Posts

What I’ve Learned Cycle Touring 7,000 Miles on a Vegan Diet

Pedaling up Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park cycle touring

This post first appeared here on Mind Body Green.

Over the past two summers, Chelsea and I have cycled 7,000 miles through 14 countries. No sag wagon, no designated route—just leg power, our bikes, gear, and desire for adventure.

During our travels, we accept local advice and hospitality, wake up open to each day’s surprises, and wing it whenever possible. But one thing we are always adamantly consistent about is our food. For ethical, health, and environmental reasons, we choose not to eat any animal products.

The bike tours were challenging, eye-opening, fantastic—a full range of emotions every day. From headwinds to breathtaking views to searing heat to idyllic European villages to crumbling rural towns, we pedaled through it all. Navigating cobblestone cycle paths in France was a pain; finding great vegan food while burning 5,000 calories per day proved to be a simple aspect of the trip.

Here’s what thousands of miles and a couple million pedal strokes of cycle touring on a vegan diet has taught me:

Few people are surprised about your food choices

Special diets are everywhere now, and most people know someone on one. “Oh, my cousin is gluten-free” or “my brother eats Paleo” was a common refrain. Tiny cafés in Nebraska (not exactly a vegan stronghold) easily accommodated our needs by piling vegetables on hash browns.

Getting enough protein is not an issue

Even biking 50 to 80 miles per day, my body repaired itself and built muscle. I trimmed fat, but my leg muscles grew. I even added muscle to my upper body by doing daily upper-body workouts. When people ask me where I get my protein, I can honestly say that I simply eat lots of plants. No powders, no supplements—just real food. I’m more concerned about fiber—only 3 percent of people eat enough each day, versus 97 percent of people who get enough protein.

Just over the pass in Glacier National Park.

My energy levels were firing

Unlike the days when I’d eat a giant sandwich with cheese and meat and sink into an afternoon stupor, plants don’t bog down my body. A veggie burrito or big salad crafted from ingredients in any grocery store keeps my system cranking. I was biking eight hours a day and still had energy to do push-ups each night.

Recovery was super fast

I rebounded and recovered quickly from physical efforts that would have previously sidelined me for a couple of days. Since a plant-based diet leads to lower inflammation, faster recovery from athletic events or workouts is an added bonus.

Many top athletes are vegan

I was attracted to a vegan lifestyle by the potential health benefits. Badass vegan athletes like UFC fighter Mac Danzig, ultra-marathoners like Scott Jurek, and triathletes like Rich Roll inspired me to give it a shot. While I wasn’t cranking out record-smashing 100-mile runs or choke-holds, I noticed an increase in performance.

Seeing and smelling animal feedlots opened my eyes to the plight of animals

Biking past stinking feedlots in the rolling hills of Iowa and Austria was gnarly. Getting buzzed by animal transport trucks on their way to slaughterhouses reinforced my desire to completely opt out of animal agriculture.

The excellent bike paths of Slovenia with the Julian Alps in the background.

Western Europe is a plant eater’s paradise

Countries like Belgium, Spain, and Germany are years ahead of the U.S. in terms of vegan awareness and availability of plant-based alternatives. Grocery stores stock inexpensive organic produce, and almost every restaurant server knew the word vegan, even in rural villages. Big cities are a plant-eater’s promised land—Prague has 26 vegetarian restaurants!

We didn’t have to worry about refrigerating food

This is a small thing only a cycle tourist will appreciate. When we were pedaling through the middle of nowhere for days at a time, unspoiled food was a big deal.

Both Europe and the United States grow amazing amounts of corn and soy

I knew the Midwest U.S. was a breadbasket. It was a surprise to discover the same in Europe, where much of the countryside is used for crop production. Between the two, we spent literally two months cycling past fields of corn and soy—90 percent of it aimed for animal consumption.

Traveling made us vegan ambassadors

In some areas, we were the first vegans anyone had met. “Wait, no cheese on your pizza?” People were incredibly nice and also intrigued by our food choices. Many asked questions. Our goal was to be knowledgeable and speak from a place of conviction (animal rights) or data (health and environmental facts). The biggest thing? To be genuinely friendly and meet people at their comfort level.

