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: Day 62 – Falls, fail, and fifty

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.

Oink.

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.

Boo.

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?

Miles: 61

Total miles: 4,301.5

And another thing, while riding through Portland, The Mule turned 50.

Any Road Tour: Day 53 – Off the map to Camano Island

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.

Miles: 55.5

Tour Miles: 5,796

Any Road Tour: Day 52 – Going to the end of the line

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.

Miles: 66

Trip Miles: 3,740.5

Any Road Tour: Day 40 – The Mule goes over the top

Last night I over did dinner again. Cheeseburger (Montana beef is mighty tasty) with fries, three local Belgian white beers, and tater tots stuffed with jalapeño and cheese. Suffice it to say, I did not sleep all that well.

I awoke at 5:30 to a massive muscle cramp in my left calf. It hurt so much. I told myself to breathe through the pain and it subsided. (Frankly, I think the breathing just took my mind off the pain.)

Breakfast was a massive serving of biscuits and gravy with an equally massive side of hash browns at Mel’s Diner across from the Inn. I was disappointed that the Fonz wasn’t there but the food was great.

Off I rode budding Augusta farewell. I headed south roughly parallel to the Rockies. A favorable wind allowed me to ride comfortably for 20 miles before I turned west and began THE CLIMB OF DEATH.

I road a two lane highway with minimal shoulder (thanks to rumble strips). Speed limit 70. Up, down, and around the road meandered. The ups were bigger than the downs as I slowly made my way to 4,500 feet. Then the gun began.

The climb to Rogers Gap at 5,600 feet was 8 miles into a headwind.

Of course, to make it more interesting the road became steeper near the top.

I pulled over to rest about 3 miles from the crest and my bike started to roll backwards. I had been climbing so long that I didn’t realize how steep it was.

I paced myself as I ascended. Getting to the top wasn’t particularly difficult, it just took a long time.

Then I saw the sign for the top. Continental Divide, Ma! (Sorry. Geezer cinematic reference.)

Some cars were parked on the shoulder. A woman got out of the rearmost one and offered to take my picture.

Her name was Maria. We got to talking and I mentioned that I wasn’t sure where I was staying tonight. Maria was doing field work with the Montana Native Plant Society. She invited me to stay with her group (of over 100 people) just east of Lincoln.

I begged off then took off down the mountain. Or not. The dreaded soul sucking westerly Montana headwinds were much stronger on this side of the Mountain.

Running low on food and water I realized that it was poor form to turn down such s gracious invite.

After I crossed a beautiful river, I followed Maria’s directions and ended up at their campground . It has a lodge building and shower facilities. I will be camping along a river.

I arrived around 1:30 so it’s a short day for me. Tomorrow will be a tough 80+ mile grind into the wind to Missoula and a rest day.

Miles: 52

Total miles: 2,956.5

Any Road Tour: Day 32 – Badass in the Badlands way

Before we begin today’s tale, I need to clear up something from yesterday. I did indeed cross into the Mountain time zone late yesterday.

Last night I splurged for a decent hotel and had dinner at a sit down restaurant. Salad and jambalaya. The portions were huge. The walk back to the hotel was mostly a waddle.

At hotel breakfast this morning I met Peggy an Jeff who were traveling to Milwaukee by bike. They are known on Crazyguyonabike as PB&J.

The way west was aided once again by a mild tailwind. I must have been good because Bike Santa is sure being nice to me. The road climbed gradually and rolled a big bit I was having no problems. Then I realized that’s The Mule had achieved a milestone coming out of Dickinson.

The number and size of buttes increased today as I rode west. I startled a pheasant in the tall grass next to the road and he blasted up and away. I also spotted another fawn.

Frankly I thought the green hills and buttes were quite pretty. After a few miles the route took me into I-94. The shoulder is paved, ten-feet wide, and has a rumble strip so I felt very safe. Interstates tend not to have steep hills which made my legs happy.

I noticed the soil near the road was not brown. Instead it was white like a sandbox or gypsum in wallboard. I spotted a couple of cool looking mesas in the distance. Then I went around a big grassy hill. When I came to the other side of the hill I saw it. The Painted Canyon of the Badlands in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Not only had the terrain changed in what seemed like an instant, but it was spectacularly beautiful. I rode to the scenic overlook, parked my bike, and walked around for over a half hour.

