1200 Miles and 26 Days of Perspective

 

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.” ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road: The Original Scroll

On 1200 miles, meeting people along the way and the ever changing landscape

Our first leg of cycling, eating and sleeping is over. Marcus and I arrived a few days ago in Hamilton (almost Darby) Montana. We are doing a short work stint for a friends, Hilary and JC, whom I met and worked for last year doing state and county fairs. We are currently in Cheyenne, WY. Marcus and I cycled into Hamilton on the 28th, two days early (!) and were having some lunch in the park waiting for Hilary to get back from some errands, when I heard my name shouted across the Hamilton streets. Six year old daughter Emma had seen me, as she was cycling on her new bike, the bright pink and purple streamers flailing in the wind as she hurried towards us together with Hilary. Introductions were made, hugs ensued.

We have traveled over 1200 miles already. It is simply a number and while quite large, in my mind, I cannot connect that number with the amount of traveling we have done so far. I do have a bike computer, which has repeatedly reset itself, so could only really read what we had done on a daily basis and also count what miles we have done with each green mile marker passing us by. On a long day, the distance between each mile marker lengthened with each mile and always seemed unattainable. On good days, I barely noticed them. The most we did in one day: 88 miles. The least was about 20 miles… in a day… in Yosemite… though we did spend half the day hanging out at the river… and all we had was uphills… (see last entry)(let it be known – we had plenty more hills to climb…) We had three real showers in the 26 days we were on the road, we had set up home on the side of the road, in forests on moss, on gravel behind a pilot station (thank you Lolo), behind grassy berms, on the beach on a mountain lake, on BLM land, had a home for a night in Eagleville, CA with the amazing Sarah and Jason; each night a new adventure, never knowing where we would end up, just knowing we had a sort of aim and a sort of mileage and that we had to get to the Bitteroot by a certain date.

The not knowing where we would call home at the end of the night held a significance in that it opened up all realms of possibilities. The not knowing entices me, drives me and spurs me on around corners and hills.

When you cycle through the grand landscapes of the western us, you are subject to nature’s little whims which may not seem so little when nothing is containing you but the open landscape. Little gentle winds can feel like large obnoxious headwinds, which make even descending hills a battle. The ever present sun beating on us even though we are covered; small hills loom large and from afar insurmountable. Bad bumpy asphalt increases energy output. But so we pedal on knowing we will get there. We were not joking when we said we want to see each mile slowly passing by.

On our second to last day, we cycled up the Lolo pass. I was super nervous about this pass for some reason and almost dreading it – climbing hills is taxing. I may have mentioned this already. But we make it up there, the pass was doable, the Selway is beautiful and at the top, we meet Carroll. He is 87 years old and is on his bike. He started in Missoula and wanted to go to Baker City in Idaho. He turned around, as he felt he would not make it back in time for a conference for teachers in Math, which would be on the 8th of August. He headed back down towards Missoula from the pass, and shortly thereafter, Marcus and me, also left the rest area at the summit and caught up with him. At 87 years old, on an old Trek bike, with two hanging luggage pieces, which had to be rejigged so that they would not hit his spokes, he was cruising along comfortably at around 15 miles an hour. We cycled together with him for about 20 miles to his campground, and chatted where possible and when cars weren’t passing. He had decided instead of cycling to Baker City, to head down the Bitteroot and visit his friends in Philippsburg before returning to Missoula. I raise my glass to Carroll.

One day we did 88 miles in 8 hours, we started north of Lakeview in Valley Falls, Oregon, where we met Wolf, who does amazing wood puzzles, wood cannonballs, loves renaissance fairs and plays the strumstick (!) to Riley in Oregon along the 395. Along this road is also where we met Story Time and his girlfriend; he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail the year before, and wanted to spend a few months in the next year cycling from Boston, where his one child lives to Eugene, where his other child lives; they passed us in their Sprinter van and had pulled over for us with a couple of gatorades and a couple of Buds.  We passed alkali lakes, sage desert, sand dunes, bright blue open skies skirting the rim of massive mountain mesas rising from the valley floor. Even though we travel slowly, the changes happen astonishingly quickly and surprisingly. We ended up staying in Riley, a place where you can find a gas station, an archery shop, a post office and a small campground / rv park. The owner allowed us to camp out for the night and did not charge us. The sun blazed angrily, as Oregon had been burning. We stood outside, the owner was telling us about her friend who had recently passed away, was an avid cyclist and had done some bike tours all around the US.