Touring through the Adirondack Mountains of New York on a perfect fall day.

After thousands of miles of cycle touring, our belief in a vegan lifestyle has never been stronger. Few choices affect personal health, the environment, and animal welfare as much as opting out of animal agriculture does. Meat and dairy consumption is declining, restaurants are increasingly catering to vegans, and vegan alternatives like Beyond Meat are flourishing. Traveling as a vegetarian or vegan will only get easier.

As Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary says, “This lifestyle is not about deprivation; it’s about living inspired.” I encourage people to check out movements like Meatless Mondays or the 30-Day Vegan Challenge. See how your body feels and adopt what works for you. Then get out there on your bike and start training for your next (or first) bike tour.

I plan on pedaling thousands more miles as a vegan, so maybe I’ll see you out there!

2015: A Year in Review

Sunset in Morro Bay, California

On Christmas Day, Chelsea and I talked about 2015 during a walk along the sea cliffs of Santa Cruz. Instead of throwing out new adventures and aspirations, we studied the rear view mirror.

We are currently landed in Santa Cruz enjoying the sunshine and excellent local trails. This stillness affords reflection on what we’ve done, seen, and experienced this past year. (To see what we’re up to anytime, check out a new page I added, inspired by Derek Siver’s movement.)

Sitting down to write after a few weeks off, I broke things down into four categories:

  1. Fabulous Moments
  2. What Went Well
  3. Things to Improve
  4. What I’m Excited About

This is also a chance to share some of my favorite photos from 2015. Let’s begin with the fun!

Fabulous Moments

Exploring Half Moon Caye in Belize

We kicked off 2015 by snorkeling and kayaking in Belize with Chelsea’s family. With warm blue water, incredible birds, and a friendly group of other travelers, (luxury) camping on this tiny island was an unforgettable trip.

Sunrise on Half Moon Caye

Mountain biking and building community in Utah

I can’t get enough of this red rock playground. I certainly mountain biked my legs off, yet my April trip through Utah was also about community.

I met up with half a dozen friends from Oregon, California, and Colorado, crossed paths with various blog readers, and built a friendship with the Keys to Freeze crew. There is nothing like spending time in nature with great people!

Porcupine Rim above Moab

Porcupine Rim in Moab

Cycle touring Europe

A highlight of 2015! If you are into cycle touring and haven’t experienced the car-free bike networks throughout western Europe, I can’t recommend it enough.

Loving the views on the north side of the Slovenian Alps.

Loving the views on the north side of the Slovenian Alps.

Over 3.5 months, we biked 2,500 miles through 13 countries, taking plenty of time to relax and explore along the way. Experiences like volunteering to help refugees in Salzburg, pedaling with buddies in Croatia, and exploring the deep history of the continent only whet my appetite for Europe.

We finished pedaling in Prague, a special place for me and Chelsea since we met there nine years ago for our first date. It was a treat to return to the romantic Czech Republic and walk down the cobbled, uneven streets of memory lane.

A gondola glides through the canals of Venice.

A gondola glides through the canals of Venice.

Road tripping with my dad

I’ve wanted to take my dad on a trip for years. As fall colors faded and October wrapped up, we finally did it, rolling out in the Sprinter van to explore Montana for a couple weeks.

We cycled in Glacier and watched geysers in Yellowstone, then explored old mining towns. It was a powerfully bonding trip.

Exploring the east side of Glacier National Park.

Exploring the east side of Glacier National Park.

Things That Went Well

A stronger relationship with Chelsea

People ask us how we tolerate so much time together. (“I’d go nuts being around my husband all the time.”) While we have some tips, the summary is that long-term travel brings us closer together because it requires mutual support.

If there’s an issue on a bike tour, we’re the only two there to get through it – together. We can’t just sweep arguments away to be dealt with another day. Handling it immediately removes the potential for a tiny fight to fester and become gangrenous. Two years traveling together has bonded us more than ever.

Living a vegan lifestyle was easy

Shifting to 100% plant-based in 2013 felt like a big change. These days, it’s both easy to navigate and authentic to who we are.

