The Mule ended the year in style by turning 56. I think this bike may just work out for me.
The Mule ended the year in style by turning 56. I think this bike may just work out for me.
Today’s ride from Baker to Ely was supposed to be relatively easy: 62 miles and two mountain summits (both over 7,000 feet).
I ate dinner and breakfast at Kerouac’s one of two restaurants in town. It had a limited menu for both meals, cold beer (at dinner) and a very cool atmosphere (background music included lots of mellow tunes including one by XTC that I’d never heard). Pricey? Yes. But a pretty good find in a dusty town with a population of 68 people.
The motel I stayed at was in an RV park. It looked rather run down but it served its purpose. I slept for ten straight hours.
After breakfast I headed down the road for about five miles. It seemed downhill which is a nice way to start the day. Nicer still I had a bit of a tailwind and some nonthreatening cloud provided relief from the sun.
Although I started at 8:15, it’s a bit late owing to the fact that I’m now on Pacific time. Winds tend to be lighter early in the morning which might have been a factor a few hours into the day.
I picked up US 50 (yes, the same one!). Out here it’s called the Loneliest Road in America. It seemed mighty busy to me.
I was feeling pretty good, especially after yesterday’s long ride. I knew it had to be a tailwind. I rode all the way up to Sacramento Pass at 7,154 feet. I never felt stressed during the climb, stopping only to munch and eat.
Over the top the thrilling descent revealed the strength of the winds. I was flying down the mountain and getting blown all over. Thankfully, no cars or trucks or rental RVs passed me.
The descent turned toward the south as I entered Spring Valley in the shadow of Windy Peak.
That beneficial tailwind was now in my face and it was strong. (Should’ve hit the road earlier!) even with the remains of the downhill I had to work my butt off to make forward progress. In the valley there were lines of wind turbines spinning away.
The road included a short incline that would have been unremarkable except for the hand of the wind god on my chest.
The wind only intensified, somewhat unusual for this time of year, I’m told.
Crossing the valley to the nearly nonexistent town of Majors Junction took over three hours. The valleys are supposed to be the easy part!
I stopped at an RV Park/Bar/restaurant/motel. The property was surrounded by a fence topped with antlers. The neon sign said “Open”. There was no sign of customers or operators. A sign on the locked door said, “Out back in the barn. Back in 5 minutes.” The porch of the place provided shade from the hot sun while I waited. And waited.
After 15 minutes a woman came out and said, “We’re closed. Tuesday is my only day off.” In other words, “Get lost.”
So I headed up the ridge on the western side of the mountain. My battle with the winds in the valley had deadened my legs. Thankfully the route turned back to the north giving me a helping wind that I sorely needed.
It was only five miles to the top but it took well over and hour. I kept stopping to rest and re-full my water bottles from my bladders. The wind was blowing so hard that I was having trouble transferring the water.
I kept poking along until I reached Connors Pass at 7,722 feet. I was a hurtin unit.
With that wind at my back and a long downhill to the Steptoe Valley I moved from my granny to my big ring and boogied. 22 miles to go. Nearly out of water. (Or so I thought. I had at least a liter left.)
One surprise today was how green the valleys are. Snow continues to melt on the ridges. I was hoping for flowers but I’ll take grass and sagebrush and trees (on the hillsides).
I closer I was to Ely the slower I seemed to go. I was obviously running out of gas. I grabbed the first cheap hotel I could find, a Motel 6. It’s not nearly as nice as the cheap motels I stayed in the last three nights. (The swimming pool outside my door is gross.)
While sitting on the porch of the closed place in Majors Junction, I decided that if I was having this much trouble on an easy day, I’d be screwed on a longer day. My next day is Ely to Eureka. 78 miles. Four summits. No services. Similar weather.
So I am taking a rest day in Ely. I haven’t had one since Salida, Colorado over two weeks ago. This will give me a chance to rest and buy food. I’m also changing to a different hotel in town.
Miles today: 61.5
Tour miles: 2,383
Top speed: 35.2 mph
The day began at 3:30 a.m. I woke up stressing about the fierce weather approaching from the west. The day’s sole objective was to not get caught in the maelstrom.
After inhaling the hotel complementary breakfast (they had Cheerios!!!), I hit the road at 6:50 wearing 2 shirts, my jacket, and my long pants. It was only 48 degrees outside and the wind was blowing. Fortunately for me the wind was either at my back or to my side all day.
I hopped on a rail trail and rode it southwest out of Staunton. I passed a couple of horses munching near the trail side. One was a palomino, my favorite. It brought to mind the dearth of livestock I’ve seen in this trip. There have been no herds of cattle or horses to stampede like last summer in the northern plains.
