Settling In before Moving On

I confess to be dealing with sporadic pre-tour anxiety. I can feel it welling up inside. And with it comes the little voice of depression. Welcome to the party, old friends.

For the last few days I have been feeling worn out physically. Doubts about my physical ability to ride 4,000 miles started creeping in. Time to apply exercise therapy.

Before jumping on Little Nellie, I raised the saddle about 1/8th of an inch. You’d think this wouldn’t matter much but it does. It felt like a new bike. It felt like it fit me perfectly. And off I went down the road effortlessly. After 7 1/2 miles I arrived at the gym. It was crowded, so I used the machines as they came open instead of following my usual boring routine. When I was done I felt a little queasy. This is a good sign. It means I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone. I’m going to need that somewhere around the middle of North Dakota.

After the gym, I went for an easy 18 1/2 mile ride. It felt great, my first enjoyable ride in days. It occurred to me that the arm strength I have developed over the past few months at the gym will vanish by about the time I cross into Ohio on my tour. This is not a bad thing. I need to take weight off the engine before I reach the big mountains out west. If history is a guide, I’ll weigh about 20 pounds less when I reach Montana.

After the ride, I signed up for an acupuncture session at the local spa. The benefits of my physical therapy have reached a plateau. My left arm now has a normal range of motion but I still have pains when I move it in certain ways. So it’s time to shake things up a bit. I had the interesting thought that doing acupuncture while on blood thinners could be rather colorful.

After watching the Nats crush the Giants on TV, I did some further research on the alternate route I am considering between Missoula and the coast. The stretch from Missoula in the lower right through the Flathead Reservation and the Coeur D’Alene National Forest is about 190 miles along Highway 200. It’s a scenic byway with two big climbs and many miles of riding along the Flathead River. What I know is this is a two-land highway with some stretches lacking a paved shoulder. There will be logging trucks and other big metal things to deal with, but I can’t imagine it can be any more intimidating that my route through South Carolina and Georgia last fall.

Alt Route to Anacortes

Once I reach Sandpoint, Idaho, I can pick up the last segment of the Adventure Cycling Northern Tier route. The good news is I will have all kinds of information about services. The bad news is that there are several mountain passes that may kill me. I have no experience whatsoever with riding a bike up honest to god mountains. Eek.

Riding up these mountains will be no big deal once I am doing the business of actually riding. These things tend to get cut down to size when you experience them first hand. It’s a bit like painting the peak of the exterior of my house. The 24-foot ladder looked scary as hell from the ground, but once I was at the top with my brush and can all I saw was the siding in front of me. My mind had cut the daunting 18 foot elevation of the side of the house down to a four-foot-by-four-foot chunk. As long as I didn’t do something stupid, I was perfectly safe. The mountains are high, but I am slow and I have all damned day to get over them. Lord willin’ and my blood don’t clot.

I figure the total distance will be about 650 miles. That’s about 11 days, factoring in a couple of short mileage days for climbing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Tour Planning – Many Moving Parts

The longer the bike tour, the higher the probability of hitting snags. My trip to Key West was fraught with weather complications. My UP tour presented the possibility of sea sickness on three ferries. Both tours worked out fine.

This tour is twice as long as the Key West tour. I bought some bike touring maps from Adventure Cycling Association. Using these I constructed an itinerary in a Google spreadsheet.

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This is the tab covering the main route. There is an alternate, slightly shorter route in Minnesota. That itinerary is on the MN Shortcut tab.

One thing I discovered is that there are beaucoup camping opportunities, including in city parks, presumably for free. Free is bueno.

I tried to make an itinerary that averages about 60 to 70 miles per day. Each day’s segment is determined by the availability of shelter. Food and water are generally available along the route, with the exception of a 78-mile stretch in Montana. As long as I know this, I can plan accordingly.

My route follows several ACA routes and, by design, goes through Missoula, MT, the home of the ACA. The map, that would guide me from Missoula to Clarkston, Washington along US 12, is out of stock. I did receive an addendum to this map, however. It notes that US 12 in Idaho will be closed intermittently for 50 miles this summer. Adventure Cycling is working with the Idaho DOT to figure out how to get its members through the construction zone.

I called Adventure Cycling for more information. They didn’t have much to say other than they are still trying to work something out with the Idaho DOT people. I guess they don’t call it adventure for nothing.

