June 2, 2017

For the backstory on this cycling adventure, click the “About” button on the home page menu bar. 

Howard writing:  We’re driving up the beautiful Willamette Valley on our way to Newport, Oregon for the launch tomorrow.  The adventure seems surreal at this point; I feel a little like an imposter – all plan, no execution.  Tomorrow, I will feel differently when I finally point the bike eastward and hit the road.

I’m filled with many emotions at the moment … excitement, terror, elation.  But mostly I’m filled with gratitude for the chance to do this ride, and love and gratitude for my wonderful family and friends who have encouraged and supported me in fulfilling this longtime dream.   Wendy, especially, has been the biggest supporter of all – without her participating in the ride, it might not have happened.  Thank you to all – I will carry you with me on every mile.

Wendy writing:  So happy to have the prep behind us and finally be on the open road. I’m in awe of what Howard is taking on. He’s been training these past many months, and all systems are go for tomorrow.  I’m looking forward to seeing our country and Canada at a 60-mile/day pace.  This is much slower motion than we normally have in our lives. Each day, I’m looking forward to cycling about 30 miles on my e-bike, and having space and time on my own.  I’m keenly aware of the privileged life I’m living, with the luxury of time for Howard’s and my cross-country trip together.  In gratitude- game on!

June 3, 2017 – Newport to Corvallis, Oregon

Howard writing:  The first cycling day is in the books – a great one.  The morning was spent in continuing to refine our camping and departure systems.  There are systems for everything – finding things, preparing the bikes for the day, making sure the trailer is ready to roll, arranging snacks, and on and on.  This meant we didn’t actually start to ride until close to noon.

Newport is a genuine fishing town, with a working historic district that we passed through on the route.

We had fun lunch at a bbq benefit for the Siletz Grange – $6 each, and here’s a $20 bill; keep the change.  Big spenders from California.  We chatted for quite a while with some very friendly people – in fact, all we have met are friendly people.

Politics never seems to come up in these casual conversations, but it’s definitely present.

The ride from Siletz over the Coastal Range was just spectacular.  It follows the Siletz river for around 20 miles, then climbs up to some sweet hamlets near the summit.  I was surprised to see a rainbow flag flying in front of one little farm, and a peace sign displayed at a little crossroad.

There was almost no traffic.  Beautiful streams, wildflowers, pastures, the occasional clear-cut hillside, and great tranquility.

Back on the main road, Hwy 20, for the last 15 miles was much less enjoyable. Still, the trip has had a great start.

June 6, 2017 – Sisters, Oregon

Howard writing:  We’re in Sisters, OR, resting for a day and catching up on all the little travel chores – washing clothes, replenishing dry ice and enjoying a brewery stop in Bend, etc.

The second and third day of riding were terrific.  On Sunday, we crossed the fertile and lush Willamette Valley, joining the Santiam River into the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.  We passed fields of wheat and oats, pastures with sheep, cows, and horses, and then connected with a small road paralleling the Santiam River.  

We camped at Riverbend County Park in Foster, OR.  This campground was situated right alongside the river, and was just fantastic.

We drove back into Foster to watch the Warriors demolish the Cavaliers.  We struck up a conversation with a woman who introduced herself as “Judy-but everyone calls me Judy Jabberjaws.”  It didn’t take long to understand why.  She was a lovely and warm person – as was her husband, Lorenzo – with some very curious views on the world, which she shared with Wendy (see below).  

Yesterday, we crossed the Cascades over the Tombstone and Santiam Passes – 65.7 miles; 5800’ of elevation gain. 

The weather was perfect – cool morning, moderate afternoon.  The climbs were long, but gradual, following the Santiam River to near its source.  Traffic wasn’t heavy until the final 22 miles into Sisters. 

At the Santiam Pass, there was smoke from controlled burns obscuring the views of the Three Sisters, Mt. Bachelor, and Mt Washington.  The six-mile descent from Santiam Pass was awesome.  A good dinner and the incomparable Oregon brews, topped off a great day.

Today, we were chatting with our campground neighbors, a professor couple from University of Oregon.  After I described our route eastward near John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, north of the now-famous Malheur Wildlife Refuge, one of them warned us, “There are three things the folks around there hate:  Californians, cyclists, and liberals.”  Oops.

Wendy writing:  We are working out our systems with all of our stuff in our small trailer and back of the van. It feels like we’re living in a small boat where everything needs to be “ship-shape,” each item in its place and overhead cabinets immediately closed so that we aren’t hitting our heads.

The trailer is fantastic – a cozy space with lights, sink, stove, couch that becomes a comfortable almost a king size bed.

We have a lot of technology that needs to be charged virtually each evening, so whenever possible, we’re finding that campsites with full hookups are the way to go.

On day 2 of our cycling out of camp, I found that the trip feels like we’re doing day trips out of each campground; the amazing thing is that we will do these day trips all the way across the continent with the scenery changing dramatically over the 3 months. Already the terrain has changed so much: Day 1 was coastal and forests; Day 2 was agricultural open space; Day 3 was forested again with snow-peaked mountains.

