Sunday, October 6, 2013

Final Thoughts - The BIG RIDE

It has been just two months since THE BIG RIDE concluded.  In some way it seems more like two years.  It’s amazing how fast everyday life can push once in a lifetime events to the rear burner.  That said, there’s hardly a day goes by that some mention of THE BIG RIDE is not made between Martha and me. 

     We’re both still adjusting to regular living.  I’m just now back to club riding at my usual level of fitness.  From prior experience, I knew that tour riding gives you great stamina and endurance, but leaves you woefully short for those high heart rate jumps that inevitably go with every club ride.  It always takes me a few rides after every tour to get back into sport riding shape.  Of course, after THE BIG RIDE, due to its duration, the situation was only worse.  It was so discouraging not to be able to hang with the same riders I always ride with on our local club rides.  I just couldn’t get it going for almost a month of rides.  Finally, finally, my fitness for sport riding returned and now everything is back to normal.  How unfair that after two months and 2,500 miles of riding, you’re ‘out of shape’ to ride your bicycle.

     Of course, everyone we meet back home asks about our trip.  Our standard response is that it went better than we had even hoped.  And it’s true.  We had no difficulties of any consequence.  Sure, a few little challenges here and there, but that just goes with it and is part of the fun.
     Emotionally, I think we’ve stabilized.  We had a little bit of an emotional dip with the knowledge that a big item on the bucket list is now checked off.  Now what?  The answer, naturally, is to come up with a new challenge.  We’re working on that.  It won’t be as cycling ambitious as THE BIG RIDE, but it will involve a tour, just not an all summer tour.  The talk right now is an early June 2014 tour in New England.  Martha has never been there.  ACA has some good routes up there and we could wind up in Bah Hahbah, ME before it’s over.  We’ll see.  Put it in the happiness category of ‘Something to look forward to’.  (The others are ‘Someone to love’ and ‘Something to do’.)

     Back to THE BIG RIDE.  A big part of our favorable result, I must immodestly say, was good planning.  We spent a lot of time – months! – thinking out our tour. Really, planning (aka ‘anticipation) was a very fun part of the whole process.  We made our decision that THE BIG RIDE was a go a full 9 months before our tour actually began.  We enjoyed endless hours of discussing just what our route would be and how we’d do it and what we’d need.  I was in charge of making sure Barney was ready.  Martha handled all the technology and reservations.  That arrangement worked great.  Martha did her usual outstanding job.  I was proud of the fact we had virtually no mechanical issues and extra proud that, as the captain, I never dumped my stoker.

     Folks that decide last minute to do a big tour and can just grab their stuff and go are special, but we’re not them.  I’ve read lots and lots of journals on CGOAB.  It’s amazing how some folks take off for a tour.  Usually it all works out, but sometimes ‘winging it’ has its consequences.  Sitting beside the road with a mechanical or sleeping under the bridge because everything had been booked is not our idea of a fun adventure.  Sometimes those things happen despite one’s very best planning.  But those events are easier to take if you at least have the comfort of knowing that you’d done your best to head such issues off at the pass.

     We had a few little sayings we came up with during the many, many hours we spent riding that we would go over every day.  One was our motto:  ‘Adapt, Improvise, Overcome’.  Those words will give you a can do attitude that will get you through every tour (and life, for that matter). 

     Our other mantra was a collection of self-reminders:
     ‘It’s the journey, not the destination’
     ‘Stay in the moment’
     ‘No revving’ 
     ‘Learn to piddle‘
     Those silly little sayings got said everyday and helped remind us what a special moment in time we were enjoying and not to let anything spoil it.

     As far as the trip itself, we can honestly say we wouldn’t change a thing.  We saw some fabulous country and had a wonderful time.  Although our trip was billed as a transcontinental adventure (and it was), we weren’t the least bit disappointed that we didn’t ride every single mile of our transcon journey.  Picking up and driving across North Dakota and part of Montana was one of our better decisions (even though we waited until Wisconsin to make it).  We wanted to see the country and we did.  We drove through a part of the country that wouldn’t have been our favorite place to ride.  The rental van let us take in Yellowstone and Beartooth Pass, both of which we’d have missed if we’d stayed on the bike.  We pedaled almost 2,500 miles and could have easily done more, but were well satisfied and ready to stop once we got to Anacortes, WA.

