I neglected to mention yesterday’s brief moment of terror. Near the end of the seven-mile descent, the road surface changed. The Missouri Department of Highway Mayhem added a rumble strip that I managed to hit at 28 mph. I hit one strip then another before escaping to the paved shoulder. No problemo. Just some wet pants.
We ate breakfast in the cabin after a good night’s sleep. Then we lit out for Missoula some 62 miles downhill to the north. Or so we thought.
After the first ten miles I struggled. We were riding on US 93, the only main north/south highway in the Bitterroot Valley. Traffic was unpleasant. After 20 miles or so we were shunted onto a bike path that has seen better days. (US bike infrastructure motto: we build them but we don’t maintain them.)
Both Corey and I were nearly hit by stop sign runners eager to get onto the adjacent highway. When my near collision happened, I abandoned the trail for the chip seal shoulder of the four lane 70 mph highway.
The road had rumble strips so I could hear any encroaching vehicle. I also have a mirror. I felt much safer.
We stopped a couple of times for gas station convenience food, but my body wanted a break. In Lolo we stopped at Dairy Queen. They have a $7 meal deal that was just the right amount of food (with a small ice cream sundae).
After that the trail into Missoula improved immensely. Once we were in town we rode trails five miles to the headquarters of the Adventure Cycling Association, of which we are all members. The ACA made the maps we are following. I took the lead and somehow brought us to the ACA doorstep without a missed turn.
After some photos we headed a half mile west to a hotel where I stayed in 2018. Our room is a second story walk up but it was recently renovated. It’s my turn to sleep on the floor.
Tomorrow we are taking a day off. We’ve been hitting the hills and the miles hard lately. We need fresh legs for the ride over Lolo Pass on Monday.
Miles today: 70. Tour miles: 2,335.5 (previous day’s miles were messed up)
I’ve lived in the DC area for more than half my life. I’ve been to most of the touristy spots multiple times. Like many people, when our kids were little we took them to the Williamsburg area where there is much to see and do. On the historical side, we visited Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown, but, for some reason we never got around to Yorktown, where the British army surrendered to end the Revolutionary War on October 19, 1781.
On Tuesday, I remedied that omission on two wheels. Starting at the Williamsburg visitor center I rode the Colonial Parkway 13 miles to Yorktown. The roadway surface, composed of aggregate (small stones in concrete), is a bit rough. It is oddly three lanes wide with no lane markings. Distance is measured not with mileposts but with kilometer posts. I can’t recall seeing this anywhere else in the U. S. It was hot and humid but the ample shade kept me comfortable until the parkway reached the banks of the York River.
The river is wide, perhaps a half-mile or more. The parkway, now unshaded, turns to the southeast following the river and passing through marshy areas and by narrow beaches. After a gentle upslope, the parkway ends at the entrance to the Yorktown Battlefield. The visitors’ center was closed, of course. A few people wandered around zombie-like listening to a virtual tour on their phones. To tour the battlefield takes three hours by car. Unless you’re a serious war wonk, you can cut to the chase and head to the Victory Monument.
The 98-foot tall monument was erected in the 1880s. It has a massive base which supports a column topped by a figure of Liberty. (Liberty has twice been damaged by lightning, Make of that what you will.)
There are extensive inscriptions on each side of the base. These writings make clear that the Yorktown battle and siege, to a very great extent, was a French operation. It was the French navy that fought of British ships off the Virginia coast, thereby preventing an evacuation of the British army by river and sea. Of the 17,000 land forces on the American side, 5,000 were French soldiers. Without the French we Americans would spending pounds, drinking warm beer, and singing “God Save the Queen”.
And so the war ended and the new country, no longer under mortal threat from Britain, could begin in earnest.
In 1976, the year of the U. S. bicentennial, the monument became the start and finish of a new tradition of sorts. Bikecentennial was an event that sent small groups of bike tourists across small town America between the Oregon coast and the Yorktown Monument. The route they followed was named the TransAmerica Trail. It traverses over 4,000 miles through Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Oregon.
