Saturday, June 30, 2007

day 12 – 130 miles, 13.1mph - libby, mt to whitefish, mt

wow, what a day. i love WA and hwy 20, but the first 60 miles of today’s ride puts that all to shame. great temperature, awesome road, zero traffic, and remarkable views. for most of the first 60 miles, we rode along lake koocanusa – a 90 mile long lake which is formed in part by libby dam. the water – oh the water – it was just like i was hiking in WA to a glacially fed lake – that rich aqua blue color. the mountains along the road were colored a rich orange and combined with the multiple hues of green of the trees and the clear blue skies – it was perfect. plus, the trees here actually smell better than the ones in WA – something i didn’t think was possible. the whole time we were on the road, we saw more deer than cars. one of the deer tried scaling the sheer wall to avoid us – that didn’t work so well. it was so peaceful and perfect. i doubt i’ll ever have a stretch of road like this again. i miss it already just typing about it.

after we crossed over a mile long bridge spanning the lake (that thing was humming like a musical instrument from all the wind on the railings), the roads started rolling. there were a lot of challenging climbs and the wind wasn’t too helpful. our pace slowed a bit and i became frustrated again. but eventually, after a lot of hard miles, we had a nice stretch of flat terrain that we hammered on. but then, just before getting to town, the hills came back as if to taunt us. it was a hard day and it got late quick (midnight at the time of this writing), but it’ll be worth it assuming everything goes as planned tomorrow – glacier national park!!!

random stuff: i can’t believe just how much food we eat every day and night. we each have at least a pound of vegetable and meat along with some other dish for dinner. normally, i’ll chug a half gallon of chocolate milk. before 10:00a, i normally have about 2000 calories in me already. still, losing weight – at least fat.

i know that when i train for racing stuff, i normally think of things in 3 minute bricks when biking – 1 mile every 3 minutes. when doing some of these passes and steeper hills, that number has switched to 12 or 15. it’s definitely a change of pace for me.

i’m falling in love. no, not with another person – that’s just not possible L. no, it’s with my stove. i love how well it works and how quickly i can whip up meals. normally, when mike and i have backpacked and cooked, he’d always do the cooking – which i never minded. now, i get to do all of it while my dad does other things and thoroughly enjoy it.


day 11 - rest day in libby, mt - trip total 720 miles

this rest day was a little better than the first. we walked around town for awhile, then worked on the bikes a bit. i installed some pipe foam on my handlebars to see if that would help with the vibrations. ate lots of food of course. my dad talked with some people on motorcycles that were touring and are from wisconsin. it’s funny for me to hear the accent of the older generation of wisconsinites.

a nice 20 minute violent storm rolled in. it was interesting to see a storm come in, dump, and go. it’s been so long. i definitely miss storms.

we finished the night with some wisconsin flavor – brats. even made up some fresh zucchini and squash. living large now.

Friday, June 29, 2007

day 10 - 68 miles, 14.1 mph - clark fork, id to libby, mt

100 miles/day average, huh? at this point, that feels like a dream. maybe, just maybe, when we get through these beautiful mountains and their demanding terrain, we’ll be able to pick up the pace, but as of right now, it appears as though i was dreaming when i set that as our goal.

at least we’re now in big sky country – that’s right, montana. it’s kind of weird actually. idaho was this weird transition from the terrain of washington to montana. each of the three states have a very distinct feel. even though the road we traveled from idaho to montana was the same strip of asphalt, things immediately felt different. perhaps it was mental, but the sky and mountains here are just bigger. the weather, unfortunately, is hotter too.

today was definitely a good day to make our last before a rest. we’re both fried whether we’ll admit it to each other or not. i know i am. my legs are fine and still plenty powerful. it’s just everything else that i had never even previously considered: my saddle issue, numb hands, mental fatigue, frustration with not hitting the target mileage goal. everything kind of adds up until you just need the break. plus, i know my dad’s legs are tired. i can see it on the flats.

the ride this morning was to die for. once we passed through the last of the small idaho cities (by the way, i really dislike being back in civilization – the traffic, the monotony and repetition of modern america – a mcdonalds, 7-eleven, home depot, tire store…) we connected with hwy 56 in montana. killer views at every turn. if you’re into biking, i would do this route up to canada before it gets developed into some typical suburb or condo complex. mountains here are so grand. they’re huge, jutting up everywhere. yet, somehow, the skies are big too. hard to explain without really seeing it firsthand.

