Friday, August 26, 2011

The Wonderful World of Yellowstone

Almost fifty days on the road now!  You can see my precise route for the last month HERE 

And if you missed it, you can see my route from the first leg of my trip HERE

For some reason, the default software for the Spot device only allows 1 month worth of waypoints to be shown on a single map.  I'm working on a way around this.  Anyone have ideas?

8/21/11 Day 43: Mammoth Hot Springs to Canyon, Yellowstone NP: 51 miles

Biking is being wonderful again. After a refreshing few days in Bozeman, with just the perfect balance of fun, relaxation and getting stuff prepared for departure, I left on a good note. My last day consisted of a no-frills tasty breakfast at the Stockyard, a cafe which specializes in cutting the #*!% out of food service. Much of the rest of the day was spent buying food, planning routes and maintaining the bike.

I awoke on the morning of my departure from an inspiring dream, which I sat down and wrote about for a couple of hours in a very clear and concise manner. I hope to share my inspiration with you soon.

That day, even though I didn't leave until shortly after noon, I rode 85 miles and felt better than ever. Much of that ride was flat, following the Yellowstone river into the park with a ridge of craggy mountains to my left, bits of snow still clinging to their peaks. My bike, after a thorough cleaning and truing of the rear wheel (it had developed a slight wobble), sailed smoothly, despite the 2 flat tires that I patched that day. I averaged 18 mph on the flats. I jumped into the cool, green waters of the Yellowstone river at around 5 pm, and rode into the park at sunset, to climb 850 feet in the last 5 miles to Mammoth Hot springs campground. There, I met a French cyclist named Nicolas, who I am camping with again tonight. He is a very genuine human being.

This morning, I made my way down to the Boiling River and had a dip where it meets with the Gardiner River. Boiling River comes out of the ground about 60 feet from the Gardiner river, at a temperature between 130 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The Gardiner river is fed by snow-melt from the high places of Yellowstone, and is much cooler, though not biting this time of year. Where the two come together, a very popular wading area has been developed with stacked rock walls. It took me 20 minutes to hike there from the campground, and I soaked for about the same amount of time. Crowds funneled in as I left. Boiling River is not on any official park map and there are no signs for it, yet it is still a huge attraction. I heard about it from 2 people before I got into the park, and it seems like word of mouth is all that it takes for an attraction like this to be super popular. I think it is the only place left in the park where people are allowed to soak in hot water.

Back on the bike, I took in the main natural feature of the Mammoth Hotsprings area, the Upper and Lower Terraces. These terraces, many of which are still actively being formed, have been created by years of flowing mineral water building up layer upon layer of yellow-white rock. Where the water is still flowing, it forms beautiful, clear-blue pools and shimmering thin layers of wetness covering bumpy, wavy formations.

I decided to take the long way to my next destination, because it looked on the map like there were more interesting features to see. Heading east from Mammoth, I started climbing uphill over creeks and past waterfalls. Soon, I was high enough to start getting some pretty amazing views. The scale of Yellowstone, like Glacier, is hard to capture in photographs. There is so much space between things, and no sign of civilization to give any of it perspective. I passed through several vegetation zones, including dry, grassy fields with clumps of sagebrush scattered about, rich green woodlands with stream-lets running here and there, and tall, solemn forests of lodge-pole pine, with little else around.

After stopping at 132 ft tower falls (a very popular destination) around 4 pm, I had 2600 feet to climb in 10 miles to make it over 8859 foot Dunraven pass. This was the most serious hill of my journey so far, and the highest I have ever been on a bicycle. The first 6 miles of the hill were at a 7% grade, and I switched back and forth between my second and third lowest gears. As I rounded a blind corner crossing over a ridge, a strong headwind found me in its path, and raindrops sprinkled lightly. The looks on people's faces in the cars going slowly in the opposite direction ranged from blank to utter disbelief as they watched me push further up the windy, rainy mountain. A few hundred feet in front of me, cars were stopped on the roadway, and I could see two people struggling to remove a log from the road. Apparently, a tree had just fallen across the roadway moments before. I took in this scene, and looked around at the forest of lodge-pole skeletons that surrounded me. A large fire burned through the area in 1988, and now, all the trees that had died were beginning to topple over. I could hear the distinct sound of wood creaking and groaning in the strong wind that now surrounded me. Though I never felt in immanent danger, I did hear another tree fall in the woods about 100 yards from the road. Large “crack” noises followed by many smaller ones and and final thud to the ground.

A few miles from the summit, I stopped for a break and several tourists who had seen me earlier asked about my trip, and requested to take a picture with me, which I obliged. The wind calmed, the rain never really set in, and I sailed smoothly down the backside of the mountain to camp at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. After setting up my tent and putting my food into the bear box, I whisked off on my now weightless bike to catch some sunset vistas of the Canyon. In addition to great views of the canyon, I also got to see an osprey nest from above, with several chicks. A German lady talked with me enthusiastically about my tour. She had biked through Yellowstone twice before, but was in a car this time.

