Post Tour Blues

wp-1471624387968.jpegIt has been a month since I reached the Pacific Ocean with my trusty little Trek. I spent four days slowly wandering up the Oregon coastline, spending each evening walking on a sandy beach. And then, at long last I reached my final destination and the end of the TransAmerica trail: Astoria, Oregon.

That afternoon I bid farewell to the coast and rode inland. The next day I biked into Washington and boarded a train headed for Vancouver, British Columbia. While waiting in Vancouver for my connecting train, I met up with Gary from PedalWORKS and we rode around Stanley Park and the Olympic village together. The views were lovely and that is quite telling because it was a rainy, gloomy day. On a clear, sunny day with sparkling water it must be stunning! Gary was a gracious host, he made navigating through the city a breeze and he even gave me a bicycle map, which kept me from getting lost for the remainder of the day.

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Going through the Canadian Rockies on the train.

 

Then I took a train to Edmonton, Alberta before jumping on a bus that brought me to the city of Calgary, where my grandma lives. I stayed in Calgary for a full week, visiting my dear grandma each day and riding to somewhere new in the city. On Saturday, Jean from Cycle Write Blog and I met up for a ride. Jean showed me around to some of the beautiful artwork in Calgary and shared from her wealth of knowledge about the history and culture of the city. Jean also brought along a map which ensured that I never got lost again.

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Calgary

 

After my week was up, I took the bus back to Edmonton and back onto the train I went. I spent 60 hours on that train and during that time I went a bit stir crazy and caught a bad cold. But finally I made it to Toronto where my parents were waiting to pick me up, they gave me great big hugs  which was an act of valor of their part since I hadn’t been able to take a shower in three days.

On the way home we stopped to visit my great-aunt and we were also able to meet up with my uncle for ice cream.

And then finally, finally, finally I was home.

My dogs cried and so did I. Noah gave me a great big bear hug, I had missed him so much after Colorado!

Then life went back to normal. Except normal didn’t feel normal anymore. It was great to see family and friends again, the joy of familiar faces made me smile. It felt good to be working and earning money again instead of constantly spending it in small towns across the country.

But I miss the simple touring life. I miss riding my bike all day, every day. In fact, once I came home, I must admit there have been a few days that I didn’t want to bike at all. Because what is the point of riding 25 miles on the same old roads when just a few weeks ago I was riding 70 miles a day on new, exciting roads? I have been in a slump.

I have been hauling my bike out anyways of course and though I have been riding without much joy, I always come back home feeling a little better. With every passing ride, however, it is obvious to me that I lost something while on tour, a bit of my heart perhaps. I yearn for freedom, for endless open skies, dramatic vistas and most of all, the snow-covered, majestic mountains of the west.

But finally this week I am feeling more “myself” again, thanks to some lovely people. A coworker rode home with me on Monday (first time that has ever happened!!), my mom has ridden with me two days in a row and last night I rode in the most exciting group ride of my life. (And during that ride I reached 8,000 miles for the year, yippee!)

I am actually feeling energized and motivated this morning, today is gonna be a great day. It is time to be thankful for all the wonderful things right here in Lewis County, New York. September starts tomorrow and I am ready to enjoy it, I can’t wait for the beautiful autumn leaves!

I made it to the ocean!

wp-1469738068087.jpegOn Tuesday, I rode like I was on a mission. For days, people had been telling me how close I was getting to the ocean and finally I had reached the breaking point. I didn’t want to hear about how spectacular the Pacific was anymore, I just needed to see it for myself. So I did a mega day, ending my ride at the 125 mile mark.

Yesterday, early in the afternoon I reached the Oregon coast. Oddly enough, my first ever glimpse of the ocean was not from the seat of my bicycle but from the vantage point of a car. While I was registering to camp for the night, I asked how to best reach the beach on my bike. The lady, named Kim, picked up on my excitement and questioned me,

“Do you want to see the best view of the ocean?”

I said yes. She took Liz (a fellow tent camper) and I in her tiny red bug and we went on a sightseeing tour. First we stopped at a graveyard. Kim explained that the early pioneers had a habit of selecting land with choice views of the coast on which to bury their dead. We walked past gravestones to take in the sweeping vastness of the world’s biggest ocean. Then we went to see a herd of sea lions. Along the way, we chatted about our travels.wp-1469738144761.jpeg

Liz is Australian. Until recently, she lived in a houseboat. One day she went to a friend’s birthday party. When she returned, her boat and all her possessions had sunk beneath the waves. Her outlook on her loss?

“It was just stuff. Not having that stuff anymore freed me up to travel.”

