Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Final Reflections: Wrapping it all up

       I've been putting off writing this for quite a while now, mainly because I wanted to avoid bathing everything in the cliched romantic glow that I was enjoying at the end of my ride. But there was also a part of me that just wanted to avoid putting the period at the end of my last sentence and finally admitting that it was all over. Now, however, I'm almost a week back into school again, my first test is coming up and the pace of life is clipping along back at its usual pace. It was scarily easy to slip back into the hustle and bustle, so I think I should finally type out my thoughts on the trip before I get washed away by obligations and this experience becomes a remote memory.

Without a shadow of a doubt, this summer was the best summer of my life. It was a vacation without the restlessness that comes from hanging out and doing nothing for too long. Given the time and money, I would have made the decision to extend the trip and ride back home in a heartbeat. There were so many things that I loved about touring by bike, but I think I can sum them up into four categories: meeting America, soaking in its beauty, besting a physical challenge and enjoying a simpler lifestyle.

For any given day on the bike, the things closest to the front of my mind were very practical. I was thinking about the terrain, how difficult the climbs would be or how steep the descents, the weather, my next stop for food, or the condition of my bike. All day long, the minute details that rarely make the pages of this blog were occupying my mind. And yet in retrospect, all that fades away and I'm left primarily remembering the people I met along the way. One of my favorite memories of Kansas was simply sitting on a farmer's porch and talking to him while a thunderstorm blew through. My whole trip, in fact, was filled with characters I only got to meet in brief: countless farmers and ranchers sitting in the local diners, the former magistrate of the tiny town of Dwarf, KY, a kid who helped me fill my water bottles from his house's hose and a thousand other names and faces that I've forgotten. It's those people, the locals and the smalltown folks, that I remember most. It sounds unforgivably cheesy, but I feel like I finally "see" America and have started to know its culture and its people. The vast majority of the land fills up the spaces between big cities. These are the places where you can leave your bike propped up against the building while you're eating without even considering that someone might steal it; where nobody bothers to lock their houses and the locals can walk out of a restaurant without paying because the owner knows that they're good for it. You could get a pretty grim impression of where this country is headed from just watching the news, but I was blown away by the kindness and generosity of the average American citizen. 

This facet is the hardest part of the whole adventure to communicate, partially because I think you have to experience it for yourself. So instead of trying to tell you what a perspective changing experience it was for me, I'll leave it to you to explore small town America if you feel so inclined.

Immediately below the people I met, my second favorite part touring was the scenery, and this is where I feel that cycling has the edge on all other forms of travel. There's a certain sense of participation that comes from being in the environment you're riding through, as opposed to in a plane or a car. You feel the weather, the insects and every little crack in the road. You move fast enough that you cross dozens of new vistas every day (unless you're on the Great Plains) and perhaps most importantly of all, you have to work for your views. In my memory, the South Park of Colorado is one of the most beautiful places I traveled through, and looking back at it, the pictures don't do it justice. But it isn't all due to the fact that phone camera's aren't great for capturing epic scenery, it's also due to the magnification that comes from earning a view. I entered the South Park after spending a full day climbing off the Great Plains, and the rush from descending over my first 10,000 foot mountain pass was what combined with those high altitude meadows to make it a spectacular scene. Those moments are the ones where it would be really incredible to have someone else alongside you to share with, because you can show anyone pictures after the fact, but you can only share that effort-magnified view with someone else who just worked as hard as you did. Regardless, I'm going to tack on a few of my favorite pictures here, just for fun.

Catawba Valley, VA

Dubois, WY

Grand Tetons, WY

Near Earthquake Lake, MT

Near Sisters, OR

There's not much to say about the physical challenge. It was tough, but I also went pretty hard and fast. Anyone can do a trip like this, and I think it's well worthwhile to do so. There's a certain confidence that comes from traveling long distances under your own power. You don't have to go fast, you can just gear down and plod out mile after mile, day after day. Eventually you'll look back and realize you've put a thousand miles under your tires with hardly an effort. Since my trip has ended, I've had a few middle aged to 60 year old folks tell me that they wish they could do a ride like that. I tell them that in all honesty the largest demographic I met on the trail was pairs of old retired late 60's guys going out and seeing the country. It's almost never too late, and it's definitely not too hard. You can get your legs as you go, you just have to make the time!

Finally, let me say a few words in the praise of a simple life. I had the luxury of tying up all my loose ends before I left, so I rode off with no obligations and no real worries. If you've ever had that moment, perhaps an afternoon or a weekend, where you literally have nothing on the docket and no obligations to take care of, you know what a relief that can be. Imagine stretching that feeling across a full two months and you have a cross country bike tour. In addition to the freedom from obligation, there's a certain freedom that comes from having few material possessions. You'll never be running around looking for your shoes or your keys when you're living out of a backpack. There's nothing to manage or handle, no mortgage to pay or utilities to cover on the road. Since coming home, I've gone back to sleeping in my luxurious hammock and cycling through a whole wardrobe of clothes, so don't feel as though I'm championing the nomad's lifestyle, but just consider the blissful  freedom that comes from not being tied down and being able to walk away from last night's "home," leaving no trace and completely self sufficient to do the same tonight. It was a nice break from material worries and concerns, and even in the short time I've been home I've started to miss it.

