Sunday, July 31, 2011

Over the McKenzie Pass. Free camping always.

Lazy. Tired. I know what to do: move it. But I don't. I'm barely packed up by 10am. Then I just go to the lush green Sisters Commons to unpack it all again. I need to do chores: charge my phones, re-pack and organize my jumbled mess of gear. I need to try out my new round of PBJ ingredients.

With all that accomplished, I was off. But it was a false start. I didn't sit down on a toilet yet, and I thought my tires might be a bit low on pressure. So I rode around in a slow pointless manner.

Then I saw a $3.50 breakfast special. I knew it would be a blow to the budget, but I figured I could manage it. The eggs, sausage, and biscuit were confirmation that touring cyclists are better served by avoiding these prepared foods. I've gotten hungry during this challenge, but I think the solution is for my mind and body to adjust. I'm not doing myself physical abuse with the budget diet. If anything, I believe I'm doing myself a huge nutritional favor. The budget diet isn't a well-balanced organic gourmet, but it's closer to healthy than the regimen of grease and horseshit that I seem so well trained to crave.

So I ate a dry crummy breakfast out of a hinged styrofoam coffin. I paid with a sweaty fistful of change.

I've squandered most of my early-start opportunities. Maybe next tour I'll roll out daily at half-seven, but not this round. I sat on a bench and waited for inspiration to leave.

I always start out pretty slow, but soon I found myself leaping up the relatively easy grade toward the McKenzie Pass. I had a conversation with a guy at the lookout. I told him a few things about my trip so far. "Do you take donations?" he asked.

"No, no, no" I said. I made the gesture for no: hand out; palm down - polishing an invisible stone. I should have taken his money. I don't need it, but what's the difference? Pride? Why did he offer me money? I guess to him it looked like I needed it. But I'd prefer a person to be jealous of jubilation rather than compelled to squander charity on me.

The climb and summit were my favorite of the entire trip. I think that's true. I looked out over lava beds which contrasted nicely with snowy mountain peaks and a couple untouched green areas where the lava left islands of lush life. The descent was a steep snake. I went from 5,300ft to under 2,000 dropping like a rock as the heat returned toward the bottom. Large vehicles are not allowed on the narrow scenic road. The vehicles which are allowed seem generally willing to spare human life.

I goofed around at a ranger station and charged all of my phones at an outside outlet. I watched every available educational clip on a television in the air conditioned log edifice. Eventually, all I had left to do was eat a PBJ and move on.

Tired of PBJ? You must not be me. The more I eat them, the more I like them. Each batch has a new personality as the ingredients change and they spend various amounts of time stacked in a grocery bag in my luggage. Firm, mushy, fancy, cheap. PBJ is great to eat.

I rode downhill slowly into the wind feeling like I was wearing a parachute. I saw a girl on a loaded touring bicycle. Ellen! We'd met in Kansas right before the night I thought I might die. I pulled over so we could compare notes. I followed her to the RV bees nest where the ACA group was building its nightly hive of personalities. We talked for a minute. Then I talked to someone else. Then I made more PBJs. Then I got sneaky and took a free shower. I left feeling great.

The final mission was to secure some free camping. I turned toward a sign for National Forest camping. I hoped for free, but went about three miles off route down a tiny dead-end road to see a sign asking for $14. There was even a passive aggressive addendum admonishing people who don't pay promptly. Nope. Not gonna happen, dudes.

I backtracked up the road a mile and noticed a curious piece of singletrack starting behind a rotted log. Promising. I hiked back with my bicycle, guiding it through underbrush toward a beautiful secret spot along the McKenzie River... complete with travelin' kids. They were drinking Busch as the guy cut vegetables on a magazine cover. Whoops. I apologized for materializing in their camp. Clearly the apology wasn't necessary. We all knew that nobody can really own god's green earth. All people can do is pay other humans to put up fences on it. We were all here because paying $14 for camping seems stupid when you're surrounded by millions of acres of forest.

The guy was a skinny shirtless long-hair in a Pink Floyd hat. They were hitchhiking around and traveling light and cheap. They're the type that might have identified as 'family' if there was no secret territorial thinking in the back of everybody's mind. I chatted with them for a few minutes, and the guy mentioned there was a similar spot about a half mile up the river. I gave them back their personal space, and headed back up the skinny dirt path.

I found the other secret camping spot as described. I had my own spot. It was much prettier and better in every way than the spots in the official "fee area." I set up camp, and drank the smallest amount of whiskey ever. I cooked 33 cents worth of "Betty Baker" mac and cheese, and began to read until the sun went down. I looked at endless stars and slept to the sound of the river.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Staying cheap and colorful.

It was another cold night, but a manageable one. The cold air, combined with the fact that I'm a wuss, means that I stay covered up until the air gets reasonably warm. Starting earlier would mean less time spent baking in the sun, but it's a tough sell before 7am.

I made a lot of soggy oatmeal with a dab of jelly and some salt. I had my Folgers. I have enough food left to attempt a $0.00 spending day. Counting $5 each day means that I have an additional un-spent $1.43 in the budget. I still can't afford PBJ and bread for $6.43 at the small grocery store in town. If I can skip a day of spending, I will have $11.43 for groceries when I wake up in Sisters Oregon tomorrow morning. Thinking about this remindes me of the $1 peanut butter and $1 jelly I found in Lander Wyoming. Budget-wise, that would be quite helpful right now.

I have enough ingredients for three PBJs today. I have a packet of "Hammer Gel" I was given in Butte Montana (huckleberry flavor, naturally). I have a couple Clif Bars and plenty of Ramen. I have a packet of 20-minute rice, and a can of chili. I ought to have no worries - but the challenge remains... challenging. I guess that's the point.

I feel like I'm learning something about money and hunger. Just a slight something. Like: I have always had money, and I have never been hungry. This challenge would be simple for anybody who has ever faced adversity. It would be comfortable oppulence for a sizable segment of the population. For me there's a learning curve. I'm happy that I'm learning and I didn't fuck it up quite yet.

I sat at a picnic table. I pulled over to get water and take a break from the heat. I listened to a woman whine about being hungry while her husband ate handfuls of peanuts. Don't worry: they will soon "stop somewhere."

I continued into the heat. I pushed forcefully into a strong headwind. A discount grocery outlet made me swing a u-turn. Promising!

I entered through the automatic doors to look for the best items my $6.43 could buy. With $6.10 I exited with a boutiful bag. Bread, peanut butter, jelly, can of lentil soup, box of mac n' cheese, $0.50 ice cream cone. Boom. The jelly actually looks good - rasperry jam, in fact. The bread is the wheat bread you would expect for $1.09, and the peanut butter doesn't look like complete Alpo either. Success.

I found more great swimming in the Deschutes River. A long line of parked cars indicated that this was a popular swimming hole. I parked and walked down a narrow dusty path to the river. It was narrow, fast and deep. I removed my shoes and dove in with full riding attire.

I wrung the salt from my shirt and took a few minutes to soak. I took the opportunity to read the tattoos of the guy swimming near me. "White Power." I looked again to scan for irony. None. He was buff, shaved bald and white power seemed indeed to be his thing. I was happy to be flying my colors, too. Bright colorful heart tattoos in a ring around my puny right bicep. Love. Or at least interest, curiosity, hope or acceptance. It's important to show your colors if you have them in your heart. I won't hide myself if I can help it. I have bright colors in my heart and mind. I want to show those colors on the outside. And I don't want to grow up in the dull-normal sense.

I arrived in Sisters approaching a low-level delirium. I was not impressed to see that the city park charges money. I won't pay to be proximate to pointless campfires and errant guffaws. I turned back to go into town. Some mountain cyclists on Ellsworths pointed me toward the trailheads outside of town. I also asked at the fire department. I had an idea of where I could camp for free, so I filled my bottles and headed in that direction.

I got a nice piece of ground that looked safe and sound. I set up my tent and juggled food and cooking items. My tent is spacious, and I've gotten in the habit of setting it up with all the amenities and gear you might find in the average mansion. It takes a lot of rifling around and sorting, but I can really make a tent a home these days. I cooked on the front porch.

I had a bit of whiskey. I took a couple days off, but not tonight. If I was going to abstain for longer, then carrying it around in my pannier was probably the wrong approach. No bigs. Whiskey: I had some.

My life and my future are a tug of war between comfort and frugality. I crave simplicity and autonomy, but still find comfort in typical stuff like apartments and TV. Being alone on this trip is good for my health. So is living in a van. But both of those things take dedication and a little bit more work. Bicycle trips and vandwelling both yield wonderful and unparalleled mental results. I am enriched by my experiences with both, and I am still learning.

Expense Report:
$6.10 - Bread, PBJ, lentil soup can, mac n' cheese box, ice cream cone.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Heavily abridged Hullabaloo

"The Coastal Challenge." It's on, baby. I am continuing to attempt spending less than $5 per day. I broke down camp and set off for the grocery store where I would try to do good.

I spent $3.29 on chili, Ramen, yogurt and a couple bananas. I took my camp mug inside and filled it with hot water from the spigot on the coffee machine. I went to a bench outside to spoon in some instant crystals. I spread out a grocery bag to make a work surface for PBJ assembly. I made a stack of sandwiches. I poured plenty of oats into my cup of yogurt. I had a banana and sat on the bench feeling like a king. So far, so good. After taking a moment to enjoy sitting, I put the stack of sandwiches into the grocery bag, wrapped and folded it all up, and put it carefully in my pannier where it will begin getting squished. I call the squished mushy sandwiches "food bombs," and I enjoy them immensely. They contain the ideal dosage of instant power.

A young girl sat on the opposite end of the bench and she wanted to talk. She cradled a gallon of milk, and she smiled when she sat down. If she wanted to talk, she could - but she was being polite and not interrupting me as a I wrote about 500 words in my notebook. I'm getting used to writing by hand again, and my scrawl is getting quicker and less tiring. Pages are pouring out, and all this hullabaloo is heavily abridged.

She was about fifteen and her shoelaces were two bright and mismatched colors. Trustworthy. We talked about traveling, and I tried to describe some logistics of Hoopty travel and give some honest thoughts about my feelings. She's gone backpacking before. Her dad let a foot traveler stay at their house for a few days last year.

A short hot ride out of town brought me into a beautiful canyon with tall rock walls on either side. The scenic road snaked beside the crystal clear John Day River. There were several reasonable places to get into the water, but soon the road turned away and it seemed like I'd missed my chance. I was sweating, hot, and in no particular hurry. I turned around and leaned my bicycle on a guard rail. I walked back about a quarter mile, and eased myself down the steep rocks to the water. The river was deep and clear. Without hesitation, I dove off a large boulder and was fully submerged without doing the whole toe temperature testing rigamarole. I believe this to be the best way to enter any body of water.

I started out again with my riding clothes completely saturated. Within a mile I was bone dry again. I continued to climb for many miles. I felt good, but the feeling didn't last. By the time I reached Mitchell Oregon, I was thoroughly exhausted and obviously dehydrated.

I was within an inch of increasing my budget or throwing it out altogether. But I limited myself to a large iced tea, and managed to stay within my self-imposed limit. I asked for confirmation and was told yes - the city park has bicycle travelers camping in it all the time. It was fine and it was free.

