Sunday, December 9, 2012

Let it snow?

Protect Our Winters and the National Resources Defense Council recently released a study detailing the negative economic impacts of reduced snowfall due to climate change.  A copy of the report can be downloaded here.  To vastly summarize the report, a few key findings are:

-winter temperatures are expected to rise 4-10 degrees F by the end of the century if no changes are made to climate change contributors

-this could cause a 25-100% reduction in snow depths in the west and reduce the length of the northeast's snow season by half

- the US wintersports industry is currently valued at approximately $12.2 billion

-over the past decade, the downhill ski resort industry lost $1.07 billion which resulted in a loss of 13,000 to 27,000 jobs

Whitetail deer in Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands.  I think I took this picture about a decade ago.  Will this eventually be a sight of the past?

Well, sufficed to say, I think that sucks.  I am sure that many people in the wintersports industry and wintersports enthusiasts would agree with me.  I like to go cross country skiing, ice climbing and build snowmen.  For many years, my paychecks were largely made from selling equipment and clothing for winter time activities.  But at the same time, many of my other actions contributed towards the progression of climate change.  I drove my car to the ski hill and the state forest.  I flew in a plane to go climb a volcano and note it's receding glaciers.  I also took planes 3 or 4 times a year to attend national outdoor and ski industry trade shows along with thousands of others who had done the same.

Here, quoted in full, is the last paragraph from the conclusions of the above report:

We must safeguard our winters and with them, a way of life for thousands of communities, a global winter sports industry, and local business across the United States. We can do this by supporting clean-energy and climate policies that reduce our carbon pollution, and opposing attempts to block such policies from moving forward. We need to protect the laws we have, specifically the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act to set carbon pollution standards for major polluting industries. And we need to put in place policies and standards for the longer term that will ensure that vibrant, prosperous winters endure for generations to come.

I think these are all correct and admirable goals to combat climate change and our disappearing winters.  There are plenty of industries and societal practices that produce large amounts of carbon emissions that we need to address.  But I think that we as wintersports lovers also need to be honest and not ignore our own contributions to climate change as well.  What do I mean by that?

-just about every snow film in recent history that I see at the Banff Film Festival world tour involves someone flying to Alaska and then getting helicoptered to the top of a peak, again and again

-the outdoor and snowsports industries host numerous national (and international) trade shows each year where thousands of folks fly and drive great distances to attend

-snowmobilers drive trucks the size of tanks into the state forest and then run their snowmachines for the entire day

-folks fly from areas of little or poor snow to the West and go skiing

-areas with poor snow run snowguns that draw electricity for long stretches of the winter

And why do I bother to mention this?  I don't like to see lovers of winter only point their finger at someone else, be that big industry, coal, cars, etc.  While those are very real and significant contributors to global warming, I would ask people to keep in mind that just about no one is innocent in this problem.  And I unequivocally include myself as a contributor to global warming as well.  So I am asking is that all of us that love winter and want to see it stick around in our lifetimes, remember to look inward as well as outward.  Not only do we owe it to ourselves so that we may keep skiing and boarding, but I would argue that we owe it to future generations of skiers and snowboarders.

Okay.  I'll shut up now.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Spoon

In late October, I rode my bike from central Pennsylvania to southern, southern Virginia where my parents own a farm.  They are in the process of renovating the farmhouse that sits on the property and I traveled down in order to assist.  I've spent the past two weeks patching and sanding and painting and putting up molding and all of the sorts of things that you do to old houses to give them new life.  Yesterday, as I finished a couple of hours of scraping 50 year old carpet glue off of a staircase, I decided to take a little break.  An aside if you will.  I was going to make a spoon.

A spoon?  Yeah, I'll bet you didn't see that one coming.  Well, if you know me or you've read enough of my ditherings, you already know that logical transitions aren't my strong suit.  But let me explain myself...

Just about everyone at some point in their life, be it as a child or an adult, thinks to themselves, "Wouldn't it be great to just go off in the woods and build a cabin and live there and forget about the 2012 election/terrorism/my 401k?"  You can silently muse about this, but once you voice it aloud, your mother/husband/rabbi quickly tells you that this is not possible.  And that's precisely when (hopefully) you also hear about Dick Proenneke.  Dick was dropped off at a lake in the interior of Alaska in 1968 where he went about building a cabin by hand, alone.  He also constructed much of the other items necessary for daily living out of natural materials or castoff packaging.  Proenneke would live by himself in the cabin for about 30 years (aside from occasional visits from a float plane and a couple of trips back to the lower 48 to see family).  Whilst he went about all of this, he filmed himself and kept a lengthy journal which were the basis for the documentary Alone in the Wilderness.

