Sunday, August 28, 2016

Day 82 - 8/28/16 Missoula, MT - Day Off

The back door is left wide open all day and is closed but not locked at night, just like all the other doors that lead into this shared space.  A laminated booklet hangs by the door informing any travelers what kinds of facilities are available and where to find them in the house and what kind of behavior is expected.  There's a drum set and a baby grand in the living room among all the bicycles from all the cyclists stopping through.  

A spiral staircase leads to the second floor – I wonder how old this house is or what it looked like before it became this haven for touring cyclists.  Today, in the afternoon I lay on one of the couches in the sun room.  The owner is actually here today but, no one else.  He's nice but not very talkative, a person might feel uncomfortable not chatting it up with their host but, I can tell he wants me to feel at home, not like he's doing me this grand favor; so I kick my feet up and doze off or read or whatever I'm capable of on this lazy Sunday afternoon.  

This morning I took my bike out for coffee, donuts, and errands, playing some jazz loudly from the speaker I carry on my handlebars.  

The sun was shining and the early morning air was nice and cool on my skin and didn't heat up until I got back to the house.  Missoula is a wonderful city, I'm already planning on coming back, maybe even live in this house for a week, who knows.

Day 81 - 8/27/16 Drummond to Missoula, MT

Today has been one of those days where the universe just wants to tell me everything is good, keep doing what you're doing.  At the beginning of this trip I never planned on going through Montana, let alone make it as far North as Missoula but, here I am.  I've heard the name many times from a Jimmy Buffet song and it always rang out in my head a little longer than other cities he sings about.  But still, that's not what brought me here.  

I guess it just became part of the route somehow along the way.  When I got downtown I wanted to find a bookstore which I did.  I had some books in mind but failed to find any of them.  I did buy a book though, one called Ceremony which I was introduced to back in Buffalo, NY.  I had forgotten about it until the title jumped out at me on the shelf.  

The description appealed to me in Buffalo but, since riding through many Indian Reservations and seeing handfuls of these people drinking their lives away and looking for cheap pleasures, the synopsis struck a new chord: "A young American Indian's search for meaning to his life leads him back to his past traditions..."  So I bought it, I'll let you know how it is.  Outside the bookstore was a beautiful girl with a box full of hats and scarves and mittens and she was just sitting there knitting and smiling in the shade.  

She asked if I needed a hat for the Winter and I told her I'm hiding from the snow this year but I ended up buying one for my niece back home.  I asked her where I should get some lunch and she promptly split her salad with me – fresh greens from the farmers market.  After sitting for some time, learning about Sarah's and her fiancée's time biking and hitchhiking from West Virginia and their wedding coming up in 2 weeks, I realized my bike, a Trek 820, red, is parked right next to an identical red 820.  Never seen another bike like mine, sure enough, there's one right next to it.  In the next half hour I learned the place we're sitting outside of has incredibly cheap water bottles, the stainless steel kind that I've been wanting.  

Purchasing a couple I learn the place also sells donuts, exactly what I'd be looking for next.  So I bought a couple and ate them with Sarah and her fiancée, Richie and then some old guy came out of nowhere and started playing the most beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace on a saw.  Everything was blooming in front of me.  But I finally left for the Warm Showers home I'd be staying in.  On the back door is a 10 page packet with all the information on staying here: how to use the washer and dryer, where the shower is, who actually lives here (no one was home) and beyond that, lots of reassurance that anything goes here, just be respectful.  Easy enough.  Mi casa, su casa is what it all boiled down to.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Day 80 - 8/26/16 Deer Lodge to Drummond, MT

Today was a nice ride, nice and easy, just over 35 miles and my legs are feeling good.  Drummond's city park includes a baseball field, playground, and a campground for tents and RVs with water and electric hookups – it's always a nice surprise to come across a park like this where you know no one will bother you throughout the night and you don't have to dig a hole to shit in.  

I ride to Missoula tomorrow and I plan on taking I-90 for nearly half of the 55 mile ride.  I checked with the highway department and they told me it's fine as long as I don't interfere with traffic; I do not plan on interfering with cara moving 70 mph faster than me.  I haven't had to ride on the interstates yet but I don't feel like riding 30 miles on some neglected dirt road, I've been there and did that and fell off a bridge in the process.  

After Missoula the rest of my ride will most likely be on paved roads which is an exciting thought.  I'm really looking forward to upgrading my bicycle, I'm finally beginning to hate riding with a backpack.  To all the people that have questioned my decision to wear this thing on my ride, you were right, it sucks – the extra sweat, the added weight pushing down on my ass, it's just another handle for gravity to grab onto and pull while I'm going uphill.  I am living and learning quite a bit.  