     A few well worn tips for any prospective transcontinental bike tourists would include:
The Bike – You can go across the country on a unicycle, or a Wal-Mart bike, or a fixed gear, or any other kind of bike.  But unless you just want an extra challenge, get a real touring bike.  You’re going to see all kinds of road surfaces and terrain.  Mechanical breakdowns are no fun and the wrong kind of bike will break you down physically as the miles pile up.  A tour should be a journey, not a race.  Get a comfortable, dependable bike that will be your friend, not your foe.
     Put some new, big and rugged tires on that bike.  Who likes to fix flats?
     Be sure you have low gears (48/36/24 x 11-36 for us).  No one ever complains their gears were too low.  Not so much the other way around.
The Gear – ‘Less is more’ says it all.  Do a couple of week-end tours to evaluate what you really need.  Try to have things do double/triple duty.  One rain jacket is good for the rain.  And, with some under layers, the cold.  For both on the bike and off.  When in doubt, leave it out.  You can always buy stuff on the trip if you decide you really, really need it.  Check out some of those ultra light backpacking sites.  Those people know how to do minimalist.

The Mind – The most important part.  On tour, you’re doing something outside the norm, something special.  Enjoy and savor that time.  Be prepared to embrace a little hardship.  It makes us better appreciate the so many things otherwise taken for granted. Get your mind right and the tour gets magical.
     THE BIG RIDE was magical for Martha and me.  As mentioned, the planning has already started for our 2014 tour.  We don’t know how we could possibly top THE BIG RIDE, but we're going to try.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Day 55 - THE BIG RIDE is Officially Over. Glad or Sad?: Sedro-Woolley, WA to Anacortes, WA

Today's weather was quite cool and overcast.  A little depressing.  Appropriate, I guess, for the end of THE BIG RIDE.  THE BIG RIDE has been in planning and execution for almost a year.  Having it be over will take a little getting used to.
I'll have to do some serious reflection before posting my final ride summary.  It may take a few weeks before I'll get that post out.

After almost two months of x-country riding, we got our first real jerk this a.m.  As we entered a one lane roundabout that had no shoulder, I took the center of the lane to keep some knucklehead from trying to do a squeeze pass.  This lasted for about 40 yards until we got through the intersection and I could move over.  Mr. Knucklehead in a p/u then pulled up alongside, rolled down his window and unleashed some ignorant profanity about how unsafe we were riding.  I was so shocked that I couldn't get out an invite to stop and discuss some more before he roared along his stupid way.  A great way to start our last day.

And what is it about the last day?  Later we almost got smashed by some latte sippin', phone textin', quiche eatin' troglodyte who wandered across the rumble strip and into our (fortunately) very wide shoulder.  Mr. Yellow VW Bug Guy.  I'm still looking for you.

That aside, our ride was wonderful.
Just as we neared the city limits of Anacortes, WA, our destination since June 4, we were met by a very nice woman on a bicycle.  She stopped and explained she was a local rider and helping a group of 4 riders starting an west to east transcontinental ride get safely out of town.  We were at the perfect place.  She explained that if we could wait for just a moment, she'd be finished with the departing cyclists and would turn around and guide us into town.  Wow.

Turns out our new BFF Trail Angel is the Anacortes, WA Chief of Police, Chief Bonnie Bowers.  What a sweetheart.  She guided us in with superb expertise, telling local lore stories all the way.  The only disappointment was her bike was not equipped with lights and siren so that we could have had an even better police escort experience.  Maybe next time.

We met Bernie Santiago at the Skagit Bike Shop.  She's the co-owner.  Turns out, Barney's box beat us to town by one whole hour.  It was sitting beside the shop as we rode up and was the first thing we noticed.  Bernie graciously agreed to hold the box for a day or two until Barney is ready to jump in.

We're going to sport ride on Lopez Island (one of the San Juans) tomorrow.  Just a short ferry ride away.  We'll pack a picnic lunch and have one last great northwest ride before heading east and home.

I noticed as we were loading up this a.m. that one of Barney's brazeons supporting the left leg of the rear rack has broken.   I did a zip tie repair that got us through the day.  If that had happened earlier in the trip, we would have had to find a better repair method.  What a trooper Barney has been!  After a little stumble that first week, he has been rock solid.  Not even a flat in 2,500 miles.  Way to go Barney.  We'll get that brazeon fixed when we get home and you'll be in touring condition once again.  You might even get a new paint job out of it.  Who knows?

Fresh picked roadside blackberries. They're just starting to come in. The vines line the roadsides for miles and miles.