I flew by into Edwardsville in about 2 hours. There I pondered whether to take a google maps short cut to St. Louis or continue following Route 66 on a circuitous track to the north. After briefly attempting the google route I decided to stick with my Route 66 maps. Google has too many turns and, for all I know, goes through sketchy areas.
Before crossing the Mississippi into Missouri, I stopped at a market to buy snacks. It’s been painfully obvious that I haven’t been eating enough on this trip so I bought apples and candy bars and cheese.
The river and a connected canal looked bloated as I rode across the old Route 66 bridge which is now closed to motor vehicles.
Turning south, I followed the riverside trail and passed a Missouri DOT truck parked at a trailhead. The truck’s flashing lights were on. The driver was asleep. I continued for another 100 yards and found my wheels encumbered with thick, slimy river mud. I worked my way up to an adjacent highway and started scraping away at the gunk in the narrow paved shoulder.
An African American man of about 40 pulled up and stopped in the north bound lane.
“Are you okay? Do you have a flat?”
“Nope, just clearing off mud.”
“You should get up in the grass out if the road.”
So I did. He pulled his white SUV onto the grass next to me.
The people who drive on this road are crazy. You gotta be careful.
Seconds later: BANG
Two sedans collided on the road. One went one way. The other ended up right where I was standing.
As the SUV driver, whose name was Jerry, said, “That would have fucked you up.”
All I could do was think of my friend Dave.
One of the two cars took off up a side road. The driver of the other car walked up to us to see if we got the car’s license. Unfortunately I was too dumbfounded to notice. For someone who just went through a hit and run this drivers remarkably composed, as if it happened every day.
Off she drove shaking her head.
Back at my mud chore, I notice that my right index finger was bleeding. Jerry pulled out a first aid kit and gave me alcohol swabs, disinfectant patches, and band aids.
He then gave me his phone number to call him if I got stuck in the storm later in the day. Finally, he gave me directions to get back to the trail where it runs atop the levee, away from the mud.
“Whatever you do don’t stay in this road. It goes through the most violent neighborhoods in the area. Two or three people get shot every day.”
I thanked him profusely and followed his guidance. Unfortunately the trail diverted from the levee back toward the river. The mud in this area was several inches thick and super slick. I had to backtrack about a mile and ride in the road again.
This road has heavy truck traffic. Big trucks too. It’s a good thing that truck drivers are patient because every one of them passed me with plenty of room.
At Broadway and Grand Boulevard I had a choice: go two more miles along the river risking crazy drivers and gawdawful mud or ride up a steep hill toward the center of town. I chose to ride up the hill thereby bypassing the Gateway Arch and the interesting buildings along the riverfront. Having already seen them I didn’t think it was worth the risk. Plus, the hill cut some distance and time from my route, a good thing since I had lost at least an hour of time to the mud.
The neighborhood I rode through made the gnarliest DC neighborhoods look like paradise. It was hard to decide what was sadder, the depressing poor people at the bus stops or the shattered big round stained glass window in a beautiful old church. This was obviously a neighborhood bereft of hope.
Then suddenly I was in Grand Center, a few city blocks of lovingly maintained old theaters and businesses. Next came St. Lois University with gorgeous gothic revival buildings.
Turning west on Lindell Boulevard I passed the majestic Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. On past Forest Park I pulled up to the main entrance to Washington University. The main building stood on a hill facing the city with an unobstructed view. Sadly the University has cluttered the place with modern buildings, with another being added.
Soon I was heading west out of town through posh suburbs with hectic traffic and traffic lights that always seemed to be red.
This was taking too long but I had no choice. My original plan was to stay at a motel in Ellisville but the google picture made it look like a dump.
I forged ahead 12 more very hilly miles to Eureka. Along the way I rode on Woods Avenue. It was about a 3-mile, 400-foot windy, wooded descent, the stuff of bicyclists’ dreams.
Unfortunately this was followed by a 1-mile, 400 foot climb that taxed my body to the max. It felt just like the two mountains I climbed near Pittsburgh on last summer’s tour.
As if to pat me on the back for surviving the climb. The road descended 400 feet over the next mile, after which another 200-foot climb was a non event.
I pulled into a Burger King. After I dismounted I was shaking from the effort of those nasty hills. I ate an Impossible burger, a veggie burger that is supposed to taste like beef. It did. Well played BK.
The last two miles were uneventful. I checked in to my hotel, showered, inhaled some snacks then checked the weather.
We were under a tornado warning. Soon sirens blared. This was not a drill.
The hotel’s guests were gathered in the lobby looking at the radar on a big screen. Scary stuff.
