Tuesday, June 27, 2006

People crazier than I am

One response I get when folks find out what I'm up to is the whole "you're crazy" routine. I ran into some folks from Wisconsin in Mack's Inn, right off a 95 mile day, and it turned out they had been riding four wheelers on some of the same stuff I'd been riding on. So when they heard 95 miles on that, it blew their minds.

But anyway, the truth is no matter how nuts you are there is always somebody crazier. In this case, it's the great divide racers (link here). I've run into four of these guys so far (I think the only four left in it, although they started with 8). One guy is trying to break the record of 16 days, and as of yesterday had done over 500 miles since Friday at noon. Two other guys are riding fixed gear bikes, which is a delicious form of self-inflicted punishment. Trying to do 100 miles a day of this stuff is rough. Trying to do 100 miles a day with only one gear is absolutely stark raving madness.

the rundown -- Helena, MT

It is official -- I've set an end date. I will finish on July 2, ride back to Whitefish on July 3, and catch a train in the morning of July 4. Word.

I've done a bunch of big days to get here, but now I'm back in the mountains and miles are tougher to come by. I only did 40 so far today, pushing the bike through some washed out snowmobile trails, and need to get back out there. But I saw the library right on the route and figured it was an omen.

In a word, these last few days have been great. Most of the riding has been through dense pine trees, sometimes on these narrow snowmobile tracks where if I didn't have a death grip on the handlebars I could sometimes reach out and touch both sides of the trail. Amazing stuff. Someday, I'm going to come back out and spend more time out here.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Christian graffiti

One little tidbit, then I'm back on the road.

There's a little cafe across the way where I ate dinner and breakfast (decadent, I know, but necessary). Anyway, I visited the restroom in there and on the wall it says "Jesus will always love you -- he is funny like that." And underneath someone else had written "the fool has said there is no God" and a third person wrote "Amen."

This is my first ever experience with Christian graffiti. I guess I just have never had the urge to write "Jesus is the answer" on the wall while I'm on the can, but maybe I'm unique.

Does anyone have an explanation for this phenomenon?

II'm out. Probably this will be the last update for awhile, as I'm putting in really long days on the bike and don't have time for much else. 630 miles to the border baby...

the rundown -- Lima, MT

That's right -- MT. The very last state (that's a very large last state, but so it goes).

Since the last post I've had two (make that three) of my best days ever on a bike. The first was near Union Pass, WY -- alpine riding through little ponds, flowers, a nice breeze -- doesn't get any better than that. Then there was the ride through the tetons. I had to deal with traffic, but the mountains were so cool to look at that I didn't even notice. The tetons are so steep it seems like it's impossible -- like they aren't really real. Pictures don't do it justice. Then there was the ride the day before yesterday, where I got in a rhythm and did 95 miles, then finished the day with an entire pizza and a shower.

Today I'm off to the big sheep creek area, which is supposed to be scenic (yesterday was a push through mostly flat ranch country -- not as much fun). So things are good.

Monday, June 19, 2006


Right now in Pinedale the wind is WNW at 35 mph, gusting to 43 mph. Check it out at weather.com. Good thing my tent is staked down good.


Obviously, the email should have said Pinedale, WY. If I were somehow magically transported to New Mexico at this point, I would be on the first bus back to Wisconsin.

the folks in Wyoming...

... are special. I ran into a fellow at the wayside last night who assured me that if I were to go on my route, I'd be driving "into the heart of Wyoming ranching and mining country... we don't mind tourists on the highways, but there are some folks up there who might not respect your right to the road..."

He went on to assure me that if I were to camp up there, the wolves, rattlesnakes, bears, sheep and wild horses would gang up on me and trample/bite/pummel me to death within fifteen minutes of setting up camp. Then, they'd all hold a dance around me body and take turns taking bites. He had some binoculars with him, and claimed to be watching a wolf, but he wouldn't let me look. (OK, the part about the wolves is exaggerated, but the rest is true.) But he did tell me that nobody would bother me if I camped at the wayside, and that there was nowhere to camp up on the route, both of which were true. So he wasn't entirely a jerk.

