Friday, August 3, 2007

Photo Gallery

My pictures from the trip are really just snapshots, at best, but you can find them at:

Bike Tour Photo Gallery .

Woburn Advocate Interview

Five weeks, 3,000 miles and memories for a lifetime

Tour de America
Woburn Advocate, August 2, 2007

(Photo: Ellen Bullock)

The country is changing and no one has noticed it more than Mike Cohen.

Cohen, who flew out to Seattle on June 16, rode his bicycle back home to Woburn, taking in the scenery as he traveled more than 81 miles a day.

“In a way the hardest part was realizing that things had changed,” Cohen said. “It was a different trip from before.”

He speaks of the West in a loving tone of voice. Completely different from the cities in New England where he grew up, Cohen loves to visit the vast expanse that is Idaho, Montana, and South Dakota, even if he never wants to live there.

Montana is so big and it has different regions,” Cohen said. “In a way Montana is the heart of the whole thing. It’s so spread out and there is so little in between.”

It took Cohen just over five weeks to work his way back to Woburn, losing 28 pounds along the way. This isn’t his first trip across the country, however. In 1983 a friend of Cohen’s made this same trip, flying out to Seattle and biking back home to the East Coast. Cohen promised himself that he would do it too, someday.

Nine years later Cohen realized that “someday” might not happen. In 1992 he received the news that he had a cancerous tumor on his testicle. The tumor was removed and a round of radiation prevented the cancer from spreading, but Cohen was determined to make the trip he had promised himself he would do. So, in the summer of 1992 he set out.

Fifteen years later, he decided to do it again. Now 54, Cohen feels his cross-country biking trips are over, although he learned a lot about himself and the country along the way.

Idaho is beautiful,” he said. “It’s like Berkshire County without the humidity. It’s easy riding, an easy stretch.”

The whole trip was difficult, however, Cohen said. There were times when he wanted to give up, but knowing that people at home were reading about him in the Woburn Advocate, and on the Web site he was updating, kept him going. Cohen said there were times when he would ride a mile, then get off the bike and walk, while counting to 100. Then he would get on the bike again for another mile, and start again, just to keep himself moving forward.

“I had ACDC playing in my head,” Cohen said. “‘It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll.’”

One of the most physically difficult parts of the trip was the extreme heat, he said. Biking through desolate lands with the temperature over 100 degrees was not something he had planned on, or was prepared for. At one point he was forced to accept that to continue would be detrimental to his health, and so he stopped, accepting a ride for a few miles.

Despite that, Cohen said he always felt cared for throughout the trip.

“At certain times I would just stop and someone would appear and give me important information,” he said. “Or someone would take me in. Thing worked out. People were being helpful. It’s a very spiritual experience.”

As he moved through the western part of the country, Cohen was surprised to see the change in climate of the states. People who live in Montana, he said, used to do ranching and logging for a living. A difficult and secluded lifestyle, they were often unfriendly when he last rode through. Now, however, more people are moving to Montana from California, and the state has changed to accommodate.

“I quickly realized it was like a toll road,” Cohen said. “It used to be $1.99 would buy you two eggs and toast for breakfast. Now, for $7.50 you get a three-egg omelet and fancy potatoes, because the demand is there. Things that used to be simple were expensive.”

Little two-lane roads became junior interstates, there were endless commercial strips where there didn’t used to be any, and a town was no longer just a town, Cohen said.

One of the positive benefits to this is that the people are friendlier. Being so isolated, Cohen said, many ranchers and farmers were not friendly to him as he passed through. He got the impression that many were concerned about immigrants, and though they were outspoken, Cohen found it difficult to keep his own mouth shut out of respect for the residents of the state. He was, after all, just passing though himself.

“Part of the thing out West, is that they’re thinking, ‘what an idiot,’ but they won’t stop you,” he said. “If you need help they’ll help you.”

The last time Cohen made this trip he found that many people he ran into hadn’t been to Boston before.

“When I first did it, and said I was going to Boston, it was like saying I’m going to the Emerald City,” Cohen said. “It was someplace they read and hear about, but have never seen.”

Now, however, many more people he interacted with had been out East, so he asked how friendly New Englanders were to them. Cohen was surprised to learn that their impressions were of friendly people, and he was reassured that they were treated as well as he was being treated.

“I’m going to try not to do it again,” Cohen said. “But I did it.”

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

July 15 - 23, The Home Stretch

Once I reach Wisconsin, the weather changes. The sky is filled with rippling waves of small white clouds that cast a spectral pall. I am heading Southeast on RT 10, and even though the road rises and dips as I go through the Wisconsin Dells, a tailwind is pushing me right along. At first I am happy to be out of the relentless sun, but this endless twilight begins to affect me, and I start to fantasize that I will lose my distinctive Suntan.

My face is brick-red, my right ear is as brown and curled-looking as long-leaf tobacco, and the other exposed parts are very, very tan. It's just that they alternate with totally white bits, making me look like a Red, or Lesser, Panda.

The weather stays on the overcast side right on through Michigan, Ontario, and New York.