I am mixing it up as to how I join Howard cycling. On Days 1 and 2, I really enjoyed the combination of cycling “full speed” with Howard with my e-bike for 15 miles or so – and then heading back to the van and trailer on my own at a slightly slower pace, stopping more frequently for photos. I enjoyed a slower morning on Day 3 (no cycling for me) and then met Howard at our next campground. Today was a layover day – it was a great break for both of us to not work with logistics. We plan tomorrow for Howard to start off on his own – I’ll drive to secure our next camp and then cycle back to meet him. In order to fit my very large bike in the van, I’m getting a great upper body and core workout lifting gear in and out of the car!

As Howard mentioned in his post above, I had a very interesting conversation with the woman at the restaurant where we were enjoying the Warriors beat the Cavaliers in Game 2 of the NBA Finals (go, Warriors!). When I commented about the beauty of Oregon, she told me yes, that when Trump was elected that the drought (that Obama had created with all of his climate change focus) had instantly ended; that as the Bible says that good can win over evil. She also said that Wikileaks says that Obama and Hillary are investing in ISIS. Other than saying that “I don’t think that’s right,” it was hard to know what to say. We are so alarmed and distressed that the United States has pulled out of the Paris Accord. There is such a divide in our country; and Judy’s comments show how powerful beliefs are, and how facts often don’t enter into the process of forming beliefs. Really just wanting to watch the basketball game, I shifted the conversation back to the game and other topics with common ground.

The friendliness and warmth of the many people we have met has been striking (including the couple in the restaurant). People are ready to chat at length, offer us advice re: our route, share their lives. Learning new things: for instance, who knew that llamas are territorial and great guard animals?!

 

PS Be sure to check back periodically at earlier posts as we are beginning to add photos. We also plan/hope to add maps. Our days are full and our internet access limited, so our blog is definitely a work in progress.

June 8, 2017 – Mitchell, Oregon

Howard writing:  Yesterday took us up and over Ochoco Divide, which more or less separates central from eastern Oregon.

The landscape has changed dramatically – jagged rock hills have replaced mountain forests, browns have replaced greens, and volcanic rock is evident.

With rain forecast for the next several days, and with a wonderful tail wind, I decided to add 16 miles to an already-long day yesterday and push on to Mitchell.  Total riding distance was 85.7 miles, with 3300 feet of climb. Wendy rode 24 miles, round trip.

Mitchell is a sweet town (population, 120) not far from John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. We’re camped in our little trailer outside a bike hostel that doubles as a church on Sundays.  There are several other cyclists here, and it’s fun to trade stories.

 We watched the second half of the Warriors dramatic victory last night in a local cafe, which stayed open an hour and a half past the normal 7:30 PM closing to allow us to watch the end of the game.

Yesterday, a wife-husband duo who own a coffee kiosk in Redmond, OR, committed a random act of kindness toward me.  I rolled up to the window and ordered my coffee and we chatted for quite a while about the ride, about the central Oregon region, about small town life, etc.

These are cordial and warm people.  When I pulled out my money to pay, they refused to take it.  I said, “C’mon, that’s not right, let me pay.”  The  guy said, “Look, we own this place and we can do whatever we damn well please!”  Then they asked if I had room to carry with me a half-pound of their custom-roasted coffee beans.  I had to refuse the offer.  That lovely encounter warmed me for the next 50 miles.

 

About this trip

About this blog: This blog will serve as a journal for our grand 3800+ mile cycling adventure across the country.   The result will be part travelogue, part reflections on the landscape and people, and part miscellaneous observations formed on the road.   Other than on this page, we will identify who is entering each blogpost.  A special thank you to our son, Drew, for his technical advice on setting up the blog.

Origins of the trip: Both of us have crossed our country by car several times. Each time, we have been struck by the remarkable beauty, expansiveness, and endless variety of the places – and the people – we have seen along the way. As Howard’s retirement from the NPS approached, his longstanding dream of cycling across the country became more powerful and more practical. Now that he’s fully retired, and Wendy is semi-retired, the timing and opportunity have finally together. Realistically, we’re not getting any younger, and now is our chance to fulfill this dream – one of the biggest items on Howard’s bucket list.

Route: Originally, we had wanted to ride American Cycling Association’s “Northern Tier,” starting in Anacortes, Washington and ending in Bar Harbor, Maine. Because of heavy snows this past winter, many of the roads over the North Cascades will not be open until well after our June 3 launch date. So we modified the route to start in Newport, Oregon, and travel generally in a northeastern direction through Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario and Quebec and Maine. We will pass through parts of six mountain ranges – Pacific Coastal Range, Cascades, Sawtooth Mountains Rocky Mountains, Bighorn Mountains, and Appalachian Mountains. We will cross the Great Plains, and upper Midwest. We will ride through parts of Ontario and Quebec in Canada. And we will finally traverse Maine from west to east. If all goes according to plan (which it won’t) we will be in Bar Harbor, Maine toward the end of August.

Mode:  A ride across the country is inherently hard. But we have made it as soft as possible with the purchase of a cute little teardrop trailer. Wendy will be riding a bit each day with Howard, and will drive their van and trailer onward to each night’s destination. This is the true game-changer, because Howard will be able to ride with very little gear on his bike, as compared to a full load of 40-60 pounds of touring gear.  Plus we will have a quick, easy, and comfortable way to camp.