We’ve traveled through 16 countries, eating amazing food and encountering great support along the way, all while living true to our values. As an added bonus, the selection of vegan options for yogurt, meat, cheese, milk and beyond continues to expand. (You have to try Miyoko’s off-the-hook vegan cheeses.)

If you’d like to try a month-long vegan adventure in the new year, Veganuary is a great free resource and community.

Lobbying with the Humane Society of the US in Salem, Oregon.

Lobbying with the Humane Society of the U.S. in Salem, Oregon.

Lots of reading

Immersing myself in a book remains one of my favorite pastimes, and I’m happy to say I read more in 2015 than in any other year. Picking up a book is like taking a class with an expert for free (via the library) or for the bargain rate of a $10 ebook.

Business more streamlined than ever

This year marked the first in nearly a decade where I didn’t work directly with clients. While less profitable overall, managing my business instead of client expectations is both less stressful and frees my time to pursue other passions.

I’m still involved on a daily basis, but my mental energy isn’t drained at the end of the day. It was scary letting go of the day-to-day interactions with clients, but remains one of my best decisions. To those of you deliberating over hiring someone, I say do it.

Pausing for a moment in Bryce Canyon

My friend Reese pauses for a moment in Bryce Canyon

Things to Improve

Less pressure on myself to constantly explore

The flexibility and openness of our lives sometimes creates a compulsion in me to string adventures together the way we did in 2014. While I’m (usually) aware of this, I still find it hard to be content just being instead of constantly doing. In February and March, I struggled to feel centered in Portland and mostly dreamed of leaving again.

Constant motion makes for an interesting life, but eventually it decreases my appreciation for an activity or location. This is not a good thing. While the list of places I want to explore is long, I don’t have to visit them all in the next two years!

The other downside of constant motion is that routines are tougher to uphold. Practicing the guitar or finding space for yoga is tougher (my tight hip flexors will attest to that). Focused time for deep work doesn’t just materialize; it must be a priority. Pausing in one place provides the platform for all of that.

This coming year, I want to embrace pauses as creative periods and time to reconnect with friends and the routine of a grounded life. Hopefully we can then launch into new experiences with vigor and energy.

Columbia River Gorge in the fog

Relaxing with a view of the Columbia River Gorge at sunset.

Writing more

I’ve consistently written here, and in 2016 I’m also aiming to write two articles per month for outside publication. This means I need to write more, a challenge I’m excited to take.

What I’m Excited About

More videos and interviews with people we meet

Until recently, I never seriously considered pursuing video. It seemed outside my sphere – photography and writing were enough. After creating a few videos, however, I’m hooked.

My primary desire is to tell better stories. Video is a perfect way to do that, and I’m looking forward to making more of them in 2016 and sharing them with you.

Our buddy Stevie from SprinterLife.com and her friend.

A perfect day in Yosemite at Vernal Falls with our friend Stevie from nomadlyinlove.com.

More music and art

No, not just Macklemore at full blast in the van. (Been awhile since we did that.) Guitar! I’m a few weeks into online lessons to finally crack through the intermediate-level swamp I’ve been mired in for ten years.

Chelsea is digging into watercolor pencils and is far too good already. I may give it a whirl, but I sure as hell am not sharing the result here. I respect you more than that.

Onward!

Here’s to looking back and congratulating ourselves on a year well-lived. For 2016, Neil Gaiman says it well:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.

To everyone out there, thanks for sharing this journey with us, both on the road and on the web. I hope 2016 is full of adventure, growth, and creativity.

Happy New Year!

Grinning it up in Death Valley.

Paying It Forward, Van Style (Video)

Road Angel Keys to Freeze

Kindness from strangers is a side to travel that frequently surprises and humbles me. From help with directions to an unexpected offer of a place to stay, I’ve received gracious treatment dozens of time. Having the opportunity to pass along the goodwill is just as much fun.

I missed the publication of this short video called Road Angel while we were biking in Europe, so I wanted to share it now. It’s a snippet with me in front of the camera instead of behind it (for a change). I love that a meetup at a Colorado bagel shop turned into a chance to give back, not to mention created some enduring friendships.