July 15 -- Richville to Fort Gratiot, MI. 83.0 miles. I have learned that there is no pavement so bad it can't get worse. The shoulder routinely disappears, then comes back as a six inch-wide "grumble strip", or three feet of wavy gravel. I really want to get to Port Huron, and leave Michigan behind, so the shoulder turns into broken, crumbled bits of tar, like a dried-up African lake bed. If it was a Portrait, one could say "My, what exquisite craquelature", but it's pavement, and I have to just keep riding on it. It gets to be too late to try and go over the bridge to Canada, so I camp behind a car wash.

July 16 -- Fort Gratiot, MI to Woodstock, Ont. 100.8 miles. At breakfast, someone says to me, with a straight face, "Welcome to Port Huron, the City on the Water." On the Canadian side, it gets worse. The Immigration officials are either practicing a bizarre form of Psychological Profiling, or I have slipped into a Monty Python Movie. "What is the nature of your quest?" would be an improvement over the strange and irrelevant questions they ask me.

Once through Customs, I get an Official Map of Ontario, and learn that the exchange rate is bad. The U.S. Dollar has slipped, and is now only worth 2% more than the Canadian Dollar. The prices haven't changed, though. A bottle of soda that costs $0.99 in Michigan is $1.69 here, and there's a 14% sales tax. I realize that I may not be able to afford to eat while I am in Canada.

July 17 -- Woodstock to Caistor Centre, Ont. 75.9 miles. Bad map! Bad, bad, map! Canadians are evidently afraid of being invaded by an army on bicycles. The maps are inaccurate, the signs misleading, and the roads are actively bike-hostile. Haven't eaten much, but it doesn't matter. The farmers have been applying liberal amounts of cow manure (at least I hope it's cow manure) to their fields, giving the countryside a general ambience of, well, manure.

July 18 -- Caistor, Ont. to Pavilion, NY. 99.2 miles. Niagara Falls, on the Canadian side, is unbelievably tacky. It's like Bourbon Street, if it was ten miles long and all made out of plastic. Can't wait to go over the bridge. After worrying about how tough it will be to get back into the U.S., I am pleasantly surprised by how polite the American officials are. Make it through Niagara Falls and greater Buffalo, and head straight East down RT 20. Pavilion is also known as "Texaco Town", as it's really a former Truck Stop. Big Rigs stop here and make loud noises all night.

July 19 -- Pavilion to Auburn, NY. 84.4 miles. Raining, cold, incredible roller coaster-like hills. Stop to make sandwiches at a picnic table under a grape arbor in the rain. Start shivering, and realize I am done for the night, so I give-in and get a Motel Room. All of my clothes are wet. After I sink-rinse them, the Motel owner volunteers to put them in the dryer for me.

July 20 -- Auburn to Bridgewater, NY. 74.8 miles. Hilly, rainy, cold, and foggy. Stay at a mini-resort organized around a small pond. It is totally dark by the time I get there, so I don't appreciate its cuteness until the next morning.

July 21 -- Bridgewater to Nassau, NY. 93.3 miles. Go through Albany and over the Hudson River. Annie meets me in East Greenbush. I ride on to Nassau, then we put bike on the car and go to Kim's Dragon Restaurant in Pittsfield for dinner. This is an excellent Vietnamese place, started by an immigrant who was originally sponsored by Arlo Guthrie.

July 22 -- Nassau, NY to Amherst, MA. 76.2 miles. After breakfast, it is back to Nassau. During the night the rear tire has mysteriously gone flat. The tube seems to be fine, but I replace it with the spare tube just to be safe. Annie buys me some WD-40 to spray on the gears, as the chain keeps skipping. It's after 1:30pm by the time I start riding, and my legs are not in gear, either.

By the time I make it to New Lebanon and the upward slope of the Taconics, my legs are working and I am able to get up the big hill leading to Massachusetts. When I see the "Entering Pittsfield" sign, I have same feeling of accomplishment I had when I finally got to the end of Montana. The hill out of Dalton is a killer, though, and I walk the bike up most of it. By the time I get through Hadley to Amherst, it is really dark. Try to find quiet place to camp by the old railroad tracks, but get lost. Pick out what seems to be ideal spot by RT 9, using the old "hide in plain sight" method.

July 23 -- Amherst to Woburn, MA. 87.0 miles. Am woken up at 4:30am by hidden sprinklers, which pop up and begin spraying on a 3-minute cycle. It is like being machine-gunned with water. Scramble out of tent, pull up the stakes, and carry everything to nearby parking lot. By the time I get the bike, and look at how wet everything is, the sprinklers turn off and disappear. I put the tent back up and gingerly slide into my wet sleeping bag. I could sure use some more sleep, but my feet are awake and restless.

Am going up the hill towards Belchertown when I come upon the "Roadside Cafe". Seems like the perfect place to stop and get breakfast, but it should really be called the "Cafe Organico". Everything is hand-made, fresh, and good for me, but I didn't want a $12.00 breakfast. It's like hitting a Toll Plaza.

Go up and down the hills by Quabbin Reservoir. At a store just outside Ware, I run into the single most unfriendly person I have met on the whole trip. The sign is hard to make out, but it might well have been, "Pete's Gas and Go ---- Yourself". Slowly climb up to the hill towns leading to Worcester, fighting the rain and the gusting headwinds. In Leister, have to stop and change clothes, as I am soaked and shivering.

