New Blogs I Follow

Along the side of my posts is a list of blogs I follow. Some I follow more closely than others. Some have gone the way of the Monte Python parrot.

I’m pretty excited about two new blogs. Both are about travel. Neither involve bikes (but there is always hope).

Still a Tourist is written by my daughter Lily who seems hell bent on visiting everything and everywhere. Canada, England, Scotland, Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Vatican City, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, the Balkans, the Baltics, and Scandinavia. She’s currently finishing grad school in London.

It’s Not about the Destination, It’s about the Journey is the brand new travel blog from my friend and former co-worker Jessica. Like Lily she attended grad school in Europe and traveled extensively there. She recently quit her job, sold all her stuff, and took off to teach English in the Chilean desert. Although I know other people who have done this sort of thing, I am stunned every time someone I know does such a thing.

The Hardest Part

Each time I do a bike tour I get asked, “What was the hardest part?” I suppose they expect me to say something like the hills in Washington or the rain in Iowa or the mud in Maryland. Sorry to disappoint.

The hardest part is leaving home.

I am a creature of routine. I eat breakfast. Read the paper. Do the crossword. Take a shower. Go for a ride. Do other stuff. Eat dinner. Watch a baseball game or read a book or watch a movie. Take a shower. Go to sleep. (You’ll notice that one of my favorite things is taking a shower. I don’t take long ones though. Just long enough to press the clean re-boot button.)

My at-home routine provides a comfortable rhythm to my life. So it is not surprising that it takes several days to get into the rhythm of the road. And I don’t welcome the transition. It took me about a week to get into the rhythm of the road on my ride to the Pacific northwest. By the time I got to Montana it was clockwork.

Another reason why leaving is so hard is the fact that I am looking at the tour as one thing. Holy crap, my destination is so far away and I’ve never been there or most of the places in between! This could go wrong. That could go wrong. I’m an idiot for doing this! No way!!!

Somebody once said fear is excitement without breathing.

Then, of course, I take a deep breath and say

Yes way!!!!

And all those worries, all those unknowns become experiences and stories and adventures. The Meth Man on the Gap. Impossibly intense thunderstorms on the UP. Incredible piles of hurricane debris in the Florida Keys. Thrill ride descents on the other side of mountain passes.

And so many interesting new people and conversations. The brother and sister from Yorkshire riding all 50 states. Countless other bike tourists on the side of the road. A Swiss tourist in a beekeeper’s house. Plant nerds! An Alaskan rolfer/artist in a broad brimmed hat. Pretty good for an introvert, wouldn’t you say?

I’ve done eight bike tours.

Soon I’ll be leaving again.

The hardest part awaits.

 

 

The Mule Comes Home

In Portland I dropped The Mule off at West End Bikes. They packed it in a box and, using BikeFlights.com, I had it shipped via FedEx to my local bike shop. (I’d mention them by name but their normal policy is not to accept these kinds of bike shipments. Given the fact that I’ve been a loyal customer for well over a decade, they agreed to accept the shipment.) The bike shop did a quick assessment and sent me a proposal listing work to be done on the bike.

After some discussion we replaced two chain rings, the cassette, the chain, the rear wheel, and the handlebar tape. They turned the work around in two days. So today, I took my baby for a shakedown cruise.

After 62 days and 4,300 miles of daily riding, my body and The Mule’s geometry fit like hand in glove. With no panniers or tent, The Mule took off at a gallop. I had it in my head to go really long. So I rode to the town of Purcellville, just east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The cool thing about this ride is the fact that it was done almost entirely on trails. Welcome to BikeDC. Dang.

Purcellville is 57 miles by bike from home. The fact that I’d even consider doing this ride on a muggy day with storms in the forecast shows what bike tours will do to your mindset. My legs were flying. I felt completely at home on The Mule. My brain went to its happy place. For hours. So good to be back there.

The ride is gradually uphill with a few short rollers at about the 30 mile mark. Unlike before the tour, I was passing people on racing bikes. Ding. Mule on your left. Whoosh.

My quads and my knees were burning after 40 miles. I’d back off long before this point under normal circumstances but not today. So what if I get tired; I’ve got all day and all night if I need it.

I had no food with me – a mistake for sure. I made it 35 miles to Leesburg before I realized that my tummy was lonely. Rather than stop there, forged ahead to Purcellville. The gradual uphill can eat away at your confidence. Not today.

In Purcellville I noticed that many of the shops were not where they had once been. A bike shop was now a bakery. And, more importantly, Haute Dogs and Fries, a hot dog shop, was no longer in business. I headed to the bakery hoping to buy a sandwich but they only sold pastries. I inhaled an eclair. They make pretty awesome eclairs.