Whenever I am hanging out with my friend Ieva, conversation begins with a normal discussion of how things are going and how much we have or have not been climbing/biking/running.  With pleasantries aside, we switch to the important stuff: building cabins, goats, sewing your own clothing, persistence hunting, etc.  About a month ago, we got together in order to watch Alone in the Wilderness as I had still never seen it.  Upon watching it, I felt like all of life's troubles were washed away.  I knew what to do with myself.  To seal the deal, we also watched the sequel, Alone in the Wilderness II.  Ieva and I were understandably excited to go out and immediately build a cabin, but we let logic prevail and decided to start with something simpler: making a wooden spoon.

In Alone in the Wilderness II, Proenneke shows the process of making a spoon.  As he is a superb craftsman, he makes it look really easy.  Also they edit out all of the laborious parts to shorten the footage.  We felt like this gave us some idea of what was going on and set about finding the necessary tools.  One implement called for is a gouge (a rounded chisel) and Ieva and I went to two different hardware stores and searched around town, but couldn't find this specialty tool.  The effort sort of lost steam at that point.  My father is a devout woodworker so I asked him to locate a gouge for me while I was bicycling down to the farm.  When I arrived, a gouge was awaiting me and I thus had the tools I needed.  So, without further adieu, I give you the process for making a wooden spoon by hand.
Select a young tree that is slightly bigger in diameter than how wide you want to make your overall spoon.  Chop it down.  I don't have my copy of The Foxfire Book on me but it has a good discussion of what wood to use for what purpose.  I selected an oak because there were a lot of oak around.  (Before anyone decries me for cutting down a healthy tree instead of using deadfall, you should know that "green" wood is much easier to cut and shape.  You can now return to reading this post inside of your house made of 2x4s.)

Next, "limb" the tree.  That is, cut the protruding limbs off of the trunk.  I really like to use the Gransfors Bruks Scandinavian Forest Axe for this.  Its large enough to fell a tree and limb it and light enough to use for small shaping functions later in the process.  During all of this cutting, be EXTREMELY CAREFUL that you do not cut your foot, leg, hand, fingers, etc.  You can do a lot of damage with a sharp axe.  And then as Gem says in The Town, "there goes college soccer".

Haul your tree trunk out of the woods to your cabin/yurt/commune and put it up on sawhorses.  Okay, Dick Proenneke would have used a tripod made of other tree sections, but I didn't want to make my parents apoplectic by cutting down the entire forest.  Get yourself a carpenter's saw.

Cut a blank for your spoon.  It should be relatively straight and free of large knots.  You want it to be a bit longer than your desired spoon length and a touch wider.  This blank that was about 20 inches long and 3 inches in diameter yielded a finished spoon of 12"x2".

Flatten one side of the blank with your axe.  A small hatchet could make this easier (and perhaps safer).

Continue by flattening the other side taking care to try and make the sides parallel.

Draw the outline in pencil of your overall spoon shape and the area where the "bowl" or concave portion should be.

Begin cutting out the bowl of the spoon using a gouge.  I was using a #7 sweep 3/8" gouge which is good for small and medium sized spoons.  For a larger "serving" sized spoon I might use a wider gouge.

Continue chiseling until you have the concavity as deep as necessary.  Don't worry about how thick the "walls" of the spoon are at this point.

With your axe, now rough out the top profile of the spoon around the bowl and along the length of the handle.

Then draw the side profile of the spoon in pencil and then rough it out again with your axe.  Leave the "walls" of the concavity thick still.  Trying to shave too closely with the axe at this point can ruin your whole project.

Next, step in side.  Cozy up to the fire.  Put on some NPR or some folk music.  Make yourself a mug of tea.  And get out your hunting knife.  I suppose you could use some sort of carving knife, but that's just unnecessary baggage when you're taking a float plane in to your homesite.  Start slowly whittling the spoon towards its final form.  Go slowly.  Use your index finger and thumb as "calipers" to gauge how thin you're making the bowl of the spoon.

After you've gotten it to where you're happy with it, break out some sandpaper and smooth out the surfaces of the spoon.  Yes, Dick had sandpaper with him.  I found that it was ineffective to sand the wood while it was still quite "green" and damp, so I am letting it season and dry for a few days before giving it a proper sanding.

