Adventure update : May 17

It’s time to catch up with the blog!

I’ve got a rain day today (May 17) in Dillon, MT.  So I’m catching up on the blog.  I’m sticking just to words and pictures to keep it simple.  I’ll be updating this to add the missing days before we got to Missoula, MT.  But here’s the update for the last few days!

Miles: 911
Ascending feet: 40,791
Peak elevation: 7,422
Current Elevation:  5,323

Adventure Ride Day 12 – Wisdom, MT to Dillon, MT

The weather forecast for the next several days is for scattered rain. It looks like today would be clear until the afternoon, so I wanted to get as many miles in as I could before the showers began. Stephanie also had a conference call and needed to get to Dillon early so she could find cell phone coverage. I packed up my rain gear and headed out into a foggy morning. The road was thankfully pretty quiet, and there was enough visibility for the occasional truck to see my flashing lights and yellow rain jacket, so they gave me plenty of room as they passed into the fog.

The road was generally flat through the Big Hole Valley. I could see through to the base of the surrounding hills, across boggy pastures providing cattle with abundant fresh grass. Occasionally there would be rolls of hay put up by the farmers. I passed this sign telling me that the area is famous for its hay.


No mention of the history of the Nez Perce people (see Day 11).

I rolled into a crossroads called Jackson, where I saw signs for cyclist camping and food. I was cold and needed a warm cup of coffee, so I stopped at the Jackson Hot Springs Lodge. There really is a hot spring here (Lewis and Clark were introduced to it by the locals), and the owner suggested I take a dip, but I needed to move on to beat the rain. Had a nice chat with Geraldine, who worked behind the bar. She’d grown up in Wisdom, was taking care of her ailing 93 year old mother, and was working this job so she could qualify for Social Security. She’d worked a good bit for the Park Service, building trails and renovating cabins, and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to live anywhere else. Why, the people in Chicago live on top of each other, and there’s so much violence there.

Geraldine, my friendly barista at Jackson Hot Springs Lodge

It is true that the people in Montana are genuinely friendly and welcoming. The folks in the lodge told me I was the third cross-country bicyclist coming through this year. It’s a natural stop for anyone following the Transamerica route. Hence, the signs for cyclist camping and food.

After warming up, I headed on down the road. There would be no town or business for the next 50 miles until Dillon. The fog was lifting, and the views of the hills and valleys were amazing.

The second half of the ride was characterized by very strong headwinds and crosswinds. With a tailwind on a gentle grade like this, I’d be zooming along around 18-20 mph. Today, I struggled to keep my speed above 9. With the crosswinds, I’d be leaning left to keep from being blown off the road.  But the vista was amazing:


The rain clouds had been threatening all day, and in the early afternoon one of the showers found me. I’d brought my rain gear, so I tried out my Showers Pass rain pants for the first time. On the plus side, they kept me warm and dry. On the negative side, they were too loose-fitting and bulky on the bike, and the fabric didn’t breathe. This is fine for bike commuting but not so great when you have to pedal in them for hours at a time. When the opportunity arises, I’m going to be looking for something slimmer and made from Gore-tex.

Over a couple of passes, fighting the wind, and I rolled into Dillon, where we would stay the night at a KOA campground. That means laundry, good showers, and Wi-fi. We went into the main street area, where we were lured into the Beaverhead Brewing Company pub. Excellent amber ale, no food, but we happened to arrive for “Trivia Night with Dale”.

Trivia Night with Dale at the Beaverhead Brewing Company. Dale (on the left) is scoring our entries while we all sample the brew.

Dale must be some kind of local personality, and he joked as he drew trivia questions from a bucket for the crowd to answer in teams. We scored poorly on the first couple of rounds, and had to leave to find some food.