I sat on a pale yellow bench in the park and I was obviously warped and effected by the day. A random couple came to have a picnic, and were nice enough to offer me some salmon and cream cheese on Ritz crackers. I talked about bicycle touring and mentioned a few of the beautiful things I've seen. I refused the $5 he gave me, but didn't continue to refuse it when he insisted. Honestly, it was a pretty lousy show of refusal on my part.

I did a shitty job of cooking dinner on my alcohol stove - but even so was able to make plenty of food to stay strong and feel full.

Expense Report:
$3.29  -  chili, Ramen, yogurt and a couple bananas
$0.99  -  Arizona tea

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Coastal Challenge

I woke up feeling mildly like shit. The tent gained stuffiness quickly. There was no shade to protect it from the rising sun. I managed to steal an extra hour of sleep, but too soon it was necessary to pack up slowly and move along.

I rolled slowly. I made it a few blocks to... McDonalds. I filled my waterbottles with ice and water, and found myself compelled to get an Egg McMuffin meal. I guess after beating myself up with whiskey at night, I decided to knock myself around a little bit first thing in the morning too. I sat in a corner and watched chaos hold its breath. A surreal and strange cast of characters rotated through the doors. I reminded myself that to the casual observer, I was the strange one here. Profound. It's hard to imagine that McDonalds made an effort to serve better coffee. They might as well give those dice another roll...

I had a long day of mostly climbing with almost no resources along the route. I found myself at my end destination with only a few sips of water. I'd been rationing sips for several hours. At the National Forest campground there was a note. It was an apology for there being no potable water. Asking price? $12. Fuck off twice.

Fortunately, I only had a little bit more climbing before a long descent into a valley. I was ten miles from a town. Halfway down the mountain, I stopped to gawk at a huge model of a covered wagon. I asked a couple to take my picture with it, and a minute later they were giving me a half gallon of cold water and apologizing that it was three days old. I drank a bottle right there and another on the descent.

I made it to water, and continued on the route. I felt fine, and there was enough sun to let me still be a little picky about camping spots. I got to the town of John Day and found my spot along the river. I set up my tent in tall grass by the clear river. I couldn't be seen from the road, but someone might spot me from a walking path. I doubted it mattered in any case. I didn't have a signed note from the sheriff, but aside from that, the spot looked plenty low key and reasonably legit. Done.

I dunked myself in the river. I rinsed the salt and sweat out of my clothes in the cold water while I was at it.

Expense-wise, I did well today. After the strange McDonalds splurge, I didn't buy anything else. I decided to challenge myself. From this point - for at least awhile - I will try not to spend more than $5 per day. If I could stick to that budget, I would consider myself a superhero. $10 is more realistic and easy. It still shows relative discipline, but it's an easier amount to work with. But this is a challenge, and technically I think it's possible. I have a small stockpile of food that will help.

Booze. Last night got haywire with the pouring. When I sat up and looked at the bottle, the way I felt made plenty of sense. I challenged myself to a sober day today. If that could last to the coast it would be as amazing - or more - than spending only $5-$10 per day. I'm not beating myself up about any of it. This is my trip and my life to enjoy. But - it does not escape my thinking that cutting out drinking will make me ride better. If today's 80 miles are any indication, I don't need any help. But I wouldn't mind feeling even greater.

I read a book on the Kindle. As the light faded enough to make the activity too difficult, I quit. Except for waking up when a few deer wandered close to my tent, I slept well.

Expense Report:
$4.29  -  McDonald's breakfast

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Notebooking; journaling

I got a notebook for 25 cents. I am filling it with words and ideas. I am making extremely regular updates. I like journaling. I'll update here soon, but I'm loving the notebook. No electricity, and none of my moments are slipping through the cracks.

Oregon is pretty. I ride bicycles.

The rooster woke me up at 4:26am. The rooster kept going until I finally gave up on sleep around 7am. It's not the first time a rooster has thwarted my efforts to sleep. The sum of sleep bits added up to maybe a spare hour if you mushed together the moments.

I ate yogurt and oats and made PBJ sandwiches. "Which way are you headed?" asked a couple cyclists on loaded bicycles. "West," I said, indicating with my spoon as they swept past, not breaking cadence. There was a moment before their trip when they clicked on their Performance Bike emails and filled their virtual shopping carts.

After the next long climb and mountain pass, I arrived in Richland, Oregon. I sat on a bench with coffee and oatmeal cookies as I experienced on of life's perfect moments. I watched an occasional car pass slowly as my mind drifted and my eyes went to the mountains surrounding the town. Butterflies passed as I sat on a surprisingly ergonomic handmade bench. I reflected that it was difficult for me to imagine life's difficulties. Only with logic could I understand that life isn't always easy. My heart could hardly believe it possible.

During the long climb out of town, I felt great. No hill or headwind could slow me down. I cruised easily putting out a strong effort as I wound my way through the canyons. Eventually the bottom fell out of feeling good, and I cursed as I was teased by many false summits. I'd used up my legs, and I was considerably slower as I reached my destination: Baker City Oregon.

I went to the bicycle shop to ask for camping tips, and was told that an empty field across from the YMCA on the end of town was a good bet.

I am waiting for a plate of Mexican food as I write these words. I am concerned to know that my bank account is at $343, and my wallet contains $110. Hmm. Will I need to borrow money from my parents? I'd much rather not, but I know the safety net exists. Clearly I'm not disciplined to any useful degree.

I went to the library, and I went to the park. For the sum of $2, I purchased a fantastic book. It's a book about "All Terrain Bicycles." It appears to be an unread copy, but it was published in 1985 when mountain bicycles were fairly fresh on the market. Conspicuously, there is no mention of suspension forks. They didn't exist yet. Delicious! This is essentially a book of pseudo-science which reads like fat tire propaganda. Delicious, indeed. Me and this book are aligned in full support of the Hoopty ATB - for the specific purposes of touring, commuting and exploring.

I laid out my large sheet of sil-nylon in the shaded grassy park. I read the pseudo-science and enjoyed looking at wonderful photos of early filet-brazed Ritcheys and lugged Miyatas with 68-degree headtube angles. I became tired. I pulled the thin nylon over me to block the cool breeze, I laid my head on my sleeping bag which was balled up in a stuff-sack, and I slept memorably well. I looked homeless, but I felt like a million bucks.

The YMCA was fine with me setting up a tent in their big empty field. I set up camp and returned to the town park to have a secret soda as a girl played cover songs on an Ovation guitar over a small PA system to a smattering of mostly-old audience members. She played with an ever-changing tempo, and I enjoyed hearing her rendition of a Katy Perry track.

I returned to the tent for way more whiskey while I tried to figure out how to post photos on my blog directly from my phone. I didn't quite figure it out.

Expense Report:
$3.60  -  bread, chocolate milk, yogurt
$3.99  -  oatmeal cookies with free coffee
$11.00 -  Mexican food for lunch
$9.40  -  Fifth of whiskey
$2.00  -  ATB book
Total: $29.99

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Through a canyon and into Oregon.

I woke up and was relieved to feel alright after a busy night imbibing. I hoped I wasn't too outrageous at the bar, but reasoned that it clearly wasn't a problem if I was waking up in my tent. If I got too silly, I wouldn't be coming back here anyway. This will probably be my last trip through Council.

I checked my iPod to see what song it was that I'd wanted to hear so bad. It was Daedelus; "I Car(ry) Us." Yeah, I need to hear that song several times. I need to spin pedals and roll these wheels as a breeze of strangeness whisps into every possible crevice.

I was able to arrive in Cambridge Idaho about fifteen miles after I didn't feel like riding much anymore. I called Shelly from a cute little park in town. I could have been on the bench forever. I had my fun little coffee, and I wanted to freeze time while I ate my spotty banana in the shade. I am having a great time. Still, I'm ready to be somewhere for awhile. Portland, Philadelphia... I'm ready for a break. As if I'm not being lazy enough.

As I continued, one thought prevailed: boy do I not feel like climbing another stupid mountain right now. But then I found relief. It's hard to find fault with a 7-mile descent.

The road has been bountiful today. I have been provided with wonderful decorations. First came a blue pine-tree air freshner in "new car smell." And now my rear fender sports an Idaho boat inspection sticker. My eyes are peeled, and I'm always scanning for roadside treasure.

Oregon! I reached Oregon after riding through Hell's Canyon. My legs were gelatenous as I rolled into the suggested campground in my guidebook. $10 is a fair price for this nicely maintained campground with hot showers. But my pride and sense of adventure will not allow it. I took the shower for free, ignoring the advice of signs claiming they were for overnight guests only. I would recommend this approach to a friend. I showered. Then I washed the salt out of my riding clothes in the shower. Then I washed my socks in the sink using the foamy soap from the dispenser. After wringing them out many times, they finally stopped pouring out dirt. As I air dried and ate a sandwich, I felt clean. I was refreshed and ready to find free camping. I had plenty of sunlight, and my guidebook hinted at free camping in a town park in another 18 miles.

Halfway Oregon is a nice town. I was happy to get there and cut some challenging miles out of the next day. I was happy to get to a place with cell phone service. There was also a bar. If you want a cheeseburger, fries, and two pints of Bud, expect to pay $17. Once again I realize the economic advantage of secret sodas.

I went to the Lions Club park where free camping was available in 1996. Not today, it seems. There was a sign claiming that overnight camping was not allowed. Hardly concerned, I turned back to town to resolve the matter. The first local who I talked to offered to let me camp right where I stood. He owned the Halfway Mercantile store, and he pointed out the boundaries of his property. I could find a spot that suited me, and I was welcome to set up a tent.

The night was ideal. The temperature was ideal, and there seem to be few if any mosquitoes around here. I had a couple bedtime beers, and played with my phone.

Expense Report:
$2.44  -  Yogurt, Chocolate milk, banana
$1.37  -  Mocha caffiene coffee
$0.50  -  Non-working air compressor that eats quarters
$1.46  -  Dr. Pepper, oatmeal pie snack
$4.65  -  Four, Clamato, Coke
$17.00 -  Burger, fries, 2x pint of Bud
Total = $27.42

Monday, July 25, 2011

Another town park, and some more drinking.

Once again, I got off to a sluggish start into a headwind. Before long, it was time to stop for coffee and re-adjust my life and attitude. It wasn't cheap. The coffee was $2.12, and I had to pay all over again for the third refill. Like a chump. I should have declined and asked for an ice water. I was practically paying rent for my parking spot in the corner. And I typed and typed for several hours as the sun changed its position and the coffee found its way into my brain.

Roadhat! The joy of a nice clean roadhat. I'd rather find money, but I'm cheered just the same.

After typing and finding another hat, my day started to turn around. I had several long descents, and that never hurts. I got to the tiny town of Council Idaho. The sun was beating down, and I was absolutely finished for the day. I got some lame groceries and took note of how I'm beginning to look and feel more classically homeless by the day. The cashier at the grocery store took a good long look at me, and wouldn't take my nickel when I fished it out of my pocket. Charity? I wonder what I could buy with the extra nickel.

