Any Road Tour – Riding with La Mariposa

During my bike tour to the Pacific northwest, I tried to put out of my mind that I had several mountains to climb to get from central Montana to the Pacific. With each climb I’d find myself grinding away, sometimes at speeds as slow as 4 or 5 miles per hour. On several occasions as the effort became difficult and my speed fell, I would pick up a companion.

As it turns out, butterflies fly at about 6 miles per hour. I’d find myself totally focused, giving it everything I had, and there, flitting around me would be a butterfly. Each time it seemed as if the butterfly was telling me, “See how easy it is?” These encounters would go on for as long as five minutes, welcome diversions from the arduous task at hand.

And my flying companions would remind me of someone.

Four years ago, a friend of a friend died. She was hit by a bus while walking home from a Metro station. It was 2 hours before her 42nd birthday. A Facebook memorial page was started. Many of the postings in her native Spanish referred to la mariposa, the butterfly. Perhaps this was just an obvious reference to rebirth or maybe it was a childhood nickname. Regardless, the upshot of these posts is that whenever I see a butterfly I think of Lorena.

Lorena was going to American University. Younger students and friends would look up to her and ask for advice. Her advice was often couched in three sentences:

Are you happy?

What would make you happy?

Do that with everything you’ve got.

Time and again this summer, mile after mile, I pedaled onward and upward, fulfilling my dream of a lifetime. And when the hills steepened, una mariposa would remind me to give it everything I got.

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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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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.

Any Road Tour: Lessons Learned

Well, I’m back in good old muggy DC. Time to reflect on two months of bicycle touring. What worked? What did I find useful? What did I bring and didn’t use? What did I not bring and wish I had?

Things that worked

  • Before I left, I had my bike tuned up. By two bike shops. Special thanks to Taylor at the Spokes Etc. Belle View location for doing the final look over. As part of this process, I had a new chain, cassette, and big chainring installed.
  • Even though my old tires looked fine, I replaced them with new Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires (700×35). I had no flats over 4,300 miles.
  • I cleaned and lubed my chain every four days or so. (I use wax lube so this is not unusual for me.) I had only a handful of bad shifts, mostly due to me rushing to get to a much smaller gear.
  • I bought a slightly used Brooks Flyer saddle before leaving. I needed the ability to tighten the leather and the adjusting bolt on my old Flyer had run out of space. I had zero saddle sores, but still had some perineum problems, particularly in the first half of the tour. I dug out the adjusting wrench and tightened the saddle up. Then I made sure to get my butt off the saddle at least once an hour. Problem solved.
  • I had only two mechanical issues. My pedals started to fail and my hub of my rear wheel came loose. Missoula Bicycle Works replaced the pedals and tightened the hub. No big deal.
  • My 15-year old tent started to leak. I sealed it with silicone sealant. I have no idea if it will still leak because it didn’t rain when I was camping afterwards.
  • For sleeping I had a yoke-shaped travel pillow. It was exactly what I needed. I propped up a big pannier then put the pillow against it. Great for reading and sleeping in the tent.
  • I used a silk sleeping bag liner. On colder days I supplemented it with an REI sleep sack, a lightweight sleeping bag. I was cold only once. I put on my rain jacket and went back to sleep.
  • The REI full length sleeping pad was indispensable. I simply can’t sleep in a tent without one.
  • Warmshowers.com worked well, if imperfectly. I had success in Morehead MN, Republic WA, and outside Winthrop WA. I also stayed in two places listed on the Adventure Cycling Maps. They were both also on Warmshowres. Alice’s Attic in Royalton MN and the Honey Pot in Gackle ND.  Another five of these experiences were excellent. My experience in Lewistown, MT was not a good one. The host’s yard was a mess and he and his neighbors had several barking dogs. I didn’t stay. I went to an overpriced dumpy motel instead.
  • Adventure Cycling Maps also worked well. As the tour progressed I deviated from the maps’ routes. Places where the maps need work are in eastern Ohio (I missed a turn even though I was paying very close attention) and in Stillwater MN. There was a detour to get across the LaCroix River that was poorly described in the ACA material. I wasted an hour or more trying to navigate the mess. It’s super important to read the addenda to the maps. I didn’t and ended up paying for hotels a couple of times.
  • Google maps saved me numerous times when I made wrong turns or deliberately strayed from the ACA routes.
  • Sun sleeves. I wore them everyday for the last month or so of the tour. No more bugs sticking to my arms.
  • Compression sleeve. When my left calf became swollen, I started wearing a compression sleeve. The swelling went down and stayed down.