Miles: 66.4
Avg. speed: 10.8
Ascending feet: 3,045
Peak elevation: 7,422
Ending Elevation:  5,323
Net elevation gain: -708

Adventure Ride Day 11 – Sula, MT to Wisdom, MT

We stayed last night at “Sula Camp”, which is a gas station and a little restaurant with campsites in the back. It advertises breakfast and lunch, and “coffee all day”. So this morning we walked in looking for breakfast. Well the restaurant’s being remodeled, and the water line to the coffee pot is now about 6 inches too short, so there’s no coffee either. The woman who runs the place was so nice, though. She gave us a free cookie (sell-by date unknown),

An hour later, after Stephanie and I had eaten breakfast in the camper, I was off for a relatively short ride, but with a significant climb to Chief Joseph Pass (elev. 7,264 ft). I hoped to get to Wisdom, about 39 miles away early in the afternoon to beat forecasted afternoon thunderstorms. As I made it up the mountain rain began pelting me, and the temperature dropped quickly. I had started in shorts, but as I got to the crest of the pass, I pulled arm and leg warmers out of my bag and suited up for a cold and wet ride the rest of the way. At least it was a short ride.

Water from melting snow coursed through streambeds and bogs along the road, though now I was following its downhill path. It turns out that Chief Joseph Pass sits on the Continental Divide, so this water will flow east, away from the Pacific.


Just before Wisdom, I came upon the entrance to Big Hole National Battlefield. IMG_0301

Knowing nothing about this place, I stopped at the visitor center, run by the National Park Service, to find out what battle had occurred there. It turned out to be a sad story of a contingent from the Nez Perce tribe, working their way into Montana after having lost the land promised to them by treaty with the US government. You see, someone discovered gold in that land and white settlers poured in, and the government decided to reduce the size of the Nez Perce reservation by 90%. The band of about 800 Nez Perce were set upon by US military and volunteer soldiers. Some escaped and continued to make their way toward safe haven in Canada, but they were again stopped by government forces near the border.  Chief Joseph decided that enough was enough and there would be no more bloodshed.  Still, a few managed to make it to Canada.


Our campsite for the night is a Veterans Memorial Park in Wisdom. It has no services, and we are the only occupants tonight. From here, we have a vista of cattle grazing land, surrounded by snowy mountain peaks.

Miles: 37.3
Avg. speed: 10.7 mph
Ascending feet: 3,031
Peak elevation: 7,264
Ending Elevation: 6,031
Net elevation gain: 1,641

Adventure Ride Day 10 – Missoula, MT to Sula, MT

We had two rest days in Missoula, which is home to the University of Montana. It was a relief to get out of the bike saddle for a couple of days, and to have time to play with Stephanie in this lovely city.

Missoula is also home to the Adventure Cycling Association, which provides maps and other resources to cyclists interested in cross-country or long-distance rides. It started in 1974 to create the Bikecentennial, a cross-country route to celebrate the US Bicentennial. It has now developed several routes criss-crossing the country. I took their Lewis and Clark route to get to Missoula, and will be using portions of 3 other routes they have developed, including the original Transamerica trail, to get to Yosemite, to travel through the north lakes of Wisconsin, and to travel from Chicago to DC.  Having a day off meant Stephanie could join me on a bike ride around the city!


The ride to Sula was supposed to be 90 miles of gently sloping terrain, the first 40 along a long bicycle trail along Route 93, back through Lolo and points south.  It turned out to have beautiful views of the surrounding peaks.

I made good time and Stephanie and I met for lunch in Hamilton. It’s a very small town, but we found a nice lunch place on Yelp called the Cherry Street Café. It’s a teeny place stuck in a building populated by hair stylists, manicurists, and massage therapists. The café is run by a nice woman named Lorraine, who does all the cooking herself. The coffee is roasted by another woman in the adjoining space. It was a lovely lunch, and fun to talk about my ride, how she ended up in Hamilton, and how she decided to start her café.IMG_0450

From Hamilton I expected an uneventful continuation south on Route 93, but my pre-planned route was a little different. For some reason, I had plotted a route that took me off the busy highway onto side roads. This time I ended up on a dirt road. I thought “oh this will be paved again soon”, but it took over 10 miles of dirt and gravel to get back to the highway. I was glad to have my gravel bike with 40cm tires on that road. Once back on 93, I decided to stay there and not take side roads the rest of the way.