Some motorists flipped us the bird as we passed, which was super carpy, but many many others stopped to talk with us. A good amount of time was spent curbside, chatting with other cyclists as well as some motorists who had kindly stopped for us and offered us water, beers, Gatorades, grapes and tomatoes and other goodies. We met a man who wanted to be a turtle, Thunder Road, a truck driver near retirement age who was originally from Sweden. He wanted to do what we were doing – to hell with what his family said. We talked to many about their travels and let them know about ours. Trying to digest all the stories and give them each the significance and weight they deserve requires processing them. For the time being, I have written down all the names and know where we have met them all and can’t say thank you enough.

Along the 1 in Northeastern California close to the Nevada and Oregon borders, we were finishing up a long stint of cycling and were starting to think of where we could sleep for the night, when a car passed by, did a u-turn, which we did not see and pulled over alongside us. That day, we had started all the way in Fernley, NV, after a night of sleeping alongside the highway hardly hidden by the desert hill landscape, and had sink showers at the Pilot gas station after discovering it cost $12 to have a proper shower – it had been a few days, so a sink showers and sink laundry was welcome. This was before we met Rob, a trucker, who told us he had some free showers we could use, as they did expire (which we did – team showers – at the Pilot in Ontario, Oregon. Rob – thank you so so much!!!) Thus we had quite the long day, but were quite happily cycling along, enjoying the not knowing of where we would finally come to a rest, as well as the green fields and vegetation, a light breeze after a long hard day of blazing sun, head winds, heat and, you guessed it, hills. So, when the car returned and the window was opened and Sarah and Jason leaned out, their two children sitting in the back, smiling, and invited us to stay with them at their nearby farm, it was with astonishment and surprise that we said, yes. They had the most beautiful, most comfortable guest house, treated us to coffee, their own farm fresh eggs, cheese and delicious bread, yoghurt, beer, wine, and conversation. Just like that. Sarah had done a lot of traveling in her twenties and had been taken in by strangers when she was traveling in New Zealand and other places and she felt this was finally the opportunity to give thanks for that. I hope to one day be able to do the same to other perfect traveling strangers.

In Idaho, we stayed mostly in the town parks – open as they are to campers and cycle tourists. In New Meadows, we stopped at the local bar to inquire about camping on the grassy fields of the park, and were invited to a beer by the cook. We ended up in the courtyard where he chainsmoked and talked about new york city and driving – as you can’t beat ’em, just drive like taxi drivers and you will be fine, was my suggestion. In Midvale, we came into town as the sun was setting and stopped by the old coffeeshop and spoke with a native Midvalian rancher who wintered down in Quartzite, Arizona.

 On Eating

The amount of food we inhaled was just out of this world. And I still lost ten pounds. We had some gems, surprises: bagel with peanut butter and blueberries; our own ramen pad thai,  which we are continuously perfecting and atole. We also had a changing homemade mix of trail mix that included peanuts, cranberries, seeds, dates, almonds, corn nuts and more and stuck together with chocolate pretzels which had melted in the trail mix, and then hardened again turning them into a stack of sticky chocolate pretzels coated in the sweet/salty trail mix we had put in.

