Monday, May 30, 2011

Day 29: Sloth

There was a winter storm and flood warning in effect, so I took the last 2 days off.

Yesterday, I spent the entire day lying in bed eating cookies and PopTarts and watching YouTube videos. From 10 a.m. until 2 a.m., non-stop, 16 hours passed in 2.5 minute mildly interesting increments.

Strangely, all I remember from that time are the differences between brown and black bears, and some technical information about electronic cigarettes.

It was incredibly satisfying.

Here's a neat picture of Beaverhead rock, where the Lewis and Clark expedition miraculously found Sacagawea's brother's tribe, who gave them some horses, which allowed them to cross the mountains before winter arrived, instead of perishing on Montana's vast frozen plains.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Odds and Ends

Some stuff I wanted to remember, but couldn't fit earlier.

On the way up the steep side of one mountain, I startled a herd of big-horn sheep. I startle a lot of animals because the bike is nearly silent, which allows me to see a lot of animals, albeit only in startled form.

The sheep jumped up over the guardrail of the highway, maybe 20 feet in front of me. Close enough to smell. They crossed the road and climbed up the other side, except for one sheep who stopped climbing and stood staring at me curiously, maybe 40 feet away. I pulled my bicycle to the shoulder and sang to him for a couple minutes.

I've been singing to animals since there aren't any people to talk to. There's a song for dogs, and one for horses, and a really silly one for cows that has an extra verse if they moo while I'm singing it.

The big-horn listened for a while, then hurried off to catch up with the other ones. There's a picture of them below.

Animals I've seen on this trip but hadn't seen before:

Big Horn Sheep

Day 26: Like a mouse

After the scary, freezing mountain climb the other day I had to take a break, both because it was snowing, and to de-scare-ify myself. I hid in a little wooden cabin for 2 days, listening to the wind whip the snow around and eating beef, trying to put some hair on my chest. There was a huge swimming pool there, fed by a hot spring, where I did some swimming.

This part of Montana has an elevation between 5000 and 7000 feet. It's cold and intimidating.

This morning, I crept out of my hidey-hole like a little mouse, with about 30 plastic bags wrapped around my feet, and rode 50 miles to Dillon, MT.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 24: Holy crap!

Every time I think I've become a cycling stud, with the miles giving themselves up readily under my muscular thighs (haha), some new geological/meteorological horror arises like a vengeful God, smiting me for my prideful ways.

Yesterday, I got smited real good.

There was a loooong climb up over the Continental Divide, 4000 feet of climbing to the summit, 7500 feet. It was raining and chilly, about 45 degrees at the bottom, freezing cold and snowy at the top.

I'd been riding for 8 days straight, so I was kind of tired, and there was supposed to be a restaurant near the top of the mountain but it was closed, so I was very hungry.

Whenever you read those stories about people dying in the wilderness - like the family that takes a drive into the mountains and gets lost, then the car gets stuck so dad heads off into the snow to find help, but dies 2 miles from Texaco - they all start with some minor thing going wrong, which causes other small things to fail, which eventually leads to a cascade of screwups, leading to the Ultimate Failure.

Yesterday was like that. Since I don't have the right clothing for prolonged exposure to cold, it's important that minor things don't fail, initiating that scary cascade of screwups.

But...because I hadn't taken a break in 8 days, I was slow. And since I relied on that closed restaurant for food, I was hungry - which made me slower. The rain eventually soaked through everything, making me cold, which made me slower still, which kept me on the mountain longer, which got colder the higher I went, sapping all my energy, slower and colder, with each passing minute.

I panicked. I thought that I'd been on the mountain for so long that I must have missed a turn. I turned on the GPS and misread the direction. The turn was a couple miles ahead, but I thought it said behind, so I turned around and headed downhill like a total idiot.

Eventually I realized the mistake and turned around, reclimbing the same cursed patch of road until finally, some foggy white and frozen amount of time later, I reached the summit. It was all downhill from there.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A word from our sponsor.

