Top/bottom ten

The greatest hits and worst miseries of the tour, not necessarily in order of how good or bad they were and not necessarily ten of each:

Tour top 10:

New York week (after the first 50 miles) -Finger Lakes/wading in Lake Ontario after a cold front came through, temperature and humidity went down, tailwind all morning; up and down through the Adirondacks, beautiful day in Lake Placid. If you took away the first 50 miles and replaced them with the first 50 miles of the next week, this could be #1.867CEBD3-27F5-4014-AACC-1FC37BBC5BE8

Wisconsin week – Cannon Trail, the Great River Rd., Baraboo Bluffs/Devils Lake/Merrimac ferry, Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive. Great roads and no traffic all week. (Visits from family and friends put this one over the top, but it was already great.) 

The ride into Baraboo contained the single steepest climb of the entire trip ( a short stretch of Terrytown Road). 

The Sparta to Elroy Trail, while the first Rails-to-Trails conversion, has been surpassed by several others. It was actually the low point of the week. While the tunnels are a novelty, riding for 30+ miles on gravel is not my cup of tea and takes a toll on the bike. I know, gravel riding is the new thing, but I’d rather ride on pavement if given the choice. 

I’m almost reluctant to admit that the area I ride regularly was the high point, but it also assures me that I live in the right place.AA48B9A9-93D9-405F-B4A3-8637855C927A

Needles highway/Black Hills/Badlands – The Needles Highway was the single high point. This was a magical fairyland, otherworldly in its beauty. I am amazed that I never knew of this place. I could ride that road ten more times and still see new things. The area was phenomenal and the road was the best we rode in >4300 miles.   E2692CEC-A68A-498A-9B90-C0D7F1978AC7

The Badlands are also otherworldly. Different, in that they can be seen as bleak in broad daylight, but change minute-by-minute in early morning light. Like Needles Highway, I wanted to ride that same road again at sunset after riding it at sunrise. 

 

Bike path through Grand Teton National Park, climbing Teton Pass, descending to Jackson Hole and a great bike path. The path through the park kept us away from traffic and in view of the mountains. I met Santa Claus at the foot of Teton Pass, along with a group riding from Texas to Alaska. The pass was steep and tough, getting steeper as it went. Standing at the top of the pass was a feeling of accomplishment and gave a great view of the valley below. After descending to the valley we were led on a secluded path into town. The valley is well set up for bicycles, with paths connecting the towns.

 

Thompson Pass – first time over the continental divide and first big pass, descent into Thompson Falls, a town mostly owned by a single family, where we saw their bar, ice cream shop, catering service, and bus service.

Devils Tower. A campground situated right at the base of the tower. The tower itself rises out of nothing. It is not part of a mountain range but, like Ayers Rock in Australia, is just there. It is no surprise that it was used as the backdrop/centerpiece of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. 9DCB1F78-14DE-4EBC-9051-1754A42439FD

The margarita party was our first real chance to sit down as a group and just hang out together. 

Smugglers Notch. A day that started with threatening weather that never fully materialized. The pass enveloped by clouds as we ascended, never really sure how high it was, on the approach or while actually climbing it. A climb that was over before I realized it; not because it was easy (it wasn’t) but because the top was invisible until we were there. The steepest descent of the trip, made hazardous by the wet pavement so we took it slowly. 

 

Bottom 10:

Riding 105 miles in 40° rain. The camaraderie made it tolerable. A day that I would have stayed in bed had I been on my own. 

Climbing a mountain pass in a hailstorm. Another day saved by a group – the same group. As Greg told me before the trip, the 70 degree and sunny days will all blend together, but it is the days like this that will make lasting memories. 

72 mile ride that turned into 102 mile ride, the last 1/3 into a brutal headwind, finishing with a helmet splitting crash in an endless industrial waste land. The only day that I wanted the van to stop for me. I got back on the bike and rode the final ten miles, so I did ride EFI. We stopped at a convenience store for a cold drink and found other riders draped over coolers and freezers. Misery loves company.

The first half of that day was actually really nice. 

Mile after mile of horrendous pavement,90+ degree heat, and endless headwinds across the Great Plains.

Mile after mile of flat and boring countryside in Michigan with bad highways and rude drivers.

Re-entering the US at Niagara Falls and riding 50 miles before getting into the countryside.

Bone jarring expansion cracks through Central Minnesota.