Then there was Grandma at Grandma's Cafe, who was a bit surly and sat in a different part of the cafe. And the bartender/shopkeeper/gas station attendant in Jeffrey City, who seemed to have a chip on his shoulder from the minute I walked in. Maybe it's the wind out there -- it whistles in your head like it's trying to make you crazy. Or maybe it's the highway. As soon as I get off the road people seem much friendlier. Or maybe it's natural selection -- you don't go live out in the middle of Wyoming if you like people. Who knows.

They're kicking me off, so I'm out. Next time I post, I might be out of this state.

The Willie Company -- a moral tale

Again, I plan to wax a bit philosophical. Be warned.

I stopped yesterday at a place called Sixth Crossing. It's a Mormon place, I think kind of like an RV park for retired Mormons, although they call it a missionary camp. The place is a museum/shrine dedicated to the Willie Company. The Willie Company was a group of Mormons who came out to Utah using handcarts -- little carts with all their belongings on them, pulled by a person rather than by an animal.

The only problem was, the Willie Company left a lot later in the season than they should have and had pretty poor planning and equipment. As a result, they ended up getting caught in a monster snowstorm out in Wyoming at this Sixth Crossing place. The people were dying, and a rescue party was sent out from Salt Lake. Eventually, through a sort of miraculous coincidence, the two groups managed to find each other, and most of the Willie Company was saved.

The Mormons see this as a story about the courage of their ancestors, and about this miraculous rescue that they think is a sort of divine intervention. And that story is definitely there. But it seems to me this is also a story about the results of pushing the envelope. Why didn't they just leave the next year? It's like driving out on the highway without a spare, blowing out a tire, and having somebody come along awhile later, after a bear eats all your food, with a spare that fits. Which part of the story do you look at?

OK. I don't know if that even makes any sense. But I wrote it, and I'm not going to delete it now.

A milestone

As of today, I have less than 1000 miles to go. I have to look at my maps to make sure, but it looks like I probably have around 950 miles to Roosville. In a way that seems like a lot, and it is, considering I've taken four weeks to get the other 1550. But I'm tearing it up, usually doing around 65-70 miles a day (yesterday I did 82, even with that vicious climb and headwind) and 950/70 comes out to exactly two weeks. So barring something strange I should be done around the 4th of July.

I do kind of feel like I'm rushing (and I am rushing through Wyoming), but the fact is I like riding this way, and as much as I'm enjoying this I do want to be home. Hanging out by myself is getting a bit old. So, 70 miles a day it is.

Antelope -- the other white meat

It's amazing the calories one can go through out here. Just for kicks, here's what I eat in a typical day here:

5 packets of oatmeal
5 granola bars
4 PBJ's (made with tortillas)
2 packets of "big bowl" easy mac
2 lipton dinners, with one package of tuna
Assorted snacks (granola, raisins, etc.)

In town, it's even more. I don't have to worry about stuffing myself so full I can't ride, so I go to town at whatever restaurant is lucky enough (or unlucky enough, if it's all you can eat) to have me. In Rawlins I made a Pizza Hut wish I'd never seen their $6 lunch buffet sign.

And still I'm still hungry all day. I see antelope and think they look delicious (it's true, especially compared to deer). And today I ran into some herds of sheep, and started thinking about the lamb and beef shawarma platter at the Meditteranean Cafe on State Street. But what can you do.

The rundown -- Pinedale, WY

The wind in Wyoming did not disappoint, although I managed to push through. Today is day 3 in the wind, and I'm sick of it.

As promised, I took off from Rawlins around 6 AM and headed out on my highway detour around the basin. Almost as soon as I got out it started blowing, mostly a crosswind out of the southwest. My goal was a place called Jeffrey City, an old mining town about 70 miles out. The first 50 miles weren't bad, but by 3 the wind was blowing so hard I saw a tour bus almost fishtail when it changed direction. Sometimes I was down in my granny gear spinning through the biggest gusts.

