16, 2008

Time on bike: 3:55:49

Avg: 11.2

Daily Ascent: 992 ft (25 ft/mi)

Max: 40 mph

It was as if we were the last living creatures on the face of the earth and the mosquitoes were going to feed on us as if their life depended on it. There were 3 groups of us bikers at the Mormon camp site last night and all of us were in our tents by 8pm because of the thick nest of mosquitoes. We all kind of figured that they would be gone by morning but instead I think they called in the morning shift to take over. We hustled to get our things packed before we could get eaten up too badly. Mark and I set out by 6am.

We ate a little bit of trail mix before we began and it was a good thing. The map only indicated that the nearest restaurant was 30 miles and it’d be 40 miles until the next town. That’s a long way to go before breakfast but we wanted to get a jump on the days cycling so that Mark could get to Jackson and the Teton Mountains as soon as possible so that he could then get back to his car in Rawlins.

We stopped for breakfast at a log-cabin looking restaurant which I believe was called Frontier. HUGE pancakes that were bigger and thicker than the plate they were on. Mark was so hungry that he ordered 2 to go along with his Mexican Breakfast Burrito. I had to eat his other pancake.

We spent the next few hours plotting out how he would get back from Jackson. We looked up bus routes, rental cars and trains. We talked about getting a ride from a trucker and even called a few lumber yards there to see if they had any trucks going in or out. I contacted my friend Angela’s dad who is the chief of police there in Jackson and he recommended some bus companies, but after checking it all out we couldn’t find an efficient way for Mark to get back, so we decided to rent a car here in Lander and just drive him and his bike back to Rawlins and then I’d drive it back. It worked out well, really. The winds picked up severely this afternoon and it even rained on us on the way back to Rawlins.

Driving back along the route we came was very surreal. It took 90 minutes to cover the same distance that we covered on our bikes in one day. After driving for a while I really just wanted to get back on my bike. The car was too fast and too superficial. It sped past the beautiful sights and I couldn’t smell the wind in the car. It felt cheap in comparison to what all I had done. I like the bike.

Mark and I said our goodbyes and he bought me supper at Peggy’s Diner. It was fantastic to have my friend Mark along for a week. We both talked about how we wished it could be longer and then made tentative plans to bike again together somewhere.

Along the way back I happened across some east bound bikers we had met the night before. They were off their bikes at the base of a loooooooong, steep hill. I circled back and asked if they were ok. Come to find out that they had been battling headwinds all day at a speed of “3 mph” and were mustering up the strength and courage to forge the hill ahead. I asked if they wanted a lift into Rawlins and they practically groveled at my feet in appreciation. Sometimes you just need a break from a long day of cycling. They called me ‘angelic’ and a bunch of other mushy names to express their gratitude for stopping to give them a lift. The winds do whip pretty badly here in Wyoming, so I was glad to give Dave and Katie a ride to town.

So, tomorrow I’ll be solo again for the first time since Illinois (by the way, a person from Illinois is called an Illinoisan). I’m looking forward to it, to be honest. I got in a grove last time. Just me and the road. Pray for my safety if you think about it. I’d appreciate it a lot!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day 35, Why are you so unfriendly, Wyoming???

Day 35, Rawlins, WY – Sweetwater Station, WY 85 miles (2542 total)

July 15, 2008

Time on bike: 6:48:06

Avg: 12.8

Daily Ascent: 2455 ft (29 ft/mi)

Max: 40 mph

It’s tough to get an early start when you have a warm, soft bed to sleep in for the night. Sleeping in a tent just isn’t restful, but a hotel on the other hand… Mark and I got off to a late start this morning after a fabulous continental breakfast at Days Inn. Pat left our company yesterday so it was our first day just Mark and I plus my first day dragging my trailer in about a week. We left Mark’s car there in Rawlins where he’s planning on getting a bus back to there from Jackson, WY.

The morning was beautiful with sunshine and a gentle uphill which lead to a great, slow, gradual downhill. We crossed the continental divide 2x today. In case you’re wondering, the continental divide is the divide that separates where rain water is going to end up. If it rains on the east part of the divide, the water’s going to eventually end up in the Atlantic and on the west side, then towards the Pacific Ocean. Cool, huh? I just learned that the other day.