The back story: I met the Keys to Freeze crew this April in Durango during their 8,500 mile cycling trip from Key West, Florida to Deadhorse, Alaska. Over the next month, we crossed paths in Utah’s national parks, Yosemite, the coastal redwoods, and Portland. They pedaled as I road tripped in the van, our trips diverging for days or weeks at a time, then re-intersecting as we all explored the famous sites in the southwest and California.

Here’s to new friends and paying forward road trip karma!

New friends! Snow on the motel roof and flurries signal the start of Keys to Freeze heading from Dove Creek, CO to Moab, UT.

Hanging with Keys to Freeze on a sub-freezing morning near Moab.

13 Countries, 2 Flats – European Bike Tour Stats and Favorites

Sudtirol bike path magic

I’m one of those weirdos who loves tracking numbers. They help me understand and frame the world, my data-gobbling brain dining happily when served courses of city populations, distances traveled, workout stats, or even Quicken files tracking our spending. I’ve dialed this back over the past few years to avoid turning into Spock, but still find it fun.

Did I mention that we’re done with our summer bike tour of Europe? We are! And since I enjoyed compiling stats for our 2014 U.S. tour, I repeated it this time – welcome to the summary of our 3.5 month bicycle tour through Europe in 2015. We’re currently relaxing post-trip (i.e not biking) in New York City before we head west to Idaho (on a plane). 

The route! Starting in London, we pedaled 2,500 miles, took a couple ferries, and hopped on a few trains.

The route! Starting in London, we pedaled 2,500 miles, took a couple ferries, and hopped on a few trains, finishing in Prague.

This tour we aimed to mix cycling with maximum enjoyment, a shift from the mostly physical challenge of last year. To accomplish that, we rode less mileage and parked the bikes for more days off. Both touring styles are worthwhile, but I had more fun during this European cycle tour thanks to mixing up the activities.

Below is the breakdown, a compilation of favorite places, distances and time on the bike, and other random tidbits. Data can’t fully capture the experience, but perhaps it helps an aspiring cycle tourist wrap their head around the hard data and think, “hey, I could do that.” (You can!)

Onward.

A big brdige span over the River Drau in SE Austria.

A big bridge span over the River Drau in SE Austria.

All the Info

  • Total distance ridden: 2,440 miles (3,935 kilometers), the same distance as flying from San Francisco to Hawaii, London to Toronto, or Amsterdam to Timbuktu.
  • Number of countries we pedaled in: 13 (almost as many as the 15 states as we crossed during last year’s U.S. tour).
  • Favorite cycling area: Italy’s NE Sudtirol region, followed closely by Slovenia (which still wins my favorite country award). Ah, the Alps are so fantastic!
  • Biggest surprise about Europe: there is a ton of farmland and animal agriculture, which I hadn’t encountered during previous travels since I kept to metropolitan Europe. Corn fields are everywhere and the stink of animal feedlots tinted the air in many areas of the continent. Some countries (Belgium, parts of eastern France, and Hungary) hinted of the American Midwest in terms of their crops and landscapes.

    The hilly southern edge of Austria still had corn!

    The hilly southern edge of Austria still had corn!

  • Total days touring: 103 (June 13 – September 23, 2015)
  • Days pedaling: 64
  • Days NOT bike touring: 39, almost 40% of the trip. Compared to last year’s U.S. ride (only 18 days off), our aim for Europe was more time to explore, relax, and hang with people we met along the way. We gave ourselves permission to laze about, explore cities with friends, lace up the running shoes, sit in cafes and read, or mountain bike. Mixing it up was very fun, and we’ll aim for this style of touring in the future.

    Hiking (followed by swimming) on a rest day at Lake Bohinj, Slovenia.

    Hiking (followed by swimming) on a rest day at Lake Bohinj, Slovenia.

  • Average time pedaling each day: 3.8 hours, barely a part-time job.
  • Extra calories burned per day: 3,000-5,000. I ate almost non-stop (but what’s new).
  • Average distance per day: 38 miles (61 km), close to our initial plan of 40 miles per day.
  • Total pedal strokes: 934,000, give or take a few.
  • Longest day: 55.7 miles (90 km) and 5.25 hours of pedaling in Slovenia.
  • Elevation gain: 85,754 feet (138,000 m). That’s 16 miles straight up, but only 1,355 feet per day on average.
  • Number of cycling networks traversed: 11, though I’m probably missing a few. Europe has fantastic cycle networks and resources for cycle touring.

