Adventure update: South Dakota

June 15 -A month of poor internet access has prevented me from putting posts up on the blog.  I’m now able to post, so it’s catch-up time.  This post covers the ride across South Dakota into Minnesota.

Location as of June 10: Lake Benton, Minnesota

Miles so far: 2,069 miles
Ascending feet: 77,451 ft.
Peak elevation: 7,422 ft.
Current Elevation:  1,801 ft.

Adventure Ride Day 23 –Custer, SD to west of Rapid City, SD

June 5 – Our stop in Custer gave us the opportunity to visit a friend from my childhood, now living in Custer.  Back in the day, my family would visit my grandmother in Pittsburgh, PA every other year, and we would all pile in the Plymouth to go for a play date with the Johnston family.  My brother and sister and I were the same ages as three of the Johnston kids.  One of them, Kathy, is now living in Custer, working with her husband, Steve Leonardi, in his gallery.  Steve has made his career as an artist, specializing in drawings and paintings of nature.  I hadn’t seen Kathy in over 30 years, so this was a unique occasion to re-connect.

Custer Is, of course, named for General George Custer, so many people think that the Battle of Little Big Horn must have been fought somewhere nearby.  But no, that battle was in Montana.  Here, General Custer had led an expedition that discovered gold, beginning a rush of prospectors to the area, and the breach of treaties that had promised the land to the native tribes.  The confusion is increased by the presence of the Crazy Horse monument nearby on the way to Mount Rushmore, which appears to have been a reaction to the carving of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills territory.

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The ride from Custer to Rapid City was relatively short ride through the Black Hills.  Impressive rock outcroppings along the winding roads eventually lead to Mount Rushmore.  I had never seen Mount Rushmore, so this was an opportunity to check it off my bucket list.  Well, here it is.  Bucket list checked.

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Miles: 36.7
Avg. speed: 12.8 mph
Ascending feet: 2,579
Peak elevation: 5,715 ft.
Ending Elevation: 4,253 ft.
Net elevation gain: -1,045 ft.

Adventure Ride Day 24 –Rapid City, SD to Wall, SD

June 6 – After Mount Rushmore, the next big objective was to cross South Dakota.  My plan for the route included a stop in Wall, to see what all the fuss was about with the Wall Drugstore.  If you ask someone from South Dakota what there is to see in the state, Wall Drug will come up.  It made its name with scores of billboards along the roads offering free ice water to travelers on the highway.  It was successful enough that it has now become a tourist attraction of sorts.

There was no clear bicycle route to get from Rapid City to Wall.  South Dakota’s country roads are mostly unpaved, and the route to Wall required either riding on dirt or riding along busy highways with speed limits of up to 80 mph.

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The first 40 miles was aided by a tailwind and a good paved road paralleling I-90. At about mile 50, my route (which had been mapped using RidewithGPS) took me onto a dirt road, which ended at a gate with No Trespassing signs mounted on it.  If you look at a detailed map, the road behind the No Trespassing signs appears to exist, but I couldn’t chance it, and turned around to get onto the only other route available to me, which was I-90.

 

I tried getting off at the next exit for Wasta, which turned out to also have only dirt roads (and no businesses or services).  I could ride dirt roads, but I was concerned that they could deteriorate or turn into no road at all (like the last one), so it was back to the interstate shoulder for me.  I was beginning to see why Wall Drug succeeded in offering free ice water—there are still few services along this route.  I didn’t know if riding a bicycle on the interstate was allowed here, but I figured that I’d have a reasonable case to make that the state of South Dakota offered me no other option.

About 10 miles from Wall, my rear tire went flat again.  But now I was on the shoulder of an interstate highway with no place to pull over.  The road was pretty flat and the wind was at my back, so I could ride on the flat with modest effort.  If I rode on the flat I risked damage to my tire and the wheel rim.  I’d had it with this bike’s tires constantly going flat on me, so I decided that I would ride my Bianchi road bike on the next day’s ride and on to Minneapolis, where I could get new tires and check the wheel rim.  (We’ve been carrying the extra bike on the RV for this kind of problem).  So I slowly rode into Wall on the flat.