I continued to make really good time, and was looking forward to getting to Sula earlier than planned, when I heard a whishing sound from my rear tire. My first flat. No problem, I can change a flat. So I pulled over to the roadside, emptied my bag to find my tubes and tire irons and CO2 inflators, and got to work. I couldn’t find anything wrong with the tire, so I expect it was the valve that somehow gave up on me. Perhaps the hard ride over the gravel road had pounded it to submission.  I replaced the tube and went to work to get the tire seated back on the rim. This is the hard part of changing a tire, because the last part of the tire requires all kinds of rolling and shaping and thumb pressure to get over the rim. This was the first time I had attempted to change a tire on this bike, and I found it to be almost impossible to get the tire over the rim. I pushed and rolled and pushed some more. I got out my tire irons to try to ease the tire over the rim that way, without success. I worked on it for about a half hour, and considered calling Stephanie to come pick me up. But I was determined to succeed with this, and finally after about an hour of work I was able to ease the tire over the rim. IMG_0281

I had lost a lot of time.  But I was back on the road and pushed hard to get to Sula by nightfall.

Miles: 83.2
Avg. speed: 12.2 mph
Ascending feet: 2,313
Peak elevation: 4,468
Ending Elevation: 4,468
Net elevation gain: 1,313

The ride begins: Days 1-3

We’ve had a wonderful tour through the Oregon coast, the Olympic National Park, and Seattle.  We ended up in Seaside, Oregon, on the Pacific Coast southwest of Astoria.  I had planned to start the bike ride at Cape Disappointment, on the Washington side of the Columbia River, but on the drive up to Olympic NP I saw that the bridge I’d have to cross wasn’t a great bicycle route, with little to no shoulder or bike lane, lots of traffic, and high winds.  So I decided to start the ride in Seaside, which gave me the opportunity to ride through the Lewis and Clark state park to Astoria on much less-travelled and safer roads.  The first day was about 90 miles, ending in St. Helens, OR.  Stephanie, Nora and Zac saw me off from the beach, picked me up in St. Helens, and we all drove to our camping spot for the next 3 nights in Ainsworth State Park, east of Portland in the Columbia River Gorge.  Day 2 was about 70 miles with less climbing, but much more to see. I’ll post pictures soon.

Today was a rest day, which allows my muscles to recover a bit.  Stephanie and I joined Zac and Nora for a little exploration of the Old Columbia River Highway, with its massive waterfalls and spring green exploding from the forest floor, erasing much of the devastation left from 2017’s Eagle Creek fire.

I am finding that I have very little time to get things together for the blog, with the ride taking most of the day, then cleaning up, helping to set up our camp or hotel, walking Rosie, eating, preparing for the next day, and getting enough sleep.  I’m taking photos with the iphone and recording segments of the ride on a GoPro.  I have to come down a learning curve to get that media efficiently unloaded from the devices and into the library for this blog.  The GoPro in particular is a challenge because of the size of the files.  Recharging all of my lights and batteries each night is also taking more time than I’d like.  I clearly need to simplify.  I promise I will get this down so I can do better posts!

But for now, know that the first two days have gone well.  The weather has been beautiful, the route scenic, my body is holding up fine, and I’ve ridden about 160 miles so far to Ainsworth State Park.  It’s been great having Nora and Zac along for these first days.  They are now heading back to Seattle by way of Portland, as Stephanie and I continue on the adventure.  Next stop is Maryhill State Park near Biggs Junction, followed on Sunday by Umatilla, OR, and Monday we plan to arrive at Walla Walla, Washington for another rest day.

That’s just a quick status.  I hope to get the photos up soon!

T minus 10 days: Heading North

We left Orinda for good on April 15, leaving behind our house of 23 years.  I saved the strip of closet door trim marking the growth of our daughters, from 3rd and 6th grade through high school.  It will find a home somewhere in our new house, where we’ll add marks for little Jules in the coming years.   We said goodbye to friends of many years and headed up the coast.

Our first stop was Heritage House, a well-known small resort on the coast just south of Mendocino.  After all the stress of packing and cleaning and saying our goodbyes to friends, and to our dog Chauncy, we needed time to just relax. And what a lovely place it was.

IMG_0177You can’t go to Mendocino without a pilgrimage to a place known well to those raised on prime-time TV in the 80’s or Hallmark Channel junkies.  Do you know this house?  Hint: It’s supposed to be in Cabot Cove, but it‘s not.

