Sunday, July 29, 2007

Days 34 & 35--Crossing into Hoosier Land and a Rest Day

Day 34, the day before the rest day, has been long awaited by all. This was the last day of a 7-day stretch--the 13th out of the last 14 days where we covered over 1,000 miles. We were all tired and took it fairly easy on the tour to Valparaiso, IN (aka "Valpo"-rhymes with Alpo). The remaining fifty miles in Illinois was pretty standard fare--your corn, soybeans, car dealers, etc. At around mile 16 of the day, we did follow about 2 miles of the Historic Route 66 highway (that runs from Chicago to LA). On that stretch of road is the "Launching Pad Drive-In" with the statue of "Rocket Man" out front (pictured with me). After that stop, I couldn't get the Elton John song off my mind all day...and was reminded that Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your keeds (sic).

At about mile 50, we entered the great state of Indiana at State Line Rd. Much to our disappointment, there was no "Welcome to Indiana " or even an Indiana state line marker. Pennsylvania Floyd and I made do with a photo of the State Line (Road) sign and corn field in the background (pictured). You will have to trust me that this photo was indeed taken in Indiana.

I have since learned that the lack of a "Welcome to Indiana" sign is part of the planned two-year transition to combine the states of Illinois and Indiana into one state--Illiana. This little known change is quietly occuring behind the scenes, and will be complete by the end of 2009 when the state capital is moved (it has not yet been determined where). They are starting with dumpsters first (pictured), then going on from there. It makes a lot of sense. The states look essentially the same and they won't need signs on the border they used to share. Lincoln hung out in both states so there shouldn't be a problem with the license plates. As well, an unnamed spokesperson from the Illinois Department of External Pronounciation proclaimed, "We are thrilled. There will be no more rampant mispronounciation of our state name by people who are compelled to use the silent "S" at the end. This way, we get rid of the S and everyone is happy."

We concluded the day's ride of 87 miles, and the 7-day ride stretch, at Lankinau Hall Dorm, Valparaiso College. REST DAY!

Day 35 (July 29), the rest day has been great. Sleeping in till 7am, getting caught up on laundry, bike maintenance, and the blog. As well, I had a wonderful visit with Betsy's brothers Fred and Dan, and Fred's wife Teresa (pictured in front of the Porter County Court House--aka "the Porterhouse"?). We saw some of the sights around Valpo, including the Outhouse on the Middle School Roof.

Before closing, I would like to say a quick Indiana hello to Sandy Fletcher--a friend of my cousin Steve Boigon's. Sandy is a wholesale florist and avid bike rider. Keep on pedaling Sandy!

Onward and eastward tomorrow,


Days 32 & 33--Into the Land of Lincoln, Jake, and Elwood

We left our camp outside of Madison on Day 32 (July 26) , destined for Belvedere, IL. The morning temperatures were comfortable (70's), with high humidity and a warmer afternoon temps (upper 80's) to come. You could tell that all that moisture in the air was going to be a prelude to something--and it wasn't going to be dry.

Initially, the remaining countryside in Wisconsin was not quite as dramatic as the previous days, but with lots of cumulative climbing up and down rolling hills. There were lots of dairy farms (pictured). It soon became clear that while Wisconsin farmers generally treat their cows well, they really put their tractors up on a pedastal.

At about mile 55, we passed through unappealing Beloit, WI into even more unappealing South Beloit, IL. This state portal (pictured) proved to be the least inviting and definitely the wettest we've encountered to date. It began to pour rain heavily as we crossed the border. New Jersey Barry and I took refuge at the Firehouse Tavern in Roscoe, IL and had a warm cup of soup and a sandwich. The rain slowed a bit and we continued down the road into a our camp at Belvidere, IL, completing the 87-mile ride for the day. The private campground, outside of Belvidere, had a swimming pool and a huge roof shelter under which we all pitched our 4o+ tents. It was a good thing. We experienced torrential rains during the night--and stayed quite dry until....

On Day 33 (July 27), we left Belvidere for the twin cities of Morris and Coal City, IL.--another big century ride. It rained hard in the early morning, but changed into to a typical moist, hot, humid, midwest summer day. The terrain was mostly flat, with little elevation gain--and corn and soybean fields as far as the eye could see. Our 108-mile ride that day concluded at camp at the Coal City Club Park on the Illinois River. Only one more day before the rest day.