Later, Stephanie and I walked into Wall to see what the big deal is with Wall Drug.  I guess if you like to shop in truck stops, you’d like Wall Drug. I’m glad the weather would be good for a bike ride out of town the next day.

 

Miles: 76.8
Avg. speed: 11.6 mph
Ascending feet: 2,831
Peak elevation: 4,326 ft.
Ending Elevation: 2,816 ft.
Net elevation gain: -1,508 ft.

 

Adventure Ride Day 25–Wall, SD to Pierre, SD

June 7 – On today’s ride, I was buffeted by high crosswinds from the south as I headed east across the grasslands.  There was one twenty-mile section where I headed north and was able to maintain speeds over 30 mph on the flats.  I was on my Bianchi road bike, which turned out to be perfect for these conditions.  A long 119 mile ride.  I was glad we had a night in a hotel ahead of us, where I could have a long shower and big breakfast.  I got in early enough that we could go to the Cattleman’s restaurant for a steak dinner.  It was nice to be in the city.

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South Dakota grassland at Plum Creek
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The Plum Creek Waterhole story
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The first view of Pierre
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The South Dakota capitol building in Pierre
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South Dakota capitol building
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Ready for my Cattleman’s dinner!
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Steak, yam, and Texas toast at Cattleman’s!

Miles: 118.6
Avg. speed: 14.0 mph
Ascending feet: 3,467
Peak elevation: 2,864 ft.
Ending Elevation: 1,441 ft.
Net elevation gain: -1,376 ft.

 

Adventure Ride Day 26–Pierre, SD to Miller, SD

June 8 – After a nice breakfast at the hotel, I got back on the Bianchi and headed through Pierre’s city bike trails.  The rest of my route across South Dakota to Minnesota was a straight shot across the state on US Highway 14.  It was a beautiful day.  A very strong tailwind helped me along across the grassland to our next stop in Miller.  Miller is a very small place, but it has a nice city park where we could hook up the RV.

Miles: 74.5
Avg. speed: 18.2 mph
Ascending feet: 970
Peak elevation: 1,898 ft.
Ending Elevation: 1,567 ft.
Net elevation gain: 131 ft.

 

Adventure Ride Day 27–Miller to DeSmet, SD

June 9 – Today’s ride was another wind-assisted ride along US 14.  Our campsite for the night was at the Ingalls Homestead in DeSmet.  This is the place Laura Ingalls Wilder spent “The Long Winter” in her “Little House on the Prairie” books.  There is the restored little 2-room house the Ingalls family lived in, replicas of dugout and stick-build houses, a garden, horse and wagon rides and activities for kids.  The winds were blowing across the grassland.  It was clear that this was a challenging environment for a homesteader to make a life.  The growing season is short, the soil is rocky, and precipitation is low.  It’s easy to imagine the wind howling through tough winters.

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The Ingalls Homestead
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Camping at the Ingalls Homestead
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Little camper on the prairie
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South Dakota grassland
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South Dakota grassland
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South Dakota grassland
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A typical South Dakota salad
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Nobody said the world’s largest pheasant would be a real one,

Miles: 79.0
Avg. speed: 17.5 mph
Ascending feet: 900 ft.
Peak elevation: 1,783 ft.
Ending Elevation: 1,701 ft.
Net elevation gain: 128 ft.

Adventure Ride Day 28–DeSmet, SD to Lake Benton, MN

June 10 – DeSmet was our last stop in South Dakota, and today’s ride would take us into Minnesota.  There was road closure on US 14 that directed me to a detour that added about 10 miles to the ride (and moving out of the tailwind into crosswinds).  The landscape changed rather remarkably as I crossed into Minnesota.  Lakes, woods, and gentle hills appeared.  I began to understand why Minnesota was populated easily and South Dakota was not, so that a Homestead Act was needed to populate the points west into hard-to-farm grasslands of South Dakota.