It took a ton of effort, sone luck, a trail Angel, and way too much mud but I pulled it off. A day for the ages.
85 miles today. 380.5 so far.
And this happened on one of those nasty climbs.
The last few days have been a scramble to get important stuff done before I leave for the tour. Today involved trips to the post office and putting together all the stuff for the tour. This took way too long. I had hoped to get to the Book, Jacket, and Journal Show in DC that my friend Katie Lee told me about but I ran out of time. Check it out if you are in town over the next ten days.
After about 90 minutes of work, The Mule is ready for a bike tour. Me not so much. But the time has come.
You will note that this bike weighs a ton. Some of the load is consumable. Maps. Soap. Chain cleaner. Lube. A book (Devil in the White City). I switched from a Kryptonite U-lock to a much lighter Ottolock to save weight. But I added two water bladders and a water filter so the bike weighs about as much as it did at the start of last year’s tour.
The bike feels much heavier though. I think I need to work on weight distribution. Everything in the so-called water proof panniers is in a plastic bag. That’s because the panniers have proven not to be water proof. Live and learn.
The engine is a bit heavier than last year. I attribute this to beer consumption. This year I consumed; last year I did not. After a few hundred miles and some temperance, I should be complaining about my pants being too loose.
Last year my body was in decent shape except for a sore left shoulder and arm. After a cortisone shot, that problem seems to be mostly gone. My left knee is very wonky though. I am seriously worried about it. The hills of Missouri should be a tough test.
Weather looks nasty. Missouri and Kansas seem to be having nonstop rain and thunderstorms. Let’s hope tornados are not in the mix.
I have the tour route roughed out. The starting point is still up in the air. Presumably I’ll start on Thursday from my in-laws house near North Judson, Indiana. If so, I’ll ride 60 miles to Kankakee, Illinois. On Day 2 I will connect with Bicycle Route 66 about 20 miles away. There is some discussion of driving me to Chicago where Route 66 begins. My first day will then likely be a confusing 65-mile ride to Joliet, Illinois. (If this is anything like riding out of Miami, I will be cussing for 6 or 7 hours.)
We shall see.
Oh, I don’t yet have a name for this tour, so I’m calling it the No Name Tour.
It was a whopper of a year for me on my bikes. I pretty much shattered every personal record.
I rode a total of 11,837 miles, 1,926 miles more than last year.
I averaged 32.4 miles per day.
I rode 309 days, taking 56 days off. I never took more than 3 days off in a row.
On my riding days, I averaged 38.3 miles.
I rode 4,300 of miles on my Any Road Tour from Mount Vernon, Virginia to Portland Oregon.
June, all of which was tour riding, was my highest mileage month: 2,260.5 miles.
My longest day was 136 miles from Morehead, Minnesota to Gackle, North Dakota on June 18.
The Mule, my 1991 Specialized Sequoia, accounted for 46.5 percent of my riding, 5,502.5 miles. 281 miles of my riding were done indoors on Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent, mounted on a trainer. Most of this riding was in recovery from medical problems in late December 2017. I only rode the Tour Easy 1,099.5 miles in all. I’d sell it except for its usefulness indoors.
My Bike Friday New World Tourist took me 2,001 miles. It’s fun to ride but it beats me up because it’s little wheels don’t absorb road shock particularly well.
My Surly Cross Check soaked up another 3,234 miles, just riding around the DC area.
Year end Odometer Readings
The Mule: 51,024
Big Nellie (outdoors miles only): 42,010
Little Nellie: 21,002
Cross Check: 10,668
I’ve ridden The Mule over 5,500 miles this year. Today my trusty steed turned 51. Time to give it a rest for a few weeks.
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.
M&Ms come in all kinds of flavors these days. Last night I meant to buy the old fashioned milk chocolate kind, but I got the sleeping pill version. I ate some and passed out at 9:15. I woke up 7 1/2 hours later with no idea of where I was.
This tour is starting to wear my ass out. Good thing it’s nearly over.
The hotel breakfast was biscuits and gravy, oatmeal and raisins, eggs, sausage, potatoes, coffee, and OJ. I took an apple and a banana for the road.
The ride to Portland must have featured a tailwind because I put no effort into it. I rode over the St, John’s bridge and followed my maps toward Multnomah Falls which is well east of the city up the Columbia River. As I rode I saw beaucoup runners, mostly really good ones. Oregon is the home of Nike, the late Steve Prefontaine, and Alberto Salazar and the weather is perfect for running. At least it was this morning, before a heat wave hit.
