August 1-13

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Friday, August 1, 2003

Another early morning on the road to beat the morning rush hour of Great Falls. Uneventful until I started zigzagging in and out of the buttes outside the city. Thirty miles into the day and two months into the ride and I finally caught a view of the Rockies. For the past few days they've been obscured by other lesser mountain ranges (Bear paws, Highwoods, etc.). I found it kind of ironic that the first day that I site the Rockies, I also cross the continental divide (Roger’s Pass - 5600 feet). It was into the mid-90's today, which made all the climbing a little tedious. All the excuse I needed to stop by one of the many mountains streams and cool down. After so many weeks of the plains, it is nice to be back among the trees with abundant spruce, pine and cedar. The smell was invigorating. After ninety miles and one mountain pass, I splurged and bedded down in a hotel in Lincoln, MT. It the wind works in my favor, tomorrow is Missoula - one of my favorite cities in the states.

Saturday, August 2, 2003

It was cold this morning. I departed Lincoln, MT early and was forced to don most of the cycling gear I have. I was afforded some incredible views of the mountains and encountered several sections of the Blackfoot River with steam rising off the water. The route followed rivers for most of the day and I found the setting soothing and often zoned out for extended periods of time. It was breathtaking to have mountains on all sides of me. Encountered my first bighorn sheep of the trip. Because of my early departure, I arrived in Missoula early and took care of some errands at the local bicycle shop and outfitter. (Did I mention that I broke another spoke yesterday?) Apparently, I've planned my day-off well as thunderstorms are forecast for tomorrow.

Sunday, August 3, 2003

Today was both well-deserved and productive. I opted for a break from the bicycle in order to chill in Missoula, Montana. The town is littered with coffee shops and restaurants that cater to the more discerning palates as well as a wide variety of shops supplying the hordes of outdoor enthusiasts. My breakfast included a pecan rum portabella omelet and a bottomless cup of coffee. Missoula’s a pretty hip town and I couldn’t think of a place I’d rather be right now.

Monday, August 4, 2003

What a small world! I bumped into Will, a periodic cycling companion through Virginia and Kentucky. Unfortunately I was on my way out of town and he was bedding down in Missoula for a few days which only allowed us to catch up on the essentials. I headed south out of Missoula to the small town of Lolo where I turned my bicycle west and headed into the heart of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. I spied my first snowy peaks in the distance and admired all the small streams and purple flowers which grew in large quantities along the roadway. The forests started to thicken and the road narrowed and began to twist as I penetrated the wilderness. I arrived at the small town (if we stretch the definition of town) of Lolo Hot Springs and immediately met Jerry & Ruby Allen, a kind couple from Oregon who offered me a small section of their campsite to pitch my tent. I gladly accepted and was soon invited in for a wonderful meal. I truly enjoyed their company and welcomed the opportunity to chat. That night proved to be one of the coldest, and not even the wine I had with dinner provided a sense of warmth. At least I had a stream out back to take my attention from the cold and lull me to sleep.

Tuesday, August 5, 2003

I’ve learned that early departures are less of a necessity in the mountains where the temperature is slower to climb into the “unbearable” stage. So when Jerry & Ruby invited me in for a cup of java, I gladly accepted their offer and whittled away a good hour with them. I enjoyed the coffee both because – well, it’s coffee and because of the warming effect it has. I broke camp around eight to make the final push towards Lolo Pass. As evident by my body’s reaction to the cold, I broke camp to soon. Within 10 minutes, my hands were so numb I was unable to feel my fingers and had to move them by sight in order to ensure I was touching the appropriate gear and brake levers. Having completed most of the climb the previous day, I crested Lolo Pass early and immediately started a long descent which may well have burned out my brakes had I not stopped periodically to let them cool off. For 20-25 minutes I maintained speeds around 30 m.p.h. The views of the surrounding mountains and valleys were stunning and I absorbed as much of it as I could. I arrived at a remote campsite in mid-afternoon and lay down to watch some lighting storms pass over. Eventually I was driven inside to escape the rain.