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Brookings, SD courthouse
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Our campsite near Lake Benton, MN at Hole in the Mountain County Park

Miles: 77.7
Avg. speed:  17.8 mph
Ascending feet: 1,400 ft.

Peak elevation: 1,964 ft.
Ending Elevation: 1,801 ft.
Net elevation gain: 94 ft.

 

 

Adventure Update: Grand Tetons and across Wyoming

June 15 -A month of poor internet access has prevented me from putting posts up on the blog.  I’m now able to post, so it’s catch-up time.  This post covers the ride across Wyoming.

Location as of June 3: Custer, South Dakota

Miles so far: 1,606 miles
Ascending feet: 65,304 ft.
Peak elevation: 7,422 ft.
Current Elevation:  5,375 ft.

Adventure Ride Day 16 – Madison Campground, Yellowstone Park to Colter Bay, Grand Teton National Park, WY

May 24 – During the night, snow had fallen around our campground, turning to rain before stopping around 6 am. The forecast was for a cloudy day in Yellowstone, and rain beginning at our destination in Colter Bay by 4 pm. It was cold outside, and rain started to fall again as I prepped the bike for the ride. Stephanie and I planned that we would meet in two places during the ride- once at Old Faithful and then again at Grants Village. I knew I could be cold and wet, and this is one day I really needed to take advantage of the luxury of having her support me on this ride. I headed off into the cold drizzle, south toward Old Faithful.

By the time I arrived at Old Faithful about an hour and a half later, my gloves were wet, my socks were wet, and my hands and feet were cold. Stephanie and I took a long break at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, where I tossed my gloves and other wet things into a dryer in their guest laundry. I was able to dry out and warm up for the next segment of the ride to Grant Village. This could potentially be one of the more challenging segments of my ride, as I would have to climb a couple of passes over 8,000 feet, which would be slow and cold. We had purchased some disposable hand warming packs, and I put one in each glove to help keep my fingers warm.

The challenge of the ride to Grant Village was part of what made this one of the best rides I’ve experienced so far. As I climbed to the first big pass, snow started falling. The snow on the sides of the road and in the trees got deeper as my altitude increased. At one point it was probably at least a couple of feet deep, with some new snow on top of the melting snowpack from the winter. I was feeling comfortable on the ride, though. The road surface was in good shape, it was not icy, my clothing (with only 3 layers – jersey, insulating layer, rain jacket) was keeping my core relatively warm and dry, and the hand warmers were doing a great job of keeping my fingers from freezing, even though my hands were still sweating through the gloves. My legs, too, felt strong as I climbed. I’m sure they’d been getting stronger from my 3 weeks of riding (and of course the pre-training with Team in Training), and I could handle the steady 5.5% to 7% grade of these hills at a slow but steady pace without tiring.

Stephanie met me at Grant Village, with a sandwich, an opportunity to change out my jersey and socks for dry ones, and a few minutes to warm up in the camper. She is my lifesaver, in more ways than one. Then it was time for the final push out of Yellowstone.

This turned into a fun ride. I saw beautiful snowy mountain vistas, I climbed some of the highest passes I will face on this ride across the country, I handled some pretty cold and wet weather. And I crossed the Continental Divide not once, but three times. After the third crossing, it was time for a long downhill, headed to the southern entrance of Yellowstone and into Grand Teton National Park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miles: 78.77
Avg. speed:  11.7 mph
Ascending feet: 4,224 ft.
Peak elevation:  8,519 ft.
Ending Elevation: 6,814 ft.
Net elevation gain: – 20 ft.

Adventure Ride Day 17 – Grand Teton National Park to Dubois, WY

May 27 – Today’s ride would be the start of the ride to the east, out of the national parks across Wyoming toward South Dakota.  Our entire time in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons has been rainy or snowy and cold.  Luckily, I’ve found days to ride that have been at least partially dry.  Today the forecast was for rain all day, and this could possibly be snow as I climb over the high pass that would finally get me to the east side of the Continental Divide for good.  It was no day to be riding over 70 miles.  But I’d seen forecasts of rain be nothing more than scattered showers, and I thought I was prepared for riding in the cold, wet weather.  But I wasn’t really.