I do have a viable option, albeit one that pretty much rules out stopping in Missoula or riding through Oregon. This one would simply follow the ACA Northern Tier route across the top of Montana, Idaho, and Washington, ending in Anacortes, Washington. This is conveniently close to a high school friend’s home which I was planning on going to anyway. It is also at least 200 hundred miles shorter than the route I have been working on. So depending on how the US 12 situation plays out, I may just call an audible and take the northern route.

And another thing. I learned this morning that my son, who lives in Thailand, is thinking about coming home for a few weeks in July. He would be bringing his girlfriend, whom I have never met. So for obvious reasons I’d like see him while he’s here. Unfortunately, July coincides with my route being in the middle of nowhere. As the Christmas song says, I’ll have to muddle through somehow.

 

 

Tour Prep Begins

Today was the day I planned to take some baby steps to get ready for my bike tour to the Pacific northwest. It turns out it was a good thing I started today.

To kick things off the Post Office made a surprise delivery of the Adventure Cycling Association bike maps I ordered last week. I now have all but one of the maps I’ll use on my trip. (The missing map was out of stock.) With a block of a couple of hours, I can make a day by day plan of the trip using the info on the maps.

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Just follow the directions and your dreams will be fulfilled

Next, I put new tires on The Mule, my 1991 Specialized Sequoia. I am using Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. The ones on the bike were still in decent condition but I didn’t want to worry about having my tires wear out in the middle of nowhere. The new ones took some convincing to get on. Then I took the bike for a test ride. The tires felt fine and so did the bike. This bike owns me.

Unfortunately, my bike computer had a battery light on, indicating that one of the two batteries was low. I guessed that the one needing replacement was on the pick up which is mounted to the right fork blade. I rode the Mule to the drug store and bought a new battery. When I went to install the battery I learned that the screw-on cover to the battery compartment was stripped.

I rode to my local bike shop. They confirmed that the cover could not be removed. They did have, however, a replacement and they gave it to me for free. I rode home and installed it. No matter what I did I couldn’t get the computer to get a signal from the pick up. I think perhaps the reason the bike shop had this part lying around was that it didn’t work.

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This thing basically wasted a Sunday afternoon

In the course of all this messing around, I found out a couple of other problems. The strap to the right toe clip was frayed and the metal clasp was rusted. So I replaced the strap with one from an old pair of pedals I had lying around. Of bigger concern was the fact that my right front brake pad was not releasing from the rim. Last fall I had paid a mechanic to take care of issues like this but apparently it was beyond his ken.

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They used to make these out of leather. Yeah, well.

So tomorrow, it’s back to the local bike shop for a new bike computer and some brake maintenance. You would think that a brake mechanism would last more than 27 years and 45,500 off miles, but nooooo!

Another thing I discovered is that my leather saddle is almost out of adjusting room on the tensioning bolt. The saddle feels fine riding around the neighborhood but I had some very unpleasant perineal nerve pain during my last two tours. So I think I will check out a new Brooks Flyer saddle to replace this one.

I was planning on test riding this bike next Saturday during a 50-mile event ride but that doesn’t look likely now. Drat.

I am considering starting a separate blog just for the trip. Stay tuned.

One final bit of planning that I need to do is to come up with a name for the tour. Hmm…

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I hope I don’t forget the maps

Whenever I travel, I obsessively check for my wallet and keys. Losing them can ruin your whole day. On the second day of my trip from DC to northern Indiana, I lost my vest on the C&O Canal. (I made a hurried exit to get away from a camper who was grossing me out.) A few hundred miles later I was caught in the rain. I stopped at a convenience store and bought some 30 gallon garbage bags. I take a 27 gallon bag but you have to make do with what you can.

Today, the cleaning people came to our house. I took off for the gym.  It’s 3 1/2 miles but I went the long way to kill some time. By the time I arrived,I had ridden 22 1/2 miles. I dismounted and immediately noticed that my pannier which contained my lock was not on my bike. Oops.

Retracing my steps wasn’t an idea that pleased my frozen toes so I decided to ride home and see if I left the pannier there. I found the pannier inside the front door. I never carried it outside. Moron.

I rode back to the gym and worked out. By the time I arrived at home, I had ridden 33 miles.

This evening I began mapping out the route I plan to take to the Pacific Northwest beginning in late May. I had figured I’d do about 3, 700 miles. Wrong. It will be more like 4,200. Dang. I selected some maps from the Adventure Cycling Association. One was out of stock. I hope they print more or I am in a bit of a pickle.