I stayed in a great place in Darby, MT last night - The Mountain Spirit Inn.

Darby is a neat little frontier town with all kinds of cool things to do, and is the perfect distance from Missoula to pause, for cyclists on the Trams-Am route.

I promised the friendly couple that ran the motel that I'd plug them in my blog, so if any 6 of you reading go to Montana, you should stay there.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day 21: Picture dump pt. 2

Day 21: Picture dump

Just arrived in Missoula, MT. That's 2 states I've crossed now: Oregon and Idaho. Yay me!

The weather has been remarkably pleasant in the past couple days, warm and clear, only occasionally tossing a playful bucket of ice and water, like a mischevious old friend.

I've taken advantage of the nice weather by spending a lot of time lollygagging in the woods. Camping and poking around in the bushes and chucking rocks in streams.

I haven't been bathing much, so I smell a lot like a piece of cheese that's been stored in a sock.

To remedy that, I'm off to the shower, but here are some pictures, backlogged from the Land Without Wifi.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day 12 - 14: Catching up

Phone and internet dropped out for a while, and I need to catch up on some past stuff.

I stayed at a very busy campground near the Idaho border. The camp host had no change, so I wandered the grounds asking people if they could break a $20. Finally, one woman did, and we chatted for a while and as I left she said "C'mon by later, I got plenty of vodka."

I got back to my campsite and set up my tent. The day was hot and clear, but on the horizon was an inevitable black swirling mass of thunderheads, promising the usual dramatic weather change. I have not yet passed a day where I haven't been both sunburnt and snowed upon.

So I made double sure to fasten everything down tightly, and close the tops to my waterproof bags.

Then, sure enough a strong wind kicks up, and the thunderheads are rolling directly above and there's a sort of curtain, where the clouds extend down, merging with the earth, that's actually a wall of falling rain. And a big whooshing sound commences as the wind speeds up violently, slapping against my tent. Then, faster! Faster! Violently whipping against it. My rain fly and one side of the tent are bowed out like a sail, and the whole thing is flapping like it's coming apart. I jump inside to avoid the rain that's coming down now in sheets, but once inside, I'm pounded by the tent, which is flexing and popping crazily against the side of my head. Convinced that it's about to be torn apart, I jump out and begin dismantling it.

I get everything un-hung, and lay out a plastic sheet on the ground, and try to figure out a way to slip inside my sleeping bag and inside the collapsed tent, and all the rain is coming down, and lightning is falling on the hills all around me, and I can't figure out how to keep the collapsed tent from laying waterlogged on my face all night, so I keep trying different configurations like tying a cord to the picnic table to hang the top of the tent, but nothing seems very stable in the horrible wind.

So, defeated, I re-string my tent up between the trees, and crawl miserably inside into my damp sleeping bag and spent a fitful night tossing as the wind pounds the side of the tent into my head like a deranged prizefighter.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Day 15 - Rough Men

The people in Idaho are a little different from the ones in Oregon. Oregon people are mostly either retirees or hippies. In Idaho they seem harder, like someone crossed an auto-mechanic with a Hell's Angel.

In one town, I stepped into a shop (whose sidewalk display was a taxidermied coyote wearing an Obama mask) and said, "How ya doin?" and 2 members of ZZ Top looked up from behind the counter and stared at me in total silence.

At the motel last night, there were 3 rednecks staying in the next room (I mean redneck descriptively, not necessarily derogatorily - if that's even a word) and one of the 3 rednecks was black!

I told the story of the black redneck to Natasha and she does not believe it AT ALL. So now apparently I have to find a second black redneck and take his picture, in order to prove their existence.

I'm not so sure I can find another one and get his photo, since they are obviously endangered, but if I do I will post it here and then: IN YOUR FACE Natasha!

Day 11 - Eating

Dad asked me about food. I'm burning around 6000 calories a day, so besides pedalling, food is my main preoccupation. Pre-trip, food meant picking a restaurant. Now it is a complicated subject requiring endless planning and deliberation.