Bikes: Another game-changer is Wendy’s new Gazelle electric assist bike. This heavy beast of a bike will allow her to ride with Howard a portion of each day, but then circle back to move the trailer.   In April, through a unique chain of events initiated by our son Reed,  Howard bought a Canyon Endurace CF SL Disc 9.0 SL bike directly from the manufacturer in Germany. This may be the first Canyon ever shipped to the US – the company will not begin US distribution until late this summer. The bike is light, solid, fast, and hopefully durable enough for the rigors of the trip.

Come along with us as we cycle coast to coast.

June 11, 2017 – Vale, Oregon

Howard writing:  We’ve made it to Vale, Oregon – the Idaho border is just 15 miles away.  This marks our 9th day on the road.  What a trip this has been – everything we could have asked for.

On Thursday, I rode from Mitchell to John Day, over one long pass and into the high desert.  It was a day of firsts:  first thunderstorm, first rumble strips, and first flat tire.

They call the thunderstorms out here “water spouts” because they are brief and intense, but very localized.  If you’re lucky (and fast) on a bike, you can sometimes get outside the rain swath, which might be only 1/2 mile wide.  Or you can take the full force while fumbling around for your rain jacket, as I did.  I’ve learned that these deluges are announced by strong, swirling winds that can almost blow a cyclist over.

Rumble strips are 3 inch indentations stamped onto the right edge of roads as a safety measure.  I appreciate the safety aspect, but if your wheel drifts onto the rumble strips, your head is nearly bounced off your neck.

The flat tire was very frustrating, because it took me over an hour, and two tubes, to complete the job alongside the road, with occasional rain.  The wheels on my new bike are excellent, but replacing a tube involves a Herculean effort because the rims are engineered for a very tight fit with a standard tire.  As it was, I never completely resolved the leaking air, and fortunately for me, Wendy had visited John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and was a bit behind me. She arrived at the scene of the flat tire just as I was finishing up.  I was able to rely on her to stop every 3 miles so I could top off the leaking tire with our floor pump for the final 17 miles into John Day.  I replaced both tires at camp last night.

The rain was heavy in the night, but we were happily cozy and dry in our little trailer.

On Friday, to our delight, our friend Greg Archbald met us in Unity, after driving all the way up from Nevada City, CA.  He’s our first visitor, and it was great to see him.

The three of us watched the Warriors get smacked around by the Cavaliers at a very cool cafe/bar in town.  As everywhere, the people we struck up conversations with were very friendly and interested in our journey.

Yesterday, we had planned a layover day in Unity, but my legs were feeling strong, so we decided to move 70 miles onward to Vale, OR.

The first 50 miles from Unity were just spectacular.  Wendy rode with me in the rain and hail for around 16 miles, up a beautiful canyon to the Eldorado Pass, before turning back to move the van and trailer.

The changeable weather has added a great element of beauty and drama to the experience.

I carried on over Brogan Hill, cruising along at 20+ mph by those blessed west winds.   Greg leap-frogged me along the way, stopping for photos several times.  It was fun to meet up with him on the route.  He joined us for an Oregon Trail mural walk in Vale and dinner at our campsite last night, where there was much toasting and reminiscing on the day’s trip across a uniquely western landscape.  We really appreciated Greg’s two-day visit, and miss him already.

Around 20 miles west of Vale, we entered an entirely different landscape.  Gone are the ridges and basins of central and eastern Oregon.  Now we’re into flat farmland that extends well into Idaho.  Sugar beets and especially onions predominate.  The onions are mostly destined for the fast-food onion ring market.  I think the famous Idaho potatoes are found further south and east.

Today we will move 54 miles east to Emmett, Idaho.  This will make it easy for us to pick up our son Reed in Boise tomorrow afternoon.  We are thrilled that Reed (and on June 20, his partner, Amanda )is joining us for 2 weeks of cycling and national park touring.  Reed is a super-strong cyclist, and I plan to have him pull me all the way to central Wyoming.

 

Wendy writing: It’s been a while since I entered a post. The days have been surprisingly full without much down time: breaking camp, cycling a portion of Howard’s full route, moving the van and trailer, keeping ice in our ice chests, etc.

As Howard mentioned in a previous post, I enjoyed a day without cycling – going to two of the three units of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. There is unbelievable geology to be seen on the surface with different areas going back to 44 million years ago, 30 million, … This makes it a world-renowned area for fossils; in one small hill, the scientists found 26,000 fossils. I was blown away by what I was seeing on display in the visitor’s center.

This was also the day when Howard was dealing with his flat tire. When I was following him with stops every three miles to pump his tire, I found myself reflecting on Howard cycling into my life in 1981 when he rode from San Francisco to my Mill Valley home – and then on our cycling portion of our “honeymoon year” in 1984 when we cycled from London to Athens; lovely memories that brought up a full heart and teary eyes.

Howard is so strong – powering up the mountains to each summit, making it look easy. With my e-bike, it is easy – I’m really enjoying how I can select the level of workout I want, and can already see that I’m getting stronger and leaning on the assist less.

With the rain and windy conditions, we are really thankful to have the trailer. We are finding that the RV parks (with the rigs lined up like a parking lot) are surprisingly nice. Because everyone has power and water hookups, camp is really quiet (i.e., no generators, no water pumps, everyone sleeps inside their own walls). There are campgrounds and RV parks everywhere – so finding lodging without an advance reservation is easy, even on Friday and Saturday nights.