    Bike in German=rad. Perfect.

    Bike in German=rad. Perfect.

  • Days without a shower: Zero! Ah, Europe, the lap of luxury.
  • Number of other bike tourists encountered: Hundreds! Compared to the U.S., where we went 61 days without seeing another cycle tourist, Europe was a buzzing hive of activity. We’d see at least a few long-distance tourers per day and dozens of people out for day rides.
  • Favorite things about touring in Europe:
    • Well-signed, no-car bike paths made route planning easy, plus lowered stress levels since we rarely spent time fencing with big trucks.
    • Frequent towns or cities, which meant easy logistics for water, food, and lodging. Even the tiniest villages had historic guest houses or inns, so we stayed in cities far more than our U.S. tour. Lodging values were fantastic too.

      Colmar in the Alsace region. We stayed with a friend of mine I hadn't seen since studying abroad in Sweden.

      Colmar in the Alsace region. We stayed with a friend of mine I hadn’t seen since studying abroad in Sweden.

  • Things I missed about the U.S.:
    • The wide open wilderness of the States dwarfs the nature in Europe. The U.S. is BIG, and though it makes logistics tougher, pedaling for hours in the middle of nowhere carries a special magic. The east side of Glacier en route to Canada comes to mind.
    • Communication created some headaches. With 10 languages over three months (none of them Spanish, argh!), the constant roadblock to speaking with people sometimes made us feel frustrated and isolated. I acknowledge that I have no room to bitch since people were accommodating, friendly, and spoke pretty good English (along with French, German, Dutch…).
  • Longest continuous climb: 11 miles from Austria up up up to the Czech Republic. This was also our biggest elevation day at 3,500’, though an honorable mention goes to the hilly Ardennes region of Belgium for working us over.
  • Steepest climb: multiple 19% passes in the Alps. The toughest pass was from Austria up to Slovenia, a 6-mile onslaught so consistently steep it was almost laughable, followed closely by Resia Pass from Italy into Austria. (Moral: don’t try to cross the Austrian border!)

    Top of the pass from Italy into Austria.

    Top of the pass from Italy into Austria. We stayed in the lakeside village (Resia) for a few nights.

  • Most memorable song along the way: A cheery five a.m. wake-up whistled rendition of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” on the ferry ride from England to Holland.
  • Oldest accommodation: a 1,000 year-old monastery in England featuring a fun, challenging obstacle course. We stopped for a couple nights to celebrate my 33rd birthday, but my attempts to beat the obstacle course record were thwarted by old age.
  • Most countries biked in during one day: three – Luxembourg/Germany/France, Italy/Switzerland/Austria
  • Hottest temperature: 110℉ in Venice – our weather app said “feels like 125℉.” We agreed.
  • Numbers of days over 95℉: ~30, plus a handful over 100 as Europe busted through many heat records. We made two personal videos documenting our vow to never bike tour in July-August again unless it’s in Scandinavia or a place with outdoor A/C and lakes every three miles.

    Wheat fields in Germany.

    Wheat fields in Germany.

  • Most scoops of gelato in one day: Six each, a three-visit day to our favorite vegan-friendly gelateria in Rovinj, Croatia when temps soared to triple digits. Cycle touring and burning a few thousand extra calories per day has its perks.
  • Swimming-in-humidity award: Hungary, where we got up at five a.m. to beat the heat.
  • Favorite cathedral: the stunning Strasbourg spires. We happened to be there for the  booming sound and light show celebrating the 1,000 year anniversary of the cathedral.
    Strasbourg cathedral
  • Most days off in a row: Eight, including no-bikes-allowed Venice and five days relaxing in Croatia with our buddies to avoid scathing heat.
  • Flat tires: Two for C, 0 for D.
  • Tires replaced: Always an FAQ from people we meet… But not a single one! C’s rear tire was getting a bit thin by the end, which is why she picked up two quick flats with just a week left in our trip. My rear tire (a Schwalbe Marathon) now has 7,000 miles on it and is going strong.
  • Other bike troubles: Two broken spokes for my bike thanks to cobblestone beatings. The rear wheel on my tough Salsa Fargo managed to survive a week of pedaling before we found a bike shop and ate lunch as the delightful old-school, long-haired owner in cutoff jean shorts grooved to jazz and fixed my rear wheel.