Basically, the route goes from DC to Iowa, turns north to Fargo, North Dakota, then west to Montana. There it angles southwest to Missoula (home of Adventure Cycling) before turning west again for the Pacific Coast. I’m still trying to figure out where on the coast I should go. Once there I plan on heading north into Washington State where, if all goes well, I will flop on my high school classmate Tim Jones‘s lawn and declare “I will ride no more forever.”

All I have to do is follow the black line that I drew on top of Adventure Cycling’s U. S. route map. (Note how there are multiple routes through Montana to the coast.)

One of the cool things about this route is that it is all downhill and there are nothing but sunny skies and tailwinds.

My route to the PNW

No Way So Hey – Surreal Morning

7:12

I wake up. Still dark out. I’ve got time to sleep some more. This bed is so comfortable. Odd that I am in bed at Renee’s house. Didn’t I sleep on the sofa? Someone else is in the bed.

7:30

I wake up again. Really need to get up. What’s Mrs. Rootchopper doing in this bed? I roll over and face the alarm clock. My ribs ache from the slightest movement. Going to be a tough day. How far am I going today?

7:40

I wake up again. I’d better get up. There’s a fan standing in the corner, droning as it blows air. And a window above a dark brown bookcase. And an alarm clock with the big red numbers. I’m in my bed. At home. My ribs ache. Nowhere to go. And plenty of time to get there.

No Way So Hey – Thoughts

No bike tour goes quite as planned. Somehow the surprises on this tour worked out in my favor time and again. One could attribute this good fortune to God or the universe. I’d rather go with Shit Happens.

  • On Day 4 I deliberately overshot my camp ground only to find myself miles from the next known source of food. I called a second campground not far away and learned it was 1 mile from a gas station with a little grill inside. And the campground was quite nice too.
  • I decided to try out Warmshowers and lucked into a fun evening at Ken and Dani’s house outside Jacksonville, NC. Dinner, laundry, beer, bed, breakfast, and great company. I had hoped to try other Warmshowers hosts but it didn’t work out.
  • My pre-tour itinerary called for a near-100 mile ride from Conway to Charleston SC. It was hot and I was burned out on rumble strips and passing trucks so I quit early at a motel in Andrews. Two hours later a thunderstorm raged through the area for hours. Had I continued I’d have been riding through the Francis Marion National Forest with no opportunity for shelter from the rain and wind and lightning.
  • The tropical depression that I rode through for four or five days in Florida had a silver lining, a strong tailwind. It put the kibosh on a trip to see the manatees and Cape Canaveral but made for long, enjoyable miles in the saddle.
  • I decided to press on from New Smyrna Beach FL after getting my brakes fixed at a bike shop. This was a bit of a risk but it paid off with me finding a terrific little inn in Mims FL. What a great experience.
  • I stayed in five hostels. What a great bargain for a bike tourist. Richmond’s was the best. Miami Beach was pretty good too. (Both are part of Hostels International.) Much like motels the vibe in each hostel was different. I was disappointed that the hostel in Saint Augustine was full. I skipped the one in Fort Lauderdale after reading some very negative reviews online.
  • I didn’t camp out nearly as much as planned. The tropical depression and hurricane Irma made Florida a camping no go. I could have camped in South Bay FL on the next to last day but I chose a motel so I could catch the Nats game on TV.
  • Staying with friends old and new was a big highlight. Wendy and Brian, Jackie and Ed, and Renee were fantastic hosts and cooks. (Props to Renee’s daughter Julia for her breakfast wizardry.)
  • Speaking of Renee, I had not seen her for 39 years. I remember her as a laconic girl from northern Maine. After decades of living in Florida she can talk the antlers off a bull moose. And she knows where to go for excellent fried chicken and waffles. (Yeah, I know it sounds disgusting, but I’d have eaten moose antlers that night.)
  • I booked three nights at the hostel in Key West only to learn that the ferry I was going to take didn’t run on the fourth day. So left a day earlier than planned. This gave me three days to cross Florida. Doing it in two days as I originally planned would have been a death march.
  • Meeting up with Melissa and her husband in Key West was pure serendipity. We ate and drank way too much.
  • In addition to the folks mentioned above, there are some people back home that deserve some mention:
    • Andrea from Friday Coffee Club who advised me to get a silk sleeping bag liner and to try Warmshowers.org for overnight accommodations. Both worked out very well.
    • Amanda Martinez from my old office for scouting out locations for dinner and drinks during recent trips to Key West and (I think) Charleston. I am especially indebted for the grilled cheese idea in Key West.
    • Mrs. Rootchopper and daughter Lily for getting Lily off to school in London after I left. Truth be told, they had this totally covered without me.
    • Mike Ross for scaring the crap out of me about Florida drivers. I think cycling conditions in South Carolina were far worse but his warnings spurred me to buy a mirror. Indispensable.
    • Amtrak for actually offering decent bike transport for a low price ($20). No disassembly required.
    • All the people who read my blog posts, and followed me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Your comments and “likes” kept my spirits up and gave me a laugh, often when I needed one badly.