After dinner, a Chinese girl who calls herself Florence joined Nicolas and I for some lively discussion on travel, culture, and politics. Born and raised in China, Florence is studying architecture at Columbia University in New York, and had hitch-hiked into the park from Cody, Wyoming, where she flew into the day before. The perspective from French, American and Chinese cultures on our discussion had us talking late into the night.

8/23/11 Day 45: Madison campground to Grant Village, Yellowstone NP: 45 miles

Yesterday, I set out fairly early in the morning after staying up quite late the night before, and it caught up to me in the afternoon. I had early ambitions of covering 65 miles of hilly terrain in addition to taking in the main hydro-thermal features of Yellowstone, including Old Faithful geyser. I made it to the Norris Geyser Basin before noon, and was impressed by the range and beauty of the features there. Though I only walked about 1/3 of the easy trails at that location, I was excited for what lay beyond, and I left, hurriedly, to try and squeeze everything else into my day. I should have stayed and seen the rest of the features there, and I regret not taking my time.

From Norris, I followed the Gibbon river through meadows and canyons, past the Artists Paint pots, where I took many pictures of the awesome colors that surround the hot-springs and mud-pots. Most of the fantastic greens and oranges that make the springs so awesome to look at are due to micro-organisms called thermophiles. These heat-loving little guys are everywhere in Yellowstone, and make for excellent scenery, as well as being at the bottom of the food chain for a great many other organisms.

At around 2 pm, after a mostly down-hill day, my energy level began to dip. The scenery was excellent, the attractions well worthwhile, and yet, I wasn't feeling up to seeing the highest concentration of famous features. It was a hot day, and when I stopped at the Madison picnic area, I felt like immediately taking a nap. So I followed my instinct, and checked into a campsite at 2:30 in the afternoon, where I promptly took a nap for 2 hours. Afterward, I took a refreshing dip in the Gibbon river, sewed up my ailing shirt and shoes, and made a good dinner while chatting with another cyclist, Dave, from Salt Lake city. We attended the campfire program that evening on “Yellowstone's other predators” where we learned about Otters, Coyotes, Bobcats and Lynx. I slept well that night.

Today was filled with geysers, mud-pots, hot-springs and fumaroles (steam vents). I stopped at 4 different hydro-thermal basins, watched Old Faithful shoot 200 feet in the air along with 1000 other people, and took a great load of photos. Crystalline structures in hot flowing streams; deep, dark emerald pools which seemed bottomless; orange thermophile covered edges of pools which seemed painted onto the landscape and loads of steam rising up from giant pools of clear-blue water, as well as from the tiniest vents in the most unexpected places. An active landscape to be sure.

Tonight, I am camped at Grant Village on the shore of Yellowstone Lake. Sharing a campsite with me are a young couple from Montreal who are backpacking/busing their way around the US for a month until they have to go back to school. Apparently, Greyhound sells an unlimited 1 month pass that allows the holder to go anywhere in Canada and the US during that time. They have already been to San Diego, Portland and Jackson before heading into Yellowstone. Another man, in his late 40s or early 50s, is also cycling the park. He will stay in the park for several weeks, and then go home to Connecticut.
8/24/11 Day 46: Grant Village Yellowstone NP to Coulter Bay, Grand Teton NP: 42 miles

The ride out of Yellowstone was just as impressive as the rest of the park. After a small climb, I followed the Lewis River on the only road south, which runs right into Grand Teton National Park. The Lewis River canyon, which grew deeper as I pedaled, is quite spectacular, and I was awed many times by the great views. As I dropped in elevation, forests of lodge-pole pine turned into mixed evergreens, and great meadows of multicolored wild flowers soaked up the sun and danced in the wind showing their rainbow of petals to all who passed.

My first glimpses of the Tetons revealed their craggy, snowy peaks shrouded in a blanket of what looked like fog, but I later found out was smoke from several large wildfires nearby. Cruising into Coulter bay, I established camp, and then went for a swim in Jackson lake with a majestic view of the Tetons as a backdrop. At the visitor center, I watched an excellent film on the wolves of Yellowstone, which were reintroduced in 1995 and are doing very well.

I have realized that on this trip I will see more faces in the cars passing me than I will any other way. Perhaps I have already seen more faces than most people do in twice the time living in a big city. Cycling opposite cars is different from passing people walking on the streets in that everyone looks me in the face. Not only is this good driving safety, but I think it is also out of curiosity and interest in how I'm feeling, riding my bike in a place where 99.99% of people are driving. Once in a while I'll see a face and my mind starts telling me a story about that person's life: what they have just done or where they are going. This is interesting, and even entertaining when the traffic is light. Road construction, which I have ridden through half a dozen times now, is a particularly interesting time to look at people's faces because they are going very slow, and most of them look bewildered as to why I would be riding a bicycle through road construction. Another interesting time for me to look at people's faces has been pulling into some of the larger parking areas to look as the features of Yellowstone. I often get looks of amazement combined with a big smile. It is not uncommon for a stranger to acknowledge me with a “good job” or a “good luck” as I'm pulling in or out of places. I wonder how best to leave a positive impression of cyclists, and myself, on all of these people. I think in most cases, our interactions are too short and disconnected. But my hope is that somewhere, a 10 year old kid sitting in the backseat of a car saw me pushing up the last few feet of a mountain pass and was inspired, and dreams of doing the same.