Yesterday actually wasn't bad in the morning. I was out at 6 again, and this time the wind didn't pick up right away. I stopped for a snack at Sweetwater, where there was a Mormon mission having to do with a bunch of folks who died trying to get to Salt Lake City late in the season. I had 50 miles by 11:30, was feeling good, and turned the corner toward South Pass thinking I'd be into South Pass City for second lunch. But I was off the Adventure Cycling maps, and it turned out the road I was on had what had to have been a 3000 foot climb. That hurt. By the time I got over the top it was blowing 30 miles an hour right in my face. So I ended up just hunkered down at a wayside listening to the Wyoming flag snapping in the wind.

I got up this morning and the first thing I heard was that flag -- still snapping. But, miracles do happen. The wind had switched direction and was pushing straight east! So I got about 45 miles today before it switched to a crosswind and started blowing hard again. And now I'm holed up in Pinedale, with only one more wind day to go I think. A hot shower, a hot meal, and the internet in the nicest library I've been in yet. All is well in the world.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The rundown -- Rawlins, WY

I crossed the Colorado line yesterday. Bon voyage -- I will miss you. Now it's on to Wyoming, land of big desert and big wind. I'm taking a half day here in Rawlins, at a motel that charges $40 flat (tax included). They have the dish, but for some reason forgot to include ESPN. So I've had to watch my World Cup games en espanol.

Far southern WY surprised me. As soon as I hit the Wyoming line, it turned to desert again like magic. So I figured, this is New Mexico all over again. But it's not. The far south part was another climb into aspens and timber, sort of like the area around Steamboat but with more gradual hills. And I had my base layer on all day. I don't think it ever got over 65, and by the end of the day it was downright cold. (There was snow on the side of the hill by my camping spot.) I ended up getting caught between sites and sort of camping on the side of the county highway. Oh well.

But, once I was out of the national forest it was more like what I expected. Big wind, sagebrush, and not a lot of water. And, worst of all, the road started going straight up and down over the hills. Short, steep ups and downs are the absolute worst thing you can hit doing loaded touring. The grades are too short to get in a good rhythm, and there's no time to rest in between. Ugh. But, it looks like things will be flatter from here.

OK -- I'm out. Lots of errands to run, and not much time to do it. Tomorrow is a big wind day -- 15-25 out of the SW, which means partly a crosswind and partly a wind in my face. I'm going to try to be rolling by 6 am and off the bike by 2. Then it can blow all it wants. Word.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

On cheating

Here's the last post from Steamboat. I'm going to make a confession here and list all the places that I have cheated and will cheat from here on out. (By cheating, I mean cutting off the route in one place or another.)

Past cheating:

El Paso, NM -- we didn't start at the official start spot. But we started on the border, most of the miles we cut off were highway anyway, and we actually did more miles on our cutoff than the route would have had us do. So this one wasn't really cheating.

Collins Park, NM -- to do the official route, we would have had to go 60 miles without water in the desert down there. There was a shorter route (on gravel) that we only had to go 30 or 40. So we cut that one off.

Whitehorse, NM -- this was real cheating. We took a ride from a guy because Tim's derailleuer was in such bad shape that he could only go about 8 miles an hour. This was slightly dubious because the bike would still run, but it turned out for the best. I kind of regret it though because it means I really won't have biked all the way if I finish in MT. But, it's about the ride, right.

Today -- took the highway for about 8 miles instead of a parallel dirt road. The road was under construction and the highway was deserted, so what the heck.

Future cheating -- WY. There's a stretch of desert with no water for 120 miles. The map says to carry 3-4 gallons of water. No thanks -- especially doing the route solo. I'm going to take the highway around.

The bottom line though is that it's about having a good time on the bike out here. Wyoming isn't going to be a whole lot of fun anyway, but it would be downright miserable (and dangerous) to try to push through solo. So, no regrets. Word.

On mileage and food

I think I posted something really optimistic about miles a few days ago. Well, it's probably not possible to average 70 miles a day on this route. 60 is possible, and 50 is definitely doable. But the 70 and 80 mile days are starting to take their toll.