 

It was dry, just below 40 degrees, when I started, but the rain began about 8 miles out.  Still, I was making good times, I had my handwarmers in my gloves, and I was ready for more.  Then, at about 18 miles, it became clear that my front tire was losing pressure.  It seemed to be a slow leak.  It was raining and cold, and I really didn’t want to stop in these conditions to change the tire.  I pumped it up with some CO2 to see if the tire would hold pressure long enough to get over the top of the pass, 15 miles ahead. But a mile further, the tire was clearly flat and I needed to change it.

 

By this time, I’d passed places that allow me to work under shelter, so I stopped on the roadside and worked behind the guardrail to change the tire.  I had to take off my gloves to work the tire off the wheelrim and remove the tube.  I couldn’t see any puncture or object in the tire or on the wheel that might have damaged the tube.  So I put a new tube in, and worked the tire back onto the rim with my freezing thumbs.  My fingers were now so cold that it was difficult to manage the valve.  I was warming my hands under my armpits when Stephanie drove up in the camper and pulled over.  Thank God.

 

The temperature had dropped to 37 degrees, and I still had 2,000 feet of elevation to climb to get over the pass.  It would be colder there.  And we knew it would be probably be snowing.  Stephanie and I had a long talk.  It had been important to me to cycle every mile of this ride.  It was heartbreaking for me to admit that these were not conditions suitable for cycling by any reasonable person.  I hadn’t found the cause of the flat, so I might see another before I reached the summit.  I could deal with the weather at this point, but who knew how much colder and miserable it would be as I went higher.  So I decided that today’s ride was not to be.  So the bike went on the rack and we drove the rest of the way to our next planned stop in Dubois, about 40 miles ahead.

 

As we drove over the pass, it was clear that I’d made the right decision.  It was winter up there, with deep snow and heavy snow coming down.  And almost no place to stop to warm up or dry out.  And in this part of the world, there was no cell phone coverage if I needed to call someone.

 

Oh no.  My cell phone.  It was nowhere in the camper, and I’d taken it off the bike when loading on the rack.  It was now somewhere back where Stephanie picked me up, or it had fallen onto the road somewhere else.  I asked Stephanie to take me back to see if we could find it.  At that point, it was 20 miles gone.  Now I didn’t just feel depressed about cutting the ride short, I felt really stupid.  We made the trip back to the pickup point, and I went out into the cold wetness to look for the phone.  Nothing.  It could be anywhere, but not here.   And Find My iPhone doesn’t work if there’s no cell signal. What a fiasco.

 

We drove again over the pass.  This was the third time today.  There’s no way I could ask Stephanie to wait for the weather to clear and bring me back again to satisfy my obsession to ride every mile.  This would have to be the adventure for this 40 miles.  It was enough.  We drove quietly on to Dubois.

 

Miles: 20.5
Avg. speed: 11.5 mph
Ascending feet: 948
Peak elevation: 7,306
Ending Elevation: 7,306
Net elevation gain: 458

 

 

Adventure Ride Day 18 – Dubois to Riverton, WY

 

May 29 – On the sign entering Dubois, the population is listed at 970 people.  It’s a really small town, where everyone knows everyone else.  Businesses don’t have many customers, and the school has class sizes of less than 10.  Yet there is a main street with businesses, but only a few appear to have enough customers to really thrive.  One of these is the Cowboy Café. It’s the town restaurant, so we sampled it for dinner.  We were told that it has really good chicken-fried steak, so that’s what I ordered.  What’s chicken-fried steak, you ask?  It’s not chicken, and it’s not steak, but it is fried.  The waitress said that it’s beef, so let’s just agree on that, along with a lot of breading and gravy.  It’s fun getting to know the local fare.