From Mendocino, we headed up Highway 101 to Eureka for a late lunch, and then to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park for our first night of camping in our little motorhome.  It was a clear day after a rainy winter, so it felt like being in a cool cloudforest among the redwoods.  A couple of glasses of wine under the canopy of trees and we were settled.  Rosie’s had a tough time adjusting to the small space and bumpy ride of the camper, so she was happy to have time to explore and sniff the new smells.  The big draw of this campground, besides the redwoods, is the elk herd that comes through in the evenings to graze.  But you need to be out in the meadow to see them so sorry, no photos of the animals.

In the morning we headed up the highway toward Medford, through massive redwood trees, and the Smith River National Recreation Area, with its spectacular white water flowing in early spring.

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We’re taking a couple of days in Medford to visit family.  We took a side trip down to Ashland to see the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of “As You Like It”.  Fantastic actors with complete command of the script, using every inch of their bodies and the range of their voices to bring Shakespeare to life.  This retirement trip isn’t so bad!



T minus 23 days: Chauncy

Our big brown galumphing dog, Chauncy, passed today.  He’s been battling hemangiosarcoma, a highly aggressive cancer, for the past few weeks.  He’d been responding very well and was happy and bouncy yesterday.  Today, though, he would not eat and was very weak.  A trip to the emergency vet indicated severe internal bleeding, so his time had come.  Perhaps he decided that California was his forever home.  If we were going to leave, he had no interest in being anywhere else.  He leaves his adopted sister, Rosie, as the dog of the family now.

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T minus one month: Retirement Day

On Monday, I turned off the lights in my office and left the building to begin my retirement and to start our Excellent Adventure.  The last month has been filled with daily conversation with my colleagues about retirement.  Are you counting the days?  I’m so jealous!  What will we do without you?  Who’s replacing you? Where am I going to get that schedule you always do for me?  Would you like a piece of cake?

So I said goodbye to UCSF.  And to many good friends I met along the way.

I’ll be riding for a cause! Actually, two.

I hope that my blog will be interesting for all of my friends.  Maybe it will be an incentive for you to start an adventure of your own!  One thing I will be mentioning from time to time will be a couple of causes that I want to encourage you to support.

First, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.   I’ve been supporting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for several years, through Team in Training.   With fellow bicyclists, some of whom are cancer survivors, we raise money to help fund research to find cures and treatments for blood cancers.   I have close family members and friends who are living with these diseases now.  Luckily the treatments are making huge progress toward cures.  Please help me  by  donating here.

Second, I’ll be mounting a campaign for UCSF.  More on that later!

The Bicycle Adventure Adds a Camper

I hadn’t really expected that Stephanie would want to come with me on this trip.  She had said from time to time that she could drive the minivan and support me or the group I was riding with, but I never counted on that.  I couldn’t expect her to plan such an effort around my dream.  When you’re driving, a trip across the country in 50 to 100 mile increments could be tortuously slow.  And being available to rescue me if I crash or honk or just run out of water on a hot day seems like an imposition on what could be a nice vacation.  And she’d have to take time off from work, or retire or find a new job, too.  No, I’d just have to expect to find a group to ride with, or go it alone with a credit card and hotels and campgrounds.

But I’ll be damned.  She’s as excited as I am.  And what was going to be a lonely, long bike ride is now going to be a family adventure.  It turns out that Stephanie loves road trips, with fond memories of her childhood, when her family would pull a pop-up tent trailer or cram into an Itasca RV, camping in National Parks.  She was ready to do this again, with the dogs along for the adventure.  So now we can have a bike trip for me, and a camping trip for all of us.  We’ll see some National Parks, small town America, and family and friends along the way.