8/25/11 Day 47: Coulter Bay, Grand Teton NP to Jackson, WY, 45 miles

Once again, I have arrived at the comfortable, relaxed home of friends after 5 nights in the woods. The Tetons wowed me at every turn. I realized, on my way out of the park, that I have actually camped in Grand Teton NP twice before, during my summers working for Wilderness Ventures, but the campground we stayed in was the farthest away from the Tetons themselves (and the closest to the town of Jackson), so my views of the mountains were always from a distance. I took Teton Park Road for much of my ride, which not only brought me close to the mountains, but set me riding straight at them for quite a while. As they grew larger, my neck craned back further, and the shutter on my camera snapped again and again. Details popped out in the bright sunlight that never would have shown had I stayed back. Despite all of the angles I tried to get, I don't know if I've done the Tetons justice.

I am staying at the home of Brad Walsh and Doug Hayden, who both worked for NAL once upon a time. They are tucked into a corner of Jackson, and have made a comfortable life here, both working for a group home for young people. Brad arrived back from an attempt to climb the Grand Teton a few hours after I arrived, and told stories of lightning and lack of sleep that made them turn around about 400 feet from the summit. I cooked up a tasty dinner with what I could find in the kitchen, and we shared laughs and smiles and went to bed at a reasonable hour.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Summer time in Montana

In addition to the photos from this posting, I have added several photos to the last posting as well.  You can access them by clicking on the "CLICK HERE TO SEE PHOTOS FROM THE ENTIRE TRIP" link to the left, or you can click here.

8/15/11 Day 37: Helena, MT to Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park, MT: 72 miles

I left Kelly's this morning with a good feeling in my heart. He is a really nice guy who has made some incredibly generous decisions in his life. He left me with nothing but positive affirmation of the goodness of people in the world, and enthusiasm for what I'm doing.

Heading south east out of Helena, I started up another mountain pass. I paralleled I-15 as it climbed toward Boulder, MT, and I stuck to the frontage roads that Google had told me would be passable. At one point, after a particularly steep stretch of road upon which no one passed me (very light use), I encountered, all at once, the end of the pavement, a “Dead End” sign, and an even steeper hill in front of me. It did not take me long to decide to unhook my bags, drop them on the other side of the fence toward the interstate, and repack my bike on the other side. I had reached the summit of the day's climb, and the ride down the other side of the interstate was smooth on a nice, wide shoulder. I soon pedaled off of the interstate into the town of Boulder, and found myself on a flat highway until the end of my ride.

The thunderstorm I rode through today was serious. Clouds loomed all day, and I even managed to take some pictures of the storm I was riding into just before the rain started. The sky then opened up and dumped. I managed to cover my things and myself just in time to avoid becoming immediately saturated. Big, fat raindrops turned into hail and back into rain. I turned all of my lights on and pedaled hard to keep myself warm, wearing only a rain shell and a wool t-shirt on top, and my bike shorts on the bottom. The road turned into a big puddle, and big trucks passed in a spray of road water. After about 15 minutes, the rain calmed. A man offered me a ride in his truck, which I declined.

As the sun sank lower in the sky, I entered a canyon in which I knew I would find Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park, but I did not expect the surprising beauty that I found. Unique geological features decorate the canyon walls, and a river & train tracks snake their way along the canyon floor. Strata from thousands of years ago turned on end by ancient forces were clearly visible in diagonal layers on one side, and huge holes in the rock foreshadowed the caverns which lay beyond.

I pulled into the campground and had a look around. Once again, I asked a couple of folks who seemed interested in my bike if they'd be interested in splitting a site, and they told me to set up my tent anywhere, no need for compensation. A couple in their late fifties or early sixties, Kim (male) and Rojene were super-friendly and easy going. This seems to be the theme of all the folks I've met in Montana so far. We chatted about their kids, bike trips of the past (Kim has done some serious riding), and Montana in general. They live in Missoula, and we will all be attending weddings in Minnesota this September, but on different weekends. After an absolutely beautiful sunset, during which lightning struck in the distance and a triple rainbow came out, we said goodnight.

8/18/11 Day 40: Bozeman, MT

I got my first flat tire on my way into Bozeman two days ago. It took me about 15 minutes to remove my tire, put in at new tube, and pedal onward.

Upon arrival at my friend and colleague (we worked at NAL for 5 seasons together) Tyson's place in Bozeman, I jumped in the shower, greeted my friend Mikaela, who had flown in from New York City to visit, and we all headed off to the farmer's market. Tyson lives with a friend who owns a house a few blocks from downtown, so we got a small tour on our way. We decided to purchase some fresh greens, salmon, and goat Gouda in order to put together a salad with the lettuce growing in Tyson's garden. It was a delicious meal, heaping with fresh green stuff and topped with the most delicious salmon I've had in years.