First thing to think about is the procurement of food. The factors to be considered are the distance to be traveled that day (which depends on weather, terrain, and morale), the location of food sellers within that distance, the type of seller (gas station, mini- mart, grocery store), and the type cooking facilities available when I need to eat (camp stove, microwave, kitchenette).

Then, there's the selecting of food, which must be lightweight, not take up too much room in the bag, have high calories, decent nutrition, and not require refridgeration or elaborate preparation.

Early on, I found that I missed fresh vegetables terribly, so now I eat either a bag of salad mix or a thawed bag of frozen veggies every day.

I also found that going without protein for very long sucks. Lots of grocery stores sell cooked chicken, which is great, or I can usually find burger joints.

One metric I use for selecting food: calories per ounce. Higher is better, and adding some kind of super high-calorie food like chocolate, to the mix is really helpful.

Things that work well as food:

- sugary kids cereal (this supplements everything, everyday)
- cottage cheese and berries
- frozen burritos (they're everywhere)
- cookies

Stuff that failed as food:

- canned goods (too heavy, not enough calories)
- tortillas
- fast food milkshakes (they don't actually seem to be food)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Interlude B

Still awake, so here's the other story:

According to the John Day Fossil Center, starting many millions of years ago, Northeast Oregon was regularly destroyed by enormous volcanic eruptions. From these would flow Old Testament style rivers of mud and lava, smothering everything living under thick sheets of burning rock.

This would happen every 5-10 million years, and after each apocalypse, animal and plant life would gradually return. Because the eruptions were spaced so far apart, the climate would be slightly different each time life reappeared, and the species that returned would also be different. Some would be new species, some would return changed, having evolved in the interim, and some species would never return, having gone extinct.

One of the returners was Oreocyn. These were a kind of carnivorous pig-hyena, big brained and graceful, one of the area's most successful hunters. They were also unrelated to any other species, prehistoric or modern. A paleontological mystery.

After every eruption, Oreocyn would return and thrive for a few more million years, adapting to the new environment. Sometimes it would come back with longer legs, next time an extra toe, or a different diet, whatever the new situation required.

Then after one eruption, it didn't come back. It disapeared from the earth, leaving no descendants.

All this exists only as bone fragments embedded in stone. Isn't that amazing?

Interlude A

A couple of stories while I'm waiting to fall asleep in these black woods:

According to the Historical Marker, in the pioneer days, the Cascade Mountains were a barrier impassable to wagons. There were 2 unsuccessful attempts a building a road. The first failed to reach the summit, so the Railroad sponsored a second attempt with 360 men, 180 mules, and assorted earth-moving and tree-clearing equipment.
They reached the summit, but got stuck in the snow and thick forest, and were forced to abandon their animals and equipment in order for the men to return safely.

Finally, about 10 years later, the Army managed to build the road that's used today.

There was a man who worked both of the failed attempts, and who later found work at the Post Office, carrying mail over the summit, along this new road.

One winter, it was so cold that he died of exposure.

Day 10 - Stealth Camping

Tonight's my first night of camping on the sly. It's tricky, because you want to be hidden far enough away from the road not to catch the attention of passing serial killers, but not so far into unknown territory that you wake up on somebody's lawn.

I'm camped off HWY 7, on timber company land, about 200 yards down a small hill, next to a pretty little stream. There are a few snake holes around, but my tent hangs off the ground, so they can slither around underneath me all night with no one getting offended.

I saw a badger earlier. A big golden fat one, digging his burrow in the dirt. He hauled ass when he saw me, but there was no need to, as the market for badger pelts has dried up and I do not pack a musket.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Day 8-9

Not much time to write, on my way to another camp site and need to get there before dark. Weather and morale are both much improved.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Day 7 - Weather

The weather's no good. It slapped  rain and snow against the sides of the tent all night. Blew snow into my oatmeal this morning.