Onward and eastward,


Days 30 & 31 (Part II)--Into the Land of Milk and Honey--and Cheese and Beer

From the Myers' place in Dakota, MN, we continued down the Missisippi to La Crescent, MN, where we turned east to the bridge over the Big River and across the state line (pictured) into "America's Dairyland" Wisconsin and the city of LaCrosse. LaCrosse is the home of LaCrosse beer and the World's Largest Six-Pack (pictured) outside the brewery. For some reason, the town seems to be in a state of perpetual bliss.

Once out of blissful, but homely, LaCrosse, we entered the gorgeous, lush, hilly farm country of Vernon County in Southwest Wisconsin. It was fun, challenging riding with lots of elevation gain and truly spectacular scenery. I didn't want it to end. As a side note, the farmers in this area use a lot of contour farming methods which is not only a smart use of the land, but adds scenic patterns to the already beautiful country side (pictured). Our 70-mile ride ended at Viroqua, WI, a beautiful small town with a great organic food co-op for dinner.

On Day 31 (July 25), we left Viroqua for Madison, WI--a full century ride. The gorgeous, hilly terrain continued for about 30 miles, then flattened out the rest of the way into Madison. We wrapped up the day's ride of 112 miles at our camp in a rural area just outside of Madison. I am disappointed to report that since we did not travel through the center of Madison, I could not take a photograph of the Wisconsin State Capitol to post on this blog--and explain to you the origin of its name. I heard something about its being named for President James Madison. How far-fetched is that? Some people will believe anything.

More to come.


Days 30 & 31 (Part I)--Rollin' Down the River

We began Day 30, leaving the dorm in Winona, following beautiful US-61 along the Mississippi River on the Minnesota side. Gorgeous views were at every turn, with the tree-covered bluffs and river traffic (pictured) being a feast for the eyes. In Dakota, MN (at mile 20), we were again welcomed with a feast for our seemingly bottomless biker bellies. The wonderful Myers family (daughters pictured), and their parents, put out a warm show of support and fantastic food in their yard overlooking the Mississippi. They must have worked on preparing for this for many weeks. They have done this for every Big Ride group passing through each summer since 1998. Their strong support, encouragement, and warm spirit (and great food) were rocket fuel for the miles ahead. They lost their grandfather to emphysma a few years back and have a strong bond to the work of the American Lung Assn. A huge thank you to the Myers family!!

More on Days 30 & 31 to follow.


Days 28 & 29--Pass the Pie and Hold the Mayo

Following our rest day at New Ulm, we left for Owatonna, MN on Day 28 (July 22) . We rolled through the metropolis of Mankato on Sunday Morning. It was very quiet. By 9am, no one was up yet. Must have been a wild Saturday night in Mankato. We had easy rolling hills through the day, with a steep drop and rise into and out of the Minnesota River Valley. The wind finally shifted direction, as did our direction of travel--headwinds continued. After 75 miles, we arrived at the Steele County fairgrounds in Owatonna, our camp for the evening and teammate Vern's hometown. We were welcomed enthusiastically by a large group of Vern's family and friends. Vern's lovely wife Karen and several friends and relatives put out an incredible "tailgate spread" of pies (pictured) that had to be seen (and eaten) to be believed! Thank you Karen and FFOV (friends and family of Vern)!

That evening in Owatonna, the rain blew in in a succession of thunderstorms. My tent seemed to keep things pretty dry. The rain conveniently stopped for us to break down camp and have breakfast. As soon as I launched my Day 29 ride at 6:30am, the next wave of showers came through in a big way. I could barely see through my glasses. I was drenched. This was not Seattle-style mist. Fortunately, it stopped in about 30 minutes--followed by a huge rainbow, a good omen for the rest of the day.

By late morning, we rolled through Rochester, MN home of the Mayo Clinic (sign pictured), the Honest Bike Shop and Midwest Bail Bonds Co. (pictured, honestly), and Ane and Liz two of our Ride teammates. As in Owatonna, we were enthusiastically welcomed to Rochester by Ane's and Liz's families and friends with warm hospitality and great food (including custard squares and rhubarb pie). Thanks to all for the fine welcome! The tail end of the day's ride took us into the Mississippi River Valley, with beautiful hills and roads with tire-eating potholes. We wrapped up our 93 mile day in Winona, MN in style--at Winona Ryder State University (WRSU).