Continue on RT 9 right through Worcester and Framingham, then head up RT 126 to Weston. Have the strangest songs playing in my head: "Winter Wonderland" (maybe because I am so cold), a BeeGees Disco hit (no idea), the "Do they even know it's Christmas?" refrain (still cold, I guess), and then in Lexington, the theme from Mary Tyler Moore ("You're gonna make it after all"). I could have really used the "Winter Wonderland" back in South Dakota when it was so hot.

I sneak up Sturgis Street to my house, and crouching down by the wall, call Annie on the phone.

"I'm done. I can't go any further. You'll have to come out and get me."

"Where are you?"

"On the front porch!"

I take a long, hot shower and weigh myself. The scale says 198.5. That means I have lost exactly 28 lbs since I left for Seattle.

The odometer says 3,013 miles. Divided by 37, that is an average of 81.4 miles a day. Tomorrow, I will engage in some real white-knuckle bicycling, and go through Medford, Somerville, and Charlestown into the North End, and stand at the edge of Boston Harbor. Not counting the return trip, that will probably put my total distance at 3,025.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

July 1 - 14, Day-By-Day

The beginning of July was very eventful, so I am going back to a Day by Day accounting:

July 1 -- Lame Deer to Broadus, MT. 68.2 miles. Stopped for the night 2 miles short of Lame Deer, which is in an Indian Reservation. When I got to Busby, which is the preceding Reservation, I saw that the depressing old "Trading Post" was under new ownership. The whole family, a Native American Woman and her numerous children, were standing out front looking up at the roof. A teenage boy was nerving himself up to jump across onto a nearby trailer. From my bike, I could clearly see that it was too far. I assured him with all the authority I could muster as someone who has always liked to jump off of things, that it was "Just this much too far", and that he'd spend the rest of his life missing his teeth. Hopefully, this was enough to let him come down off the roof without losing face in front of everyone.

Thought about stopping for the night there, but it was noisy from the Highway, and there was no water. Lots of Indian Dogs, however, in every stage of de-evolution from the noble Wolf down to the useless and annoying Yap dog. On the positive side, these two towns are way less depressing than they used to be. I don't know if it's Government investment, or Casino Gambling money that's done it, but there's been a marked improvement.

In Lame Deer, saw a Native American leading a pony with a child on it. This is the first person I've seen riding a horse in Montana so far. Later on, passed by a farm with a wrought-iron sign that I recognized: "Fortners - Honey". Ten years ago I was going by there when an immense thunderstorm started up. They took me in, gave me dinner, and let me sleep in on of their farm sheds. No-one was home, so I left a note thanking them for what they had done.

Got to Broadus and was checking out the Library. Naturally, it was closed, and wouldn't open until noon the next day. I was looking in the windows to see if they even had computers when a large white van pulled up. I thought it was a Church Youth Group coming back from an outing, but it was just one large family. The father was a bicycling enthusiast and invited me to stay at their place. They turned out to be John and Amy L---, who had met while in Pharmacy School in Missoula.

They are are home-schooling their five children, and have a sixth one on the way. They generously fed me dinner, told me about life in a small town, let me use their computer, and then crash in one of the kid's rooms. It was the first night I'd been indoors in two weeks, so I put the mattress on the floor right in front of an open window.

July 2 -- Broadus, MT to Colony, WY. 76.8 miles. This was the part I'd been dreading all along--the last stretch of southeast Montana, hot, dry, and empty. Even though I had four bottles of water with me, it was a rough haul:

First, stopped at Hammond, and bought a can of soda at the not-really-a-Store-anymore. Then, got to Boyes, which is now just a Post Office. Some bikers on their way to the big Honda GoldWing Rally in Billings gave me a bottle of cold water in return for directions. I drank it, along with a lot of my water, and then refilled of all my water bottles from the Post Office's outside tap.

Further on towards Alzada, a couple from Seattle stopped to see if I had enough water, and gave me a cold can of Pepsi. The closer I got to Alzada, however, the stronger the headwind grew. I felt like I was only an hour away for three straight hours. A retired Master Sargeant on his way to Maine stopped to offer me a ride. At this point I was like a four-year-old with one of those "Tie Your Own Shoes" books: "I can do it all by myself!". I turned down the ride but gratefully accepted a tall can of Arizona Ice Tea.

Once I finally made it to Alzada, I stopped at the Stoneville Cafe, which proudly boasts "Cheap Drinks - Lousy Food". Ten years before, I had complained to the Biker Barmaid about paying $2.00 for an O'Douls, and she had snapped at me, "And the food's not lousy either!". I had felt bad ever since. She was still there, so I apologized to her. She said, "That's OK, that's what I say to everybody -- the drinks aren't cheap, and the food's not lousy."

After 694 miles, I was ready to be done with Montana. At the Wyoming border, I didn't actually get off my bike and jump up and down, but inside I was egotistically exultant. "Yes! Yes! I am the Bicycle Master of Montana! Childish, but satisfying. Students of the Classics know, however, that Hubris is always followed by Nemesis.

July 3 -- Colony, Wy to Newell, SD. 47.1 miles. Had biked through darkness and an imminent rainstorm to get to Colony, which is in the extreme Northeast corner of Wyoming. It is the "Bentonite Captital of the World". Bentonite is a dark grayish-black clay that absorbs liquids. Its chief uses are as drilling slurry and Kitty Litter.