 Martha, ready ever, picked a bunch and made a pie. Deleesh!!
Potato blossoms.

Potato fields.

Our destination since leaving D.C. on June 4.
Bernie, Chief Bowers and Martha celebrating trail's end.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Our Penultimate Day - The BIG RIDE is Almost Over: Marblemount, WA to Sedro-Woolley, WA

Another beautiful weather and scenery day.  The landscape has, again, completely changed.  Now it's lush greenery and miles and miles of blackberry bushes along the roadway.

We rode a 'tunnel of trees' road this morning for about 20 miles.  Very light traffic, good surface, flat terrain.  Doesn't get much better.

We only did 45 miles today.  Could have easily done another 30 into Anacortes, WA as it turns out, but we hated to put two 75 miles days back to back.  Now, we'll sleep a little later and cruise on into Anacortes by lunchtime tomorrow.  I'm looking forward to meeting my contact at the Skagit Bike Shop in Anacortes.  We'll also have to find out if Barney's box has yet been delivered by UPS.  We expect to spend at least a day or two in Anacortes.  We'll probably take a ferry over to one of the San Juan Islands and do an unloaded day ride.  We'll hardly know how to ride Barney w/o him lugging 50 lbs of stuff.  It'll still be fun to try.

Today's lone picture, made, you guessed it, in Concrete, WA. I presume those silos once contained tons and tons of Portland cement mix.

Day 52/53 - A Rest Day, Then We Conquer Washington and Rainy Passes: Mazama, WA to Marblemount, WA

We took a rest day yesterday in Mazama, WA. Martha was just a little off her feed and it worked better to take a day off.

Mazama consists of a country-all organic-store and our inn. It's out in the middle of nowhere. The inn serves breakfast and supper on Fri and Sat. Since it was neither Fri nor Sat, we had supper both nights consisting of cheese and crackers and a microwave burrito. Yum. Yum. Oh, and the store. Organic ain't cheap. We bought a couple of apples, some cheese, cereal, etc to get us through a couple of meals - it was $55 for groceries that didn't even half fill a small sack. Couldn't afford to shop in Mazama for long.

Today was our last big pass day. We did Washington Pass and Rainy Pass. The day was 75 miles and there were no services for the first 60 miles. We knew that going in and prepared accordingly, having a delicious picnic lunch shortly before we got to Diablo Lake. The first climb was to Washington Pass. Took us three and one-half hours to ride 17 miles. Rainy Pass is 5 miles down and one mile up after you go over Washington Pass. We both had a good day and felt strong, though we were both glad to see our inn finally appear.

We're staying in Clark's Skagit River Resort and RV park. It's sort of a throw back to the 40's. Very simple cabins/etc. There is a café on the grounds that served us a great supper. We'll be returning for, I'm sure, an equally delightful breakfast. The café is famous for their cinnamon rolls. We'll try those out first thing in the a.m.Another quirky/cute thing here are the rabbits. They have a herd of wild rabbits that have the run of the place. They're everywhere and looking for little hand-outs. Cute little guys of all colors and sizes. But they're wild, so no cuddling.

We met a couple from our hometown today! They are just a little younger than us. The story is they sold their home a couple of years ago, bought an RV and have been 'on tour' since. Made us a little envious.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) will be just a 45 mile day, and then Thursday will be about 30 miles for our finale into Anacortes, WA. The BIG RIDE is almost over. We can hardly believe it.

Sign at the bottom of our first climb this a.m.

Put the emphasis on 'Scenic'. Easily the prettiest pass we've done.

This guy waited until we were almost within arm's length before making his getaway.

This was a really, really steep part of the climb.

I told you it was pretty.

The obligatory Pass pic.

Yet another Pass pic.

Every new corner revealed yet another great view.

A delicious picnic lunch.

Martha, overlooking Diablo Lake.

Barney's new BIG BFF.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Day 51 - Another Day. Another Pass. We Did Great.: Okanogan, WA to Mazama, WA

Last night we stayed in Okanogan. Nice town. Had lunch at the Caribou Hotel, a local landmark. Met the guy who owns the local bike shop. The shop was not open, but he, the shop owner, was having coffee across the street, saw us looking in the shop window, and came over to see if we were broke down and needed him to open special. Nice guy.