So one day Stephanie says we should go to the RV show in Pleasanton to look at campers.  OK, we’ll look at the pop-up trailers and plan to pull it behind the car.  But it turns out we found other much more appealing (though more expensive) options.  As we looked at the pop-up and small trailers, they started looking small and cramped for a 90-day trip.  And the RV show presented a wealth of options.   We learned about class B RVs (converted van chassis sleeping 2 or 3 people that could get about 18 miles to the gallon), Class C RVs (heavy duty pickup chassis with room for a bed over the cab), and class A motor homes (buses that could be fantastically appointed the be a home away from home, or a rock band tour bus, with multiple bedrooms and electronics).  We asked about renting an RV for the trip, and realized that rental plans for that long are very expensive.   We still needed something small and maneuverable, because we could be driving every day to new locations.  And as we started looking at the  class B RVs, we began to appreciate the potential of just driving into a campground and parking without any setup time, with a shower if we needed it, heat and air conditioning for intemperate days and nights, and even TV and WiFi at times.  Some people tow cars behind their RVs so they can park the behemoth in the campground and use the car to go into town or tour nearby destinations, but the class B vehicles were small enough to drive around and park in town.  We wouldn’t need to bring a car.

Among the Class B  vehicles, a couple of manufacturers stood out as having well-built and attractive products.  We didn’t like the boxes on wheels— some of them looked like they should have big “Rent Me” signs plastered on them, or they looked like corrugated sheet-metal boxes on wheels.  We were quickly impressed, though, with the Unity RV made by Leisure Travel Vans up in Manitoba, Canada.  It had an stylish exterior design—not a box, and the interior was well-conceived with quality materials.  It was on a Mercedes Sprinter chassis, which is bigger than a standard van and provided us with a sense of quality.  So it’s a little bigger than a typical Class B vehicle, but not as big as a class C.  See the salesman calls it a “class b+”.  So here is what it’s going to look like:


So we will be part of the #vanlife movement!

Route Update

I’ve decided to devote about 90 days to the Excellent Adventure.  The end of the ride drives the entire schedule.  The end of the ride will be the Downs Family Vacation in Virginia Beach in August, 2019.  So allowing for rest days and days to enjoy ourselves across the country, we’ll allow for about 60 days of riding over a period of 90 days.  So the start date is now about May 1, and we’ll cut the southern loop in favor of a trip through Pittsburgh, PA through the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal towpath to Washington DC before heading down to the Virginia coast.  Here’s the route from RidewithGPS:

Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 8.17.26 PM

It’s time for an adventure!

Beginning life’s next chapter

Welcome to my blog! For years, I’ve been hearing about how I need to build my brand, get my name out there, become a sought-after expert in my field. You gotta be a blogger! they say. Why look at the woman in Julie and Julia who cooked through that cookbook and wrote a blog that became a big movie, or those kids who review tech gear and get a ton of free stuff, or who write about their clothes and end up guest-judging Project Runway! You need to be up on social media, link your blog to twitter and instagram posts!

Nah, I’m good. I’m happy being an accountant.


Well, OK, I’m not really an accountant, I’m an accounting manager. (OK I have you now. It’s awesome.) It’s been my life now for about 40 years. Financial statements, internal controls, general ledger systems, management reports. I’ve helped a few organizations get their act together, and some of it has been very rewarding, especially when your customers understand your value and appreciate how smart you have to be to do this stuff.

So I’m a finance guy, but what else am I? Ever since I went to business school, I’ve seen life happening after I leave the office. That’s when I spend time with my wife and the dogs, teach myself guitar, act in community theater, work at a potter’s wheel, ride my bike, enjoy my kids, plant the garden. OK, I’m not an extrovert, but I enjoy music and the arts, and I’m looking forward to having time someday to spend more time with friends who like these things too. I’m looking forward to playing with grandkids, getting better at music, seeing the world.

When is that time going to come? Soon, I’ll be closing my office door for good and allow that time after work to become my full-time life. I can retire! Hey, maybe I can also join AARP, write cranky letters to the editor, tell the kids next door how everything’s gone to hell because of Facebook.

But then there’s the thing with the bucket list. At my age, I’m beginning to see some of my old friends kick that bucket, and I’m more aware of how mortality can happen fast. Already, my parts are getting rusty. So I’ve got to get through that bucket list soon. Luckily, my bucket list is short:

A coast to coast bike ride.
Oh, and a blog about it.

Stephanie says she’ll go with me in an RV with the dogs. It’s going to be so cool. I’m looking forward to all the small towns and national parks, meeting new people in coffee shops and bike stores, stopping to see old friends along the way. I’m looking forward to sharing the experience, too. We’ll see if I get more that 5 people to read this thing by the time I’m done.

Retirement in thirteen months. That’s enough time to get it together, don’t you think?