Hill City to Custer – uphill, bad headwind, relentless sun/heat, horrendous traffic, grooved pavement causing painful whining noise – and there was a reasonable alternative route nearby.

A few random thoughts:

  • had some great encounters with bikers (of the Harley persuasion) – both on-the-road salutes and chats at the roadside.
  • In the first week I waved to a Corvette behind me to acknowledge it and, as it passed, I saw a peace sign flashed out through the T-top.
  • A random motorcyclist flipped me the bird for no apparent reason.
  • A friendly bar owner brought watermelon out to us on a hot, dry, and windy day.
  • On another hot day I stopped in a coffee shop for an iced coffee and the air conditioning was so cold I just hung out for awhile. It was a day when I realized getting somewhere was only a small part of the plan.
  • When I walked into a brewpub, I was met by applause. Another rider had arrived before me and told our story and they knew I was part of that group.
  • Greg repeatedly referred to the Lake Michigan ferry crossing as “The shortest longest day”. We rode only 40 miles but got into camp with just enough time to pitch our tents before it got dark.
  • Somewhere out west (I think on the Tetons day) a Russian couple riding from Denver to Seattle stopped in and joined us for lunch.
  • On another day, in the middle of nowhere, I happened upon a scruffy-looking guy walking his bike in the opposite direction. I asked if he needed help. He said, “Is the next town about 4 miles ahead?” I agreed that it was. He thanked me and kept walking. (Only 4 miles from town it wasn’t really the middle of nowhere – it just seemed like it.)
  • The look of incredulity when I told some kids at a lemonade stand (on our last day) that I had ridden >4300 miles for that lemonade.

That’s it for now folks. Daily life is intruding on my writing time. I have a sewer line to clear and more. Posts will be a little more irregular after today. Maybe when my bike gets here I’ll look at the odometer and give you my total mileage. Maybe not. Numbers don’t really say what I want to say. Thanks for joining me on this journey. It’s been real.

I’m not going away entirely. As Phil Ochs said:

Head ‘em off at the pass!

Today was a big day. While not a lot of miles, we did ascend to 8431 feet to cross Teton Pass. The average grade was 10%, with maximum of 14%.

The day dawned clear and cold and crisp as cider (in an attempt to quote Ken Kesey from “Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear”). It was 40 degrees in Ashton, ID.

We started in rolling hills through potato country. The irrigation machines were running and creating rainbows in the rising sun, that tracked our progress as we passed them.

After about 10 miles, the Tetons appeared in the distance. They seemed much too far away to get to today. The peaks were shrouded in fog and snow.

I started in tights, arm warmers, jacket, full finger , and a plastic shopping bag under the jersey as extra insulation.

It was the sort of morning that lets you know that the rollers are more up than down, or that you are no match for this ride. Luckily, it was the former. At lunch the datameister confirmed we had risen 1800 feet.

I knew the key to the day was to keep steady, not blow myself out before the climb, find a steady rhythm for the climb. My mantra for the day was “Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin”. He is a blues guitarist who played with Muddy Waters in the 70s.  Any time I started to work too hard or lag too much, I repeated “Steady rollin’” to get back on track.

After an hour or so I was able to remove the bag. At lunch I took off the jacket but put it back on before leaving the park, as clouds obscured the sun.

We headed out on “Old Jackson Highway”, a quiet, two lane road with no traffic. I was hoping it continued all the way to the pass, but I knew it didn’t. It changed to a footpath and we moved onto the highway.

We continued a slow and steady climb for the next few miles. About 53 miles into the day the climbing started in earnest. I delaminated down to shorts and jersey for the climb.

At the 53 mile mark I met a group of women from Texas headed up the pass on matching bikes. They were part of a Texas to Alaska fundraising tour. I also met Santa Claus.8E830FAD-061D-4766-811F-D888D80F1B7C

Our cue sheet estimated the grade at 6-7%. At a turnout I looked back and saw a sign for trucks going down warning of a 10% grade for the next two miles. We were still far from the point that our cue sheet indicated we’d hit 10%. As noted above, Dan’s 10% was actually 14%. I feel less wimpy knowing that.646A7402-AE0D-4558-B00D-05FD91FD9708

I considered squirting my water bottle over my head, having a difficult time remembering that I had been chilly much of the day. I knew the summit was soon and that would be a bad idea. I stopped and took my helmet off for a few minutes instead.

