We are three twenty-something guys quitting our jobs and seeking the difficult and the unknown. We are the Boys of Summer. On June 20th, 2015 we are leaving our families and friends in Seattle and embarking on 3 and half month, 4000 mile journey on our bicycles to Maine. Follow us as we explore the beauty of this wonderful country and the people who live here. We'll be highlighting our adventures, misadventures, and all that is good along the way.
Leaving home is never fun for me. It's practically irresponsible not to love well in your community, and love so well that you don't really want to leave. I felt so loved this week as we did all of our send off activities, and having my whole family come say goodbye made me feel their love for me. I already miss these people immensely. Yet we are going on what could be the trip of a lifetime...and I'm terrified.
Maybe I'm no good at the adventurer lifestyle, they certainly never talk about being afraid in all those Patagonia films. Maybe those guys are just stoked all the time, but to me I think it must be an act. It's natural to be nervous; at least, that's what I'm telling myself. I hear leaving is where the growth happens, that seems right. As a cheesy metaphor would put it: a caterpillar leave its protective cocoon in order to turn into a butterfly. Maybe I'll will become a butterfly, but right now I miss my cocoon.
We rode 55 mile from Seattle to Coupeville on Whidbey Island, leaving us further from Maine than when we started. It was a tough day for everyone, and the grandiose adventure this was a week ago, that made us sound wild and courageous, has worn off and reality has met us on the road. We have a long road ahead of us. The group is struggling to hide their nervousness of the mountain passes, that lie ahead, from one another.
The first door we knocked on that evening let us sleep in their beautiful yard, we cooked brauts and slept immediately.
Day three has come to an end and we've taken it a bit easy over the last two days in order to set ourselves up well for crossing the North Cascades tomorrow.
It's amazing what a good nights rest will do to a spirit. It's even more amazing what 15 miles of flatland after a day of hills does for it. Morale was high. We ran into a few familiar faces throughout the day, which reminded us that we have so many people at home supporting us and that we are still only an hours drive from our house. The night was capped off with a beer at the Sedro-Woolley Market, an amazing Warmshower.org host, and a kitchen to cook up Chorizo tacos.
We rode 46 miles and had lots of peanut butter and jellies.
We had a late start, but got to enjoy some backroads until we got back into our home for the next several days: Highway 20 or Death 20 as an enthusiastic individual called it yesterday. We had renewed strength today and rode like we knew what we were doing. The more we rode today, the more beautiful the scenery became. Eventually we were surrounded by small mountains with the snow covered North Cascades before us. We rode in awe of their beauty but fully aware that that very beauty will be the source of our agony for the next two day. Every rose has its thorn, as Poison says.
We set up camp in Marblemount after 42 miles. We're sleeping outside their community center and volunteer fire station. We didn't ask anyone but everyone has been friendly. We expect to be woken up by the fire truck at some point tonight.
Also, I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that ladies working in gas stations are some of the kindest types of people out there, and probably some of the strongest as well. The latter is just a guess.
Guest Post by Kyle Andrews
If you're lost you can look and you will find me, climb after climb
This week has been full of climbing. Before the trip even started, I had anxiety about reaching the base of the mountain. Such a steep climb and still so fresh of a trip. We played it safe and decided to split it up into two days.
Resting and rehydrating were almost exclusively done in the shade, it was a waste of energy not to. We had heard that the trailhead taps weren't functioning this summer, so Jeff's water purifier was a necessity. Any stream we could find meant break time.
Easy Pass, Rainy Pass, and then finally the climb was over when we reached Washington Pass. What a reward to see the beauty up close, having saw it in an unattainable fashion below. We cruised all the way down to Mazama, hardly a pedal necessary. On the way down we passed our first cyclist of the trip; he ended up being one of my old customers at Herkimer! Good to see Mike.
A super useful tool we've been using is an app called Warm Showers. It connects us with houses that are willing to shelter bike tours for free. That night we stayed in Winthrop at the Sullivans' and ate way too much pizza and ice cream downtown. After our night of indulgence, we woke up ready for a well earned easy day, post Cascades. As we walked outside the house and met Mrs. Sullivan for the first time, she exclaimed "Oh, you guys have the Loup to ride today?" We decided to reschedule our rest day because Loup Loup was one last mountain we had to conquer. We did, and our night at Heather's in Okanogan yielded plenty of rest. Climb after climb.
We took the Old Omak River Road from Okanogan to Nespelem at the advice of a Warmshower host. In retrospect, he may have been trying to kill us.
The road turned longer and hotter than we had ever expected. Shade grew increasingly rare, as did the passing cars. This was dangerous. Even the downhill portions of the day felt like opening an oven door. We were experiencing first hand the heat and dryness that shaped the barren, mountainous land around us. Though at times Omak Lake and the Columbia River were in view, they were always out of reach. Mental torture like the Greek myth of Tantalus. We turned to the kindness of strangers: flagging down cars and asking for water. We were met with bottle after bottle, but the more we wore on in the 105 degree heat, the more we needed.
It is a surprisingly quick transition from "everything is okay" to "we need to get to town immediately." After 30 hot miles, we flagged down a truck and after some negotiating and a little cash, we hitched a ride off the Colville Reservation and into Grand Coullee. Our driver was a man named Elvis. Elvis is the type of person that is so unique, so animated, and entertaining that words are completely incapable of describing him. We were lucky to have met him.
Having to get a ride to town was humbling. None of us wanted to feel like we were incapable of doing this trip. However, at the end of the day, this isn't our job, we're just on a bike ride trying to have some fun. When pride is put aside, getting a 25 mile ride to a Safeway was the smartest thing we done on this trip.
Morale is difficult to build back up after a day like this, but hot dogs and Modern Family helps.
We arrived in Spokane on June 30th. After learning our limits in the heat, we rode with much more awareness and reverence of the sun. Our ways were changed; we carried more water, sought more shade, and to our own disbelief, we woke up early.
Spokane greeted us with a shower and an afternoon cup of coffee. This city knows us well.
Returning to Seattle so soon felt like a set back, though it was the plan from the very start. Traveling back over the valleys and mountains, that connect Spokane and Seattle, by bus felt unnatural. The five hour bus ride accomplished what we had spent the last nine days sweating, swearing and sweltering in order to do. This reinforced my thoughts that technology has created a disconnect between people and the land.
Home is alway good though. It was like we had never left. Routines of home quickly fell back into place and our joints slowly begin to forget we had just ridden 400 miles.
If you are considering a bicycle tour, I do not recommend returning home part way through the trip. I say this only because in over half of the interactions you have, you will be the question "shouldn't you be on a bike right now?" Just a fair warning.
After nine great days of seeing good friends, Roman Candle fights, and celebrating our wonderful couple, we are back in Spokane with a long road ahead of us.
Idaho came and went quickly. We split the 90 miles of riding from Spokane, WA to Sandpoint, ID into two days, and by the third day we were in Montana.
As we resumed our tour out of Spokane, we took it sure, unsure how our bodies would respond after the hiatus. I could practically feel the cobwebs falling off as I rode. We landed at our Warmshowers host in Hayden, ID after 40 miles of easy riding. Larry and Janet were avid cyclist (as their WS bio reads) and incredibly knowledgable. Larry's garage was as stocked as most bike shops, so had to luxury of cleaning our chains on a real bike stand. What a treat! (For non-bikers reading this, that is not sarcasm.) Larry had no shortage of stories, about biking, hockey or any of his other adventures. He'd occasionally cut you off mid story because it reminded him of a better one. I was happy to listen and was tired of talking about our trip. We woke up early at the promise of biscuits and scrambled eggs. They were delicious.
We also broke Larry and Janet's ceramic flamingo almost as soon as we stepped into the house. They kindly acted like they didn't mind.
We left early the next day and rode 45-50 miles into Sandpoint today with friends of friends. Sandpoint made me like Idaho. It was one of the best days yet, we swam twice and had burritos twice. Turns out that's the way to my heart. We left feeling like good friends with our hosts and look forward to seeing them again. If anything this trip is broadening our community.
As we road along the lake out of Idaho we stopped to watch a mama moose and her pup go for a swim. Hell of a thing.
We left Sandpoint with the goal of getting to Kalispell, MT in 3 days. This was a push. It was 190 miles to Kalispell, which meant our 40 mile days were over for the time being.
We crossed into Montana halfway through our ride and were greeted with scattered roadside stores selling baked goods and beautiful wildlife. We saw a great horned owl, a turkey vulture and some wild turkeys. The birder in me was psyched.
Our last 20 miles into Trout Creek, MT were our strongest of the day, maintaining 20 mph or so up and down small hills. This felt amazing. We hit our first patch of rain and appreciated the break from the hot sun. We asked a stranger with a house on the Clark Fork River if we could camp for the night and they graciously welcomed us in with ice cream bars. To our surprise Rich and Kim (possibly Patty) fixed us blueberry pancakes and eggs in the morning. We got a later start than we planned but it meant we got to hear about Rich and Kim's big family. We left with a blessing from them and Rich's number just in case.