Town parks are great for sleep. You're allowed to sleep in this one, and I was told a couple times that you can pretty much put up a tent wherever you want. But the town park looked good. I leaned up my bicycle, figured I didn't need further security measures in these parts, and set out on foot. Being that the sun was hot, and I always drink beer anyway, I went to the bar. I got what was cheap: mugs of Rolling Rock. I talked to a drunk lady about cooking and pot. I tried to spend time and push the day along.

When the drink prices went up by $.25, I made an exit. Then I made an entrance. I got more beer to go. I also got a an abstract burrito with heaps of lunch meat and spinach involved.

I returned to the campground, and to my absolute delight, Kurt and Sara were there! We chatted. As my watch beeped at 7:21pm, I was setting up my tent and talking to Kurt as he filled his water bottles. I felt a little sheepish with my large bottles of beer in a paper bag. I don't know if these guys drink, but they probably don't drink huge beers like these, and especially not on a bicycle trip where you're actually trying to get somewhere. They seem smart and reasonable. I like them a lot, and I'll give an example why in the next paragraph.

Sara and Kurt asked if I could help them out. They'd gone to the store and found that the half gallon of ice cream was only slightly more expensive than a pint. They wanted to know if I would be able to help them eat some of it because they had too much. A favor, indeed. We talked some more while we ate ice cream.

"What kind of whiskey?"

Either the bartender randomly decided to give everyone a shot, or someone bought it for me. "Yukon!" I said, getting straight to the point. There was a cheerful boistrous atmosphere. The jukebox was working just fine, and everyone seemed happy to be there.

Quite often, Tara asks if I remember what I said or did last night. The answer: sometimes. I remember getting pretty tuned up and dancing, I remember when the sheriff came in and everyone pretended that he didn't put a damper on things, and I remember being charged only $5 as the bartender made up a number out of the blue. Touring cyclist discount? I gave him $10 and made my exit.

Expense Report:
$1.60 - Orange Juice
$4.24 - Coffee (second refill is not free? Dang, dude)
$5.00 - Dinty Moore can, banana, fried chicken, notebook
$9.00 - Rolling Rock
$5.00 - Burrito
$5.20 - Olde English; Four Loko
$10.00 - Bar tab plus tip
Total = $40.04

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Serene heat and record-breaking laziness.

I woke up late. Some automatic sprinklers came on in the park last night around 2am. I knew they'd come on, but I didn't know where they were. I set up in a shady spot by a tiny stream and hoped for the best. The noise of water spraying my rainfly startled me awake, but at least I didn't set up right on top of a sprinkler. All in all, it didn't hurt anything, and it was nice to not freeze my ass of for a night.

I got up late. I waited until the tent began to get truly warm and a little stuffy. I'm right back to not caring much about making good time. If I bust my ass, I might gain 2-3 days in Portland hanging out with my friends the Klopp brothers. In any case at all, we'll have time to catch up and play some music in their practice space. Fast or slow; long miles or no - it doesn't matter, yo.

I packed my tent and began to roll after 9am. I wasn't "on the road" until 10am. I had my power breakfast of yogurt and oats, a banana, and a PBJ made yesterday. And a chocholate milk. That should suffice.

I immediately climbed a long hill and began one of my favorite descents of this entire trip. There was an 8-mile long 7% grade that looked steep as hell. The scenery was amazing. I swooped past huge grassy hills. They looked great. If not for the wind facing me, I would have been braking the entire time. As it was, I hit a top speed of 40, but mostly cruised at 30mph with no need to hit the brakes. I liked it. Boom.

I felt sluggish. The temperature was high, and the sun felt hot. I decided I would get to Riggins Idaho, and probably post up there. I was ready to call it quits.

Also - notably - I felt truly happy. I'm happy! God what a wonderful thing it is to be on a bicycle - bullshiting your way along many roads. You have to put up with a lot, but the scenery and experiences always tip the scales in favor of the adventure. RVs pass too close, then you meet somebody who you will never forget. It rains, or the weather makes you uncomfortable - then you see picturesque panoramas as you fly down the side of a mountain. I won't remember the heat and dehydration today. I will remember Riggins Idaho - the capital of horsing around with rafts on the Salmon River. Beautifully situated in a canyon; sandwiched between huge grassy hills.

I got to town and I was beat. Sluggish was the right word for it - that's how it was. I leaned my bicycle on the bar and proceeded to be stupid at 1:30pm. "Charge me money, and bring me shit my body doesn't need." That's how I could have ordered.

I laid out a big piece of sil-nylon that I have and took a nap on it behind the school. I've begun yet another book, "Chunneling Through Forty," about a girl who turns 40 and deals with it. It's on my Kindle because my mom and I have Kindles on the same Amazon account until I figure out how to connect mine to my own account (which I won't ever bother to do.) I zonked out in the shade for awhile, then had to get up when I became aware of dirty flies kissing my ankles.

I went to the grocery store where I believe they thought I was looking for something to steal. I think they didn't like me because I have erratic lines of salt forming unlikely patterns in every direction on my shirt. Either that or they honestly did want to "help me find something." I claimed to be "shopping for ideas." I made good when I bought turkey and cheese to make a new kind of sandwich.

I set out to explore the other end of town, but town was just a line along the road, and all I accomplished was an exit. I don't like to double back. I had and idea that I was going to set up a tent about 8 miles outside of town at a place that probably existed and was most likely okay. I had a slight headwind and legs that felt like jelly. I low-gear cruised it, and I didn't go far. The sun was still hot at 6pm. Or 5pm. I forget.

I stopped at a store that does it all. This guy sells beer, used boats, soda, used gear for fishing, a smattering of groceries, and beer ("Yes! It's Cold!") I can see why he had the sign - it didn't look too cold to me. I bought some shit and sat on a metal folding chair out front. I looked up at the hills to see if the sun would be shutting up any time soon. I went in and bought some more bullshit. I tried to make myself reverse the dehydration that had obviously been making me feel wacky. I did that, and then I got a lemonade Blast to fuck it all up again.

I found camp within view of the store - right by the mighty Little Salmon River. I didn't go swimming, but I took a bandanna bath with a blue bandanna that I found on a trash can in Ennis Wyoming. Me and the bandanna are both clean, and I swear it. Clean enough for a backyard barbecue.

Two additional notes: It's not a roadhat, but I found a roadjacket of the yellow cycling variety that is pristine clean, and probably retails for $80. I was fucking psyched, as you can imagine. I lost my notebook sometime today. I've kept many journals, mostly when I was younger, and often I would keep near-hourly updates on all details of everything I did. If I lost one of those journals, I would be apoplectic. Absolutely. As it was, this notebook was just a placeholder for scrawled details. It doesn't hold the same value as those other journals, but it made me uneasy when I noticed that it wasn't in a ziplock bag with a pen in the spine, tucked into my right pannier. Blast! (I had one as the sun went down and sweat dripped down my chest.)

Expense Report:
$3.10  - Yogurt, chocolate milk, loaf of bread
$12.30 - Burger; Buds
$6.20  - Turkey; Cheese
$2.00  - Arizona Tea, ice cream sammich
$4.65  - Blast; Coke
Total: $28.25 (the mistakes here are obvious...)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dining techniques of the young and squirrelly.

I packed up early after a cold fidgety night. I packed a damp tent, filled my water bottles, and ducked my bicycle and myself under the closed gate blocking the parking lot after-hours at the ranger station. I wore full winter garb, and my hands were still cold as I began spinning into a beautiful misty morning in Idaho.

I could finally peel off some layers before entering a cafe in a town boasting a population of 23. I was hungry, and the term "cleaned his plate" was invented for me. I swallowed the over-medium yolks whole, letting them burst in my mouth. I wiped the greasy plate with toast before ordering a muffin and a fourth coffee. I did another thing that I like to do: I left my area clean and overly organized. The handle of my coffee mug, and the handle of my ice water "drinking jar" were turned to the left - straight and squared - pointing perfectly parallel to the edges of the counter at which I sat. The mug handles were perfectly parallel to the edges of the folded napkins on which they sat. The napkins were folded square. The mugs were spaced evenly and equidistant from the plate. The silverware on the plate made three silver stripes - three handles pointed directly to the left. My area was free of any errant crumb. All paper trash was folded and combined into the smallest possible package which sat neatly on the plate, above the silverware and directly south and to the center of the two mugs with handles. When I sit at the counter in a cafe, this is what I do.

I met Kurt and Sara beside the road. I saw touring bicycles, and I turned around and pulled over to chat and compare notes.

I got to Grangeville Idaho rather early. I planned to go much further, but a mountain climb into town made me feel tired and apathetic. I could stay in the park for free, and pushing on over another mountain seemed unappealing. A bird in the hand... is worth a grand. Right?

The 100 mile-per-day idea faltered hard. Instead: I napped in the town park toward the edge of the grass. There was DJ playing for a private event toward the center of the park in a pavilion. The first song I heard was Cotton Eye Joe by the Rednex, and it went like that from there. I laid out my tent components to dry. I thought I'd read a little bit. I zonked right out instead, and woke up to someone whispering "is he asleep?" as they walked by. I love life. Did they think I was dead? Who cares if a sweaty guy sleeps in the afternoon? (it's a riddle...)

Kurt and Sara showed up in the park as I was charging all of my phones. I chatted for bit, and then went to get ingredients to mix some secret sodas. I was going to get a cheeseburger, but I saw beer for sale first. Before I had a chance to drink much, Sara politely called over to ask if I wanted to join them for dinner. Yes. I did.

I enjoyed a great dinner with Kurt and Sara, and we all had plenty to talk about. They have a great cooking setup with a Whisperlite - one of the more popular backpacking stoves on the market today. It makes me jealous. We had chicken, pasta, mashed potatoes, veggies... it puts my food purchasing and cooking to shame. Though I've been happy with the addition of PBJ and oats-in-yogurt to my usual diet, it could be supplemented well with a dinners like this. Nick Carman loves his alcohol stove, but when it comes to food prep, he's gifted. Maybe I was meant to be a Whisperlite man...

By any measure, I'm a heck of a lucky guy.

$12.10 - Breakfast at a cafe.
$2.70  - Bananas, yougurt, chocolate milk
$5.10  - Four; Mickey's
Total: $19.90

Friday, July 22, 2011

(I also beat an unloaded Orbea-rider over the pass...)

It rained last night. I packed up my wet tent and hit the road. I rolled quietly out of the yard making sure not to wake - or talk to - anybody. I stopped at the first picnic table I saw: Dairy Queen. I paused to properly prepare PBJs for the day. PBJ sammys - check. Guidebook knifed up - check. Phone says where route is - check.

Rolling out of town was shitty. Busy and overcast. The town of Lolo ten miles down the road was not uplifting. It seemed like cold with possible rain. I drank a so-it-says highly caffienated push-button mocha coffee and a chocolate milk with my first PBJ sandwich.