A good deal of conversation and thought continuously turned around food as we pushed ourselves through the at times desolate landscape, about what we could look forward to eating for dinner, or what we would enjoy for breakfast, what lunch would fill up our empty and hungry tummies. As we would cycle along, sometimes we would spend several hours cycling two ducks in a row, unable to have conversation because of traffic and the narrowness of our allotted cycling ‘paths’ and sometimes even preferentially lost in thought, taking in the wide landscapes, forming ideas of writings, philosophising. Marcus is more meditative and in quiet thought. At times, my head felt like it was going to explode. In my head and on occasion out loud, i would be singing a medley of tunes. As I am decidedly not a fan of medleys – I would concentrate very hard to at least complete one song before going into the next.  I would also jump wildly back and forth in thought between what was, what is, food, weather, headwinds, hills and heat, the enormity of it all, dancing, the beauty, the oh wow’s and the I can’t believe how damn beautiful it all is and how friggin lucky I am. And food food food. We lived on apples (and peanut butter), cucumbers, potatoes, oranges, a $5 2lb blueberry basket, bagels, bread, more bagels and bread, peanut butter (we need peanut butter sponsorship…), honey, a legion of hard boiled eggs, pounds and pounds of trail mix of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds, ramen pad thai, we made brilliantly inventive sandwiches as well as relied on true and tried recipes. We are constantly thinking of recipes that are perfect for cycle touring: no refrigeration or oven required, that can be cooked on a one stove top burner, not too heavy, too cumbersome, yet very nutritious and full of goodness and its ability to be made delicious with just a few ingredients. We have a few awesome recipes and are working on more.

On Being Careful

“If you are too careful, you are so occupied in being careful that you are sure to stumble over something.” ― Gertrude Stein

The words, ‘be careful’, be safe, have been tossed out more than any other when it comes to sending us of on this adventure. We have been warned countless times, that, really, we ought to be careful – and oddly, 95% of the time, nobody completes this sentence with a full thought – what exactly are they wanting us to be careful of. We can only assume, that they mean don’t fling yourself into traffic, make sure that the truck driver doesn’t come hurtling towards you, don’t go and be killed, et al.

We were talking about the significance of the careful, how many times we have been told to be careful and while we appreciate that everyone means well with that short yet loaded statement, in a sense, it is almost redundant. It is in our interest to make it home. We will do what we can to make it round the country and back. Rest assured, we kinda don’t want to get hurt. But if the alternative is to not go out there, cycle around the country and back, well, simply put, there isn’t an alternative. Why can’t we instead be told to be adventurous, or be bold? One man told us we are ambitious. Or in the words of Hilary, Do Brave Things. Perhaps we should all consider doing more brave things, whatever they may be for each of us individuals. To be careful – this does not mean to be stupid – hinders you in fully exploring life.

For Now

For now, we are going to do a short work stint for Young Guns alongside Hilary and JC and will be back in Hamilton area around the 20th of August. After that we will be heading north towards Glacier National Park and then East. We will be working on our next leg of the trip in the next couple of weeks, mapping it out to the best of our ability and will be posting photo galleries and more updates. We are somewhat worried about the oncoming winter…. so will try and work out what we can with that in mind.

We arrived in Hamilton about a week ago and it feels odd not being in that rhythm of waking up, eating, packing, cycling, eating, cycling, eating, cycling, eating, stopping, cycling, eating, finding a home, unpacking, eating, sleeping, and repeat. It is awesome to be working for Hil and JC,and spending time with them and their family! I am sure our bodies are quite happy with the rest, as we did have to push ourselves quite a bit. I look forward to the next leg. I am excited about being part of that life cycle again: Our trip has been very harmonious, very much in the moment, tremendously fun, beautiful, utterly exhausting, amazing, and surprising all at the same time.

 

“Sal, we gotta go and never stop going ’till we get there.’ ‘Where we going, man?’ ‘I don’t know but we gotta go.”Jack Kerouac, On the Road

-CX

We did it. Over 1200 miles, of carpy butt aching pedaling, of cooking in a 2 quart pot and living off six jars of peanut butter, of averaging 1 shower a week and ditch camping. Of places, peoples, ideas, landscapes. Of nature, of trust, of growing. On the 28th of July, Christina and I finished out a long 40 miles to arrive in Hamilton Montana. We stopped for some trail mix on the bike path leading down the last 9 miles. Our blue capped, chocolate coated liter jar only held a small amount of trail mix. We slowly ate the last bit, a few nuts at a time, minds playing over the moment like idle fingers stroking a lock of hair. The last stretch of asphalt for a while, it was our shortest day, but also our longest, legs finally allowed to grow weary as the end approached, thoughts wandering and reflecting over our past few weeks. Time slowed and those miles stretched on, warped by the machine of memory powered by experience to create a time warp of nostalgia.