So this is the end! There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that I'll be going on another, shorter, tour when I get a few weeks of vacation time after step or 4th year, but I doubt I'll keep another blog like this one. Thank you so much to anybody who read along! It was much more fun writing, knowing that some people out there were reading along. 

Best to all of you,
Carl Buchholz

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Gear appraisal

 Gear Appraisal:

Alright, so let's get into it. I just emptied my whole backpack out onto the concrete in front of a library and snapped pictures of all the different stuff I carried with me. I'm going to split things into four categories: Essential, worth the weight, not worth the weight and useless. Bear in mind that this really only applies to the way I did this trip. For example, I'm calling my maps essential, but you can certainly travel across the country without using the ACA maps, I just couldn't do the trip the way I did this one.

Let's start with the bike.

Essential: Duh.
I rode a 2011 Specialized Allez across the country, which is most certainly a road bike. It's got 700/23 tires and a 50/34 compact in the front with an 11/28 cassette in back. I was told numerous times before I started the trip that you can't tour on a road bike. That's obviously false. The reason given was that it can't handle the weight of panniers, which I didn't use. I'll comment more on my method of travel when I get to the backpack itself, but the road bike served me very well across the whole country. I've got to give a huge thank you to everyone who pitched in from Emmanuel to get it for me after I was hit by a car on another bike back in college. I would never have fallen so far in love with cycling without this bike, so I owe you guys big time.

I rode with gatorskin tires and replaced the back tire once. I replaced most of my drivetrain components one time, in Lander, Wyoming.

Water bottles: Essential

2 water bottles were enough to get me from refill to refill, which was as often as 15 miles in Missouri where it was humid and as infrequent as 40-50 miles when it was cooler and I wasn't sweating. There were a few 60-100 mile segments without water where I filled up an old apple juice jug and put it in my backpack. That seemed to get me through.

Cell Phone: Essential
It let me write blog entries, communicate with people, order new pedals in Kentucky and look at maps and services for towns when I needed to. My most useful piece of gear. That said, I had T-Mobile service which was absolutely useless outside of towns and heavily populated areas. Even now I'm on the coast of Oregon in a city with only 1 bar of reception. Verizon is supposed to be better if you want to have service across the country. For the most part, I didn't mind being disconnected.

Charger: Essential
Cell phone is useless without a charger. I accidentally left my charger (with my rear blinker) in Mitchell a few days before finishing and replaced it with a double-usb variety. It's nice to charge both phone and lights at the same time.

Wallet: Worth the weight
I could have just carried a credit card and a little cash. It was nice to have a wallet to put people's business cards into when they inevitably gave them out. Do carry cash though, you can run into diners in small towns that won't take a card and don't have an ATM.

Headphones: Worth the weight
They weigh almost nothing. I got them in Kansas when I finally realized what hundreds of miles of flat nothingness was going to be like. Having the little microphone was cool because I could talk to people on the phone while I rode.

Bike Lights: Worth the weight
The first of the "insurance" items. You don't need to ride at night,  hence you don't need bike lights. On the other hand, if you get stuck somewhere where you don't want to camp by the highway (e.g. Yellowstone) and it's getting dark, you'd better have lights for your bike. You couldn't pay me to ride after twilight without being well lit up. They also came in handy during my night ride in Wyoming and during some early days in Missouri.

Bike repair kit

Oil: Essential
The little container of oil can make all the difference between a dry squeaky chain and a well oiled drivetrain.

Tire levers: Essential
You have to be able to replace a flat tire. No question. Tubes are also essential, but I think I put those in another picture.

Allen Wrenches: Essential
Only carry the sizes relevant on your bike. Good for tightening the headset / bolts on the chainring and also for taking the seat off your bike when someone in a little car wants to let you stay at their place.

Bike Pump: Essential
You have to be able to pump up after changing a flat. Helps to be able to top off between towns too. Every time I hit a bike shop I used their floor pump to bring my tires up to pressure.

Rubber for boot: Worth the weight
In case a tire splits, you want something to reinforce it until you can replace it. Not essential since you can make one out of almost anything, but useful since it weighs almost nothing.

Spoke wrench: Not worth the weight
Never touched it. If I wanted minor adjustments I would do them in town. If something so tragic happened that I snapped a spoke or got it way out of adjustment, I would wrap it around another spoke and ride the bike out of true into a town.

Maps: Essential
I started out with 12 maps, sending them back along the way to my friend Sarah as I went to save weight. Eventually I realized that they weighed almost nothing and held on to the last 7. These are the Adventure Cycling Association maps and they are pure gold. It includes information like campsites, has the phone numbers of places like fire stations where they let cyclists camp, information on which towns have restaurants, etc.

Compass: Worthless
The directions were so good that I never needed a compass except to figure out which direction the wind was coming from (and consequently how much pain I'd be in that day.)