From Lolo Montana, I took route 12 west. Everything was almost immediately better. In spite of a slight and gradual climb and some headwind nonsense, I was happy. The traffic died down, and everything seemed alright to look at. The climb got steeper until I crossed Lolo Pass and entered Idaho and the Pacific Time Zone. I relaxed at the visitor's center at the pass. There was free coffee and hot chocolate. There was a room with chairs and a TV. The television showed photos of bears and wildlife in slideshow-mode while playing serene music. I was calmed. I liked this place. I liked the ride up here, the rangers were extra friendly, and I could exist well here in this moment. I sipped a second hot chocholate and ate my second PBJ as a herd of waddling tourists popped out of a big white bus, one by one. There were three men on motorcycles: I overheard the conversation and understood the one guy to have been "beaten up by the wind" and also expecting to "get a workout." I looked at my bicycle and wondered what he was talking about. It looked more like 3x Denny's 24/7 on his schedule.

I continued to ride until I'd gone 98 miles. I asked a volunteer ranger, and he told me I could set up a tent on the grassy island in the parking lot. Perfect. Free; ideal.

I spent a long day riding through beautiful scenery. As serene and wonderful as it was, it still had a level of monotony. I'm within striking distance of the Pacific Ocean. I had the idea that riding 700 miles in 7 days would be a good challenge. I fell short of a "century ride" by 2 miles today, and questioned the logic behind the challenge. Challenges are fine for their own sake, but it won't speed up my trip appreciably. I don't need to speed up, and the better places to camp aren't always 100 miles apart. I still plan to increase mileage until the coast. The sun stays up forever, and it's impossible to find enough places to goof around for long enough. I feel strong and athletic, and I'm happy.

Expense Report:
$2.80 - Coffee, chocholate milk.
Total: $2.80

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Adventure Cycling headquarters. Continuing to hobo around.

I froze my ass off for most of last night. I tried to acheive maximum insulating coverage from clothing and my sadly gossamer sleeping bag. The temperature only dropped to 42 degrees or so - I should be better equipped. (Or, I could quit being OCD-stupid and open up my emergency bivy / space blanket bag. But that takes work... and perhaps an 'emergency?')

The sun starts to warm the earth around 5:30am. You can feel the effects of the sun on the tent and earth about an hour later. I finally got some awesome sleep when the temperatures got to a cool but comfortable degree. The sleep was heavy; riddled with realistic dreams.

I got up and rolled; muffins in my tear ducts. I am using a heavy bicycle for transportation. I have all of my clothes and sleep-shit in bags that are attached to racks on a heavy bicycle. I also have a lot of food with me. Sometimes it's fun to ride around like that, and sometimes I'm waiting for fun to present itself again. At this stage, I'm kind of spaced out and in a mental state. I'm somewhere to the side of where I suspect reality sits. I am in a plausible parallel beside the strict reality that I was raised to recognize. You could get stuck on this plane of existence, but for now I'm only a visitor. You could continuously take acid or bicycle trips, and permanently alter your mental zipcode. I'm a visitor. I'm just traveling. This, sir - is great for your health.

I magically appeared in Missoula after a shit-fuck of a ride consisting of headwinds and (pretty much unavoidable) interstate riding (with a wide shoulder; still a shit-fuck. fuck, fuck, fuck!)

Then: I arrived at the headquarters of Adventure Cycling! These guys made the route. (The interstate section, however, was my old guidebook's wise choice.)

I was greeted by Greg who showed me where I could park my bicycle in the courtyard. "You have the ticket," he said. Like a moron, I visibly looked for a ticket - probably under the bungee strap holding gear to my front rack, I thought - a synapse in my brain made me accidentally crane my neck slightly around the GPS, guidebook pages and waterbottle cage all bolted to the crunk-o, sawed-off half of a Greg Lemond-era aero bar bolted to my handlebars. It took a split second, but Greg Siple already clarified "...the bicycle."

Greg Siple is a bit of a wingnut, too. I use the term with the highest respect, and I only submit myself to the label humbly. I entered the building where there was someone else to greet me. There is free ice cream and a fridge with cold drinks - every entering cyclist is offered these amenities.

There was a bomb-scare across the street at the federal building. Though the building was evacuated, and a bomb-robot eventually detonated some shit right out front, that's not the part of the day that made much of an impression on me.

As all the cyclists and employees stood out back, I chatted with Greg a couple more times. I didn't mention that I knew quite a bit more about who he was than I was saying.

Two other interesting folks were there. The couple who has the "Path Less Pedaled" blog were there on their new Bromptons. I knew they were in the area, but I was happy and interested to see that we were at the Adventure Cycling headquarters on the same day! I went to meet them in Philadelphia on their last tour, when several readers of this blog told me they'd be in town. I don't know how they got so rich, but they sure as hell can afford to goof around long-term with some expensive equipment. They're about my age, and they're busy fooling around and buying Bromptons. There's some money hiding somewhere. Dude had a SON generator hub on his bicycle in Philly, and that's the first time I've even seen one in person. I support them in spirit, but if there's a gold mine somewhere, then hand me a pick and a spade.

Greg wandered about with his old camera around his neck. We chatted once again as I existed quietly behind an invisible cloud of meek. "I saw the article about the Hemistour in the Rivendell Reader," I finally said. "I tracked down the National Geographic issue with the article. I thought it was pretty cool."

I mentioned that I was excited to read that they had used 26x1 3/8 rims laced to Campy hubs - probably the best choice of the pre-mountain bicycle era, but quite the non-traditional setup for the time. Greg mentioned that his wife June's bicycle from the tour was inside. He grinned and invited me in to check it out.

Greg gave me a sort of personal tour of all the bicycles that were on display throughout the office. Most visitors are not bicycle nerds, and I got the impression that this is not a tour that many people get. But I was lucky because I let it slip that I was highly excited about the aura and actions of this building. "One last bicycle," said Greg. He mentioned about three times that just about nobody saw this bicycle. He led me to the basement. The air was musty, and I could see that it was used for extra-extra storage. He showed me the last bicycle, which was somehow not on display anywhere upstairs. It was Ian Hibell's bicycle that he used to cross the Sahara. I recognized it from photos that I saw after Ian unfortunately got snuffed out in a hit-and-run in Greece in 2008. It was the same custom bicycle, and I recognized it immediately from the brazed-on tube protruding backwards from the seat tube to support a super-strong integral rack that carried a heavy load including lots of water. I exclaimed! I told Greg that it had brightened my day. It had.

I felt aloof and anxious as I left the building. I didn't know where I would sleep. I didn't want to skip past Missoula too soon. It was a big place with a bicycle culture, and I want to avoid feeling remiss. I made a couple calls to hosts on a list that I printed out before the trip. "Sorry for the last minute contact," I said on my phone message. One guy called back within 20 minutes to kindly offer yard space for my tent. A few other cyclists were already staying there, he said. He welcomed me to join the party.

The three others turned out to be the Clique Of Three who I've run into several times. They're not mean, but they sure aren't nice. I think they might be aliens who keep humans at arm's length to protect their secret identities. It's indeterminable, and I keep to the sidelines.

I bought some beers to make some secret sodas, and then I bought a huge burrito. I was satisfied with this burrito, and happy that it didn't give me buyer's remorse.

Expense report:
$10.40  -  PBJ ingredients, yogurt to mix with oats
$3.15    -  Coffee, pumpkin bread thing, Powerade
$7.80    -  Awesome burrito
$5.20    -  Four, Forty
Total: $26.55 (pushing it...)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Got my phones; Talls and calls in the park.

I got up while most of the house slept around me. My host said goodbye with a hug as she left early for work. Family is good. I microwaved some water and made a cup of instant Folgers from the crystals I've been schlepping. I had one of the bagels that a guy Pete gave me in Yellowstone. I spread on some PBJ, and took the whole mess to the porch.

The morning sun warmed me as I enjoyed a calm sit.

I cruised to the bicycle shop, and was happy to learn that they already had my phone - at 10:30am - and it still had somewhat of a decent charge. I checked my tire pressure, and thanked Rob Leipheimer a couple more times before hitting the road. My toes danced and pressed lightly just ahead of the spindle on the Hoopty's wide-and-squeaky BMX platform pedals.

The going was slow. I was riding a bicycle, and bicycles are a relatively slow conveyance. Walking is slower, but in the grand scheme, bicycles are quite slow. Since I can't keep a firm grasp on how much nothing matters, I am sometimes driven to curse at forces beyond my control. Headwinds take the fun out of bicycling. I pushed through a headwind for most of the day, but I still covered 90+ miles. My guidebook had three days devoted to reaching Missoula from Butte - I decided it would be better if it took two. The suggested mileages are relatively short.

I camped in the town park in Drummond, Montana. First I had a cheeseburger deal in town and acquired a couple cold beers. I set up a tent as the sun went down: Made a couple calls; drank a couple talls. I froze my ass off for most of the night.

Expense Report:
$2.70 - Oats and bananas at Albertson's
$1.80 - Chocolate milk and yogurt (to mix with lots of oats)
$5.00 - Burger, fries & Mountain Dew combo
$3.00 - 8.0% 24oz Lager; Coors 24oz
= $12.50 total

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bicycle Shops, budget concerns, and Butte couchsurfing.

I extracted money from the ATM. My balance on the receipt gave me an "ahh, fuck" moment. I have $648 in the bank, and $202 in my wallet. I immediately blew $8 on coffee and a breakfast that wasn't worth it. To further humiliate myself, I decided to leave my phone in the cafe where I was charging it. And the hashbrowns sucked.

I took a bicycle ride to Butte Montana. It was a ride on which I rode a bicycle. There was wind and hills. At one point, Plow United made me ride fast. It was a ride - just like every other day.

I got to Butte and realized that my phone was absent. I was astonished to discover that a cool head came naturally. I was amazed that I didn't need to talk myself down or suffer a panic attack. I said "welp." That's it. "Welp."

I went to a bicycle store and explained my situation. They were good people, and they let me use their internest. They also said I could use their phones and their address as a relay point. I figured I could convince the cafe to mail me my precious Droid. All I needed was the phone number of the couchsurfing host who I was planning to stay with. Dots were being connected.

I turned the bicycle shop into my office, which was great because the Tour de France was playing on a big screen in my office. I had the shop's contact info on a business card, and the proprietor was Rob Leipheimer. After a few minutes in the office using the computer, Rob walked in and introduced himself.

"Any relation?" I asked. There was a pause, and I added "to Levi... Leipheimer?" I was sure there probably wasn't, but the question sort of begged to be asked.

"Yeah, he's my brother" said Rob. "These are his jerseys." He held up a ball of jerseys.

For a moment, I thought he was being fecicious. In that split second I almost took offence, but then I realized that there was a strong family resemblence. Interesting! Levi Leipheimer is a pro cycling name; 26th or something in the Tour right now. Rob asked if I followed Levi, and I said that I did inasmuch as I follow pro cycling. (Which is not much, but I'm a bicycle nut, so I kind of follow anything and everything related to bicycles).

Rob gave me a water bottle from the shop with a sort of care package inside - Shammy cream, Aleve, an Action Wipe, and some Hammer Gel. All of it is mostly for the spandex-wearing type of crowd, but I can make use of it all (except maybe the chamouix butter). What a great shop! I didn't spend a dollar the entire time I was there, and nobody was concerned about that. They went beyond what they needed to in order to help me feel comfortable and get my phone back.

