I am just a vagabond, a drifter on the run

And eloquent profanity, it rolls right off my tongue.1

One of my favorite couplets, I had to find a way to use it. Four years ago, I rode across the country as a gainfully-employed healthcare professional. A job and 15 patients/day not that I could see that many) awaited my return. Today I ride across that same country, just a vagabond. No job awaits. I am a retired person. When I arrived in Gloucester, MA four years ago I wasn’t ready to stop riding. I wanted to turn around and ride home. This time, that is theoretically possible. (I say “theoretically”, as I am not on a bike suited to carrying heavy loads, so that would mean shipping stuff home and relying on motels and restaurants.)

While I have done this before, all that does is make me over-confident. Have I trained enough this time? After, all, I’m four years older now; pushing 70. Getting into shape comes more slowly, as does recovery.

“Roll um easy” sounds like good advice. There is no rush. The other coast will be there when I get there. Okay, so there’s a schedule – I do have to be at a campsite each night if I want a place to sleep and eat. But how I do that each day is open for consideration. Last time I was tempted to turn around and ride Needles Highway a second time. I can do that if I want. I was into camp plenty early every day – I could ride it twice if I want to.

It is not the same country I rode through four years ago. Even if it were, all I have to do is look to the other side of the road (from the one I was looking at last time) at any given moment and I would be seeing something different this time.

Day 2 Skykomish to Wenatchee.

We awoke in a cloud. If it gets much colder I’ll have to wear my fleece tights to sleep. I wore most of my non-biking warm things last night. We stayed in that cloud as we climbed Stevens Pass. Climbing for 16 miles is all that kept us warm. While Stevens Pass is only a little over 4000 feet, we started at about 800 feet, so it was a 3200 foot net gain. We came into snow at 3200 feet. I passed a snow tunnel (where the snow had melted over a stream but was otherwise intact). I thought about a picture but didn’t really want to stop. About 100 yards later I came upon a full bottle of beer (Modelo). I thought a photo op in the snow with a beer sounded like a great idea (for someone else) so I didn’t stop again. I did stop at Deception Falls to go over the falls in a barrel before getting back on the bike. See the post from 4 years ago for photo. I shot video but have no Wi-if connection here so won’t try to upload it today. No stop at the red caboose, but there is a photo (and maybe a little essay about childcare) four years ago so check it out. I’m not providing a link, since it’s a bit of a pain with the phone app. I likewise didn’t stop at the Iron Goat Interpretive Site but, as a public service, it’s the Cabra de Fierro Sitio Interpretivo. I could maybe get that interpreted in French, Greek, or Afrikaans if I asked around.

The song for the morning climb (to which I cannot provide a YouTube link due to lack of internet access) was “Easy Skankin’” by Bob Marley and the Wailers. I changed the lyric to “easy spinnin’” to keep a rhythm for the climb. Since I can’t listen to it, you go ahead without me.

Visibility at the pass was near zero but the staff were waiting with brownies as a consolation for the lack of view. Heading down the pass involved some serious evaporative cooling. My feet were numb and I kept shaking out my hands to get feeling back. At mile 25 the sun came out for the first time in the four days I’ve been here and at mile 44 I shedded multiple layers.

Descending along the Wenatchee River was breathtakingly beautiful. Most of the best views were in places where I couldn’t take pictures, so you just get the two below.

We rode through orchards. (If you look at apple or pear boxes you may see “Wenatchee Valley” or “Lake Chelan”. That’s where we are.) We saw apples , pears, grapes, cherries, and hops. The sunscreen was packed away so my face is slightly burned. It is >80 degrees F here.

Tomorrow will be the first day >100 miles. No rain in the forecast at either end, at the moment.

Tonight’s dinner was memorably wonderful. A green salad, a spinach and strawberry salad, slaw, pineapple, oranges, grapes, watermelon, rice and broccoli, a noodle dish, garbanzo beans in a fabulously spicy sauce, and ice cream. There was also chicken, but I was plenty happy without it. When I remarked that the plates weren’t big enough to hold it all, the cook said “That’s what seconds are for.” It was clearly not FHB night.

The post-dinner meeting let us know about a little route alteration, increasing distance to 107 miles, with lunch at 62; meaning I’m glad I replaced the calories burned today; and I’ll need some snacks to tide me over. Forty miles is my limit without food.

After the regular meeting there was a special meeting for the coast-to-coast riders. (Not everyone is here for the duration.) The meeting was getting long when someone ran in to announce that tents were flying away and bikes were falling over. After battening down the hatches, I’m ready for bed. I won’t cover the bike tonight, as I’m afraid that would only give the wind encouragement.

The rhythm of this life is pretty simple and satisfying – get up in the morning, dress, pack everything away, load the trailer, eat breakfast, ride. Arrive at camp, unload the trailer, hang everything to dry, then pitch the tent, clean and lube the bike, take a shower, and change. Hang out until dinner and a meeting. Set out clothes for tomorrow. Go to bed. Rinse, repeat.