We have seen much over the past month. We outran a twilight rainstorm, that last downhill slope giving us the edge to get away, and welcomed to Gerlachs lonely pub, population 120, where someone still managed a wise crack about Bakersfield. We were inspired by an Carroll, an 87 year old man, who still manages to balance his bike long enough to get a running start to swing a stiff leg over the top tube, silenced by a bird gliding powerfully over glassed waters, following a path that feels as if only the mountains and trees, the stones and flowing wind were privy to. Together, we have gotten so much closer to this world we were once distracted from, have become submerged our minds all that is good, and yet still are visitors to. This is our journey.

The Good

Pedaling down the road, our only responsibility to take in all you can and meet a soft quota for mileage, there isn’t really much to solve, insofar as daily chores go. No need to worry about the dry cleaning, picking up that gallon of milk on the way home, getting your oil changed and how Bob at the office is just waiting to pawn off more work on you. The only thing we really think about is… well, what’s for dinner. Even as we prepare a breakfast of atole, the unspoken question lingers thickly. It is a matter of who will ask first. “So what do you want for dinner?” Most often countered by a, “What do we have?” It’s entertaining, making food out of the nothing that we seem to carry, a favorite of which is our own take on Pad Thai. Oriental Ramen, blended with peanut butter, chili powder, topped with diced cucumber. Our first attempt we chewed on undercooked ramen. The second time we nailed it though, blending lovely peanut sauce and scarfing down. We wrote that one down.

Another time we found 2 lbs of blueberries for $5. Then there was the stint in Yosemite where we had run out of bread and invented the Mexican PB and J. We used corn tortilla, peanut butter and honey. Kid you not, it might as well have been dessert it was so good. Speaking of dessert, Pie is good. Roadside fruit stands are the best. When we pulled into Fiddle Creek Fruit just off of a mountainside, out of fresh goods, we unceremoniously dropped our loaded bikes and ran inside to be stopped dead by an overwhelming spread that would make Jesus’ last meal seem a poorly prepared appetizer and so we did what any logical person would do; we shared some pie. Huckleberry pie. How spoiled we were.

People. Great people everywhere. I wrote down all we were given in a month, but it doesn’t capture the spirit of the giving. Oranges, grapes, beer. Lots of beer. Hell, a woman even forced us to take money after hearing about our trip. And while that was a wonderful thing to receive, it was so much more to see her eyes filled with a rejuvenated spirit, unable to express it. As we bike, I can feel a wake drag behind us, a sort of natural, if unexpected, disturbance of the order of things. And when people turn their heads to witness, a swirl of emotions plays out predictably. Confusion. Curiosity. Disbelief. The magic happens between that disbelief and the notion of adventure that follows. It is encouraging to see new thoughts flow across minds, opening horizons never conceived. And it’s humbling. A universal force at work.
Jason and Sarah were the first to take us in. Waving more enthusiastically than most, we returned the gesture, speechless when they offered up a guest house on their farm as a place to lie our heads. Well traveled and well read, they were paying it forward as well as a debt owed to a man in New Zealand, one who offered Sarah a place, showing her sites privy to the locals and a universal sense of hospitality. A nod is owed to that forerunner as well as Sarah and Jason, those who held true his ideals.
Christina has been a great travel partner, and a wonderful teacher. We are tackling a course on music theory and I, as I once described to her, am as tone deaf as a drowning anteater. Having been in several bands herself, she held my hand through the first few weeks. While strolling through the cheese section in Safeway, she pointed out the music that was playing, declaring the tonic, describing how they went to the dominate chord back to the tonic, trying her best to point out the intangible, smiling encouragingly. From her I’ve learned that there is always something to smile about, a grin always pulling at her lips. I learned that not every vegetarian loves mushrooms, and that any sports car is called a Ferrari.