I was quickly learning that Liz was a gem. While talking about the ocean she mentioned how the mere sight of the ocean makes her soul soar with joy. It makes her taste freedom.

There was something in the tone of her voice that I instantly identified. I blurted,

“That is how snow makes me feel.”

All three of us were surprised by my outburst. I guess my longing for vast stretches of sparkling snow is never quite buried even while meeting a new ocean.

After Kim’s tour, I ate my supper on the beach and then strolled along the coast, letting the cold waves nip at my toes. Before turning back, I faced the thundering water and sang my heart out to God. I tried to take in the significance of the moment: I had made it to the ocean!

But it all felt so unbelievable, all I did was ride my bike for goodness sake! Had I really made it across to the other side of a continent? How had this happened?

It all started when two young people decided to go on an epic adventure on their bikes. They rode thousands of miles, on a mission to explore new places.

In case you are confused, I am not talking about Noah and myself. I am talking about my parents.

In 1982, they were preparing to move from Montana to Maine. Before the move, they decided to explore the Pacific coast and along the way celebrate their 1st anniversary. Because my parent are smart, they choose bicycles as their mode of exploration.

So for ten weeks, they rode on steel frame, ten-speed bikes along the Pacific coast, all the way to the Grand Canyon. My mom carried 90 pounds of stuff in her panniers and my dad carted around a whopping 120 pounds in his panniers. That’s how you get in shape on a bike tour!wp-1467584708770.jpegwp-1467584678938.jpegwp-1467584598505.jpeg

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Thirty-four years later and still awesome!

I have been hearing stories about their tour ever since I can remember. While I was planning our tour from New York to Colorado, those stories gave me confidence.

-Confidence that Noah and I would have fun and make memories that we can recount for decades.

-Confidence that if our parents could ride 2,000 miles without cellphones, the internet or bicycle-specific maps, then we could certainly make it with those resources!

This entire trip, I have felt a bit like I am re-living a part of our family’s history. This feeling intensified when I hit Santiam Pass on Monday. Santiam Pass was the first mountain pass my parents climbed on their tour and it was the final mountain pass of my tour. As I spun up the incline, I imagined where they may have rested or what they said to each other when they saw Mt. Washington off in the distance. It felt surreal to be “walking in their footsteps” or rather, riding in their pedalstrokes!

Then last night, after meandering up and down the sandy beach, I stood next to my bike, looking out into the ocean until darkness fell. I thought about what had compelled me to ride all the way to the Pacific. It was a love for my bike and the excitement of riding new roads and seeing new things, new places, new animals and meeting new people. But it goes deeper than that.

All along, it was in my blood.

 

Dragged from New York

It is a beautiful day out and I am in the middle of Oregon, just a few hundred miles from the coast. I feel like I am gonna explode from excitement, I get to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time in the next few days!

But before I arrive in Astoria and finish up my tour I thought I would share exactly what I have been dragging along with me from Northern New York. My philosophy in gathering gear for this trip was the idea of traveling “medium-light”. I don’t have a proper touring bike so I wanted a load that wouldn’t strain my road bike (or myself) beyond our capabilities. It probably wasn’t the wisest choice to bring a road bike but the cool thing about bike touring is that you don’t need to have the perfect setup to make it work.  I have seen all kinds of people, with all kinds of setups, on all kinds of bikes riding across the USA.

So let me introduce you to my gear. This is the complete list of stuff I have (unless I missed something), but I didn’t get pictures of quite everything and it isn’t perfectly organized either…that’s my bad. I also don’t have the time to jot down all the details about each piece, so if you want more specifics about an item, just ask.

I hope this is not my only bike touring expedition so critiques and suggestions are welcome!

wp-1469468358097.jpegMy Clothes
Two Sugoi Icefil jerseys
Two pairs of Garneau shorts
Long sleeve shirt
Wool socks
2 pairs of ankle socks
Pearl Izumi cycling gloves
Full finger gloves
Sunglasses
Columbia Arcadia II Rain Jacket
Rain pants
Tee-Shirt
Pair of Capri’s
Underwear

wp-1469468376054.jpegCare Items
Sunscreen
Toothbrush and tooth powder
Comb
Extra hair tie
Shampoo
(I have been using the shampoo as all-purpose soap, from doing laundry to washing my bike.)
Lip balm
Deodorant
Chamois Cream
Razor
First Aid Kit
Pack towel

wp-1469468288326.jpegProtection Program
(I am just being silly, the knife is used for food prep.)
Counter Assault Bear Spray
ResQLink+ Beacon
Knife
wp-1469468308712.jpegFood
Fork and spoon
Can Opener
Sardines
Tuna
Creamy Peanut Butter
Random snacks
Salt/Pepper/Sugar Packets