It seems that the further north you go in Wyoming the friendlier people are. Our first stop of the morning was at Grandma’s Café where we had our lunch. It was really the only thing in this town and the only building we had seen for 30 miles. Grandma’s was quaint and they were very clear to mark with signs that restrooms were ONLY for paying customers!

On to Muddy Gap where there was a convenience store managed by Dennis, a heavy set but very friendly guy who was wearing a shirt that read, “What wind? –Muddy Gap, WY” I hear that the winds can get up to 40-60 mph in these flat lands. We talked to friendly Dennis for quite a while and signed our names on the wall of the store with sharpie markers. He said that they used to repaint every spring, but they liked the way the signings looked so they’ve left them up for the past 3 years. Maybe when I come back someday I’ll still see my name written there??

We are still high up. The altitude here is 6,500 feet. Higher, in fact, than Denver Colorado. The average elevation of Wyoming is 6,700 feet! We stopped for an early supper, because there’s really no where else to stop along our route, at a little restaurant/bar. Another unfriendly bar owner. It’s really amazing to us. It seems like people would welcome bicyclists. We bring business and we talk to every biker we see and recommend places to eat up ahead. We also discourage them from eating at certain places. For example, the ‘locals’ next to us were given free popcorn as an appetizer upon entering, we weren’t even greeted. One man headed back to the bathroom and the owner yelled, “The light switch is on the outside,” but when I went before him I wasn’t told anything. After we had ordered and she started ringing up our food I told her we were paying separate. What 2 guys come in to eat together and pay together?? She huffed and puffed as if I had asked her to bike the rest of the way with me. It’s just unbelievable that people go that far out of their way to be unfriendly to people they’ve never met.

The rest of the day was just a nice day for biking. Some head winds but they died down in the late afternoon. Mark and I talked about all kinds of thing. I think we were both just so appreciative to be outdoors on bicycles surrounded by sagebrush and rocky mountains on either side. Appreciative of each others friendship and ability to do this together even if it is just for a short time.

We’re camped out tonight in Sweetwater Station with the father and 12 year old son. The mother and 10 year old daughter are also here. The mosquitoes are unbelievable here. At one point, Mark and I had to stop our bikes and coat ourselves in mosquito spray because they were all over us. The camp site is called Mormon Arts and Crafts. It’s a clean campsite and they let us here free. The bathrooms are amazingly clean, and there’s wireless internet, which I’m SHOCKED at to say the least. Just down the road is a diner that was closed when we got here at 6:30 and there’s a Rest Area with plenty of signs that read, “No Tent Camping” and “No Sleeping in the Lobby”. Overall it was a great day for riding, but I’m ready to get out of the arid south and into the scenic, beautiful northern part of the state and into Yellowstone!!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Day 34, Wyoming = wind

Day 34, Saratoga, WY – Rawlins, WY 42 miles (2457 total)

July 14, 2008

Time on bike: 3:05:39

Avg: 14.7

Daily Ascent: 1389 ft (33 ft/mi)

Max: 34 mph

Wyoming = wind. Last night we found and hung out at a local watering hole. No, not a smoky bar, but a hot springs. I’d never been to a hot springs before and MAN were they hot! It was open 24/7 and it also had showers available 24 hours a day, so we had to take advantage of it. We found some others there at the springs. One guy was a left tackle for the University of Wyoming standing 6’ 7” and weighing 310 lbs. They sure grow ‘em big out here. His brother was just a shade smaller than he was, but they were super friendly to talk to. The hot springs were actually too hot. You had to get in and just not move long enough to get used to it and then bury yourself up to your chin and just tolerate the pain until it became comfortable, and eventually it did. On a cool July evening (only in the mountains can a July evening be truly cool) it really hit the spot and we enjoyed talking late into the evening with the folks around there. One family was hauling 18 horses in 2 trailers from California. The horses were cutting horses and as Mark described them to me, they single out a calf from the herd of cows and the horse, with the rider not touching the reigns, has to keep the calf from getting back to the herd. Interesting, eh?

We found a super sweet spot to camp for the night, in town. We were supposed to camp out by a mosquito infected lake but we worked out a deal with someone in town. It’s so secret, in fact, that I agreed to not even put it on my blog, but just trust me on this, it was sweet!