There were also bicyclists riding what was obviously a predetermined route. It was the Portland Bridge Pedal. It’s like the 50 States Ride in DC but with signs instead of a 10 page indecipherable cue sheet.
I rode to the Columbia River and around the airport. I saw two story house boats and green islands and a rather enormous snow covered mountain which I took to be Mt. Hood. (It might have been Mt. Adams but what do I know.)
When I arrived in Troutdale, I saw an electric sign that said the interstate exit to Multnomah Falls was closed. I asked the Google and it told me that the cycling route to the falls was closed.
I booked a room in a hostel conveniently located 15 miles across Portland. So I asked the Google to direct me. And I got a tour of the city. I was riding mostly in the northwest part of town. Parts reminded me of Pasadena, others of Stockholm, and others of Arlington Va. I saw light rail, Craftsman houses with interesting paint jobs, and helpful bike wayfaring signs.
I even saw two buildings that had a Peter Max kind of paint job.
I checked in to my hostel which is walking distance to all kinds of interesting stuff that is closed because it’s Sunday evening.
Tomorrow I go see my niece and grandnephew. The boy looks like a cross between Winston Churchill and Don Zimmer. This raises the question: what do they call gerbils in England?
Total miles: 4,301.5
And another thing, while riding through Portland, The Mule turned 50.
You really didn’t think I’d stop riding, did you.
A spaghetti dinner, another pale ale, and a restful sleep I awoke somewhat energized. A delicious breakfast at the Calico Cupboard Cafe put me in a good mood.
I loaded up the bike and headed west, to the park beyond the ferry terminal at the end of the Northern Tier Route. The clerk at the hotel suggested that the loop ride ad through the park would be a great capstone to the ride.
She was right. There were views of the islands and, I think the northwestern edge of the Olympic Peninsula. It was blue, the trees were green, and the air was fresh. The loop road was steep in parts so my granny gear got a bit of a work out.
Some nice people took my picture with The Mule.
After the loop road I doubled back to Anacortes and headed east off Fidalgo Island. I was headed south to Camano Island and the home of Tim Jones, a high school classmate, and his wife, Michele Rushworth.
I had to rely on The Google. Got a whole the ride was super easy; I was pushed along flat farm roads by a north wind. The crops were varied from potatoes to corn to cherries to rhubarb to squash to winter wheat and many more. I know because the farms put up signs for city slickers like me. There was a beautiful fine green grain that swayed in the breeze. No sign indicated what it was but my money’s on rice.
When the route neared a traffic circle, The Google went haywire. It told me to go through a small town and turn around. I stopped and checked the route. The traffic circle connects to a busy two lane highway going straight south. Looks okay to me. And so I played with the big metal things for an hour.
The road to Camano Island was blocked by a two-car crash do I followed a detour. It was a mix of farms and wooded areas. Not a bad little ride.
In Camano itself The Google decided to go into Mountains of Misery mode. It took me on side roads to avoid the main drag down the island. Theses were the kind of abrupt ups and downs I hated in east Ohio.
I hit 35 mph on a descent after grinding up a hill in my granny gear.
The last bit was incredibly steep. Right up to the house I was weaving across the road in my smallest gear and standing to make it to the top. The nastiest bit of climbing so far in the tour!
Tim and Michele had previous plans for dinner so I took over their deck for the evening. That’s Mount Baker in the distance. Not a bad place for a day off tomorrow.
Tour Miles: 5,796
I camped of the Skagit River in a surprising nice town park in Rockport Washington. I awoke at 4 sore in every joint and every vertebra in my body. Vitamin I to the rescue.
On the road by 6:20 and up a short steep hill to discover the town gas station was closed. No gas station breakfast for me. Sad face.
I rode 9 miles to Concrete. The Google directed me to a specialty bakery in town. I ordered hash and got a skillet. It was okay but not the gut bomb the day required.
Luckily the day required nothing but riding on a pool table into a sight headwind. I should have taken the highway and it’s smooth pavement but I followed my maps and endured chip seal for 30 miles.
As I approached my first salt waters, I saw big hills ahead. Anacortes has a little in common with San Francisco, I’m afraid.
Luckily the route maps took me around the hills and into downtown. I spent 45 minutes riding out to the ferry terminal just to say I rode to the end of the line. Vancouver Island and the San Juans will have to wait.
I am pooped!
Fortunately my high school classmate Tim Jones lives about 50 miles from here and has offered me some R&R.
A very large mountain (Rainer, I think) looms over this place and makes me feel like a poser. Damn, it’s big.
I rode back up town for food and a celebratory drink. Road Trip pale ale was on tap.
Now it’s time to find a room.
Trip Miles: 3,740.5