WRSU was one of the first colleges in the growing trend to offer naming rights to celebrities to augment university revenues--the only limitation is that the celeb's first or last name must already be in the name of the school. Recent school name changes have included Huey Lewis and Clark (& the News) College; the University of Brad Pittsburgh; Lucille Ball State University and Donna Reed College (the latter two were posthumously named). WRSU provided a nice dry place to dry out our tents and wet clothing--and another night of sleeping off the ground.

More to come,


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Days 25, 26, & 27--Got Corn and Lakes? You betcha.

On Day 25, we left DeSmet, SD for Tyler, MN. Happiness is South Dakota in my rear-view mirror--(as the country song sorta goes). Aside from the Black Hills and some wonderful people, it was time to mosey on down the road--to Minnesota. Before we leave SD, I must mention the great folks at Sioux River Cycle in Brookings (home of South Dakota State University) who provided us with ice cream and other goodies at our lunch stop at their shop.

Now...on to Minnesota..the mythical land of Lake Wobegon and Frostbite Falls. We crossed the Minnesota State Line (pictured) at mile 61 of the day. For some reason many of us were fantasizing that as soon as we crossed the state line, the winds would suddenly reverse direction--to blow out of the west--or at least stop. Au contrare. Right at the border in Minnesota we saw hundreds of gigantic, wind generator machines. Not a good sign. The wind continued. But, the temperatures were much cooler, and the scenery was much improved--lots of corn and lakes.

We rolled into Tyler, MN wrapping up our 80-mile day. Our camp was at Danebod Folk School, steeped in Danish history. A very homey place to hang out for the evening.

The next morning (Friday) marked the start of the last of our 6-day riding stretch from Rapid City. It has been a tough week. Everyone was greatly looking forward to the rest day in New Ulm starting Friday evening. Today was a glorious 90-mile ride. Temperatures were in the high-70's to low-80's. The topography became benignly midwestern with scenic rolling hills through the corn fields. The last major town on the day's trek before New Ulm was Sleepy Eye, MN.

Aside from its great name, Sleepy Eye has another claim to fame. One of its favorite sons, Linus Maurer (son of Nick and Ella), born and raised in Sleepy Eye, was close friends with Charles Shultz the creator of the Peanuts comic strip. Linus Maurer became the namesake of the character "Linus" in Peanuts [this is a true story]. A statue (pictured) and a plaque sit in front of the Sleepy Eye Public Library for all to view. Maurer's blanket is preserved in formaldehyde at the Brown County Historical Society [this fact may need some validation].

As if that weren't enough, outside of Sleepy Eye was the site of the first RFBD household--Rural Free Bass Delivery (pictured). You may recall their slogan "for people too busy to fish." Unfortunately, UPS, Federal Express, and the Internet have greatly contibuted to the demise of the RFBD service that has been so popular in Minnesota since the advent of refrigerated mailboxes.

We wrapped up the day's 90 miles in New Ulm, MN, staying at Martin Luther College at one of the dorms-- a nice change from sleeping on the ground. New Ulm is a neatly-ordered German community, with much Bavarian architecture. Not being a Teutonic kind of guy, it's not a place I would want to spend alot of time in, but the town was quite interesting to wander around.

Good friends Doug and Chris Allen from Dallas-Ft. Worth, and son Michael, were in Minneapolis today and drove to New Ulm to meet up with me. It was wonderful seeing them. We had a great lunch and walked some around the downtown. They left to catch a ball game in Minneapolis tonight (Twins and Angels)--and will then spend a week in Iowa visiting their families. Starting tomorrow, Michael will be riding in RAGBRAI--the Des Moines Register's Great Annual Bicycle Ride Across Iowa--Go Michael!

On another note, today (July 21st) is our wonderful daughter Becca's 24th birthday! Happy Birthday Becca!!

