We now sit 6 hours and 67 miles away from Yellowstone National Park and for the first time since beginning this trip I am intimidated by the landscape. Resting at the base of these natural behemoths has me checking and double checking the elevation maps to see what I am about to conquer (…or just plain survive). The 3000 foot climbs of White Bird and Mackenzie Pass are a thing of the past. Everything I will climb from here on out starts at an elevation of 7000 ft. This challenge, in addition to the feeling that every tree and shrub hides a pack of ravenous wolves, rabid elks (Would they attack? I DON’T KNOW), or a mama bear protecting her cubs has me on high alert. Although I joked before I left that encountering a bear would would be a pretty exhilarating experience, I am coming to my senses and realizing that a 600 lb hairy tank donning 3′ claws and a biting power of 1200 PSI (humans are around 150 PSI – your random fact for the day!) is probably not on my to-do list any time soon. I know, I know, they are often “more scared of us then we are of them” and they typically “only like berries and nuts”, but with the smells I am emitting (no showers for four days), I may be tantalizing enough!
A few other updates and notes from the last post:
- I just realized that I never mentioned anything about the two finger wave or ominous crows that the previous blog post was titled after. HA! In short, I have been probably passed by 1000+ vehicles and 200+ motorcycles during the first three weeks. When cars give me space I try to reinforce their generosity for future cyclists by offering a friendly wave. I am up to a 10% response rate and would have to say campers full of children are the most enthusiastic with their responses. As for motorcyclists, I feel like I have joined a special club with these grizzled road warriors. Just throwing out the two finger wave, low and below the handlebars, almost always results in a return gesture and a nod of reassurance saying, “Yes, bike on you crazy spandex man, I am proud of you.” I would say that motorcyclists are always the most interested in the trip and most consistent with the return wave (90% or so). With that in mind, I have begun switching it up with different kind of waves, especially if they are in rapid succession. I have thrown out the up top, the low peace sign, the six gun shooter, and much, much, more. I was definitely outdone two days ago when a rider with a Harley exhaust and Lynrd Skynard blasting from his speakers went no hands, two shooters in the air for me! That little bit of craziness was exactly what I needed to get over the next hill.
- As for ominous crows, they are overly numerous out here and seem to appear at the oddest moments. The shoulder-less road will be about to narrow as a logging truck barrels down on me when I hear “caaw, caaaaw!” I once noticed that someone spraypainted “DANGER!” all over the road at the top of a mountain pass when I heard “SQUUAAAK!” Later on I was running low on water and phone battery while battling obscene heat and – you guessed it – my black feathered friends were there to remind me of the fragility of my mortality. Maybe it is calorie-depleted Joe reading into things, but I do seem to take note every time I see them and immediately do a 360 degree sweep of the area to assure myself that I am not about to bike into a sinkhole or active lava field.
- Lastly, nutrition. I have cut bread from my diet. Plain and simple. I feel better for it as I experience less lethargy and a seemingly heightened awareness throughout my ride. Eating a half a loaf of bread a day is not exactly moderation so after making a few small tweaks, I think I have found a better approach. Eating room temp day-old chicken or mixing cold tuna and black beans at a wayside rest isn’t 5-star cuisine but if it keeps me upright, we are going to keep doing it.
The riding has been great since I last checked in with stops in historic Nevada City, Garnet Ghost Town, and plenty of hills reminding me to reapply chamois butter and Vaseline (I will not disclose where). Every time I scoop another gob of that slick stuff I am thankful to prevent chaffing and saddles sores for one more day as they can make riding a real pain in the a** (pardon my french and terrible puns). We have also been very fortunate with the cost of our overnight stays (FREE!). A grocery store lot next to a giant, smelly trash compactor and a parking lot outside of a crematorium aren’t the most glamorous accommodations, but the price is certainly right!
The final thing I would like to comment on (and the original intent of the article) is my riding head space. I have been spending 5-7 hours a day on the bike. That is a lot of alone time for someone who prefers to be in the hustle and bustle of a city or office. My friend Derek Kockler recommended keeping a journal as he says it is a great way to get that stuff out of your head and an even better way to reflect back on the progress made and the items overcome. This has been super helpful because it allows me to get some of the crappy thoughts out of my cranium along with the ingenious Laffy Taffy jokes, creative house renovation ideas, and tenacious business plans.
I will be honest with you here: one day, a week and a half back, I broke down. Battling a gnarly headwind, seven regrettable pieces of bread, 100 degree heat, and an earlier flat tire, I really wanted to call it quits for the day. I was a mess when I got to our campsite and with Libby’s help (a godsend), back rubs, and encouragement, I was able to choke down dinner, have myself a river swim/shower, and prepare to do it all over again the next day.
So what was I thinking about when I was 15 miles away and climbing a 8% grade hill? My dad. I knew he would gut it out and tell me how proud he was of me. When I struggled during my marathon in college, he stepped out from the crowd and ran with me through “the wall” (mile 18) when many runners have been known to start slowing. He told me how he could never do this in a lifetime and that I had strength that he never could conjure. That fatherly love and support is the same mental motivation I use to get me through those last few miles. He is with me at every turn, hill, and gravel road and is still my biggest fan. This trip is in honor of him and he is and will continue to be my source of energy in my weakest moments, encouraging me to pull myself out from the doldrums and keep on pedaling.
The next climb is for you Dad.
On a lighter note, I have intentionally let my mind wander, landing on the most obscure topics (which it always seems hell-bent on exploring). They have included Leonardo DiCarprio’s filmography, replaying Ocean’s 11 in my head, writing songs (including my hit singles “Rumble Strip Riding” and “Stretch of Gravel”), and the value of family and friends. I have also finalized plans for our dream house, a modern style concrete tower with a rooftop patio, several balconies, and a greenhouse in the back. Of course I also dive into my relationship with Libby and how invaluable she is, my 7 years of experiences working at Werner, and what weapon I would choose/how long I think I would survive a zombie apocalypse. (Crossbow, duh.)
I’ve listened to some sweet jams thanks to a Bluetooth stereo from Leah and an audio book called “Liminal Thinking”. This took me on a deep dive into Doom and Delight Loops along with learning about parables from Zen Masters. All of this and more just scratches the surface of the vast number of topics that my brain flips through like a bored 11 year old with the tv remote. After the physical challenge of putting one pedal down after another becomes second nature, the solidarity is the real daily task.
With that said, I now leave to bike towards the Grand Tetons, potable water, and hopefully a shower! We love you all and appreciate your support throughout our trek!
To the mountains we go, granny gear engaged,