The road to the scenic overlook contains a cattle guard, a metal rumble strip that catches the feet of large animals. The large animal here is the buffalo. Sadly I didn’t see any but when I got back on the interstate I could hear and see prairie dogs. (No pictures though because I was going downhill.)

I left the interstate to visit Medora, a funky western town that looked cheesy to me.

I stopped at a pub for lunch, a steak salad. Delish.

When I started up again the wind direction had changed. The headwind increased in intensity for the rest of the day as a storm passed through, mostly to the south and east.

Also the hills increased, or seemed to. A bike tourist zoomed by me in the opposite direction. He waved as told me that the food in the gas station in Sentinel Butte was great.

This gave me something to look forward to as I fought the wind and the hills. It also began to rain, not hard but the raindrops were big and cold.

I stopped at the gas station that looked like the one in Mayberry. Inside three men were packing up a burgers and snacks lunch. They offered it to me but I had eaten only a couple of hours earlier. Instead I asked for some ice cream. One of the men paid for it. Then another mad opened up a container on the table. Cookies. I had one, again for free.

Heading west was one big hill then a long downhill through rollers to the town of Beach. Here the route took me back to I-94. And the storm started building over me. Fortunately the road began to angle to the northwest. Into Montana. Note the selfie path.

There were two signs that just might have been related.

For the last five miles I had a strong tailwind. Despite very tired legs I flew along at 17 miles per hour until I exited the freeway at Wibaux. All the rain had convinced me to grab a hotel. I found one just outside of town in a gravel road. No lie.

Time to take the gas station dude’s recommendation and head into town for some pizza and beer.

My thanks to the people of North Dakota for a pretty awesome week that began with colorful ASL bike racks and ended in jambalaya and gas station freebies.

Miles today: 76

Total miles: 2,395

Any Road Tour: Day 20 – Trails and tailwinds to the banks of the Mississippi River

I’m sitting in my tent listening to waves wash up on the little beach just below my tent site on the Mississippi River in Lake City. Finally! Hawks and eagles are flying around searching for dinner.

There is a near zero chance of rain tonight so no rain fly for me. I expect I’ll be drenched by 2 am.

Last night I got the senior’s special at the family restaurant next to the hotel: spaghetti with alleged vegetables on the side.

The Settle Inn turned out to be a very nice hotel. The complimentary breakfast had proper china and silverware. I had my usual double dose of food.

Off and running under overcast skies with cool temperatures, I found the Great River Trail and followed it north next to an active rail line along the river. It was mostly unpaved but it had withstood the recent rains rather well. (The surface was almost as good as the GAP trail in Pennsylvania,)

An interesting feature of Wisconsin trails is that you have to pay a user fee – $5 for the day, $20 for a year.

It was worth it. The trail was shaded and afforded so many different views. Trains, bluffs along both sides of the river, swamps, trestles, even an Indian mound.

In the winter it is used by snowmobilers because Wisconsin.

I didn’t see anyone for ten miles then I saw some riders with event numbers on their shirts. Soon after a black van pulled along side me. It was a local bike shop doing support for the event. The woman and man and I talked for a while. She gave me some energy food things that tasted like marguerita mix. Trail angels show up when you least expect them.

Such nice people. They even took my picture to prove that I am not making this up from a bar in La Crosse.

I managed to get lost soon after this but The Google and a compass set me right. I road a few more miles on the road turning down a chance for Food and Booze! (Wisco people aren’t very subtle.)

I re-crossed the river at Winona Minnesota.

After a delicious burrito at the Winona Sandwich Shop, I headed north on highway 61. Yes, it’s the same one made famous by the Bob Dylan song only he was singing about the southern part in the Mississippi delta.

For about 20 miles I had a tailwind and a perfectly paved 12 foot shoulder. The Mule took off, cruising along at 16 miles per hour . Wheee!

For a brief period I diverted from this four lane highway to a quieter country road near Kellogg. They warned of jaywalking turtles.

About an hour later I was wondering if my destination got the night existed. Lake City is on a section of the river called Lake Pepin. The town once was a world leader in the manufacture of pearl buttons. And claims to be where water skiing was invented.

For me it held good and a campsite along the river.

I was pretty tired. Fortunately a nearby camper named Brad came over and helped me set my tent up. (The elastic cords inside my tent poles are stretched. Anybody know how to deal with this?)

And so the sun sets on another long day in the saddle. 90.5 miles.

My total mileage so far is 1,498.

Tomorrow I go to Saint Paul.