I sorted out the phone issue. The lady at the cafe got me the number of my couchsurfing host. (The number was on my phone and nowhere else.) I had to slowly walk her through the ins and outs of operating a Droid X2, but she got the swing of it after some patient coaching. Then she was kind enough to ship it to me before 4pm so it would arrive next-day.

After sorting out business at the bicycle shop and consulting with my couchsurfing host, I went to the park. Some extremely strung-out looking ladies were standing nearly sideways. They were 50-somethings pulling cans out of the trash. They pulled everything out of the trash cans, took whatever cans they could find, then put the trash back in. They didn't say so, but it was for drugs. We didn't talk about that, but we chatted for a few minutes about the can-collecting portion of the business. People are alright.

I made some PBJs and read some of a couple books. When it was time, I went to the couchsurfing house. A few people live there. They're a few years younger. I had a quick shower, and was able to wash my riding clothes.

They all drink and smoke pot. We had a great time getting horsey-sauced. They're the traveling sort of gypsy-type who know what 'Rainbow Family' means. One guy was making hemp jewelry for sale or trade. He was the guy who also knew some websites with music better than I've heard before. Some re-mix mashup shit. "Love-step" was the new genre he mentioned. Hoooboy! This guy humbly claimed to "just love great beats.. you know?" My iPod has some great stuff - but these beats could massage your ears from the first listen.

I'm watching my money a little more. The expenditures didn't get too wacky today.

Expense Report:
$8.00  -  breakfast, coffee, tip
$7.60  -  beer chip-in, pretzels, more beer
=$15.60 total

Monday, July 18, 2011

Camping free and getting clean.

Roadhat! I found a Cummins Diesel roadhat with flames on the brim. Looks boss.

I didn't pay for camping last night. Tall weeds under the picnic tables, and the placement of the campground in the center of nowhere told me that probably nobody notices or cares. It was a National Forest campground. The asking price was $10. I hate to say it's not in budget - I spent $36 on a bar tab last night (elite cheeseburger, delicious local IPA, plus tip.) But it's not in the budget. Neither thing is in the budget - but I only skipped out on the campground bill. $10 is steep to sleep on the god-given earth. No shower; no potable water. Is it $10 to use a nasty pit toilet instead of the woods? I'm not buying it... but I'm using it because it's some of the rare land that's not surrounded by barbed wire.

Tailwinds in the morning. Then coffee. Then headwinds as I climbed and cussed over a challenging pass between Ennis and Virginia City, MT.

I took a bench and an opportunity in Viginia City to make PBJ sandwiches and ask about free camping possibilities. I got some tips from a guy who seemed to know his science. I rode to the town of Sheridan Montana, where I later found sleep behind a dugout.

In the town of Sheridan I bumped into some of the group of 26 cyclists who I first met in Lander Wyoming. They have a bus and a van following them, and they're riding long distance for cancer. They each raised enough money to get themselves their own Jamis Aurora or Jamis Satelite. For cancer. The better their vacation, the faster we find a cure. I'm going to find a place to jerk off so we can all solve the diabetes riddle. Don't get me wrong: if I found the guy who invented cancer, I would punch him right in the face.

They were eating ice cream, so I got myself some pecan ice cream. They slept at the high school, and I slept behind a dugout in the town park.

I got a free shower at the pool. I was going to ask, but nobody was looking. It was the kind of shower where you press a button and warm water shoots out of the wall. I pushed the button many times. And nobody was still looking as I left.

I had warm (warm) booze and pretzels. I had a PBJ. My sleep was punctuated by high winds and animal noises.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Into Montana. Long quiet stretches of road.

The rangers at the Madison Junction campground all seem happy to be alive. They made coffee for the cyclist camp, and made hot water for my oats. I talked more to my campground compadres, and I was happy that they were all such good and interesting people. I didn't mind chatting and getting a late start. I wasn't planning a long day anyway - a mere 50 miles - and there's no use hurrying if you have so much time to spare.

I rolled out of the park, and into Montana. I think this is the 10th state I've ridden in since leaving. Sure - ten sounds good. Nah, maybe 9th.

I had some headwinds and tailwinds. Around Earthquake Lake, I had some wild headwinds. No worries though. I stopped at the information center and escaped the wind for a bit. It turns out I was toward the end of the canyon, and the difficult headwinds would become less severe in a couple miles.

I asked the girl at the information center if there was a grocery store between there and my campground. (What I actually meant to ask was whether there was beer.) I was told no to groceries, but it turns out I was only a few miles from a place that sold fly fishing equipment - apparently PBR fits under that umbrella.

I was set up for camp early. I didn't have enough opportunities to waste time during the day, so the sun was still high in the sky as I fit the tent poles into place. I took a dip in the swift river, and made 2.5 PBJ sandwiches. I had a few beers and I was both hungry and bored. As much as I kick myself for blowing money, sometimes it just seems like the thing to do.

I rode my unloaded Hoopty back up a hill and to a restaurant-bar. I drank some strong elite IPAs and had a delicious burger. I wasted time sitting and watching the Tour de France play silently on the big screen behind the bar. It was a little pricey, but it was the exact comfortable respite that I wanted. Part of me romanticizes the idea of spending as little as possible while traveling, and part of me relishes the idea of saving up twice as much for the next campaign.

I had descended throughout the day and landed at a warmer elevation. The sleeping was good, and I didn't pay for it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cruising over passes and sharing Yellowstone with the masses.

It's a horseabout day. I'm not covering miles, and I'll be damned if I'm not doing laundry.

I woke up and packed my junk. I rode the short distance to the next stopping area, which is a sort of mega-campground with all the amenities. I did laundry. I was disappointed that the food was cafeteria-style and expensive - so I settled for coffee and a muffin. Add one spotty banana, and the total is $5.97.

Fresh laundry; charged phone. I packed my clothes and made some fresh PBJs. I went to Old Faithful. Amazing as it is that water shoots out of the ground on the hour, my feelings were about the same as when I was nine. I knew it was worth the wait, but it didn't exactly make me marvel and wonder. It didn't make me feel small and humble in the universe. It just made me wish I could either stand closer, or not be surrounded by tourist-ducks in safari gear.

It was a great day in the park for bicycles. I crossed the Continental Divide three times. I climbed and descended and a guy gave me some Clif Bars and a can of MGD. Rad.

I got to camp sort of early, and there were other cyclists already set up. Nobody else was doing distance riding. The folks here were just exploring the park on two wheels. The charge for a site was $6. Good deal.

I'm getting a bit less social. I'm getting used to being alone. Me and the Hoopty have been mostly by ourselves since Denver. I was happy that others approached and did some talking. Toward night, a few of us sat around a fire. One younger guy and I had a lot to talk about. He was traveling around the country in a van with his friend who was somewhere else in the park. He was excited about the idea of living in a van, and in addition to saying "dude, man" he also sometimes used the word "fuckin'" as a comma. This is getting closer to my generation's casual manner of speaking, and it put me at ease. He told me that he's constantly scoping out vehicles for potential livability, and that's something I'm intimately familiar with. It's part of what I do also.

We stayed up relatively late - 11:30pm - and I reaffirmed that I'm not wild about my alcohol stove. It gets a passing grade, but I don't understand why people love these so much.

I laid awake for several cold hours. I wore warm wool socks, fleece pants, thermal long-sleeve shirt, sweat shirt, rain jacket with hood cinched over winter hat, and sleeping bag hood pulled over the whole operation. I was still cold. With a proper sleeping bag, I could have been cozy in boxers. It's something to think about. I'm thinking about it a lot.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Grand Teton to Yellowstone National Park

I tried to sleep in at least a little bit. I was marginally successful, but three men began to repair the siding, and you can only get so much sleep with that racket. Most of the sleep after that point was fake, so I packed up and rolled out.

Within five mintues, two things were amiss. First, my patch-job must have sucked once again. My tire was only quasi-inflated. It could be ridden, but for all intents and purposes, I had a flat. Second, my Carhartt hat was missing. I didn't despair - there was a bicycle shop a mile from where I stood, and the hat was a roadhat.

When I see a hat on the road, I stop and pick it up. Sometimes I leave it, but if it's even halfway good or wearable, I pick it up. If it's dirty, I'll wash it. I call them 'roadhats.' The Carhartt was my best roadhat to date, but it's loss doesn't leave a big hole in my life. I found it outside of Pueblo. I had a totally rad Budweiser roadhat, but it was lost in the tornadic activity back at the Colorado border. That was a good hat too. I had a basic blue roadhat, but it was kinda stupid so I left it in Denver. I saw a cool roadhat on an indian reservation, but I left it. It had skulls and fire, and exclaimed a brand name that I'm unfamiliar with. Leaving it is something I regret. As I left town, I was down to zero roadhats. I prefer having at least two.

The tire business needed to be addressed. The bicycle shop was a good one. They had a Serfas Drifter in 26x1.50, and I ponied up for it. I even had them put it on - be lazy; support the business. There was a beautiful handbuilt bicycle in the shop, and when nobody present could identify the manufacturer, I tossed my hat in the ring: "Looks like a Box Dog Pelican." It was cool to see one - but if it was mine, the brakes would be adjusted better, and the front wheel wouldn't be on backwards. Not that it matters, but the valve stems would be lined up with the labels on the tire sidewalls, too. Though I ride a goofy Hoopty, I see to all these details. It's something that brings me the same nerdy pride as being able to identify an obscure bicycle by the details of the workmanship.

I rolled away on a new tire. The fresh rubber was slightly skinnier than my true preference, but it will do nicely. The tread is thick enough to last for many miles, and protect me from flats. The cheap and cheerful "CST Selecta" was worn down, and it had become an easy target.

As I rode, I felt hurried. Why should I feel hurried in these surroundings? Maybe it was the tourist traffic. It had to be a contributing factor. As I continued to ride, I became more at ease. Maybe part of me wants to wrap this up and go home, I reasoned. Maybe going off-route to Jackson made me feel ill at ease because I was adding a day and prolonging my relative solitude. Probably that. But how could I miss that raft trip? The midnight float was a rare opportunity, and I was lucky to be present. The raft trip isn't even something you can pay for - in fact, it's probably some kind of low-level illegal. I was a lucky man in Jackson. Now my heart felt more at ease as I cruised in front of the Grand Teton mountains on fresh rubber.

The conditions were ideal. I had wind at my back, a perfect temperature, rolling hills, and unbeatable scenery. Then a machine told me I had to pay $12 to continue riding on a bicycle path in the park. Fair's fair, but I wasn't excited about paying $12 for a measely hour or two in the park. Yellowstone would be another $12, I thought. Camping is $12-20 depending on which place. This is getting rough! But I paid and continued, and wasn't unhappy.

The scenery! I could do with fewer RVs and jag-axes on the road, but it did little to detract from the scenery. Around every bend is some new wonderful thing to look at, until it almost becomes a comedy routine. It's nature's version of the magician who keeps pulling more and bigger objects out of a hat. "Looks boss!" I thought as I stared down a steep canyon at a river comprised completely of a steep series of splashes.