Tomorrow (Day 28), we are back in the saddle heading for Owatonna, MN (hometown of our team mate Vern); this will start a 7 Day stretch until the next rest day in Valparaiso, IN.

Throughout the ride, each of us continues to hear to from people along the way who have a connection to what we are doing--regularly reminding us of what the Big Ride is really all about. It may be a waitress in Wyoming who has lost parents to lung cancer, or a rural Minnesota couple with an asthmatic son--people who know the value of the programs of the American Lung Association and not taking lung health and clean air for granted. Again, many thanks to my wonderful sponsors and supporters! Your generosity and encouragement continues to be an inspiration to me, and helping me buck the the 4 H's.

Thanks for visiting. More later.


Days 23 & 24-- Little Bike on the Prairie

The 4 H's continued on Day 23. We left at 6:30 am for our 75 mile ride from Pierre, SD to Miller, SD. We slogged through the headwinds and humidity to Miller, a small, orderly town. The relentless winds and heat were challenging all riders. At the end of the day, some of us had dinner at a local cafe with a giant cowboy on the roof (pictured). When I saw that, I knew it was my kind of place! I had a wonderful dish of fresh walleye--a dish you just don't find on the west coast. After downing 6 big glasses of lemonade--continuous hydration--I headed back to camp. The heat continued--around 90 degrees at 10pm. It finally dipped into the lower seventies by 3am.

We left the next morning at 6:30am for DeSmet, SD. My energy and spirits were still up, as were the headwinds. By Huron, SD at mile 40, a huge thunderstorm roared through. The storm caught up with me at the checkpoint that happened to mark the "halfway point" (pictured) between Seattle and DC (approximately 1,700 miles)!

It was in just outside of Huron that one of our team mates, Brack Hattler, was injured in a bike accident. Fortunately, it was not life-threatening, but it was quite serious. Brack is back in Pittsburgh now, healing. We miss his (and Jean Ann's) comraderie and wish him a very speedy recovery!! We all think of him often and will continue to do so all the way to DC. He is definitely with us in spirit and always a part of our team!

We ended the day's 80-mile ride in DeSmet, a very pretty little town with a beautiful park to camp in. DeSmet is where Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House on the Prairie" is located. We walked by a museum and "the little house" (pictured). The rain really cooled things off and wrung out some of the humidity. I slept well in preparation for our last day in South Dakota. There is a fifth "H" that I neglected to mention--Hospitality. South Dakota is home to some very wonderful and hospitable people. The 4 H's must build character.

Onward to Minnesota!


Days 21 & 22--The Real 4-H Club Experience

When one enters South Dakota, you are immediately provided membership into the 4-H Club: Heat, Humidity, Hills, and (the worst) Headwinds! Our century ride on Sunday the 15th (Day 21), has been the toughest, most challenging day for me so far.

We headed east from Rapid City and immediately saw heavy thunderstorms brewing behind us. I saw lightning flashes in my little helmet-mounted rear-view mirror. The storm soon caught up with us. Fortunately, it was a fairly brief (about 30-minutes), hard downpour. What followed were 70 miles of searing heat (90's to 100 degrees), high humidity, steep hills, and strong 10-15+ mph headwinds.

After the steep climb over Cedar Pass in the Badlands National Park, we passed through the eerie, magnificent moonscape of the Badlands. The last 20 miles were even hotter, with no redeeming esthetic value. I finished the 105 course and rolled into Kadoka, SD an exhausted wretch. After dinner, I immediately retreated into my tent and got a solid night's sleep.

The next day, (Day 22), we left for Pierre, SD, for a "shy" century (96 miles). It's amazing what a good night sleep will do. Somehow, I found a new store of energy. The 4 H's were in full regalia, but I was able to power through feeling pretty good. Alot of the headwind thing is mental--you somehow convince (delude) yourself into thinking you are actually making progress. The scenery was dotted with round hay bales (pictured) and a seemingly endless horizon line. It was around 100 degrees when we crossed the Missouri River into Pierre, ending the day's ride at our camp at a City Park overlooking the River (pictured at sunset).