I could see the lighning flashes clearly through my tent as I went to sleep. Woke up to lashing rain, and had to hold the front of the tent down with my hands to get a little more sleep. This part of Wyoming is not accessible by paved roads from the rest of the State. The Devil's Tower is nearby, along with the Lowest Point in Wyoming. At 3,691 feet above sea level, their lowest point is exactly 200 feet higher than Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts.

After breakfast in Belle Fourche, SD, I started to feel sick. Everyone was geared-up for the Fourth, but I just wanted to curl up in a ball. The only thing my stomach could tolerate was root beer. After a long rest, went the 25 miles to Newell, and set up camp in the park.

At midnight, I was rousted by the Police. Although there were no signs prohibiting camping in the park, someone from the Town Council complained to the Sheriff's Department. Two apologetic Deputies explained, while holding high-powered flashlights on my face, that they were under orders to take me to the town's official lot for Campers and then to the Town Hall to make sure I paid the $10.00 fee, or to escort me out of town. Naturally, the official lot turned out to be a patch of weeds by the highway, with no privacy, water, or restroom. I walked sowly back in to town, and showed the Deputies that I only had Twenties on me. Since nobody from the Town Council wanted to come down and make change, I was allowed to sleep in the weeds for free.

July 4 -- Newell to Gettysburg, SD. 47.1 miles. While having coffee at the BP Station, told story about being rousted to curious locals. They were very sympathetic, as they're not happy with the town government. They also told me that the Sheriff was very good at taking Native Americans and Mexicans right out of town.

There's nothing for 79 miles after Newell, so I made sure all three water bottles were full. Did not count on it being so hot, however. Made it it Mud Butte, which I knew was just a Post Office and Trailer Park. Unfortunately, the Post Office, and everything else, was closed tighter than a crab's carapace. There was no water available at all. This was very bad, as I had already drunk a lot of my water, and the remaining liquid was the temperature of bathwater.

Went on another 4 miles towards Maurine, another Post Office-only town, and realized I was in big trouble. Was walking the bike at that point in the well-over-100-degrees heat, with not a scrap of shade in sight, and knew that if I didn't get off that road, I would probably die. Luckily, someone stopped. Getting a ride, as the late Ben Meikle of Arlington, who used to impersonate Benjamin Franklin, would say, is aleatory. It's a throw of the dice.

My rescuer was John W---, of Ogden, Utah. He was driving across South Dakota in an old Jeep Wagoneer without air conditioning because of a death in his family. As we barreled down the two-lane highway at 70 miles an hour, my life flashed before my eyes. To be precise, it was the next day and a half of my life, which I would have spent covering the same distance. It was an education to see the arrow-straight road from the viewpoint of the drivers who had to go past me.

We stopped at the Native American town of Faith, at the very end of the 79 miles of nothing, to get cold drinks. I knew I should say "Thanks for the ride", and continue on my own from there, but when we got out of the car, it was so hot it was like walking on the sun. Instead, I offered to pay for the refreshments.

The only part I really regretted not riding through by myself is the approach to Lake Oahe, which is a huge reservoir created by damming the Missouri River. It stretches through the middle of both North and South Dakota. The approach is along a high ridge through an Indian Reservation, with the blue of the lake glinting in the distance. The road swoops down to the lake and an ornately curled suspension bridge.

At Gettysburg Corners, John W--- was turning North, so I unloaded my bike with many thanks, and rode into Gettysburg, a nice town with a good sense of humor (Town Motto: "Not that Gettysburg"). They also have a very nice park that not only welcomes camping, but has a handicap-accessible restroom. The town's big fireworks display was going to a humdinger, but it was back at the huge Lake. I was glad to just sit quietly in the park.

Not that I missed out on anything. Thanks to it's liberal policy towards fireworks (they're totally legal, and for sale everywhere) South Dakota may be the noisiest place in North America during the first week of July.

July 5 -- Gettysburg to Fishers Grove State Park, SD. 94.8 miles. In Faulkton, the people who ran the Drugstore told me that the stretch between Newell and Faith was the most desolate in the country. This may just be perverse local pride--what about Nevada or Death Valley?--but it made me feel better about the day before. In Zell, I saw people riding on horses for the second time so far. Zell is world-famous in South Dakota because the road leading to it actually has a bend in it.

July 6 -- Fishers Grove to Watertown, SD. 62.5 miles. Ignoring all the warning signs that RT 212 was closed ahead, I pressed on to Frankfort, which is all but cut-off from the world. An enterprising newcomer had set up a cooperative "General Store", so that residents wouldn't have to drive for miles just to get necessities. He was originally from Virginia, and when he had called up the Mayor to ask how they'd feel about him moving there with his wife and five kids, the Mayor said, "You have five children? How quickly can you get here?"

I walked and rode my bike through the 11-mile construction zone. As I said to Annie on the phone, gambling that I could get through is an adventure, whereas a 40-mile detour into a headwind is just a pain in the butt.

When I got to Watertown, I was able to use my cellphone for the first time since Idaho. Despite what their ads say, ATT/Cingular really has terrible coverage, and I am switching providers as soon as I get home. It was over a hundred degrees out, and I was beat, so I caved-in and got a motel room. It was nice to be indoors for a change, with my sink-washed clothes spread out to dry, and the TV on. Watched part of a hilarious Kung Fu movie called "Shaolin Soccer". My storytelling friend, Michael Anderson, would love this movie, as it combines his two favorite things.