When I’m driving, there are very few radio stations – and the ones that I find are typically country western stations. The lyrics of my favorite song so far are, “God is great, beer is good, and people crazy.” They also have very different commercials than we hear in San Francisco (e.g., logging jobs) and PR announcements (major breakthrough: the juniper berry causes premature birth in cows).

At Unity State Recreation Area, we had a great conversation with Jack, an 80-year-old man. He was raised in a Democrat home, is registered Independent, and voted for Trump. Some of his thoughts: Trump is doing a good job, the country needs a businessman to correct things (e.g., the US pays an unfair share in NATO), of course, there will be a learning curve for Trump to know how to work with Congress, the press is not giving Trump a chance. He loves Medicare, Social Security, and VA benefits. He is alarmed about the health care bill that the House passed re: how many people will lose their health care – and thinks/hopes that the bill will look very different after the Senate process. Anyway, it was an interesting and respectful conversation with us also sharing our differing views.

It was so great to have Greg join us for two nights. We hope that our paths can cross with more of you – take a look at our itinerary and let us know. On to Idaho!

June 15, 2017 – Stanley, Idaho

Howard writing: I’m beginning this post from the porch of the bunkhouse at the incomparably beautiful home of our friends John and Nancy Cassidy in Stanley, Idaho. The Sawtooth Mountains cover the view shed from end to end, and the Salmon River is flowing less than 20 feet away. We have come 640 miles since we left Newport, OR.

The days since our last post have been filled with much mountain beauty, some mundane days, mostly wet and overcast weather, a rendezvous with Reed in Boise, and a bout with food poisoning.

The cycling day after leaving Vale was pretty dull, by comparison to the glory of nearly all of the previous days. We passed through flat farm country, some of it lovely, headed for Emmett, ID. We decided to ride an additional 12 miles further east to the Roystone Hot Springs.

En route there, another road angel came to my aid. During a stop for a drink at a roadside café, I had chatted with a woman, Annie, about life goals. She told me that one of her main goals was to ride a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. She related an experience a few years back when she had helped a cyclist who had a wheel problem, and said she liked to be helpful to people. About 5 miles from the café, a pickup truck honked me over to the side of the road. It was Annie. She had chased me down to give me my bike helmet, which I had left in the cafe. She said, “I’ve got your back!” And she did.

Roystone was an old resort from the 1880’s that has been updated. We didn’t have time to enjoy the pools, because we had to get down to Boise (50 miles south) to pick up Reed in the early afternoon.

After picking him up, we went to a bike store for some more spare tubes, and to have his bike checked out and tuned.

Then we resupplied our groceries, walked in a mural alley, and returned to Roystone.

  That night, we watched the Warriors win the championship in a little restaurant near Roystone.

The other two viewers – also Warriors fans – were two men from Oroville, California, who are here in Idaho to hunt black bear. Starting during the game, both Wendy and I began to feel pretty funky. That night, we had a round of digestion problems, which we later attributed to a day-old turkey sandwich left over from the previous cycling day. Who knew that a nitrite-free turkey sandwich could create such chaos?   Wendy was hit very hard; me less so, but still I was not at my best for my first cycling day with Reed. The stomach issues have persisted, but today we both seem to be better.

After Roystone, Reed and I cycled up into the Sawtooth Mountains on the Banks-Lowman road.

 

This was a spectacular route along the South Fork of the raging Payette River. The river was flowing along at probably 25 mph.

We saw one lone kayaker who was running a stretch of river that I couldn’t imagine touching as a white water boater. We reached the lovely campsite Wendy had selected right on the banks of the river above the town of Lowman. We had some concerns about the river overflowing its banks, but it stayed steady the entire time we were there.

Yesterday, we rode one of the premier bike routes in the country – from Lowman to Stanley. We met just one other cyclist, traveling the opposite direction. He was outfitted for off-road cycling, and even had a bell on his handlebar that doubles as a shot glass. We shared a shot of bourbon that he was carrying to fortify us for the 11-mile climb.

The route climbs out of the Payette drainage over 7200’ Banner Summit to Stanley, in the Salmon River basin, at the foot of the Sawtooth Mountains. Every mile is glorious, especially the approach to Stanley – where Wendy joined us – through meadows with meandering streams and wildflowers (and ravenous mosquitoes).

Today we spent in relaxing, talking with some local folks with some very different world views, touring an old gold mining town and dredge, and Wendy and Reed enjoyed a soak in a hot springs (literally a cauldron installed at the edge of the Salmon River) two miles from where we are staying.

Reed also did a bike ride in this beautiful region. We ended the day with a merry dinner with the Cassidy’s and a group of Stanford students.

June 20, 2017 – Victor, Idaho

Wendy writing:

Important public health announcement: We have found out that poultry especially is a health hazard when un-refrigerated for 2 hours – 24 hours is definitely ill-advised!