And voila!  You have a fully functional spoon that you made with your own hands.  Proenneke finished his spoons with shellac or varnish or something that I cannot recall.  I'm fairly sure that the health industry would frown upon that these days.  My friend Lauren teaches youth in the outdoors and occasionally they make spoons as an activity.  She said that they finish them with a cooking oil.  Makes sense to me.  Once this gets its final sanding, I'll rub a light coat of olive oil on the spoon to protect the wood.

For my first attempt ever at making a spoon by hand, I think it turned out pretty well.  I believe the scoop portion of the spoon should be deeper and the walls should be thinner.  I was a bit timid with the chisel and later whittling as I didn't want to make them too thin and ruin the spoon.  Rome wasn't built in a day and even Dick Proenneke probably didn't make a perfect spoon the first time.  But, this first one is perfect for putting dollops of sourdough batter on your cast iron fry pan to make pancakes, as Dick would do.  I believe that my friend Liz, upon hearing of Ieva and my intentions to make spoons, laid claim to the first one that I made. Hopefully she'll put it to good use.  Kindling is not a "good use".

If you've read this far, you probably need no justification on why you should make a spoon.  But there's probably someone out there thinking "Why waste your time?"  It was fun.  I hate eating with plastic.  It's rewarding to actually make something in this day and age.  Or in the words of the cashier at the consignment shop in Mount Joy, PA who rang me out for a Foxfire book and a guide on bowmaking, "the way the world's heading these days, you're gonna need to know this stuff".  In either case, I hope that you enjoyed the step-by-step explanation and are perhaps inspired to make something yourself!

Monday, November 5, 2012

J.A. Stein Mini Cassette Lockring Tool

What follows is a review of a really esoteric and very specific piece of bike equipment.  If a thousand people read this post, perhaps one might find it useful.  Which is excellent.  Except probably only four people read this blog.  Oh well.
On a recent multi-day ride, a friend and I pulled off of the road into a the parking lot of an Italian restaurant buried in central Pennsylvania.  Our chains were dry and shrieking for want of lubrication and it was sorta time for a lunch break too anyways.  My friend rummaged through his panniers and happened upon the correct one with his repair stuff in it.  As he removed everything to find a bottle of chain lube, I noticed something wrapped up in a grocery bag.

Me: "Is that a chain whip?"
Him: "Yep."
Me: "I really wouldn't want to carry that."
Him: "Yeah, me neither.  But what are you going to do if a drive side spoke breaks and you need to remove your cassette?"
Me: "Commit seppuku with a tire lever."

First off, I am not criticizing my friend.  Both of our bikes (and wheelsets) have over 10k miles on them.  We carry lots of heavy stuff in our rear panniers.  We ride over things like rough trails, the cataclysmic streets of Baltimore, hippies, etc.  Prime situations to break a rear spoke.  And we do all of this often at great distance to a bike shop.  If you break a spoke on the drive side of your rear wheel next to the cassette, you need to remove the cassette in order to replace the spoke.  The usual necessary tools are a chain whip, a cassette lockring tool and a crescent wrench.  Unless you're my friend who opted to carry these along, you're not likely to find such specialized tools outside of a bike shop while out touring.

I have always been aware of this potential situation.  For many thousands of miles of touring, I simply adopted the "I hope that a rear spoke never breaks but if it does make it right by a bike shop" mentality and tried not to think how royally screwed I might be in certain places.  Perhaps somewhere like Wyoming's Great Divide Basin.  I assure you that I am not alone in this mindset.  Actually, I'll bet that many cross country cyclists have never even considered the predicament I just laid out.  But right then and there, in the parking lot, I promised my friend that I'd determine a solution.  We had both heard of "emergency" lockring removers, but hadn't purchased one since they cost about $40 and we had no idea how they worked.

The only such tool in current production that I have heard of is the J.A. Stein Mini Cassette Lockring Tool.  It's been recommended by other long distance cyclists, but I could not find anywhere that clearly explained how the tool operates.  I ordered one through Harris Cyclery for $35.95 and I would urge you to call them and try to negotiate their $10 shipping fee since what I received could have been essentially mailed in an envelope.  For your forty odd dollars, you receive a small plastic bag with several loose metal bits and you begin wondering if you've been swindled.

Now, I have the advantage of having removed my cassette a couple of times to replace it.  I used the ubiquitous Park Tool Cassette Lockring Tool and Chain Whip and a crescent wrench.  This gave me an overall expectation of what had to happen here.  If you haven't removed a cassette using conventional means, it would probably behoove you to ask for a demo at your local bike shop before playing with the Stein tool.  But once you look at the Stein tool, you will note that the larger plate has splines machined on it much like a conventional lockring removal tool.  With your skewer removed, you engage the splined plate with the lockring on your cassette.  Then with a 3mm allen key, you attach the smaller arm to the plate.  With the wheel in your bike's dropout, you reinstall the skewer, clamping down the slotted end of the arm.  As you rotate your crankarms in the easiest gearing, the tool rotates until it contacts the frame whereupon further crankarm rotation causes the lockring to be loosened by the now immobile tool.  By changing the orientation of the tool slightly, you can tighten the lockring back on by rotating your rear wheel backwards by hand.

