Friday, August 1, 2008

The Awards Post

Here are just a few pictures and random facts...

Best Scenery Shot
Winner- Stoney Indian Pass in Glacier National Park at sunrise
Runner Up- Freight train at sunset on the Columbia River

Honorable Mention- Fields of wheat in eastern Washington

Best Road Sign
Winner- "Wildlife at Large" from the Black Hills, South Dakota
Runner Up- Tipping truck (this is why we need more graphic artists) from Washington state
Honorable Mention- 31 mph from Trenton, Tennessee
Oddest Photographed Sight
Winner- Deer chewing on glove at construction area in Glacier National ParkRunner Up- Grocery... with other services available in rural OregonHonorable Mention- Air Force installation aimed at Canada as found in Wyoming
Best Self-Portrait
Winner- "Waiting"... a scene from Labodie, Missouri during a rainstorm
Runner Up- "Muddy"... taken after my tussle with the mud in Council Bluffs, Iowa
Honorable Mention- "Redgap"... the top of Redgap Pass in Glacier National Park
Best Miscellaneous Picture
Winner- Pistachio shell pile next to the journal at camp
Runner Up- Bike parked in snow at Logan Pass, Glacier National Park
Honorable Mention- Collection of cycles outside a grocery in Missoula, Montana
Most Challenging Times Picture
Winner- Mud in Council Bluffs, Iowa
Runner Up- From my Glacier hike, crossing this melting ice bridge across a raging creek
Honorable Mention- Conquering Logan Pass, Glacier National Park
Foulest Water in America
Winner- Aladdin, Wyoming: Population 15, the lady at the general store said the water was "good"... wow. It was distinctly brown in color, decidedly pungent in odor, and definitely the worst tasting liquid I've ever had in my mouth.

Runner Up- Jordan, Montana: The only reason they didn't win was because the water was so bad I never actually tasted it myself... I met some cyclists in southern Alabama heading from San Diego to St. Augustine and they even warned me about the water in Jordan- some 2500 miles before I would ever reach there.

Honorable Mention- Northern Idaho: The whole length of US Hwy 12 from the state line with Montana all the way to the Washington state line, I've never stopped at so many different places that consistently had brown water, high-iron water, and/or sulfuric water (which is by far the worst of the three). I think this is the only time that my stomach paid a small price for my refusal to by the bottled junk.

Most Hospitable Town
Winner- Jordan, Montana: A small town in mideastern Montana, I rolled in after traveling 84 miles through empty prairie. Perhaps my deep desire to see an occupied building again started me off well, but from the local restaurant to the library to the newspaper crew, these were definitely the most friendly people I met. I ended up staying in town exactly 24 hours, which is precisely 23 hours 59 minutes and 30 seconds longer than the average person traveling through via car- and there can't be more than 10 of those people each day.

Runner Up- Nebraska City, Nebraska: Again, somehow I made it in the local newspaper, but the real reasons for this award are Bruce and Joan, some folks who took me in, literally as the tornadoes were falling from the sky. A nasty midwest squall line rolled through the area and we waited out the sirens in the basement... after eating at an amazing Italian buffet!

Honorable Mention- Kalispell, Montana: This could really count for Jordan as well as Kalispell because some folks I met in Jordan passed this blog and their own accounts of my visit onward to other friends, two of which were in Kalispell and wanted me to stopover. The stop came after hiking in Glacier for a week... not only did I smell bad but every last article of my clothing was in desparate need of soapy water.

Cycling Facts

Longest mileage days: 140mi, 135mi, 122mi, 118mi, 117mi
Days with a tailwind: 2- really just 2 AFTERNOONS
Days with a headwind: innumerable
Number of flat tires: 0

Quick Yet Perhaps Disturbing Facts

Longest stretch without a shower: 6 days*
Longest stretch without washing my socks: 12 days
Number of times the water bottles were washed with soap: 0
Number of times the pot and spork were washed with soap: 0
Number of times I was sick or otherwise incapacitated: 0

* Event occurred on two occasions

I'll probably put together a concluding thought during my 4 day train ride back to Florida... which begins in approximately 6 hours. I may have a chance to post it somewhere along the way but more than likely I won't see the internet again until the middle of next week. Again, thanks for following along...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Ocian in View!"