Fittingly, for some TransAm riders, Yorktown is the beginning. For others, it is the end. For all it is a profound experience. In 1981 I met someone who was in one of the 1976 Bikecentennial groups. Equipped with a ten-speed bike and a whole lot of heart, Anne Meng rode with six other scruffy riders from west to east. I found pictures of her group on Flickr. (Search under TAWK518, the code for their group.) They show snow, fatigue, endless roads, and joy. Oddly, she never mentioned that she crashed and spent a night in hospital in Montana.
Today, the Bikecentennial organization is called Adventure Cycling. They have mapped over 50,000 miles of bike routes in the United States. My 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 bike tours were nearly all on Adventure Cycling Routes including parts of the New York to Chicago, Great Lakes, Lewis and Clark, TransAm, Northern Tier, Pacific Coast, Western Express, and Atlantic Coast routes. By my count, I’ve done about 9,800 miles of their network.
After returning to Williamsburg, I headed to Jamestown Island, adjacent to the Jamestown settlement, where the ships landed. A tunnel near Jamestown village was closed to bikes, necessitating a detour into the village. It was quaint and uncrowded but for re-enactors of early colonial life and a few tourists. Back on route I rode past the Jamestown Settlement site (which I visited with my family years ago) and onto Jamestown Island. The one-lane, level road through the woods was closed to cars. Yay, pandemic.
The rest of my ride took me in a twelve-mile arc around the western side of the Williamsburg area. This was unremarkable exurban and suburban riding in blistering heat. I stopped at a gas station convenience store for drinks and snacks. Half the people in the store were not wearing masks which made me very uncomfortable and angry. I suppose causing someone to suffocate in their own blood is worth the inconvenience of wear a piece of cloth over your face.
In 30 minutes I had reached the end of my 60-mile adventure.
I start in Chicago (or north central Indiana). I follow U.S. Bicycle Route 66, the dark blue line, to southwestern Missouri. This route follows, to the extent possible, the old Route 66 highway. I switch to the TransAmerica Route, the orange line, and head west across Kansas and the southern half of Colorado. In Pueblo, Colorado I take a day off after 1,300 miles. I’ll need it. I leave the TransAm Route and head west across the Rocky Mountains and into Utah. If I have it in me, I’ll do a side trip to Bryce Canyon National Park. I’m not planning on hiking but the scenery alone in Bryce will be hard to pass up.
Between Pueblo and South Lake Tahoe, California, there are dozens of mountains to climb. Most of them are higher and steeper than the seven climbs I did in Montana and Washington State last summer. My maximum elevation last year as a little over 5,600 feet. This route has climbs that go over 10,000 feet. To add to the difficulty there will be long stretches with no services, including no water. And did I mention some of these will be in desert? I bought a water filter and plan on carrying extra bottled water whenever I can.
I’d like to cut weight on this tour but there really isn’t anyway to avoid carrying a tent, sleeping pad, cold weather clothing, food, and water. The best place to cut weight is from the engine. Unfortunately, I now weight 213 pounds. No bueno. I need to be under 200 by the time I leave Pueblo.
Near South Lake Tahoe, I turn north along the Sierra Cascades Route. I thought this was going to be the hardest part of the trip, but now that I have seen the elevation map of Nevada, these mountains will be a relief (so to speak). This stretch of the tour will take me past Crater Lake. Once I get into Oregon, I’ll decide whether to continue following the Sierra Cascades Route to the Columbia River. There I can turn west following the river to the finish in Portland, Oregon. An alternative would be to switch back to the Trans Am route at Sisters, Oregon, climb over McKenzie Pass, and ride down to Eugene, or even continue to the coast. Either way, I would use the Google to route me to Portland.
