It has been 15 days and over 900 miles since we started the biking portion of the trip and I can’t even begin to explain all the amazing people and experiences we have already had. Being on the road is different than I expected. Everything takes longer and the conveniences that I mentioned in the previous post are basically non-existent. There are no air conditioned, bear proof, and inexpensive cabins with free wi-fi waiting around every corner. Although that is no surprise, I did anticipate that we would at the very least be able to stay in contact with each other and our families to let them know we are okay. Funny thing about those mountains though… cell phone signals don’t exactly penetrate them. When the two biggest populations within 75 miles total 500 people, Verizon isn’t sprinting out there to set up another tower.
So with that, we are in Missoula, MT with the first reception in four days. We have brushed shoulders with wildfires, logging trucks, a playful road bear, river currents, and that one annoying mosquito that managed to weasel its way into our precious van home.
Despite our hardships, we are happy.
We are taking on (and mostly beating) the every day challenges that have come with this trip. When we had 106 degree heat, we took more water breaks and jumped in the ocean or a nearby river. When warning stickers about bears roaming the area were discovered throughout the campground – including taped to our picnic table – we broke out the bear mace. When we ran out of ways to cook tuna we pan seared that stuff with pepper and oil and voila, we felt like we were back home at the The Oceanaire Seafood Room in Minneapolis (Okay it’s not THAT good but it is edible).
Since I am slightly calorie depleted, constantly hot (this zinc sunscreen locks everything in), and running low on caffeine, I am going to result to lists to better organize my thoughts and this post. I promise you that reading wandering Joe writing is a prodigious task, akin to trying to air dry your laundry during a thunderstorm. In short, it isn’t getting you anywhere.
WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED
- Oh my lawrd, thank you for Hostels and USFS Campgrounds
- We have stayed at two hostels, five USFS Campgrounds, outside a quilt shop, in 4 Wal Mart parking lots and a few city parks (Sheriff approved). I have to say that our experiences with the people we’ve met have been amazing. To start we stayed at a place called Spok’en Hostel in Mitchell, OR. It was by far the most accommodating experience I have ever had (hotels included) in my life. Pat and Jalet run the show and have literally thought of everything that a touring cyclist could need and put it in a one stop shop. We were treated to a fresh shower, foot baths with peppermint oil, a spaghetti dinner cooked in advance of our arrival, a breakfast spread, bed-side power strips, and a Painted Hills tour concluding with a choice of ice cream. If there are role models about how to be good human beings on this earth, they are it! When I first rolled up late in the afternoon and informed them that I had no way of getting a hold of Libby to tell her where I was (due to non-existent cell reception in the mountains), Pat (barber, pastor, advertising genius) hopped in his van and drove several miles up the mountain to flag Libby down on the highway. I really can’t say enough about this place beyond that it is the gold standard! Not too long after, we stayed with Auna at her cyclist-only lodging (garage turned hostel). When she heard we were coming she went out and turned on the AC for us and got us fresh towels… both luxuries at this point. It was at the Bike Inn that we broke out an old Knight’s Tale VHS while mowing down on some more “tuna surprise”. We also enjoyed lovely views of the desert climate that is eastern Oregon and watched their two goats (Baby and Kelly) angrily bleat (correct term for goat scream?) at two 8-point bucks munching on a nearby brush pile. Beyond all these wonderful hostel stays, we met Randy, Larry, Gerry, Ed, and many other USFS volunteers who man their stations for months at a time, collecting fees from the Iron Rangers (honor system pay stations), manage all the bruhaha from the campers, and negotiate their way into campsites in bear country where folks are know to open carry. These are true good stewards of the system!
- Reception out here is more valuable than gold in the 1860’s
- So from all that I read and prepared for I assumed I was going to be able to provide live tracking and contact Libby at every turn. Turns out that isn’t the case. Of the 15 or so towns that we traveled through in the past 5 days not one of them had service. I needed to call my mom, update all the peeps on Twitter, and throw together some sweet Instagrams – all things that require an internet connection. I am more dependent on internet than I ever imagined and ripping off that band aid was unpleasant to say the least. I don’t mind disconnecting intentionally every once and awhile when I can control it, but when it is taken away from me unexpectedly I react like a baby who just dropped their pacifier. This forced tech hiatus made me take time to meditate, swim in rivers, read books, and really enjoy the food that I was cooking without a Netflix overlay. I don’t mind the break and the further we creep out of the mountains the more readily accessible my mental pacifier will become – for better or for worse.
- My daily life goals include bike, eat, and find a shower. The last one seems to be evasive.
- I am not sure what I was thinking here. I planned on a shower every couple of days and that it would cause zero issues. I again, was wrong. (Libby would like to mention that she was well aware of this flawed thinking from the start.) Battling biker shorts funk and getting the waterproof, zinc-heavy sunscreen off without a shower is a challenge. Baby wipes only remove so much of the chain grease, and there is something refreshing about hopping in the shower after a long day on the road. Showers, in addition to anything cold (ice, ice cream, freeze pops) have become my new vice. In an act of desperation we finally purchased a little solar shower (5G bag of water with a poor excuse for a shower head) but it keeps us both happy and healthy (and Red Ned smells a lot better)!
- 90% of drivers are amazing
- Fairly straightforward here. For the most part people are giving me a ton of room. These roads are just as precarious for them as they are for me with the only difference being 2 tons of steel and airbags. In most cases, they prefer to hit the brakes and wait to see whats around the next turn before they hop into the other lane and go around me. The TransAmerica route sees 1000+ cyclists a year plus locals and I am thankful for the fact that most of people have acclimated to sharing the road. I will continue on my journey of trying to be the safest possible cyclist I can be as I rock two tail lights, a reflective vest, flag, and whatever other neon threads I happen to be wearing that day. Barring strapping road flares to me, I am not sure I could take any more precautionary measures!
- TOO MUCH BREAD FOR ME!
- I know, here I am complaining about the privilege I have of eating anything and everything in arms reach while somehow getting in better shape. Trying to keep up with my target 6000 calorie diet – yes, you read that correctly – while utilizing healthy foods has been an issue. Ideally I was trying to eat many slow-releasing carbs (oatmeal, 9-grain breads, etc…) but I end up feeling like crap at various points of the ride. My brain has been bogged down and I battle lethargy at every corner with caffeine being my only readily accessible counter agent. In short, Libby and I are doing some research and we will be trying to make a change to that sooner rather than later!
All that being said, here we are: fifteen days, fifteen nights, and plenty of baby wipe “showers” later and we are still loving the challenge of it all. We are fortunate to be on this trip and thankful for that fact every waking moment. We know we are making the choice to temporarily walk away from our creature comforts and welcome a certain kind of lifestyle pain and discomfort with open arms. Hopefully through all of this we will become a better couple, caring cyclists, and experience-rich human beings. Thanks again for all the support and love that you have all given us thus far! More to come at the next reception point!