Then it was back on the trail, now trending downhill. In Leesburg I went to a gas station for fuel. A refrigerated sandwich, a candy bar, and cookies were all I could find. (The apples looked rather beat up so I passed on the fruit.)

With sammie in mouth, I was back on the trail. Then it started to rain. To avoid sammie sogginess I ate fast. With some fuel in my furnace, my speed increased. So did the rain.

After another ten miles I finished off my rolling repast. The rain intensified a bit. Lightning flashed. Thunder thundered. We’re havin’ fun now.

As the miles went by, my legs started to tire. My knees hurt. My lower back started to ache. My arms and shoulders were barking at me. Bear down, dude. The Mule didn’t care.

I made my way to the Mount Vernon Trail along the river. The storm seemed to increase in intensity. By this point I was already soaked. Once you’re wet, you’re wet.

Near home I decided to get off the trail out of concern about falling trees, because the ground here is saturated from so many days of rain. I chose a short, steep hill on a street rather than the gradual one on the trail. I deliberately opted not to use my granny gear just to see how my legs would react. They felt a bit like the top of Rogers Pass in Montana. Been there. Done that.

Ten minutes later we were home. 114 1/2 miles.  No major problems for The Mule or me.

I have a month until the 50 States Ride. I think I’ll be ready.

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Any Road Tour – The Pictures

After several nights, I finally got all my tour pictures in an album on my Flickr page. So if you want to see what the tour was like, just flip through from start to finish.

In doing this, I discovered that I had forgotten much of the first half of the tour. Already. I also found pictures of eastbound bike tourists whom I met along the way. Some of them have journals on Crazyguyonabike.com. I checked them out. They ran into far more weather problems (including cold and snow) than I did. I totally lucked out with regard to weather. Also, they visited places that I didn’t even know existed and saw things I missed mostly because they were looking east and I was looking west.

In any case, here is the link to my pictures.

Wheel dip in Pacific Ocean, Fort Stevens State Park

 

Any Road Tour – Afterglowing

This bike tour, far more than any other that I have done, has left me with after effects that I truly wish I could hold onto.

The Physical Afterglow

Despite eating and drinking an appalling amount of unhealthy things, I managed to lose weight just about everywhere except my legs. The upper body muscle weight that I gained from lifting weights all winter is gone. My belly, although still very much in evidence, is smaller too. Mrs. Rootchopper said that the roll of fat around my waist in the back is gone. I can tell because my pants fall off.

Of course, the upside to this physical change is my body is much, much more efficient on a bike. My pedaling goes more round and round than up and down. I am a few miles per hour faster, which is not surprising, I suppose. I can stand when I climb, something that normally tires me out, and find an extra gear in the process. I noticed near the end of the tour that walking up stairs or up a hill was a snap.

I stopped doing my daily stretching and physical therapy routines for the first time in ages during the tour. It was a complete shock to me that I was much more flexible in my tent than I have ever been.

One thing that didn’t change, and may have been worse than before, is the cramping in my legs and feet. When I was putting my sandals on in the tent, I’d have cramps in my feet. My feet felt like they were curling up, kind of like the Dr. Pepper dude in An American Werewolf in London. Sometimes when putting on shorts in my tent, I’d get a hamstring cramp.One night when my calf was swollen, I had a humongous, painful  cramp in my calf muscle in the middle of the night. Ayeee! Then there was the infamous hamstring cramp in Astoria that caused me to fall off my bar stool.

I could do without the cramps but the rest of these physical changes are quite welcome. I held onto my weight loss from my Key West tour for a couple of months, until pulmonary embolisms parked me on the couch with junk food for solace. It would be great to hold onto these changes well into September so that the 50 States Ride is relatively easy. (Doing it last year with blood clots in my lungs set a low bar for “easy.”)

The Mental Afterglow

After the Key West tour, I was totally mellowed out (except for my bruised rib). This feeling went far beyond mere satisfaction from completing an arduous task over a month’s time. After this year’s tour, I had the same mental afterglow but it was much stronger and more long lasting.

I have no idea what the endocrinology or neurology of this phenomenon is. I recall reading an article about a writer who microdosed on LSD daily for a period of time. (Basically, until her supply ran dry.) She just felt happy all day long. And much more productive. I can’t say I’ve been particularly productive, but the happy part sure fits like a glove. A friend of mine once did ayahuasca and described a profound experience that she “still need[ed] to process.” I feel that same need to process this post-tour mental afterglow.