Things that didn’t work

  • I used chamois cream religiously on previous long rides and tours. I forgot to put it on one day in the middle of the tour and never used it again. Maybe it’s useful for humid conditions like we have here in DC, but I never missed it.
  • Weather.com was laughingly inaccurate. Time and again it forecasted storms when none came and missed storms that I could see with my eyes.
  • My Ortleib panniers leaked. Again. I put my stuff in plastic bags before loading them into my panniers. Also, my Ortleib handlebar bag is annoyingly hard to open and close. The map case tore in the first couple of weeks. The hook at the bottom of my front panniers came loose multiple times.
  • The lenses in my sunglasses are for distance only. I really need a pair with progressive lenses so I can read my maps.
  • My crappy rim brakes were useless on downhills in the rain. I highly recommend disc brakes for touring.
  • Years ago I downsized the chainrings on The Mule using Sheldon Brown’s gear calculator. Only I couple of times was my granny (easiest) gear not quite up to the task.
  • Google Maps occasionally went haywire. Sending me in circles or, in Shelton WA, to a single track thtough the woods and along a cliff.

What did I bring and didn’t use

  • Most of my repair kit. My spare tire. My spare tubes. (I’d still bring them for obvious reasons on my next tour.)
  • My bear bag and rope. I used the bag once in Pennsylvania. I didn’t camp in the woods and didn’t need it.
  • Chamois cream
  • Trail mix. I carried a bag from Illinois to Portland. It was buried deep in a pannier and it got so old I decided not to eat it unless absolutely necessary.

What did I not bring and wish I had

  • My fiber fix spoke. I found one in Ohiopyle PA.
  • My passport. I was really close to Canada when I was in Washington state. More importantly, if I had to deal with road closures, I could have ridden north into British Columbia.
  • My headsweat. I brought it and left it in a hotel. So I sprayed sunscreen on my head everyday. (The bottle ran out on my last day.)
  • A belt for my off road shorts. I bought one in Pittsburgh.

I may add to this if I think of things. If you have questions about gear, gear choices, feel free to ask away in the comments section.

Next up: the best and worst parts of the tour

Expecting to fly

I am staying at the house of my friends Eric and Sue just outside Portland. Sue is out of town so Eric is doing his best to show me around the area.

Yesterday we checked out a rose garden and a Japanese garden on the hills west of downtown.

That’s Eric with the statue of the rose garden’s founder.

After s midday break we drove to the Cannon Beach. The Oregon Coast is truly beautiful. Sometimes dorks get in the way of pictures of haystack rock.

After Cannon Beach we drove south to Oswald West State Park. More pretty.

We stopped one more time to gawk at the scenery, this time at Neahkanie Mountain.

The last couple of days have been like going through decompression. My body is figuring out that it’s been through a lot. My brain is happy not to have to navigate, find a place to sleep, or keep a look out for large metal things.

A tip of the hat to Eric (and Sue) for the hospitality.

I’m off to the airport in an hour or two for the flight home.

Any Road Tour: Bikeless in Bikeland

I have four things to do while in Portland and I did three of them today thanks to Eric and his wife Sue’s station wagon.

We drove to West End Bikes in downtown Portland and dropped off The Mule for its shipment home. The service department people seems to be very competent so I have a good feeling that this is going to work out fine. Still, parting with The Mule was difficult after over 4,300 miles.

Next up was a trip to Andy and Bax Army surplus across the Willamette River. It took all of four be minutes to find a big duffle bag. (Later I tried out all my stuff and it looks like I can make this work without incurring luggage charges.)

Chores completed we drove to Multnomah Falls up the Columbia River gorge. The parking lot was closed, but we could see people leaving, so we drove to the next exit and doubled back. And the parking lot was magically open!

The hiking trails were closed but we did get to check out the falls from the base and the walking bridge part way up the cliff.

As you can see, my head completely absorbed the water.

Tomorrow we may drive to the coast.