First, it was digestive trouble. My daily diet out here is something like 5 packets of oatmeal in the morning, two big packets of easy mac for first lunch, three pitas with peanut butter and granola (like a PB sandwich but with a pita) for second lunch, and two lipton dinners, maybe with tuna, for dinner. Add in five granola bars and some other snacks during the day, and you have maybe 4000-5000 calories a day. Stomachs have a hard time with that, and I ended up with killer indigestion the other day. That indigestion cleared up for the most part yesterday, only to be replaced by a sore hamstring tendon. The tendon seems to be doing a little better today, but it still gave me some trouble.

Anyway, the bottom line is that there's a limit to how far you can push yourself before things start to go snap. Part of the problem is that without Tim here there's nothing to put the brakes on me, and I just don't know how to stop very well. So from here on out, a little shorter days will become the norm.


Three places you should drive that SUV to

For anyone who has a 4x4, this post is for you. So far, all but about 10 miles of the route has been open to traffic. For the most part, nobody drives it, but it's there nonetheless. So, to visit some of these cool places you don't need to load up a mountain bike the way I did. You can just drive there, eat well, and all the rest. So here are three places to take that SUV.

Place #1: Platoro, CO. Platoro has an old pioneer cafe and cabins that look straight out of the mining days. The cafe was still closed for the season when I went through but I suspect it's tasty. From Platoro, drive to Del Norte (about 55 miles) and you'll go through three mountain passes over 10,000 feet and through one of the coolest valleys I've ever seen.

Place #2: Marshall Pass, CO. Marshall Pass is just south of Salida. It's on an old railroad grade that goes up and over the divide just south of town. There's good camping at the top of the pass, and if you want you can hike one of Colorado's 14ers using that campground as a base camp.

Place #3: Road between Abiquiu, NM, and Cuba, NM. This was the first big mountain range (over 10,000 feet) of the trip. The range towers some 4,000 feet over the NM desert, and you can see forever. Be warned -- most of the road from Cuba is OK for 4x4s and most cars, but up at the top anything less than a full size truck may not have the clearance to make it through. But if you can make it up there, it's well worth it.

The wildlife report -- part III

Just one more animal -- a crayfish. I saw him while I was filtering water at the reservoir 20 miles north of here. This is worth mentioning because it was the first time I filtered out of water you could see more than a foot into. Other spots, either the water is too silty (mountain streams especially) or is draining a big cow pasture, in which case the silt is of a different sort. Props to my MSR water filter -- cow water comes through it looking like it belongs in a Brita commercial.

Steamboat Springs, CO -- where even the library looks like a chalet

This is the halfway point -- right around 1200 miles down, a little over 1200 to go. Word. I celebrated tonight with a giant slice of lasagna, a Newcastle, and a brownie sundae of some sort. If nothing else, I've developed a stellar eating capacity on this trip.

Steamboat is quite the unique town. It's part highway town, and the traffic is horrendous. But then mix that up with restaraunts that look like they charge $50 to walk in the door, people kayaking on the river that runs through town, and all kinds of new buildings that look like ski chalets. (The library is one of them. It's the Bud Werner Memorial Library in honor of a skier and looks like you should go inside and have a hot chocolate.) I just paid $25 for camping, which would be morally repugnant to most people who like to camp. But I got a nice spot, and the main building has laundry, showers, a pool, and a lounge with a TV (NBA finals game 3 is tonight). And it's the halfway point, so what the heck. My morals don't run that deep.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The gear report

This one is mostly technical stuff. Be warned.

The one thing I wasn't quite prepared for when I started this whole thing is the pounding that these roads will dish out on your equipment. So, here's a list of the good, bad, and ugly of my gear so far.

Bike -- Fisher X-Caliber 29er, 2004 model. I bought this new and got a screaming deal because it was an old model. The bike gets two thumbs up -- nothing more than minor adjustments and tuning so far. The long wheelbase and big 29" tires have eaten up the washboards and bumps with ease. Props go to Chronometro (link here) for a bike fitting that fixed my tendinitis and gave me a lot more power on the bike.

Racks -- Old Man Mountain Sherpa front and rear (link here). Racks have held up great. The only problem is that to get the wheels off you have to take the skewer out. If you're not careful, this can lead to a lot of grit and crap getting into your wheels. But there isn't really any better alternative.