As you know--or should know--Pierre (pronounced "PEER") is the state capital of South Dakota (capitol building pictured). One story goes that when they were trying to decide the name for the capital, the state founders were trying to get the famous city planner/architect Pierre L'Enfant to design their new city--in the grand tradition of Washington, DC. L'Enfant quoted them a price for his services. Even at L'Enfant's Government/AARP rate, the South Dakotans felt that it was too rich for their blood. One man proposed, "why don't we just name the city after him and it won't cost us a thing...then, we can design it ourselves and no one will be the wiser." The rest is history. It's on the internet, so it must be true.

More to come...


Days 19 & 20--Friday the 13th

We got an early start (6:30 am) on Day 19 for our ride from Newcastle, WY to Rapid City, SD. Although this was Friday the 13th, the bad spirits were kept at bay for most of the day. It was a day of steep climbs across the South Dakota state line (pictured) and into the Black Hills National Forest, including a 1.5 mile 7% climb, followed by a 1 mile 7% descent--with no shoulder. Fortunately, traffic was very light on that section. The day started at 4,200' elevation, topped at 5,700' at mile 30, then ended in Rapid City at around 3,500'.

While the ride through the town of Custer, SD was easily forgettable (though I did have a memorable iced mocha there), it was followed by a spectacular trek through Custer State Park. The temperatures were still fairly cool (80's) as we followed the winding roads through the ridges and trees. The riding was glorious and the scenary stunning. I can see why the Native Americans have held the Black Hills sacred. The only buffalo I saw from the bike was the statue in Custer (pictured), but the weekend was young.

Not to be disappointed on Friday the 13th (the day was just too perfect), the headwind demons appeared for the last 15 miles into Rapid City. It was a slog that seemed to last forever (and an hors d'oeuvre for what was to be served up in the coming days in South Dakota).

Friday the 13th ended on a very positive note. My darling wife Betsy and I had planned a rendezvous in Rapid City for some months, and we synched up at the South Dakota School of Mines (how romantic), then went to the Holiday Inn Express. I've really come to appreciate the simple pleasures of sheets and a/c. We spent Day 20 (Saturday) touring the area in a rental car, visiting Mt. Rushmore (pictured), the Crazy Horse Mountain project, and other touristy spots. She and I went back through Custer State Park and drove the Widlife Loop--and we did see some real buffalo! While some of them roamed, most conserved their energy, hanging out in the shade and muttering as tourists went by with their cameras. I overheard two of them snickering, "What can't those people get it straight--we're BISON, darn it!

More to come.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Days 17 & 18--Empty Spaces, Full Hearts

We got an early 6am start for our longest ride thus far--the 115 mile stretch between Sheridan and Gillette. The day was long and challenging through very remote, wide open spaces. We saw deer and antelope in both playful and serious moods. We started at around the 3,700' elevation mark, climbing to 4,800' in 20 miles, downhill to 3,600' at mile 60, then back up to 4,600' at Gillette.

We ended the long, hot century-plus ride at our camp at the 'Lasting Legacy' City Park in Gillette. The name sounded like a it would be a cemetery and we were excited about the prospect of a quiet evening (not the case). The fine, friendly folks at the adjacent Campbell County Recreation Center, Jenny and Addi (pictured), made us feel welcome and offered the full use of their facilities.

The next morning, Day 18, we left Gillette for Newcastle, WY--79 miles of more wide open spaces and limited services. One oasis at mile 47 was the town of Upton (population 700). It included Polly's Café and Pub. We had a very enjoyable lunch at Polly's and hob-nobbed with regular customers Sam, Leetha, and Jack (pictured) as well as Polly (owner and cook) and Sharon (waitress). In the back room there were several beautiful, wall-sized murals depicting local landscapes and enterprises, including the Devil's Tower, ranching, oil drilling, etc. Sam (a former mayor) told us that the artist painted them between 1950 and 1954 to work off his bar tab. We left Upton with a good meal and warm conversation. On the way out of town we passed by the Upton Sinclair (gas station). It's a jungle out there.

We arrived in Newcastle, WY and our accomodations at the Weston--the Weston County Senior Center that is. We camped next to the building and were served a warm dose of good food and wonderful hospitality by the fine folks at the Center (some pictured). In the evening we were serenaded by the whistles of BNSF coal trains (some over a mile long) rumbling behind the senior center building every 10 to 20 minutes. The seniors served us breakfast the next morning for our ride to Rapid City.