No Way So Hey – Day 33

The day was taken up by a long train ride. I wondered why the train takes about 25 hours to go from Ft. Lauderdale to DC. The reason is that instead of going straight up the coast, it cross crosses Florida. I should have packed some food for the trip. I subsisted on Cafe Car food, mostly hot dogs.

I managed to get about 4 hours of sleep. I could have gotten more but for the chatterboxes sitting in the row behind me.

When I got to DC it was a simple matter to take my bike from the conductor in the baggage car. My checked bag contained my tent, sleeping pad, clothes, bike shoes, and one big pannier. One of my small panniers was nested in the other big pannier as a carry on. I also carried on the second small pannier and my handlebar bag.

My front tire had a slow leak since Key West. It was quite soft when I was all loaded up so I took the bike to the Bike Station run by Bike and Roll just outside Union Station. They let me fill up the tire with air and a water bottle with water. And away I rolled.

My sore ribs were giving me a hard time. Every bump caused a jolt to my chest. I stopped to take a picture a few miles from home and the pain almost kept me from dismounting. I am considerably thinner than when I started this tour a month ago.

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Riding the bike on familiar ground, proved two things to me. First, this bike was a tank, And, second, I am a MUCH stronger bike rider than when I started.

After a final 15 1/2 miles I made it home. For the entire tour, door-to-door mileage was 2,127.5 miles.

No Way So Hey – Day 32

I’m sitting in the railway station. Got a ticket for my destination….

Last night I stayed up late to watch my Nats defeat the Cubs in the baseball playoffs. They were behind by one run in the top of the ninth when the cable channel went dark.  NOOOO!!!!!

The Nats lost. At least I didn’t have to endure watching the final three outs.  I had fun watching baseball this year. I attended about a dozen games. April can’t gone soon enough.

This morning I rode to the Amtrak station from my hotel during a break on the rain. The road leading to the train was flooded, a fitting coda to my days here in Florida. The Mule is going to get beaucoup maintenance when it gets home. The cables and bolts and nuts are rusted. The chain has been exposed to blowing sand for two weeks. The Mule just has to make it from Union Station to my house and this trip will be finito.

To celebrate the end of the tour I drank my emergency water bottle. I carried it from the start in a front pannier. I’ll probably eat the last energy bar too. 


I’ve never ridden a long distance train before. It’s supposed to arrive before 3 pm tomorrow. I’m in no hurry. 

The local intrastate trains have roll on bike cars. Like in Stockholm and Sydney. Florida, there’s hope for you yet. 


My cheapo bike gloves are soggy and torn. A good sign of along bike tour is when you gloves die a hero. Like a broken bat that provides a game winning hit.

It feels strange to be speeding past the landscape that I covered at 10 – 12 miles per hour. 

No Way So Hey – Day 31

Well the dumpy motel choice could not have been better. My Nats beat Chicago. When the much under appreciated Michael A. Taylor clubbed a grand slam into a stiff wind I yelled and jumped straight into the air. Do the Cubs raise a white L flag when they lose?

Tonight’s game is the deciderer. No hostel for me. I’m staying in a La Quinta five miles from the Amtrak station in Ft Lauderdale. 

So today was my last day of touring. The weather forecast last night called for thunderstorms. Oh joy. My route would take me straight through the Everglades with no available services or shelter for 45 miles. 

I had a sammich, an apple, and a spare bottle of water. I was on the road at dawn. 

There were storm clouds in the distance but no rain on me. I boogied. I was cruising at 16 miles per hour. The Mule was bringing it today. I suspected a tailwind – which was not in the forecast – and that’s what I got. 