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

I readily admit my vocabulary is too limited to really do today’s beauty any justice. I observed creek after creek with angled mountainsides dropping down to them, several spectacular waterfalls, craggy peaks, deep forest all while listening to the ever-present sound of running water. Everything appeared to be carpeted with some form of lichen or moss. The road I followed was often carved out of the mountainside, and the intermittent rock falls on the road drove me to keep my eyes upward to an unhealthy degree. Within all this beauty, several truck drivers seemed determined to spoil my paradise. Today presented me with my first verbal exchange, apparently a truck driver was unhappy that he had to slow down for me around a blind corner. Yet he didn’t appear to mind slowing down even further to roll his window down and let me know just how he felt about cyclists. After dozens of close calls with other truckers my reaction was less than pleasant, maybe even explosive and it left me extremely embarrassed afterwards. I tried to overlook this incident, but soon was greeted by another trucker from the eastbound lane who waved at me with the least friendly finger for absolutely no reason. It soon dawned on me that I was on a stretch of road shared with the oldest cross-country bicycle trail in the country, and I surmised that after almost 30 years of the “local” truckers getting stuck behind bicyclists, their disposition had been pushed to the far side of congenial. It didn’t matter. Though their actions are firmly planted in my mind, the splendor of the setting far outweighed the ugliness of the situation.

Thursday, August 7, 2003

A long standing personal record was broken today – “total elevation climbed”. The previous record was set back along the Blue Ridge Parkway (in Virginia) when I climbed over 4300 feet in a day. Today, I managed almost 5000 ft. I should have guessed as the day started with a gradual climb and then continued for the next hour plus. I reached the ridge above the Lochsa River and found myself on a high plateau among farmland and with a long sight line back into the wilderness area I had just spent the past two days crossing. The climbing didn’t end as I found myself on a rollercoaster ride for the remainder of the morning/afternoon. But since I was above 3000 feet for most of the day the heat never became a factor. All the climbing was rewarded with the most entertaining descent of the trip. The road was empty of traffic and appeared to wrap around itself for over eight miles. I didn’t pedal once in those eight miles. I careened around the corners unable to keep myself from laughing. Eventually I arrived in Lewiston, Idaho and after climbing all day I treated myself to a hotel with a view of Washington State across the Snake River. I asked the hotel clerk if there was a good place to eat nearby and when she said the place across the street had great burgers but was a dive, I almost started to cry. Two of my favorite things – “burgers” & “dives” and they were together. It was a score.

Friday, August 8, 2003

I began the day by crossing into my twelfth state (Washington) and following the Snake River for the first few miles before turning inland and beginning the “ascent”. After an hour of climbing there was still no end in site. On several occasions I observed what appeared to be the ridge – no such luck. I started to think the road planners were playing a sick joke on me by constantly planting more hills around the corners. After finally cresting I re-entered farmland reminiscent of Kansas but with hills. Services were few and with the intention of bedding down in the comforts of a hotel, I logged over a 100 miles in order to arrive in Walla Walla, Washington. The day ended on a pleasant note as I found the Mill Creek brewpub across the street from my hotel.

Saturday, August 9, 2003

Until today, I could boast at not having had a single “puncture” flat tire, and that’s after over 4000 miles. I’ll chalk that up as a benefit of Kevlar tires. My extreme confidence in my tires had allowed me to ride over broken glass and other assorted objects without batting an eye. I failed to realize that when you travel through desert, you can expect to find things with thorns, and they had a hey-day with my tire. Five punctures to be exact, but at least they have prepared me for what tomorrow’s roadway will present. Knowing that today’s ride was going to be a mild 60 miles, I took my time breaking camp and treated myself to coffee and watched “The Breakfast Club”. Immediately outside of Walla Walla, the hills exploded with hundreds of windmills. They whirled menacingly. Though my route continued to pass through the high desert, I was amazed at what could be accomplished with irrigation. The yellow desert abounded with pockets of green. As an added bonus, every time a truck hauling onions passed I was treated to their extremely sweet aroma. Thirty miles into the ride I crossed into my final state, Oregon. I got giddy when I saw the sign for Portland. I realized that until recently, my journey had always been about my “daily” destination, but now as I near the end, my focus has switched to my “ultimate” destination (Astoria, Oregon). Immediately upon arriving at the Columbia River, I found myself traveling along the base of huge basalt rock formations.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