1 Lowell George, “Roll Um Easy”, 1973

Not an Ironman

Wednesday night’s ride covered some of the ground of Sunday’s Ironman Wisconsin. We periodically saw orange route arrows taped onto the roads. We climbed 100 feet/mile, which doesn’t sound like a lot but is about the same rate of climbing as the Horribly Hilly Hundreds or the Death Ride. We rode 30 miles instead of over 100, but then, we did it after work. When Ironman participants ride these roads, they will do it after swimming 2.4 miles in open water. After riding 112 miles on these roads, they’ll run a marathon.

On the way to work the next morning, I saw green arrows marking the run route for Ironman. When I take a different route to work, I see swimmers (accompanied by kayaks) practicing on the swim route.

Will the Ironpeople have time to watch the sunset over these soybean fields?
I saw this sign on last Sunday’s ride. It captures the half-fast cycling ethos, even when we’re training for a century.

Sunday’s ride was a reminder of where the white people who settled this area came from. We met in Verona and rode through Frenchtown, Belleville, Monticello, and New Glarus. Of course, before them were the Ho-Chunk and their ancestors, the Mound Builders. The meet-up point was inaccessible due to road closures for Ironman, so I wandered a bit before finding a place to start. A few miles in, I joined the planned route. Twenty miles in, I saw the ride leader. Forty miles in, I stopped at a christian classic car show and saw a few more riders I recognized, but mostly I rode alone. You might wonder what christianity has to do with classic cars. I do. Old cars were parked at an angle around a one-block park. Very few people were looking at the cars. Most of them were in folding chairs listening to a preacher. I found the deep purple 1957 Chevy much more interesting.

I never tire of looking at contour farming.

ADude I follow wrote about riding alone and riding in groups, wondering which we prefer. My answer is “yes”. Riding in a group has the advantage that someone else can plan the route and you can follow a cue sheet. Riding alone has the advantage that you can go where your heart takes you and follow no plan; or have the fun of planning a route. A group lets you talk to people. Alone lets you be with your thoughts. A group give you the opportunity to draft behind someone and save energy. Alone means you can watch the scenery and not pay attention to the person in front of you. You can ride at your own pace. A quick pause here to run outside. The laundry is in the back yard but:

The laundry is hanging in the basement or in the dryer (and the rain has stopped), so back to riding. Somewhere in between those two is riding with a friend or two. I’ve been riding with this guy for about 45 years. This picture is from the 80s, when I was visiting back home from California and riding a borrowed bike. So ride alone, ride with a friend, ride with 100 friends. I don’t care. Just ride.

Half-fast in the mid 80s.
Can you spot them here, 25 years later?

Don’t tell anyone

That I live in the most beautiful place in the United States to ride a bike. They’ll all want to move here.

Sweeping downhills that are like carving linked Telemark turns in fresh powder; steep climbs through wooded hills that shade you from the hot sun; ridge top vistas that go on for miles; shaded creek side valleys; the golden light of late afternoon casting long shadows. The word “green” doesn’t do justice to the array of colors: corn, soybeans, alfalfa, mixed grasses, oaks, maples – a panorama of color, all of which we call “green”.

The names of the town roads tell us what we’ll see – “Enchanted Valley”, “Table Bluff” (a hill so steep it’s like falling off a table – unless you’re going up), “Far View”. Or they tell us the history – “Old Settlers Road”, “Indian Trail”. Or specifically white people’s history, with the names of the first Europeans who lived where this road leads, or the first settlement in the area. These are roads that no one drives on unless they live here.

The area west of here is known as the Driftless Area because during the several ice ages in which this part of the world was covered by glaciers, every glacier missed that area. Instead of gently rolling hills and broad valleys, there are steep hills and deep ravines, becoming more rugged as you approach the Mississippi River.

A phone camera photo doesn’t do it justice. A GoPro camera so you can see what I see might do it. But video doesn’t show you what I feel – the sheer joy, the shit-eating grin, the conversation with old friends that has to pause if a car comes by, or when we get separated on a hill, picked up minutes later like there was no pause.

When you wave to the driver of a pickup truck, he waves back. The trucks here belong to real farmers who use them for real work, not poseurs whose trucks are for show and never get dirty.

We pass a small herd of cattle – Jersey, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, not a Holstein among them – lounging in the sun as we climb a hill that we will descend at the end of the day, careful not to smile too broadly and get bugs in our teeth.

The temperature is in the 70s, no wind, dew point around 50 so no humidity, the sun is shining – the world is perfect.