wp-1469468327822.jpegwp-1469468230636.jpegStuff for the bike
Bike Levers
Mini Pump with gorilla tape wrapped around it
Two Park Tool patch kits
Spare Tire
Spare Tube
Cornstarch
Chain Lube
New Shoe Cleats
Random extra screws and bolts
Allen Key set
Zip ties
Cables for brakes and shifters
Bungee Cords
2 Fiber Fix Kits
(Thanks for the suggestion, Rootchopper and Doug!)
Chain break tool
Spare Brake Pads
Tool with flat and philip screwdrivers
2 Sets of bike lights
Bike Lock
Taco Seasoning
Gatorade powder
ReplaceSR tablets
(I take 3-6 a day so that I don’t have to worry about buying sports drinks for electrolytes.)
wp-1469468206549.jpegTech
Tablet with Case
USB charging cords
Battery Pack
Camera
(I lost my phone a few days ago…)

Sleep System
Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 Tent
Marmot Sleeping bag
Thermarest Prolite Womens
DIY Groundcloth
(aka tarp cut to size, thanks mom!)

wp-1469468271315.jpegOther Stuff
Maps
Wallet with Bike Lock key
Bug clip thing
(I haven’t used this yet, I have my doubts whether it would keep bugs away.)
Chemical handwarmers
Pens
Paper
Glue Stick
People’s info and notes
Microfiber wipes
Passport

Hydration
Two 28 ounce water bottles
2 Liter Water bag

wp-1469468253103.jpegMore Other Stuff

Helmet
Sleeve for map
Bike Computer
Schwalbe Marathon Tires (28mm)
(No flats yet!!)
Saddlebag with super secret stash of Clif bars
(If you guess what kind of Clif bars I have in my stash, you can have a free one! You just have to come to Oregon to get it.)
Worn out bike shoes
Sneakers

Big Sky Moments

wp-1468683209741.jpegOn Sunday, I started my journey through the state of Montana and it has been impressing me ever since. Other than my first bleak morning in West Yellowstone the weather has been great.

And by great, I mean, really great. The temperature has been fifty or under every morning, and most days it never gets above seventy. Four days in a row, I began my ride each morning by warming up my legs on a good, miles-long climb. The bracingly cool air, paired with stunning views of freshly powdered, snow-covered mountains is a perfect way to wake up and get energized for the rest of the day.

And of course, after making it to the top of the mountain pass or ridge, the ultimate fun begins: soaring down at full speed. When I started doing major climbs in Colorado I was pretty cautious on the downhills but these mountains have taught me how to lean into corners without fear and without touching my brakes.

Since the temperature is low, bombing down hills robs my body of any heat I produced while I was climbing up the other side. I could put more layers of clothing on at the summit, but I love the adrenalin rush of feeling the cold wind bite into my arms and legs. Then the land flattens out and I sprint until the warmth returns to my fingers and toes. Warming up under my own power always feels great.

Montana held other surprises for me as well.

I rode through a herd of cows that were being driven in the opposite direction by cowboys on horses and border collies. The herd of bovines, about a hundred strong, were clearly not impressed their enforced trek down the asphalt road. The sound of their protesting voices was overwhelming. I stayed right on the tail of a pickup truck, which cleared the road of cows quite nicely for me. It also shielded the cows from seeing me and getting spooked. I did spook a few of the horses though. I guess they are not used to weird-looking cyclists.

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Which of these does not belong?  You never know what you will find in a herd of cows!

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I saw three osprey nests.

The skies and marshlands have been filled with birds: ducks, geese, pelicans, kingfishers, osprey, bald eagles and noisy sandhill cranes.

The roads have been filled with friendly cyclists. There is a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the TransAm going on this weekend in Missoula, so many cyclists have been converging on Western Montana. Two Adventure Cycling groups have been riding to the same towns as I every day. They are really awesome and have given me watermelon, Gatorade, water and a map.  We have also added another member to our motley little band. Mikey has joined Jenn, Karl and I, we have camped together for several days. It is fun to have people to hang out with after the riding is over for the day.

Yesterday, I ditched them and stayed in a real house with a real bed complete with pillows. My step-cousin, Erin, lives in Stevensville and graciously invited me into her home for the night. Spending time with her family was wonderful and the kids showed me their many chickens and turkeys. They also have a little kitten named Socks and we became buddies. I almost took him with me, but decided he might not enjoy life in a pannier!