The blanket of clouds that shielded us from the heat in the morning lead to wind and rain around mile 30. Being too cold to get soaked and ride the 20 miles to the next town, we thumbed a ride. A truck with a full cab and 3 tires in the pickup offered us a ride. We hopped in the truck bed with our bikes as if we driving in the back of a truck at 60 mph in the rain was an everyday thing for us. I crouched down by the tailgate trying to maintain confidence as the driver mentioned it doesn't always latch. It was a wet ride into town.
It seems people are more sympathetic when it is too hot than when it's raining. They know we're not in any danger, just sissies. We learned this especially at the foot of the hill leading to Hot Springs. We rode the last 20 miles into Hot Springs.
We camped in the nicest yard in town. Steve and Kim didn't hesitate to let us camp, and in the morning they invited us in for coffee cake and stories. Another late start, however, I'm learning this trip is a lot less about riding and a lot more about coffee cake.
Guest Post by Kyle Andrews
We've all agreed that a day's rest does us good. Our nine day straight excursion through Washington was productive, but running on empty into Spokane left us dreading our next day of riding. It was a mistake we wouldn't make again.
We decided on a day off in Kalispell, just Southwest of Glacier National Park. The ride into town was split up into sections: tame hills of golden grass, the grasshopper infested valley, a descent to Lake Flathead, and the bike trail into town. We found refuge at Lance and Shelley's house through our favorite tool, Warm Showers. What a fun environment! There were ribs being smoked when we arrived, and Lance's home brewed beer had already been poured for us. A stone pizza oven, a house-less porch, and a large teepee filled our living space in the yard.
Our day off allowed a few more indulgences than we're used to. Meeting some locals in the coffee shop is about as productive as I got. Turns out all the things I thought I'd get done got pushed back a little further. I was just having too much fun doing as little as possible in Kalispell.
Starting again on our bikes brought a new kind of rest. Our good friend Brooks took the day off and set out from Great Falls to meet us in Glacier National Park. Both new and old stories filled the spaces between the beauty of the Park. Any sense of home brings comfort, and Brooks brought it. We're so used to talking to strangers, which requires a little more tact. There's rejuvenation in goofing off with a friend from home.
I take comfort in seeing robins. They carry about with their little habits and chores as they do in my parents backyard. As regions change, so do the birds. The robins however have remained, and I hope they continue to. Robins have been something familiar to grasp onto.
Small towns are beginning to feel like this as well. Not to discredit the uniqueness and history of each and every town we roll through and fill up our water bottles, but they begin to resemble one another. This is comforting in its own right. Something to rely on, a little taste of civilization. As much as we like to appear "unplugged" or rugged, there's great comfort in a mom and pop shop with Snickers and air conditioning.
We slept in Dupuyer, MT on the 15th of July. Dupuyer has a small store, robins, and grizzlies. We slept next to a small creek that was just deep enough to dunk your whole body in if you were okay with you bare butt touching the bottom. Though I had a small store and robins, the threat of grizzlies robbed me of some of my comfort that night, I'm a city boy after all.
We made it through the night and had a fire in the morning. Yet another late start. The road begin to stretch out and we really started to see the vastness of Montana. We ran into a band of horses on the road and watched them for 15 minutes or so as an old farmer tried to corral them back into the fence they escaped from. The horses bobbed and mocked him, only going through the gate when they were ready. We listened to "Wild Horses" by the Rolling Stones as we watched. We road on with smiles on our faces and a song in our heads.
We slept in Fairfield, MT in the annex of a church. We had a full kitchen to cook in and couches to sleep on. We really lived!
Today we rode from Fairfield to Wolf Creek, MT and so far, no wolves. The ride was 52 miles. I thought I had come to terms with the "Live by the wind, die by the wind" lifestyle, but in the midst of anything but a tailwind, you forget what it's like to ride the wind.
As we rode south for the first 30 miles of the day, the wind came blowing from the west over a sea of golden wheat fields creating ripples with every powerful gust. Our bikes rode keeled slightly into the wind as our unbuttoned sun shirts luffed off the sides of our bodies like an unattended sail. You forget about the beauty of the landscape when you're being tossed by the wind. The only thought is "don't fall down, don't fall down!"
The road took mercy on us by giving us a left turn. We headed east for the rest of the day with the wind at our back. How quickly your mood turns when you start averaging 20 mph. The beauty of the landscape comes back, and you start to notice that every hill and rock formation is unique. Jeff thought he saw a porcupine in the grass on the side of the road; therefore, I spent the rest of the day looking for porcupines. No luck, I'm not even sure Montana has porcupines.
We're camping in the yard of a volunteer fire department; still no wolves, porcupines or grizzlies.
After a quick 36 miles on a cup of coffee, 2 water bottles, and a Clif Bar each, we arrived in Helena on July 18th. I had a book on general delivery at the Helena Post Office that closed at noon, so that set a little bit of fire under us to get on the road early that day. We arrived at 11:50 am.
Jeff's family met us in Helena, got us a room for a couple nights, treated us to a few meals. Brie and a continental breakfast were involved, we were really living!
It's so refreshing seeing familiar faces while far from home. I know it must have been especially renewing for Jeff. I wonder if it just makes you more homesick in the long run though.
We did our laundry for the first time since Spokane. The difference a little bit of soapy water makes to the enjoyment of human life is noteworthy.
It's a two day ride from Helena to Bozeman: 100 miles.
Our first day was an uneventful ride into Toston, MT that some people consider a town. The word uneventful has a negative connotation, it shouldn't. Uneventful days are welcomed when It could be eventful days of headwind and rain.
Toston gave us the willies. There is one bar in "town" and dozens of construction workers living there temporarily in RVs as they repave the road. There were too many men living in one place with not enough regulations or women to keep them in check.
We added three to the population that night as we slept next to the volunteer fire station. We built a make shift brick oven to cook our chicken in. It didn't work.
Our second day was eventful. We were met with headwind, road work, rain and little fun. Our saving grace was Rock Port Coffee Roasters in Bozeman. We shed our wet clothes and drank way too much coffee; who could complain about such a thing?
I should mention we had 10 miles of beautiful weather as we road along an I-90 frontage road. We even pulled out our mini speaker. We ran into a cyclist heading the opposite direction as "Girls just wanna have fun" played over the speaker. He was into it. We've met very few cyclists so far that we never quite know what to say to them. As we rode away we regretted not asking him what he has for lunch every day. Is everyone eating as much tuna as we are?
In Bozeman our Warmshower host Cate met us as the coffee shop and led us by bike to her house near the campus of one of the big Montana colleges. I knew we were in for a wild ride with her when she led us down back alleys and winding dirt paths. We couldn't help but laugh as we had near falls on our fully loaded bikes. Stay with Cate was a great choice. After unloading the bikes she took us back out into town.
I've noticed that after being on the road with just the three of us, it's easy to want to keep it that way as we enter towns. It's more comfortable with just the three of us, exploring the town at our own speed. With Cate leading us about town, I could tell the guys were getting antsy to break off. I call this the tourist particle: where you just want to experience the town at an arms reach. This is the easy and selfish route. It takes effort to build new friendships, but it's usually worthwhile. It was worthwhile with Cate. We fought our urge to break off, and in doing so, we saw her town through her eyes; which apparently is margaritas, riding through the bmx track, and playing pool.
I've learned that we are not the only ones experiencing our trip. Every one we meet and stay with is experiencing it in one way or another, and it's selfish of us not to let them in.
We had an embarrassingly normal start around 1:30 pm from Bozeman for a short ride to Livingston for the night. The sky was threatening to rain all day, and we were safely tucked into a coffee shop in historic Livingston when the clouds got serious and began to downpour.
Our Warmshower host for the evening was a man named Eric. He was the oldest person I've met named Eric. Must have been on of the first. He had a small cabin in the back of a woman's house with a beautiful yard. A large tricycle sat in the corner of the yard that Eric tours on, would love to have seen it on the road.
Eric looked after the woman, Debbie, and he was kind enough to look after us for the evening. He was knowledgable, humorous, inquisitive, and will talk your ear off if you let him. Consider my ears off.
Eric called us two days after we stayed with him to check in on us. Glad we got to share the experience with him.
(The photos below are of Cate at work, hiding out from the rain in Livingstone, and Eric)
We would later find out that Livingston, MT is the second windiest city in the U.S., at the time, we just thought we had gotten really good at riding bikes.
We road like hell out of Livingston. We covered 60 miles in just over 3 hours of riding time. We had our highest average speed yet of 18 mph. There were times when we were going uphill at 28 mph! We were riding in I-90 for the first time and had the wind at our back the entire day. Though our riding time was only 3 hours, the journey from Livingston to Reed Point took us 7 hours. As a group we had 7 flat tires in that 60 mile stretch. I went the first 1000 miles without a flat, and had 3 in one day. I must have forgotten to knock on wood. We quickly found that small wires from blown out truck tires that were invisible on the road were the cause of our deflated attitudes.
