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:

Idaho

Here we are, in Idaho.

I can’t think of Idaho (or U. Utah Phillips) without thinking of Rosalie Sorrels. Rosalie was a folksinger from Boise. My favorite song of hers is actually a cover of a Shel Silverstein song.

03 You’re Always Welcome At Our House 1.m4a

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Rosalie Sorrels. Rick Ardinger/Courtesy of Red House Records (from the NPR link below)

Rosalie’s dark humor extends beyond Shel Silverstein’s songs. She also recorded a set of “Hostile Baby Rocking Songs”, the songs she sang to her children when she was at her wits end. She is not well-represented on YouTube, and the album “be careful, there’s a baby in the house” appears to be out of print. (I found it on Amazon for $182.27. It is available for loan from my local public library.)  For those who find these songs offensive, remember that singing hostile songs and abusing children are very different. I work with children who are victims of what the medical field refers to as “non-accidental trauma”. I do not consider that funny.

02 Baby Rocking Medley.m4a

As an aside, I want to put in a plug for public libraries. The library is one of the greatest public services government provides. I am happy to pay taxes to support libraries. I find it ironic that the “Little Free Library” movement has caught on so heavily in my hometown, as we have a phenomenal public library system. (Guess what? It’s free! And it’s not so little.) My kids got library cards when they were very young and we made weekly trips to the library – on Monday – early release day from school and my day off. We got to know the staff, some of whom are still there 20+ years later. I still go almost every Monday, even without the kids. When my daughter (now a college graduate and newly-minted Social Worker) visited from college, we always went to the library on Monday.

If money is burning a hole in your pocket and  you can’t think of who to donate to, think about your local public library foundation.

The good news about today’s ride is that the forecast, which was an 85% chance of thunderstorms last night, was amended to a 35% chance of showers by this morning. The bad news is that the rain beat those new odds.

As we left Spokane, it was getting darker. Figuring on safety in numbers I headed out with a group – the folks who usually finish near the same time I do, so I thought they’d ride a comfortable pace.

By the outskirts it was raining hard enough that I was getting chilly. I stopped to don raingear and lost the group. I started to work my way back toward them until the headwind convinced me of my folly. I slowed down and waited for some other folks to catch me to help with the wind.

My flat tire brought the end of my time with that group. As luck would have it, the sag wagon showed up within a minute, so I had company while I changed tubes, and someone to hold my bike so I didn’t have to lay it down. They convinced me to take another spare tube (I still had one left, plus a patch kit), as about 50 miles of today’s route would be inaccessible to the sag wagon.

I started out again and caught on with another small group. When I stopped for a bathroom break and to change out of my raingear, I lost them. I figured I’d be riding alone for the day, thinking no one was behind me anymore.

33219AE1-73F9-46EC-9E45-669FB70B40CF.jpegAt the Idaho state line I caught someone. at the lunch break I caught up with the folks I’d started with. By that time we were on the most  incredible bike path I’ve ever seen – a paved path which skirted the shore of lake Couer d’Alene, then followed along its backwaters and the river that feeds it. We had a tailwind for the last 20 flat miles.

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Bike bridge over Lake Couer d’ Alene. (It rises and falls in steps, not a smooth incline.)

Along the path we saw a moose and her calf, then about a half dozen Great Blue Herons. All were camera shy, so no photos.

It’s hard to call 94 miles a rest day but, compared to the two before and the one to follow, it was.

There were two crashes today. One rider came to dinner in a shoulder immobilizer after a crash on the path. A shout out to Steve from Rochester for staying with him until help came.

Tomorrow we cross Thompson Pass into Montana. 10% grade near the summit. Time for sleep.

Battening down the hatches – a thunderstorm is coming any minute now. (8:30 PM my time.)