    Austrian sunflowers

    Austrian sunflowers

  • Number of push ups done to avoid turning into an all-I-do-is-bike upper body wimpo:  6,035. (Yes, I track weird things.) Since cycling is so exclusively lower body, I also did pull ups (usually at kids’ playgrounds), core work and elastic band exercises to stay physically balanced. I highly recommend doing this while on tour, not to mention stretching frequently so hamstrings don’t shrink to one-third their previous length.
  • Probability of returning to Europe with bikes: 100%
On the other side of the pass from Slovenia to Austria. The couple who took this picture was 1) headed up and 2) not as happy in their flex shot.

On the other side of the pass from Slovenia to Austria. The couple of bike tourists who took this picture were 1) headed up and 2) not happy about it.

Thanks to all the new friends who fed us, housed us, and generally brightened our day along the way!

Thanks to all the friends who fed us, housed us, and generally brightened our day along the way!

Sharing the Road – Cycle Touring with Friends (Plus a Video!)

Team Awesome

“What’s the limit on the number of cinnamon rolls?” I asked. “I’ve had three!” confessed Dave. “After three, let’s go get gelato,” Jen chimed in.

That was just Wednesday. Days cycling in Croatia and Slovenia with our friends sped by fueled with gelato and Jen’s badass vegan cooking skills. Long swims in the warm Adriatic Sea cut the scathing summer heat; we spent evenings sitting at outdoor cafes listening to the mix of Italian and Croatian bubbling around us. Cycle touring with our buddies was a fabulous few weeks of our bike tour, yet the rendezvous almost didn’t happen.

We started our trip in June from London, whereas Dave and Jen began in Norway in early May. The plan was to meet up, but soon they were in southern Austria and we were in Belgium, with 25 hours on a train in between. Close, but not close enough, we concluded with disappointment during a Skype conversation.

So understandably, Jen was surprised two weeks later when Chelsea shoulder-checked her on the cobblestone streets of Rovinj, Croatia. “Hey, it’s Chelsea!” Blank stare from Jen. “From Portland…” Jen’s confusion lifted and big hugs followed. Dave, the inside conspirator, finally came clean on our surprise arrival, which he and I coordinated using stealth language like “the eagle is coming in for landing.”

A perfect night in Rovinj.

A perfect night in Rovinj.

Woodrow Wilson once said, “Friendship is the only cement that will hold the world together,” a statement I wholeheartedly agree with. Making our friends the priority despite the obstacles, I set aside my must-pedal-every-mile ego and skipped plans to cycle through Switzerland. Instead, we took a train south through the Alps from Basel to Milan, the most graffiti-stricken city I’ve ever seen.

We chugged across northern Italy to Venice, a city as beautiful as all the hype. For two days, we embraced the cliched magic and walked hand in hand along canals, gondolas sliding by. No cars are allowed in the city, which makes it a pedestrian paradise. And (surprise!) we also learned upon arriving that bicycling is not allowed.

A peaceful moment in Venice.

A peaceful moment in Venice as a gondola slides by a bustling restaurant.

Venice is a network of 118 islands built upon sunken pillars – an upside down forest, I heard one tour guide say. And those paved islands are divided by canals and connected by steep bridges with steps. On our arrival and departure days, we slogged through triple-digit weather that melted gelato faster than Donald Trump can piss off John McCain. Lugging our bikes up steps, past selfie stick-hawking vendors, and between tourists downing pizza slices, it felt so ridiculous that I could only laugh at the irony of two cycle tourists carrying our bikes through possibly the only city in the world that forbids cycling. CrossFit Venice.

Fireworks over the canals of Venice. We happened to be in town for a yearly festival.