Howard and I are now back to health (Reed got his own food poisoning in Idaho Falls) and are in Victor, Idaho – one day away from our next state, Wyoming. We are looking forward to a 3-4 day layover vacation in Grand Teton National Park (including a day trip to Yellowstone National Park). We have been enjoying seeing the country in small mileage increments with its ever-changing scenery; however, even though the distances are relatively short each day, the pace of the trip has felt like a marathon too much of the time. There’s a lot involved in breaking camp, Howard cycling – and me cycling out and back and then moving the vehicle, setting up the next camp, food planning, buying, and packing, etc. Our self-inflicted food poisoning (we are now fully recovered – that was so stupid!) and quite a few rainy nights also have made us work harder.

Our trailer has been wonderful – providing us a dry place to cook, eat, and sleep in the rainy camps (we had a “slumber party” with Reed in our trailer – amazing that the bed is large enough to sleep three of us).

The weather has recently improved and we are enjoying living outdoors and sleeping in the trailer.

Going forward, we are planning to slow the pace down – adding more layover days, doing food shopping and packing on layover days and/or in the evenings. This may move our arrival time on the East Coast a bit later, but should make the trip more enjoyable. We are hoping to find more time to enjoy each location, read, play music, etc. while moving across the continent.

I have really been enjoying my cycling time (275 miles in ten cycling days so far) and am using less assist from the battery day by day (getting 42+ miles to the battery vs. 30-ish miles). Seeing the same stretch of road from a bike vs. car is so different. The cycling makes the scenery so much more vivid – the textures, smells, sounds of water and birds, fresh air… and seeing the same stretch of road round-trip allows me to see all of the scenery in both directions.

We are definitely not in our San Francisco bubble – and have had a few more interesting conversations with people who voted for Trump. Good to hear: the people we have been talking to feel that Trump will make a better deal (vs. not believing in human causes of climate change); and they do not like the Republican health care bill (they fear that too many people will lose coverage). Discouraging: the people we’ve been talking to are happy to share their views; when we interject that we disagree or that we feel that something they’re saying is incorrect, they don’t seem to be interesting in hearing our views.

But opinion has not been unanimous  – in Victor, ID, we shared homemade wine with Garrett, a retired union man from Muskegon, Michigan, who blames management in general for vilifying unions and all that they have accomplished for American working conditions and wages.

I also heard relatively good news from a reliable source that the US pulling out of the Paris Accord has resulted in climate change being on the front page for many consecutive days – and many states, cities, and corporations making climate change commitments at a level not seen before; and that the Paris Accord was written in such a way that the US exit will not happen until the day after the 2020 inauguration.

Another way that I can tell we’re not in San Francisco – we were in Idaho Falls (which has a beautiful path along the Snake River and waterfalls) yesterday and went to a brewery where the conversation at the next table over was about protecting yourself against bear attacks!

It’s been great to have Reed’s great energy joining our trip – and his sweetie Amanda flew into Pocatello today. They’ll be with us until June 28 – lots of hikes, cycling miles, and shared times to come!

Amazing place to visit: Craters of the Moon National Monument with its lava, cinder cones, splatter cones, lava tubes, etc. Very otherworldly…

 

Howard writing:

The pace of a trip like this one makes clear the immensity of the country. Even though we have been moving consistently eastward, we have been cycling for over a week entirely within the borders of Idaho. Yesterday at our campground in Idaho Falls, we met two young Brits who were cycling from San Francisco to Boston. Even though they are less than 1/3 across the width of America, they realized they had already cycled 1.5 times the equivalent of the entire length of the British Isles. And Britain is not more than 270 miles wide at its widest point.

Leaving Stanley last Friday,

we crossed the Galena Summit, the highest road in the Northwest. The climb was mostly gradual and completely stunning.

The mighty Salmon River is born as a small creek right below Galena Summit.   We made it to camp north of Ketchum just before the rain began to fall. It was a cozy scene that night with Reed sleeping on one side of me in our trailer and Wendy on the other. Miraculously, we all slept very well.

The next day, we made a short pilgrimage to the gravesite of Ernest Hemingway in Ketcham, ID.

It was very moving to see the unadorned gravesite of someone who was so influential on literature in the 20th century.

We then rode south along a marvelous rails-to-trails pathway for around 25 miles to the town of Belleville. In the winter, the trail is groomed for cross-country skiing.

We will seek out these Rails-to-Trails projects whenever we can on our route east. We continued southeast from Belleville into the Snake River plain, through pastures and farms still green from the late winter.

We ended the day at Craters of the Moon National Monument. After 80 miles, I was done, but Reed still had the legs for another 10 miles through the park at dusk with Wendy. He’s a remarkably strong cyclist and has been a wonderful addition to the tour.

On Sunday, Wendy started the day with us on her bike, and then returned to explore Craters of the Moon while Reed and I rode 87 miles to Idaho Falls.

Along the way, we passed through Arco, “The Atomic City.”

This town is on the northern edge of the vast Idaho National Laboratory, where much nuclear weapon research has taken place over the years.

Many of the roads we cycled had long deserted vistas with gray/green sage and patches of blue and yellow wildflowers.

We had a rest day in Idaho Falls to recover from three hard cycling days, to look into a few issues with our car and trailer, resupply for the trip to Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, and explore the great riverfront of the city. This small, unpretentious city seems to me to epitomize the word hardscrabble – poverty is more evident here than elsewhere on our trip – people living in trailers, lots of smoking, obesity very prevalent.