I talked about my tour with Joe, a reader in DC, at a protest I attended last week. He says he had the same thing after his tour and, to this day, he feels changed in a way that he can’t describe. Andrea, my friend from Friday Coffee Club, said something similar last Friday. She did a tour very similar to mine a few years ago.

It’s a subtle feeling. It’s similar to the feeling I get immediately after I meditate.  (Ironically, I stopped my meditation practice during the tour because it was obviously superfluous.) Maybe it’s caused by a boat load of endorphins or serotonin floating around in my head. I wonder if it made me less introverted during the tour, talking with my Warmshowers hosts or the people in the park in Wenona IL or Martin or Maria and the plant nerds. I definitely noticed it when talking to Julie in the bar the last night in Astoria. I felt like I was talking to someone I had known all my life.

Regardless of the introversion angle, I feel very different. And, just like last fall, the feeling is fading.

Can I hold on?

In the interest of holding on to the physical and mental afterglow, I decided to go for a long bike ride today. The humidity was oppressive and, as the day wore on, so was the temperature. I managed to ride my Crosscheck 92 hilly miles to Poolesville MD and back.

After the ride, I was totally zonked physically. I think riding fast on an unloaded bike brings about a higher level of muscle fatigue that riding a loaded touring bike slowly. Mentally, however, I felt the same afterglow, albeit in muted form. Then I fell asleep. And the Sandman took it away.

 

 

 

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Any Road Tour – Some questions, some answers

What did you do with your bike at restaurants, stores, nature breaks, etc.? 

I was mostly in small towns or along the side of a road in the middle of nowhere. I would lean my bike against a wall and not bother to lock it. I figured if a thief tried to steal my 80 pound bike, he’d probably crash within a few yards. Sometimes I’d through my U-lock on the front wheel to immobilize it or keep the front wheel from flopping which might cause the bike to tip over.

It was far more likely that a thief would take something from the bike. The rear panniers were buried under the tent and sleeping pad so they were inaccessible. The front panniers didn’t contain much of anything valuable. If you’re that hard up for chamois cream, go ahead and take it, brother.

My handlebar bag was another story. That contained, among other things, my wallet and cell phone. I am absolutely paranoid about losing either. (I even took a picture of my driver’s license in case someone stole my wallet.) I checked to make sure they didn’t fall out of the bag several times per day. If you’re smart (smarter than me) you’d carry a credit card, a copy of your id, and cash elsewhere in your gear. Of course, then you can worry about that stuff getting lost or stolen.

Where did you put your bike overnight?

When camping I’d have all my gear in my tent. This would leave my bike vulnerable to theft. First, I’d try to orient the door of my tent so that it was facing my bike. When things went bump in the night, I could peek outside and check on The Mule. Second, I’d secure my bike to something solid. When there was a picnic table available, I’d use a bungee cord to attach the bike to table so that it wouldn’t get knocked over. One bad fall and you could break a shifter lever or your derailler and that would be bad news. If there was only a tree around, I’d use the bungee to make a loop through the front wheel and around the seat post. This would keep the front wheel from flopping. Finally, I’d throw my lock on, if only to immobilize a wheel. Anything to make the bike undesirable to passersby.

Overnight or when it looked like rain, I’d cover my leather saddle with a waterproof seat cover.

At hotels, more often than not, I’d roll my bike right up to the reception desk as if to say, “Look, it’s already inside.” I’d ask for a first floor room. Failing that, I’d ask about an elevator. A couple of times I had to carry the bike up the stairs. I’d unload it first, of course.

I’ve only once had a hotel tell me I couldn’t take my bike in a room. This was in 2004 when I was touring with Big Nellie, my long wheelbase recumbent. They put it in the luggage storage room.

Always ask at hostels if there is secure bike parking. The hostel in Astoria didn’t have anything for me to use so I hauled The Mule up three short flights of stairs. After 4,200 miles, this was not fun. The hostel in Columbus had wall mounted bike racks in the living room, but I had to carry the bike up some steps to get into the house. The hostel in Pittsburgh had a garage. The one in Portland had bike storage in a keyed basement luggage room, accessible by an elevator.

What about prescriptions? 

I have two prescriptions that I needed to take on a daily basis. For my asthma medicine I had two partially used maintenance inhalers in hand. Then just before leaving town, I refilled my prescription for the last time. This was good for almost two months. My doctor is planning to tweaking in August so she gave me a sample inhaler to bridge me to my next appointment with her.