On to South Dakota...


Days 15 & 16--Shake It Up, Baby

On Monday, July 9, we left Billings at 8am. This was a later start than usual given the light day ahead. Temperatures were very mild (in the 80's), having been cooled off by the Saturday evening storm that blew through. As well, the 55 mile ride had very little elevation gain, putting us in Hardin, MT in the early afternoon. We dined at 'The Lariat' for both lunch and dinner. We were going to eat at the 'Four Aces' after a round of Moose Drool (beer), but didn't see anything on the menu that wasn't deep fried or meaty. We got a well deserved 'what did you expect, city boys' look from our waitress. A real highlight at Hardin was getting to use their solar heated indoor pool and hot tub at the rec center. It was tough duty, let me tell you.

The next day at 6am, we left Hardin for Sheridan, WY. Temps were still mild, starting in the 60's in the early morning, and hitting the 80's in the afternoon.We started the day at around 2,900' elevation, climbing to 4,300', then back to 3,700' at Sheridan.

We hit two milestones on Day 16: 1,000 miles and our fourth state--Wyoming (pictured)! We travelled primarily through the Crow Indian Reservation, following the Little Big Horn River in spots--very close to Custer's Last Stand.

The culinary highlight of the day was the best milk shake in these here parts in Ranchester, WY. Jerry K., after 30 years as a rancher raising Black Angus cattle and horses, decided to open up a western craft and milk shake store. No one shakes things up like Jerry (pictured). The man is an artist with a blender! My chocolate milk shake (with malt) was superb. When we asked for his secret, he replied 'I make 'em for my customers the way I make 'em for myself.' On the way out of town, I was going to stop in the local taxidermy shop (pictured), but I was already stuffed.

Onward through Wyoming.


Sunday, July 8, 2007

Days 13 & 14--Clear Sailing to Billings

On July 7, we left Harlowton around 6am for the ride to Billings. Again, we wanted to get an earlier start to beat the heat. Just out of Harlowton, you notice the grandeur and drama of the plains' sky as the sun was coming up (top photo). You also notice how quiet it is. All you hear is the light wind in your ears, many different bird songs, and your own blood pulsing through your veins. It was glorious.

One might ask, with the many hours on the bike, what does one think about. You think some about the past, some about the future, but most of all, and increasingly so, you think about the present moment. And that is truly a gift.

The day was primarily flat and downhill, with some short climbs. The winds were mostly at our backs. At about mile 30, I stopped at a water stop in the town of Ryegate, MT. It was about 8am. I went over to use the restroom at the Ryegate Bar. The local clientele seated at the bar initially gave me a "look" as I walked past them in with my colorful bike jersey, black spandex shorts, and helmet. I couldn't help but think about the sign on the side of the bar (lower photo) proclaiming Ryegate as the home of the "Testicle Festival" (nuttin' but fun)--and where they get their supply. Fortunately, the natives were friendly.

The last stretch in the afternoon was hot, but not as bad the previous days. About 70 miles into the ride, we stopped at a water stop at a grain elevator along the railroad (middle photo). Something pretty strong took down that silo.

It was a great day to roll into Billings, MT completing our 93 miles; especially with the prospect of a real bed that evening, a good night's sleep, and a day off on Sunday (Day 14). Sunday was a day to relax and catch up on things (laundry, bike maintenance, and general downtime). On Saturday night, shortly after our arrival, we were treated to a spectacular set of record breaking thunderstorms. In some areas of Billings, more than 2 inches of rain fell in one hour. Three successive storms lit up the sky with bright lightning and earth shaking thunder. Things have really cooled off--for now.

We've been in Montana since July 1 (about a week). Tomorrow we head for Wyoming--our fourth state. Cumulatively to date, we've completed just over 900 miles--about a quarter of the way!

More in a few days.


Day 12--The Heat is On

On July 6, we left Townsend, MT at approximately 5:45 am. This was an earlier start time than normal to try to beat the impending heat of the day's century ride. It was good that we did. Very early on in the ride, we encountered a three mile stretch of road construction that was the absolute pits. That section of road was rocky, rutted, and dusty, with lots of loose gravel . The flagging crew was very nice, but were somewhat like the Keystone Cops in their execution of keeping traffic (cars and bikes) smoothly and safely moving. Between the dodging of cars and heavy equipment, this section was slow and challenging. Some of our team members slid and fell. It was not good. Fortunately there were no serious injuries and, amazingly, few broken spokes and flat tires along the way.