We must have eaten some sketchy food in Idaho Falls, because I had a brief bout with stomach issues, and Reed had digestion problems that plagued him today as we rode the 65 miles to Victor, Idaho – our last stop before the Tetons.

Reed is the strongest cyclist I know, and yet I’ve never seen him in such a weakened condition. The ride to Victor really laid him low. We’ve decided to stay an extra day in Victor, which faces the western side of the Teton Range, to give Reed a chance to recover his health for our final week together on this tour. Amanda flew into Pocatello, where Wendy picked her up, and together they drove to our campground in Victor. She is a fabulous addition to the tour.

June 29, 2017 – Thermopolis, Wyoming

Howard writing:

We dropped Reed and Amanda off at the Casper, WY airport yesterday afternoon, ending a mind-boggling two weeks of cycling and vacationing with those two young adventurers.

Picking up where the last post ended, on June 21, after a recovery day in Victor, ID, Reed and I took on the epic climb of Teton Pass, with its breathtaking (and car-free) descent into Jackson Hole – a cycling day to remember.

Meanwhile, Wendy and Amanda left early and were successful in getting a wonderful campsite at Signal Mountain Campground in Grand Tetons National Park. The ride up the valley from Wilson to Jenny Lake in the park was stunning beyond words. If there’s a more dramatic range of mountains than the Tetons, we have yet to see them.

Unfortunately, we missed a hoped-for rendezvous with our dear friend Philip Brooks by one day. We did meet up with our friends Jackie and Steve Herzog, who coincidentally were vacationing in the region, for some morning coffee at our campsite.

We had envisioned a Teton/Yellowstone stay as a vacation-within-the-vacation, and it was all that and more. We hiked, saw an array of wildlife we never thought we would see, took a late-afternoon boat ride on Jackson Lake, and in general reveled in the glory of this special area of the country.

We coined the term “Bearanoia” to describe the over-hyped way the parks promote carrying bear spray, and take every opportunity to instill a fear of the grizzly bears in the parks. These bears are present, but common sense makes the chances of a problem very remote. Still, surprising a grizzly and her cubs can be a truly dangerous situation, and the parks do have a duty to warn visitors.

We will let the photos take the place of what could be volumes of written descriptions of what we experienced in our stay in the parks.

Finally continuing our eastward motion after 4 glorious days in the parks, we rode 71 miles through the Wind River Range across the Continental Divide from Signal Mountain to Dubois, Wyoming.

The route included a 14-mile stretch of cycling nirvana – Buffalo Valley Road. I feel like a broken record to say that day was one of the premier days of my cycling life, but it was.

In Dubois, we got a chance to see the Idaho Potato Commission’s traveling road show – a non-event really, but very campy nonetheless.

Dubois is an authentic cowboy town, situated along the Wind River in a beautiful canyon.

One man we talked with told us that the town lost population 20 years ago, when a Louisiana-Pacific Lumber mill closed down. He explained with no malice in his voice that it was the “environmentalists” that shut down the mill. He felt the environmentalists would rather see the forest burn than be cut for timber. This short conversation suggests the enormity of the task of redefining the ‘jobs vs. environment’ aspect of the divide in the country. The concept of ecosystem management is probably just an abstraction to someone whose family had worked in a particular mill for several generations and has seen the mill and the jobs evaporate. I believe the creation of enduring jobs in the sectors of renewable energy and other sustainable industries needs to happen, and soon.

The next day, from Dubois to Shoshoni, 94 miles away, was full of high cycling drama. The weather forecasts called for late afternoon thunderstorms.

Around 1:00 PM, just after Wendy had turned around to head back to move our van and trailer to our next camp, Reed and I were caught in the leading edge of a storm coming from the northwest. The swirling winds included gusts that must have been 40+ mph, and at one point we found ourselves being blown down a long hill at speeds close to 45 mph. Because the winds were changing direction our bikes were shaking and shuddering, but we were both reluctant to hit our brakes for fear that we would lose control and crash. After 5 miles of this, we took shelter in a gas station to wait out the storm front. Wendy, heading the other direction, also was caught up in the storm.

When the storm front passed, Reed and I ventured back onto the road, and were pushed along by a tailwind for the next 65 miles at average speeds over 20 mph. In total, we rode 93 miles at an average speed of 19.7 mph, by far the fastest average either of us had ever ridden. The experience taught me a lesson about these thunderstorms: I need to get off the bike as soon as the front hits, or risk getting blown off the road …or worse. I think I will need to apply this lesson the rest of the way across the plains and prairies of the heartland.

Arriving in Boysen State Park, near Shoshoni, we found a very remote campsite, which we had all to ourselves. The sunset and peaceful night was a fitting end to a memorable day – and to a lovely time with Reed and Amanda.

Yesterday, we packed up Reed’s bike, and drove to Thermopolis, WY, for a soak in the mineral hot springs there.

Then we drove the 120 miles south to Casper for our sendoff with Reed and Amanda – sad to see them go. We had dinner with Wendy’s cousin, Arlene and her husband Ed – a great visit with two great people. This morning, we took care of some repairs on our trailer in Casper, and had new air shocks installed in the Sienna. By late afternoon, we resumed the bike ride in Shoshoni and cycled the beautiful Wind River Canyon back up to Thermopolis, where we are currently camped.