I'm glad today went so smoothly, the last 2 days were rather bleak, having to get a ride and rest for an extra day.  I'm not going to let the pressures of the weather effect this trip anymore, I just gotta take it day by day and if I need a day of rest, I'm gonna take it.

Day 79 - 8/25/16 Deer Lodge, MT - Day Off

Dear Dan,

        You did not set out on this trip to physically abuse yourself; you wanted to see the country from the vulnerable position of your bike seat with the bare essentials to stand toe to toe with whatever bisects the road you're on.  This is not a race but, you've found yourself racing the changing of the seasons which is why you are not 100%. Physical pain prevents you from enjoying the road, the main objective of this trip.  If you do not ride your bike into Portland you will not have lost anything.  If you started this trip earlier you would've had plenty of time to take regular days off but, that was not the case and you can't do a damn thing about it now.  

You have rode over 3,000 miles on a bike that was built before the year 2000, it's been an unforgettable ride and I'm sure from this point on you will not forget to listen to your body, to be fully aware of any physical limitations.  How important it is for all of us to take care of our own needs at our own time for time itself is a goddamn illusion that makes us rush and hurry and worry.  Well, I can't justify hurting myself for the sake of achieving some sort of goal.  I just want to ride my bike, dammit.

Day 78 - 8/24/16 Whitehall to Deer Lodge, MT

It's somewhat incredible that there can be a discrepancy between what the mind wants and what the body can do.  I suppose with time and dedication anything is possible short of flying.  I recently had this surge of inspiration and excitement to bite off some long rides to make it to the end in the quickest fashion possible.  Well shit, the bite today was 20 miles too big and my mouth was already full and my jaw was tired.  It's been about 3 weeks since my last day off and my shortest ride in that time was 40 something miles.  My left knee has just been getting stiff and unwilling to meet the demands of my inspired mind.  What can you do?  Luckily, I was in an area where Uber was a resource because the hour I spent holding out my thumb yielded no ride.  I took an Uber from Anaconda to Deer Lodge and decided beforehand tomorrow will be a day off.  So I found a hotel, got 2 nights, got some chinese food, 2 tall beers and started to rest, hoping a day off us all the doctor would prescribe.

(Illustration courtesy of Bob Horan)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Day 77 - 8/23/16 Ennis to Whitehall, MT

In August when the date starts to climb into the mid 20's, people start to get that feeling in the pit of their stomachs, the feeling that summer's ending.  It's nerve wracking to jump into September, the first of the 4 'er' months, the very first sign of Fall that inevitably becomes Winter.  And I'm not exempt from this general freak-out.  

I'm not too far off from completing this trip in 3 months time, just as I thought but, I'm feeling the change of seasons in these cool evenings and frigid mornings.  I'm headed to the land of perpetual Summer, California; at least that's how I imagine it in my head.  

My mindset right now is just to plow through these next couple weeks to finish this cross-country adventure so I can start heading South for the Winter.  I've also got myself all jazzed up about getting to Portland; I can't wait to see my friend, Ben who I haven't seen since college.

I've been wanting to visit Portland for years now but, the most exciting thing that makes me want to put the pedal to the metal is I want to get a new bike when I get there, a custom-built touring bike so I can keep this ridiculous journey going in style and comfort.  But I'm still hundreds of miles away.  

There will be many cold mornings between now and then and I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, that's the easiest way to miss out on the here and now and if I'm not here then where the Hell am I?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Day 76 - 8/22/16 West Yellowstone to Ennis, MT

My first impressions of Montana compared to Wyoming are night and day.  I was confronted by a treacherous storm and opposing winds in barren grasslands in Wyoming while I've been warmly embraced by beautiful mountains and lakes with terrific tailwinds giving me that magic roll here in Montana.  

My God, the first 20 miles of today's ride wound me through the most beautiful scenery; around every bend was more mountains and more water.  At one point there were skeletons of old trees still standing in the lake with dozens of black birds perched in their branches like some species that has overtaken an abandoned city.  

I rode the rest of the 40 miles under gray skies, no doubt from a not-so-far-off forest fire; it cast the surrounding mountains in a haze, making them barely visible at times, like they were under a thin sheet of silk.  I rolled effortlessly for miles with the wind on my back.  At one stretch of no-pedaling the road was covered in crickets.  

They all sprung off the ground in wild, unpredictable directions when I rode by.  I could feel them bouncing of my bike and my bare legs.  At one point I looked down to see one on my right shoe, one on my right leg and another on my left like they were hitchhikers looking to be taken away out West like little brown Kerouacs.  It would've been nice if one of them stayed but, I got to Ennis all by myself.  