For the first half of the jaunt, I rode past Domino sugar cane fields. The four lanehighway  would occasionally expand to eight lanes to accommodate cane harvesting trucks. This gave me a lane of my own for miles. 

When the cane gave way to swamp I was back to a paved shoulder. You know you’ve been in Florida too long when tractor trailers blasting by you at 60 miles per hour don’t bother you at all. Of course, I had my eye on the beasts through my trusty mirror. (Best purchase ever!)

It rained on and off but I welcomed the cooling effect. I could have done without the road spray from the trucks though.

I was riding on a road referred to as Alligator Alley. The alligators were all wearing invisibility cloaks until one of them met the wrong side of a truck and ended up dead on my paved shoulder. I did not stop to take a photo. Even alligators deserve dignity on death. Also I didn’t want to waste one second of my tailwind.

I did get to see one of those Everglades propeller boats. Those things make a serious amount of noise. 

When the 45 miles were up I was jubilant. I had eaten all the food and drank only half the water so I celebrated with a Gatorade and some cookies at a 7-11. As I was snarfing, the skies opened up. Wet cookies.

The last 17 miles were a straight line toward the Fort Lauderdale airport. My iguana friends came back. I also saw some colorful geese that were really pissed off at a man riding a horse along the irrigation canal to my right. 

My maps routed me to the south but the Amtrak station is to the north so I turned on the Google and searched for hotels that would allow me to ride to Amtrak in some semblance of peace in the morning. The winner was a La Quinta about five miles west of the station and beyond all but one of the nasty intersections on the way there.

Did I mention that the most common billboard advertisement is for personal injury lawyers? This is because Floridians drive like they have spent way too much time in the sun. I dropped more f bombs today than anytime in the last six months. 

I walked to the grocery store up the street to get late lunch and dinner. I tried to cross the street but a stop light runner and a U-turner both nearly took me out. I just stopped and waved for them to go. Everything in this area I am staying in is designed for cars. Let them kill each other. It’s just thinning the herd.

I managed to survive the trip and came upon an iguana of a certain age.


So with 62.5 more miles in the books, I have only 5 miles left in Florida. If all goes well, I’ll ride to the station, give Amtrak The Mule, check a bag full of stuff, and spend 30+ hours on a train reading and sleeping. I plan on riding home from Union Station. It’s not over til The Mule’s in the shed and I’m in my own bed.

My total mileage so far is 2,168.

Go Nats!

2105.5

No Way So Hey – Day 30

I woke up feeling achy so I had Advil on my Cheerios. Getting on The Mule was painful. I have an ugly bruise on the side of my torso under my right arm. Deep breaths hurt a little. Good thing it’s not hilly around here,

The day was miles and miles of highway riding through the agricultural area of south Florida. The roads had a paved but rough shoulder. And the wind blew steadily in my face all day. Double digit speed was not gonna happen today. 

Cattle ranches in Florida seem odd. The cattle are thinner than up north yet they have hundreds of acres to graze on. With the wide open empty spaces and occasional palm tree in the distance you’d swear you were in South America somewhere. 


I reached Moore Haven by 11. After 25 miles I could have taken a break and ate something. Instead I pedaled. The next 15 miles would be on a bike trail atop a levee overlooking Lake Ocheekobee. Big fun coming up. 

Until I encountered the closed gate at the trailhead. The levee and trail were being repaired. Curse you Irma.

So it was back to the highway with the heat and the headwinds and the narrow bumpy shoulder. After about five miles I was hurting. The temperature was in the low 90s and the humidity was tolerable. My comfort level increased whenever a cloud blocked the sun. Sugar cain was the crop now. Many fields were being prepared for a new crop. The endless irrigation canals gave me done dark blue water to look at between trucks. 


I arrived at Clewiston parched and tired. I pulled into a Wendy’s and ate and drank and ate and drank. The air conditioning felt great, too. 

45 minutes later I was back on the road. I looked at the levee and imagined the view. 

You’d think that a tractor trailer passing close by would be a bad thing. For me it was something to look forward to. The air wake would give me a shove and increase my speed a bit until the headwind reasserted itself. 

There was nothing to do but grind it out. So I did. 

I chose to pass up a county campground for a dumpy motel in South Bay where I am watching the Nationals play the Cubs in a playoff game. 

After the game there is five dining to be had at the gas station across the road. 

Another 57.5 miles today brings the trip to 2,105.5.

Tomorrow it’s alligator alley to a hotel near the train station in Ft Lauderdale.