This may sound quite complicated.  I assure you it isn't.  It's just hard to put into words.  If you have experience with a usual cassette removal procedure, you will be able to follow the directions that come along with the tool.  You will need to be carrying your own 3mm allen key and if you are the type to carry an emergency cassette remover then it would stand to reason you're also packing a multitool.  The tool worked fabulously once I read through the instructions.  I had to remove a bolt holding one of the fender arms on that would have blocked the tool's rotation.  In order to get the lockring to "break free" I sat on the bike and pushed down on a pedal with my foot.  I doubt that handstrength on the crankarm alone would be enough force.  And likewise, reinstallation of the lockring was a snap too (albeit with one caveat that I will describe below).  I can absolutely recommend carrying the Stein tool along on bicycle rides that take you far away from the bicycle shop or your home workbench.  Just remember to bring extra spokes as well, otherwise this is all for naught.

DISCLAIMER for Surly Long Haul Trucker owners:  I have an LHT and by my observation, a heck of a lot of other cycletourists do too.  When I went to reinstall/tighten the cassette lockring, the directions are at odds with the LHT dropouts.  When reinstalling, you set up the tool with the arm pointing 180 degrees in the other direction and thus the arm contacts the frame by the chainstay, instead of the seatstay as in the loosening operation.  If you look at the above photo where the tool is installed for the loosening operation, you'll see a flange of sorts where the chainstay meets the dropout.  If you follow the tools directions, when you are tightening the lockring back on, the arm of the tool will ride up onto this flange and get bent.  I know because I did it.  I was able to hammer the arm back flat and I'm sure it will work fine in the future.  What I would do next time is allow the tool to contact the back of the derailleur hanger instead of the chainstay.  The directions clearly say that you should not do that as you may damage your derailleur.  With that in mind, I would probably unbolt my derailleur first since it isn't necessary for the tightening function to avoid damaging it.  Again, if you own an LHT and are using a Stein tool, this will make immediate sense when you're sitting there looking at it.       

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Bicycle Luggage Debate

The one thing that I have noticed folks get really wrapped up in when bike touring is how to carry their stuff. Specifically, people love to argue the merits and drawbacks between panniers and trailers.  Everyone is convinced that whichever they've picked is correct and the other is inferior.  Well the other thing that I have noticed is that typically these same people have only ridden with one system thus making their claims biased and unfounded.  To satisfy my own curiosity and to inform you, fair reader, I decided to ride with both setups.
Well why don't you cry about it, Saddlebags!?!  (Obscure Ace Ventura reference... sorry)  Panniers work great.
When I say "ride with both setups" I don't mean write some crappy magazine review in which I borrowed something for an afternoon and took it along when I got coffee.  (Although I drank lots of coffee whilst using both panniers and trailer.)  No.  I mean I tested the heck out of this.  I rode across the country (approx. 5,000 miles) this summer using Ortlieb Back-Roller Plus and Front-Roller Plus panniers.  Just a couple of weeks ago, I went on a 750 mile tour using the same front panniers and a BOB Yak trailer.  In both cases, I was also using an Ortlieb Ultimate5 Plus handlebar bag.  During both trips, I got opportunities to ride pavement, gravel, dirt, long climbs, steep climbs, fast descents, windy straightaways, car-choked urban environments, and just about every other condition imaginable.  I'd say it was a pretty darn fair test.

Since I had toured so much with panniers, I had my biases against trailers somewhat going into the second tour.  I thought it would be slower.  I thought it would "pull me back" on steep ascents.  I thought on extended gravel and dirt it would just add drag.  I thought it would suck weaving around cars in the city.  I thought I would instantly be disgusted.  And what happened?  I didn't really notice any difference.  Nope.  I was just as happy pulling a trailer as I was with panniers.  In fact, on the last day I forgot that I was using a trailer.  As Porky the Pig says, "That's all, folks!"  Get over it.
Trailers work great too.  Don't worry.  They don't make you spontaneously yardsale in plazas.
But seriously, the debate is just silly.  There's a simple series of questions that can make this an easy decision for you.  I should have drawn some sort of Venn diagram or flow chart, but I never took graphic design.  Microsoft Paint sucks to use with a laptop touchpad mouse too.  So I guess I'll just write this out longhand.