Captain William Clark wrote those words when the expedition neared the Pacific coast in November 1805. My spelling skills are a bit better... but on Sunday 27 July 2008 at exactly 3:46pm PDT, the Pacific Ocean was in full view!

I was actually expecting a rather fantastic scene, the Oregon Pacific coastline... a place of cliffs protruding right into the ocean with picturesque forests leading straight down to sandy nooks. Unfortunately, I think I stumbled upon the only section of Oregon coastline that looks as unimpressive as, well, the east coast of Florida... dirty sand, forbidding waters, cars driving on the beach. It was still fulfilling to see the Pacific and I did take in a great sunset that evening (something Florida's east coast doesn't even have going for it), but the next day I hopped back on my bike and headed south, promising myself not to stop until I found these legendary cliffs and rocks and forests and other peculiar formations that I had never before associated with the beach. At any rate- I found them! And they are amazing... here's a couple more pictures... one of the aforementioned rocks and the other of the sunset at the first beach.

This is from Ecola State Park on the real Oregon coast:

Sunset silhouetting the wreckage of an old ship and a couple kids playing at the surf's edge:
I didn't try to end my trip the same day as the Tour de France, but that's just how it happened to work out. I don't know if you can really compare the two trips... my trip ended after just over 4400 miles- the other guys do only about 2200 miles. My bike weighed in around 100 pounds when all the gear and nightly food was precariously balanced on board... the other guys ride bikes you can lift with your pinky finger. No one cooked me a huge gourmet dinner every night, no one followed me in a gas-guzzling gear truck, and no one lined the streets waiting for me to pass. You may have noticed the discrepancy in my final mileage total. The posted total of 4281 is considering the Pacific Ocean the end of the trip. On Tuesday, after spending a couple days exploring the coast, I had to turn around and pedal over 100 miles back to Portland- where my train leaves tomorrow- Saturday. Surely they make the other Tour guys cycle from the finish line at least back to the airport, right?

On a bike note, my rim held up for the entire trip! In fact, I couldn't be more pleased with the performance of my bike... I had ZERO flats the entire trip... everything- minus that rear rim- outperformed my expectations. I brought so many tools and spare parts that I thankfully never had to use! I would like to take this opportunity to thank not just the Jamis company but especially the guys at SunWest Cyclery ( down in Palm Harbor, FL for matching me up with my best friend on the trip. If you're considering purchasing a bike (and you should be- especially with those gas prices most of you are paying), take a close look at the Jamis line... they put together a lot of different styles at very reasonable prices. Y'all who know me know how "frugal" I can be... and after lots of research and consideration, the Jamis Aurora was easily my choice. And if you're in the Tampa Bay area, check out Sun West, they are right on the Pinellas Trail.
My piece of steel made it. The one in the background did not.

I'm thinking I'll probably make one or two more posts to this blog... probably one of just some highlights and lowlights with awards, pictures, and quick facts in categories like coolest road sign and foulest tap water... and then another post with some concluding thoughts. Thanks for keeping up with the trip!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Through the Gorge and to the Pacific

It seems every time I near a major destination, the headwinds just go crazy, trying to get me to give up. Just before slipping into Glacier National Park, there were some horrific winds swooping off the mountains and hitting me unabated across the prairie. Then just this past week for 3 straight days, I was dealing with constant headwinds of 30mph with gusts into the 40s and I wouldn't be surprised if several hit 50mph! There weren't just white caps on the Columbia River, there were 6-8ft seas... and that was going against the current too! It was unbelievable... even the folks who live there were telling me, "Usually it's windy, but not this windy." I am positive that I was defying all known laws of physics as I was putting plenty of work into a system yet at times none was transferred to energy... I would pedal pedal pedal and go no where. All my effort was literally thrown to the wind.

The Columbia River Gorge is a quite fascinating place. I hit the river in SE Washington, near Walla Walla, and found the landscape to be a desert. I didn't know there was a desert in Oregon and Washington, but later I found out that the Cascade Mountains stop all the moisture from crossing them, giving a swath of land just east of the peaks a very arid climate. I counted 3 bundles of tumbleweed blow by me during my windy desert day. As you proceed west, the annual rainfall increases and vegetation increases as well until you reach the Cascades themselves which are home to vast forests. You can hopefully see that progression in the next 3 pictures which are each a day's ride apart.