But maybe where you live and ride is the most beautiful place, too…

Thanks for the memories

Two years ago today (Sunday) was our first rest day, in Missoula, Montana. I needed another patch kit and more inner tubes. We had ridden 612 miles in 7 days. Today the hardest thing I did was pit two pounds of cherries and bake a cherry pie. I didn’t even have to pick the cherries – my son and daughter in law did that, from the tree in their backyard. (Thanks!)

Day 7 had been a 103 mile slog through nonstop rain, the last 50 miles into a headwind. My new bike was now broken in. Sunday was the day to clean the gunk of 103 rainy miles off the bike, relube, and get ready for another week (and another, and another…). We had crossed the continental divide for the first time by then. I wrote my two essential lessons about mountain riding:
1. Don’t worry about the top, it will be there when you get there;
2. Keep your feet moving in circles and all will be well.

I don’t have to look back at that blog entry to remember the day. It is one of those days that is burned deeply into my memory. It was cold and wet but it ended with a hot shower, a warm sweatshirt, pizza and red wine. We slept in a dorm for the second night in a week – the only time we would do that all summer. It was a day marked by camaraderie, as four of us stuck together to gain strength from each other, so we could take whatever nature dished out. Five miles from the end, we picked up a fifth. He was at the roadside fixing a flat in the pouring rain and told us to go on. We didn’t. We rode in together. It was exactly as Greg had said on the phone sometime in the spring: The days you remember won’t be the 70 degree and sunny days. Those will all run together. The days you remember will be the ones in which you faced adversity and overcame it.

We had already had our first night sleeping indoors on the solstice, in dorms at Gonzaga University. We covered the quad with drying tents and sleeping bags. Gonzaga is in Spokane, home of U. Utah Phillips, the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest. While he is best known for his recordings of the IWW Songbook, I have a warm spot for “The Goodnight-Loving Trail”, about life on a cattle trail in Texas in the 1800s. My friend Cripps introduced me to the song.

Cripps worked at the Whole Earth Co-op at the same time that I worked at the Willy Street Co-op. Whole Earth was one of the last of its kind. In lieu of a cash register, they had a cigar box and a spiral notebook. When you finished shopping, you toted up your goods, wrote the total in the notebook, and put your money in the box, making change yourself. We, on the other hand, had gotten our first cash register at St Vincent de Paul, and replaced it with a fancy one that ran on electricity (instead of a hand crank) when that one died. We were the first in town to have an electronic scale. The city weights and measures inspector told us he wouldn’t decertify our old scales, but he advised us to replace them. While they were inaccurate, they consistently cheated the store and not the customer. That wasn’t illegal but wasn’t a good way to stay in business. The new one had a calculator in it, so you could type the price per pound into the keypad and it would calculate the total price. (I know, all scales do that now; but back then it was a big deal. Scales had a chart with a range of prices and you found the price per pound and read along a red line to get the total. Since the ones we had were pretty old, the prices were low enough that you often had to multiply to get the real price.)

Cripps (remember Cripps? This is a story about Cripps) and I sometimes spent the night in the same house. One night I heard bass laughter coming up through the floor below me. I looked at my partner and she noted my surprise – “That’s Cripps”, she said. Cripps had a tenor voice but a bass laugh. Cripps’ partner was a woman from West Virginia. She taught me a line that I use to this day. You know how there are people you’ve seen around, maybe even know by name or have talked to, but you’ve never been introduced? Someone might ask, “Do you know Cripps?” And your reply might be, “I know who he is, but we’ve never been formally introduced.” Her reply was, “We’s howdied, but we ain’t shook.”

Another night Cripps and I were the last two awake in the house. He was sitting at the kitchen table with his autoharp and U. Utah Phillips songbook. I made myself a cup of tea and joined him. We sang our way through the book, but the first song we sang together was “The Goodnight-Loving Trail”.

One afternoon, too soon after that, Cripps got off the bus downtown, stepped out from behind the bus, and into the path of a bus coming the other way. He died that night. The song, and this post, are dedicated to his memory.

Wednesday Night’s Greatest Hits

Since we don’t have group rides this year, every Wednesday night I pick a ride and go. This week held scattered showers. I checked the radar and there seemed to be a hole in the storms. It corresponded with a favorite ride that isn’t on this year’s calendar. I checked the archives and found a cue sheet and headed out. It looked dark in the distance but that didn’t seem like a reason not to ride. I remembered this week two years ago and hit the road. If I can go 100 miles in the rain, what’s 20 or 30? The darkness seemed to stay in the distance and the roads were dry. About ten miles in it started to sprinkle. The sun was shining so I kept riding. The sun disappeared and the rain came harder. It was cooling off. A dense cedar tree appeared at the roadside and I took cover until the rain let up. There was thunder in the distance (in the direction I was pointed) so I took a shortcut back to my starting point. In the car on the way home it rained hard enough that I considered pulling over to wait for it to let up. The wipers on high were barely keeping up.

The front is rolling through. Time to cut this ride short.