For my eye drops, I brought the prescription box with me. In Lewistown MT, a pharmacist used the information on the box to call my drug store at home and transfer the prescription to him. When I got home, the local pharmacy called Lewistown and they transferred it back.

How did you arrange for travel home?

One of the best aspects about being retired is I don’t have to get back to work on a certain date. The flexibility takes some stress from the tour. But I still have to get home, and do so without crushing my finances.

In Florida, I booked a return trip on Amtrak while staying with a friend in West Palm Beach. It was ten days away so I had plenty of time to make the train.

On this trip, I waited until I got to Missoula and booked a return flight on Southwest from Seattle for the Saturday after I’d reach Anacortes. This turned out to be an inexpensive direct flight to BWI. I used my points to pay for all but $6 of the cost. I left a day or two to deal with getting a duffle for my camping gear and to drop my bike off for shipping home. (You can do this at the airport, but that can be a big pain.)

By the time I got to Camano Island I had decided to bypass Seattle so I switched my return flight to a direct flight from Portland to BWI. It cost a few more points but the switch itself was free. (Southwest is great for this.) I gave myself three days in Portland to deal with my bike and the duffle. (It took about three hours.)

Using The Google, I found a bike shop and arranged to drop off my bike. They boxed the bike and acted as the shipping agent for FedEx. The bike is going to my local bike shop who agreed to be the receiving agent prior to the tour. The particulars of shipment were done through BikeFlights.com which was pretty easy to use.

July by the numbers

Well, this is getting ridiculous. I knocked out another 1,482.5 miles in July. 1,357 of that was from the Any Road Tour. I rode in five states (Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Virginia). There were five mountain passes too. My longest day was 94.5 miles over Washington and Rainy Passes then down hill for miles and miles and miles.

For the year I’ve ridden 7,736.5 miles. And my ass doesn’t hurt one bit.

Any Road Tour – How much did it cost?

I’ve been asked how much my bike tour cost. Well, I spent a few hours going over things and here’s what I came up with. I’ve spent about $6,288 so far. (I will probably spend another $200 or so on The Mule when it gets back to DC next week. Also, I need to replace one of my pairs of mountain bike shorts.) That works out to about $100 a day. My biggest expense was on lodging, a total of $3,461. Although I didn’t do the calculation my second biggest expense was food. I ate at least two meals a day in restaurants at (a total guess) an average cost of $10 – 15 per meal. Gas station food is expensive and unhealthy. More importantly, chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches get old after about three weeks. I spent about $145 on Adventure Cycling Association maps. And twice that much on bicycle prep, bike parts, and bike accessories.

With regard to lodging, here are some details.

Hotels: I spent 35 nights in hotels, motels, inns, and such. My total expense was $3,169 or an average of $90.54 per night. Of course, the vast majority of these included something resembling breakfast. Most breakfasts had fruit which fits ever so nicely in your handlebar bag.

Camping: I had intended to camp much more but I was in hotels much more than I had hoped. Camping costs a nominal amount. I spent $147 for 15 nights of camping, a cost of $9.80 per night. I am including in this Jim Gregg’s Bike Only Camp in outside Winthrop WA. Jim’s listed on the Adventure Cycling Maps but the contact number is obsolete. I found it on Warmshowers.org. He asks for a $10 donation.

Hostels: I stayed in four hostels. They cost me $145 or an average of $36.25 per night. Sometimes there was breakfast or coffee, sometimes not. If you are an extrovert. hostels can be heaven. You can talk to other bike tourists or travelers from all over the world. If you want to have zipless monkey sex, get a room. Depending on the place, you get free breakfast or can cook your own meals. (Richmond VA is the best. Pittsburgh is new and will soon catch up. Miami at $25 per bed per night is a steal.)

Warmshowers: I stayed with people from Warmshowers.org four times. In two cases, I was fed and in both these cases I did laundry. I am including in this the Honey Pot in Gackle ND. I found this on the Adventure Cycling Maps but it’s also listed on Warmshowers. The same goes for Alice’s Attic near Royalton MN. These were free, although the Honey Pot asks for a $10 donation. (There is also stuff for sale. I bought a book.)

Friends: I stayed with old friends three times for a total of seven nights including the last three nights after the tour was over in Portland. My friends made me feel like visiting royalty.

Pros and Cons.

Hotels are expensive but you get privacy and usually a decent place to sleep. Depending on where you stay you can get a free breakfast and access to laundry. Some of the places I stayed in had complementary bugs, musty A/C units, stale Cheerios, and noise. I asked for an AARP discount and was granted it every time but once. I did not have my card with me. You could ask for the AAA discount if you have no soul. If you really want to save some bucks, don’t ride solo. What I mean is share a hotel room with a fellow traveler. Martin and I never coordinated our motel stays.