Yesterday, I went on another river float! We packed a two-person air mattress, an inner-tube, and a cooler full of icy beverages, and zoomed out to the countryside in Tyson's old Subaru. It was a great day to be outside, hot and sunny, floating down the Madison river. Downstream, the Madison joins with the Jefferson and the Gallatin to form the Missouri river. The confluence of the 3 rivers takes place in Missouri headwaters state park, which I had pedaled past the day before.

After a good nap, Tyson hosted a barbeque at his house, and I met his girlfriend, along with several of his close friends. That evening's activities included a jam session in the living room and another visit to downtown to check out the nightlife.

Mikaela departed this morning by bus heading toward Seeley Lake, where her mother Randi (with whom I camped in Bigfork before heading into Glacier NP) lives. We had a great visit, and it was very nice to have the time to reconnect and catch up.

After Mikeala's departure, Tyson and I jumped in the car and headed out to the countryside again, picking up Tyson's friend Iain along the way, for some rock climbing. In a beautiful area of rolling hills and evergreens scattered about in the golden grass, granite formations stuck out of the ground like lumps of dough before it is made into cookies. We wandered through the rocks, finding a site that Tyson and Iain had visited before, to set up some ropes and scale some walls. While Tyson and Iain were getting their gear ready and putting on their harnesses, I took a walk around the formation we were going to be climbing, and ended up in a beautiful little patch of thistles, alive with the activity of bees and butterflies. I watched them gather nectar from the bright purple blossoms, buzzing and fluttering happily in the sun. I took several photos. Winding my way through green brush on my way back to the climbing site from a different direction, I ran into a patch of wild raspberries, and happily munched several, while saving a few to take back to my companions.

We set up and each climbed 3 pitches, at difficulty levels from 5.9 to 5.10a, which I had much less trouble with than I expected. The rock was very solid granite with lots of lichen and many small, crystalline rocks embedded in the surface. This made for many small holds, and a large variety of choices of things to step and grab onto. As the sun sank lower in the sky, Iain had a dinner date with his girlfriend, so we had to head back.

After dinner, I spent some time chatting with friends online, and ran out the door just in time to catch the end of “Music on Main,” a live performance for which they shut down a section of Main street every Thursday night and allow people to dance, drink and make merry in the street. I met Tyson, his housemate Lance and Lance's girlfriend Megan, along with Tyson's friend Jake near the stage to socialize and cheer for the last few songs of a local funk/soul/reggae band. We finished off the night with a game of cribbage using a scoreboard that Lance had made out of a deer antler. Very cool.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Good folk of Montana

8/12/11 Day 34: Choteau, MT to Craig, MT: 78.4 miles

Yesterday was a great day! Choteau, a small, quaint, cute little down just a few miles from the Rocky Mountain Front has charm and friendly locals. My host, Morgen, set up a day very nice day for us. While she worked for a few hours in the morning, I posted pictures and updated my blog, did laundry, ate breakfast, and generally got things in order. She came home around noon, with her boss/co-worker in tow, and we all jumped in the car to head up to Teton Pass, the local ski area. Morgen worked there as a bartender for a short time in the winter and her boss Jody's boyfriend was working there over the summer clearing trees from the ski trails. Since Jody and Morgen had been working hard to meet a deadline that they just finished, they had decided that the day I was there was a good day to take a half-day retreat in the mountains, have a barbeque, and relax. My timing was excellent!

The ski hill is about a 45 minute drive from town, through towering gray cliffs, past beaver dams and evergreens. When we arrived, Nate, Jody's boyfriend, and Chuck, Nate's coworker, had the barbeque going already. We ate a big meal of kebabs and hot dogs, with a nice pasta salad, fresh fruit and ginger cookies to finish. Then someone got the idea of firing up the ski lift (there's only 1 real lift, it is a small ski area) so that we could ride it up and get some views from the top of the mountain, so we did! Nate & Jody's golden lab, Lambo, chased us all the way up, tongue hanging to the ground when we all got to the top. The view was quite fantastic. Morgen & I decided to hike down, while Jody and Nate took the lift back. Wildflowers bloomed everywhere, the smell of pine trees filled the air, and we slowly made our way back down the steep slope, chatting and enjoying the scenery.

Later that evening, we made our way to the Wagon Wheel, a local bar, to play some horse shoes and billiards. Morgen and I teamed up against Matt & Jeff, whom I had met the previous night at the Wildlife Sanctuary (another bar). We had the most edge-of-your-seat game of horseshoes I've ever played, with every player getting at least one ringer, and we ended up losing by 1 point after having a substantial lead to start. It was great fun.