I got to the gate at Yellowstone, and was freshly assuaged. "Hello, lonesome weary traveler." The gate attendant spoke calmly and slowly. $12 at Teton works here too. "Don't worry about campgrounds being full - there are spaces reserved for people like you (cyclists.)" In fact, those spaces have a reduced rate. And... yes, they still have the yellow brochure with the outline drawing of a guy getting gored by a buffalo. Mega-score!

I rode though the park to the first campground. I snaked up some climbs, and down some descents, bringing me and the Hoopty to then end of an 80-mile day at Lewis Lake. A friendly ranger said she had a spot just for me. The campground was free, because there was no potable water. I had a spare quart, and was thus unconcerned.

I set up my tent, and realized this was another mosquito zone. The elevation was high, and I knew it would be a cold night. (The snow was also a tip-off.) I dove in the lake, and the snow-melt water froze me and woke me right up. I dove in again, and tried to wipe the salt and sweat off my skin. Done! I cooked some Ramen and swatted mosquitoes. I retired to my tent for a PBJ and the remaining sips of Yukon Jack.

My sleeping bag is junk. Seams are ripping, and the gossamer cloth and stuffing provide minimal warmth. I made it through the night, but there were a few cold hours of being awake.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tense and lazy in Jackson, WY. Floating down the Snake River.

The mosquitoes were thick again as I packed up my tent. I wore protective clothing - long pants tucked into long socks; long sleeve shirt; winter hat over ears. I packed quickly, but couldn't leave the campground fast enough. I was happy to be on the road.

Jackson, Wyoming is in the beautiful valley of Jackson Hole. I had a couchsurfing host lined up here, and I was headed off-route to arrive. Jackson is a small scenic town. If I skirted past, I would be remiss.

The ride was relatively short, but I felt hurried. I wanted to get to town, get coffee, sit, and maybe run some errands. Laundry. The views couldn't be better, but I would prefer less traffic. I had a reasonably wide shoulder, but large RVs routinely encroached. Big stupid boxes whizzed past on wheels. Dopey buses and boxes loped along in lines to the tourist mecca of Jackson. Boxes on wheels larger than any home I have ever aspired to own came within two feet of my face. Before long, it can make a guy angry. Nearly getting clipped by an RV the size of a bus makes me angry. There should be a size limit on vehicles containing fewer than three boring fogies.

It's a tough life sometimes. I need to remind myself that I'm just another over-privileged white jerk in America who fancies the idea of fawning over these same mountains. Perspective. (But I still like bicycles better, I think I'm better for riding them, and I wouldn't mind seeing some calculated RV arson.)

Jackson is the kind of place where the main activity is gawking into store windows with a dopey look on your face - then you waddle and fart over to the next window. You can buy the same dumb t-shirts at ten different places, and then buy a cowboy hat to further insult yourself. There is a Ripley's Believe It Not, and maybe that's all that needs to be said.

I sat in town, and bummed around. I got charged up on an enormous amount of coffee while charging up my electronics with electricity. I made a stack of affordable sandwiches on mid-quality 12 grain. I got a flat tire and patched it.

My couchsuring host texted and said she'd be working later than expected. No time estimate, but it was good to know that she probably wasn't flaking out. Fortunately - just in case - I met a guy who said I could stay with him if I wanted to. Having a plan B is a huge relief on my fragile nerves. I celebrated with some Yukon Jack and Coke.

There are a thousand places to drink, but my favorite is in the park. I'm reading at least three books on my Kindle, and adding notes to my notebook as fast as the thoughts appear. As the sun went down, I surrounded myself with all the good things I had on hand. I made the bench my own. I marked my territory with paper, gadgets and concealed booze.

9 o'clock, are you kidding me? I gave this girl a friendly call. She apologized, and was there on a bicycle within 5 minutes. We cruised to her house and talked about books. She fed me chicken. I showered.

I was invited on a midnight float down the Snake River. Part of me wanted to read and sleep, but what lunacy would that be? Down for anything; sleep when you're dead. I wouldn't miss it for the world.

A team of five, including me, piled onto a catamaran and began to float down the Snake River. The Tetons were illuminated by a full moon. The water reflected the brightest moonlight; the snow on the mountains was the brightest shade of white. White fingers traced down the two-dimensional peaks. A beaver slapped its tail beside the boat as it dove underneath the water. The temperature dropped to the 30's, but I was comfortable wearing everything I have.

We talked as we floated along the calm section of river. One person was an actual river guide, so when a decision had to be made - this fork or that - it was good to have him in the captain's chair with the oars. After all the messing about with cars and boats and trailers, we got back to Jackson at about 3:30am. I fell asleep on the futon wearing all the same clothes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mountains, bears, beers, mosquitoes.

A guy can really get enough headwind. For real. I was reduced this morning. Reduced to the form of a whining child. (Albeit, one who knows many more obscure ways to curse.) I moaned something fierce for the first twenty miles of the day. I pulled over at the first opportunity. I rolled into the gravel drive of a large log edifice. It was a gas station, gift shop, bar, and RV park.

My Morning Jacket was playing over the speakers at the bar. I wanted to call it quits and get a pint. Instead I bought a V8 and pulled a smooshed PBJ from my bag. It looked like rain. Indeed. I sat and waited for a downpour. I talked to the girl who was working in the empty restaurant and bar. I sat outside amidst kitschy bears carved out of wood.

The rain never came, but the wind seemed to change directions or at least die down. The sky looked threatening, but I pulled out my rain jacket and continued. I found the 'uphill' that everyone was talking about. I immediately began a long climb, and continued gaining altitude until I found myself on top of a high pass. There was snow, and I was cheered up instantly. I pulled over and poked around in the snow, and even took a couple pictures. The day was going much better. Like most people, I would much rather climb and sweat than force my way through a headwind.

I dropped like a rock off the back side of the mountain. The shoulder was wide and smooth. I quickly found myself cruising in an aero tuck at 45 miles per hour. I was amused when a pickup passed me going barely faster through the gentle switchbacks. We gazed askance at each other. "Yep."

The Teton mountains came into view, and my heart leapt. I was surrounded by postcard beauty, but amidst the photographic perfection I could smell the pines and feel the cool air. I passed many splotches of a snow that had fallen as recently as June.

Partway down the mountain, I came to a lodge. My guidebook had this as the last stop before my intended destination: a free campground for bicyclists.

The lodge was full of warnings. Nine grizzly bears had been sighted, and one as recently as an hour ago in the parking lot. A section of the park and a corresponding section of lesser-traveled park road was closed due to bear activity. I bought bear mace to the tune of $52.84, and once again my wallet began to weep. But, I reasoned, you can't be the dude who cheaped out on bear mace and then wished he had it. Well, shit. I went to the bar.

I got PBR at $3/pint. Plenty of it. And nachos. Nachos with plenty of stuff on them. I even treated myself to an IPA and a couple tracks from the jukebox. None of this is what I'd call cheap. I got pretty fucked up. I exited the bar and entered an onslaught of mosquitoes.

I raced down the steep mountain rejoicing at the views. I had to take a ride through a construction section. My bicycle had to be loaded in the back of a pickup truck. It robbed me of an amazing downhill, and took me past where the free bicycle camping was (if it still existed, anyway.)

I was dropped off at a National Forrest campground. Setting up a tent was a real chore. The mosquitoes were a terribly thick swarm. I was attacked as I put the poles into their eyelets and began snapping the screen in place. Unreal. For this pleasure, the charge was $10 per night. I decided to accidentally not pick up a pay envelope - it would just mean more mosquitoes and less money.

I was jawing away on the phone when the "camp host" arrived at my tent. He gave me the bear speech, and asked me to give him my money. I coughed up six bucks and a handful of change that was rattling around in my trunk bag. He might have come out ahead - there were some quarters - but it was probably shy of the asking price. I was bitten one million more times as I wrote my name and a bunch of other nobody's-business on the back of an envelope. I returned to my tent, murdered some mosquitoes who were unfortunate enough to enter with me, and got to the business of being pretty cold throughout the night.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Gearing up and sleeping sneaky.

"Caution: due to the lever mechanism, this door could easily be opened by a velociraptor. Take all necessary precautions." - a sign on the door of the coffee shop in Lander where I had one of the top breakfasts of my life. Homemade corned beef hash, fresh baked bread and jam, and perfect eggs. Delicious coffee. I was impressed with everything, and relieved that I had walked out of the pretentious-assed coffee shop down the street before ordering. Between this coffee shop, and the bar with locally brewed $2 happy hour drafts, Lander has it covered.

The sign in the park claims that the park closes at 11pm. Then: "Exceptions: Tent camping is permitted." Woah. They actually put it right on the sign. That's what I'm talkin' 'bout!

Lander is great. Lander has a nice outfitter. I outfitted myself with a Big Agnes Seedhouse 2. It's a compact two-person tent. I can sit up in the tent, and my head doesn't even touch the top. I can change clothes and move around in there. There's plenty of space to eat sandwiches and horse with books and gear. $220. New wool socks? $14.

I asked for a used box to ship some other gear home: bivy sack, Dickies pants, huge heavy sweatshirt. I went to a cheap store and got fleece pants and a much lighter sweatshirt. After the swap, I bet I didn't even incur much of an overall weight penalty.

I stopped by the bicycle store to get a tube, and ended up talking to a guy there. We talked about bicycle travel and made some jokes about working in bicycle shops. I signed the logbook. I was familiar with some of the bicycles and personalities that had been through. If there's one thing I know, it's details about anybody's bicycle that I've ever seen even once.

The guy at the shop was a real good guy. I told him I wasn't sure if I was going to stay in town or hit the road. It was already getting toward 1pm, and 75 miles might be a long push. The guy said he'd check the weather and wind report. "Go. The wind is never from the south."

I bought a loaf of bread, and took his advice.

The conditions were mostly all good until they turned to crap. With thirty miles to go, the wind suddenly picked up and began to gust directly at me. The weeds beside the road bent and waved to face me. I was slowed to six miles-per-hour, and then to four. I was blown off the road into some gravel. It wasn't even really ridable, and I decided I would need to wait it out.

I found some tall bushes to act as a wind break. I thought a storm was probably on it's way, so I quickly set up my new tent.

I bought a mansion! This tent is awesome! Any buyer's remorse instantly evaporated. I lounged inside the tent and read about Neil Peart's expensive motorcycle adventures as a light rain passed. By 7pm the rain stopped, and the winds died down. I packed up and continued. There wasn't much time to get to Dubois before dark.

A light headwind and a slight climb can really take it out of me. I knew I didn't have a lot of light left, so I pushed it. Actually, I usually push it pretty hard regardless of conditions. For some reason, I don't know, that's just how it is.

I descended into the outskirts of Dubois just as the sun was setting and making the hills beautiful. The light and shadows... it looked great. The temperature was dropping, the sun was disappearing, and I didn't know where I would sleep. I wanted to hit the bar and get a plate of hot food, but I decided to find a place to put a tent first. I could always ask, but I could always look around first. I looked.

I found a disused building on a hill toward the far edge of town. Exploration required a short steep climb up a dirt road. I poked around the back of the large building, and found flat ground that was beautiful and hidden. This was an amazing spot! I was surrounded by grassy hills, and hidden from the view of anybody who might care. It was a quiet secret spot with plenty of space. I set up my tent with a calm confidence as the light began to disappear.