Camping works great if you can find a clean, soft, level spot for your tent and it doesn’t rain like a bitch. I once had to clear geese poo from my campsite which is not an experience I want to repeat. I always tie up my bike so it doesn’t fall over in the wind or get knocked over by passers by. And I lock it even if I don’t lock it to anything; the lock makes it unattractive to thieves of opportunity. A good sleeping pad is worth the weight. I prefer a two-person tent so I can bring all my stuff inside. Also, I can sit up and change my shoes. I did not bandit camp (on someone’s property without permission) or camp in wilderness. I am a city boy and I don’t like ticks, bears, cougars, or farmers with shotguns.

Choose your Warmshowers hosts with care. Read their bio and the list of what they have to offer (bed, camping, laundry, food, etc.) on the website. Be prepared to talk. One big reason people host bike tourists is to be entertained by their tales of the road. And, in the bargain, you’ll learn about life in the hosts’ neck of the woods, including gold mining, a local loony’s Noah’s ark, alternatives to your route, and storing cookies in an out of commission oven. It goes without saying that you are a guest in their homes. Act accordingly. If you think a Warmshowers home will not work out for you, offer your apologies and stay somewhere else. I did this twice. As they say in basketball, no harm, no foul.

Friends, especially those who don’t ride their loaded bikes across the country, will be in awe of your deeds. They will treat you like royalty. I know it’s hard, but indulge them. Don’t be a pig; leave at least one beer in the fridge when you leave.

Planning ahead is not a bad idea. I was closed out of several opportunities when I waited until the last minute. Campsites were using a centralized reservation system called Reserve America that would only reserve you a space if you called more than 24 hours in advance.

 

 

 

 

Any Road Tour: The Worst

Every bike tour has bad aspects to it. I was on the road for two months. And I am surprised how little went wrong.

    • Soul sucking headwinds. I had a couple of tough days in Illinois when I was surprised by strong headwinds (and hills). My ride from Circle to Jordan MT must have been a drag because I don’t remember much about it. I also had a tough day riding the last day into Astoria, but I didn’t realize it because adrenaline kicked in as I approached the coast. The baddest day was the 88 mile ride to Missoula. The scenery was gorgeous. The entire ride was downhill. The headwinds were punishing. Five days out of 60 is not that bad.
    • Defying death in Iowa. I got caught in a nasty storm in a hilly part of Iowa. My brakes were totally inadequate to the task. It was scary. I made a bee line for the flat Great River Road in Wisconsin.
    • Too many motels. Time and again, my camping plans were washed out by storms at night. My plans to camp out on the first three nights on the C&O canal were washed away. What the heck am I carrying all this camping gear for? I used my tent for the first time in Indiana.
    • Killer hills on day two. The washout on the canal meant that I had to ride over Catoctin and South Mountains in Maryland. I was not physically or mentally up to the climbs.
    • Days six and seven. Three steep climbs in a row. The second taking me from Pennsylvania into West Virginia and the Ohio River valley was truly the hardest climb I’ve ever done. I was weaving all over the road just trying to move forward. There was nothing meditative about the climb, it was just damned hard. Then I decided to skip a scuzzy hotel in Wheeling and climb back out of the Ohio River valley. Dang. The next day’s steep rollers made me feel utterly incapable. I made a wrong turn and traded scenery for flatter ground.
    • Hapless apps. Both weather.com and google maps were sources of frustration. Weather.com consistently got the timing or even the occurrence of nasty storms wrong. I was better relying on my eyes and ears. Google maps tried to get me to ride down a steep decline on a wooded single track trail in Shelton WA. Near Camano Island WA it told me to turn around and go down a nonexistent street. It was useless when I tried to cross the St. Croix River from Minnesota to Wisconsin.
    • Unreal food. Lord help you if you are a vegan or even a vegetarian and you try to ride your bike in rural America. Time and again, the stores had no fruit or other healthy food. I bought a sandwich in Sandpoint ID that was a soggy mess when I opened the wrapper a few hours later. I ate it but I wasn’t happy. And in Newhalem WA the only store for over 60 miles was closed because of a computer problem. Good thing I had a ripe peach and some downhill riding to get me to the next town.
    • Close passes and f-bombs.
      • I expected far more closed encounters with big metal things. The worst one was on my ride from Fort Stevens into Astoria. The bridge had only about a two-foot shoulder and the cross winds were strong and erratic. A tractor trailer passed about a foot from my left shoulder. There were plenty of other close passes but I had room to bail out if necessary.
      • I never really got used to the two-lane roads with a 70 mph speed limit in Montana. Objects in your mirror are closer than they appear indeed.
      • I think I had only one unpleasant encounter with a driver. He was annoyed that I delayed his access to the only road across Shelton WA. He dropped numerous f-bombs as I rolled past in traffic on a road torn up by construction. A mile later her caught up to me and started in with the f-bombs again.
    • Inhospitality