This is a small little town surrounded by rivers, clearly a fisherman's haven with more tackle shops than anything else in town.  It will be nice to stay in the park, wake up with an actual bathroom nearby and have some electricity.  I just hope no one bothers me here.

Day 75 - 8/21/16 Yellowstone National Park, WY to West Yellowstone, MT

As nice as it is being away from towns for a few days, it's kind of nice to be back in town.  I think I just needed some hot pizza and a cold, sugary drink.  Well I got that, plus some groceries and now it's back to the outskirts of town.  

West Yellowstone is made up of motels, gift shops and restaurants, I guess for all the people about to abandon civilization and head into the park.  I guessed right that this place wouldn't be so friendly to the stealth camper, West Yellowstone just wants to take your money.  So I headed for the rangers station just North of town;

a very nice woman, who's also done her fair share of bike touring, knew exactly what I was looking for.  On a big wall map she pointed to a small service road just off the main highway 10 miles North, exactly where I was heading anyway.  The road was just opposite from a beautiful blue lake surrounded by mountains and I found the perfect patch of dirt to set up my tent looking out on the water.  It's amazing what sort of sleeping arrangements you can scrounge up for free.  

So I sat down and watched the sunset, I got everything set up just in time to crawl in my tent once the sun dipped behind the distant mountains and the air got cold.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Day 74 - 8/20/16 Lewis Lake Campground to Goose Lake, Yellowstone National Park

I don't always find time to write at the end of each day, some things take higher priority like, eating and sleeping.  So here I am in my tent, another chilly morning in Yellowstone on the edge of Goose Lake in what's considered the 'backcountry'.  A wrong turn brought me to this situation. 

I was aiming for a short ride along Yellowstone Lake to a campground over there but, I wasn't paying attention where the road split and ended up miles in the wrong direction before I realized.  So I ended up at Old Faithful, the biggest draw for tourism in this park; there was a whole complex of hotels and restaurants and gift shops just in this one area.  Yellowstone is probably the most visited national park and this is the hub of it all.  Get me out.  

But the closest campground was about 20 miles away, something I didn't want to attempt at 5:00pm when it would start to get real cold by the time I got there.  So, talking to the ranger at the nearest station trying to find out if there's any other options, I learn there is, and I also learn there's a forest fire going on up near the campground that's 20 miles away.  

He didn't seem too phased about it, he was trying pretty hard to convince his coworker to go out for drinks with him.  He said I shouldn't worry about the fire, 'the winds are blowing North and won't affect you,' said the ranger that looked like Jack Frost from one of those stop-motion Christmas movies from the 60's with his long white hair and soul patch beneath his lip.  Since I didn't want to ride the 20 miles, he told me of a backcountry site only 8 miles away.  

So he quickly filled out the permit for me, sent me on my way and went back to trying to get this girl to go out on a date, briefly mentioning I'd have to hang my food up to keep it away from bears.  So I headed off to flaming bear country and got here around 6:30, just in time to set up camp, eat, purift some water from the lake, dig some holes to shit in and hang my food before the temperature dropped too low.  

I couldn't be more thankful for making that wrong turn.  Everywhere I've gone in this park so far is filled with people, whether on the road or at the campsites or at any of the overlooks along the park, you just can't get away from people; except in the backcountry.  It's just me here, this whole lake to myself, all the colors and smells and sounds are just for me; the rich scent of pine mixed with the distant fire,


the rose quartz clouds slowly fading and the earth turning dark green and ochre, whatever birds making whatever kind of noises they make and the wolves out in the distance howling for the moon.  You don't get this in a campground with 80 something sites with water and electric hookups.  You don't get the sense that you're out in nature there.  

Not like this.  Before last night I felt like I didn't get to see a lot of Yellowstone; the view from the main road doesn't reveal all the spectacular views you want, I think you need to take to the trails for that, something I just didn't have the time or energy to do.  But camping on this lake all to myself gave me a great intimate viewing of the land so beautiful it became the first National Park.

Day 73 - 8/19/16 Grand Teton National Park to Yellowstone National Park

Getting to the campsite yesterday around 12, I was more than ready for lunch and so I scarfed down a can of refried beans mixed with a bag of ready rice.  It was everything I wanted until I got a terrible stomach cramp.  I must've eaten too fast.  So I smoked in my tent and tried to sleep it off.  I didn't really feel better 'til this morning but, that's okay because it rained off and on throughout the afternoon and into the night; not a bad day to laze around in the tent.  