We spent our 4 hours off of the bikes changing tubes, patching tubes and pulling wired from the tires. By the end of the day we were all riding on tubes that had at least one patch on it, and had given ourselves new nicknames: J.P. Patches, Patch Adams and Patches O'Haulihan . We were getting really good patching tubes.
We rolled into town with zero confidence in our tires but a river to sleep next to, so we were happy. We fished, swam and had a fire. Happy boys.
Photos: Changing flats and patching tubes on the side of I-90//our riverside camp in Reed Point//tuna melts and tomato soup for dinner
Having never been to Montana prior to rolling into it a little over 20 days ago, my picture of it was built by truck commercials and friends' fly fishing stories. My image of it failed to capture the ever changing beauty of the state, the small towns that make it up, and the people who take pride in their state, their town, and their bears. It was powerful riding through such a state. We could feel the history it held in its fields and mountains, from Lewis and Clark to the Indian Wars. It's hard to escape it.
Our last few days in Montana flew by. We had a day off in Billings, and used it as a chance to replenish our bike tube supply and treat ourselves to new, slightly larger real tires to deal with the weight. We went to the Spoke Shop in Billings and they just kept giving us stuff. We left well after close with bellies full of beer, free socks, and some great tips for the road ahead.
We rode 50 miles to the town of Hardin, which was just on the edge of the Crow Reservation. We had heeded the warnings we heard from everyone we passed that we don't won't to end up on the "Rez" after dark. In Hardin we stayed with Darrin and Deedee. They were amazing hosts and cooked us dinner and breakfast. Deedee served gluten free pancakes in the morning, made me feel like we were in Seattle.
After our gluten free flap jacks we hit the road to make our 70 mile push for the Wyoming border. Though I enjoyed Montana, I was ready for something new, especially the further east we went in the state. As my grandmother told me, "God forgot about Eastern Montana." I laughed when she told me this, but it came to mind as the green and mountainous landscapes turned into dry brown rolling hills.
We spent the day riding through the Crow Reservation listening to episodes of This American Life on our speaker. It was a great day of riding. We stopped for lunch in a shady lawn on the Reservation. The home belonged to Marshall Lefthand, a retired social worker. He came and chatted with us while we at lunch. His son-in-law and grandson were in the yard as well making teepee poles for the upcoming CrowFest. He told us we need to come back for it in a few years, we said we would.
Wyoming greeted us with a very underwhelming "Entering Wyoming" sign and a tailwind. We road the last few miles to Ranchester, Wy fast. We averaged around 30 mph for the last five miles on flat ground. As we turned the corner into town, the wind nearly knocked us off our bikes. A car stopped and told us to take cover, they were expecting 60 mph winds and rain. We could barely hold our bikes up in the wind. We ran them down a steep grass hill and into someone's backyard. A nice older woman popped her head out the window and said "you're going to get rained on." As if on queue, the rain began to pour. She let us into the garage to take shelter and later let us sleep in their basement. Nice folks.
Photos: locking up our bikes and new tires in Billings to stop and have a beer//Entering Wyoming Sign//Hank Scobee, the 88 year old cowboy who's house we took shelter in
Wyo'd Wyo as the locals say. We were excited to be in Wyoming. For me I'm not quite sure if I was more excited to be in Wyoming or just to be out of Montana. Either way, the change was nice.
We road out of Sheridan, WY on Highway 14. It was 7 miles longer than taking I-90 but completely worth it. Our first day on it was full of rolling green hills, beautiful ranches and antelopes running wild. We rode 56 miles before lunch! But, lunch was at 5:30 pm. The miles slide by as we had new landscapes to entertain us and watch change as we rode. The green hills turned into beautiful rock formations with splashes of crimson red rock appearing randomly like beautiful birthmarks on the hillside.
My day of riding was soured slightly by a mysterious noise coming from my bike. It was like a new shoe that squeaks when you walk. This noise was taking my sanity. Our attempted to fix it, or even find what was causing it failed left and right. I rode on with my squeaky shoe.
We ended out night after 75 miles in a small town called Arvada. Gary and Bobbe were out working on their lawn and offered to let us camp in the back. We quickly accepted and once they realized we weren't going to murder them and visa versa we had a great night of friendly conversation.
They were originally from Illinois but moved to Arvada because Gary was a coal miner (more on this below). They both retired in Arvada. Arvada if you're having a hard time picturing it, is a tiny town with the BNSF railroad going through it. In any direction you look you see for miles, with unique and beautiful hills gently shaping the skyline. The sunsets are picturesque.
Living in Seattle, it's been really easy for me to be anti-coal. Hearing stories from my grandma about coal trains passing by her family's farm when she was a child and leaving clouds of dust behind made it even easier not to like coal. However, spending time with a man who dedicated his life to mining it, and passing through towns that existed because of the coal industry made it more difficult to do away with it so willinilly.
We woke up to breakfast from Gary and hit the road after he shared some insight of the road ahead. He said it was downhill for the next 50 miles. Sadly he was very mistaken. It was uphill. After a long day of riding we made it to a small town called Rozet and had chicken tacos for dinner.
Photos: highway 14 outside of Sheridan//highway 14 close to Arvada//campsite in Rozet
We started the day by making pancakes. I'm sure any real bikers who may be reading this just rolled their eyes. Regardless, they were delicious and we were stuffed. We sprinted our first 15 miles of the day to the town of Moorcraft, WY: we all needed to poop. Apparently, too much coffee this morning.
After were properly settled in Moorcraft we did some number crunching for how many miles we needed to do in order to reach Rapid City, SD by early afternoon on the 31st (it was the 30th). It was a lot. We were meeting Kyle's dad, Scott, in Rapid City and had a full day of sightseeing planned. But we are not very prompt in our daily lives let alone on bicycles, so we needed to get creative. That's when we met Bruce.
Bruce will likely become a legend within our friend group. Kyle asked him if he was headed east, and he responded with "get your ass in the truck." We loaded the bikes in the back, Bruce cracked the four of us beers, and we hit the road. It was barely noon. We slowly got buzzed as we listened to the legend of Bruce: his restaurants, his award winning kids, his recent year driving a coal truck for the hell of it, and his amazing ability to work the word "shit" into most sentences. It was all validated as he pulled off the highway and bought us a beer at one of the first restaurants he opened.
There is an episode of Seinfeld that reminds me of Bruce. George goes out drinking with a crazy bunch of Texans who work for the Houston Astros. The Texans call everyone a "Son of a Bitch" or a "bastard," so George starts doing the same. This is what hanging out with Bruce was like. We scurried out of the restaurant cracking up after Bruce flipped off the bartender for one thing or another and got back on the road. We had our chauffeur drop us in Sturgis, a short days ride from Rapid City. We took a picture, hugged, and waved goodbye to Bruce for what will likely not be the last time.
Sturgis, for those who do not own any leather vests with patches on it, is the home to the largest motorcycle rally in the U.S. and possible the world (neither of those fact have been checked). This year is the 75th year anniversary and we just so happened to be there 3 days before it started. If you ever want a lot of strangers to look at you, just ride you bicycle through streets lined with thousands of motorcycles. Though the real events was for another few days, the town was already full of the constant roar of engines and bikers who had been there a week or two already. We took in the sights and spent the night behind a church just two blocks from all the action. They say over a million and a half people will visit Sturgis this year, I'm glad to say we were part of it. We vowed to make a trip for the 100 year anniversary.
Our pride is slightly hurt for not riding the long long miles to Sturgis, but it was well worth it to get to experience the generosity of a stranger and share an experience with them.
See you in 25 years Sturgis!
A group of Christian motorcycle missionaries fed us biscuits and gravy in the morning, and then sent us off with blessings to Rapid City. People are nice to you when you're on a bicycle. Makes me think everyone should ride a bike.
Seeing a familiar face in a strange place is something to cherish. Seeing Scott in the parking lot was just that. I'm sure it was even more enjoyable for Kyle. We immediately headed out, a quick change of clothes, no shower and right into the car. We hadn't showered for six days, so I felt bad for Scott. Kyle, Jeff and I were use to each other's stink at this point.
The next several hours felt very patriotic. Seeing Mt. Rushmore and crazy horse with packs of Harley's whizzing around each corner in between. We couldn't stop thinking of the movie "National Treasure 2." Very Patriotic!
Mt. Rushmore made me appreciate the boldness and vigor of this country in the early 1900's. When since have we spent a huge amount of money on such an artistic public works project. I believe our European roots were really showing. I'm reminded of a Wendell Berry essay in which he describes trying to make build a pond on his property, and failing miserably. He was left with a scarred landscape, a reminder of him trying to force nature's hand. He witness how damaging man can be, but at time how it can create beauty in nature as well. I believe Mt. Rushmore was a risk that could have scarred a beautiful landscape, but the boldness and vigor of its creators made it beautiful. I worry that as a country we may have lost some of those good qualities that lead to Mt. Rushmore...