Mark stayed behind in the morning to get his oil changed on his car but caught up with us a few miles down the road. Apparently the guy in town didn’t know if he could change the oil on a Prius so Mark decided to try Rawlins instead. The winds were very calm and we were doing 20 mph for most of the morning. The only road to Rawlins that was near us and that we were supposed to take was interstate 80, so we hopped on and headed there. We encountered headwinds and big trucks, but fortunately the shoulder was super wide and it didn’t prove to be much trouble, other than the constant noise. The fields surrounding the highway were lined with antelope almost everywhere I looked.

We got into Rawlins and ate lunch preparing to move on to the next town as we eventually approach the Grand Teton Mountains. Pat, however, decided that this was his final biking destination and that he was taking a Greyhound to Salt Lake City and then a train to Nevada where he’s heading to the Burning Man Festival, so we wished him well and promised we’d keep in touch. It’s been good to have him along, especially for something that wasn’t planned. We helped each other out, kept each other company and pushed each other along.

Mark had some business to attend to so we spent the afternoon in Rawlins which turned into the late afternoon which turned into the evening which turned into the night, so we got a hotel room and here we be. While at the library checking out friends websites and blogs, I stumbled onto some shocking news. Katie Reider, folk singer and songwriter from Cincinnati, died this morning after a 2 year battle with a rare tumor which started in her jaw and spread to her sinus, eye socket and in March of this year a spot developed on her esophagus taking away her voice and ability to perform. I read through a blog which was posted to inform her fans of her progress. She had gone from 125 lbs to 85 lbs and she lost her left eye and her face was disfigured from the surgeries. It was shocking to see it all and to process it and take it all in. Even now, as I type this, I’m just at a loss. I had met her only a few times but was inspired by her spunk, talent and music. I was on her site to see if she had any new albums coming out. I knew she was fighting this tumor but I wasn’t ready for what I found. Truly, a light has gone out. Katie, you will be missed.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 33, Picture perfect cycling into Wyoming

Day 33, Walden, CO – Saratoga, WY 68 miles (2415 total)

July 13, 2008

Time on bike: 5:54:21

Avg: 12.3

Daily Ascent: 2754 ft (41 ft/mi)

Max: 47 mph

We tried to beat the cold by starting later (6am) and having breakfast first. Both good choices. It was cool but not cold by the time we started. We had camped at a city park and 2 other cycling groups camped next to us. One was a group of 3. Mark went over to small talk and brag about being 47 and doing this kind of trip, only to discover that 2 of them were in their late 50s and the other guy was 72!

We headed north towards the Wyoming border. Winds at our backs, cruising along at 20mph without a problem! Bluest skies you’ve ever seen without a cloud in sight! And if that wasn’t enough, the most picturesque snow covered mountains were sitting off to our right for the next 15 miles as if God had painted them there himself just for us. I know I say this a lot and I certainly think it more, it was just unbelievably beautiful and one of those mornings that makes you glad to be alive, glad to be on a bicycle and to wonder why you’d ever want to do anything else in life but ride a bike around God’s amazing planet!

We climbed a moderate hill and to our pleasant surprise there was a magnificent downhill beaconing for us to go all out. Mark and I both hit 47mph without really realizing that we had done it. This area and on into Wyoming is desolate to say the least. Still pretty, but void of anything other than cattle.

Up ahead was a lady on a recumbent bicycle. The 4th we’ve encountered. Unbeknownst to us we were on the state line for Wyoming. Judy, I think her name was, was a solo rider and as nice as could be. She reminded me a great deal of my cousin Dixie. Free spirited and fun to talk to. She warned us of a restaurant in the next town. She said there were 2 and that the one had a rude lady who basically threw her food down on a plate and wasn’t nice to her one bit, though she tried her best to butter her up.

As we cycled on, the wind seemed to pick up and shift. Before we knew it we were peddling into a diagonal cross wind which felt about like a direct head wind. Our speed changed from 20 mph to about 11. We rode through rolling sagebrush and not much else, just waiting to get into town for our lunch.