After leaving Erin’s house, I rode up to Adventure Cycling’s headquarters in Missoula. It was hopping with a multitude of cyclists and their beloved steeds, due to the goings on of this weekend. It was so cool to see pictures and actual bikes of the folks who went on this ride 40 years ago, starting a trend of seeing the United States in the best way possible-on a bike.

While I was hanging out in Missoula, my Uncle Wayne drove several hours south to see me. Since we so far apart, I have only seen him a few times in my entire life. He took me to an amazing asian restaurant and gave me fresh, Montana grown fruit and a tee-shirt. It was stellar hanging out with him, my only regret is that I was so caught up in being excited to see him that we didn’t take any pictures together! But I will treasure the memory forever. It is really quite crazy: when I started this trip on May 18th, I was only planning to go to Colorado to see my brother but now I am almost to Idaho and meeting relatives I never thought this trip would allow me to catch up with.

I will ride across into Idaho today and into a new time zone and new adventures. But I will never forget my trek across Montana and the wonderful folks I have been able to meet.

And I will never forget the sky.

In small town of Wisdom, I woke up in the middle of the night with the need to use the restroom. I was so annoyed to have to wiggle from my warm, sleeping bag cocoon. I unzipped my tent and found that frost covered it like glass. Then I stepped out into the 28 degree air and what stretched out before me made me burst into tears.

The sky was glittering with more stars than I have ever seen and the milky way looked close enough to brush with my fingertips. The scene was so resplendent that I was instantly under its spell and in that moment, (but I think only in that moment) the thought that crashed throughout my entire being was,

“I never want to go back East again.”

Yellowstone-how to trap a tourist


wp-1468238868801.jpegThis day is starting out strangely. I am holed up in my tent waiting for the rain to stop. I don’t mind riding in rain, but it is 40 degrees out. I don’t mind riding in cool temperatures, but I don’t have the proper gear with me to handle hours of cold rain. The rain is supposedly going to back off by mid-morning so I am marooned in my tent until then. In the meantime I will tell you my impressions of Yellowstone.

I have spent the past four days meandering slowly through Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. I expected to see beautiful things and interesting wildlife and my expectations were met. But there was one thing I did not expect and when I started exploring Yellowstone, I was taken aback.

Yellowstone is creepy.

Really creepy. Aside from the now normal, “Bear and Wolves Crossing” signs, every bathroom in the park was draped with the many ways that Yellowstone wildlife could kill me.

Bears and wolves are in a special, “Super Dangerous” category.

But meeting up with moose or bison could also be fatal, according to the reassuring signs in the restrooms.wp-1468239071799.jpegwp-1468239281981.jpeg

But the wildlife was nothing compared to the dangers of the geothermal features. Most of Yellowstone is located on a caldera and portions of the caldera have a very thin crust. Signs warn that merely stepping on innocent-looking portions of earth could be fatal. And of course, the actual geysers, mudpots, fireholes and whatever else are also dangerous, filled with boiling water. At least one spring is so acidic it will dissolve skin.

Then, after telling me these things they expected me to walk around the boardwalks to view the danger up close and personal. Which I did, of course. I mean everyone else was doing it and they weren’t dead yet. So I joined the throngs of people and tempted fate by leaning over the railing to get a good look at what hot magma can do to water. The steam and the stench of sulphur overwhelmed my senses. Yellowstone, I decided, was very bizarre.wp-1468239428496.jpegwp-1468239022963.jpegwp-1468238959265.jpeg

I saw one guy step off the boardwalk and walk right to the edge of a mudpot, smiling widely for a photo. I shuddered, wondering if I was about to see a tragedy unfold. But an older gentlemen yelled at him to get back on the boardwalk and when he made it back to safety, I cheered silently.

wp-1468238815311.jpegYellowstone is a tourist trap in the fullest sense of the word. Once you enter the park you are trapped: surrounded by many dangers. To escape the labyrinth, you must navigate through high-volume traffic, large masses of people, unpredictable wildlife and boiling hot water, all while traveling on unstable ground.

Honestly, it was loads of fun.

 

The Wild Winds of Western WY

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(I am finally beginning to update the Tour Map,  it should be current in an hour or so)

The past few days I have been cycling across western Wyoming. There is one word that aptly describes my experience and that is, “Windy!” And sadly, each day the wind decided to be my enemy, resisting me at every turn. Tuesday was the worst. Eighty miles on a desolate road that had nothing but sagebrush and wind. I fought tooth and nail against that wind, every mile was a struggle.

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A pronghorn antelope with four little ones.

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Hail is cool.

Ordinarily, if I am having a tough time on a ride I stop and make friends with some animals, maybe a herd of cows or a couple of donkeys. It always gets me smiling again. But on this road there wasn’t even livestock to distract me from the raging force of the wind and my painfully slow progress.