Spare tubes: Essential
Try to carry two so that when you use one, you still have one more until you can restock.

Bike Lock: Worth the weight
The second of the "insurance items." Completely unnecessary in almost every small town across the country, but good to have when passing through larger towns. I got a really light cheap one that I wouldn't trust for more than an hour or so in any big city, but it did the job the few times I used it.  

Insect repellent: Worth the weight
This is totally a luxury item, but it let me spend a lot of nights outside of my sleeping bag until it got cold enough that the mosquitoes went away. If I was traveling through cold country alone, I would replace it with a head net and just use the sleeping bag for protection at night, but that would have been impractical on the really hot nights out east. Some nights it didn't get below 90 until after 10, and it was nice to sleep outside the bag without getting bitten. An alternative strategy would be to let the mosquitoes bite you until you run out of surface area.

Toiletry kit: Worth the weight
Toothbrush, toothpaste, comb and bar of soap. The comb came in surprisingly useful for getting all the little flies out of my hair once it got longer. If you go through one of those little swarms when you're all sweaty, they stick everywhere!

I also used sunscreen until Montana, at which point my arms and legs were so tan that I could ride a full day in the sun and not get the slightest indication of a burn. 

Sleeping Bag: Essential
I used a Katabatic Palisade quilt rated down to 30 degrees. It took me down to the mid 20's in Montana very comfortably wearing just a Tshirt and shorts. The quilt style means the bag doesn't have a back on it, but as long as I tucked the bag under my pad and buckled it underneath, I was plenty warm. This bag performed magnificently and it weighed only about a pound.

Sleeping Pad: Essential
Surprisingly, the pad is not intended to make the ground comfortable, which it didn't. Its job is to keep you insulated from the cold ground, which it did. For that reason, I cut everything off the pad except the torso, which has worked marvelously for me on both backpacking and now biking trips. 

Tarp: Essential
A homemade 8x10ft silicon-nylon tarp. The last of the really big insurance items. It weighed a little over a pound and was complete dead weight except for the few times when I needed to pitch it at night (or in a hail storm) to stay dry. At those moments it was absolutely priceless and I'm glad I carried it the whole way.

Groundcloth: Worth the weight
A luxury item. When sleeping on the dirt or on wet grass I would lay the cloth out before putting down my pad and sleeping bag. It doubled as an emergency bag cover to keep the down quilt dry. Only weighed a few dozen grams.

Spare Clothing

Tshirt, shorts, flip flops: Essential
I wish I would have brought a wool shirt (warmer when wet) and lighter shorts, but otherwise these two items were all I needed for camp. The reason I'm putting these as essential is that if you don't get out of your biking chamois and jersey to wash them and let them dry out, they start to chafe really badly. All the salt crystallizes in the seams and rubs you raw if you don't wash fairly regularly. To avoid this, I rinsed them out in public bathrooms, rivers, hoses, whatever I could find every night.

Towel: Worth the weight
I just brought a little hand towel which was big enough to dry myself off after taking a shower or a quick bath in a local river/stream.

Extreme weather clothing, here's where I could have saved some weight.

Rainjacket (in the stuff sack): Essential
Part of the emergency system for when it got really cold and wet. With that waterproof jacket on, I got hot fast even when I wasn't working terribly hard. Only rode with it once, after I got caught out in the hail storm in Wyoming.

Rain pants (in the stuff sack) : Worth the weight
My legs never got as cold as my torso. It could have had to do with the fact that they were constantly pumping. I'd bring them along again, but they were more for while I was stopped or for setting up camp in the rain.

Arm warmers: Worth the weight
Absolutely wonderful. I used them on a lot of cold climbs and windy descents with great success. They made riding a lot more pleasant.

Spandex: Worth the weight
My modification-free spandex allowed me to go swimming when I hit local hot springs or pools. Those were some of the best stops so I'll say they were worth bringing.

Gloves: Not worth the weight
I only wore them a few times. The dexterity afforded by having warm hands was lost by the bulkiness of wearing gloves.

Hat: Worthless
Never wore it.

Leg warmers: Worthless
Absolutely terrible. I only wore them on the climb over Hoosier Pass and would have been fine without them.

Spare socks: Worthless
Never wore them

Handkerchief: Worthless
Didn't even know I had this thing along.

(All of those items went in that stuff sack and doubled as my pillow)

Backpack: Essential

I carried a 4000 cubic inch Porter backpack made my Hyperlite Mountain Gear. It's simple and light, which fits my style well. This method of touring got lots and lots of comments as it's apparently not common. Whenever I stopped to talk to touring cyclists they always thought I was just somebody out for a day ride, not someone crossing the country. Most of them mentioned how they could never bear to ride with a backpack on and asked how my back felt. 