Many towns out west offer free or low cost camping to bike tourists. Iroquois IL and St Helens OR were two towns that didn’t offer this anymore. (I could have caught the latter if I had read the addendum sheet from Adventure Cycling.) Winnett MT had camp grounds but they all seemed to be closed. (I camped illegally next to an RV.) And the Warmshowers place in the town of Lewistown MT looked like a dump. The volunteer at the town greeting center told me that I couldn’t camp in the park with in Kettle Falls WA. I called the police and they gave me permission.

  • Medical woes. I pushed my body hard and it gave me plenty of feedback.
    • In Minnesota, my left calf started swelling up. Then I rode 136 miles in a day. I’m an eejit. Because of my recent deep vein thrombosis in that area, I had to visit an ER in Bismarck. Thankfully, it was a false alarm.
    • In the town of Square Butte MT, I ate a late lunch. I ordered a chicken Caesar salad. What I served was an elaborate dish, the biggest and best salad I’ve ever eaten. Unfortunately my tummy was not up to the task. When I dismounted in Geraldine, my head was swimming. Any thoughts of riding on to a Fort Benton with a tailwind were scotched.
    • When I dismounted in Missoula after 88 miles into a headwind, I had a similar experience with light headedness. I skipped the Warmshowers house and checked into a hotel.
    • Before the tour, I did two months of physical therapy for my left shoulder and arm which ached in random ways at random times. Winds pushed on my panniers causing me to use my arms and shoulders far more than on a regular bike ride. My arms and shoulders were quite sore from simply controlling the front end of the bike. After a few weeks the pain in my arm and shoulder went away.
    • The middle finger on my right hand has been numb for over a month. My handlebar tape was so compressed it offered no cushioning. Both hands feel stressed from holding on to the bars for so many hours. In Washington state, I noticed that my wedding band felt tight. My fingers were so swollen that I couldn’t budge the ring. (It comes off now with some persuasion so I think my hands will be fine with time.)
    • I have a history of lower back problems including back surgery. I’ve been doing physical therapy exercises every day for over 20 years. And my pulmonary embolisms presented as back pain last December. So I was a bit worried that all the riding, especially the climbing and riding into strong winds, would cause big back problems. My lower right back sometimes felt like it was being stung by bees. It may have been old scar tissue stretching under the strain. Regardless, my back held up fine.
    • The expansion joints in the highways of North Dakota beat my back and bottom up for several days.
    • Speaking of back problems, I stopped doing my back exercises for the entire tour. Not only didn’t I miss them, but I was much more comfortable in my tent. I could change clothes and move about without difficulty.
    • I had some perineum soreness. This came on especially when I was making a big effort. I noticed that I’d push down on the handlebars and saddle, digging in, when mashing the pedals. When I became aware of this, I’d focus on loosening my upper body and unweight my behind, often by standing in the pedals or stopping. Also, I had no saddle sores, despite discontinuing chamois cream somewhere in Minnesota.
    • A recurring problem was muscle cramping. Sometimes I’d get cramps in my feet or lower legs when changing shoes. Sometimes my calves would go haywire. The worst calf cramp happened the night before going to the ER. Then there was the massive hamstring cramp in Astoria. My advice is that if you’re going to fall off a barstool, get piss drunk first. You won’t notice how hard your right sit bone hits the floor. (Mine hurt for four or five days.)
    • With the understandable exception of the mother of all climbs in Pennsylvania, I did not feel any maxing out of my lungs. I breathed hard for long periods of time but I always felt like I had extra lung capacity. This is strange given that I have asthma. I didn’t use my rescue inhaler once.
    • My knees normally are all messed up but they only felt sore a couple of times, after difficult climbs. By the time I made it to the big mountains out west, my leg muscles were cooking with gas.
    • The black wasp sting in Port Townsend WA hurt big time. After an hour the pain went away but my lower lip was a swollen mess. The swelling went away in two days.
  • Mental problems
    • I can’t think of a single day when I was depressed. Tired? Yes. Anxious? Yes. Depressed? Nope. After the first days, I discontinued my daily meditation practice. Never missed it. After all, I was on a rolling meditation retreat.
    • As I explained before, I made it a point to focus on the short term. When I was under extreme stress, I’d concentrate on NOW. If I looked too far ahead, especially early in the tour, I ran the risk of being overwhelmed. Ironically, once I reached Astoria, I found it strangely discomfiting. I needed mental rest as much as I needed physical rest. Talking to Julie, Shannon, and Eric, mostly about their lives, helped a lot.