July 7 -- Watertown, SD to Montevideo, MN. 76.7 miles. Extremely hot, 102+ degrees, and very humid. Could feel the heat being reflected off the pavement at me. South Dakota ended in a final burst of Fireworks Stands, and I was in 'Lac Qui Parle County', Minn. Stopped at at Dairy Queen in Dawson, and basically wanted to suck the soda fountain dry. Very little was open in Montevideo, so I went to a Chinese Buffet for dinner, but may have had too many root beers. Got my tent all set up in Lagoon Park, and went to bed at 9pm. And lay there, wide awake until 6:30am. At intervals, I was driven out of the tent by my own chinese restaurant farts, and would lie outside in the cool grass, until I was driven back in by the mosquitos. Woke up from a frustrating dream at 7:30, after having slept for an hour.

July 8 -- Montevideo to St. Bonifacius, MN. 109 miles. Decided to be good and follow detour in Hutchinson. Big Mistake. Wound up going miles out of the way, through the Airport. East towards Minneapolis, the sky was gray-black with a monster storm. Kept going anyway, and was eventually sideswiped by a sudden rainshower. There was a lightning flash a mile behind me, and then another one about a mile ahead. Started looking around nervously to make sure I wasn't the highest thing on the road. The storm moved on, and I stopped to wring out my socks.

July 9 -- St. Bonifacius to Minneapolis, MN. 32.8 miles. RT 7 used to be a simple country road that would quietly bring you right into the City. Now it's a concrete highway roaring through suburb after suburb. Found the International Hostel, an old mansion next to the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, and signed-up for a space in the Men's dormitory. Went to a Bike shop for a chain tune-up and more tubes, then did laundry, washing everything but the shorts and T-shirt I was wearing.

July 10 -- Minneapolis, MN to Mondovi, WI. Saw more Western Wear stores just on Lake Street in Minneapolis than I had from Seattle to South Dakota. Crossed over the Mississippi and was in St. Paul. It took a while to get out of Twin Cities and the industrial areas along the River. Stopped at Plum Creek, WI to eat. In the park, four mother ducks were shepherding a combined flock of about 30 fuzzy babies around the pond. Got on bike and discovered that cyclecomputer had died. Without it, I would not only not know how far I had gone, but wouldn't know if I was pedaling too slowly to get anywhere. Unsuccessfully searched the next few towns for a replacement battery.

July 11 -- Mondovi to Stevens Point, WI. 115.8 miles. Found battery at Drug Store, and went through the whole ritual of measuring how far one wheel rotation was in millimeters. Reset the cyclecomputer, and was on my way. Just outside Stevens Point, had to take shelter from a rainstorm at an old Roadhouse. According to local legend, it had once been a favorite hang-out of Al Capone.

July 12 -- Stevens Point to Manitowoc, WI. 116.6 miles. Made it across Wisconsin, along RT 10, in three days. Got to Manitowoc well in time to catch the 12:30am Car Ferry across Lake Michigan. This was good, as Plan B was to put all those laps I had swum in the pool at the Boy's and Girl's Club to good use. Getting to the Great Lakes is weird: it certainly looks like you're at the shore--seagulls, waves, boats, water to the horizon, etc.--but there's no salt in the air.

July 13 -- Ludington to Rodney, MI. 101.3 miles. Slept poorly on the ferry, having opted for the "Quiet Room", instead of grabbing the "Playroom" and locking the door. Got to Ludington at 4:50am. Now in Eastern time zone, so moved watch forward an hour, but didn't feel any better. Had breakfast, but resolutely stuck to decaf, as I did not want to wake up. Biked along slowly until I found a National Forest Campsite, and took a nap in the sun. Made it to Rodney, which consisted of a convenience store, a house, and a Bar. Asked at the store if I could camp there. They said yes, so I set up my tent in field. Headed across street to "Pappys" to see if they had a payphone. Only three people in bar: the Waitress, and the couple who lived next to the convenience store, Don and Kimmie R---. Don said that there was extreme weather forecast for that night, and that I was welcome to sleep in his award-winning "Pole Barn". This was really a huge Barn-shaped garage that dwarfed his Trailer. The upstairs was a well-appointed rec room or "man cave". He told me that because they lived in a Trailer, he and his wife were unable to have a Chrismas Tree. Since he built the Barn, they had the tree in there, and slept there during the Holiday Season.

July 14 -- Rodney to Richville, MI. 79.9 miles. Got off to a slow start due to rainshowers and another detour. Stopped in Mecosta for breakfast. Headline in the local paper: "Man arrested on OWL Charges". It turned out to be Operating While Intoxicated, and not something out of Harry Potter. Sign on the Big Boy Restaurant, Alma: "New: Chicken-Fried Chicken". When I was in the Air Force in Texas, I certainly ate a lot of chicken-fried steak, but this is a stroke of culinary genius. With their permission, camped under an Apple tree by Fritz' Family Restaurant.

Total miles: 2,238. Daily average: 79.9 miles.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Assorted Topics

Here are some thoughts on various topics that I've had as I have been riding, followed by a quick summary of my Third Week on the road:


I have become something of an amateur expert on dehydration. Back in College, at the Upstate Normal School, I took a course called "Physiological Psychology". I can remember Dr. Sherman saying that eating and drinking are controlled by different mechanisms. People frequently eat too much food, which is why we have the expression "overeat"; but they rarely drink too many liquids, and therefore we have no such word as "overdrink".