I crossed another steep mountain and sleet blasted my face the whole way, the wind slowing the bike to a crawl, turning my fingers painful then numb.

Day 6 - Camping

7 miles outside Prineville, OR

Friday, May 6, 2011

Day 5 - La Gran Montaña

I crossed over the Cascade mountains today carrying only 1 pack of oatmeal raisin cookies and a liter of water. Take that Donner Party!

It was quite cold up there. At one point I started losing feeling in my toes, so I wrapped my shoes in plastic grocery bags and covered  the bags with socks to keep them in place. The plastic acts like a vapor and wind barrier, so my tootsies heated up nicely. I think I learned that from Survivorman.

After 75 freezing, drizzly miles I arrived in Sisters, OR only to find all the motels full. I should be camping, but I'm just too hungry and tired. Hopefully, I'll toughen up soon.

There was one place available. The "romance" cabin at a bourgeois yuppie resort. The price was about 5 days of my lodging budget, but I chose that over sleeping in the park.

So now I'm in an opulent stone room in a leather chair by a big fireplace, and there's a silver champagne bucket next to a Jacuzzi tub sunken into the granite floor.

Not bad for a guy who rode into town with bags on his feet.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Day 4 - Repaired

One of the things I love about cycling is that perseverance is almost always rewarded. Getting to the top of a big hill rewards you with fast ride down, and pushing to finish today's 75 mile ride makes tomorrow's easier. On a bike, I'm constantly being rewarded for trying my best.

I don't know why the cycling part of life operates differently than the rest of it, but I'm grateful.

Yesterday, the campground I  planned on staying at was closed,
and there was kind of a fork in the road there.

One way would have taken me back to Eugene (and Amtrak). The other went on to the next town. Either way meant 30 more miles of riding on my shitty ankle. 

It would've been prudent to head to Eugene in case my ankle got worse. Then, I could hop back on the train and go home and let it heal for a couple weeks and maybe try again next year.

But I went on to Junction City because I suspected that if I put forth my best effort (in yesterday's case, lowering the seat and pedalling on my heel to reduce the flexing of my ankle and taking aspirin to reduce swelling) that preserverance would be rewarded.

And it was! This morning the ankle was sore, but no longer painful.

So it's night now and I'm 70 miles further down the road in a wood cabin by a big river feeling very thankful.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Day 3 - Repairs

Yesterday a mysterious clicking developed from someplace in my drivetrain. I've tightened all the tightenable parts, but it persists.
This could be nothing, or it could be the ticking of a time-bomb. Stay tuned for the exciting (or boring) conclusion!

Also, during the dramatic wheel-dipping ceremony, I accidentally dropped the bike into the sand, coating the oiled parts like a sugar donut. This is horrible for a bicycle, like pedaling it through sandpaper. I spent part of the morning cleaning every crevice out with a toothbrush.

After just 2 days of riding, my Achilles tendon is swollen and painful. The last time I had an Achilles problem it took weeks to heal and pedalling made it worse. Worry, worry, worry.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Day 2 - Wheel Dipped!

90ish miles...too hungry to type.

Tomorrow: I'm camping at Triangle Lake. Probably incommunicado.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Day 1

The train arrived late and was a little seedier and a lot more desperate than I remembered. On board, an agitated dermatologist warned me that the sandals I was wearing would allow parasites from the soil to infest my body. Sandals are a young man's shoe, he said. By the time I hit 60, it will all be over. When I asked him how it would end, he looked around uncomfortably, muttered something and walked off.

Later, at some dark pre-dawn station, 2 loud parolees boarded the train talking about drugs and time- served, waking everyone up, and we were too sleepy and cowardly to shush them.

Then morning came and the daylight revealed our toy-like train was running along the edge of a vast blue lake ringed with snowy mountains. Birds of all kinds whirled above the water searching for fish, and watching them finally  eased the remaining doubts I had about taking this trip.

Then, it snowed!