We finally arrived and found 2 restaurants. Pat was parked at one so we went in, but had a feeling that it was the wrong one. Didn’t take long to find out. I had just plugged my laptop into an outlet when a very plain looking lady approached me and said, “you should ask before you do that.” “Do what? Plug in my laptop?” “Yeah.” “Well then, is… it… ok if I plug in my laptop?” “Yeah, but you should ask next time, k?” Mark shot me a look as if to say, “Sheesh, guess this was the other restaurant.” We went ahead and ate there and tried our darndest to be friendly, but we couldn’t sweeten this lady up one bit. We’ve had problems in these restaurants. It’s as if these small town people don’t want others around. As if they’re just sick of tourists who come to ski and see the mountains and cycle through their towns. Not an ounce of friendliness. And believe me when I say this, Mark can sweeten someone up and even his charms had no effect on her. She was clearly the owner as well and she did work up a storm while she was there getting everything ready, but man, were we ready to get back on the bikes. Pat wanted to stay for some reason, reasoning that the camp site was a good one, but we had only biked 50 miles by that point and that’s a lame amount to stop at.

We wanted to cycle more, we really did, but unfortunately towns are so spread out that if we didn’t stop here after about 68 miles, then the next decent town was 42 miles away. Not happening today, so we’re going to bed down somewhere here tonight. Currently I’m at a laundry mat which has free Wi-Fi. It closes in 15 minutes so I gotta get this done and get to our site. It’s been a good day but I’m tired and ready for bed. This trip is absolutely amazing. 3 states to go after this but it’s good to be in Wyoming and headed for the beautiful country that lay ahead!

Day 32, Frost, ladies and gentlemen... frost!

Day 32, Breckenridge, CO – Walden, CO 122 miles (2347 total)

July 12, 2008

Time on bike: 8:59:41

Avg: 13.3

Daily Ascent: 5248 ft (66 ft/mi)

Max: 41 mph

Downhill is a good thing. Leaving Frisco, CO was certainly that. Downhill! We cycled for about 20 miles in what was almost completely downhill. We learned a bit of a lesson from the other day and got a later start. No more 5am wakeup times in these mountains. We started at 9:30 to avoid the bitter cold. Pat rode with me this time so that Mark could do some snowboard shopping in Breckenridge.

We stopped for lunch in Kremmling, CO which is on US 40 which runs through Greenfield, IN a block from where I used to own a home. Something little like that draws me home and reminds me that this is the United States of America and that we all have a common thread that runs through us, from coast to coast, mountainside to mountainside and ocean to ocean.

We traveled east on US 40 to Hot Sulphur Springs. On the way we passed through Byers Canyon, a gorgeous canyon which had a river running just below us and a train track running along that. It was just incredible and such a change from where we had been biking through. The rocks seemed to just be sitting one on top of each other ready to fall into the river below.

After Hot Sulphur Springs we headed north along 125 towards Willow Creek Pass elevation 9,621 ft. It was the 2nd time we crossed the Continental Divide.

We headed down hill 6 miles to the next town we were going to stop at, Rand, CO. The map said there was tent camping available. Mark drove ahead and met an 80 year old man there and was greeted with a , “What do you need?” Not exactly a friendly hello. Needless to say, he didn’t want people camping there, only hunters who were staying for a month or so. And Rand only has a Post Office about the size of a storage shed if that gives you any indication of how big of a town, or should I say ghost town, it is. Well, once we got there, Pat didn’t want to go any further. He wanted to ‘stealth camp’ behind some buildings. Mark, on the other hand, feels like these back woods mountain folk may not be the most understanding. His feeling is that since towns are spread so far apart and there aren’t exactly sheriff around, the townsfolk may take the law into their own hands at times and it’s best to just move on. So, Mark and Pat traded and Pat drove ahead as Mark and I biked along. I had already gone 100 miles by that point and it was 7pm, so I was ready to be done, but you gotta do what you gotta do, so we pushed on 22 miles to Walden.