Wendy writing:

Where to begin about our time in Tetons/Yellowstone?! It was a great vacation with Reed and Amanda with a 4 night base camp at Signal Mountain Campground in Tetons. The weather was picture perfect; cycling fantastic in Tetons National Park with unbelievable views of the mountains and wildflowers; otherworldly hot pools and geysers in Yellowstone; thrilling wildlife (between the two parks, we saw 2 moose, 4 grizzly bears, pronghorn antelope, countless bison – including rambunctious young calves – and a wolf running across the range and swimming across a river); hikes in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River to the brink of two jaw dropping waterfalls. Other than the mosquitoes, it could not have been a better time.

(White dot in foreground is a wolf)

It’s feeling good to be back on the road again. Weather has been very exciting – where blue skies suddenly change to high winds, rain, thunder and lightning. On our departure day from Dubois, we experienced this weather phenomenon for the first time. When I turned back to return to the van, trailer, and Amanda, the crosswinds were so strong that the winds were pushing my bike a foot or so toward the driving lane – (yikes!). Just as Jaden (another cross country cyclist on a recumbent bike, who we’ve been leapfrogging since Mitchell, OR) approached from the opposite direction, we both stopped riding to put on our rain gear. Winds were so strong that we struggled to stand in one place, my bike was blown forward off of the road, lightning bolts were close by – it was clear that we needed to seek shelter. Fortunately, there was a home virtually across the road and our guardian angel, Pamela, took us in until the storm passed.

Jaden and I really enjoyed meeting Pamela, getting another glimpse into life in Wyoming where there are mountain lions, grizzly bears, and wolves “in the neighborhood” and guns are the norm for hunting and protection. Once back on the road, there were two more waves of storms – definitely more weather than we experience in San Francisco!

I had thought that grizzlies were no longer in the lower 48 / present only in Alaska, so was very excited to find out that there are now about 700 grizzlies in this area. That’s enough that they were just taken off of the threatened species list (which we were saddened to hear then opens them up to hunting if they are outside of the national parks – NPS estimates that about 100 are in the parks).

Talking with Pamela, we found out that the locals are not happy with the reintroduction of the grizzly bear – we are definitely getting to hear “both sides” of many issues on this trip with no clear outcomes that will suit everyone.

When I was driving our van and trailer from Tetons to Dubois, Amanda spotted a grizzly in a pond that was quite close to the road. We circled back and with caution, immensely enjoyed watching the grizzly bathe/eat/play in the pond before it swam away from us and headed off into the woods.

It was fantastic to see my cousin, Arlene, and her husband, Ed. We really appreciated their extra efforts to drive from Laramie to Casper for an overnight stay to connect with us – and enjoyed dinner and brunch together. Ed is a libertarian, which led to interesting political conversation about the role of government vs. each individual.

I am aware of bittersweet feelings as we adjust to “letting go” of Amanda, Reed, Arlene, and Ed. The change is unsettling. We’re back to just the two of us traveling again for about a week – which will also be lovely; then our friend, Doug Donaldson, will join us for a couple of weeks cycling across South Dakota and Minnesota.

We suddenly realized today that we’re heading into the holiday weekend so have been piecing together campground reservations at the last minute – wish us luck! Happy 4th of July to all!

July 4, 2017 Clearmont, WY

 

Howard writing:

Today was another short day – just 30 flat miles from Buffalo to Clearmont – designed to break up the long and desolate distance remaining to Gillette. Yesterday, we took a break in Buffalo, Wyoming, just east of the Big Horn Mountains. We did laundry, resupplied food, and drove up to the great western town of Sheridan, by way of Fort Phil Kearney.

The ride on Sunday from Ten Sleep to near the summit of the Powder River Pass was (here I go again) utterly gorgeous.

It was uphill all 21 miles, with an elevation gain of around 4000 feet. The weather was cool and clear, and the gradient was not anything like Teton Pass (12%+) and the scenery distracted from any burning muscles. Ten Sleep Canyon is popular and prized by rock climbers – I saw many moving their gear to the base of various limestone cliffs.

Because the riding day was short, arriving in camp by 2;00 PM with a whole afternoon to read by the shore of Meadowlark Lake felt like a luxurious layover day.

The campground was fully reserved, but Wendy was able to appeal to a wonderful couple from Billings, MT, who graciously agreed to share their site with us.

These folks, Patrick and Carla, and their friends, Mike and Mona, were generous with more than their campsite. They brought us plates of hors d’oeuvres (grilled salmon), watermelon, orzo salad, and rhubarb cake – all of which we speedily devoured. Later, we were invited to their campfire and learned much about the political and social climates of Wyoming and Montana. They believe that Wyoming is in an economic crisis now because the state’s leaders had failed to see beyond the oil and gas gravy train that has been feeding the state’s economy, with the result that Wyoming has lost much of it’s economic base. They said that Montana, on the other hand, has long worked to develop a more diversified economy, with tourism providing a buffer to the fluctuations of extractive industries. Montana also has a much deeper environmental stewardship ethic. It soon emerged that Patrick, Carla, Mike and Mona are progressive Democrats who are as appalled as we are by Trump’s actions and behavior. Our evening ended with the best Irish coffee we had ever had, prepared with great care by Patrick. Meeting these two couples was one of those serendipitous things that add so much richness to a trip like ours.