I really didn't mind wearing the pack at all. After a while I got used to the feel and got pretty good at adjusting the weight around as I rode, so I didn't have to stop for it. It helped that the pack was small and light, weighing in at just over 13 pounds by the end. To see how small it was, here's another angle of me at the finish: 

The next time I get to tour again, it'll probably be up or down one of the coasts, and I'm going to do it the exact same way, minus everything I labeled "not worth the weight" or "worthless." The one piece of gear that I wish I would have brought was those little waterproof boots that you can put over your cycling shoes. Wet socks after a rainstorm get annoying very quickly and I would have loved to have those shoe covers. I loved riding the road bike and quite enjoyed the mileage I was able to put on and the relative ease with which I climbed hills compared to the fully loaded folks. 

I'm posting this from Seattle, WA and probably won't be able to write my final reflection entry until the end of the week, but for those who bothered to read through, now you've got a good idea of the assets I had with me on my trip. Hopefully it'll be helpful to someone planning a trip of their own!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Day 49

Mileage: 85
Total mileage: 4335... finished!!!
Today I finished the TransAmerican trail. Wow. I didn't really think I was going to get to write that sentence.
In reality, it was quite an easy day. I surprised myself by not trying to smash out the last 80 miles in record time and instead enjoyed this last leg of my journey.
With such an easy day ahead of me, it was a perfect day to sleep in. I was on a nice comfortable pier, and if you think that's sarcasm, you should feel the way a floating pier sways gently in the water when you move around at night. It's quite comfortable. Unfortunately, the seagulls had other plans. I am a master at sleeping through alarms, but they managed to have me awake beyond all hope of snoozing by 6:15 am. Oh well. At least I got to ride the shoreline by myself for a while before things started to get busy.
As a bit of free advice: if you've eaten anywhere close to a gallon of wild berries during the day, camp somewhere where you'll wake up close to the bathroom. I'm not saying that the 3 mile ride to the town of Oceanside wasn't enjoyable, I'm just saying that it might have been more pleasant if I wasn't in such a hurry.
From Oceanside I decided to go to Tillamook to get breakfast. Y'know, the town that Tillamook ice cream is named after. A sign outside of Oceanside warned that the scenic route around the cape (which my maps naturally had me on) was closed due to landslides and broken roads. I could either go back a few miles to Netarts and ride the highway into town, or I could try my luck on the closed road. I chose the scenic route and was not disappointed.
A few miles after the sign, sure enough, there were concrete barriers laid across the road and a big sign saying how no one was allowed to go past, etc. etc. After I had hopped the barriers and lifted my bike over, I was in a whole different world. No one had driven on this road in a long time, which meant that whole segments were covered in twigs and wet leaves, so thickly in places that you couldn't even see the concrete underneath. Once again, I was back in that verdant tunnel of greenery that I described yesterday, except this time I had the whole thing to myself and there was an air of ruin about it that lent it a mystical quality. As I was riding through, in complete silence except for the sounds of birds chirping, I half expected to see an old stone temple covered in vines hanging out in the distance. It didn't seem possible that a rainforest like this existed in the continental US, much less this far north, but there it was! That 10 mile segment was definitely one of the highlights of the whole trip.
In Tillamook it felt like I should probably eat ice cream, since the town is famous for its dairy, but I didn't feel like paying the exorbitant prices at the local cheese and ice cream factory. So I compromised and bought myself a tub of caramel ice cream from the Safeway in town, which I ate in the parking lot with a tire lever. If you don't mind a little rust and dust in your ice cream, its actually quite a good tool!
My next stop down the road was the small town of Garibaldi. As I was riding through, there were orange cones everywhere and people lining the streets. I was slightly skeptical that so many people would turn out just to cheer me on during my last leg, so I asked someone by the side of the road what was going on. "It's Garibaldi days!" she replied, as if I knew what that was. A more helpful citizen sitting next to her informed me that there was going to be a parade. I thought that sounded pretty cool, so I sat down on the curb to watch. Garibaldi puts on quite the parade for a town of 700. There were horses, fire trucks, clowns, tons of candy, and my favorite: bagpipes. I got the running narrative from the lady sitting next to me. The gaps were filled with a glowing commentary on her granddaughter, who works in the forest service. I got the feeling she was trying to hook us up, which was rather impractical since her granddaughter was on the other side of the state and I was just riding through. Either way, when the parade was over she told me to come back in the spring when they do crab races. Apparently everyone's a winner, because even if your crab loses you still get to cook him up and eat him afterwards.
The rest of the afternoon was spent alternating between riding on the shore of the Pacific and deviating off onto short climbs a few miles long and a few hundred feet high. I didn't mind the climbs because they put me back in the rainforest for a little bit, which was beautiful even from the highway. At one point I even got to mix a high point with a scenic overlook. It's hard to tell in this picture, but I could see almost all the way back to Pacific City from yesterday.
My final destination is Astoria, because that's where the TransAm trail ends, but that's situated on the Columbia River, not the Pacific Ocean. I took a few minutes at Hug Point to detour down to the beach and have a guy take my picture with the front wheel in the water.
So this is how it's traditionally done. Back wheel in the Atlantic, front wheel in the Pacific. I think it's supposed to be metaphorical or something with you in the middle of the bike, spread out across the whole country which you just got to see. However, I know some folks are going to be pedantic and point out that you should really measure displacement from the same spot on the bicycle in both locations. By that logic, I haven't really ridden the FULL distance from coast to coast. But you see, I thought ahead. 50 days and 4335 miles ago I took this picture below.
Yeah, that's right pedants, I'm pointing and laughing at you! That's my front wheel in the Atlantic Ocean almost 2 months ago. Hopefully you're satisfied.
In the early evening I reached Astoria. The route takes you on a big loop around the outside of the city and makes its final stop outside the Astoria Maritime Museum. I had pictured this moment several times in my head at various difficult parts of the trip and the way I envisioned it, I was going to come blasting through the last 5 or 10 miles and cruise up to the museum at 20+ mph with Iron Maiden's song To Tame this Land blasting through my skull. I'd let out a huge whoop and skid to a stop. As it is, I spent the last 20 miles riding ponderously along the Oregon coast, reflecting on my favorite parts of the trip and marveling at what an incredible experience it's been. I rolled sedately up to the museum with no music playing at all and sat down on a nearby bench for a long time. There may have been a tear or two in my eye. Eventually I got up and had my picture taken with the big anchor that seems to serve as the start/finish landmark before slowly going back the way I came to find some place for dinner.
By the time I got to dinner I had cheered up a little bit and was feeling some of the excitement of finishing. I ate at a nice little brewery called Buoy on the waterfront and shared a big table with a bunch of other people. When they brought out my food the server was confused because he had two separate meals, set the first one down in front of me and then looked around quickly, trying desperately to figure out who I was with. Eventually he tried to give it to some older lady before I let him know both meals were mine.
I passed a motel on the way in and rode back to it, trying to decide if I would stay there for the night now that my trip was over. My decision was made for me since there were no vacancies and eventually I found a nice spot up in the town to sleep. There was a huge douglas fir log on display and a nice little bit of concealed concrete here behind it to sleep on. An ignominious end to the journey, but then again the end was never really the goal.
 I'm planning on writing two more posts before I finish this blog. One will be a technical appraisal of the gear and methods used on the trip. I expect it may come in handy to anyone else who reads this and wants to do their first bike tour and I finally feel qualified to comment on the practice of touring. The other will be a brief reflection piece on the trip as a whole, my favorite parts and what I learned. I expect that one will take me a little while to write, so look for it in a few days. For now, this is the end of my trail updates, so I'll say it one last time. G'night!