Any desire to go into town disappeared. I would much rather lounge in my capacious hotel room. I had two more PBJs, a book, a little bit a booze, and a pouch of roasted almonds. I was in for the night.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A long day lands me in Lander, Wyoming.

I slept well in the teepee. There seemed to be no mosquitoes. I slept in the open breathing fresh air and enjoying the night in the desert.

I woke up, packed, and spooned PB&J into some fresh sandwiches. LB and I had spoken from the heart, and she gave me a hug before I placed my tires back into the yellow dirt of the road.

I was happy and complete as I turned back onto the main road, and the uplifted feeling lasted even as road conditions deteriorated. It was a long day. There aren't many places to stop in Wyoming, and today I was determined to cover 95 miles of almost nothing. In spite of a strong headwind for most of the entire day, I reached this goal. I was across this expanse of desert and on a bar stool by 5pm.

Beers and a burger, just like I said. Aside from a Yoo-Hoo at mile 50, it was the first buck I spent in the day. PB&J and (god willing) a chocolate milk, and I'm made of power.

I ran into the other three touring cyclists a few times throughout the day, and realized that I need to face a fact: I don't like them. They're young and cool, and I have a feeling that they aren't good or interesting people.

I got a flat in the desert. I stood beside the road as the glue dried for the patch. As I waited, the Bike Patrol showed up! A car turned around, swung another u-ey behind me, and a man got out.

"Do you have everything you need?" he called to me.

I told him I was just waiting for the glue to dry for a patch, and I had everything under control.

"Full size pump?" he asked.

"Huh? Oh, hell yeah!" I exclaimed. We both smiled, and I walked over to the car. His mountain bicycle was packed in the back seat, and the window had a small sticker that said "bike patrol."

"Bike Patrol!" I said as he opened the trunk. My patch didn't hold, but I had my spare tube in place and to proper inflation in a jiffy with the full-sized floor pump. I thanked him twice, and was rolling again within five minutes.

I reached Lander, Wyoming. This is the best town of this ilk I've seen since Colorado Springs. It's a Burlington Vermont in the desert. It's a hiker-biker town. There is a huge indoor pool, and for $2 you can have a hot shower, a jacuzzi, and take a few leaps off the diving board. I was refreshed.

As I sat in the town park, I was feeling alone, blue, aloof and anxious. This is a theme, it seems. This is typical of my lone travels until I devolve to a certain quiet level of sustainable insanity. I'll begin to sing and talk to myself soon, and the sadness will be at bay. In any case, I will crawl along and search for the funny moments. I will seek amusement, and attempt to appreciate the quiet moments. I will learn how to be a human better.

I rolled back to town to find alcohol, but ran into Tika on his overloaded Diamond Back. He was looking for camping, and boy could I help with that goal. The town park has legal camping, and there were already over a dozen tents placed in a grassy area toward the quiet back side of the park. We rode slowly to the park together, and didn't stop talking.

He looks exactly like a homeless guy. But that's not exactly the deal. He hasn't paid rent for 15 years, and he's living off savings from 15 years ago when he was a computer programmer. He's a smart guy who admitted that he doesn't really talk to many people. Through his hiking, bicycling, and traveling, he's grown closer to the fringes. He's reduced his spending and become more introverted. We compared ideas and opinions. I learned more about him, and shared my ideas and experiences as well. We talked for more than a couple hours until it was definitely time to choose a spot in the grass.

I am always uplifted and interested to talk to traveling individuals. I like to talk to people who don't have a close focus on the normal way everyone sees the earth and how it's working. He has a fine understanding of typical reality, but his place isn't to simply stand still and let it exist around him. When I try to describe these things, I fumble. I don't know exactly what I want from life and the earth. I don't want what Tika has - but I admire it. I don't want the typical path either. My goal is to maintain a calm eccentricity that meshes acceptably with dull-normal society. I want to keep a secret silliness. I don't want to become cynical. I want to slowly follow a path toward an accidental wisdom.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

LB's Teepees. Another Hoopty traveler, and another day in Wyoming.

I don't put $7 in a faceless box every time I sleep on the earth, use no services, and leave no trace. I don't know if it's right or not, but I didn't pay for the mosquito camping. I won't next time, either. C'est la vie.

I rode through sparse desert with hills and features silently repeating themselves. I inched north toward I-80. Seeing I-80 after riding through sparse Wyoming is like peeking out of Narnia to see a guy yelling at his wife. This highway is reality, and I woken from the wispy dream tendrils that manifest before true sleep.

The interstate was a necessity for about 12 miles, because alternate roads simply do not exist. I fought a furious headwind, but was forced to be thankful anyway because at least the shoulder was wide.

Coffee, chocolate milk, PB&J. With this as nutrition, I am sure to survive. I took in a sandwich at the first hint I wanted one. I'm happy with this situation - I pull a PBJ out of a plastic grocery bag where I have a stack of them carefully folded. Then I feel great until I want the next one.

I pulled off the interstate at Sinclair, and the Cool Calm Pete track 'Lost' came into my mind's focus. I rolled slowly through the town that is really a refinery. I continued toward Rawlins, which I thought would be the end of my day.

Just say no to Rawlins. The part next to the highway is predictable with it's Pizza Hut and cloned hotels. The actual town is up the road. It's forgivable, but I was already on fire - my route took a sharp turn, and continuing would mean a strong tailwind.

I crossed the continental divide once again, and this time at speed. I was ripping down the smaller road at a lively pace. I climbed over the pass and continued to gain speed as I descended into the long flats in the basin below. My new destination was Lamont, where my old guidebook said I could lay down for free.

An old blue pre-suspension Diamond Back mountain bicycle; leaned outside the cafe as I arrived. Loaded heavily from head to toe; and again around the edges. Another Diamond Back! I took pictures, and a huge grin replaced my game-face. I walked into the abandoned-looking dusty cafe, and a scruffy man using a small netbook was the only other customer. His trail name is Tika. He's an awesome lone traveler. We talked through my soda and chili dog, and then when the cafe closed we stood outside to talk some more. He's been traveling for years. Mostly by foot, but sometimes by bicycle. He's been to China, Japan, South America... He's making his way across the US for the second time now. His Diamond Back and it's worn-to-hell chain are taking their own slow route, which just happens to match the TransAmerica Trail at this point.

I asked at the cafe, and free bicycle camping was afoot. Not the place I expected, but a new free camping spot had materialized in the interim. Tika continued, and I gave his rig a few minutes to crawl down the road before looking for a couple teepees across the street.

Less than a mile away, I'd found the sign: "Bicycle Camping." I rolled down the dirt road just as a pickup truck arrived. A woman got out and started to walk slowly toward a house trailer. I greeted her.

"Hello!" I chimed. "What's the deal with the bicycle camping?" I asked.

"Well... it's free. You can stay here if you want to."

She was quiet and friendly. The trailer was her home, and the bicycle camping section is her new project. She had an area set up as a little habitat. If it was grasshoppers she were accommodating, there would be a jar with grass and some holes poked into the lid. In this case it was cyclists, and she had a couple tee-pees and an outhouse. The rest of the property is a work in progress. There are strewn items and areas that still need to be cleared.

She had to leave again, but later I was able to talk some more. Her name is LB like the letters, and she lives on this small section of a huge ranch for free as long as she takes care of it. This used to be where they burned trash, but she's cleaned most of that out. The teepees are less than a week old. She has a friendly cat, named Jerry, and we were already friendly and familiar. There was a small shed with a fridge full of Gatorade and snacks. There was a donation jar that said you could either take money out or put money in, depending on your situation. The outhouse had no roof, because it blew off. That's cool.

I spent many hot sunny hours in the comfortable shade inside the teepee. I cooked, and read, and drank some whiskey. I sat on a lawn chair and marveled at how great it was to be inside a large teepee. I looked at how it was put together, and now I want a teepee.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Whyoming begs the question.

I woke up in the park. I was tucked behind a couple picnic tables in a small pavilion. I was hidden behind tables, and surrounded by scraggly bushes outside the mostly-enclosed structure. I woke up after broken sleep to a guy telling his dog "Hey! Don't go in there! There's people in there!"

He was doing a good job of training his young dog. Exclaiming facts in long complicated sentences is the best way to convince a dog what to do.

I rode.

I crossed into Wyoming with the wind behind me, and I got to my destination before noon. Encampment, Wyoming. The town is dirt streets in a tiny grid. As I charged my phone outside the library, which was closed, a kid passed by on the street. He was sitting on a piece of plywood that was hitched to two horses. The horses were dragging him down the street at about half a walking pace. It was  regal and surreal. Then I saw a little girl on a four wheeler towing a trailer at about the same pace. I decided I should push further down the road since I still felt reasonably fresh. And hot springs were to be had 20 miles down the road.

I went twenty miles further to Saratoga. The hot springs were closed, but I went in anyway. It was kinda the main draw in town, and I wasn't going to quit just because of some yellow tape.

I ran into a few other bicycle touring folks who I've seen a couple times before. They aren't a social bunch. They stay within their group, and give off no positive vibes. I finally properly introduced myself. Nobody knew where to camp, and I said I'd update them if I got any leads.

I'd sent out a last minute couchsurfing request, but wasn't holding my breath. A level of loneliness and anxiety set in, and I began the task of waiting for time to pass. I learned that there was a reasonably cheap camping situation outside of town by a couple miles. $7, but you need to bring your own water. I had a fine plan B, but it didn't ease my nervous feelings.

As I sat on a bench in town, I heard Alicia Keys playing on the jukebox in a bar. Well, that'll do. I went in and ordered an enormous mug of delicious local lager. I talked to the guy next to me for a minute, and when I ordered a refill, he put it on his tab. Nice guy. Works on a drilling rig; 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off. He was interested in the idea of riding a bicycle for months. As usual, he was a little more impressed than seems appropriate. When the jukebox went quiet, the bartender gave me some dollars to get it going again. Nice. I got a huge plate of green chili fries, which could have fed several. Probably not good cycling food, and I hoped it wasn't the worst idea ever.

I ate PB&J sandwiches for most of the whole day. I'm trying to get less spendy. I'm trying to have some money left over when I get home. Cutting out beer and plates of bad food isn't so easy though. I get lonely or anxious, and all I want to do is drink beer and eat cheeseburgers. Daily.

The campground was junk, but it was a place to sleep. I was invited over to a huge RV for beer and an open-faced hamburger slathered in yellow mustard. I was asked a million questions about bicycle touring. Some of the same questions were asked up to three separate times. One lady was amazed, and kept asking questions. One kid focused on the whole painted nails thing. I could tell he was on the fast track to being useless. I was alright sitting there, but I was just as happy to leave. The mosquitoes stole the show. As the sun set, a swarm of mosquitoes was upon everything. I got in the bivy and managed to read on my Kindle for half an hour before sleep.

The bivy worked great. The key? Perfect temperature and clothing. If it's cool enough to be comfortable at night, yet warm enough to sleep without extra layers - I'm set. I slept well and for an appropriate number of hours. I woke up, rolled up the whole mass, bungee'd it, and rolled away. Easiest camp setup possible.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Colorado continues. Sane but aloof.