Saying goodbye to Scott was easy because he left before we woke up. We headed back on the road on August 1st, after watching the majority of National Treasure 2 on TV and eating out fair share of continental breakfast.
We left Rapid City on August 2 and arrived in Sioux Falls August 7, the five day journey between was nearly a straight line, and some of our hardest riding yet.
We had been talking about crossing South Dakota since the start of the trip. It frequently came up over dinner and was brought up by strangers. Everyone we met told us to be prepared for flat hot roads and a tailwind. They convinced us we were going in the right direction and the trade winds would carry us across. We were planning on a few days of easy riding and a lot of miles. Of course, as we have seen time and time again, you can't plan nature.
We road 55 mile from Rapid City to Wall, home of Wall Drug. Wall Drug is a famous tourist stop with an unbelievable amount of billboards along the highway. The ride was straight into the wind with rolling hills. This was not the South Dakota we expected. A friend from home had given us some money to spend specifically at Wall Drug, so after getting some fudge we found a church and set up camp. We just assumed we could stay there.
We awoke on the 3rd knowing we had a difficult day ahead of us; we were going through the Badlands. We had hoped the wind would be with us, it wasn't. The Badlands were hard to grasp. I had never seen anything like it. Such a dramatic change in landscape in the middle of serene grasslands. Most people we talked to described it as riding across the surface of the moon, so I guess I will too. It was like riding across the surface of the moon! The wind was a constant, as was the constant hum of motorcycles. Sturgis seems to have taken over the whole state. We ended our day in the town of Katoka and slept behind a Presbyterian Church without asking, it worked out. A storm passed through that night, we thought it might change the wind. It didn't.
After two days of getting into camp late, we decided to ride only 53 miles and end our day in the town of Draper. Draper had dirt roads and seemed to be populated by only a few people. We camped between two churches and enjoyed being out of the wind for a bit. After dark, Kyle returned from charging his phone, behind what we later found out was a bank, and announced that "the cops are coming!" We hid are beer cans and tried to look as non-threatening as possible. Our Crocs made that pretty easy. The officer ran our I.D.'s called the church and let us stay. We listened to a little NPR in our tents to settle down from all the excitement.
We woke up knowing we had to ride at least 65 miles to get to the town of Chamberlain. We rode into the wind for 67 miles, up hills and across the Missouri River. The Golden Arches of McDonald's greeted our tired bodies and comforted us with air-conditioning and cheap food. It was one of our hardest days yet. The town of Chamberlain was beautiful though. I am sure it's on a postcard somewhere, it's that nice! We slept, with permission, behind a Catholic Church on a luscious green lawn. At 4 a.m. the sprinklers came on for an hour and we learned first hand why the grass was so green.
I woke up in a wet tent and saw that the wind was still blowing from the east. I told myself there is a lesson here about persevering even when you can see the obstacle in front of you. I'll probably use that in a job interview one day. I've also learned to appreciate new days for they bring hope of no wind. There's probably a lesson there too.
The wind showed us mercy as we left Chamberlain. The wind had started blowing slightly to our sides, and we took full advantage. After 50 miles it turned into a tailwind, and we road another joyous 37 miles. Our longest day yet. We camped next to a gas station in Alexandria, SD and made pancakes in the parking lot.
On the 7th, after meeting a band from Seattle at the gas station, we rode an easy 55 miles into Sioux Falls for a much needed rest day. Along the way we met an old man riding a moped in the shoulder. He said that he road it all the way to Wisconsin once. Everyone has a story to tell.
We enjoyed a day off with as much alone time as possible in Sioux Falls, SD. After a hard week of riding, 24 hours a day with the same 2 people, and constantly sweating, you begin to get annoyed simply by how the others go about their daily lives. We try our best to love each other in spite of frustrations but on this trip the cure is often a small break from one another.
We rode out of Sioux Falls on the 9th. It was only 15 miles or so into the day when we hit the state line, and already we liked Minnesota more than South Dakota. We also noticed that people in Minnesota really like to hear how much better it is than South Dakota. We ate lunch outside the grocery store of a small Minnesota town and just about everyone that passed by started talking to us. We loved how friendly this state was but expected to have dry mouths by the end of it from all the chatting. Our plan was to ride 45 miles into Worthington but at 45 miles we found ourselves riding under a big black cloud. About a mile ahead of us, it looked like the cloud was touching the ground. Not quite sure what that meant weather wise, I just knew I didn't want to ride through it. We voted to end our day early and find shelter before the rain hit. No more than 5 minutes into looking for a place to sleep in the small town of Adrian did a family drive by and ask if we needed shelter. This sort of thing happens a surprising amount. Also, just keep saying yes. They let us into the fire station, gave us sandwiches, cots to sleep on, and the remote to the TV. The rain came 20 minutes later.
In order to make up for our short day we vowed to riding 80 miles on the 10th. The road was flat and full of corn. We pulled into Fairmont, MN around 7:30 pm and stayed with our first Couchsurfing host. They were a nice family that sternly reminded us that we "are guests in [their] house and should act like it!" We have quoted that line at least twice a day since it happened, we'll need to send them a card thanking them for the new inside joke.
We started our ride on the 11th by playing "Go DJ" by Lil' Wayne to celebrate Kyle's 25th birthday. I have never been so glad it was someone else's birthday. All day we were the recipients of wonderful gifts. Glad I got to ride the birthday coattails. We were going to meet up with our friend Justin's parents on Albert Lea for the evening but they ended up not being able to make it down from the Twin Cities. They surprised us with a hotel room to make up for it. Finding this out in the beginning of the day made the 60 miles fly by. Kyle's mom gave us money to go to dinner and our friend Thomas sent us money to go get drinks. Best Kyle's birthday I've ever had.
Photos: entering Minnesota, me watching TV at the fire station, Kyle posing next to his cake in the hotel room
I'm convinced that when people see us as a collective or even as individuals that they immediately know we are not from around "here." This is even true when we're dressed in our city clothes enjoying a day off; people can just sense our unfamiliarity. Those who feel it most are the ones who have experienced the road for lengths at a time. I can usually sense them as well. I see their questioning eyes and open stance, ready to jump into conversation. I'm always fascinated to talk to this person on the road, their stories are captivating and risky; they emit a desire for companionship while embracing a recluse lifestyle. These men will probably have a better understanding of the loneliness and heartbreak in Paul Simon songs than I ever will. It's hard not to think I'm looking at my future self talking to these men: our adventures sound similar. But I believe they've lost an understanding of the value of community and roots. I hope that I never lose that.
We overstayed our welcome at the continental breakfast and hit the road by a causal 12:30 pm on the morning of the 12th. Within a couple miles of leaving town, Google Maps took us down our a gravel road, and then another, and then another. We looped through Minnesota farmland and appreciated not being on the highway. This was one of the most fun days of riding. It was so unique. We road 10 to 15 miles on the gravel trails and then rejoined the highway. We camped for the night by a baseball field in the town of Wykoff, MN. We saw our first fireflies of the trip and befriended a woman named Ruth who owns a fudge shop. It did not lead to free fudge.
We woke up excited, today we knew we were riding in a paved bike trail for the majority of the day. Our excitement was well met. The trail was over 40 miles of pavement tunneling through wild forest and fields. The towns along the trail seemed to have found new life from the creation of the trail. Once old railroad towns, they are now quirky communities embracing bicycles riders and pastry eaters. We took our time.
We found out 8 miles of the trail was closed and instead of going back to the highway, we embraced our new off-road confidence and took an adjacent gravel road. Horrible choice. After a day of easy riding we were now pushing our 70 pound bikes up a gravel hill dripping in sweat. One of our toughest hill climbs of the trip. As soon as we could, we got back onto the closed trail. The pavement was scrapped off but was still better than gravel hills. After a mile or so, we surprised a construction worker who immediately scolded us for being on it. He told us a we had to get off because they're scrapping off more pavement farther up the road; we followed his orders. That is until we got ahead of the construction crew. We raced down the forbidden trail with smirks on our face. At lunch we were able to laugh about the gravel hill.
We crossed the Mississippi River and ended the day in La Crosse, WI. Crossing the river felt like a big deal, so I had Kyle take a picture of me, you can see the humidity in the picture. We stayed with a lovely Warmshower host that gave us beer, pizza, and friendly conversation as soon as we stepped foot in their house. We enjoyed a day off swimming, beer drinking and exploring the Mississippi by boat. Wisconsin was outdoing itself.