Shortly after leaving the construction zone, we entered green Deep Creek Canyon (lower photo). This was a pleasant respite, with some challenging, but not excruciating elevation gain--1200' in 12 miles. The last few miles were much steeper than the first few, but the beauty of the canyon helped distract me from that incessant gravitational pull. It was still quite cool into mid-morning.

We emerged from the canyon and entered into the High Range Country (top photo)--brown, dry, and hot. By lunch time we arrived at the bustling metropolis of White Sulphur Springs, MT. At 10:30 am, the temperature on a bank clock showed 92 degrees. Not a good sign of things to come. I poked my head into a local deli to grab a (you guessed it) a turkey sandwich. I asked if I could bring my bike inside to get it out of the heat. The answer was no. I started to turn around to go to the next food place when I heard an "OK." It turns out that the owner thought I wanted to bring my motorcycle inside. Once we cleared up that misunderstanding, I got a great sandwich!

The winds were very fickle today. We had headwinds, tailwinds, crosswinds, tradewinds, and woodwinds (clarinets and oboes were flying everywhere).

Leaving White Sulphur Springs, things got hotter and browner. The good news is that we had nice long downward grade (with some headwind) into Harlowton, MT for the last 40 miles, wrapping up a ride of 102.7 miles. The temperature in Harlowton was 104 degrees at 4:30pm. To beat the heat, around 40 of us set up our sleeping pads on the floor inside the Kiwanis Community Hall (about 5 folks set up tents on the HS football field). It was a memorable evening--very surreal and not much sleep.

More to come...


Day 11--Across the Great Divide to Helena Hand-Basket

Big day today. We left our camp at Avon at around 7am and had a chance to warm-up our leg muscles on a very gradual climb for the first 7 miles. At mile 7, we began the climb to McDonald Pass--the Continental Divide--at an elevation of 6325'. The last four miles up to the Pass were very steep. This is where all those training miles since January passed through my mind as I slogged up the grade--Baker Hill on Bainbridge, Young's Grade in Yakima, and Winery Hill in Woodinville--ah, gotta love it. Once again, I called upon my trusty Granny Gear, and slowly spun up the hill to the crest.

We made it! Once at the top, we took a water & food break and many photos. The lower photo includes two incredible and wonderful people standing next to me --Maryland Bob in the center (age 76) and Minnesota Vern (age 66) at the far left. Seeing what Bob is doing now, I figured that I want to drink what Bob is drinking--until he told me has has an occasional martini. I never cared much for martinis before, but it may be worth a try. Vern is an ironman, and a fountain of information about lots of things, including agriculture (he used to be a farmer). Even this city clicker has learned a few agri-facts.

After resting on our tired laurels for 20 minutes or so, we began the trek downward--a steep ten mile descent at an 8% grade. What a ride! Definitely not for the faint of heart.

At the bottom, we cruised into Helena, and encountered the High Country Coffee espresso stand. A small group of us stopped for refreshments. I had my usual quad grande (split decaf) mocha on ice and poured it into my water bottle. It was gone in 4 minutes. Tracy (an expatriate from Kent, WA), James, and Steve, run a mean operation in the right location. From the espresso stand we continued into downtown Helena.

I took a little three block side trip off route to photograph the State Capitol. One story goes that many years ago, Helena and Butte were locked in a bitter battle over which town would become the capital of Montana. Butte thought they had it in the bag, but most Montanans, while outwardly humoring the Butte-boosters, knew that no self-respecting state could have a capital named "Butte." So, as sometimes happens in politics, a compromise was brokered. The state capital was placed in Helena, and Butte got the largest open-pit copper mine in the world. Everyone was happy--a true win-win solution! This is on the internet so it must be true.

Coming out of Helena, we were halfway done with our "short" ride of the day (63 miles)--easy sailing for the rest of the day, right? The last 30 miles were blazingly hot, hitting 100 degrees, dusty, and desolate. And the headwind was not helpful. We rolled across the Missouri River (our first "eastern" river!) into Townsend, MT to complete the day's metric century ride (63 miles).