Day 48

Mileage: 108
Total mileage: 4250
Today I hit the Pacific Ocean! They say this thing is bigger even than the great plains, and sometimes flatter too!
Last night in Corvallis I ended up finding a little park in the middle of a quiet little neighborhood and dropping my bedroll under an enormous tree. This thing was at least 100 feet tall and I figured if there was rain I would be able to set up my tarp before it got really wet under the branches. There was only a 15% chance of rain last night... apparently in Oregon the sky just always looks forbidding and cloudy. There was some underbrush near the bottom of the tree, so I tucked myself and my bike neatly out of sight and slept dry through the night, getting up and out early this morning.
The first 50 or so miles of the day were straight north through the center of Oregon. I've been hearing continuously about how it was going to get really green on this side of the Cascades, but so far everything had looked like the east coast: lots of farmland, tons of clear-cut fields, and enough greenery tucked in between that I thought maybe this is what people were talking about. I was about to be proven wrong later today.
Fortunately, the one thing separating this coast from the other is the incessant prevalence of blackberries. I laugh now, thinking how I marveled at the "miles of blackberries" on my way into Eugene two days ago. Today I was marveling whenever the berries stopped for more than a couple hundred yards. Also, there are way more than any flock of gatherers could possibly pick, leaving bushes like this one literally right next to the highway. I didn't even have to get off my bike to pick these berries and take this picture.
For most of the morning and a fair bit of the afternoon, I continued to ride through this clear-cut farmland, until I got near the coast. After about two dozen miles on highway 18/22 (where my left ear was practically numb from the sound of cars whooshing past) I got to turn off onto a street named "Old Scenic Hwy 101." That sounded promising.
And all of a sudden, I found the green!! The road wound up a little mountain (under 1000 feet) and took me down the back side toward the coast. The whole time I was riding through a veritable tunnel of greenery with the light barely filtering through from above. Pictures have a really hard time capturing the level of sheer immersion that comes from experiencing this gut-jarring expanse of verdant vegetation.
First off, there were the trees. Most of them were broad-leafed deciduous folks with leafy canopies extending up over the road from either side. A narrow strip of light was shining down directly above, where the ribbon of highway had been cut through the rainforest. Because tree bark is brown, and apparently that's not allowed, the trunks and branches were draped with gorgeous hanging moss. Beneath the trees was a continuous cover of wide-leaf bushes, creating a secondary canopy. Not to be outdone, this second canopy was sheltering a host of ferns and tall green grasses, while the ground underneath was carpeted in moss. Every tiny gap seemed to be filled with some little opportunistic plant that was pushing through to sneak a little bit of the available light. The thought of walking off the highway through the bush was absolutely laughable, it was so dense. And by the most important metric of all, blackberry prevalence, it was an absolute goldmine. Whichever side of the road was against the hillside was consistently covered in blackberry brambles at least 40 feet high for miles on end. So THIS is where all the water is getting dumped.
My lush detour took me up a few hundred feet and then back down again before dumping me out on the real Hwy 101 near the coast. I rode along until I got to see ocean for the first time at Pacific City. I made it! This was the last of my three major landmarks that I wanted to see: the Mississippi River, Hoosier Pass and the Pacific Ocean. I technically have another day of riding still, but that's just a formality to officially complete the Transamerica Trail. My dream of riding coast to coast, albeit by one of the most indirect routes, is complete!
The rest of the evening was spent riding that sweet tide of accomplishment for another couple dozen miles north along the coast. I finally stopped for the night at a little town called Netarts and ate dinner at a nice restaurant by the beach. After the restaurant closed down, I spent a few more hours hanging out at the bar after hours with a few of the wait staff. They helped me celebrate with a few beers and several shots.
Pleasantly buzzed, I've gone to find a good place to sleep for the night. There's a little pier here by the restaurant that doesn't seem to get a lot of use, so I'm going to crash for the night. Despite the few drinks I've had, I concentrated very hard and managed to get set up without dropping anything important in the water. I think I can finally sleep in a little, there are only 85 miles left between me and Astoria. Tomorrow should be my last day! G'night!
*Gasp* How do I have a picture of my pier the next morning if I wrote this at night? Even when I have to write my entries the following day, I write from the perspective of where I slept last night. That's right kids, everything is staged and nothing is real. Just thought I'd give a heads up. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Day 47