-If you already own a bike that won't accommodate racks, buy a trailer and go touring.  Ignore all of the pannier geeks.
-If you're on a strict budget, you may want to choose the trailer.  A BOB Yak Plus which includes a waterproof duffle will hold 94 liters and goes for $359.  My panniers hold 25 liters (front) and 40 liters (back) and I'll say that I strap 30 liters of stuff to the top of the rear rack to make the volume capacity the same.  Those bags plus my front and rear racks amount to about $460.  Yes you can certainly get cheaper panniers, but Ortlieb bags are the de facto choice for most cross country riders by my observations.
-If you want to haul random stuff like packrafts, beer kegs, mule deer, etc. the trailer is more versatile for that.
-If you're also using buses/trains/planes in your travels, panniers are a lot easier to get around with.
-If you're wheedling your bike around in urban spots, taking it on elevators, carrying it up stairs, etc. it's a lot easier without the added length of the trailer.
Then again, why choose at all?  Just overload your bike beyond all reason and go have at it.  Okay... don't do that.
Of course, these are just some of the bigger questions to be mindful of.  I'm sure you can think of minute differences or situations where only X will do!  But the point of this post is to say that it really doesn't matter in terms of handling.  I tested that.  If you can ride a bike and make panniers weigh equally side to side you can figure that system out.  My brother who had never even seen a bike trailer slapped a loaded one on his road bike and was racing the taxis of Pittsburgh within minutes. Either one is fine.  The important thing is that you choose a system, throw some stuff in there and get outside.

A special warning:  Do not choose a double wheeled trailer.  They won't track as well behind you and when you're riding suspect roads, the right side wheel will invariably be hitting all of the nastiness by the curb/shoulder/road edge despite your best intentions.  Riding through Baltimore last week, if I hadn't been using a single wheeled trailer that followed my bike's tires exactly through the miasma of broken concrete, grates and trash, I may very well have died.  I'm not exaggerating that.  The only exceptions are if you are hauling a child in a two wheeled trailer or if it's just crucial because you cannot balance a single wheeled variety correctly.

I leapfrogged across the country this summer with two families that were biking on tandems with double wheeled trailers. They chose these because when you're asking an 8 year old and a 15 year old to bike together on a tandem, they cannot deal with the added frustration of balancing a single wheeled trailer.  But each and every one of the group of 12 still took turns cursing the two wheeled versions for the aforementioned drawbacks.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Simple joy

I spent this spring and summer riding my bicycle around a bit of the United States coming across many beautiful natural and urban scenes.  High elevation, low elevation, no elevation, forests, plains, streams, ocean, cottages, skyscrapers... I saw a lot.  But as the old saying goes, "There's no place like home."

Unbeknownst to me, it would take over two weeks to get my bike shipped from the Oregon coast to Pennsylvania.  Two weeks of me wandering around town, not getting more than a handful of miles away from my friend's house where I was crashing.  For many of you, this confinement would be similar to having your car in the shop for two weeks.  But at long last, I received the bike and quickly reassembled it.  The beginnings of autumn in Pennsylvania awaited me.

Yesterday, I took the opportunity to ride up to Black Moshannon State Park carrying my Alpacka Raft Denali Llama packraft on the rear rack.  My plan was simply to ride up some big hills to the park which sits atop a plateau and paddle around in the bog area there.  As I have tried to advocate before, stuff doesn't have to be complicated to be fun.  The simpler the better.  Certainly biking around the country is great, but there are still magical experiences to find in your backyard.

Consider the day:  Meet a friend for breakfast, talk about fishing and drink enough coffee to leave us shaking like a leaf in a hurricane.  Ride twenty odd miles along quiet, damp back roads under overcast grey skies.  Shoot the breeze for a bit with the park rangers as one of the few weekday visitors.  Paddle through acres of bog, complete with lily pads and old stumps, in complete silence save the dipping of paddle blades and the occasional frightened fish.  Contemplate incoming storm clouds after hours of paddling and head for shore.  Ride the asphalt roller coaster of ridges back home to a hot shower and fresh burritos.

Simple joy.