Desert-like setting...

Smaller vegetation begins, with a volcanic snow-capped peak of the Cascades on the horizon...

A view back up the gorge through the Cascades...

After surviving the gorge, I was rewarded with Portland, Oregon! What a great city! I knew it was one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in America, but it was especially neat to see that people of all walks of life can be seen on a bicycle at almost every hour of the day and night. Old people, young people, hippies, yuppies, business elites in full suits, crazy Lance Armstrong-like cyclists- all kinds of folks! It's like being in Holland, though I've never been myself, I've heard many Dutch people describe it. I took a rest day in Portland before heading off towards the coast to complete my quest to cross the country!

Oh yeah, here's one final picture of that busted rim I mentioned in my last post. So far so good and less than 100 miles to go!

Well... the weather has been beautiful... the winds have been calm today! I think I'll stop just shy of Astoria, OR and camp in a state forest tonight, saving seeing the Pacific until the exact end of Week Number 10. I'm not too sure what I'll do when I reach the coast... I might just turn around and go back the other way...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Welcome to Oregon!

I am happily writing this post from a welcome center on the Oregon state line! All I need to do now is follow the Columbia River to the coast... about 300 more miles. I have to be brief as I still have about 50 miles to do this afternoon.

There are entirely too many highlights and stories during the last week to share on this blog. I met some great (random) people in Missoula, Montana, who let me crash on their floor after we all had a BBQ with some of their friends. Missoula is an awesome city too by the way- bikes and Barack fans everywhere. I had a big climb up to Lolo Pass through the wilderness of the Bitterroot Mountains- I traveled about 100 miles in Idaho before reaching the first town. It is has been ridiculously hot the last couple days... yesterday I did 117 miles through southeastern Washington and I saw a bank thermometer at 5:21pm that read 98 degrees.

I wish I could upload a picture or two, because the Forrest Gump beard and hair is in full swing. After being in Glacier for a week, I shocked myself when I looked in a mirror... I thought I was looking at a movie star for a second.

On a sad note, I have encountered my first major bicycle problem. My rear rim has sprung a few cracks, a couple spokes starting to pull out of the rim. One of the first things that went through my mind was the question: What would Forrest do? If the sole of his shoe started to break away during his run, would he stop and get a new shoe or just keep going? He would keep going. And I have decided to keep going. This trip is deeper than the bike itself... we are trying to arouse the consciousness of America... a busted rim cannot slow us down, especially with only 300 miles to go.

Hopefully I can write again- with pictures- from Portland in a few days. If I cannot, I imagine it might be because of the inherent inefficiencies of a square wheel.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Crown of the Continent

That's what Glacier National Park has been called in the past- Crown of the Continent. I had already earmarked it as my favorite spot in North America... that's one reason why I traveled over 300 miles out of my way to get there. I also was ready to get off the bike for a few days of rest and relaxation. The prairie abruptly (and finally) stopped right at the base of the Rockies... and you wouldn't believe how excited I was to smell trees again!
I ended up doing just over 70 miles of hiking during the week I spent in Glacier. Here's a collection of pictures... though none of them do justice to the actual sight. A really cool couple- Brian and Denise- in Kalispell let me shower, do laundry, and update my blog today at their place. View on... courtesy of some more random kindness I've found along the way:
One of the countless waterfalls

One of the countless snowfields still remaining... I had to cross this guy

Mokowanis Lake... a view from camp

Elizabeth Lake, another view from camp

A field of bear grass in bloom

A view from the top of Piegan Pass
A bighorn sheep

Conquering the continental divide!

St. Mary Lake at sunrise as the bicycle ascent begins
A mountain goat at Logan Pass


Monday, July 7, 2008

The Midnight Rains

Behold! The Rockies! I've almost made it across the prairie... later today I hope to be rolling into the east entrance of Glacier National Park!