I’ve always lived in bigger cities. Phoenix, a quick detour through Bakersfield, the Bay Area. So I’ve always been used to populous environments, but we have seen ghost towns on this trip, towns that are on the map, but at population 1. Or population 0 with a caretaker that oversees the upkeep of the place. For what reason is beyond me but it certainly has been eye-opening to the lifestyles so common in the west. One of the notable ones, we walked into a bar/gas station mash up (as it was the only building visible amidst the rows of wheat) looking for a bit of water where an older gentleman, complete with blue vertically stripped shirt and bow-tie, was tending to three farmhands nursing drinks and discussing the weather, the crops, and the latest small town gossip. The barkeep was a nice man, helpful and honest, the kind of guy you would expect to get a straight shave from down at the corner barber shop, conversation picked up from the last time you needed a hair cut. This atmosphere spoke of another time, one gone from bigger cities, but preserved in the small towns of the west, and I absolutely felt at home in these places.

The Road is many things. It provided much for us on this journey. It offered up hills and winds as to refine our characters, wild cherries and fresh waters for our vessels, moss for our bed rolls, birds and crickets for music, and time. Time. Time to think. Time to rest. Time to laugh and feel. Time to be.

The Bad

I counted a total of 2 times we were flipped off.

The ugly

My unwashed beard.

There was a time when families would gather and listen to the evening radio program, content to sit and listen. No more, not in a time when such an activity is too passive for such distracted minds. Television works on the model of keeping one distracted, jumping from clip to clip, short catchy tunes, entertainment served in 15 minute packages broken up by 15 minutes of commercials. Simple plots, base characters, repeated conflicts. The road forces you to slow down. To listen. To think. I keep setting up camp and hoping that a man would come hobbling out of the darkness, making for our campsite with an offer of a story in return for a bit of food. No more do we tell grand stories, epics. But if you listen closely, the road will whisper into a listening ear. Not demanding, but open, a delicate offer.
I tried to capture 1200 miles on a bike. Photos lacked soul. Words necessitated millions. Videos don’t create lactic acid in ones muscles, sweat on your brow, a 180 BPM heart rate, mosquito bites or the awe of rounding a corner unto a diamond coated lake underneath the shadow of an ever watchful mountain.
To live is to live and to live is to do. We are given but a slice of time, a canvas to be painted once, a flute to compose one story, a candle to be guided by until its light burns low and passes slowly to rest in the darkness it was birthed in. There is nothing but to do. Paint. Play. Burn. Burn bright. Leave scars on the sun. When Christina and I left, we didn’t do so to be safe, to preserve our vessels. We leave that to the embalmists. We are here to spend what currency we have. Youth. Knees. Health. We were doled out our small pittance called life and told to invest in the stock market of experience.
And so we, as Nietzsche encouraged, “encounter risk and danger, play dice for death,” so that in the end we may find ourselves.

-YT, Marcus

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3 thoughts on “1200 Miles and 26 Days of Perspective

  1. Hey guys, thanks for remembering me. While you had a lovely shower in Lolo, I had one the following night in the Hamilton Super8. But instead of the Vote Smart ranch near Philipsburg, I camped again in the Bitterroots, then visited Adventure Cycling headquarters in Missoula, then bussed to Corvallis and cycled to and along the Oregon coast for a few days, met other vagabonding cyclists, and ended up at the math conference on time.
    Do you remember Eagleville California? (Its Surprise Valley ain’t much like Phoenix.) In 1948 I taught math ant Spanish to Eagleville students

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    • Very very awesome! It’s good to hear from you Carroll! We’ve been telling people about you and your heroic climb up Lolo Pass to which we’ve received looks of incredulity. Glad to hear that your trip didn’t end there! Are you planning on completing Lolo to Oregon? We continued to Darby where we worked for a not but we just crossed the Canadian border today!

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      • Canada! Nice, whichever province (do you ski?). Yes, I hope to close that coast-to-coast gap, but not this year and possibly Missoula-to-Seattle instead of the scenic Salmon River route from Lolo to Baker City or Ontario Oregon. Next month I’ll close a smaller and easier gap, entirely off-road (no trucks!) from Shepherdstown WV to Pittsburgh. The only other gap is a tiny flat one, Urbana-Effingham Illinois.
        BTW, if you’re ever back in western Montana, I recommend a visit to the awesome Adventure Cycling headquarters in Missoula….

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