This.  This is exactly what I love the most in Pennsylvania.  Quiet back roads in the fall.  Whether its for fishing, hunting, climbing, biking or whatever, I never get enough of them.  Riding up Beaver Road towards the top of the Allegheny Plateau
My able vessel is inflated and ready to go.  Their website mentions this, but it warrants a reminder.  The floor is just a single sheet of material so it is well worth padding and insulating with something like a 3/4 length self inflating sleeping pad.  Which you'll obviously already have with you on your backcountry overnight packrafting adventure.
Out on the open waters as the only boater in sight.
And the not so open waters of the bog area.  As you paddle through areas of lily pads, they make a faint rushing, scratching sound below you.  At any pause in the paddle stroke, the vegetation grabs at the hull, gently bringing you to a halt.
Looking out across the acres of lily pads, water lilies appear here and there like errant ping pong balls scattered about.
The bog awaits all those that care to visit.  Make sure that you do.  I would certainly welcome company the next time that I go.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The "Not So Great" Divide

It's been less than a week since I returned to State College from riding across the country on my bicycle.  In an effort to reduce expenses and my carbon footprint, I decided to take a bus from Newport, Oregon which is on the Pacific Coast all of the way to Pennsylvania.  Most people will shake their head and laugh at how stupid I am to choose a three day bus ride over a antiseptic, quick flight.  Greyhound buses have the advantage of maintaining stations in many small towns that you bike through and accepting any sort of items as luggage.  My bike is still in the process of getting shipped back, but I could easily throw things like a camp stove, a knife, etc. into my bags with nary a second thought.  Also, the more relaxed schedule and pace of travel by bus doesn't create the anxieties of TSA, tight connections and enclosed airline cabins that flights incur.

A cross country bus trip is not without its odd occurrences though...  For brevity's sake, I will only recount incidences of police being involved and leave out all of the other strange stuff:

Saturday 9pm Boise, ID  An extremely drunk passenger had repeatedly tried to open the emergency escape windows.  He is arrested and led off by the police.

Sunday 8:10am Ogden, UT  A man misses the bus when it stops at the station.  He catches up with the bus on a freeway overpass, drives in front and blocks the bus's lane.  After several minutes of standing outside demanding to be let on the bus, the police arrive and cuff him.

Sunday 11:45am Evanston, WY  Two state police SUVs are awaiting the bus at the next scheduled stop.  All passengers are ordered to exit the bus.  The police search the bus with dogs for drugs possibly left by a passenger that was arrested the night before.

Sunday 8pm Denver, CO  A guy yells across the bus terminal, "Hey!  That's not your f**king bag!"  The target of his outburst is an extremely drunk man urinating directly onto the first man's luggage which sits out in the middle of the terminal.  The urinater is put in an armlock by security, taken away and arrested.

Monday 2am Colby, KS  A woman starts verbally abusing the bus driver because she wants to smoke another cigarette before the bus leaves.  The police are called and they escort her off of the bus with her two children.  Some other passengers are irate over her treatment, however it was observed that the woman had loudly told her kids earlier, "I can't wait til I get you two home so I can go out and get drunk."

Despite these disruptions, I still made it back to State College safely and surprisingly on schedule.  After only approximately 12 hours, I started getting edgy.  After a day, I knew that I needed to give myself a new all encompassing goal to focus on and work towards.  I made the mistake of watching Ride the Divide, a documentary about the Tour Divide mountain bike race.  The race entails riding approximately 2,750 miles along the Continental Divide from Banff, AB to the Mexican border in New Mexico.  The route follows Adventure Cycling's Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.  The current course record is something like 15 days which works out to about a 180 mile per day average.  During my cross country ride this summer, I had paralleled the route on pavement for over half of it's length and I had often thought about riding the Divide.

I decided to (try and) race it next year.

Do I know what I'm in for?  No.  Am I in shape for it?  No.  Do I have the gear for it?  Nah.  Is this going to completely destroy me?  Yep.  Am I looking forward to the biggest challenge ever?  Yes.  Do I expect to place on the podium?  No.  Am I going to try and have fun with it?  Certainly.

The Great Divide Basin is one of many, many long desolate and lonely sections that the race takes you through.  I had the pleasure of riding through it this summer on the few paved roads that cross it.  So I have some idea of what I'm signing up for.  Scratch that.  I have no idea what I am signing up for.

I am calling my effort Not So Great Divide 2013.  The route is great mind you.  It's my style of riding it that will probably be "not so great".  But that's the fun of it.  Picking a seemingly impossible challenge and working towards it and hopefully making it look a little less impossible.  I will strive to document the process of starting from scratch, getting my equipment together, detailing the planning and logistics and training harder than I ever have before.  Actually I don't train for much so this will be a new experience too...