 

The cold and rain from the day before continued, so we decided to stay in Dubois for the day for the weather to clear.  Something I probably should have done before attempting the Togwatee Pass.  So we had a day in Dubois to work on the blog, do some business.  Had a nice breakfast at the Cowboy Café, and pizza for dinner at the other restaurant that was open in town, the Nostalgia Bistro.

 

The next day, the rain had cleared.  I headed off to Riverton, which was a gentle descent over rolling hills.  Wyoming has so few people and so few towns that the rides go on for miles, with the slowly changing landscape being the feature.  Here are the photos:

 

 

One of the things you can see in this landscape, which has not been bulldozed and developed like more populated areas, is how glaciers, water, and wind, have eroded and moved the ancient sedimentary layers.  Round pebbles and boulders left by glaciers can be found beside decaying shale on the side of buttes and mesas that survived the forces of erosion.

Once I got to Riverton, I found  a Verizon store, so I could replace my phone.  This time I bought some lost phone insurance, at least for the rest of the ride.

Miles: 80.4
Avg. speed: 13.6 mph
Ascending feet: 1,562
Peak elevation: 6,931
Ending Elevation: 5,039
Net elevation gain: -1,877

 

Adventure Ride Day 19 – Riverton to Casper, WY

May 30 – Today’s ride is the longest so far. It had to be, because there is no place to stay between Riverton and Casper.  So we got going early so we could finish the 120 mile ride before the day was done.

 

The ride went for miles and miles of sagebrush prairie.  Occasionally there would be bison or a few cattle grazing or antelope running away. But this is the story of this part of Wyoming—lots of space, almost no people.

 

My legs began to get tired around mile 80, and the last miles into Casper went slowly.  But eventually I made it in to the city.  I was glad we had a hotel that night, and a rest day to follow to recuperate.

 

Casper has a relatively hip block of dinner spots, and we had an opportunity to have some good food and wine the next night.  Our server was excited to learn about our adventure and took the time to explain a bit about Wyoming and Casper to us.  We talked about the horse and gun culture, and about how the economy is heavily influenced by oil and gas extraction and delivery.  The major swings in business in Casper happen as the price of oil moves, bringing people into town when the wells are profitable.

 

Casper is an area where several major historic trails pass.  Many are ancient trails used by native tribes for trade, and later adopted by the settlers heading to California, Utah, and other points west.  The Pony Express came through Casper until the telegraph made it obsolete.

 

If you ever make it to Casper, I recommend a visit to the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center.  This museum, run by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, explains the waves of commerce, conflict, and migration that occurred over the Wyoming trails.  Some were looking to strike it rich in California, some were looking for land for a better life, some were part of the Mormon migration to the Utah area.  Most were passing through Wyoming, but their trails divided buffalo herds, and their numbers irrevocably the historic ecosystem supporting the native population.

 

Miles: 124.85
Avg. speed: 13.4 mph
Ascending feet: 2,953
Peak elevation: 6,204
Ending Elevation: 5,252
Net elevation gain: 298

 

Adventure Ride Day 20 – Casper to Douglas, WY

 

June 1 –  The ride from Casper was through more sagebrush prairie, though with a few more hills.  The importance of making as much as possible of the land resource was more evident.  Oil wells and storage tanks occasionally dotted the prairie, and oil service businesses were frequently near the small towns.  Wind turbines took advantage of the prevailing winds in the space above the land.

 

Miles: 59.1
Avg. speed: 12.7 mph
Ascending feet: 2,106
Peak elevation: 5,477
Ending Elevation: 4,948
Net elevation gain: -205

 

Adventure Ride Day 21 – Douglas to Lusk, WY

 

June 2 – Our last night in Wyoming was in Lusk, a tiny farm town.  We camped in a small RV park, where a thunderstorm passed through.  With the rain came a double rainbow.