Today was a long, hot ride through more Montana hills. There were some interesting geological features along the way, along with great views of the Rocky Mountain Front. The best part of the ride was the end, as I wound my way down the Missouri River canyon toward a cabin owned by Morgen's parents, which I was invited to this evening because it is halfway between Choteau and Helena, and makes a perfect stop on my way.

The cabin is right on the shore of the Missouri River, just a few miles after it starts (and it goes east from here all the way to the Mississippi!). I arrived just before 7 pm, and immediately jumped in the perfectly cool, refreshing water. Morgen and I cooked up some dinner, atE on the deck overlooking the river, and enjoyed the peaceful night.

8/14/11 Day 36: Craig, MT to Helena, MT: 51 miles

Yesterday, after a bit of internal conflict, I decided to stay at the cabin on the Missouri river for one more night. Morgen and her family are wonderful, welcoming people, and made me feel very at home. In addition to this, Morgen invited me to float the river with several of her friends who were driving up from Helena that day, so that's what we did. Five of us jumped into an oar-raft and spent 3+ hours drifting down the slow-moving waters of the Missouri, chatting, swimming and and making a day of it. The water was cool, the air was hot, and the jumping rock was fun. I had a chance to sit in the driver's seat for a while, and paddle with oars, which I don't get to do very often. That evening, Morgen's brother cooked up a gourmet meal, and we had a big fire to end the night. Some friends of the family had kids who roasted marshmallows. It felt like summer.

Today was HOT. I departed the cabin on the Missouri feeling as though I was leaving good friends, and headed south through a fairly mild mountain pass (comparatively) to the capital city of Montana.  Along the way, red cliffs covered in lichen lined the sides of the canyon and the sun beat down.  I did not see much of the down-town up close, but rode through some neighborhoods to the home of Kelly, my couch-surfing host here. 

Kelly works for the forest service in the summer, and was called in to work dispatch for wild-land fire-fighting, so he was not home when I arrived, but had made his home open and available to me. I parked my bike in the garage, took a shower, and met his parrot before he came home, and we went out for a beer and an excellent dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant. Afterward, we stopped by the bar next door and said hi to Kim, one of Morgen's friends with whom I had floated yesterday, who works as a bartender here in Helena. It was a fun and social evening.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Over the Mountains and Into the Hills

If you've missed any photos from the trip, or want to look at last weeks photos, check out the new link on the left side of the page which says "CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF THE ENTIRE TRIP"

Big News today:  I have just confirmed employment with a Minnesota wilderness therapy program called Thistledew for the period of September 27 through November 29.  This will mean that I will have my first sabbatical from the biking trip to refresh with some time in the wilderness, and restock the bank account.

Also, as a result of a conversation I am continually having with drivers, if you drive a car, you should read this (it will save you money and carbon emissions):

8/7/11 Day 29: Bigfork, MT to Avalanche Creek campground, Glacier NP: 60 miles

Biking out of Bigfork this morning, I stopped to check out the art fair and say goodbye to Randi and Juan, who had woken up several hours earlier to set up their booth for the fair.

The road was smooth and fairly flat, with shoulder width ranging from a full lane to 2 inches wide with a steep 8 inch drop. At around 1 pm, I had been pushing pretty hard, and had done 30 miles or so. I was getting hungry, and knew in the back of my mind that all I had to eat for lunch was trail-mix. I convinced myself that I would stop at a grocery store and grab some carrots to dip in my sunflower butter (a regular snack). I whizzed through the “big town” on the map without even realizing it, and soon, I was even more hungry. I also wanted to send off my last few days of blog and photos, and was looking for a place with free wifi, when a giant sign in front of me read, “Cafe, ice-cream, wifi.” I couldn't say no, and I sat down looking at a menu of down-home diner food. I ordered a giant omelet with hash browns and toast, and kissed my hunger goodbye. Sometimes, trail-mix just doesn't cut it.

After several hours interneting, setting up places to stay and planning my route for the next few days, I rode on into Glacier National Park. The Going to the sun road, which is famed for its difficult construction, amazing views, and the ridiculous task of plowing that it requires each year, is only open to bicycles before 11 am and after 4 pm. Some parts of the road are narrow, and traffic is heaviest in the middle of the day. So I rode in at 4:45, stopped to take some fantastic photos of Lake McDonald framed by the jagged Rockies and hillsides covered in evergreens, and made my way into a the hiker/biker camp at Avalanche Creek.

I have met several other hikers (no bikers!) who are staying here as well, and all are interesting people. Carol, a woman in her sixties, has been working back-country jobs for the forest service for more than 20 years, and couldn't find a job this year. She was very friendly, and had lots of stories to tell. She appreciated my advice on some internet-related questions, and also asked about mountain biking and sleeping bags. Gear is always a good topic for outdoorsy people to relate through. I have an early day tomorrow, as I must make it to Logan pass (elevation 6646) before 11 am. It will be a good ride.