This all came back to me some years later, after I took up bicycle touring. If you become dehydrated, your body will prompt you to drink more fluids. A lot more fluids. More than you can absorb. For example, some years ago, I biked from Farmington, CT to Pittsfield, MA on a very hot and humid August day. My mouth kept telling me to drink more fluid. That evening, as I walked around Pittsfield, I could hear all the extra liquid sloshing and gurgling in my distended stomach. There may be no such thing as "Overdrinking", but all the same, it is a very uncomfortable experience.

However, out here in the Western U.S., where it is hot and extremely dry, dehydration takes on a whole different aspect. You will lose an incredible amount of moisture through your skin without even noticing it. When I finally make it to a town with an all-in-one gas station/Restaurant/Convenience Store, I find that I can pour an incredible amount of cold liquid down my throat. It is like watering a Cactus. It just seems to disappear somewhere inside me, bypassing my stomach, and going directly to my tissues.

Experts will tell you to drink a gallon of water per hour of heavy exertion. There is only one problem with this. The human mouth does not want to drink that much water. It wants flavor and fizz. Just look at the ratio of bottled water to carbonated beverages in any convenience store. My current theory is that some of our direct ancestors lived in caves next to springs of naturally-carbonated water, like Perrier in France. Unconsciously, we have been trying to recreate this situation.

I find that if I pour enough water, soda, and sports glog into myself, my body will then grudgingly agree to let go of some fluid. One sure sign that you are extremely dehydrated: your bladder is full, but your body tells you, "I'm not letting anything out, until you put something in to replace it."


One of the compensations of being out here is that I get to see a lot of wildlife. Primarily White-tailed Deer and Springhorn Antelopes. The antelope are always in small herds, the deer come either alone or in groups. They don't know what to make of me as I roll along on my bike, and generally go bounding away. Horses also tend to run off in alarm. I saw what was either a very large brown fox or small coyote running across a field. As soon as it spotted me, it turned right around and began running back the way it came.

Cows are the exception, they just stand there, staring at me with a puzzled look on their faces. "What the heck is that? You'll never get me up in one of those things, Mildred!" Cows out here tend to the hearty range types, like Black or Red Angus; but I have seen some Belted Galloways, and even some of the standard Western Movie brown cattle with white faces. The most enterprising cow I've seen was one of the latter. She managed to get out of her field somehow, so she could graze on the opposite side of the road. In this case, the grass really was greener on the other side

One morning, as I was almost out of Montana, I heard a chattering sound that wasn't coming from my deraileur. It was Prairie Dogs, calling out and then ducking down, to let their friends know some kind of unearthly thingamabob was coming. The ones further along and farther from the road, having been forewarned, sat up on their little mounds of dirt and stared at me. I knew that expression. "What the heck is that? You'll never get me up in one of those things, Mabel!"

There are too many birds to talk about here, so I'll just mention the Killdeer, which are all along the road.. Every time I hear their piping cry, it takes me right back to recess in Grade School: "She did it!", "He did it!", "She did it!" Same thing for the flowers. There's a profusion of multi-colored wildflowers along the roadside, so I'll just mention one kind: it looks exactly like a Black-Eyed Susan, but the center is blood red.

Interesting Signs

In Kenmore, WA, at a Strip Mall: "Kenmore Square". The Anchor Tenant was a store called "Stupid Prices".

In window of small town Cafe in Eastern Wash.: "Eat here, or we'll both starve!"

Street Sign In Idaho: "Pommes De Terre Lane".

Name of Pet-Grooming Parlor, E. Broadway, Missoula: "Cats On Broadway".

Sign in the window of the "Lacy Boutique", somewhere in Eastern Montana, "We now have clothing in Women's sizes".

Way out in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming: "Lonesome Country Lane".

On "Culvers", in Watertown, South Dakota: "Frozen Custard Butterburgers" (as RayRay, America's cutest meat puppet, would say, "Yummo"!)

Historical Markers

The roads in South Dakota are dotted with "Historical Interest Markers." Go ahead and avoid them, as apparently nothing interesting has ever happened in SD. The events commemorated by these markers are lame and/or depressing, or even surreal, like the signs in a 99 Restaurant.

Example 1: "In 1883, on this spot, hardy Pioneer Ezekiel Durnzell laid his hat on a rock, so he could take a drink from the nearby stream. His hat was stolen by a playful Indian. Durnzell relentlessly tracked him down and killed him."

Example 2: "On this spot, from 1890 to 1923, stood a church dedicated to St. Melentharb, the Patron of Dairy Products. They called it the 'Prairie Church' because it was a church, and it was on the Prairie. People went to services there every week, religiously. During the Great Blizzard of '08, worshipers were trapped there for
several days by snow drifts. Miraculously, none of them were bitten by a rattlesnake."

[Note to the 99 Corporate Offices: I LOVE your signs. Coming up with them would be my Dream Job. If you have any openings, let me know. MDC]

Quick Summary, Jul 1-7:

Have gone from Lame Deer, Montana to Montevideo, Minnesota. Total miles: 1,583. Average per day: 75.36. Just outside Lame Deer (i.e., after 566 miles across Montana), saw first person actually riding on a horse. The last part of Montana was tough; but it's been even hotter in South Dakota and Minn. than in Montana. Coming soon: Taken In, in Broadus! On to Alzada! Wyoming (all 22 miles of it)! Taken Sick in Belle Fourche! Rousted at Midnight in Newell! Rescued from the Desolate Wastes! And more...