We rode through a valley, leaving the big mountains behind us. Let me just say that Colorado hasn’t been the friendliest of states. In fact, it’s pretty clear that they don’t like bicyclists in general. Servers are blatantly short with you at restaurants and we’ve met people who’ve told us that cyclists don’t deserve to be on the roads because they haven’t paid state taxes to build the roads. Mark and I were passed by 24 vehicles on our way to Walden. Mark said he very intentionally waved to all 24 of them and not a single one waved back…

About 10 miles from Walden the sun ducked behind the mountains. And then it got cold. Really cold, really quick. I did have my cycling sleeves on to keep my arms warm, but other than that, I was just cold and ready to get to town. I swear I saw snow on the side of the road, but I may have been hallucinating. I couldn’t get to town fast enough. I just wanted a warm meal. 10 miles is about an hour of cycling and I was past my 7pm stop time and my body and my mind knew it. I thought Walden would never come, but come it did. Pat said he wasn’t sure if we would make it by the time the restaurants closed which was 9pm so he bought cold cuts. Despite the nice gesture, Mark and I wanted hot food, so we looked for a restaurant.

The roads were closed off on main street and they were having, what appeared to be some sort of festival. Really it was about 10 people dancing in the streets, but I think that was the festival. The town’s only about 700 people strong. The restaurant we stopped at was nice. Log cabin like with really friendly, young girls working there. Mark and I gobbled down our food and hot chocolate, but still couldn’t get warm. We ate our meal while Pat headed to the city park to set up his tent. Mark and I joked about getting a motel and leaving him out to camp but then showing up early the next morning to act like we had camped there! We left the restaurant, looking for a motel to stay in, but they were all occupied (they actually had 3 motels). So we headed to the city park to set up our tents. It got so cold in the night that Mark gave up camping and slept in his car. My sleeping bag is rated for 25 degrees F so I was ok, but it was super cold!! I awoke the next morning to FROST on the ground!! FROST! It’s JULY for crying out loud and it’s not like we’re in Canada, but we are up 8,500 feet.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Day 31, Brrrrrrr Cold!

Day 31, Guffey, CO – Breckenridge, CO 68 miles (2225 total)

July 11, 2008

Time on bike: 6:30:40

Avg: 10.5

Daily Ascent: 4476 ft (66 ft/mi)

Max: 36.5 mph

Brrrrrrrrr. It’s COLD in the Rockies in the morning!! The temperature when we woke up at 5am were in the upper 30s! I put on my long tights for the first time along with my long sleeve riding jersey as well as my fleece. All I wanted to do was to jump on my bike and climb the biggest hill around to get my body temperature up. Normally climbing isn’t a pleasant thing, but in this case it would be well welcomed.

We had camped the night before in Guffey in the yard of a restaurant that was out of business and for sale. It looked more like a big house than a restaurant. Maybe a bed and breakfast. Pat said that ¾ of the town was for sale and he wasn’t far off. After listening to the morning wise-cracks that Mark and Pat make every morning about how big of a tent Mark is sleeping in (it’s my tent and it’s a 3 man tent), which take place every morning without avail, Mark and I finally set out at around 6am. I always like to coast downhill into camp or the city the night before. It’s just a great way to end a long cycling day. Yesterday, however, we cycled up a mile to get into Guffey, which isn’t such a big deal until you have to go downhill with the brisk, cold morning winds for that same mile. It made for a VERY cold start to say the least.

About 5 miles into our ride we came across a couple of bikers off the side of the road. Mark was ahead of me and pulled over. It was a couple we had heard about before but hadn’t yet met. A man and his 12 year old son. They were shedding layers of clothing as the temperature was going up. John and Jonathan were from Virginia Beech. John, the father, had done a cross country bike trip years ago and promised Jonathan that when he was old enough they’d do it together. Apparently 12 is old enough. It must be. They started June 13th, 2 day after I began, and they also began from Yorktown, VA, same as me. Jonathan seemed little even for a 12 year old. How cool for a father to take his son on such an epic adventure. John explained how he had just arrived at a new engineering job and wasn’t sure what they’d say when he told them that this trip had been planned for some time and it was essential that he and his son do this, but to his surprise they were thrilled about it and told him he’d still have a job waiting when he returned. Jonathan said the idea came to him one day to ask if he could do the bike trip and that he also wants to hike the Appalachian Trail some day. The other 2 members of the family, mom and their 10 year old daughter, track them in their car and meet them in the towns up ahead with a warm meal cooking. They were very cool.