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Miles: 57.6
Avg. speed: 13.1 mph
Ascending feet: 1,637
Peak elevation: 5,272
Ending Elevation: 4,954
Net elevation gain: 140

 

Adventure Ride Day 21 – Lusk, WY to Custer, SD

 

June 3 – This would be my last day in the vast sagebrush and grassland that is this part of Wyoming.  The morning was more long, lonely riding along fairly empty roads.  The roads are low, rolling hills that may rise only 25 feet, but do this for miles and miles.  So with no other features to the landscape, the top of each rolling hill obscures the view beyond.  A bicyclist always hopes that beyond the next horizon is a downhill.  But in Wyoming, when you  reach the crest of the hill, all you see is a miles-long gradual dip of a few feet followed by a miles-long rise to the next 25 foot crest miles down the road.  What strikes you is the long distances and the same-ness.  It’s easy to imagine the drudgery felt by the prairie wagons following these routes over a century ago at a pace of only 15 miles a day.

 

Just before leaving Wyoming, I spotted a pickup truck on the side of the road, and the driver was crouching by a barb-wire fence that ran along the road.  As I passed, he motioned me over to ask for help in freeing a baby pronghorn antelope, which was seriously wrapped in the barbwire.  The only way to free him was to cut through some hair and skin that was twisted into the wire.  We freed him, but he was weak and could not stand.  We gave him some water and left him for his mother, who was standing a hundred yards away.  Now that our scent was on the baby, though, his prospects to be accepted by his mother may be low.

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I then passed into South Dakota on the way to Custer.  Gradually, the landscape evolved into the foothills of the Black Hills.  Pine trees began to dot the landscape, and ancient rock outcrops appeared above the sedimentary layers.  I passed through the tiny town of Edgemont and would not see another town for 40 miles, until almost to Custer.

 

Miles: 111.5
Avg. speed: 12.3 mph
Ascending feet: 4,583
Peak elevation: 5,437
Ending Elevation: 5,375
Net elevation gain: 502

 

 

Montana update: Days 13 – 16

June 15 -A month of poor internet access has prevented me from putting posts up on the blog.  I’m now able to post, so it’s catch-up time.  This post covers the cold, wet days in Montana in May.

Location as of May 23: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Miles so far: 1,073 miles
Ascending feet: 47,291 ft.
Peak elevation: 7,422 ft.
Current Elevation:  6,829 ft.

Adventure Ride Day 13 – Dillon, MT to Ennis, MT

May  18 – We stayed in Dillon for a day to wait out the rain forecast for the day. It looked like there might be a window of opportunity to ride the next day, when showers were forecast only for the late afternoon in West Yellowstone. But this day would be spent in the campground doing laundry while using the WiFi to work and update the blog. Our breakfast was at the Klondike Inn and casino, which was just a little place with a few tables of what appeared to be retired folks exchanging construction tips. Ladies sat and chatted with each other while the men sat at their own tables talking shop, but they all left together. Giant plates of potatoes and eggs would provide us enough for tomorrow’s breakfast as well.

The next day provided the window of dry weather I was looking for to make it to Ennis. I left the KOA campground and headed back into ranch country. I passed Beaverhead Rock, which the native tribes and Lewis & Clark all used as a major landmark. It was a waypoint for hunters heading to the buffalo-hunting grounds to the east, and Sacagawea guided Lewis & Clark past it on their westward trip to meet up with the Shoshone tribe, from whom they hoped to acquire horses for the next part of their journey.

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Beaverhead Rock

I climbed out of ranch land into old gold-mining territory. In Alder Gulch, you can see the remains of massive gold-mining operations at the end of the 19th century, with piles of stones and sand in ribbons along the river downstream from Nevada City and Virginia City. It appears Harvard University played a role in this mining operation, according to this historical marker:

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Continuing the climb through Nevada City and Virginia City. These are now preserved ghost towns, telling some classic stories of the Old West.

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I climbed over another pass and saw beyond me another valley of ranchland bordered by high mountain peaks covered in snow.

