Sisters, Oregon

Seven volcanic peaks of the Cascade Range usually stunningly snow-capped in the view from this tourist resort town are obscured by hazy skies. Smoke from various fires, twenty- three burning in Oregon according to the cook at the cafe this morning.

We have ridden hard and long in the West. And it’s been hot. It’s been a full-time job to take care of camp set-up and take-down every day, get hydrated, get calories, shower and do laundry and…oh yeah…get a good nights sleep. It takes a very focused effort to go day after day.

I’m looking back at the photos that never made it to this blog as we traversed Montana and Idaho. Here are ones you might enjoy.

This is Earthquake Lake just north of the town of West Yellowstone. It was formed over the course of a few weeks in 1959 after a massive Earthquake caused a landslide that blocked the Madison River….overnight.

The maps don’t always tell the whole story. Here’s our intrepid leader Wally emerging from a “unexpected road collapse” we encountered on the route.

Waiting for our cooks to finish shopping and divvy up the food to carry to camp, Steven grabs a nap. He can go to sleep anywhere!

Shoe tree next to the road. No explanation!

Marijuana farm in eastern Oregon. Saw two that day.

Fire area under repair from fire a year ago near the Mackenzie Pass.

Lava fields at the top of the Mackenzie Pass as seen from atop the “observatory” built by the CCC during the depression.

Last Days

We are just six days away from finishing.

I have been having technical difficulties uploading my recent blog posts…until tonight. Sorry for the lapse. All is well. Stay tuned for ceremonial wheel-dipping in the Pacific Ocean 8/4/18.

Smelling the Barn

We went past the three thousand mile mark back in Jackson on July 7th. Today it’s nine days later and we’ve been chewing up the miles in Montana, riding 70 plus miles per day. Tom and Charlie pose under an elk-antler arch at the Jackson town square.

I rejoined the tour in West Yellowstone. My leg was hurting from driving a car and my back was hurting from sleeping in a bed. Guess I’ve become road adapted. Yellowstone and the Tetons are a wonderland though, and seeing the sights with Barbara was a special time.

Montana offers scenic highways over mountain passes and though lovely valleys. We have been on the path of the Lewis & Clark Expedition circa 1804. We also encountered a cattle drive on the highway.

Last night we arrived at the mosquito capital of the world located in the town of Wisdom at the bottom of the Big Hole Valley.

OREGON !!!

Baker City

Yesterday, July 25, was our first full day of riding in Oregon. Today is a rest day, our last one before finishing in Florence, Oregon.

There has been a long gap in this blog… The last entry was three states ago. I have draft posts from this time saved on my phone and will insert them later. (Can’t get them to upload…)

Meanwhile, tomorrow will be 82 miles and the first day of a nine-day ride to our finish. There will be a couple of guest riders joining us before the end. The new faces will be welcomed. We are somewhere around 3800 miles now.

We are all looking rather lean and weathered at this point. Yesterday we caught up to an ACA van-supported Transam group. They had comfortable lawn chairs…with cup holders!…set up in the shade for our arrival in the late afternoon. (And cold drinks to fill the cup-holders.) Simple pleasures but oh-so-welcome!

Lovely’s shot of me and this special point of interest…the closest outhouse to a state borderline anywhere in Oregon!

“Smelling the Barn” in Idaho

We blew through the 3000 mile mark at Jackson, Wyoming and marked the occasion with this photo featuring Charlie (seated) and Tom under one of the elk-antler arches that adorn the four corners of the town square.

We proceeded to blow right past the 3500 mile mark several days ago and now find ourselves in Idaho after several days pedaling the byways of Montana. In Montana we went to Missoula and enjoyed a BBQ at the headquarters for Adventure Cycling on a layover day. Adventure Cycling is the non-profit organization that organized the tour I’m on. Their mission is to inspire and empower people to travel by bicycle. So they create maps, organize rides, advocate for trails, bike paths, signage and cycle-friendly policies and laws.

They treated us kindly, directed us to the freezer stocked with assorted ice cream bars (I had two!) and took us out back for photos and bike weighing. My loaded steed weighed in at 81 pounds.

On the wall is the tandem bike used in 1974 to scout out the TransAm Route that was created for the BikeCentennial in 1976, the same route I am doing now. For the last several days we have been following the trail taken by the Lewis & Clark Expedition in 1804. The west is so majestic and so grand, it’s no wonder that Americans created a huge mythology of the west.

Towns and services in the west are further apart so we are traveling daily distances often greater than 70 miles. And for long stretches there is little or no cell service. Thus, it’s been tough keeping current on this blog. And now…the end is in sight and we are all “smelling the barn” that is the coastal Oregon town of Florence where we will have a ceremonial front-wheel dip in the Pacific Ocean and a farewell dinner on August 4th.

Today we landed in Grangeville, Idaho, where one of us on the ride was born and raised! Our companion, Bob from Cincinatti, is having the group over to his parents’ house where they are preparing a dinner for us!

Roaming Wyoming

The breathtaking beauty of Wyoming has been a surprise as we have made our way to Jackson Hole for a rest day. We spent the Fourth of July in the bustling town of Lander where there was a parade, rodeo and fireworks. Our little band of touring cyclists was asked if we wanted to be IN the parade or just watch it. We watched. It was a great opportunity to see authentic celebration in the middle-American west and people watch.

The parade crowd was very diverse although the majority of the parade participants were people running for political office, most of them under the Republican “brand”. There was an LBGT float and I was given a rainbow sticker. Interestingly, the announcer omitted mention of this float, while announcing every other participant. Still the crowd all had to watch this exuberant float go by…and be reminded of their family and friends and loved ones who fit the description!