It was cold when I went to bed and just as cold when I woke up at 5:30 and still as cold when I hit the road at 7:00.  Bundled up with pants, jacket, hat and full-length gloves, not the regular fingerless bike gloves, I was off to Yellowstone.  Passing by the Tetons again on the way out I was sad I couldn't soend more time near them, seeing their reflection in the blue mirror of Jackson Lake.  

In the early morning their peaks were covered by clouds, not yet awake; I thought about how good it feela to pull my sleeping bag over my head and snooze for another 30 minutes.  The ride into Yellowstone was through a green hallway of regal-looking pines, tall and thin but filled with emerald needles from top to bottom.  

It smelled like Christmas all around and I thought about work in the wintertime and all the joys the holidays bring; every big whiff made me forget where I was and what month I was in.  Finally, a break in the long green hall appeared and I could see into the canyon below, all the way to the dark river winding through the bright green grass and up from there, the slanted walls were precarious platforms for the pines, looking like a strong gust might cause them to fall so far down but, they held what little ground they had.  

Out on the horizon I was amazed to see the sea of green stretching further into high hills, up to mountain peaks that seemed so far above me; I've never had a view that saw so low and so high at the same time.  Again, I felt smal and terribly happy that I can be here, a tiny lens taking it all in.

Day 72 - 8/18/16 Shoshone National Forest to Grand Teton National Park

The campsite last night was wonderful, quietly tucked away in the forest, looking up I could only see the tips of tall, thin pines with purple peaks of the mountains in the distance.  The air was cold and crisp at 5:00am, I might've wanted to crawl back in my warm sleeping bag but, I was too excited to cross the Togwotee Pass and ride into the Tetons.  

To be honest, I was kind of surprised when I got to the peak of the pass, it was only 7 miles from where I woke up.  I guess I did the hard part yesterday.  Seeing that I was 9,500 feet above sea level was amazing, and then going a little further and seeing I was crossing the Continental Divide; I think I'm really in the West now, I flowed downhill in the direction of all rivers now.  

17 miles of downhill is more than I could've asked for.  I went down screaming like a little kid with pure joy that only comes from riding your bike down a steep hill.  Before I was even halfway down, the road twisted and the view opened up to reveal the massive Tetons.  

I though they were clouds coming over the distant horizon but soon realized they were the giant mountains I was heading towards.  They barely looked real, like some kind of painted backdrop you see on a stage play but, as you get closer and closer, you are inside the painted world at the feet of the towering mountains.  

There's nothing quite like being reminded how small you are, that and the morning light will never get old.

Day 71 - 8/17/16 Crowheart to Dubois, WY (Shoshone National Forest)

Crowheart to Dubois is only 30 miles.  It was a windy 30 miles but I kept telling myself, 'don't rush, take your time.'  When the wind is pushing against you, pushing back only makes the wind push harder; there is a happy medium, it's not very fast but, it doesn't kill you.  

After picking up my new bike chain that mom mailed to me from the post office and after I got some donuts, I left Dubois for the second leg of my ride today.  Tomorrow I'll be in Grand Teton National Park and to get there I have to ride about 65 miles through Shoshone National Forest.

 I saw on the map a lodge/general store 20 miles past Dubois, perfect for filling up water then finding a place to camp.  The forest is gorgeous.  Wyoming is finally changing for the better from barren grasslands to breathtaking mountains with dense forests and lakes and rivers running through it all.  At the Lava Mountain Lodge I parked myself out front to charge my devices when a couple more bikers, fully loaded, came rolling in. 

Not 10 minutes later, another couple of bikers came in from the other direction.  Nick and Gavin, probably mid to late 20's, just like me, are doing the Great Divide trail, riding from South to North.  The other couple who's names I did not get were going North to South with their 1 year old in a trailer on the back.  They must've been from France considering they were speaking French with a little bit of English to say Hello anyways.  

Nick and Gavin took off, heading in the direction I'd soon be following; the French family got a cabin for the night and I was by myself again.  Another 10 minutes goes by and sure enough, 2 more bikers are coming from the North part of the Great Divide trail heading South.  This couple is from Alaska.  They just sold all their stuff, bought a place in Arizona, and took off on their bikes.  They just wanted to try something new, they told me.  

I can understand that.  They got a room at the lodge too, maybe they'll ride with the Frenchies tomorrow, that's always fun.  I didn't linger much longer after that.  The campground I had in mind was 3 miles away so I trudged further into the forest.  This place is beautiful, nature is beautiful. I'll just have to leave it at that 'til tomorrow.