while the temperature was only in the mid 80s, i was struggling. i think it was a bit too much heat and sun from the previous day. maybe i’m fatigued. i know that i’ve a lot more hours on the bike than i would like – thanks in part to our semi-slow pace. combine that with the mental frustration and everything else including the higher, more exposed altitudes, and one can begin to understand why we stopped today short. still, we did a little ‘hike’ down to a river and a bridge – tons of that beautiful glacial water rushing downstream. then, we took things easy when we got to town – libby, MT.

tomorrow should be a good. i’m going to get this numb hand thing taken care of one way or another. if the bike store doesn’t have a solution, i think some water pipe insulation wrapped over our handlebars might do the trick. i hope so, because i used to enjoy the ability to wash my face with all fingers or put shaving cream on without it slipping between my pinkie and ring finger.

then, only a few more days to our last real climb in glacier national park – perhaps the highlight of the trip. after that, it’s all downhill – literally. well, when we get to NY, then there’ll be some more uphill, but this first demanding stretch will be over – unfortunately. then, the fast flats of eastern MT and ND will beckon, hopefully bringing 150 mile days. we’ll see. july 19th (my cousin’s wedding date in wisconsin) is approaching quickly.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

day 9 - 98 miles, 13.9 mph - ione, wa to clark fork, idaho

today was good. we got up and out early. strange thing happened in the campground. at about 2 or 3:00a, my dad woke me up to tell me that my computer was playing music. it wasn’t. rather, it was coming from his radio which was packed in his bag outside the tent. normally, we get really crappy reception with the radio, even with the antenna extended 2ft. this morning, the station coming in was crystal clear. it was pretty strange. my dad believes it was supernatural; i don’t believe in that, but i will admit that it was weird.

the weather was pleasant – overcast, which is a nice change of pace from the mostly sun of the past few days. still, by the end of the day there must have been enough heat out there because i feel pretty drained and can feel the heat emanating from my skin.

despite most of the ride being flat or downhill, we still did not break the 100 mile mark. maybe the heat? hopefully, we’ll be able to gain some ground once in the flat parts of montana and north dakota.

we crossed the border into idaho. one state down, several others to go. the terrain here is rugged. the route, while beautiful, was as challenging as a mountain pass at times. we rode entirely along a river or lake the entire day. there were still more deer, bald eagles, and owls lurking around. it’s nice to see ‘nature’ still exists.

all the people we talk with along the way are super nice. i really miss that genuine nature of people – something hard to find in the big city with people with big goals and dreams. here, in the smaller towns of eastern WA and the panhandle of ID, things are still simple. i enjoy that. of all the towns we saw in WA, we both agreed that colville was the best. there was a sense of community overpowering our interactions. tonight, we’re staying in clark fork, ID. there are peaks of mountains surrounding us on all sides. the town is about a mile long and a single street. there’s a small creek or two, one grocery store, a bike shop, and a gas station. it’s everything a town needs to be complete. when we stopped at the bike shop, we had our picture taken for the wall of transcontinental bikers. i think we were the 10th group to go through that’s stopped here. the owner said that if we needed anything, we could come to her house at anytime. that’s friendliness at it’s finest.

i can sense another premature rest day coming up. i’d like to make it to glacier before taking it so we can do a hike while ‘resting.’ both our hands are losing strength and shifting gears has become challenging. i can’t even squeeze my water bottles anymore. when we get done with this trip, we’ll have to take disability at work until our hands recover. who would’ve thought???

other things: my favorite street sign is the ‘reduced speed ahead’ one. that means you’re coming into another town – always a good thing. my new nickname is pack mule, reflecting my ability to just load on all kinds of crap on my bike and still haul ass up the hills. i think the name fits.

day 8 - 81 miles, 11.6 mph - kettle falls, wa to ione, wa

today was the epitome of frustration, at least on my end. clearly, our mileage for the day is low. i guess things just didn’t start out well at our campsite the morning of departure. around 2 or 3:00a, i felt water on my face. awoken in a bit of a stupor, i stumbled out of the tent to put on the rain fly, only to realize that it wasn’t raining, rather, we were getting doused by the sprinklers near the baseball field. before going to sleep the night before, i had a strange feeling that this would happen.