Mileage: 45
Total mileage: 4142

A nice half day in Eugene, and it looks like I'm going north.

Last night I was pretty convinced that I was going to go south to the redwoods. Lann was going to drop me off south of town so that I'd only have a 125 mile day into Bandon and I was going to try to meet him there again on Saturday afternoon. Everything technically fit together, but this morning I started to realize that there was really no overlap, no wiggle room. I'd have to hit some big mileage marks and wasn't feeling incredibly strong after pulling 520 miles in the last 5 days with a lot of mountains. Theoretically I could just back it off and ride the whole spur slower without getting the ride back to Eugene, but I think I want to come back and do a short ride from Seattle to San Francisco sometime instead of trying to squeeze it in quickly at the end of this trip. The southern coast of Oregon will have to wait, I'll come back to see it as soon as possible.

I forgot to get a picture with Lann this morning, but remembered to get one with Melody before she left for work. I took time to write my posts from the last two days since all this socializing has occupied the time usually dedicated to writing, and then went to enjoy the garden for a little while before leaving the Leslies' house.

From their house I rode right down the street to the bike shop to do some much needed work. The kind workers lent me a rag and some degreaser and I went to town on the frame. When it was all clean, I scoured the drivetrain, lubricated and tensioned my brake/shifter cables, adjusted the rear derailleur, cleaned and realigned the brakes, trued the back wheel a little and replaced a cracked bottle holder. I felt a lot better about the whole thing, which took me just under two hours, putting me right around lunchtime. The mechanic on duty directed me to an all you can eat Indian food buffet where I tried my hardest to put the place out of business. Before I left the city I made sure to tour around the University of Oregon campus and stop for ice cream.

Around 3 I finally left Eugene on a finely tuned bike, full of rice and ice cream and ready to go! I made the most out of the afternoon, putting on the 45 miles into Corvallis pretty quickly. The only times I stopped were to eat the delicious bounty by the side of the road. The blackberries still don't stop, and it's hard to keep riding when a quick squeeze of the brakes and a few minutes of picking will net you big double handfuls of delicious berries. I also stopped a few times at wheat fields to pluck a head or two and roll the kernels away from the chaff, the way a wheat farmer showed me a few days ago.

Corvallis is that awkward size of about 50,000 people where it's too large for them to let you sleep in a park and just small enough for them to actually find you if you try. I would ride outside of town and do a makeshift camp by the highway, but there are some serious clouds in the sky and they look like they mean business. Doing the old 'McDonalds post and figure out where I'm sleeping afterwards' that's worked for me a few times now across the country. I suppose I should head out pretty soon now, since it's getting dark soon. G'night!

Day 46

Mileage: 110
Total mileage: 4097

I rode over my last real mountain pass today! Now it's almost totally flat, all the way to the end.

This morning when I woke up, Nancy was already awake, bright eyed and bushy tailed despite the fact that she was up at 4 yesterday and didn't go to bed until nearly midnight. I have no idea how she does that. John was gone by 5am which left me as the late riser at 6:20. I said my goodbyes and rolled out on my bike at 6:47, a time I know so specifically only because Bruce called it out to me as I rode away.

I stopped at the end of the driveway to take a shot of the mountains in the morning sun. That's right, this is the view from the Stephenson's front porch!