The last stretch before the summit was a killer, though I did pass the Texans on that section. There are, of course, no photos from that section. I was going too slowly to clip out to stop and both hands were busy so I couldn’t pull out the camera while moving.

We took the obligatory summit photos and then quickly replaced the layers removed for the climb to prepare for the descent.

Winds were swirling and I tried to keep my speed below 40mph, feeling like I might become airborne as I rounded switchbacks and confronted the wind. Again, no pictures – all my concentration was needed for control on the descent.

40mph in mountain winds is way scarier than it is in Wisconsin – back there, I consider a ride a good one if it contains at least one 40mph downhill. 50 is a rare treat. I had no desire to see 50 today.

I had a wide open road for the descent – no cars in sight (on my side of the road) before or behind me. I sailed into Jackson and the route moved to a gorgeous bike path through woods and meadows, eventually leading to our weekend respite at Morse Science High (actually Teton Science Center), an educational retreat center about 5 miles out of town.

 

Suzanne, who rode with us last week, had ordered pizzas for us, which were waiting when I got out of the shower.

Hail! Hail! The gang’s all here!

Only a metric century today, done before noon, but clearly not a rest day.

The forecast was for thundershowers overnight. It was windy with scattered showers in the early evening, but I awoke at 3:40 AM to a bright light in the sky. It was too high to be an area light at the school. Crawling out of my tent I confirmed it was the nearly-full moon in a clear sky.

I had breakfast at “Running Bear Pancake House”. It was sunny when I arrived there and got steadily darker. They opened the shades, then turned up the lights.

Leaving the restaurant, I was warming up slowly when a 3 person paceline passed. I swung in behind, warmup over, as they were going considerably faster than my warmup pace, but this was not a day to ride alone.

As we started up a gradual incline before the pass, it started to rain. We saw lightning ahead. The rain got harder. Then it got harder in a more literal sense as it changed to hail.

We crested at 7072 feet during a brief respite from the rain. That is my one picture from the day. No time for anyone to pose touristically. It was cold (42 degrees by my thermometer) and the rain was coming back.

9E27E141-C2F2-417D-A952-82ADB35B434DWe had to control our speed on the descent due to the wet, cold, and low visibility. We arrived at the first water stop at a turnout. I promptly rode off the pavement and put my foot down in a 6” deep puddle. I changed from rose-colored to clear lenses in my glasses at that point.

Strictly for survival, we continued on at 22mph. We were on a US highway with no shoulder. It was sometimes hard to tell which was worse – pushing the wind in front or eating the spray from another rider in back.

A word about pacelines here: yesterday I was thinking, “I didn’t come this far to stare at the backs of other riders”. I rode alone all morning, looking at the scenery. Today I was thinking, “There is safety in numbers.” I stayed all day with Steve from Seattle and Ally and Ed from New Jersey. At the lunch stop we picked up Corey from the Twin Cities area.

I decided that my decisions day-to-day are personal ones, not moral judgments.

Before lunch we turned onto the “Mesa Falls Scenic Byway”. I saw signs for how far we were from Ashton and knew that our remaining mileage was about double that. At the moment it seemed cruel, but the scenic byway was beautiful and I sat up and enjoyed the scenery, scanning the surrounding woods for critters. I didn’t have to scan to see the elk that cantered across the highway just in front of Steve.

Lunch was at the waterfall. The only pictures I have are mental ones. Hot chocolate, hot soup, and grilled cheese sandwiches saved the day.

After lunch we continued on the scenic route. The rain abated and for about 30 seconds on one climb, I could have sworn I felt heat radiating up from the pavement – Corey confirmed it.

I needed a new song:

We rolled into Ashton with it not raining (at least I don’t think it was). It was too wet to hang anything out to dry. I discovered I was dry under my rain clothes (except for hands, feet, and head). I had wrung out my gloves several times during the day.

The sun came out so I cleaned and lubed my bike and brought stuff outside to dry. The sky turned black and lit up with lightning and I hurriedly moved everything back inside.

The storm passed, a near-miss. Tomorrow is over Teton Pass, 8431 feet and a 10% grade. Weather here seems to change by the minute so I’ll figure out what clothes to wear when I wake up. That’s the first order of business every day, before I get out of the sleeping bag.

A future post will talk about my daily routine. For now I’ll just say that I’m pretty active at work; not used to sitting this many hours/day.