Photos: Riding the Root River Trail//Sweaty and humid on the Mississippi//Boat ride on the Mississippi with John and Jolynn, we're having fun but doesn't look like it
We left La Crosse with 80 miles of trail ahead of us. The three trails we rode are some of the oldest Rails to Trails out there, and the beauty we got to enjoy from behind the handlebars can only be explained by John Steinbeck:
"It is possible, even probable, to be told a truth about a place, to accept it, to know it and at the same time to know nothing about it. I had never been to Wisconsin, but all my life I had heard about it, had eaten it's cheeses, some of them as good as any in the world. And I must have seen pictures. Everyone must have. Why then was I unprepared for the beauty of field and hill, forest, lake? I think now I must have considered it one big level cow pasture because of the state's enormous yield of milk products. I never saw a country that changed so rapidly, and because I had not expected it everything I saw brought delight." - Travels with Charley
It's hard to follow such an apt and complete Steinbeck quote, so I'll keep it short.
The trail was a treat. We passed through 3 remarkable old tunnels dug through massive rock. One was almost a mile long! There was no shortage of Lord of the Rings references made or fake train noises as we passed through the tunnels. I wondered to myself what the people who built these tunnels would think if they knew their years of work was used for recreational cyclist now. Yet another reminder of how much this country has changed over the years. I think it's progress.
We camped just off the trail after 60 miles in the town of Elroy. After a breakfast of turkey sandwiches we finished the last 20 miles of the trail and went back to the world of pavement and cars. We road 60 more up hills, forest, and on one ferry. The day ended in Madison with a Warmshower host, Emily and Dan, and beer. People in Wisconsin seem to be on a steady diet of beer and cheese. Someone has to do it I suppose.
Photos: Tunnels to the mines of Moria
The day we left Madison it was raining. We were 90 miles from Milwaukee and decided to split it into two days. We had a delightfully slow morning in Madison as we tooled around the city on our bikes and drank coffee. Our goal was to get on the road by 2 o'clock and have a short day into the town of Johnson Creek. We left at 4. We ate lunch standing up outside a Madison grocery store in the rain. It wasn't the most excited we have ever been to ride. The tides changed as we started to make some calls for a place to stay for the night. We called a Johnson Creek church and Pastor Jim said we couldn't sleep in the church but he'd love to buy us a hotel room for the night. Sometime you just gotta take what you can get, and sometime what you can get is a room at the Comfort Suites. We perked up. The rain cleared and the road turned to beautiful bike trail through Wisconsin marshland. We never even got to meet Jim but were overwhelmed by his generosity and will not cease to talk of his goodness. For those familiar with the Johnson Creek Comfort Suites then you know it's got the best continental breakfast in town
After overdoing it at the continental breakfast and taking muffins for the road we started to make our way to Milwaukee. We had about 60 miles to ride but we treated it like a short day. Long distance biking is such a mental game that lying to yourself a bit can go a long way. We skipped lunch, it was a short day after all, and got to Milwaukee in great time. Milwaukee, like the rest of Wisconsin, is incredibly accessible by bike. We were staying with the family of a friend of mine and we were able to almost ride to their front door on a bike trail. The Marten family banged pots and pans as we pulled up on our bike and within 10 minutes we were eating cheese curds and drinking beer. My friend Marinna and her family toured us around the city and filled us with a surprising variety of dairy products.
We overlooked Milwaukee when planning our trip. I'm sure most people do. The city maintains a small town Midwest feel which charmed us. We regret not spending more time there.
Photos: Exploring Lake Michigan//Us with our host Marinna in from of the Art Museum//Fried Cheese Curds
Located 45 miles from both Milwaukee and Chicago is Kenosha, WI. Conveniently for us, our friend Karen from Seattle and her new husband Jens are living there. Unless you're visiting good friends from home I recommend making the push into Chicago, not much to see in Kenosha.
The ride from Milwaukee to Kenosha was different from any type of riding we have done yet. The roads were cracked, scarred or under construction, the landscape turned from city into suburb and remained suburb. I miss the days when we would leave a city and within 10 minutes we'd be in the middle of nowhere. Here, we couldn't escape people or cars. We all knew that once we hit Chicago, the trip would be different, that the county becomes more populated; however, I don't think we prepared ourselves for it. We've become so accustom to small towns and gas station. We know how to survive there, those are our people. Maybe we're not the city boys we thought we were.
We were escorted by Jens in the morning to the Wisconsin / Illinois border on a great bike trail that would take us all the way into Chicago. Jens bid us a safe ride and we parted ways thankful for friends and for Wisconsin. She was good to us.
The two days we had planned on staying in Chicago slowly turned into three. A much needed break. We hadn't had more than one day off since Spokane and our legs were beginning to notice.
We stayed in the North end of the city with our friend Abby. We grew up with Abby but she has been living in Chicago for the last five years or so. She was adamant we get deep dish pizza, Jeff and I passed, Kyle gave in. I wonder if people from Chicago only eat deep dish when they're hosting their friends from out of town.
Chicago is big. Bigger than I had imagined and bigger than I knew what to do with. Other people seemed drawn here due to the size. They enjoy the feeling of being a part of a bigger organism: a lively, ever growing city. Being a part of that is exciting. Just passing through the city, however, I didn't feel the excitement. I felt like I didn't belong, that I was on the fringe. Wandering across the country for the last two months, living comfortably with little makes me wonder if I will feel apart of Seattle anymore. Have I been stripped of those familiarities and comforts? I'm not sure. I do know that I will return with a greater appreciation and understanding of humanity, and hopefully be more patient and compassionate because of it. I couldn't help but think of returning to Seattle while walking around the neighborhoods of Chicago. It's all so different from the one street towns we've become use to. I suppose I'll have some readjusting to do.
Regardless of how connected we felt to the city, we had a wonderful time visiting. We explored it one cappuccino at a time, making our way to thriving pockets of the city and people watched as we went. We went to a Cubs game and felt like we were participating in one of the city's sacred traditions. We learned people in Chicago go to Cubs games to actually watch the game, whereas people in Seattle tend to go just to drink beer. We found more Seattle friends living in Chicago and experienced their version of Chicago for an evening, which ends up being staying out until 3:30 am.
Even after three days, I barely scratched the surface of the city but I saw the Bean, so that counts for something!
Photo: Wrigley field // Heritage Bike and Coffee Shop one of my favorite parts of the city
We left Chicago on August 24th around noon. We took the South Shore trail along the edge of the city. We rode between Lake Michigan and the skyscrapers: beautiful. If we didn't grasp how large the city was from our time here, we definitely did from riding through it. After 20 miles we were still more or less in the city.
Eventually our trail ended and the well kept buildings and trees ended as well. You have to watch very closely for any sign welcoming you to Gary, Indiana; I think this is an attempt by the state to make passerby's believe they're still in Illinois. Gary was described to me as the armpit of America. It wasn't pretty and it was a bit hairy, so that's not too far off. Gary was industrial and gray. It was the kind of place that would be in a cheesy video about pollution. There would be a shot of a thriving forest and then suddenly cut to a factory in Gary billowing with smoke. I suppose someone needs to produce all the things we use, but it's never fun to see how the sausage is made.
We were staying just east of Gary with a man named Ed and his wife Monica. We called Ed last minute to see if we could stay pitch a tent, and he said he had already emailed us. We try to convince him that it wasn't us but he said "three guys from Seattle right?" So we didn't ask any questions. About 20 minutes after we set up our tents 3 other guys showed up to the house. Ed and Monica were shocked but hosted us all and fed us all two big meals.
The 3 other guys were fresh out of college and all from the UK and riding from Seattle to New York. We shared stories over dinner and delighted in the ability to talk with people who could relate so closely with the experience we've had. We did have some major differences though. For instance, they wear matching jerseys and go to bed early, while we wear camping shirts and walked down to the Flamingo bar for a night cap. The Flamingo bar was the first bar we hit where you could still smoke inside, I was sweetly reminded of this for the next couple days whenever I put my sweatshirt on.
The UK team left in the morning heading for Indiana Amish country as we went Northeast into Michigan. This would not be the last time we see them.
Photos: biking along the South Shore trail // my bike with the Chicago skyline // Owen, Jake and Rich, our new UK mates standing in Ed's garage
I'm afraid I'm losing appreciation for what we're doing. The places we are traveling through, with exception of Gary, Indiana, are just has beautiful as other parts of the trip, but we rave about them less. As we entered Michigan and were surrounded by lush hardwood forests, Kyle mentioned that had we seen this rode at the beginning of the trip we wouldn't be able to stop gawking at it. Now, however, it's just another road. Newness and beauty has become part of our everyday. We have become accustom to it. Our challenge now has been to see it all with fresh eyes.
Cold weather followed us as we worked our way into Michigan. It felt like fall. I welcomed the change and found myself looking up more. Trees seem to grow wherever people allow them to in Michigan. Large clusters of hardwoods closed in on houses along the road as if challenging the residences, seeing how far they would let them encroach. This must be what the license plates describe as "Pure Michigan." It was pure to us. We had no preconceived notions, it was unblemished and surprised us when we were looking close enough.
On our third day in the state (August 27th), we rode 70 miles to reach Ann Arbor. We were thrilled for 10 miles of bike trail that toured us through vast wetlands with dozens of Sandhill Cranes with red heads, long legs, and wide wings. When you see a bird like this for the first time, you wonder how any bird could be bigger birds.