More to come,


Day 10--Beef...It's what's for scenery

We left Missoula on the Fourth of July around 7am after a very restful day off on the University of Montana campus. Day 10 was a day of consistent elevation gain, starting at around 3100', and following the beautiful Blackfoot River upstream. We saw many people in rafts headed downstream. Commuters to Missoula, no doubt. Just out of town, the river winds through a canyon and, at about mile 40, opens up into a wide sweeping valley--cattle ranch country.

Once into the Big Valley, I thought I saw Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Long, Lorne Greene, and Hoss (what was his real name?) riding over a hill together--but soon realized I was just halucinating after my last PB&J sandwich. At this point of the ride, huge ranches are the name of the game...this will continue for many more miles and more states. I think the animal posing with me in the top photo was on the same steroids as Barry Bonds.

At about mile 90, we topped 5000' before rolling into camp at Avon, MT (elev. 4900'), wrapping up a 101.5 mile day. Dinner was unbelievable. The fine folks at the Avon Cafe (Linda, Sue, and Chuck) catered it at our campground, with a wide array of very tasty carbs and proteins, including at least five (5) different kinds of fresh baked pies for desert: Apple, Peach, Blueberry, Boston Creme, and Chocolate Creme! It was great for fueling up to tackle the Continental Divide, early the next morning.

More later,


Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Days 8 & 9--The Morning Commute is Light Today

Leaving Thompson Falls on Monday morning, July 2, we faced the heavy traffic heading to Missoula (pictured above). This ride was spectacular! We followed the Clark Fork River for most of the day, winding through both pine-studded ridges and barren, grassy hills. You could also see the snow capped Bitterroot Mountains (part of the Rockies) in the distance. This section was also a haven for train buffs. BNSF freight trains were frequently running up and down the valleys and canyons.

By late afternoon, we hit the heavier (real) traffic heading to Missoula. Lots of large trucks. After an 8 mile uphill climb, we were treated to a steep descent down into the valley. It wasn't as cold as the day before when we left Thompson Falls, but it was in the low 90's when we arrived in Missoula. There we saw our first Grizzlies (statues and students, anyway)--at the University of Montana. We graduated from staying at high schools (for now) and were treated to college hospitality at Knowles Hall. A real bed! We devoured everything in sight in the cafeteria that evening, having just completed the day's 105.3 mile trip--our first century of the trip...but definitely not the last.

Today, Tuesday, July 3, was an off-day in Missoula. I took it easy, walking around campus (no biking today), doing laundry, bike chain lubing, and updating the blog at the dorm computers. Tomorrow morning, ding-dong--Avon (MT) is calling. On toward the Rockies!

Have a safe and happy 4th of July!!


Day 7--Something to Ponder, Ray

After a big breakfast at the H.S. cafeteria, we left Sandpoint at around 7am. It was cold! Morning temperatures were in the upper-30's to low 40's. It took a few hours to thaw out, but, by afternoon, it was back into 80's. We followed US-2 to SR-200 along spectacular Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced PONDER-RAY), pictured above. Pend Oreille is a yiddish term meaning "water clear as seltzer, but not as bubbly." The scenery that day was stunning. We had a "Moose-Warning" on our trip sheets for that day, but the moose apparently took the day off from entertaining bike riders passing through their digs.

Along the way at a convenience store/gas station, we (literally) crossed paths with "Phil." Phil was on the tail end of a bike ride from Boston to Anacortes, WA. He was travelling alone on a recumbent bicycle with a gear trailer. He started from Boston in April.

Around mid-afternoon, we entered our third state--Montana--following Hwy 200 into Thompson Falls, MT, capping a 90.5 mile day. It was about 90 degrees when we hit town. Again, we camped at the high school and had a fabulous meal at Minnie's Montana Grill in beautiful downtown Thompson Falls. Our daily trip sheet said we shouldn't put food or toothpaste in our tent, in the event that the local bears decide to finish their studies that evening at the High School. Apparently the bears had better things to do that evening (or better things to eat than gristled, sweaty bikers).

More to come,