8/8/11 Day 30: Avalanche Creek to St. Marys, MT: 36.5 miles

The Going To The Sun Road, which winds up and over Glacier National Park's most scenic accessible pass, is an excellent example of the National Park Services first Superintendent's wishes. I read that he felt strongly that all National Parks should have just one paved road which allows access to the most scenic parts of the park, and that all other parts should be left to wilderness. It seems like his plan and idea have been adhered to fairly well. The Going To The Sun Road, which was completed in 1932, took 6 years to build, and was an incredibly difficult task due to the steepness of the cliffs which it clings to.

I departed camp at 7:45, a record for me on this trip (I like my sleep!). Bicycles not allowed on the steep western section of the road from 11am to 4pm due to the high traffic, narrow road, and complete lack of shoulder to allow passing. I began climbing 12 miles distant and 3000 feet lower than Logan pass, and made it to the top at 10:45, including 2 stops of at least 15 min for road construction. Though it was undoubtedly one of the longest continuous climbs I have ever done, it was not the near-impossible feat that many I talked to beforehand had made it out to be. In fact, I was passed by another cyclist on the way up (carrying no gear), and ran into 6 other touring cyclists over the course of the day.

The views going up the road, from the top, and going down were completely phenomenal. Glacier National Park is not named because of its many glaciers (there are 25 left, down from 150 in the year 1850). It was named because of the incredible forms of mountains and valleys that allow for such awesome vistas, all of which were carved out by glaciers around 2 million years ago. It is estimated that all of the glaciers in Glacier National Park will be gone by 2030, but the mountains will still be there, and the fabulous views will remain.

The weather was perfect, the crowds were staggering, and the camera was clicking at every turnout. I may have taken more pictures on this day than in any week of the rest of the trip. Waterfalls, craggy cliffs, horns, peaks, snowdrifts, big-horned sheep, and clouds in big white puffs. I learned about how long it takes glacial ice to form (big snow years don't actually help at all!), and was impressed by the heavy emphasis the park is placing on climate change and reducing carbon footprints.

Tonight, I am camped behind the Park Cafe in St. Marys, a small town just outside the east entrance of the Going To The Sun Road. Friends of a relative own the cafe, and it is a hoppin' joint. Because the nature of their business is so seasonal (no one comes between December and March), they hire and house a group of 40 mostly young college-aged folks for the summer, and put them to work in the cafe and the store next door. Kathryn and Neal, the owners of the cafe, took me on an evening walk to a nearby hilltop, where we watched the sunset as a summer lighting storm chased us back to the cafe just in time not to get drenched. I was then invited into the “community room” where a bunch of the employees were playing card/board games, socializing and having some late snacks and drinks. I ordered a piece of the cafe's famous pie (pecan is my favorite), and then I went back to the community room and chatted with the friendly, happy group of employees until around 11pm when I hopped into my surprisingly dry tent.

8/9/11 Day 31: St Marys to Browning, MT: 30 miles

This is my 6th straight day of biking, my longest stint without a layover yet. My left knee bothers me when I climb hills for a long time, so I intended to make this a short, easy day, but it started off with a fairly hefty climb, during which my knee felt fine. Cruising south-east away from the park, the views were still incredible (much better than from the west side), so I stopped to take more photos. I ran into 2 other cyclists, one with worn-out gear from the 80s who had once done a round-trip tour from New Hampshire to Washington State to Mexico and back to New Hampshire. He was a little eccentric, and shied away from the idea of taking a look at my blog because he doesn't like technology. The other, who caught up to me on my way up the big hill, is crossing the United States in bits and pieces when he has time off of work. His wife and child were carrying his gear in a minivan on this leg of the journey, so he was much lighter than I, and pedaled off in front of me.

I soon descended from a mixed forest of fir and aspen into rolling foothills of tall grass. Montana sure has a lot of wide-open spaces. My ride was smooth and flat and mostly down hill. I found a zip-lock bag containing 4 perfectly good fresh kiwis on the side of the road. Crazy what gets abandoned out there. Over the course of the trip, I've also seen about 20 bungie cords, a set of keys, towels and clothing of all sorts, and nuts and bolts galore. In addition to lots of road kill, today I say a cow patty that had been painted right over because it sat in the path of the white line on the side of the road.

Tonight, I am couch-surfing in Browning, MT, the “capital” of the Blackfeet Indian reservation. The only other white people I have here seen other than my host were tourists filling up their tank at a gas station.

My couch-surfing host here is Rachel, a recent college grad who is working with Americorps to provide health services to the elderly of the tribe. She has been in charge of a group of 12 young adults, all from the Blackfeet tribe, and they have been doing work to help the older folks in the area who can no longer do some things for themselves. Rachel and I got along instantly, and share a passion for health, environment and improving the state of things in the world. We walked around town for a bit, past the local liquor store, which had several folks who seemed to be in various states of consciousness hanging around, despite a large sign which read “NO LOITERING.” We had planned to stop at the grocery store, but it was closed due to a broken water main, which had left the whole town without water for most of the afternoon. It was a bit like being in a 3rd world country again, trash on the streets, weeds growing from every nook and crack, homes in various states of decomposition.