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Jun 17 - 30, Day-by-Day Breakdown

Jun 16 - Seattle-Tacoma Airport to Tukwila, WA. 4 miles. First Flat.

Jun 17 - Tukwila to Skykomish, WA. 83.2 miles. Met the Tour Group. Saw bike wth tag, "I'm Bambi, from MA". Thought, wouldn't it be amazing if it turned out to be my storyteller friend Bambi Good from Chestnut Hill? Talked to Jack Kerouac conspiracy theorist in bar.

Jun 18 - Skykomish to Lincoln Rocks SP, WA. 81 miles. Went over Stevens Pass. Think the Wash. Highway Dept. has been busy making it higher. Bypassed Wenatchee because campground in Confluence Park is always under water due to flooding, and to avoid the Goat-Head thorns, which will go through even a mountain bike tire.

Jun 19 - Orondo to Hartline, WA. 71.4 miles. Temp over 90 degrees. Did stupid thing--left Waterville without getting food. Met Michelle, the Sweep for the Tour Group, who warned me that there was nothing for 40 miles. She was right--the store in Douglas that I had been counting on, was closed. Ate last 3 Trader Joe's cookies that Annie had packed for me to take on the flight at 10 miles. Ate large navel orange that I found at top of Pine Canyon Pass at 20 miles (in the bottom of the Grand Coulee). Bambi from the Tour Group (not my friend, but a nice young woman from Somerville) showed up. Asked her if she had a spare power bar. She generously gave me some of her snacks. Even though there was no one behind her from the Tour Group, not even Michelle, she wanted to be left alone. So I reluctantly pedaled on. Worried about her the whole way to Dry Falls and Coulee City, as I didn't see anyone from her Tour Group. Even asked Christian Motorcycle Gang at convenience store if they were going West. Figured they could check on her.

Jun 20 - Hartline to Reardon, WA. 67 miles. Very hot, slow going, lots of tire trouble. Had breakfast in Almira at "Sunnyside Cafe". Two nice ladies that reminded me of the movie "Waitress". Asked them if I had missed the breakfast rush, and they said, "No, you are the breakfast rush. The farmers are all out on their tractors already."

Jun 21 - Reardon, WA to Coeur D'Alene, ID. 65.8 miles. The Ironman Triathlon was in Town, so prices were way up. Paid $16.00 to sleep in a "campground" that was really a floodlit patch of weeds between the Interstate and the Lake Drive. The Owner's flock of pet ducks helped to balance out the truck and motorcycle noise. Talked with Frankie, a construction worker who has been camping there "while his girlfriend cools down". He offers me a 'High Gravity' beer, and tells me that Coeur D'Alene is being turned into another Vail, for people who missed out on Colorado.

Jun 22 - Coeur D'Alene to Clark Fork, ID. 87.4 miles. The whole upper part of Idaho has been turned into a fun park for Tourists. It's like Berkshire County with low humidity. Paid $15.00 to "camp" behind a Motel by the well-lit gazebo. The neighbor, who looks just like "Papa Smurf", drives his Wagoneer with the spavined front-end up and down the shared gravel driveway on a serious of mysterious errands. Unlike me, his horses, which are grazing two feet away from my head, merely snort every time he does this.

Jun 23 - Clark Fork, ID to Plains, MT. 87.4 miles. Another big Swim Meet at the Pool. The crowd helped to block the noise of the freight trains, which typically consist of 3 locomotives and several hundred cars. The first time I was there, in 1992, I had unthinkingly set up my tent right by one of the lampposts. A huge thunderstorm came up, so I went into the locker room and was reading, when there was an incredible noise like a nuclear detonation right overhead. Lightning had struck the lamppost next to my tent. I stared at the now-tilted post in total bemusement, and muttered, "Well, at least I won't have the light shining down on me all night." Now, through the throng of campers and RV's, I could just barely see that lamppost, which was still tilted .

Jun 24 - Plains to Missoula, MT. 93.7 miles. Stopped at fabled town of Perma, which essentially consists of the "Old Perma Store". Storekeeper a friendly string bean of an old feller. He stocks cranberry juice because he drinks it himself. Told me he grew up on Jamestown Island, which was a seven mile ferry ride from Newport, RI, back during the Second World War. Got to Missoula only to discover no more Bike Hostel. Had to stay at KOA--tent sites now $26.75. Talked to support guys from Tour Group at Internet Cafe. Found out that Bambi was okay, but they felt criticized by my concern.

Jun 25 - Missoula to Avon, MT. 89.7 miles. Stopped at Bike Shop and had chain replaced. Also fixed front of bike seat, which had been eroding away like the Sphinx's nose. Rode on I-90 (yes, the Interstate, it's the only road there) to Garrison Junction, then got off highway to take RT 12 directly east towards MacDonald Pass and Helena.