Twenty miles from Ann Arbor, we saw a large red figure up the road. As we slowly gained ground in it, we were able to make out a familiar sight: three red matching bike jerseys. We exchanged casualties with our UK friends from Gary as irritated cars passed us on the shoulderless road. We then powered up the hill and passed them. Whether it's true or not, for the sake of the story we had to pass them going uphill. We rode the next 20 miles at a brisk pace without stopping to cement our victory over England.
We rolled into Ann Arbor and enjoyed a cappuccino before heading to our host's house. Michigan has been good thus far.
For those curious, we stayed in Cassopolis and Tenoshka the two nights before Ann Arbor. We stayed in churches both nights. We were fed well by both of them and gained new friends.
Photos: Charley and Debbie after making us breakfast in Cassopolis//cold damp day in the lush green of Michigan//cappuccino in Ann Arbor
Within an hour of meeting Mike and Kelly, our hosts in Ann Arbor, they convinced us to stay another day. We happily obliged. In the summer, life in their 100 year old craftsman revolves around the enclosed back porch. Slow mornings drinking coffee, reading and discussing plans for the day, dinners and healthy conversation in the glow of the evening sun and dessert by candlelight has made me love Ann Arbor, and porches. We left with honest hopes of returning.
Photos: Mike and Kelly on their back porch//songs on the porch
On Aug. 29th we rode an 45 miles or so from Ann Arbor into Detroit. We had heard horror stories of people bikers being pushed off to the ground and then having their bikes stolen. We laugh every time we talk about this, but apparently it happens. Our bikes must not have been nice enough to get us pushed off.
It's a unique experience biking into a city for the first time and seeing the skyline growing as you approach. The closer we got to Detroit the skyline began to show the hardship of the city. Up close we could see the deserted neighborhoods and broken windows. We rode down empty streets four lanes wide. There were pockets of life, revitalization, though they were small. We found a coffee shop and decided it would be smart to find a place to stay for the night. By 7 that night we were eating BBQ in Darrin and Kaitlin's backyard hearing their opinions on this broken yet proud city.
They toured us around the neighborhood and lead us to a neighborhood dance party. Community has not been lost in Detroit. Neither has their sense of humor. They played a clip from The Matrix and then a guy dressed like Morpheus came out and DJ for the night.
Detroit is in an upswing but from a very low place. Our hosts were amazed when they saw that one of the major streets we walked past was lit up with street lamps for the first time in what I assumed was years. The other cross streets were still dark and worrisome.
Jeff says he'll go back some day; I'm rooting for it but from afar.
Photos: riding in with a wide open road//abandoned Michigan Central Station//DJ Morpheus with Keanu Reeves
We may have made history by being the first people to ride bicycles in the street in Ohio. At least that's what I assumed. It's either we are the first or Ohio driver ed classes teach students to yell "get on the sidewalk!" at cyclists.
We left Detroit in no hurry at all, and found the warm weather once again on our 60 mile ride to Toledo. Sweat and afternoon sun were a friend of ours at this point, so we embraced it as a sign of being back in the swing of things after an easy last few days.
We stayed with some younger bikers living in an artist neighborhood: Sarah and Kara. They liked the tacos we made but didn't entertain my questions about how often people there say "Holy Toledo!" They probably didn't get it.
After holding back laughter from another story of someone getting pushed off their bike in East Toledo, we rode off in that direction hoping to make it to Norwalk, OH without getting pushed off. Twenty miles outside of town, we discovered the rural town of Elmore. Feeling deserving of a pastry, we stopped. They even had an ice cream flavor called "Holy Toledo." Glad to see someone taking advantage of the name.
Kyle left Elmore with a new $5 shirt that had a bike on it and said "Where in the world is Elmore?" Jeff and I left happy he bought it.
Our day ended after 67 miles, and we spent the evening reading in a 24 hour McDonalds drinking decaf and having ice cream until it was time to set tents up across the street. We're getting a little too comfortable in McDonalds.
Photos: coffee in Elmore which may be the most patriotic town we've gone through//McDonalds after dark
On Sept. 2nd we ride from Norwalk to Medina, all in Ohio. It was a shorter day, only 50 miles and with an early start, we found even more freedom in stopping for a pastry and a leisurely lunch.
The riding was rural, but busy. It seemed we had a constant stream of big trucks and never enough shoulder. Ohio still shined. We marveled at its beautifully architected towns and homes, big homes. There were some towns that I was convinced everyone lived in small mansions. We passed fields that were left unattended and grew wild flowers and the only order they had was a fence of trees on three sides.
We hit the rolling hills we had heard about at the end of our ride for the day and with that brought out my frustration. We had fairly undisturbed riding for the last few days, few weeks really, so the hills brought a side out of me that I hadn't seen in a while. Jeff has been saying that he misses hills, after 8 miles of hills, I think he's saying it just to be tough.
Tonight we set our tents up in an apple orchard in the back of our host's, Mike, house. The sudden thud of a ripe apple hitting the ground is a reminder that fall is coming and with it change. Like the start of our trip getting to grow with the summers we will readjust with the fall back in Seattle. If I was really into cheesy sayings I would say something along the lines of: may we remember that the apples fall from the trees when they're ripe; so we will fall back into Seattle ripe for the picking. I'm not into cheesy sayings, so just forget I said that.
Cuyahoga National Park snuck up on us. We altered our route slightly leaving Detroit, and in doing so sent us through Cuyahoga. I didn't even know this park existed but was pleased we were going through it. The park was lush: full of maple and oak trees and very beautiful in parts. Other parts were surprisingly developer and even had some sort of processing plant that fouled up the air. It would have made Teddy Roosevelt go into asthmatic shock. We rode on along the Erie Canal towpath, an old mule path used to pull boats from Cleveland to Akron. The trail was rained on gracefully by golden leaves reminding us once again of fall and that our time on the road would soon be over.
After 26 miles we saw a familiar darkness appear overhead and a change in the wind. We parked ourselves at a conveniently placed McDonalds and seconds later the rain came. Lightning flashed and thunder shook the building. We would be here awhile. Coffee and ice cream was in order. After an hour, we realized we would not be making it to Salem, Ohio that night as we had planned. We started to make some calls. By 7:30 a woman from the Episcopal church offered us a hotel room in town. We turned her down but she insisted. We rode another 10 miles to the hotel, dried off and marveled at the blind generosity of strangers and hoped that we never take it for granted.
On the forth, we headed for the boroughs near Pittsburgh. It was frustratingly hard to gain any miles. Within 25 miles I had 2 flat tires and a poor attitude. Running out of time in the day due to our trademark late starts, we hitched a 16 mile ride in the back of a Frito-lay truck. I've never wanted chips more than sitting in the back of a moving chip aisle but didn't want to push our luck by popping open a bag.
We rode 22 more miles into Pennsylvania and up multiple mile long hills to meet our host for dinner at Pennsylvania's version of Denny's. Our host was a soon to be retired Presbyterian pastor named John who was letting us sleep in his church. We didn't know it at the time but over the next 24 hours, we would be spending quite a bit of time with John. Our night ended by riding 8 more miles downhill in the pitch black to John's church. We need to do more night riding, I've never felt so terrified but also so alive!
In the morning we rode 12 miles to the borough of New Brighton to meet John and 8 other men for breakfast. We were there for two and a half hours. We heard stories gathered from generations of experiences and cruel jokes that only can come from men of the Rustbelt. These guys were Pittsburgh through and through and it will forever shape how I see the city. They wore suspenders over cartoon T-shirts. The entire room spent ten minutes telling us turn by turn directions of how to get to the city. We could help by smile. I didn't have the heart to tell them we would probably just google it. After hearing a couple more stories with one foot on our pedals, we kicked off for the 20 mile ride into the city where we were meeting John for lunch. I told you we'd be seeing a lot of him.
Photos: Erie Canal Towpath in Cuyahoga//riding in the back of the Frito Lay truck// Kyle and I with Pastor John in Pittsburgh
I don't know if I'll ever go back to Pittsburgh. It didn't steel (pun) my heart. It's a fine city, built at the confluence of three rivers and surrounded by hills, but not for me. That's not to say we didn't enjoy ourselves though.
We explored the so called "hipster" neighborhoods that had little reminders of home: flannel and beards. We got a big reminded of home too since Sam, Jeff's girlfriend, was visiting which was a treat for us all. We got to swap our stories for her stories of our friends at home. On our way out of town we grabbed a quick coffee with our friends from home who were randomly passing through, Matt and Catherine. It was a pleasure seeing more familiar faces and got to enjoy their company and appreciate Coincidence's playful hand.
We left Pittsburgh on Sept. 7th more excited for the road ahead than we have been in a while. For the next 6 days we would be on beautiful trails and taking lots of pictures that look the same to the outside eye. I've been looking forward to this for months!