Climbing mountains is also slow but I can see the progress I am making and reaching the top is so rewarding. Not only is there a beautiful view but there is also a thrilling descent to enjoy. Headwinds have no reward. It is just work. Fighting the invisible force of the wind is mentally and physically strenuous.

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The sign also says, “Stay in vehicle”. A cyclist I was riding alongside wondered aloud how exactly we were supposed to do that!

One thought kept me moving.

“If I can make it through this wind today, I can make it through any wind, any day.”

After pedaling all day at 6 to 8 mph I finally made it to Lander. When I pulled into the city park, I met up with two cyclists, Jen and Carl and we have been riding together ever since. Since that eighty mile day, I haven’t had to face the wind alone. And that is wonderful!

Has riding into the wind been worth it?

I am currently in Grand Teton National Park, and yes, every mile into the wind has been worth it!

Cycling up Pike’s Peak

wp-1467245211437.jpegThe second leg of the bike tour began today. I said a tearful goodbye to Noah and Eli early this morning and then headed out to the great big world all by my lonesome.

As I rode out the driveway I had two alternate plans for the day forming in my mind. Plan one: ride the 65 miles to Hartsel, Colorado and rejoin the Transam Trail. Plan two: ride up to the summit of Pike’s Peak and spend the night in a campground ten miles away from my brother’s house.

The entire time my family and I were visiting in Silverthorne, I had planned to ride up Pike’s Peak, but when Noah and I returned to Colorado Springs with Eli, I made a grave mistake.

I googled, “cycling up Pike’s Peak”.

Suddenly I realized that the climb would be really tough. I got scared.

So this morning I made a deal with myself. I would ride up to the toll gate (using the road to the summit costs $12) and ask the rangers if they could hold on to my heavy panniers while I rode to the top. If they refused, I would turn around and ride to Hartsel.

wp-1467245404240.jpegBut the lady collecting the tolls was super awesome and did not hesitate in allowing my panniers to hang out with her in the tollbooth. I wasn’t sure whether to be grateful or petrified, but either way it was time to climb.

I made the turtle my role model for my ascent, I had 19 miles of road to travel before the summit and those 19 miles were the slowest I have ever ridden. It took me five hours in total! Halfway up the mountain, I met a young, thin guy who was also climbing to the top. We chatted for a bit, complaining over the price of water (3 bucks a bottle!!!), and encouraging each other that we could indeed make it to the top of this stupid road. He was going faster than I and I tried keeping up with him for a few minutes but then I realized that I would not finish the climb unless I did it at my own gentle pace. The thin alpine air was my enemy and I wasn’t letting it beat me down.

wp-1467245323922.jpegI rode up switchback after switchback, wondering which bend in the road would be the one that would trigger extreme suffering. But physically and mentally I was doing great. Many of the people passing in their cars cheered for me as they left me far behind and it meant the world to me on that lonely mountain. I couldn’t stop smiling.

Then the thunderstorm came. I have never been afraid of lightning before, but above the tree line there was no shelter and I felt so exposed to the furious power of the storm. The thunder ricocheted its explosive blasts across the mountain range. I prayed for safety with each pedal stroke and then, just like in every snowstorm, I felt the overwhelming presence of God. He had been with me the entire time, I just hadn’t been paying attention.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that everything was easy-peasy, pumpkin pie. Oh no, because that is when hail/sheet stuff began a barrage against me. I stopped to put on another layer of clothes, those things hurt!

With four miles to go, things looked bleak.

But my pace was so slow that the storm only lasted for three miles. Then the sky cleared and the people coming down the mountain kept yelling out of their cars, “You are almost there!”

And suddenly I had finished the last switchback and I was clear up to the highest point of the mountain. I couldn’t control the dry, weird sobs that came from the back of throat.

First, I felt relief.

Then, I felt happy.

And then, I got scared.

I had a mountain to descend, and it was wet. I began seriously considering trying to find someone who could haul my bike and I back down the switchbacks. As Noah will readily confirm, I have terrible descending skills. One curve on a hill? Cool, I got that. But if things are more complicated than that, I crawl down hills at speeds that would only make snails proud.

But while I was eating greasy doughnuts and hot dogs, the road dried up. I bought a warm, very expensive, hoodie (my clothes were so soaked that I would have frozen in the first five minutes of my ride back), took a few pictures and shakily got back on the bike.

It was time to fly. Within a few miles my fears dissipated like the water on the road. This was fun! Even though I remained very cautious, I was passing car after car. I sang happily all the way down to the tollbooth.

Climb every Mountain. It’s worth it!

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