Since I fully expect to be a hurtin’ unit for much of this ride, I have thought about places where I can call an audible and change or curtail the tour. For instance, I can cut out the Sierra Cascades entirely and ride one last climb west across the Sierras to Sacramento or, even, the Bay Area.
I planned a two-month itinerary, the same as last year, even though the tour is 700 miles shorter. The lower daily mileage has more to do with the availability of resources than with the difficulty of the route itself. For example, when I am faced with the option of a 45 mile day or an 80 mile day, I am planning on the 45 mile day. (I generally end up riding farther than plan because riding is preferable to sitting around a campsite or a motel.)
I plan to start on May 15. The original idea was to take Amtrak to Chicago. Mrs. Rootchopper has dangled the idea of driving me to her parents’ house in northern Indiana. I can ride west and pick up Route 66 in a day or two (and avoid the traffic of northern Illinois.)
I am open for suggestions as to what to call this tour. The Big U is one idea. YODO in the Wild West is another. If you have any suggestions, feel free to add them in the comments section.
When I retired, I finally could say good bye to imposter syndrome. an intense, irrational feeling of inadequacy. To some extent it served as motivation. Six months after riding solo across the country, I am doubting my ability to do a long tour. It makes not the slightest bit of sense but there it is.
For decades I have had nightmares about being in grad school. Typically, this involves forgetting to go to class (I missed only a handful of classes in college and grad school) or getting lost on campus. Last night I had a very disturbing nightmare about statistics, of all things. In my dream I had forgotten everything I knew about statistics. I felt utterly useless and defeated. I was rattled by the dream for a couple of hours after I woke up. This is totally stupid because I took statistics in high school, college, and grad school. I taught statistics at a college in Rhode Island. And statistics played a major role in my professional life.
A couple of hours after I woke up, I found a very woo woo guided meditation online. I just shut off my skeptic and went with it. It was recorded live and featured the sound of rain from a passing shower. After 25 minutes the lingering anxiety from the nightmare was gone.
Having restored my sanity, I went for a ride. I did 41 1/2 miles yesterday in shorts so I wanted to do a fairly easy 30 today. I was meandering through suburban neighborhoods when I decided to go down a dead end street to take a look at the Potomac River. The street was lined with McMansions that go for well over $1 million. As I passed one of the last houses before the turn around, I spotted something in a pine tree. A big nest. And right above it was a bald eagle. I am guessing that he may have been guarding a brooding mama eagle.
Before my ride I called Adventure Cycling about some maps I need for my tour. The maps that would guide me across Utah and Nevada were out of stock last week. It turns out new maps will be available on Friday. So I ordered all the other maps I need. Later in the day, a couple of packages arrived. One contained a pair of hiking poles. I intend to put them to use in April and later in the summer. The other package had new tires for The Mule and a lightweight lock, which I will use instead of a heavy U-lock.
Speaking of weight, I have noticed that The Mule’s engine has added some mass in recent weeks. Time to dial back the beer and chips. Oink.
Last night’s dinner at the Old Post in Missoula featured two pale ales that did a fine job of hydrating me and my dinner of a southwest burger with tater tots. Thanks again to Emma Wimmer for the dinner suggestion. Based on social media comments, Emma is missed by a whole mess of #bikedc people.
Speaking of #bikedc people, Alex Baca returned to DC today after several years living in San Francisco and Cleveland. (I think we should call her LaBron.) I can’t be at her welcome home party today but, we’ll, Welcome Home, Alex!!!!
Oh yeah, the bike tour.
I lingered over breakfast at the hotel to avoid riding in sub-50 degree weather. Did somebody say “Early April?”
I followed an informal route provided by Adventure Cycling. The ride out of Missoula included a lot of suburban ick but eventually I was on a frontage road to the very western section of the Mass Pike.
The frontage road doom turned to gravel and dirt for about ten miles. I didn’t care. I was rested and pretty much nothing would make me cranky.
Frenchtown went by in a blink and after 33 miles I rolled into Alberton. It had a general store so I parked The Mule under an extended eave and went looking for grub. It was a real challenge to find something not in a can or less than 80 proof.