Also, our Okanogan motel was right next door to a rather large casino. Just for yucks, we walked over. You could cut the tobacco smoke with a knife. The place was nearly full on a Saturday afternoon. Yet, what a depressing place. It was like everyone there was being forced to be there. No smiling faces or big winners were observed in the 5 minutes it took for us to decide to move on.We came over Loup Loup Pass this a.m. It was 3,000 feet of climbing over a 17 mile piece of road. We took our time and had no problems whatsoever. After the pass, we coasted 12 miles down to lunch in Twisp, WA. Delicious food at the Blackbird Café.  We proceeded on to the next town which turned out to be Winthrop, WA. Wow! Winthrop was a happening place on a Sunday afternoon. The whole town is set up like an Old West stage. Shops everywhere. We went to the Mercantile for ice cream. The guy behind the counter had never heard of a blended coke float. Had to talk him through it. I'm sure he'll be spreading the news and blended coke floats will be all the northwest rage.  We're staying in a lovely camp village (The Country Inn) in Mazama tonight and tomorrow (a rest day). Lots of outdoorsy things to do here. They have all the amenities (except a tv - no SportsCenter). I think we're going to enjoy our off day. The weather also broke late this afternoon with a thunderstorm (fortunately, just after we got in). The temps have really cooled down. That will help a lot when we do our last two passes - Washington and Rainey - on Tuesday. It was the first rain we've seen in over a month. We've been really blessed with the weather since the first week of our trip.  
The Northern Cascade Mtn range. Breathtaking. Picture does them no justice.

An apple orchard. Washington Apples!! Hundreds and hundreds of orchard acres.

At Loup Loup Pass 17 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation later.

Neat bike rack in Twisp, WA.

An old cedar wood water tank. What workmanship.

Daniel (missed his last name) and Greg (Holmes). They're 3 days from finishing the NT. They've done about 4,500 miles. Ran into them in Winthrop, WA. Greg has a CGOAB journal. He and I have kinda been keeping up with each other the last several days since it seemed we had a pretty good chance of meeting up. And we did. Safe journeys and Congratulations on a long ride well done.
Martha and Barney checking out the wild west scene in Winthrop, WA.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Day 50 - A Virtual Rest Day - 33 Downhill/Downwind Miles. That Was Fun!: Tonasket, WA to Okanogan, WA

We set today up with really short miles as a rest day.  It worked out perfect as we had a steady tailwind and the route was mostly downhill. We slept a little later and had a nice breakfast in Tonasket and still rolled into Okanogan by noon.

The weather is still hot, but the forecast predicts a change for the better beginning today. We climb the third of five passes tomorrow. It will be Loup Loup Pass. A mere 3,000 feet to climb over about 20 miles. The day will be a total of 55 miles. We'll be going to bed early to set up an early, early start to the day. We both agree it works better that way, though Martha sometimes wants to renege when the alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m. We ran into a couple of cycle tourists heading east.  One was going only as far as Spokane, the other had Wash, D.C. as his endpoint.   He better have a giddy up if he's going to beat some cool temps back east. Counting tomorrow, we've got only four riding days left on our tour. We don't know whether to be glad or sad. We truly have mixed emotions. Anyway, it's almost over, though we might squeeze in a day or two of day rides on the San Juan islands after we get to Anacortes.  What a bonus that could be.  We'll just have to see.

Sage. It thrives in this high, arid country. There are millions and millions of them. This is the real west.

Martha and Barney taking in the scenery of sage and mountain.

        We finally found some cheap gas. Wait. Is this pump working?  

Cycling tourists Kevin and Bob. Kevin is only going as far as Spokane. Bob is on his was to D.C. We gave him a couple of tips for the GAP and C&O, but it'll be a couple of months before he can use them.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Day 49 - An Easy Day. Only a 13 Mile Climb. Piece of Cake.: Republic, WA to Tonasket, WA

Today was an Easy Button day. Even though we had a 13 mile climb for starters (which we did in just a little over two hours), the rest of the ride was mostly downhill into our destination of Tonasket, WA. We're staying in a nice little motel with an adjacent laundry mat and C-Store. Everything one would ever need right here at our fingertips.
Tomorrow will be essentially a rest day as we'll only go 30 miles through the valley. Then we hit the passes again. Two down, three to go. Our confidence is pretty high. The toughest remaining day will be a two pass/76 mile/no services day. That's okay. We're tuffed up and ready for anything coming down the road. Adapt. Improvise. Overcome.

At the summit. 13 miles. Just two hours to climb.

Martha's looking for her needle.

Snack break scenery.

Hard to see, but that's a range of snow capped mtns in the distance.