Any Road Tour: The Best

At the risk of leaving things (or people out), here’s a list of things that stick out in my mind as the best parts of the tour.

  • East to west is best. The conventional wisdom says that riding west to east is best because the winds are mostly at your back. If true, I totally lucked out with tailwinds. I was the envy of every eastbound bike rider I talked with. In Washington state, several people told me about the eastbound riders who quit after a week. The climbs to the series of five mountain passes are a brutal way to begin a tour.
  • Wonderful solitude. With the exception of days with strong headwinds, I loved riding alone for hours and hours with my legs spinning away and my brain squirrels running all over the place. Time after time I would come to a place where I had planned to stay the night. When I realized I had four hours of daylight left, I’d get back on the bike and pedal, simply because it was so much fun.
  • Mindfulness in motion. Riding up the long hills and mountain passes out west should have sucked. (The steep hills in the east were another story.) Each one was hard in its own way. It would take a while but I’d get into the rhythm of the climb and just enjoy the view. When the road steepened, I’d look down at the twenty yards of the road in front of my wheel. All I have to do is pedal that far. Stay loose. Don’t tense up. Pedal smoothly. Breathe. Pedal that far. Pedal that far. Every twenty yards, simply begin again.
  • Are you kidding me? Seeing a mountain pass sign a mile or two or three before I expected it was a great surprise. This happened at least three times. I was actually disappointed when I got to Rainy Pass. So early? I was robbed.
  • Chuffed and knackered at the pass. When I got to the top of my first pass, Rogers Pass in Montana, I was hurting, then I saw the sign. I did it! More importantly, I knew I could handle the five passes yet to come in Washington state.
  • My longest day ever. The 136-mile ride from Morehead MN to Gackle ND was epic. A mini-tour of Fargo. Chats with several eastbound riders. Tailwinds on a pool table. A doe and fawn in the grass along the road. Twilight on the prairie. A sunset seemingly too far north. Darkness. Bugs. No more tailwind. Rolling hills. Rain. An owl in the road. Finally, waking up Martin at the Honey Pot, the beekeeper’s house, just after midnight.
  • Going down. Riding down mountains out west, especially from Sherman, Loup Loup, Washington, Rainy, and Wauconda passes, at 25 to 35 miles per hour for an hour or more. Surely this hill will end. Nope. On and on and on. Stay loose. Watch for bumps or cracks in the pavement. Look around. Let the bike run. Use the force, Luke.
  • Square Butte. It looked like I’d be at its base any minute but the vastness of the plains distorted the sheer mass of the thing. It took hours to get close to it. I was shocked when I saw the sign indicating an 8 percent grade into the canyon around the butte. White crosses indicating fatalities all over the place. Do you believe a Mule can fly? Yes!
  • Badlands, are you kidding me? I had no idea I was going to see a painted canyon. I could not believe my eyes. I just walked around the viewing area stupefied. WOW.
  • The GAP Trail. I’ve ridden all or most of it five times. It never gets old. If you live anywhere near DC or Pittsburgh, you have to ride this trail. The Southside Travelers Rest hostel in Pittsburgh was a terrific place to stay too.
  • Painted farmland. I was only in Iowa a couple of days, but I thought the farms planted in concert with the terrain were agrarian paintings.
  • Grog and vittles. I can understand great craft beer in a big city like Minneapolis, but Wibaux, Kettle Falls, Anacortes, and Astoria? What a treat. Oh, and don’t forget the outstanding pizza in Minneapolis and Wibaux.
  • Hosts of hosts. Whether they were people I knew from my past or from Warmshowers, I stayed with or visited so many people who treated me well.
    • Pittsburgh, PA: Earl and Anne Price. Fed and watered me. Helped me find a belt. Gave me a cook’s tour of The Burg.
    • Watseka, IL: The town park’s representative, a kid named Connor, and the town police officer all treated me like a visiting hero. Breakfast in the bar the next morning was a bit surreal, but my time in the park was splendid.
    • Twin Cities, MN: Cathy Combs, Russ Pylkki, and Krista Combs Pylkki treated me to my first day off. I was more tired than I realized.
    • Royalton, MN: Alice Winscher hosts touring bicyclists at Alice’s Attic. I stayed in the loft of her barn amid dozens of antiques.