I got rolling a little late after an extended horseabout at Java Lava in Granby, Colorado. I got going right after stopping at a small bicycle shop and chatting with the owner about Sturmey Archer. And handlebars. Nerds!

This is good. I'm recharged. Or maybe uncharged. Yesterday all my art was falling off the easel. Today's ride was mostly fantastic. One bit of photographic fodder after the next. Panoramas. Mountains and rivers. I was content to become enveloped and consumed.

I cruised along a lightly traveled road along the Colorado River. I didn't see any moose, but I was told I might. I could have ridden right by one... I'm not the most observant person around. I don't have an eye for details. I am either uplifted by general beauty, or I'm cussing at the road, wind, or weather. That's my full range. I will cuss at small details in near-perfect conditions. If my situation scores a B+ then I will bemoan it like I'm traipsing through a D. It doesn't mean that I'm not enjoying myself. In fact, I'm aware of how silly this is, and I'm often moved to great amusement. Laughing at myself is one way to keep my brain's bullshit in check.

I climbed over a relatively easy pass - only 9,000 something feet. It was an easy grade. The road crossed the continental divide at the pass. I stopped at the top to take a photo, and at that moment the clouds became a storm. Bad location for this. Nowhere to hide. I descended, got cold, stopped. I put on my rain jacket, went, couldn't see, stopped. I put my glasses under the bungee cord that straps my sleep-shit to the front rack, went and continued to freeze. The rain was a cold stinging rain. I thought I might need to man up, but then I realized I was being pelted with hail. I eased up on myself, and went harder on the pedals.

I'd been going fairly light on the pedals all day because I didn't want to aggravate my knee. I diligently stretched and took a couple Advil. As soon as the hail started to fall, my knee healed itself real quick. I was on top of the pedals charging toward town and the edge of the clouds. Rand is a town with nothing. I wanted a damn coffee, but that wouldn't be possible for another 22 miles. I got there before you could blink.

I crushed the pedals and employed my secret aerodynamic position - forearms on the northroad handlebars, hands together, crouched over the front. With my goofy foam handlebar covering, it's actually a comfortable option. It only works well if you're going over 20mph on a flat straight road - preferably with some tailwind. Just like aerobars. The conditions were right, and I took full advantage.

I guess I'm not feeling that social. Or maybe other people aren't. I ran into both groups of bicycle tourists I saw yesterday, but they were either 1) in a hurry, or 2) in a group with it's own thing going on. It didn't bother me much, but I noted the difference between this and the beginning of the trip. In Virginia it seemed like all bicycle tourists would stop and be excited to chat and introduce themselves. These kids must have thought I was weird or something. I'll take it as a compliment.

I went to get a burger and sit in the bar. Bars are a good place to talk to random people, but this one sucked for that. Or maybe I sucked for that. Someone played Amarillo Sky on the jukebox, and that's my long-lived ringtone. I called it a success.

I'm reading a book about the solitary motorcycle travels of Neil Peart - the drummer for Rush. Karl recommended it; I'm reading it. It's nice to read about the travel adventures of others. Especially a lone traveler whose life has all but come completely unhinged. When I think of the tragedy he went through (losing his daughter and wife in the same year) it totally puts my cakewalk in perspective. I like that.

I was waiting in the bar for some rain to stop falling, but that scene started to get pretty lame. I crossed the street to the liquor store for something more to the point. I went to a pavilion at the south side of town and sat by myself. I charged everything I have and wrote in my notebook.

The scenery is amazing here. Mountain views 360 degrees. I'm in a valley surrounded by snowy peaks where clouds stack up and barge around constantly. A truck pulled a 5th wheel trailer emblazoned with two words: "Never Summer." There's something awesomely amusing about that. Me? I feel the polar opposite. This place kinda creeps me out. I see that it's pretty, and I'm happy to visit - but you can keep it.

I laid out the bivy under a pavilion in the town park and set to the task of trying to find sleep. Learning how to sleep in a skinny bag takes some work. I remember loving it before. Maybe I just need to get used to it again. After awhile sleep finally found me and we caught up.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Losing my marbles and hitchhiking / 11th hour serendipity.

This is the day I went insane. It was a slide into a mental unrest that stacked up over the course of hours. I wanted desperately to connect with the comfort of the ACA route. I knew I would not regain a comfortable sanity until I was knifing out pages of my guidebook again. I wanted to get to a connecting point today, and was disappointed to learn that I had probably gone fifty miles out of the way to get to a closed road with a potentially impassable path that hadn't been maintained by the forest service for 17 years.

The road claimed to be closed in 19 miles, but I thought that maybe a bicycle could make it. I asked a lady walking her dog if she'd seen the condition of the road ahead. She told me she'd tried to take her 4-wheel-drive jeep over it last year, but had to turn around. I still wondered. She convinced me to follow her back to the grocery store where she could make some calls to get a better idea of the conditions.

She called several people, and got only warnings. It would be an incredibly steep grade, it was unmaintained, and was barely passable at it's best. It might also be impassable due to snow. And rather than gravel, it would be more like loose rock forming the concept of a path. That's the state of the Rollins Pass. I was in Rollinsville, and that's how Google told me to get my bicycle to Winter Park. Denver to Kremmling was the route. I checked again, and this no longer seems to be the prescribed route. The Google Bicycle route had changed since leaving Kansas, but I still had it saved on my GPS.

She offered me a ride to Idaho Springs. Linda is the lady with the dog. I took the ride.

I pulled a muscle on the long climb yesterday. I didn't want to keep pushing it. I'll call it knee pain - it's that or closely related. Not bad, but not something to carry over steep mountain passes in questionable terrain. Or even ride an average daily distance.

From Idaho Springs, I could take route 40 over the continental divide, and all the way back to the ACA route - 75 miles away.

I'd already taken one ride, and that opened a mental floodgate. I wanted to get there, and I didn't want to hurt my knee. I started a string of serial hitchhiking. Colorado is good for that. I always say how easy hitchhiking is, but I stood for a long time with my thumb out. The key is location. I was on I-70 - a fast interstate. With full-speed traffic, and no clear destination, it's too much to ask someone to pull over. Especially if you have a loaded bicycle. I thought that the volume of traffic and a wide shoulder might solve the problem, but no.

I continued up the road to where 40 was an exit from the interstate, and stood where cars could choose between the two. I stood for awhile longer. It had been a couple hours. I rode up to where 40 was the only choice for many miles, and fairly quickly I had a ride. A nice girl took me a few miles up the road to Empire where she said getting a ride would be much easier since cars had to go 35mph and only had one direction. She was right - I had another ride within two minutes.

My next ride was a talkative 33 year old woman. She's a nursing student in Denver, but commutes from 10,500 feet up in the mountains. It's an hour and fifteen minutes in good conditions, and goes over a steep pass. Her pickup truck threaded through many switchbacks. The weather changed with the elevation and the tree line was almost within reach. We crossed into an elevation with cold and snow where the weather was bunching up and forming a storm. We descended a thousand feet over winding switchbacks to the mountain valley where she lived. This was the highest valley in the Rockies, near Frasier, Colorado. I was out of my mind. It looked like a Kansas town on lots and lots of shrooms. I was dehydrated, even though I'd only ridden about 30 miles the entire day.

I was on a mission. I put out my thumb and got one more ride to Granby, Colorado. It was a slightly lower elevation, and the difference was palpable.

I began a slow ride to the edge of town, and saw loaded touring bicycles at a gas station. I thought I had 30 miles further to connect to the route, but in fact I was only 2 miles from an intersection that was on the maps. The maps. At times like this, those would be good to have.

I rode further, but realized that it was getting later and I was riding into nothingness again. I turned around and looked for secret camping at a nature viewing area. I checked my phone and saw two missed calls from Mom. We haven't talked in more than a week, and my blogging stopped dead when I got to Denver. I had to return the call, or I'd be a serious jerk. But my head was exploding.

All I wanted to do was hitchhike to Oregon. I wanted to take a bus. I wanted to do anything but ride a bicycle for another month. My anxiety level was high to put in mildly. I had a hold on logic, but reality was a loose connection.

I'm in one of the most beautiful spots in the United States. I am a week from Yellowstone by bicycle. I liked the route before, and can probably get back into the flow of bicycle travel again. If I quit now or took a bus, I would regret it severely. I knew all this.

I managed - barely and only technically - not to completely break down on the phone. I had the support of my parents in every way possible. Of course. Always.

I stood where I was planning to set up a small secret camp. Mosquitoes bit me. I was exhausted but not tired. The sun was going down, but it was far from dark. I wasn't hungry, but knew it was time to eat. I decided to ride the couple miles back to town in search of food and anxiety medication.

I opened the door to the bar, and pushed my bicycle halfway in.

"Do you mind if I roll in this bicycle?" I beamed the question with a smile that was a hundred years from the instability that coursed through me like an unwanted electricity. My conversation with home had been helpful, but I was far from walking on sunshine. I was told nicely that sure I could bring the bicycle inside.

"Did you get a room in town yet?" A guy at the bar asked this. It was clear I was traveling, and it was also getting dark. It was a little weird to not have a room. I was planning to get some pints and food and ask to sleep out back - or ask about an okay place to put a tent. God knows there's plenty of space around here. My plan was to get drunk and do something and automatically fall asleep, because eventually all humans just do. I told him I did not have a room.

"Then I have a room for you." I figured he owned a hotel, and this was an aggressive approach. Then I saw that he had bicycle maps. He was on tour from the west, making up his own route.

I sat beside him and asked "how much is the room?" He told me it didn't cost anything for me - he had a spare room attached to his, and I looked like I could use a chance to clean up and get a good rest. I took him up on the offer. I took the bartender up on the offer to make a pizza. I took the opportunity to have a few pints, and all of these things brought me much closer to an acceptable reality.

The guy was Terry. He is a retired married man who speaks in punctuated bursts. His statements are a palm smacked on a table or a firm handshake. He has no idea what I'm about, but isn't the type to take much notice what anybody is about.

"What's the nails about?" his voice smacked on a table. Not unfriendly, but not at all friendly either. A statement in the most austere sense.

I painted my nails back in Denver. Pink on the right hand and a pretty light purple on the left. I always wonder if people are going to notice or be weird about it. Mostly people don't or shouldn't care. Sometimes I get a compliment. After a week or so it chips away to a ragged bit of color and looks less flamboyantly expressive. I like it at that point best, and then I mostly stop thinking about it altogether.

"Just to be colorful, I guess." This is my stock answer. I was already in the hotel room, and there wasn't much chance of getting booted for looking faggy.

It was a shit-ball room with sketchy bedding and an awkward old guy on the other side of the thin door. Terry opened my door with a hatchet and an airhorn at 4am to get to the bathroom to pee and fart. I didn't sleep again for well over an hour. Considering the storm it was still a much better situation than I had lined up before the bar. Beggars can't be choosers - I would have happily slept in an old beggars closet.

I packed and left early. Terry shook my hand as a quick sincere gesture and said he would see me in heaven. I assumed that he meant it in a nice way since he held no weapons. Indeed, Terry. Indeed. I know you're a good guy, and I wish you the best. Your delivery keeps me firmly between a start and a chuckle.