then, even though we were up around 6:30, it took us forever to get out of there – like 2+ hours. not sure what it was, but we both knew that it was too slow. then, expecting most of the day to be downhill, it turned out that we had another mini-pass to go over. yep, weren’t mentally prepared for that.

when we made it to colvilve, wa, i was happy to see the big sign that read: wireless hotspot. finally, i would be able to upload the blogs. but nope, apparently the entire city’s internet was down, citing that some kind of line was cut back in seattle. at least my dad got a new saddle (he broke his) and we ran into the guys from ohio state again (matt and shawn). it was their rest day today. what a town to pick. colville seems like an awesome place to live with a decent amount of stuff to do. plus, everyone we ran into was super friendly.

finally, a working internet connection was found at the ione library. sat there for about 2 hours uploading stuff. then, back on the road. we were excited again because it felt like we were making good time, which we were. of course, it was in the wrong direction. we went about 10 miles too far north. fortunately, doug, some random guy, gave us a ride back to where we went wrong. normally i would have been opposed to the offer, but since i didn’t feel like going up another hill so slowly, we accepted. then, back in the town of ione, another friendly connection was made. we told her about our mishap (it was 7:00p at this time) and she offered us showers and a place to stay in their yard. how sweet. but no, we headed down the road for another 20 miles to a good campground on the pend oreille river. awesome view, no one else there. only thing it was missing was showers. oh, and we’re finally starting to hit bugs now that we’re getting close to the end of WA.

body note: both my dad and i are starting to lose our grip strength. all the road vibrations is annihilating our hands – a common cause of carpul tunnel syndrome. it’s hard for me to even shift gears sometimes. one of these times i fear that i will drop my camera when i go for another in-action photo.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

day 7 - 105 miles, 11.1 mph - riverside, wa to kettle falls, wa

how many mountain passes are in this state?!? i’m not complaining, but they sure do slow you down a bit. we were packed up and out on the road by 8:15a. it would be a long day of slow biking, but it was worth it.

this is our second last day in WA. i got to say that it’ll be hard, if not impossible to match. hwy 20 is a dream road. there is so much beauty and variety throughout its distance. we were in desert-like terrain again today, but it would change to more of a lush, tree-filled area as we gained elevation. the ‘towns’ along the way are something else – so small, so friendly. it’s kind of like we’ve found the areas time has left behind. you’ll see a house every 5 miles or so. traffic is next to non-existent. but yet, there is endless beauty. it helps when you have blue skies of course, but the small creeks and fresh-smelling trees are always there.

we hit the town of wauconda at about 25 miles into the ride. i’m pretty sure it was just a single building that had a cafĂ© and some convenience store items. there were some other trans-continental bikers there that we talked with for a couple of minutes. then, it was on to summit wauconda pass. it seemed like a long pass, but it was in all reality, really easy – despite the pace. the road was awesome and my dad’s technique and climbing abilities have notably improved.

next, it was another 25 miles or so until we found ourselves ascending up the next pass – sherman pass. this one was admittedly more difficult. it was probably a straight 3000’ climb with steeper grades. the road was great too, except for the last 14 miles up the pass. you know when you see the signs that read: caution – grooved pavement ahead – motorcycles use extreme caution. yeah, that’s what we had to deal with. it really sucked. if you’re going fast on it, it’s bearable. but when you’re climbing at 5mph, you feel every single bump. multiply that by 3 hours and it really gets old really fast. at least the scenery was exceptional, despite the lightning-induced forest fire of 1988 that burned 20,000 acres. once they re-pave this area, it’ll be amazing and i’ll definitely be back for another attack. the true reward today was the descent. it was 20 miles of downhill. i really pushed the pace and my dad drafted well. it was like a time trial race you’d see in a tour de france. we were holding at 30mph + the whole time. absolutely a blast.

eventually, we meandered our way over the mighty columbia river into kettle falls, another small, friendly town. we’re staying at a city park. you know, i never would’ve known that you can basically stay just about anywhere if you ask.

one of the subtle pleasures of climbing mountain passes is to hear the car and truck engines downshift to handle the steep grades. it’s funny to think you’re doing the same hill only with a man-powered bicycle.

caution – this paragraph is somewhat graphic. read at your own risk: duct tape just became my new best friend. i woke up with running shorts stuck to my butt, held on by blood. apparently my sores aren’t doing so well. left with little choice, i slapped on some duct tape and hoped for the best. it worked really well, at least for riding. how i pull it off without creating more intense pain is a question waiting to be answered.