So join me for the fun and games.  It's gonna be a long, bumpy ride.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The final finest miles

I decided to end my tour today.  This may sound a bit abrupt, but it was not induced by a sudden panic attack or anything.  I was never quite sure how long I would continue riding.  Truth be told, I had been entertaining the idea of riding down the Pacific Coast and then riding back to Pennsylvania for months.  But as I cycled through the early morning fog of the Oregon coastline on Highway 101, I realized that the tour was over for me.

Initially my concern was that I would be disappointed with not riding an even greater distance, even possibly back to the East Coast.  But I realized that I achieved what I set out to do and that is bike across the United States under my own power.  The challenge for me was really a mental one when I look back on it since I've biked around plenty and new my capabilities there.  It was keeping myself motivated and cheerful day in and day out and not let my anxieties get to me.  Those of you that know me well know what a challenge that was for me.  But after leaving Seattle (which had been my earliest stated goal) I just couldn't honestly drum up the same gusto for travel.  I rode to Newport, OR today and realized the mental fire wasn't stoked anymore.

That's not to say that the riding along the Oregon Coast was disappointing.  Not by a long shot!  You can ride miles along the coast within sight and sound of the booming surf.  The scenery is out of this world and a post card photographer could make their living within 20 miles of shoreline.  In the midst of this beauty, I really wanted to be sharing the experience with someone else.  After riding 5,000 miles largely alone, I knew that I needed to be around a friend or two to add the spark back.  Sure there was a chance I might bump into someone to tour with, but I really didn't want to ride on that notion for more days, weeks or months.

With this trip's success, I am not hanging up my bike touring hat or my adventure hat either (they're both sweet looking hats by the way).  I learned a whole lot more about long distance bike touring and about travelling with myself for company.  This knowledge will help in future plans and adventures.  Which I don't necessarily want to do alone, that much I know.  But for now, I am content to return to State College where I know plenty of folks and the Pennsylvania countryside where autumn is approaching.  I dropped off my bike at Bike Newport to get shipped back and booked a three (yes, you read that correctly) day bus ticket back home.  Three days on a bus may sound utterly horrible to some of you.  But consider that I spent 100 days on a bicycle seat covering the same route!

The Highway 101 bridge leading out of Astoria was cloaked in fog.  This is where bright clothing and reflectors come in handy!
The first beach that I came to in Orgeon, Arcadia Beach, was similarly clad in fog.  I took my shoes off to walk through the sand and saltwater.  The sea was far colder than I expected.  All of you who where hoping for skinny dipping photos will be disappointed.
Yeah, definitely don't skip pushing the button.  It sets off flashing lights at either end of the tunnel that alert drivers to the fact that some idiot is riding their bike through the dark tunnel.  Regardless, you may still be passed by a semi.  Or a logging truck.  Or two.  And they are louder than heck in a tunnel.  A little unsettling, but all in a day's ride!
When you're not riding right down by the ocean, you will find yourself riding up over a cape and gaining a high, scenic perch.  This is looking down at the beach at Manzanita.  Somewhere down there is a guy kite surfing.
Upon arrival at a city campground in Bay City, OR, the campground host handed me a freshly cooked crab leftover from her dinner.  Said crab did not survive for very long.
Scenic Route.  Always choose the scenic route.  Except this time the scenic route included multiple 800' climbs in the cold fog to panoramas that were entirely obscured by dense fog.  Okay, so maybe you shouldn't always take the scenic route.
Did I mention there was fog?
Holy smokes!  In Pacific City, I was able to reconnect with Henk and Marja, my Dutch cycling companions.  The last time that I had seen them was in Berea, KY approximately 4,000 miles ago!  We had been playing a game of cat and mouse with them trailing me by approximately a day until I headed north in Missoula.  They continued west to complete the TransAmerica route and this resulted in us riding into one another on the coast.
I love this sign.  The road is closed, but someone thought it was necessary to add "No Way through for Bikes or Cars".
Necessary indeed if you look closely.  I probably would have tried to ride through too.
Watching the pounding surf at Boiler Bay, I realized that I was content with how far I had come.  The Oregon coast is a terrific place to cycle.  I want to return in the future with a friend to share the experience.
And then I rode through more cold, damp fog.  Are you sensing a trend yet?  I'm told that it isn't always like this.  Maybe.
I have come to the metaphorical end of the road for my trip.  Except for right here where the edge of the road crumbles off a thirty foot seacliff.  That's more like the physical end of the road.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Coastest with the Mostest

Right now I am listening to The Final Countdown by Europe, a favorite glam metal ballad of mine, so excuse me if I write like a over caffeinated schizophrenic who's rocking out.  Because I just finished several cups of coffee too.