We made our way back to Rachel's small apartment, and managed to cook up some tasty burritos from what she had in her kitchen. After much animated conversation about the state of the world, we found out that we both want to study eco-toxicology, and feel that it holds some answers to the declining health of Americans in general. It was refreshing and inspiring to meet another person, quite a bit younger than myself, with passion and interest in so much of what I care about.

8/10/11 Day 32: Browing, MT to Choteau, MT: 73 miles

Rachel took off to work early in the morning, and left me to pack my things and lock up her place. Given the time and the opportunity, I felt we could have become great friends.

Rolling hills of grass, with the occasional interspersed cow filled my ride from Browning to Choteau. Shade was hard to come by. Gentle hills are great for riding: a mild workout on the way up, followed by a nice break on the way down. Much more interesting to look at than flat land as well. Thunder clouds chased me all afternoon, and filled the “big sky” with texture. I did not find occasion to pull out the camera.

I arrived at the house of my next couch-surfing host, Morgen, around 6:15 pm after departing Browning around 11am. After introductions, she invited me to “taco night” at a local bar, so I took a quick shower and we headed out. The bar, called “The Wildlife Sanctuary” was filled with locals and tourists for taco night, and I met several of Morgen's friends and those they were socializing with. We had a couple of beers, ate some great tacos, learned about some local politics regarding bears and elk, and made our way home for the evening. Morgen and I get along very well. She is a relaxed, open, caring individual with a job that helps people in a serious way.   

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lakes, Trucks & Trees

I'm heading into Glacier National Park this evening!  In the next 2 weeks, expect to find me in: Browning, Helena and Bozeman, MT.  After a few days in Bozeman, I'll be heading into Yellowstone NP, followed by Grand Teton and a stopover in Jackson, WY.  If you're around, let me know!

8/4/11 Day 26: Kellogg, ID to near Thompson Falls, MT: 30 miles

Having cleared the Pacific states now by a long shot, I wonder when I will next see the ocean. Today was the bumpiest ride I've had by far, and in the top 3 for steepness as well. Somehow I once again ended up on a gravel forest service road in the middle of nowhere. I wish Google would tell me which roads are paved and which are not. I survived, with a positive attitude most of the way, and rode through some beautiful country on my way to an amazing campsite. There were a few times during my descent that my hands got so tired from braking that I thought I wouldn't be able to stop. Steep, rocky, twisty descents are not nearly as fun as smooth, flat paved ones.

Yesterday, I woke up fairly late after watching “The King's Speech” the night before. Jessica, with whom I was couch-surfing, made a big breakfast for us and another friend who spent the night. I then rode into town, and Jessica made the bike shop at the ski resort where she works available to me so that I could clean and tune-up my bike. The shop was fully equipped, and I spent an hour or two getting my bike back into tip-top cleanliness, but I am having some minor issues which I don't understand how to fix. They can wait.

After being treated to a great lunch at a local Mexican Restaurant by Jessica's boss, Janet, I helped the two of them move computers and equipment for the season pass office from one room to another. I was then shown into the indoor water park that the resort runs, and Jessica hung around to take a few pictures of me on the artificial surfing wave which is the main attraction at the park. I had never been to an indoor water park before, and had a great time sliding down watery tunnels in an inner tube, trying my luck at the surf wave, and splashing around in the many pools.

Later that night, I cooked up a big dinner full of greens and garlic. It was tasty and satisfying.

Day 27: near Thompson Falls, MT to Hot Springs, MT: 66 miles

Today started off hot and sunny, riding down the rest of the dirt road on which I passed over the Idaho/Montana border, and camped next to last night. When I hit pavement, I stopped to clean my drive-train of dust and debris, and almost cursed myself for not jumping into the little creek next to my campsite before leaving. Descending through the Montana hills was an experience of beauty and solitude. There was hardly any shoulder on the small highway, but it didn't seem to matter due to the light traffic. Hills full of evergreens, clear, flowing streams, and gray, hard rock cliffs shooting up from the ground at diagonal angles filled my view.

Shortly after I finished my lunch break, the clouds that had been looming in the sky started to release their water. Light waves of thunder followed lightning bursts in the distance, and small drops landed on me as I tried to outrun something more serious. Eventually, I stopped to cover all of my things with rain-proofing, and soon, it was dumping. I ducked under the awning of a firehouse in Plains, MT to put on my raincoat and continue on. The rain didn't last long, so I took off my coat, and the hills that I was going up and down kept my body warm enough not to need an extra layer through the small showers I continued to encounter.

This evening, I am camped at Camas Hot Springs in Hot Springs, MT. Hot Springs is a small, touristy town tucked into the hills of western Montana. Leroy, the local who collects money for use of the hot-springs, showed up soon after my arrival, and I paid him to soak and camp. After setting up my tent and eating dinner, several locals showed up and we all chatted about farming and yurts and backpacking. One of the locals owns a natural food store, and another builds yurts when he's not running permaculture classes. I was in like-minded company. Leroy, who is “a big, mean Indian,” to hear him tell it, (the springs are on tribal land) told a story about nearly burning up camp Pendleton when he was a marine there before the Vietnam war. The whole experience was a great taste of local life. I could see myself getting to know these folks better.