As I shopped a cold rain began. I stood next to my steed eating Doritos, cookies, and a candy bar while swilling Diet Pepsi. Nutrition is my middle name.
The rain stopped so I headed out of town following my map onto the interstate. All was going well until I entered a construction zone. Traffic was one lane in each direction. I had a wide shoulder to myself until I came to two bridges which were about 150 yards long in total. No shoulder. Eek.
Fortunately the road was trending downhill and the speed limit was lowered from 80 to 55 mph. I waited uphill from the bridges and took off when I saw a big gap in traffic. I made it across with room to spare.
A mile later it happened again. This bridge was half as long but it was on an uphill section of road. I pedaled like crazy but only made it half way across before a white old man sedan rolled by me at about 30 mph. Thankfully it wasn’t a Winnebago.
I took another frontage road soon after the two squeeze plays. The views were great. The road was paved. I was following the Clark Fork River. I passed a rafting outfitter who yelled a greeting and offered me water. Nice lady.
In Superior I stopped at a funky cafe and gift shop. I ordered the peanut butter and banana panini and coffee. The sandwich came with chips, carrots, and a small piece of chocolate chip chocolate cake. And a cup full of honey for dipping.
With very happy tummy, I resumed my ride for the last 13 miles to St. Regis. This entire leg was on I-90. Once again I came to a bridge where I lost my shoulder. Once again I failed to cross the span before traffic caught up to me. I was fortunate that the first vehicle to reach me was a tractor trailer with a very patient driver. I heard him downshift as he approached. As I cleared the bridge I gave him a wave and a thumbs up.
Like yesterday today’s ride was nearly all downhill. I did only a handful of climbs of more than 50 feet. There were headwinds but they were manageable. And it rained a bit.
The best part of the day was getting to 70 miles and feeling like I could do a lot more. I didn’t. During the stop in Alberton I reserved a room at a motel in St. Regis.
Last night I laid out my wet things in my huge room at the Holiday Inn. And passed out.
I awoke and laid about, checking on flights home from Seattle and Portland. I packed up and went next door for coffee and a breakfast burrito.
Then I hit the bank because sometimes only cash will work in the hinterlands ahead.
I rolled over to the mothership, the headquarters of the Adventure Cycling Association. A friendly young man whose name I forgot took my picture with The Mule for the legendary Adventure Cycling wall of bike tourists.
Next I met Emma Wimmer, a former resident of DC and mutual friend of about a dozen #bikedc folks. She started by giving me routing advice for the next several days. Exactly what I needed. Then she gave me the cook’s tour of the place. I’ve been a member for at least 20 years so it was fun to see how it all works. I even met Ginny Sullivan who works on nationwide bike routes. We also have lots of mutual connections and interests.
After over an hour I posed with Emma for a picture outside. Thank you, Emma. What a treat it was meeting you.
Emma gave me recommendations on a camping store where I bought seam sealer for my tent. And on a restaurant (The Catalyst) where I bought lunch. Grilled cheese on vegan bread? Well, despite the dairy anomaly it tasted great.
Next on the advice of a Twitter follower I went to the Big Dipper for some ice cream. It was chilly out so I put on my jacket while I ate.
A block away I found Missoula Bicycle Works. They replaced my pedals (they’ve been squeaking since Minnesota) and tightened my rear hub.
Next I rode gently to the west of town and booked a hotel room. There I sealed the seams of the rain fly of my tent. Then I went inside on an absolutely beautiful afternoon and fell sound asleep for three hours.
I guess I was tired. They call me Mr. Excitement.
After waking I watched an inning of the Sawx vs the Nats on TV. What ever is wrong with my Nats? I am sure that my Baseball Operations manager is working hard to fix it, aren’t you Katie Lee?
In the evening I walked a half mile to the Old Post, Emma’s dinner suggestion. She went three for three.