Sunday, August 19, 2012

New states of being

Montana was my last "known point" and I left it approximately one week ago.  Up until that time, I had already traveled through the states that I was seeing on earlier trips by car.  As I have espoused before elsewhere, you see far more things crossing even the same path by bicycle.  You meet new folks.  The trip takes on an entirely new character.  But still, even if you're biking to it, you already know what Jackson, WY is like.  You know that Kansas is about 400 miles wide.  Some of the mystery isn't there.

It was with great anticipation and excitement that I left Missoula, MT and began heading directly north.  I was leaving the TransAmerica biking route and heading up towards the Northern Tier route, meeting it by Glacier National Park.  When I turned westward just before hitting Canada, I truly felt like I was in new territory... because I was.  This feeling only heightened whenever I crossed into Idaho as this was my first visit.  Granted, I spent less than 24 hours in Idaho, crossing its narrow northern Panhandle, but it was a new state nevertheless.  Now I am in central Washington, another new state for me.  The eastern portion contained vast forests and tall passes giving way to a desertscape in the center of the state.  It was really odd making that transition in about 15 miles of riding and 3000' elevation loss.  The 100 degree temperatures and winds make me feel like I'm back in Missouri or Kansas.  The desert atmosphere hearkens back to eastern Colorado or Wyoming.  So odd.

When I begin riding tomorrow, I only have about 3 days of riding left until I hit the Pacific coast at Anacortes, WA.  From there some island hopping with the assistance of ferries will get me to Seattle.  It is so odd to be sitting here only days away from completing a cross country bicycle ride.  On one hand, it's nigh impossible to believe that you biked across the entire United States and only have 3 days left.  Then you reflect on the past 3 months of pedaling, think back to the climbs, the dogs, the miles, the junk food, the campsites and remember all of the effort that went into it.  It makes it a little more believable.  My sense of accomplishment is a little diminished, not because it wasn't difficult as it does take some doing.  It's diminished a little because the trip was so fun with each day better than the last.  It seemed like such the right thing to do.  It's so logical to bike across the country.  Somehow, with it seemingly making good sense to do, it has less of an impact on me.  Odd.  Don't worry.  I'm still quite pleased with myself though.

FULL DISCLAIMER:  For anyone who haven't followed my travels the whole way, my ride may not qualify as an "official" full cross country ride.  I started in State College, PA and rode southeast first and came closest to the Atlantic coast at Baltimore's Inner Harbor.  No, I didn't dip my wheel in.  Since I had ridden 500 miles to join up with the TransAmerica route in Ashton, VA I didn't bother to go approximately 80 miles east to the coast at Yorktown.  So, I guess I won't bother contacting Guinness...  The reason I mention this is that some cyclists that I have encountered actually care about this stuff.  I am not one of those people.  Obviously.

Of course this is assuming that I can pull myself out of Omak, WA and finish the remaining 210 miles to the Pacific.  Talk about putting the cart before the horse.  Jeez, Tom! 

If there is one thing that I will remember my cycling partner of three days, Justin, for it will be his drinking.  I mean that in the nicest way possible.  I just found it so humorous for us to pair up with one another.  I completely quit drinking to go on this trip.  Justin was never without a beer in hand.  Never.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It just seemed a bit comical at times, the disparity between us yet how well we got along.
Justin getting his portrait taken at Adventure Cycling headquarters in Missoula, MT.  His portrait and mine will be part of the National Bicycle Touring Portrait Collection
Greg Siple, one of the original founders of what would become Adventure Cycling, taking our portraits behind their headquarters
The moment we've all been waiting for.  Greg asked me to guess the weight of my bike and I wrote "115 lbs".  As I lowered my bike on the scale, he first said "Oooh, triple digits!  We don't get many of those."  Then he followed it up with "Wow, this is one of the heavier bikes we've seen this year."  Damn.
The final tally?  112 lbs.  Justin's bike weighed a full 20 lbs less.  When I relay that number to other cyclists they usually begin making fun of me.  In response, I ask "Do you remember all of those mountains?  Do you remember all of those miles?  Do you remember me riding them just as fast or faster than you?  Did you hear me even once complain about how heavy my bike was?"  The conversation usually comes to an abrupt halt.
The police in Missoula have a far lighter bike lock solution than I
Drift boat fishing for trout on the Blackfoot River along the route leading north from Missoula
Let's play "Spot the Wildfire"!  It's not too hard.  And if you win, it means you're an idiot because you're biking within sight of a wildfire.  So I guess you lose.  Condon, MT
That isn't early morning fog.  A pall of smoke from a wildfire hangs over the Swan Range.
Convenience store wisdom.  So true.  Swan Lake, MT
It wasn't until I got on this gravelly backroad in northern Montana that I realized I had been riding on state and federal highways exclusively for the past 2000 miles or so.  It was so nice to be on a true backroad again.  This particular descent transported me to Rothrock State Forest and the descent on Bear Meadows road down to Detwiler Run.  I found myself actually getting slightly emotional for a moment.
I ran into this couple on day One of their Great Divide bike trip.  How did I know it was day One?  They're still smiling.  Just kidding!  Sort of.
Biker gang at Cafe Jax in Eureka, MT.  The Great Divide and the Northern Tier routes intersect here so you get a number of cyclists passing through.  The pancakes were delicious.
My friend, Kipp, should be a fire marshal.  He doesn't go anywhere without a bucket of fresh bacon.
Likewise, this stretch of road into Libby, MT made me think of the road that you take into Gemini Gullies.  Same crappy road and jumbled cliffs.  Same railroad and river.  A woman warned me that I should be careful as the road is "really narrow and people drive really fast."  Once on it, I had to laugh as it reminded me of 95% of the roads I ride in central PA.  I felt quite at home actually.
The shores of Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho.  It's pronounced "Pawn du Ray".  Get it right or people will snub you.  I asked while I was still in Montana.
Same lake and beach again at dusk.
I don't want to sound cocky, but the zero shoulders and coal trucks of Kentucky make Washington feel like you're  on a separate bike lane with Matchbox cars passing you.  But it was nice that they posted a warning.  Overall, the state feels much more accepting of cyclists.
As I was biking 4000' feet up Sherman Pass on a 95 degree day a couple who had ridden sections of the Northern Tier stopped their van.  They put out quite the spread for me!
I think that while it certainly wasn't the steepest, Sherman Pass was the most difficult climb overall on this ride.  It rose 4,000' in 25 miles or so.  It was really hot.  There were two construction zones on the uphill.  But I carried on and the descent more than made up for it.
Did you smear cupcake frosting all over your hat again, Tom?  Nope.  That's all sweat- the fruit of my labors over Sherman Pass.  I'm going to visit Outdoor Research in Seattle.  I'll commend them on their hats' sweat crusting technology.


  1. Hi Tom, the couple you met on their Great Divide ride are Jacob & Emma, I rode with them and her parents for a couple of days. Small world eh?! Cracked me up to see them on your blog. I'm currently in Lincoln, MT, headed for Mexico on the Great Divide. Wish we'd met up! I really like your blog.



    1. Thanks Maarten! I just chatted with them for a moment so I didn't catch their names.

      I looked at a few of your previous posts and I really like your blog as well- especially the scenery photos you have been capturing. I am thinking of doing the Divide in the next year or two, so I'll be following your trip as you go!

  2. Awww, you know you're on the west side when the Ninkasi shows up! Still thoroughly enjoying your blog Tom! Keep it up! I will be certain to make sure those IOU dance cards get out this weekend! :)