8/6/11 Day 28: Hot Springs, MT to Big Fork, MT: 65 miles

Montana has lots of trees, but not where the highways are. I found myself starved for shade today, but managed to find one giant cottonwood accessible from the highway. The shoulders on the highways here are not designed with cyclists in mind, and everyone drives a big truck. I was honked at more than once, and I don't think it was in a friendly way. I did not feel threatened, and I remain very visible with a rear light blinking at all times, giant yellow panniers and an orange safety vest. The RV to human ratio here is very high. People are camped all over the place, on private and public land, next to rivers and in the middle of empty fields. I saw one large pickup with a big camper shell towing a double-level trailer with an ATV on top and a boat on the bottom, and there was a scooter strapped to the front of the truck as well. I feel like that image sums up the general attitude of much of Montana, but the folks I met at Camas hot springs have already shown me another attitude.

On my way out of Hot Springs, I stopped at the Natural Foods store that belonged to one of the gentlemen I had met the night before. It was well stocked, well priced, and I picked up everything I needed for less than I expected to spend.

For much of the day I was pedaling around Flathead Lake. This large, natural lake fills a low spot just west of the Rockies, and has small towns sprinkled all around it. The lake with the backdrop of the Rockies was quite stunning, but power lines and housing developments kept me from getting many good photos. I picked up batch of delicious local cherries.

Upon arriving in Bigfork, I was flagged down by Randi De Santa Anna, the mother of one of my best friends in high school, with whom I had made arrangements to camp this evening. Good timing led me into a delicious meal at a Mexican restaurant with stimulating conversation from then through the rest of the evening. Randi and her husband Juan had a booth for Juan's photography at an art fair in Bigfork for the weekend, and Juan and Randi have both done wilderness therapy in the past. We had much to talk about.   You can see Juan's photos here:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Back in the saddle

Day 23: Spokane, WA to Harrison, ID: 56.4 miles

Following a rousing weekend of shenanigans and foolery (as every bachelor party should be full of), I got back on the saddle today. The weekend left me with a severely jammed toe, a skinned knee and in need of much sleep, but none of these things hindered my riding much.

Heading south from the northern neighborhoods of Spokane, I rode through Gonzaga University, which is tucked into a bend in the Spokane river right across from downtown. Beautiful landscaping, lots of flowers, and large green lawns characterize the campus, along with a bike path running the length of the river.

Rolling hills of wheat and patches of evergreens dotted the landscape as I headed southeast. I passed through Heyburn State Park after crossing the border into Idaho, and rode over Chalcolet lake on a bridge which used to be a railroad, and is now part of the Coeur d'Alenes trail. The trail is a beautifully paved bike path which runs 72 miles from Plummer, Idaho to Mullan, Idaho, just before the Montana border. I will be crossing most of the Idaho panhandle on the trail tomorrow.

Day 24: Harrison, ID to Kellogg, ID: 47 miles

I have never seen so many lily pads in my life. The Coeur d'Alenes trail follows an old Union Pacific rail line along the Coeur d'Alenes River, gaining only 150 feet in altitude over 40 miles. Swampy lakes and wetlands fill the valley around the river and the tracks, resulting in a tremendous amount of frogs, birds, tall grass and cool, blue water. I must have seen at least a dozen Great Blue Herons, one of which I was finally able to snap some pictures of before it flew away.

I stopped twice to jump into clear, rushing streams as they joined with the river. The air temperature was hot, and the water was cold enough to bring my body heat down fast. I lounged in the shade, cooked up some ramen noodles for lunch, and enjoyed the isolation that being on a lonely bike path brought. Many other cyclists passed in both directions, but none were loaded down with more than a day's worth of gear.

After my last dip in a stream, a boy (going into 7th grade) approached me and asked me which way I was going on the bike path. I told him, and he announced that he was going the same direction, and that he would ride with me. We talked about his divorced parents, who live 4 miles apart in this valley, both easily accessible from the bike path. He said it was a tough hike in the winter, but not so bad in the summer. He wanted me to tell him “your mama” jokes, but I thought better of it. We parted ways once he reached the second parent's house.

Tonight I am couch-surfing at the home of Jessica, who accepted my request to surf before I left for Minnesota. She works for a ski resort, and rents bikes to people riding on the Coeur d'Alenes trail during the summer. I stopped at her work, we chatted for a bit, and then later had a beer at a local bar which overlooks a softball field. The sun lit the hills of evergreens surrounding the valley as we headed back to her apartment east of town. We have been getting along wonderfully well, and have conversed about Buddhism, television and small town living. Tomorrow, she has a few things planned for us, and I am excited to get to know this part of the country a little better.