We stopped and had breakfast in a tiny mountain town. The views from every side were gorgeous! Colorado has been a different experience in regards to meeting people here. The people we’ve met, though generally friendly when they warm up to us, are cautious at first. As if they just see so many tourists that we’re just more of the same and they kind of wish that we’d just do our thing and move on.

For lunch we ate at Alma, CO which was just about 8 miles from Hoosier Pass, the highest point in elevation (11,542 ft) along the entire Transamerica Trail. Going inot Alma was weird. The town looked as if it were down hill, but checking the altimeter on my GPS as well as consulting my legs, we were actually going up hill. The headwinds didn’t help much, but it was the strangest optical illusion. We ate lunch at “The Highest Saloon in America” which was right across the street from “The highest boutique in America”. I kind of got the feeling that at 10,578 feet, Alma might be the highest town in America. Wikipedia confirmed that it was the highest developed municipality in the US.

Up ahead lay Hoosier Pass. Mark, Pat and I decided to climb it together and then Pat would cycle back down to pick up Mark’s car and meet us in Breckenridge. We cycled across some rolling hills before we hit the final climb, a 4 mile climb to the top. The Rockies to this point haven’t been nearly as steep or as treacherous as the Appalachians. The 4 mile ascent took us about an hour, moving at around 5mph. We climbed and climbed. The beauty of slowly climbing mountains is that it gives you a chance to enjoy the scenery. You have to find some positive about it. The surrounding mountains had patches of snow and were covered up to a point with pine trees. The surrounding scenery was so incredible. Traffic was buzzing by us and there were a fair share of trucks and RVs. The climb was tough, but enjoyable. We reached Hoosier Pass with great joy and much whooping! We posed for our pictures, hoisting our bikes high above our heads in triumph. And then we descended for the next 8 miles into Breckenridge, CO, a great little ski town with a ton of shops and restaurants.

In Breckenridge I met up with my good friend Shelly and her boyfriend Mike. Shelly and I met in Uganda where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer and she was doing a summer internship with Africare. Shelly, myself and Jacob (another PCV in the town), were like peas in a pod for those 3 months. Shelly became an Honorary PCV and we have a number of great stories that we share from our experiences in Africa. We hit up an Irish Pub for supper and talked late into the evening. Shelly has more knowledge, passion, and enthusiasm for developmental work regarding HIV/AIDS in Africa than anyone I’ve ever met. We had several great laughs and stories.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Day 30, Definately not in Kansas anymore!

Day 30, Pueblo, CO – Guffey, CO 72 miles (2157 total)

Time on bike: 6:31:23

Avg: 11.1

Daily Ascent: 5374 ft (75 ft/mi)

Max: 42 mph

Not in Kansas any more! The hills have begun! Though they’re not as steep as they were in Virginia.

We got off to a bit of a late start this morning. Mark and I headed to Canon (pronounced Canyon) City on a relatively flat road. It’s so arid and desert like here and I really wasn’t ready for Colorado to be like that. We had a very wide shoulder to ride on which was good because traffic was buzzing by. We stopped off in Canon City at the Waffle Wagon for lunch. Pat was supposed to meet us half way or along the way but we never saw him. We figured he was updating his blog or sleeping in. We progressed on to Royal Gorge which is a foot bridge which spans over a 1,000 foot gorge. When we went to buy a ticket we were a little sticker shocked to see that it cost $23 to get in… So… we turned around and headed back to our trail. No way were we paying $23 to walk across a bridge.

The mountains started right up. Mark and I climbed as Pat drove Mark’s car to where we would spend the night. Pat parked and cycled back to meet us and bike along with us. You could see the snow covered mountains off in the distance as we cycled along. There were times when we were slowed to 4 mph, but it really wasn’t all that bad. We finally made it into Guffey which is a small town of a hundred people or so. As we talked to the locals we found out that they have an interesting 4th of July celebration that goes on here. They do something called the Chicken Poop where they take a checker board and put a coin to mark where they think a chicken will poop on the checker board and if they’re right they win. They also have a “Mailbox Chicken” contest where the put a chicken in a velvet covered mailbox and a grade school kid takes a plunger and pushes the chicken out of one end of the mailbox (it’s open on both ends) and whichever chicken/kid combo goes the farthest, wins. This is real American entertainment at it’s best, ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you! Ah, the tales from the road!