The wind was whipping me around as I got higher, and the temperature was dropping. Battling strong crosswinds on the downhill into Ennis and headwinds in the flats, I made it to our campsite for the night. But by now my fingers and face were ice cold. I was glad to have some time to warm up in the camper, and take a long hot shower at the campground. I knew, though, that this cold would continue tomorrow, and I’d need to prepare for a long, cold, possibly wet ride to West Yellowstone.

Miles:  74.87 miles
Avg. speed:  11.5 mph
Ascending feet:  2,779 ft
Peak elevation:  6,944 ft
Ending Elevation:  4,979 ft
Net elevation gain:  -167 ft.

Adventure Ride Day 14 – Ennis, MT to West Yellowstone, MT

May 19 – We woke to a cold, blustery day in Ennis. The wind was still howling as I opened the camper doors to an icy chill. The weather forecast was for rain later in the day. I wanted to make it to the RV Park in West Yellowstone because we had reserved our campsite in Yellowstone National Park for the next 4 nights, and I did not want to risk losing it by being a no-show on the first night. So despite the cold and the wind, I was going to do this 70 mile ride. The problem is that I had not planned on riding in weather this cold and possibly rainy and I needed to figure out how to dress for this.  I needed to stay as warm and dry as possible.  Because I didn’t really have a good warm underlayer to wear under my bike jacket, I decided to wear my big winter coat for the top part of my body, and my baggy rain pants over my tights for the bottom. This was an improvisation, and it’s really a picture of “what not to wear” on a bike ride in traffic.
Can you see what’s wrong with this picture?

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Overall: too dark, not high visibility (please keep other opinions to yourself)
Top: Bulky, not layers to handle temperature changes, not breathable so the sweat will stay in. And while the coat is repellent, the look is as well.
Bottom: While the shapeliness of my legs isn’t necessarily a feast for the eyes, a little more form-fitting would at least reduce wind resistance. These have some reflective striping, but not a lot of visibility.
Gloves: Warm as long as they breathe and stay dry. These could be better. Again, dark and invisible.
Feet: Visible rain covers for the shoes. I think these are ready for the runway.

This experience is teaching me what I need for the coming days. With luck, I’ll find some better clothing at a future stop.

Stephanie and I made plans to meet 2 ½ hours into today’s ride, because there would be no town or store along the way that would offer a place to warm up or dry off.

So out on the road I went in frigid, windy weather. I was lucky, today the wind would be at my back, pushing me along. The scenery continued to be the vast pastures, cattle, streams and hillsides of Montana. But the clouds were low, obstructing the mountain peaks still dusted with snow. I made good time with the tailwind, and around mile 35 I came upon an actual official rest stop with a bathroom and heat. By this time my fingers were cold and my improvised garb had become damp with sweat, so this was a good opportunity to air out and warm up. I texted Stephanie, who was just a few minutes behind me after finishing errands in Dillon, so we met at the rest stop, where I could change into some drier clothes and have a sandwich.

(I am so lucky to have Stephanie with me on this ride. Not only is she giving me the physical support for the ride, we are sharing our experiences every day. I can’t imagine how much lonelier and less satisfying this ride would be if I were doing it without her.)

The second half of the ride was completely different from the first. I left behind the cattle ranches and entered the hills and valleys following the Madison river upstream, climbing to Yellowstone. Today was the first day of fishing season, and dedicated anglers all along the way were wading into very cold water on a practically winter day to get their first catches of the season.


Markers around Earthquake Lake told the sad story of the Rocky Mountain earthquake in 1959, which surprised family campers along the Madison River with shaking, followed by an avalanche of crushing boulders, burying families and blocking the river, followed by a rush of water back into the valley submerging campsites. It was called the “Night of Terror”.

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I made it over a couple of passes and the end of the ride was fairly flat around Hebgen Lake to the turn onto the road that would take me into West Yellowstone, about 8 more miles. There were a few scattered showers along the way, but I had successfully beaten the rain (and snow) that would come later. Signs warning of bison along the road were true:

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I was feeling pretty sluggish at the end of the ride into West Yellowstone. About 2 blocks from the RV park I looked down and saw that I was running on a completely flat rear tire (again). I have no idea how long I’d been dragging the flat tire with me—I thought I was just tired and slow. I decided to ride the last two blocks on the flat and check it out in the morning.