I pedaled out of Umatilla, Oregon a little before 6:00 a.m. in order to hopefully beat the notorious winds along the Columbia River. I immediately crossed the river back into Washington and did succeed in avoiding the winds for the first two and a half hours and then was about leveled. At its worst, gusts were in the 30/35 m.p.h. range and on one occasion they blew me off the side of the road. The desert continues and is satiated with tumbleweeds and desolation. The Washington Department of Transportation is apparently not concerned with trash clean-up along this section of the highway and the variety of objects that litter the roadway have been bleached an eerie white. Though today’s trek was only slightly over 80 miles, it proved to be one of my toughest days. I finished the day by re-crossing the Columbia River to Biggs, Oregon, best known as the biggest truck stop along this stretch of Interstate.

Monday, August 11, 2003

In my bold attempt to avoid the headwind, I awoke at 4:15 a.m. only to realize that it was way too dark to bicycle. An hour later there was enough light and I hopped on the Interstate and started pedaling west. The sunrise over the gorge was incredible and upon rounding a corner Mt. Hood burst onto the horizon. Soon after exiting the Interstate I entered the Historic Columbia River Highway. After two and a half months on a bicycle I have traveled through some incredible scenery and found that my standard for what constitutes “beautiful” has been set quite high. Yet today’s ride pushed this standard even higher. The ride passed through sheer cliffs teeming with an interesting mix of conifers and deciduous trees. Though I was often only a few hundred feet from the Interstate, it was as though I was in a different world. The trail involved a good deal of climbing along the rocky cliffs and over enormous gorges running perpendicular to the Columbia River. The ride was exhilarating and I couldn’t have ended the day in a better place – Hood River, Oregon.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

The beauty of the gorge continues to awe me. Today’s scenery was similar to what I encountered yesterday but with waterfalls. Being late in the summer, most of these cascades were running at only a fraction of their potential but they still provided some incredible views. The highlight was Multnomah Falls, a series of two waterfalls, 342 feet and 69 feet respectively. I met Dave Long, another cyclist traveling the Lewis & Clark trail with whom I pedaled for most of the morning. By bicycling along the base of the southern side of the gorge, I avoid the direct rays of the sun for most of the morning and found the chill invigorating. Though only a matter of feet from the Interstate, the historic highway was deserted by all definitions of the word. The roadway was lined with stone guardrails covered with lichen and moss and the forest was full of ferns and scattered boulders. The smell of earth was resolute. As soon as the Columbia River Gorge begun, it ended, and I pedaled into the greater Portland area. I bolted for Vancouver, Washington where I was welcomed by Nancy Ducharme, my hostess during my stay in the area. She volunteered to drive me around town for a few last minute errands relating to my bicycle. The most notable errand related to my bicycle seat which had unfortunately blown-out only miles before arriving in town. It was a huge psychological loss; for I knew that the seat to which I had dedicated so much time and managed to form the perfect ass groove would be lost forever. I bid it a tearful farewell.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Thank goodness I was out the door early today. An unplanned bridge closing added an extra 10 miles to my route and required a detour into downtown Portland. The city lived up to its reputation as the most bicycle-friendly city - I couldn’t get off a bike path if I tried. Assuming I made Astoria today, it would be my last day on a bicycle and the end of two and a half incredible months. The ride itself was uneventful, but I let each incident hold special significance - I ate my “last” lunch, filled my “last” water bottle, took my “last” leak etc. As my daily odometer hit 105 miles I turned a corner and smacked into a wall of wind saturated with the smells of the ocean. I pedaled the last couple of miles and stopped at the ending point for a moment of reflection. After over 4500 miles on a bicycle, my new lifestyle had come to a grinding halt. I felt as though I should cry, but instead I wandered around, found a hotel and relaxed. Beside the fact that I will not need to hop on bicycle tomorrow, I become surprisingly conscious that nothing else has really changed. Deep down I knew I had accomplished something but also realized I would need some time to really absorb this achievement. I wish I had some profound concluding statements for my journey, but feel it best to end it like it started, as just another day on a bicycle. Though the journal ends here, check back in September for some select pictures of the ride. I hope you enjoyed my journey as much as I did.