There are two trails that connect Pittsburgh and Washington D.C., the first of those is the Greater Allegheny Passage. The G.A.P. trail is 150 miles of crushed limestone. It's an rails to trail project that slowly climbs up the eastern continental divide. It's amazing.
The trail begins at the point of confluence in Pittsburgh, and within an hour takes you into a tunnel of trees along the river. Then for 75 miles the trail is slightly uphill. Not uphill enough to be tough but just enough to notice.
Our second day on the trail was Jeff's 26th birthday. We were all on our best behavior. It was an unspoken agreement that no one would be passive aggressive on someone's birthday. It was a great day! We were on the road by 9:20 am and I quickly learned this is a precious time to ride. The magic hour. The dew was lifting off of the earth in a mist as the warming sun rays cut through the canopy above illuminating the leaves to a vibrant emerald. The air was cool as we rode and the sun occasionally broke through and warmed our skin. The trail lead us along the river, the air smelled of fishing. The smell of fishing to me is a styrofoam cup full of dirt and worms. I haven't fished with worms for 20 years. This was the time of day that you miss while at work, sleeping or living in the city. This was something to be cherished. The sun soon overpowered the cool air and the moment was gone but the memory will last.
On the third day we missed the magic hour but found spectacularly cheap breakfast in a small trail town. It was the earliest I have ever ordered pie. It was cherry. We reached the Eastern Continental Divide and rode 25 miles downhill into Maryland for some muffins before starting the second trail.
Beautiful is too vague of word to describe our time on this trail. The tall spacious trees that let you look deep into the forest and the tall bridges with gushing rivers below, this was worth the wait.
The C&O Canal trail is a 185 mile trail that leads from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington D.C. The trail is an old mule towpath along the Canal that runs parallel to the Potomac River.
We went back and forth for a while about taking this trail. People told us it's "rough." The lure of its beauty ultimately made us decide to take it, and we also had to prove we're real bike tourers now and we don't need fancy rails to trails to be happy. We're rough.
It didn't take long on the trail before I felt like I was perpetually catching myself from falling down. Deep mud ruts had hardened in the afternoon sun and seemed to have more control over where our bikes went than we did. We camped at a free hiker/biker site for the night and planned on making tuna melts and tomato soup for dinner. The last time we had that meal was in Montana, and it rained during the meal. Sure enough, the rain came before we could melt anything and we ran to our tents. We were in our tents for 12 hours. It was pouring rain in the morning. From my tent I watched a couple groups of bikers shout sarcastic comments about the weather to us as they passed. "Great day for a ride." Once you're riding the rain is no big deal, but getting out of your tent and packing up when it's raining is harder than making a habit of flossing. Coffee made the morning better and soon enough we were shirtless and ready to face the rain.
The road was full of sticks and puddles. It always amazes me how people, even myself at times, put limitations on the capabilities of bikes. At 15 mph our bikes tore through the wet and the debris. Our day ended in Hancock, MD and a historic Presbyterian church took pity on us and treated us to a motel room. We also got to do laundry for the first time in two weeks.
The third day on the trail was a perfect day to ride your bike through the forest. We cruised along the Potomac and marveled at how fortunate we were. It this trail was a little easier to ride, I'm convinced it'd be one of the top trails in the U.S.
Our last day on the trail left us with around 70 miles to DC and lots of rain. What started with a little morning rain lead to a downpour and a flooded trail. We rode on. After 20 miles we stopped in the town of Brunswick for a coffee with our new trail friend Robin who was riding until the money ran out. She was in her late 50's. We decided to get off the trail and try our luck on the streets but we still had 10-15 miles of trail before we could do that. Those next 10-15 miles were, without exaggeration, some of the most intense riding I will likely ever do. We rode more on water than trail. Inches of water masked the potholes and twigs of the trail. Our tires squirmed and fishtailed in this mud patches. We rode on. At times the rain was so heavy it was like trying to open your eyes under water. We rode on, smashing through branches like they were twigs and managing to stay mostly upright.
We eventually found streets and rode another 35 miles into DC. We hosed ourselves and the bikes off leaving no trace of the morning fun and met up with our dear friends Erica and Matt. They comforted us with food and wine in their new home; our home for the next three days.
Our time in D.C. was well spent, we had friends all over the city and were reminded of the value of being known. We shared a mutual appreciate with Erica and Matt for seeing close friends in a far away place. How sweet it is, like water for my roots. Surprisingly, the novelty didn't even wear off after 3 days of sharing a 200 foot apartment with 5 people.
We've long since given up on trying to see all we can in cities. Traveling like that leads to tired feet, too many pictures and not enough beer. We let our hosts take us around to a site or two before collectively deciding the best thing to do would be to spend the afternoon in a German bar and have a crab dinner in Maryland on the water.
D.C. is a beautiful city to explore by foot. It was impossible to not marvel at the history that sat on each street corner. It was also impossible not to make several references to the movie "National Treasure" while there.
The three of us enjoyed our alone time in the city after being cooped up with one another for 6 days on the trail into D.C. We all caught up with old friends individually which was a treat. We often have to tell stories together, but getting to tell your own side of the experience without the interjections of the group makes it much more personal.
I did not leave D.C. feeling rejuvenated, instead, I left remind of home and for the first time of the trip, excited for it to all end.
Photos: tall people taking pictures together in front of tall things//Cantler's in Annapolis//In awe over the beauty and size of the animals on display at the Natural History Museum
We were lazy about leaving D.C. It was September 16th and 1:30 pm by the time we had eaten our doughnuts and applied sunscreen. We've gotten no faster at getting on the road. I should also mention that these are post breakfast, pre lunch doughnuts. I feel a bit like the Hobbits in the Lord of the Rings when they fret about not getting second breakfast or elevenzies. We'll have to get some looser fitting clothes when we get home to accommodate for all of this eating we've learned to do.
Hopefully the ride to Baltimore was not an example of what the rest of our trip would be like. Our phone got a lot of attention. Every few blocks, it seemed, we were pulling them out, fearful we had taken a wrong turn and doubting the steps we had tried to memorize. "Was it a right or a left?!? Let's check." Even the bike trails were confusing.
Kyle described the busy road with no shoulder we were riding on as our most dangerous of the trip. I agreed but didn't think much of it. We escaped the road and stopped at an REI to have my disc breaks tightened. The mechanic worked for over an hour and couldn't figure it out. I left with looser breaks.
We arrived in Baltimore at 7:30 and were amazed at the number of people hanging out on street corners and stoops. We spent the evening people watching and meeting our host Christine who lived in a row house. It was a tight fit but we had a great night and left the next morning at noon after first breakfast. Some things never change.
Photo: our host Christine and her row house
We met Pat after a 60 mile day from Baltimore to Newark, Delaware. Pat called to us from his neighbors house as we rode down his street. This really was his street, and his town. He is a man who's life goes far beyond his front door. He filled the neighborhood with his spirit, energy and good deeds.
Following showers and a quick synopsis of his career path he took us to an Indian buffet. Over naan and tikki marsala Pat shared his life with us. The stories that shaped him, the unbelievable coincidences, and the multiple occasions he turned down a million dollars. He apologies for his long-windedness but we waved this off as if someone was interrupting a movie. We shared our stories, agreed we had eaten too much food and returned home.
We left in the morning after granola and YouTube videos of his kids. He wrote us directions out of town, did a quick tune up on our bikes and gave us a homemade energy bar for the road. He waved goodbye expecting to see us again someday, I sure hope he does.
Gin and karaoke, that's Philadelphia to me. Oh, and people smoking in bars. Our experience in cities is shaped by who we stayed with. Johanna shaped Philly for us. She was a twenty something bike commuter who was new to town but willing to share what she knew. She also shared her gin. Being from Seattle people tend to take us to the biggest dive bar they can think of, in this case it was a Philadelphia institution, the Happy Birthday Bar. What followed was a night of the most diverse karaoke I've seen and me learning that I am a lot better at dancing to Bill Wither's "Use Me," than I am at singing it. We left eyes tired from cigarette smoke and ears ringing slightly. We went back the next afternoon.
We left Philadelphia on Sunday morning after seeing our friend Chris who was in town for a wedding. Johanna road with us out of town for 15 miles or so. I felt bad for her because it was 15 miles of some of the shittiest riding of the trip. It was capped off by Jeff's tire blowing up. It blew like a gunshot, obliterating his tire and wheel. Kyle heroically road the 15 mile round trip to get Jeff and new wheel and four hours later we were back on the road. Having gotten a late start, we were 30 miles away from Princeton and had only an hour of daylight left. We road hard and fast down winding dark New Jersey streets relying on street lamps spaced too far apart and car headlights. We arrived in Princeton covered in sweat and wide eyed. Luckily we had the comforts of friends there, beds to sleep in, food and laundry.