Miles:  73.08
Avg. speed: 12.2
Ascending feet: 3,192
Peak elevation:  6,781 ft
Ending Elevation: 6,708 ft
Net elevation gain: 1,793 ft

Rest Day – West Yellowstone and Yellowstone National Park

May 20 – It was 30 degrees and snowing when we awoke in West Yellowstone.

We’re taking a few days of rest from the ride to see Yellowstone. So this morning I fixed the bike tire (found a small sharp rock that had wedged its way into the tire on the wet road, puncturing the tube). I’d educated myself on tire-changing since the trip to Sula, and had a much easier time getting the tire over the lip of the wheel. The trick is pushing the deflated tire’s lip down into the deep center of the rim on one side so that the tire’s lip is higher on the rim on the other side. Then with the tire all pushed to one side the last bit of the tire’s lip is much easier to ease over the rim. It worked like a breeze and the tire was fixed in minutes.

We took the morning to run errands: I went to a bike shop to find a better cold weather insulating layer and gloves that might breathe better. While I did that, Stephanie restocked our groceries. Then we headed into Yellowstone, stopping first to top off our diesel and propane for the camper. For the next 3 days, we explored the park.

Yellowstone is amazing because of two things: its unique geology, and its preservation of the habitat for wildlife that was once common in the northern plains, but is now rare. People come to see the geysers and hot springs spouting from an ancient caldera, which has exploded several times over the millenia, most recently about 650,000 years ago in a blast many times larger than that of Mt. Saint Helens. Now a crust has evolved over the volcano, and parts of the earth’s mantle are close to the surface, heating ground water that bubbles through mud, or steams through vents, or builds pressure until it explodes into a geyser. The boiling hot environment creates ecosystems of minerals and bacteria that create unique features in the landscape.

 

The protected habitat in Yellowstone has allowed the population of bison to grow into the thousands, from the brink of extinction early in the 20th century due to unfettered hunting. There are also elk, antelope, grizzly and black bears, wolves and foxes.

This amazing ecology has been preserved for people to enjoy, and this is both a blessing and a curse. We are here so early in the season that visitors are coming in low numbers, relative to the peak summer season. But getting around the park is accomplished only by motor vehicle (or bicycle), and there is essentially one two-lane road that loops around the park. Even though we saw hundreds of bison in our three days here, the sight of even one near the road will bring traffic to a halt, as every car stops in the middle of the road for the photo opportunity. I, of course, took my own photos, and probably contributed to the problem.

 

 

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Adventure Ride Day 15 – West Yellowstone, MT to Madison Campground, Yellowstone Park

May 23 – Because of the cold, wet weather on the day we left West Yellowstone, I decided to defer my short 15-mile ride into the park campground until a later day of our visit, hoping that the weather would improve. I considered riding beyond our campground to shorten the next day’s ride south to Grand Teton National Park. We started the day doing some more exploration of the park, including a trip to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

By the time we’d had enough of exploring Yellowstone, and headed back into West Yellowstone to top off the fuel and propane in the camper, it was about 4:00. Time enough for me to do the 15 miles to the campground, but not enough to extend it further. The weather was still cold and wet, so at least I got to try out my new insulating layer. It was a good test—I discovered that there is such a thing as too many layers. I had an underlayer, jersey, arm warmers, vest, the new insulating layer, and the rain jacket. I didn’t get wet from the rain, and the cold could not get it, but by the time I had finished I was wet from sweat that had not been able to breathe out. I decided to reduce the number of layers for the next day’s long and cold ride to the Grand Tetons.

 

Miles:  14.53 miles
Avg. speed:  11.9 mph
Ascending feet:  449 ft.
Peak elevation:  6,852 ft.
Ending Elevation:  6,829 ft.
Net elevation gain:  162 ft.

 

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.

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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.

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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:

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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”.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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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