Jun 26 - Avon to Deep Creek Canyon, MT. 84.2 miles. Temperature fell to 30 degrees during the night. Had flakes of frost on the tent while packing up. Went over MacDonald Pass, elevation 6146 feet, which means I have crossed both the Continental Divide and the Rocky Mountains. It is only a few miles up the pass, but 11 very steep miles (8% grades) down. Met Tour Group again in Townsend. Invited to stay with them, but Boss Lady upset by my comments to her guys in Missoula. Partially unpacked camping gear and took shower. Very hot out, and sunburn was painful. Decided to head out again, after Internet break at the Library, and made it to State Forest Picnic area in Deep Creek Canyon. During the night a large animal came by and checked me out. Wasn't sure if it was a bear or a deer, so I lay very still in my tent.

Jun 27 - Deep Creek Canyon to Two Dot, MT. 74.9 miles. Night not as cold. Have been carrying 3 water bottles, to avoid dehydration, but still didn't have enough water in the morning. Could have easily drunk 1 or 2 more quarts. Took four hours to go the 16 miles from White Sulphur Springs to Checkerboard, because of the headwind and two flats. The tire I patched with a piece of soda bottle plastic and duct tape gave out after 526 miles. The tube only lasted another mile. I walked the bike against the wind for quite a few miles, determined not to go back. Staggered into the Checkerboard Bar, and got a very friendly reception. Went on, bicycling across Montana by moonlight. Was completely alone, could see 7 to 10 miles in any direction, and there was not one single light shining.

Jun 28 - Two Dot to the Rimrocks, outside of Billings, MT. 99 miles. Took 8 and a quarter hours of pedaling. Too tired (and dark) to ride down into the Canyon, so camped on the Rim.

Jun 29 - Rimrocks to Billings, MT. 26.3 miles. Went down into city, and took care of errands: bike shop (new spare tire, 2 spare tubes, another patch kit, adjust shifter cables), Drug Store, Post Office. Stayed in Billings to rest up and avoid the heat. During the day the temperature was up to 104 degrees!

Jun 30 - Billings to Lame Deer, MT. 105.3 miles! Was afraid to leave Billings because of heat, but sky hazed over, and I just kept going along on I-90 (yes, the Interstate, it's the only road there). Flat in Hardin--thin piece of wire right through tire into tube. Patched tube but it went flat again--holes opened up by valve. Went on through Crow Agency, and got off I-90 to take RT 212 heading directly East, at the Custer Battlefield. Rode on by moonlight again through two different Indian Reservations.

Summary: 2 weeks and exactly Eleventy 'Leven (1,111) miles.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Jun 18 - 24, Skykomish, WA to Missoula, MT

In the past eight days I have ridden 628 miles, an average of 78.5 miles a day. On the second day, I crossed the Cascade Mountains by Stevens Pass, which rises from an elevation of 785 feet to 4,160 feet in 12 miles. From there I descended for 17 miles into "Apple Valley USA". I crossed the Columbia River above Wenatchee, and spent the night at Lincoln Rocks State Park, which is beautiful and right on the East bank of the river.

The next day, I headed upriver to Orondo and Pine Canyon Pass. This is unmarked, but rises 2,000 in 6 miles, so it is like Stevens Pass's younger brother. It is the gateway to the Eastern Washington Plateau, an underpopulated desert of wheat fields. Because the weather from Seattle to the top of Stevens Pass had been rainy and cool, I went even further than I thought I could. Meeting the Tour Group then brought out the competitive streak in me, and I was determined to outdo them.

Even though my bike was fully loaded, and all they had to carry were their "snack packs" and gatorade mix, I was going to leave them in my dust. It took a few days of trying to cross the Wheat Desert, in 90 degree heat under a cloudless sky, for me to realize that every ride has its own pace. A pace that is dictated more by the weather and the distance between towns, than by your will.

The fact that my rear tire refused to maintain its structural integrity didn't help either. I'd have a flat, repair it, and then hear the awful sound of the patch coming loose. Or, I'd be putting the tire back on, and hear the even worse sound of a self-inflicted puncture from the tire iron. Then, while pumping up the re-repaired tire under the shadeless sky, I noticed that my tire had an embolism (or was it a hernia?) At any rate, there was a rip in the tire near the rim, and the just-inflated tube was bulging out. Too exhausted to take the wheel off again, I resorted to Duct Tape.

I was walking my bike, with its now defiantly flat rear wheel, the six miles to Airline Heights, when I met two bicyclists coming towards me. They had left from the coast of Maine on May 9th, and were only a few days from Seattle and the end of their trip. Since they fancied themselves as bike mechanics, I gratefully accepted their offer of a new tube and the switching around of my tires.

They lay their bikes down right their on the side of the road, and plunged into working on mine. This gave me a second wind, and I got out one of my inventions. This is a curved oval patch cut out of a soda bottle, that I've used in the past to cover holes in the tire itself. I cut one down, sanded the edges, and duct taped it inside the tire.

After handshakes and good wishes all around, they headed west, and I headed to Spokane. Once there, I consulted the phonebook and found an REI, where I bought two spare tubes and a new tire. Naturally, since I now have a spare tire, the original tire is on its best behavior, and has not acted up since.

I am writing this from "Liquid Planet", a really nice Cafe in Missoula. Have realized that this trip will be very different from the previous two. Partly it's because I'm less willing to deprive myself, but mostly it's because the West has changed. It's still beautiful out here, but it's being changed from a self-contained and self-sufficient area to a service economy. Like Maine, Cape Cod, and Berkshire County, to name a few examples close to home. And because the vacationers will pay, it feels as though every other person has their hand out.