Panniers -- REI Novara rear, Avenir front. These were both Ebay specials. Both sets have held out well, although I have to use garbage bags to waterproof them. One of the hooks on the rear ones bent but I haven't had to replace it yet. In an ideal world I'd have some of the nice waterproof ones, but for the money these have held up well.

The main thing with keeping the bike in good working order has been cleaning it out as much as possible at stops, checking for loose bolts every night, and keeping the chain lubed. Otherwise you start to lose stuff.

OK -- library is kicking me out. Until next time...

There's a reason why...

This is a vaguely philosophical post. Be warned.

Today is Day 21 of the trip. And this is what I say: there's a reason why people live in houses, cook on real stoves, and sleep in real beds. It's because real houses are warmer and more comfortable than tents, real stoves cook better than a camp stove and a pot, and real beds are more comfortable than a mummy bag and an air mattress. It's true.

That's not to knock camping -- it's all right. But the bottom line is that it's the price you pay for doing and/or being someplace cool. The camping is the means to an end -- in this case, riding some of the best country you'll ever see.

I think my strategy from here on out is going to be to camp in RV parks with showers whenever possible (which is usually every 2-3 days). We've been hanging out in cheap motels from time to time, but they can actually get pretty depressing. So, no more motels absent some sort of crisis. Camping is cheaper and usually just as good a night's sleep. Word.

Wildlife report -- part II

A couple more aminamals to add to the list:

Marmot -- these furry fellows keep running across the road in front of us. They're vaguely cute -- sort of like an overfluffy beaver without the tail. (View a picture of a marmot here.) But I have been told that they're busy spreading giardia.
Mosquitos -- I thought that Wisconsin and Minnesota mosquitos could eat the ones out here for breakfast, but it turns out that these fellows have a vicious side as well. Fortunately, the one night I was out in heavy mosquito country I managed to forage some bug dope from some fishermen camped near me.

Tim is done

It's true. My homey Tim is quitting the trip here in Salida at around mile 950. It just became too much like work for him -- even though he was loving the country out here, he wasn't loving spending 8 or more hours a day on the bike. I'll miss him.

I thought about cutting off the route myself and heading back to Wisconsin instead on the road, but I don't think riding solo will be such a big deal after all. CO has a lot more people, and either way I was going to have to do some less than pleasant riding (on the Divide, Wyoming, and on the road, Nebraska and western Iowa).

Plus, the one great thing about this route is that there's no traffic. I rode about 10 miles on the highway yesterday and that was enough for me. The bottom line is that this route is just too good to jump off of. So I'm going to stick with the original plan and finish the route.

Salida, CO -- the rundown

Here's the rundown. We made it into Salida, CO last night late. Salida is a this sort of trendy little ski town, but we had just enough energy to order out pizza and watch SportsCenter in the room. Sad but true.

I've been putting in monster days since leaving Chama. By the time I got my tire Tim was about a day and a half ahead of me, so I tried to get up early and catch up. In three and a half days, I managed to do about 220 miles. I feel like I've turned a corner here with my fitness level, and I think from here on out 60-80 mile days are going to become the norm.

There isn't anything quite like riding through these mountains. Two days ago the route went through the edge of the San Juans through little towns like Platoro and Summitville (an old mining down that is now a Superfund site). Platoro is in this long, narrow valley with steep cliffs on both sides and a little inn with cabins at the end. From there you climb up through the pass and get to see backward down the length of the valley. Then it's down and up into Summitville, a deserted mining town complete with broken down wooden buildings and a giant sludge pond. It was a great ride on the bike, but anyone who wanted to could do it in a 4x4. So no excuses.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The wildlife report

One more thing I ought to let y'all know about. So far, the wildlife viewing has included:

Antelope -- run like crazy, not easy to get close to.
Bear -- black bear, hanging out in the road when I came around a corner. Took off as soon as I got close.
Elk -- two separate herds of elk down in the lowlands; up in the mountains I have seen a number of single elk grazing on the side of the road. It's possible to sneak up on them a little, but as soon as they hear you they take off through the woods, breaking everything in their path.
Rattlesnake -- little (two foot) guy at the Chaco ruins. Rattled at me from about 3 feet away. I ran away from him.
Pigs -- Tim is afraid of pigs.
Deer -- mule deer I think. Pretty much like our whitetails at home.
Coyotes -- howl like crazy out in the desert, like they have you surrounded and are moving in for the kill. During the day I've seen a couple slinking across the road, but they don't seem too interested in me.