I rode the couple miles back to the TransAm so that I wouldn't miss any mileage and then continued on another 5 miles into Sisters for breakfast. I made a point of stopping at Angeline's bakery for a marion berry scone since I had gotten three recommendations by that point. It was delicious, even though I had no clue what a marion berry was. The girl at the bakery gave me directions to a little cafe where she said I could get a hearty breakfast, but the place was closed on Wednesdays, so I went to the little cafe next door and ordered eggs with pancakes. I should have taken another picture of these pancakes, because they were hilariously dainty. I stacked all three of them together to make one miniature sized, regular pancake and was through with my whole plate by the time the server came back out of the kitchen. I was fine though since Nancy had sent me on my way this morning with a whole bag of walnuts, cliff bars and an apple. 

Apparently there was a huge bike race called the Cascade Classic coming out of Bend this morning. It didn't start till 10, and I wanted to stay ahead of them so I wouldn't get swept up in the peloton, meaning I climbed the Cascades pretty quickly this morning. As I rode higher and higher to McKenzie pass, the conifers started to give way to lava flows, and by the time I crossed my high point I was in a barren rock field. This is the last big mountain range between me and the coast!!! I have a few more 800 foot climbs in the next few days, but nothing spanning thousands of feet. I'm almost there!

The high mountain peaks looked gorgeous far away across the lava fields. 

Over the top, I was excited for this descent. I had heard from a bunch of people that it was steep and curvy, which is my idea of a lot of fun. I hit a few gnarly sections, but each one was separated by a few hundred meters of flat, or even uphill road. After about 5 miles of this, I was starting to get disappointed that this might just be a long gentle and boring descent. That would've been fine, it's definitely the most efficient way to use the elevation, but it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun. Then I started seeing these signs: 

I like to call these signs "fun indicators." The squigglier the line and the lower the number beneath it, the more fun you're about to have. After resigning myself to the drudgery of a long slow downhill climb, I was shocked back into excitement by a 10 mile, 3000 foot rollercoaster of awesomeness. The road was a narrow two lane deal that often had fairly sharp drops down ferny slopes and I was blasting through constant, unrelenting turns at 35 miles an hour. For the non-cyclists, it's simply not practical to use your brakes on a descent like this. You'd have to squeeze them every couple seconds and you'd absolutely destroy your brake pads before you got halfway down. So the alternative is to stand in the pedals, maximizing air resistance when you need to slow down a little, and just burn through the turns at breakneck speed, relying on the alternating directions of the curves and the banked slopes of the highway to keep you from shooting off the edge. You've also got to look out for cars coming the other direction, because they seem to have a difficult time staying in their lane around sharp curves. Cars in your own lane can be a bit of an issue too, since I was going faster than any other vehicle down that slope. The few times I had to use my brakes were all when I got behind another vehicle, but fortunately they were all pretty quick at finding a shoulder and getting out of the way.

There's a particular satisfaction to that kind of descent. It's less the feeling of accomplishment from brutishly hauling your weight up a long hill and more the feeling of technical skill that comes from being absolutely wired and focused for so long. There were very few things going through my mind. Firstly, I was watching the "fun indicator" signs to have a good idea how steeply I needed to bank into each turn. I couldn't see very far around corners, so I had to put a ton of faith into those signs. Fortunately, they were all pretty accurate. Then you're scanning for cars coming the opposite direction, watching the road fervently for rocks and gravel that would skid you out and just focusing on cornering hard into each turn. All in all, it was the best descent of the trip and I'm so happy it was saved for last!

 I hardly had time to notice as I was going down, but a few thousand feet after I started my descent, it started to level out and I noticed a bit of change in vegetation. Huge trees, lush ferns, thick grass and running water are all things here. The term rainforest absolutely applies! Once the descent mellowed out, I got to ride the gentle downhill all the way to Eugene.

The last 20 or so miles took me off the main highway and wound me back through rural residential areas. Even in areas not bordering the river I rode past mile after mile of enormous blackberry brambles. After a while, I started coming on some mint as well, so the mixed scent of blackberries with mint carried me all the way to Coburg, where I turned south and continued to Eugene.

Tonight I'm staying with Melody and Lann Leslie, the parents of Megan, the girl I was talking to yesterday. I once again got in a little later than expected (due to ANOTHER flat tire! I'm getting my tires checked for wear tomorrow) and stepped into a whirlwind of activity. Melody and Lann are absolutely awesome, and they're also the biggest proponents of the southern Oregon coast. Lann made me an interesting offer at dinner tonight. I've never seen the California Redwoods, and I could theoretically ride 125 miles down to Bandon tomorrow, another 120 to California the next day to see the Redwoods, and then back up the coast to meet Lann who'll be in Bandon for business, and get a ride back into Eugene. It would add 3 days to my trip, 2 of them pretty brutal in terms of mileage, but I'm seriously considering making the detour. I don't know when I'll next be able to come back to Oregon and ride the coastline, so I might take advantage of the opportunity.

We'll see though, I may also just talk a half day to work on my bike here in Eugene and then ride north for a while towards Astoria. That route has the added advantage of letting me finish my whole trip in 50 days, which would be kind of a neat accomplishment. Tonight I'm spoiled once again. We had an enormous meal of smoked salmon, potatoes, salad and watermelon which I got to wash down with an incredible local IPA. How funny it is that I can be sleeping on a picnic table and scarfing down groceries one night, then enjoying the height of luxury a few days later. I think I may just be the luckiest guy on the planet! G'night!