Any Road Tour: Day 19 – Great River Roading

Yesterday my waterproof panniers leaked again. The biggest victim was my 39 year old paperback copy of The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test.

The clerk at the motel gave me a roll of 8 plastic bags to put my stuff in so I don’t think there will be any more water problems.

Yesterday The Mule passed another milestone. 47,000 miles. He gets extra oats tonight.

After eating mass quantities at the hotel breakfast bar, I hit the road from Prairie du Chien thinking I had 77 miles to ride. It turned out to be 63.5, all on Wisconsin’s Great River Road along the Mississippi River. The river is mostly a protected area in these parts so there wasn’t much motor boat noise. The road, a two lane highway, wasn’t nearly as peaceful. There were trains every 20 or 30 minutes, and car and truck traffic which increased throughout the day.

I could occasionally see the terrain in the western side of the river. It was very hilly. I cruised along headed north with a tailwind. River and railroad to my left, bluffs to my right. It was hazy until 12 a.m. so the views were rather muted. I can’t complain. Tailwind, riding in the shade, temps in the 70s.

I pulled into a gas station. The sign indicated I was in Wisconsin. For the record I have yet to try cheese curds. They are to Wisconsin what boiled peanuts are to North Carolina.

A few other signs caught my eye during my ride.

The views were well worth the increasing traffic as the day wore on.

At 3 I arrived in La Crosse Wisconsin which is only 62 miles from Prairie du Chien. With rain approaching I once again forgot about camping and headed for a hotel. Apparently La Crosse is a happening place this weekend. Most hotels in town that I could afford were sold out. The desk clerk at the sold out Courtyard found me a hotel that had a vacancy. It’s called Settle Inn. It’s still being built but what’s finished is quite nice.

There’s a guest laundry which was very much in need. And there is a restaurant next door.

Speaking of next door, Minnesota is now across the river. Iowa it was nice knowing you.

On to Minnesota!

Today’s miles: 63.5

Total so far: 1,407.5

Any Road Tour: Day 16 – Tailwinds to the Mississippi

Drinking a half gallon of caffeinated soda at 9 p.m. might not be the best formula for sleep but I did it anyway. After yesterday’s beatdown from hills and headwinds I could not get enough to eat. I had PB&J sandwiches, a Snickers bar, two chocolate chip cookies, and fast food. And my pants are falling off. No lie.

I had two breakfasts because, well, no food be said “Stop!” I think I am going to get banned from some hotel chains.

I decided to stay on the due west Adventure Cycling Northern Tier Route because the Google instructions for riding into Iowa on a northwestern diagonal were much too complicated.

On the road around 8 I instantly felt regret. It was cool and there was a strong wind from the east. Perfect tailwinds for a fast bike ride. Why didn’t I get on the road sooner?

Leaving Kenawee I was cruising at 15 to 20 miles per hour. Hills? What hills?

The level prairie had given way to rolling hills. The main crops were corn and soybeans as before but they were planted in curves that matched the topography.

I didn’t take any pictures because I was too busy taking advantage of the fantastic conditions. I stopped for lunch st a 7-11 in Sherrard. I was half way to Iowa at 11:30,l. When I came back outside, the wind had changed direction. It was now a crosswind out of the south. It gradually shifted to the southwest creating something close to a headwind.

Still I was grateful for 38 miles of assistance.

I stopped a couple more times just to break up the grind.

Then I saw this sign. Not again. It was ambiguous.

I ignored it and never encountered the promised outage. At about the point where the outage was supposed to be, I caught a mile long curvy downhill on smooth pavement.

Zoom!

After a few more miles I stopped to orient myself. Next to me were acres of crops clearly in a flood plain.

My head was immediately surrounded by annoying flying insects. I won’t be camping near here was my immediate thought

Soon I was on a busy highway making use of my mirror just like in South Carolina last fall.

Then I saw this sign.

At the top of the bridge I stopped to check out the Big Muddy.

On the far side of the bridge in the city of Muscatine, I put a notch in my handlebars for the 8th state on my trip, Iowa.

A search with The Google turned up several hotels. After stopping for a celebratory ice cream cone, I pedaled onward looking for shelter.

Traffic was heavy and the highway unwelcoming, so I turned down a grassy hill into the parking lot of a Super 8.

Mission accomplished.

Today’s 78.5 miles were far easier than yesterday’s 62.5.

Tour total: 1,171.