The past several days were spent forging my way through western Washington and to the coast of Oregon.  Between Bremerton, WA and Astoria, OR the Pacific Coast route (as mapped by Adventure Cycling) keeps you well inland with no hint of an ocean.  The terrain made me think of Pennsylvania with its continuous rolling hills and small farms.  That and the dogs.  One day around Centralia (it's a coal mining region, like the one in PA) I was chased by at least 7 dogs and nipped by one.  It felt like I was back in Kentucky for a moment.  Mostly unscathed though, I plowed on to Oregon and the coast.

Well, to be honest, I still haven't even made the true coast.  I am at the port town of Astoria, which is in the mouth of the Columbia River.  But tomorrow, I'll be taking US 101 south and have the ocean off of my right shoulder.  Whooo!  Still, with its huge container ships and seagulls and sea lions it feels much more like the coast than when I visited the beach for the first time at Anacortes.  More or less every cyclist that I have spoken to has said that the Oregon coast line is the iconic, archetypal, best riding of the whole route.  With that overwhelming expectation in my head, I'll continue south.

There was a small moment that I thought I may not make it any further however.  Up in Bremerton, I had an anxiety attack suddenly consume me.  For those of you that have never experienced one, basically with no warning or justification whatsoever, anything that has gone wrong in the world and everything that can go wrong in the world manifest themselves in your mind in unison.  It can scare you shitless and it can also preclude you from any meaningful thoughts about what's actually going on around you.  For me this is usually accompanied by a bit of depression too.  So up in Bremerton, I have the sudden chain of thoughts, "What the heck am I doing/Why am I doing this/I'm wasting money/Where am I going to sleep tomorrow night/I miss my friends/Whoa that car passed really close!"  This resulted in me sitting down and researching bus and train tickets home and trying to remember why I was sitting on my bicycle in the middle of nowhere.

At times like these, I just have to laugh, take a deep breath and pull my head out of my ass.  Years ago, a psychiatrist prescribed medication to stave off this sort of thing, but I prefer to employ the "snap out of it" method instead.  Once I get myself moving again, all of the negativity leaves me and I remember why I quit my job to aimlessly ride my bicycle around the country by myself.  Because it is fun.  And why to I bother to tell you about this mental jibber jabber of mine, dear reader?  I dunno.  It's all part of my trip.  It's not always sunshine and roses for me, but keep the pedals turning and I'll find them again.

A good day indeed.  Really, what is there to worry about?  I'm riding my bike around for fun.  I ate yesterday and I will eat again today.  I won't get shot, robbed or thrown in prison for no reason either.  Great.  Now I am talking to a bar of soap.
When leaving Bremerton, a stranger named Scott felt absolutely compelled to give me directions despite my polite refusals.  He took about 20 minutes to draw an illegible tangle of lines on a piece of paper, make random markings on my road map, and mutter incomprehensible cues under his breath.  I made no attempt to use the fruits of his labor.  Sorry, Scott.
One thing that western Washington does have are really big volcanoes.  I was riding along through farmland and minding my own business.  Imagine my surprise when I looked over and saw a snowy Mount Rainier dominating the skyline!
From the same vantage point, Mount Saint Helens, of explosion fame, was also visible.
Riding a bridge over the Columbia River onto Puget Island.  Cathlamet, WA
And then waiting for the ferry off of Puget Island over to Oregon.  I had to wait for about 40 minutes for the next ferry service to run.  It was really hot.  In order to feel less sorry for myself, I tried to imagine how Lewis and Clark must have felt when they finally got to this point.
I was amused to see that once in Oregon, I would be riding US 30 to Astoria since it runs within about 5 miles of my childhood home in Pennsylvania.  It felt weird to be riding on the same road all the way out here.  Toiling up a few 600' climbs on Route 30 made me feel like I was back in the Laurel Highlands for a couple of hours.
Upon arriving in the port town of Astoria, I heard some mysterious barking sounds echoing around the piers.  I strained my eyes to locate the source of the noise.
Are those what I think they are?  I had to get out on the pier to confirm my suspicions!
Yep, it's a bunch of sea lions lazing about, soaking up the sun and making an awful racket.
I know what Bon Jovi's next album will be titled.
Container ships hanging out for their turn at the mouth of the Columbia River.  Astoria, OR
Astoria is billed as the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies.  Much of the downtown has been preserved in a 1920s era feel.  Which means there's a lot of old storefronts and signs for me to admire.  I spent the evening in the Norblad Hotel, which now operates as a hostel.
Despite all of the ship and vehicle traffic present, forests of old rotting pilings hint at some amount of industry lost and overtaken by tourism.
US 101 beckons off in the distance.