Day 45

Mileage: 101
Total mileage: 3987

Today's ride was dominated by the looming cascades ahead, and it was beautiful! 

I woke up this morning and looked outside the little covered awning I was under to see pretty heavy rain. It was still before 7, so I rolled over and went back to sleep. No need to deal with that this early in the morning. When I opened my eyes a few minutes later it had stopped. I looked the other direction and it was still raining. I had forgotten about this particular northwest phenomenon where there will be a sharply demarcated line between rain and no rain. It used to split our back yard in half in Washington. As it was, I packed up and walked out the dry side of my awning without getting wet at all, while the other side of the park continued to get drenched.

At breakfast I ended up meeting a gentleman who actually rode the trail 39 years ago. It's fun to hear how things have barely changed. He knew the names of all the big hills I was tackling and we talked about small towns that no one would ever have heard of if it weren't for this route. I left breakfast inspired and ready to tackle my morning 2000 foot climb to the top of Ochoco Pass.
A few hours later I puffed to the top of the summit and began my descent. For some reason I've been having really bad luck with flats here in Oregon. My tires are still intact, but last night I got a big piece of metal stuck in the back tire while climbing Dixie pass (which led to a quick flat) and today some ground glass shards managed to get through my front tire, just far enough to cause a really slow leak. Over the top of the peak I found a little rest stop and flipped the bike over to swap the tubes out. Patching can wait till I'm in town. While I was working, a motorcyclist pulled up and got off to look around the little rest stop. I think his name was Jeff (or Rich, I can't keep names straight anymore) and he was riding up from Bend to see his daughter in Bozeman, Montana. I do distinctly remember his wife Katy though because she came up a few minutes later in a car and poured me two huge handfuls of ENORMOUS Oregon blueberries. They were fingerlicking good, despite the fact that my hands were covered in soot from the bike.

My ride into Prineville followed a pretty gentle downhill grade, so despite the rough surfacing of the road, I managed to make decent time. The entire time though, I was plagued by a tiny bit of irregularity in my front wheel where I had just changed the tire. It felt like it was out of round, but the rim looked great. How can a tire be out of round!? I deflated and reinflated it a few times during the ride into town and finally just decided to deal with the uneasiness for the next 20 miles. In Prineville, I stopped at a bike shop and asked the fellow working there if he knew what was up. From behind the counter he was able to tell that I just hadn't managed to get the tire bead completely tucked under the rim the whole way around. He deflated it, tugged on the tire for a few seconds and instantly fixed my problem. I learned something new about the things that can go wrong with bikes, I'd never heard of that problem before.

From Prineville I got to go north, off the main road and through O'Neil and Terrebonne, two tiny little cities. This is where things really started to get scenic! (see picture below for proof)
I was on the phone with a friend named Megan from Eugene, setting things up for tomorrow night, when I turned a corner and got my first glimpse of the Cascades, specifically the Three Sisters. Enormous, snow covered peaks hovering over the landscape, they were just jaw droppingly beautiful even far out on the horizon. The best part is, I was heading straight for them! 
Tonight the plan was to stay with my friend Hannah's aunt and uncle near Sisters. I had anticipated I would be there around 7 o'clock, let them know as much, and then my phone died. In true TransAmerican style, however, my route decided to go north for a while to seek out the only mountainous terrain between me and Sisters, slowing me down a fair bit. I spent the last hour positively cranking as hard as I could so that I wouldn't get there too much later than when I'd anticipated. I wasn't going too hard though to stop and take one more picture of the Cascades.
Home for the night is the luxurious accommodations of Nancy and John Stephenson. As soon as I rolled up the driveway I was bombarded with hospitality, given a room, a shower, offered a margarita, a place to dry my clothes, posh snacks and a tour of the garden. A few minutes after I got there, Hannah's other aunt and uncle Bruce (far left) and Sharon (taking the picture) arrived and I was given a map and a highlighter and asked to trace my route across the country. 

What followed was a hilarious and enjoyable evening. I absolutely stuffed myself on delicious carne asada tacos until I couldn't eat anymore, and then I got to have some ice cream. Both Nancy and John are wildlife biologists who met over an electrocuted eagle (how romantic...?) and now John does a lot of work with wolves. Bruce has hiked enormous swaths of the Pacific Crest Trail as well, so the conversation understandably lingered on the West Coast wilderness. John would brook no mention of the notion that Oregon might not be the wildest, prettiest place in the West. I think it's up in the air between Montana and Oregon, but what do I know, I've only ridden a fragment of each.

Tonight I'm sleeping in a bed!! I'm showered, warm and full of good food with a beautiful ride ahead of me tomorrow. I'm hoping to get up a little early, crush through the Cascades and get to Eugene by tomorrow afternoon if that's possible. But right now I'm just looking forward to the most comfortable night's sleep in a long time. G'night!