And that's the wildlife report. Word.

I'm famous!

One more note, then I'm out. Yesterday up on the mountain I ran into a fellow by the name of Mark. There aren't many people around up where the route is, so you stop and say hi usually. So I said hi, and it turns out that Mark is shooting a documentary about the hikers up here (there is a continental divide hiking trail -- the CDT -- that follows some of the same routes as the bike route). Anyway, he talked to me on camera for a little while and filmed me struggling up the top of one of the climbs. I guess he has already made a film about the Appalacian Trail and sold it to PBS, and the CDT is his next project. Something tells me I may end up on the cutting room floor, but you never know. (Check out his film here.)

By a strange twist of fate, Mark ended up picking me up when I was trying to walk into town, and dropped me off at a good campsite. I promised I'd buy his film when I get back. I also tried to put a bug in his ear about making his next film about bike touring, but I'm not sure how successful I was.

Two things you won't find in NM

The first one is water. There is a terrible drought on down here. In the Gilas (a week and a half or so ago in southern NM) that meant we had to go about 40 miles or more between water fill-ups, and we cut off the route in one spot where it looked like we would have to go about 60 without water.

Further on, north of Cuba, we ended up taking the highway because the entire forest, including the roads through it, was completely closed off because of the fire danger. The rangers say it is very unusual for land to be closed off like that this early in the season. But, I think we're out of the worst of it. Yesterday I actually had to push my bike over some six foot snowdrifts in the road (up at about 10,500 feet) and there were lots of little snowmelt streams. North of here the elevation is even higher, so I suspect that our water problems are over until Wyoming.

The second is internet. For one reason or another, I have not had a chance to get into any libraries. Our first big town fell on Memorial Day, so nothing was open. The next town (Abiquiu) fell on a Friday, and the library was closed there on Fridays. Today, the library was supposed to be open, but apparently both librarians called in sick. So, I'm at a tourist kiosk here that is supposed to have a 15 minute limit, waiting for the desk people to kick me off.

From here it doesn't get much better. Probably there will be no more posts for a week or so.

Chama, NM -- home of the blown tire

Today is my rest day -- the first in 15 days. It wasn't planned that way, but I'll take it. Chama is off the route about 15 miles, and is just at the Colorado border. Here's how I got here:

I was telling everyone that my goal right now was to get through New Mexico. And, yesterday I got across the line and was all fired up. Not a mile later there's this huge BANG and my back tire is fishtailing all over the road. Turns out that the side of the tire got damaged somehow (probably cut on a rock) and the whole side was blown out. I tried patching it with some special patches I had for just that sort of thing, but the blown out spot was too big. So, I patched it up as best I could, put 15 pounds of pressure in it, and started walking. Eventually, a filmmaker fellow I met before the tire blew (whole other story) picked me up and drove me into Chama.

Tomorrow the tire will be here (overnighted from Madison) and I'll be back on the road. Until then, I've been hanging out at an RV park across the way from some retired folks named Ray and Ann from San Antonio.

Anyway, the first goal is done. Now it's Roosville or bust, baby.

NOTE: every person I told the blown tire story to told me that they told me to bring an extra tire along. I don't remember anyone telling me such a thing.

Friday, June 02, 2006

El Rito, NM -- the rundown

Hi all --

This is going to be short -- a kind ranger has offered to let me use his computer for a couple of minutes. But, here's the story -- we've made it to El Rito, NM, about 140 miles from the CO border. We've taken a couple of alternates and shortcuts due to some problems with Tim's bike and the severe drought in southern NM. All in all, we've ridden about 550 miles so far. But we are in the high mountains now and water should not be so much of an issue here.

I have not been able to find any internet anywhere, and I won't be able to post again here for probably five days. But all I can say is that things have been amazing so far, and we have not had any problems worth mentioning here. OK -- I'm out.

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