    • Morehead, MN: Terri Trickle and Drew Sandberg along with son Scott and dog Poppy made me feel like family. How can you not love people who keep cookies and snacks in their old oven? Seriously.
    • Gackle, ND: The unseen Millers are migrant beekeepers, a profession created by their great grandfather. They put touring bicyclists up at their home. It’s a place called the Honey Pot.
    • Missoula, MT: When my friends in DC heard I was going to Missoula, they all said you have to meet Emma Wimmer. Emma gave me a tour of the Adventure Cycling Association offices where she works and made several recommendations for my day off in Missoula. The next time she’s in DC, I’ll give her a tour of the fabulous Rootchopper Institute. When those five minutes are over, we’ll go for a ride.
    • Republic, WA: Dianne Hewitt (a postmaster) and her husband Boyd (a gold miner) hosted Martin and me. They fed us to the max and talked our ears off.
    • Bike Camp near Mazama, WA: Jim Gregg is the Gyro Gearloose of Warmshowers hosts. His bike camp includes an outdoor shower and a composting toilet. And, when the clouds go away, awesome views of the stars. Oh, and his dog Stout is an excellent co-host.
    • Camano Island, WA: Tim Jones and Michele Wentworth took me in for a day off at the start of the home stretch in Washington and Oregon. I could have stayed on their deck gazing at Mt. Baker forever. And Tim set up a Facebook call with Steve Fisher, an old friend who lives in Prague.
    • Portland, OR: No bike tour is complete without an attorney. Eric Koetting and I worked together as attorney and client off and on for over 25 years. Eric kept me fed and watered for three days. He took me to Multnomah Falls, a rose garden, a Japanese garden, and the spectacular Oregon coast. He also drove The Mule and me to a bike shop so that I could ship The Mule home. After that we went to an Army surplus store where I bought a duffle bag to consolidate my gear for my flight. And he drove me to the airport to boot.
    • Portland, OR: Jeff and Shannon (my niece) Ryder let me stop in and play with their son Tommy who is learning to crawl.
  • Friendipity.  I am a total introvert. It takes me a very long time to feel comfortable with people. Three times on this tour I met wonderful people by pure luck.
    • Martin Arnold quit his job in the elevator business and started his tour in Switzerland. It seemed that any time the grind of the tour was getting me down, Martin would just appear and cheer me up. We met or hung out in Gackle ND and Circle MT, outside Colville WA, and in Republic WA and Marblemount WA. I hope I cheered him up too. Martin would fit right in with the BikeDC crowd.
    • Maria Mantas was my personal Rogers Pass welcoming committee. She took my picture then enthusiastically invited me to be her guest at the Montana Native Plants Society annual get together in the woods outside Lincoln. I didn’t learn much about plants but I did discover that hiking in the woods is hard on the body and good for the soul. She is without a doubt my favorite plant nerd.
    • After I dipped my wheel in the Pacific, I needed a day to decompress. Out of the ether came Julie Councellor Crabtree. It may have only been for a couple of hours but our conversation was nonstop and effortless. A Hoosier transplanted to Juneau Alaska, Julie is an artist who, in addition to painting, makes jewelry from materials she finds in nature. She is also a Rolfer.  Her finest creations are her two boys about whom she boasts with disarming charm and obvious momma love.
  • The Support Team. Although this was a solo tour, I didn’t ride alone. I had tons of help. Thanks to one and all.
    • Mrs. Rootchopper who held down the fort at home through torrential rains and searing heat and stifling humidity.
    • Marie and Roy shared the blog of their 2015 tour along a similar route to mine. From time to time they left me comments on this blog about places to visit or avoid.
    • There were trail angels too numerous to count. The woman who bought me breakfast in Pennsylvania. The man who guided me to a bike shop in Longview Washington. Stephen who showed me how to get out of Fort Stevens Park and back to Astoria. The motel clerk who gave me a towel to clean my chain. (It made it to Washington state.) The folks from Smith’s Bike Shop in LaCrosse WI who gave me energy gels.
    • The ER at Sanford Medical Center in Bismarck was efficient and calming. I was seen right away. And best of all, the news was good. I did not have a blood clot in my leg and my tour could continue.
    • I had tons of moral support from readers of my blog, in the comments, in emails, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Next up. The worst.