On Monday we continued over the Powder River summit (at 9666’, the highest elevation of the ride, and the last mountain pass remaining on the route to the Atlantic) and down into Buffalo.

The ride included 2500’ of elevation gain, but a whopping 6000’ of elevation loss. Wendy is now a strong cyclist – her day included over 3000 feet of elevation gain, as she rode over the summit with me and then turned around and went back up the other direction.

Buffalo is a town of 4000 residents, with a two-block picturesque main street. It has a storied history related to the Bozeman Trail to the goldfields of Montana, and the destruction of traditional American Indian life in the 19th century.

A few miles north lies Fort Phil Kearny, where in 1866 the combined tribes of the Cheyenne, Lakota Sioux, Crow, and Arapaho under Lakota Chief Red Cloud wiped out a contingent of 80 US soldiers garrisoned at Ft Kearny. Until Custer’s annihilation at Little Big Horn 10 years later, this was the single biggest loss of US soldiers in the Indian Wars. The 1866 battle came about as a result of repeated violations of an 1851 treaty guaranteeing Indian rights to most of the fertile hunting grounds in the region. We spoke with the young woman who is the superintendent at Ft Kearny, and she is working very hard to tell the deeper story of westward expansion and the consequences for the indigenous tribes, the Anglo settlers, and the US Army soldiers. Right now, interpretation at Ft Kearny revolves around the military tactics of the battle known either as the Fetterman Massacre (current name), or the Battle of 100-in-Hand (Lakota name).

In Buffalo, we were reminded that we’re in the Wild West when we chatted with a young man carrying a semi-automatic pistol in his waistband. Along with hunting being very prevalent, “Open Carry” prevails out here.

After returning from Sheridan and Ft Kearny, we went to hear some absolutely great country music at the historic Occidental Hotel in Buffalo. Or was it the smooth sipping whiskey we drank that made it so enjoyable?

This morning, we traded stories and advice with a couple – a soon-to-be retired Methodist minister and his wife – who also own a 2017 T@B trailer.

These campground conversations are another wonderful aspect of this great trip.

Wendy writing:

Happy 4th of July to all! Surprisingly, Buffalo did not have any 4th of July festivities. Now in Clearmont, we enjoyed a buffet dinner and music by a bonfire at the beautiful Ranch at Ucross, a guest ranch that has just opened the new (and bare bones) campground where we are staying ten miles away.

Sunset is really late at this latitude so a fireworks display won’t be until almost 10:00 PM – we saw the fireworks from a vista point overlooking Sheridan before calling it a night.

Luckily/happily we were able to work out holiday weekend reservations at the last minute for all but the one night at Meadowlark Lake in the Big Horn Mountains. As Howard said, I was fortunately able to work out sharing a large site with another wonderful couple and their RV. This was the second time that I had to get creative to secure a campsite (the other time was at Craters of the Moon, which does not allow advance reservations). It’s a pretty compelling story that I have cyclist(s) meeting me who are cycling cross-country, the campground is our rendezvous point, and communication regarding a change in plan is impossible without cell service. Both times worked out well with lovely interactions (though hopefully we can plan ahead better, so that I won’t need to be “creative” again).

During Reed and Amanda’s time with us and since, we seem to finally have worked out our systems, the sun is shining (no more rain!), and we are healthy; the trip is feeling more fun than work – yay! We are having a wonderful time.

With the shorter cycling day into the Big Horn Mountains, we actually found time to sit and read books by Meadowlark Lake.

I’ve played guitar quite a few times. With our layover in Buffalo, there was even time for stretches with our ground cloth and roller in our campsite and working on our blog.

Today was a shorter day from Buffalo to Clearmont (Howard cycled 31 miles; my round trip was longer at 38 miles). We have the afternoon with a fast wifi connection, allowing us to post this blog entry.

In Ten Sleep, we miraculously pulled off a rendezvous with Jennifer, another alto in my San Francisco chorus, and her husband, Stuart, who are also enjoying travels with their trailer this summer. It was great fun to share stories and enjoy dinner and beer with these lovely people at an open-air brewery with live bluegrass music.

I highly recommend an e-bike as a way to enjoy cycling while building strength. Three days ago, my ride was 31 miles round trip with half of the miles ascending. On my first ascent of the Powder River Pass, I used low assist; I used increasingly more e-assist in the 7 miles of climbing back to the summit on my second ascent.

For three days, I really enjoyed listening to a radio station that plays Native American music 24/7 – very evocative as I drove our van and trailer through this area that once was their land. Lots to think about there…

Politics have been interesting, to say the least. We met like-minded people with a Trump “dammit doll” in our Thermopolis campsite –

and clearly others with a different viewpoint in Ten Sleep, a cute town just west of the Big Horn Mountains.

As Howard said, the scenery has been gorgeous with great cycling. The roads have consistently been great with a wide shoulder; the drivers passing us typically pull into the open oncoming lane, leaving lots of space between them and us. The beautiful snow peaked Big Horn Mountains are now behind us –

we’re on to the wide-open range now.

 Seeing deer and antelope – “home, home on the range” definitely comes to mind.

 

« Older posts

© 2018 Coast to Coast 2017

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