Photos: Roast Pork and Provolone in Philly // Kyle doing karaoke in Philadelphia // Night riding to Princeton
Two songs competed for space in my head while in New York: "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z and "New York City is killing me" by Ray Lamontagne. Occasionally I would randomly sprinkle in a quick "In a New York minute" line but for the most part it was those two songs fighting to shape how I saw the city. I was there for four nights and everyday I had to decide if it was a "concrete jungle that dreams are made of," or if I "had to get out of New York City...New York City's killing me."
We arrived in Manhattan on the 21st by ferry. Even before boarding our ferry in New Jersey, we got the taste of the curtness New Yorkers are known for. Kyle approached a blue collar man waiting for the ferry with a friend and before getting within 10 feet of him, the man turned to Kyle and said with a heavy accent, "What?!" He confirmed our ferry was the right one and soon after we were on the streets of Manhattan. Within five minutes of being there we saw a man turned toward us and peeing into the bike lane. I learned then that there is very little private space in this city. As I write this I realize that I was probably that crazy guy carelessly peeing on the side of the road for several people driving across the country this summer. You have very little private space on a bicycle.
We all stayed with our good friend Tess in TriBeCa for the first night. We celebrated the first day of fall with squash, wine and dinner on her rooftop. It felt like we were living an episode of Friends. We soon all parted ways which was good for us, we needed some serious time apart. Jeff claimed the city was killing him and he escaped to Montauk, where we would join him in a few days. Kyle went to Brooklyn to stay with fraternity brothers, I think his beard was better received on that end of town. I stayed in TriBeCa with Tess and explored the city. I met friends new and old and marveled at the stories they told me of living in New York: the struggles of grocery shopping, the 12 hour work days, the unrealistic cost of living. Simultaneously, I felt disconnected from such a lifestyle but also very attracted. New York is like a lustful dream of an elusive girl, maybe I'll give chase. Of course there is something so romantic about moving to the big city and struggling to get by.
I rode across the Brooklyn bridge after a few days of excitement to rejoin Kyle, hop on the Long Island Rail Road and ride through the Hamptons until we found Jeff in Montauk. My mind felt full of new questions and challenges raised by the city. It was more alluring and provoking than any other place I've been, however, we are now on to the next town to experience even more and to leave with even more questions. Our minds are getting so full of experiences, names and memories and our bodies are simply tired, it will be nice to go home soon.
Photos: Our rooftop dinner in TriBeCa // Cocktails with Tess // My bike on the Brooklyn Bridge on my way out of town
I'm certain of this: people from Montauk do not consider themselves part of the Hamptons. Montauk was an end of the line town filled with fishermen, artists and whoever else needed to escape the city and road the train to the last stop of Long Island and stayed there. Now the small homes of the common man have skyrocketed in price as the uber wealthy try to get their share of rugged oceanfront. The locals there still hold onto the fact that they are not the Hamptons, though they are beginning to look similar.
We stayed with Ed and Dawn, family friends of Jeff who had a modest house on one of the most prized pieces of land. Ed was a homebuilder, and a very desired one at that. Long ago he built a home on this property for the photographer Richard Avedon. Richard liked Ed and his family so Ed built his modest home on the property as well. What followed was years of celebrity encounters, late nights and a house full of memories.
Though Richard has passed away Ed and Dawn help maintain the main house for the new family as they live full lives in theirs. We were fortunate to partake in their full lives as they hosted several other people that weekend. We met their community and ate great food as we talked about New York, ecology and writing. All of the New Yorkers claimed that everyone must live in New York at some point. I think they need to stop making that claim or else they will never be able to afford rent.
My enjoyment that weekend came from talking with Ed. The only way I can think to describe Ed is as an sophisticated working man. Well educated, thoughtful, artful, and works with his hands. He was like a mix between Frasier Crane and Frasier's dad. (I recognize I'm taking a risk with a Frasier reference but sometime you've got to go for it).
I left Montauk with even more on my mind, longing for time to sit and process it before it's lost, but before I knew it we were arriving in Groton, Connecticut after 46 miles of riding and three ferries.
Photos: Exploring the beach by the house in Montauk // Ed and Dawn's house // Kyle playing at Ed and Dawn's house after a party, I failed to mention Paul Simon has a house two doors down from Ed and Dawn!!
On our way to Boston we spent a night in Providence, RI. I don't think I will remember this town well. It's a picturesque Ivy League town with an artsy flare but it went in one ear and out the other. Our time there was brief and most of it was spent talking shop with racers at the bike shop and watching "The Intern." We don't normally see movies in towns where we are spending only one night, but at this point we were tired. Tired of new places and faces. My head was full of a summer of experiences, each fighting for its place of significance in my mind. It was time for home. But first 180 miles.
I was hoping for an early start leaving Providence to beat the rain, the problem was that the other guys didn't seem interested in such an idea. I've noticed they have entirely given up on setting an alarm for the past few weeks. Sometimes the early bird doesn't get the worm, he just ends up sitting by a packed up bicycle.
We reached Boston before nightfall and met up with our host and friend Bridget in her swanky apartment to catch up. I feel a bit sorry for the people we meet and stay with on this leg of the trip. We are all worn down and spent. Our enthusiasm for the stories we tell is noticeably decreased, our antics have become crazier and our inside jokes have become so deep that we barely get them. Bridget watched us with a puzzled faced as we did what was now normal to us, we won her back by making her dinner.
It rained on our day off in Boston which gave us a nice excuse to not go sight-seeing. Bridget was again puzzled. She couldn't understand why we just wanted to just lounge around drinking cappuccinos and wine. We had senioritis, we wanted to show up late for class and drink beers in the parking lot.
Photos: Road to Providence // Dinner on Bridget's floor
Our good friend Rex flew into Boston on the morning of Oct. 1st. He came in early and woke Jeff and Kyle up in bed. It was all very cute. We lingered drinking coffee and chatting. We were on the road by noon and after too many unmarked turns and missed directions, we were all in pretty terrible moods. Looking back, I think we were all emotional about the trip coming to a close and didn't quite know how to express it.
We rode bundled up and took lunch after 25 miles remarking how cold it was. We were meeting Rex in Portsmouth, NH for the night and we were racing against the sun. We pushed straight into the cold and the wind as the road brought us to the ocean. The damp salty air filled our lungs and the wind blowing off the Atlantic slowed us as we passed through beach towns that were emptying for the winter. We won our race against the sun and made it to Portsmouth before nightfall. Our reward was a vibrant sunset.
We camped with Rex behind the Little Harbor Chapel and it was by far our creepiest campsite. A fire warmed our spirits and livened everything up. So did the beer. We ate hot dogs, played cards and chatted with strangers that thought we were going to burn the forest down.
We were slow to get up on our last day, cherishing the last moments in our tents. Rex woke up shivering but was nice enough to treat us to breakfast. It was just passed noon when we left which seemed fitting. We said some nice words, a word of praise for getting this far safely and I read my journal entry from our first night aloud. We have come so far from the boys on Whidbey Island terrified of the mountains that laid before us.
Within the first mile and a half Kyle got a flat tire. We laughed. Or at least I did. Looks like we'll be racing the sun again. The sun is getting faster everyday and wind today seems to be taking its vengeance on us for going against it all day yesterday. The whip and the whirl of the wind in our ears was exhausting. But it was the last day, so why not be challenged.
We had our final bakery stop in Kennebunk, ME. They were so impressed at how far we came they gave us t-shirts. By far the best bakery of the trip and they sure made us feel special. We rode 25 more miles, went on our last gravel trail, got chased by our last dog and at last arrived in Portland. We rode though town, up our final hill and declared the Eastern Promenade our finish line.
We feasted, danced and slept well. I woke up in the morning anxious that I had to ride my bike 50 miles, but we were done. There will be no more of that for some time.
Photos: Our sunset in Portsmouth // Our last trail // Eastern Promenade in Portland, our finish line
After 4100, maybe 4200, miles our adventure is done. No more bickering over whether or not we should buy chip for lunch, no more bakery stops, no more flat tires, no more talking shop with old guys outside gas stations. We were ready to come home a couple weeks ago. Still, it's hard to say goodbye to the trip. It's hard to escape the thought that when we land in Seattle the men we've become, the grizzled journey-men, will fade too quickly into the mountain fearing boys we were when we left. May we always remember the lessons we learned:
- people are for the most part good
- not every shake should be made into a malt
- wind can be your worse enemy
- wind can be your best friend
- most people have fascinating stories of their own
- people innately like to host
- a bicycle is an amazing way to meet people
- beauty stretches across the whole country but skipped Gary, Indiana
- always accept free drinks from strangers
This list could go on and on but I'll save you of the rest and of the best ways we learned to pee in public places without being noticed.
Thank you all who followed along, supported us and let us sleep in your house. The hospitality and generosity we received has shaped us and created a desire to give it back. Here's to more conversations around the dinner table, learning about each other's lives and fostering relationships. That's what this trip was about not riding bikes.
Soon I'll be home, penniless and jobless with a head full of memories, a broken in bike seat and too much free time, trying figuring out what my next move is; I couldn't be more excited.