In the end the fire department sprayed water on everyone at the main intersection. I noodled over to the rodeo grounds to check out the preparations. The calves (not a happy bunch) and horses and bulls were all there. The show wasn’t scheduled to start till later when I could not attend so unfortunately I am still not able to proclaim “Hey, this isn’t my first rodeo!”

They do fireworks a little differently here in mid Wyoming; there is no central location or professional show. People all over town shoot off fireworks…big ones…until past midnight. We were camped on a bluff overlooking the whole town so we had a great view. Funny how annoying fireworks can get to be after a few hours!

After not enough sleep we left early in the morning in an attempt to avoid the fierce Wyoming winds. The riding to the Tetons included the most dramatic scenery of the entire trip: spectacular vistas, red-rock canyons, lakes and rivers, and the glory of the Teton range as it comes into our view. Yes, that 17 miles of coasting downhill at the continental divide was kind of enjoyable. At Jackson Hole, a visitor showed up. Barbara and I are spending five days together to be tourists in the Tetons and Yellowstone. I will rejoin the bike tour in West Yellowstone as we continue our trek to Florence, Oregon.

Wild West Wonderment

After the chi-chi cool hostel we stayed in for two days in Breckenridge, we are now in the wild west of Wyoming. Everything is spread out and the scale expands dramatically as we traverse the Great Basin and join the iconic “Oregon Trail”. An estimated half million people passed this way in the mid-1800’s in search of a better life in the west: Oregon, California, Utah. Wyoming greeted us with strong cold headwinds and by mid day eight of us were sheltered in a giant hay carport with rain spitting and horribly dark skies ahead. Marie was out on the road somewhere ahead, she’d left camp early. No cell service in the Wild West.

In the end, four decided to cycle the remaining twenty five miles, four “hired” the ranch manager to hitch up a horse trailer for the bikes and drive us to our destination, and Marie jumped onboard the shuttle when it caught up with her. I was in the shuttle of course.

The natural wonder of Wyoming comes as a surprise. It would be too expansive to see well by hiking, but cycling is just the right speed. The foothills that you see on the horizon become the hills you are riding in two hours later, and the beautiful river splayed out in the valley below becomes the river you’re riding next to after fifteen minutes of downhill. The town of Jeffrey City is the story of a uranium boom town that went bust after Three Mile Island and now is like a ghost town with this free Baptist Community Church Hostel where we stayed.

The winds have been strong and when they blow as a crosswind they are downright scary. We have all been blown right off the pavement…multiple times. It’s difficult to navigate within a five foot wide shoulder!

New Beginnings

When we crested the first pass of 9000 feet and got the first view of the snow-crowned peaks in the distance, it felt like seeing the Emerald City. The sight brought tears of joy to my eyes. Suddenly the last 46 days of riding seemed to be just preparation for this moment to behold the mighty mountains with feelings of awe and wonder. The flotilla of clouds echoed the contours of the ridge line as earth & sky danced their dance together as they have for eons. It felt like coming home. It felt like I’ve been away from mountains far too long.

That evening we slept in the “Love is everything” barn and watched the moonrise over the Southpark landscape and Platte River. Magic.

Unfortunately, my sleeping pad/air mattress has been leaking for a couple weeks and three patch jobs have failed to stem the deflation. I’d been getting used to sleeping on hard surfaces but on this night it was our first cold weather and with no pad the cold concrete sucked all the heat right out of me. It wasn’t a good start to a big riding day that called for us to pedal over the Hoosier Pass to the town of Breckenridge. At the top of the pass we converged for a group photo.

….and I had to try a handstand as I promised myself I would.

The climbs in the Rockies are manageable gradients, but they go on for miles and miles. The downslopes are the same and allow lots of looking around at the natural wonderland while coasting comfortably. Listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons while drinking in the surrounding beauty was sublime. These are the times that make all the effort worthwhile.

Chuck will be leaving the tour and flying home in the morning. Here’s a parting shot from the pass yesterday. His dry wit and sweet neshama will be missed as our group of nine presses onward on our journey.

Middle Ground

Today has been a rest day at Royal Gorge on the easternmost slopes of the Rocky Mountains where we have followed the course of the Arkansas River as it enters the mountains. There is a pedestrian suspension bridge across the canyon that was built in 1929 and overlooks the Arkansas River more than a thousand feet below. The area has been developed as a theme park where, as Chuck noted, “everything has been monetized.” I wasn’t interested. After nine straight days of cycling I took it easy and hung around camp.

What can be said about Kansas? One morning, we left the town of Newton and about six miles later a natural gas line exploded in a wheat field next to us. Wow!

The winds in Kansas never stop, but fortunately never blew directly in our faces. On a few occasions we enjoyed fabulous tailwinds that propelled us at speeds up to 30 miles an hour with little or no effort for stretches of twenty miles at a time. I appreciated the help getting us across the border to Colorado that much quicker. We passed the 2000 mile mark in Kansas and marked the occasion in the morning with a photo outside the church where we stayed. (I’m the “2” with Marie, Chuck and Steven as the zeros.) Later that day the town was hit with a flash flood that saw water rushing down the Main Street over a foot deep! Yes, they got weather here!

In the landscape of nothing but massive farms stretching in every direction many of us resorted to guessing the distances to the next grain elevator on the horizon. We also had to share the road with some massive farm equipment being shuffled around for the winter-wheat harvest in full swing.

Oh, and did I mention the feed lots and cattle transport trucks with their special aroma. “We say ‘that’s the smell of money’ around here,” one local told us.

So hello Rocky Mountains and the western half of the Transam route. The next two days will be tough with lots of climbing but the sheer grandiosity of the mountains is enough to set the soul to singing.