So I made it to Great Falls on Saturday and was able to pick up my new set of tires. You can see from the picture below that I was desperately in need of a replacement pair. Great Falls- with a population of about 60,000- was a very intimidating place after spending so many weeks exclusively in small towns... I ended up skipping my first Lewis and Clark museum in an effort to skip town asap.
The last 8 nights, I've camped in city parks in small towns... they allow bicyclists to throw a tent up in the corner which is quite nice. But I've noticed a peculiar phenomenon here in Montana: the midnight rain storm. Twice in three days I was awaken by water hitting my tent. At first I thought a random shower popped up, but then it just stopped. About 30 seconds later, it was coming down again. I realized this is no rain storm... sure enough, the sprinkler system had turned on! I've started scouting out spots a little better since those two occasions...

Here's a picture for Ken... some more Montana clouds to bring back memories:

I'll be spending the next week or so in Glacier National Park, doing some hiking and relaxing. There won't be any posts until next week at the earliest. Logan Pass, here I come!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fill in the blank: God ____ America.

I actually have a strict time limit at the library here, so I have to be quick.

Riding a bicycle across the country is without a doubt the best way to travel. My slow pace gives me plenty of time to stop at almost every scenic lookout, historical marker, and major museum along the way. But it goes far beyond the stops. Just being on the bike, every one of your senses is exercised. I am able to see animals on the hillsides and in creek beds that most cars zip right past without noticing. I am able to hear the birds sing. I am able to feel the weather as it really is... cold at the mountain passes, misty in the mornings, hot and dry some afternoons. I am able to smell the good and the bad, the wildflowers and pine trees as well as the chicken coops and hog pens. I'm not too thrilled about knowing what all sorts of bugs taste like.

On this trip I've been able to travel to many places that I've never been before- in fact, everything after Tallahassee is new for me. I've seen lots of this country. And it's been amazing... I've truly gained a new appreciation for the beauty of the land and the kindness of the people I've met along the way. I've had an incredible glimpse not just down the backroads of America but also into the family rooms of America. I've attended a kindergarten graduation ceremony, witnessed that gift of a new car to a community servant, and seen three kids hanging all over dad explaining their unintelligible drawings on their handmade Father's Day cards.

But there is a strong tension brewing. There's this love and appreciation growing... but then I've also actually stood on the ground where so many atrocities were committed by this country. I camped on the Mississippi River at the exact spot where the Cherokee tribe spent a winter during their forced removal from the southern Appalachians to Oklahoma. I overlooked valleys that once held millions of buffalo, all slaughtered not just out of greed for money but in a purposed attempt to destroy the livelihood of native tribes. I used the same mountain pass as Chief Big Foot and his Lakota people used just days before being slaughtered by the US Army at Wounded Knee. There is something powerful about actually standing in these locations. I've never been, but I have to imagine it's something like visiting an old Nazi concentration camp... you can read about the history and be aware of it... but then to see it firsthand, an incalculable depth is added.

Even Mount Rushmore itself is an abomination in so many ways. The US Government signed multiple treaties with the Lakota Sioux tribe, the latest of which was in 1868, that guaranteed the tribe would retain possession of the Black Hills- a sacred spot to the tribe. But then in the mid-1870s, General Custer found gold and a rush of miners and settlers arrived, breaking the treaty. A new treaty was forced on the Lakota by withholding food supplies (since the buffalo were killed, the US Govt began using food stipends as incentive to convince tribes to give up land), and the Black Hills- remember, sacred ground to the Lakota- were very much stolen by the government. Then a few decades later, someone came up with the grand idea of plastering massive busts of four of the guys most responsible for this greedy land takeover and genocide to set up on one of the highest peaks, overlooking the whole of the Black Hills... finishing off the desecration of this once sacred land. It really makes for a bittersweet sight to say the least.

I've more or less been following the Lewis and Clark Trail to the west coast. I assure you, if it weren't for the repeated help from many Native American tribes along the way, that whole expedition would have died several times over. And in exchange for that help, what did those tribes receive?

I have to imagine that this weekend, "God Bless America" will ring throughout every city. History isn't over. There really isn't anything new under the sun. Iraq war. Torture. Corporate greed. What do you think the chances are that we get honest and change some lyrics to "God Have Mercy On America"?

That's just a piece of the whole. My time is up but my thoughts are not and the bike journey certainly isn't either. Saturday I'll be going to Great Falls to get some new tires, then I'll be heading north for Glacier National Park for a week or so. It looks like I have only about 1100 more miles left until the Pacific Ocean!