day 6 - 0 miles, rest day in riverside, wa

not much going on today. rest days are ok, but much like my normal daily routine, i really don’t like taking them. today was no exception. however, i knew that my dad’s legs could use a day of healing and recovery for the next passes we will need to summit. plus, my butt really hurts.

we spent most of the day being lazy. took care of little things like personal grooming, working on the bikes, getting ready for the next day, walking around town – riverside has about 300 people in it, on a good day.

most of the day i thought about biking. without it, i almost felt lost. i’m looking forward to tomorrow’s climbs.

day 5 - 82 miles, 13.6 mph - lone fir campground to riverside, wa

headwind! well, at least for parts of the ride today. it’s never a good sign when you’re going down a 5% grade and actually have to pedal to accelerate.

the terrain shifted from the lush alpine forests of the north cascades to a much drier, desert-like terrain of north-central washington. still, the views were stunning and the smell of the flower blooms still made riding a treat.

we had mostly downhill for the first quarter of the ride today. we rode through the town of winthrop – a total tourist trap, but still a neat little old-west kind of town. people there were friendly and inquisitive about our journey. you could tell they’ve seen transcontinental bikers come through here before, especially at the bike shop. she knew right away where we were going, what we had seen, etc. makes me wonder just how many people do this annually. after town, it was a little more downhill, a left turn, and then straight up – kind of unexpectedly.

today’s summit was loup loup. although the elevation at the top was ‘only’ 4020’, i would venture to say that it was a harder climb than the ones yesterday. it probably didn’t help that we had a headwind on us for part of the ascent – something i didn’t really think was possible when summiting. my style of hill climbing is such that i look at the top of the hill and stay focused in on that until i reach it – powering my way up to it. today, i had to put my head down and stare at what would be my wheel (i can’t see it due to the handlebar bag) and just grind it out. it was that kind of climb. at least when we got to the top, it was warm and light out and there were trees again. it was a nice descent for quite some distance. i got my first flat at this point, going about 35mph. not fun. then, i’m not sure what happened, but the rest of our day became very inefficient and slow and we chose to stop at the town of riverside, about 20 miles short of where i wanted to be at the end of the day.

it worked out ok as we met up with other bikers doing the same ride. it was fun to share stories and here each other’s backgrounds. it’s interesting to hear how little some people trained – like only 600 miles for the year. i don’t even know how one would go about doing a trip like this. i guess that’s the difference between being out of breath while climbing and feeling dead tired at the end of every day versus considering the ride to be pretty easy like is the case with me.

it’s official now though, i’ve completely lost track of the day and date. the hours are the only thing i look at now. i have to ask people what day it is, because i’ve no clue. i love that aspect of the trip. it was an underlying goal of this trip – to become disconnected with our society. my dad likes to stay connected by reading the newspaper and listening to the radio. different desires i guess. i think it’s part of the reason i hate hearing harley davidsons on the road, or seeing RV’s anywhere, whereas it doesn’t bother him. i guess i’m just a peaceful, pristine nature-loving guy.

before leaving for the trip, a lot of people asked me what i would think of on the ride during all the hours on the saddle. well, so far i have yet to really fall deep into thought about anything in particular. i think it’s due to the challenging terrain we’re in and making sure that my dad is doing ok. the two thoughts i have had are about my job and lifestyle. i know why i’m an engineer at heart – because i strive for efficiency. i know why i am drawn to triathlons and self-challenging activities – because i believe in self-accountability. i already knew these things, but this trip is making it more clear why i those things come naturally to me.

body update: not good. i felt my itb twinge a bit yesterday, possibly a sign that i’m breaking down. we’re going to take a rest day tomorrow before our next two large summits, so i intend to really work myself over with the massage ball. and my butt – man, i don’t understand this. it’s just getting torn up. i think i had a lot of blisters pop up, and now, the skin is just super tender to the slightest touch. climbing all day long keeps the weight on your butt more than the flats, so that does not help. hopefully the day off will allow some healing. i have no idea what’s going on though because the saddle i’m using is the same one i’ve used for the 4000 miles i’ve already put on this year. ugh. oh, sunburns – it’s like i get a new one each day. the 2nd day was the lower arms, below the sleeveline. then, it was my legs, somehow, and now, my shoulders – having gone to a sleeveless shirt.