Fireworks over the canals of Venice. We happened to be in town for a yearly festival.

All the effort was worth it: traveling with Jen, Dave and Sora was fantastic. The mix of four cheery personalities, plus a cute dog licking faces and chasing sheep in her dreams, created laughter galore. Chelsea got into touring through riding with girlfriends, but this was my first time doing an extended bike trip with anyone else. I would absolutely do it again.

As we spent time with  Dave and Jen, a few lessons-learned cropped up. If you’re considering doing a tour with buddies (and you should!), hopefully these items help set guideposts to make sure everyone stays happy and has a great experience. Cycle touring can be a time that unites you for life.

  • Set expectations up front. Run through the nuts and bolts together so everyone is on the same page and no one thinks Dakota is a total a-hole for seizing control of navigation. (Sorry Dave, it’s a control freak thing.) The four of us discussed preferred mileage per day, budget for places to stay/camp, start times each morning, and other basics. This simple conversation set the tone early and let us focus on cycling and enjoying one another’s company. Well, I enjoyed their company at least. (Jen, sorry I ate all the watermelon.)
  • Everyone needs a Road Name. Dave “The Veganator” and Jen “Muscles/MoSo/CinnaMon” quickly realized I never stop eating and dubbed me “The Woodchipper” – picture stuffing food into a hopper followed by a buzzsaw sound. MWARRRR. “Feed it to The Woodchipper” became the mantra when there were leftovers. Chelsea is “The Hammer” for crushing hills as if they were pieces of bubble wrap. Sora is “Borba,” though she really just wants to eat baguettes all day so Bread Hund (<–German for dog) would be more fitting.
  • Accept that more people equals slower pace. Even if you all ride at the same speed, everyone has different needs for rest/picture/food/bathroom breaks. Respect each person’s needs and just reeeelax. (I’m talking to you, Dakota.)Team LongHaul and Traipsing
  • Embrace your sense of humor. This applies to most things in life, and more so in cycle touring. As hungry and tired cyclists navigating a foreign land in summer heat, communication could have quickly devolved into Alien vs. Predator. A well-timed joke, or just a goofy grin, instead turned potential friction into laughter. Dave’s sing-song rendition of Sora the Bread-Loving Hund’s voice never failed to crack me up.
  • Divide and conquer. Split up tasks. Dave and I took on route planning, navigation, and bike maintenance; Chelsea handled lodging and food shopping; Jen the Pro Chef also shopped and whipped up incredible meals like panzanella and desserts like cinnamon rolls. We all developed a keen eye for finding the panacea to hot temperatures, gelato.

    Jen's delicious panzanella.

    Jen’s delicious panzanella.

  • Figure out the money stuff. During past travels, I’ve tracked every transaction in a little book. This time around, I’m challenging my obsessive compulsive data side and only keeping track of lodging. While hanging with Dave and Jen, we split places to stay and both purchased groceries. Traveling as a group allowed us to rent awesome apartments and split the cost, which saved us all a ton of cash, which we dutifully reinvested in gelato.
    Gelato
  • Keep talking to people. It’s easy to only hang out with one another. We did this some days, but also made an effort to hang with locals. An Airbnb host joined us twice for dinner and showed us how to make Istrian soup, a delicious wine-soaked bread drink. We enjoyed another evening with a cheery Croatian family and their homemade wine (are you catching a theme?) as we discussed Communism in former Yugoslavia (the older generation consistently seems to miss the good old days prior to the wall coming down).
  • Time apart is smart. Just like any relationship, make sure there is downtime where everyone isn’t hanging out. Even if this is just everyone blue-facing on their phones or computers, time to just relax and chill is important. Then you can get back to brilliant jokes and high-brow discussions regarding divesting oil holdings (Dave, I concede).
    Time "apart"

Have an awesome time. Remember how lucky you are to travel with great people. Now that we’re in our 30s and many friends are involved in careers or raising children, it is difficult to find amigos with whom we can head out for an extended trip. Traveling with Jen and Dave bonded us all and was a grand adventure. Even the ups and down of tough days cycle touring couldn’t overshadow how much fun we had together.

Suns out, guns out

We bid adieu to our buddies in a green valley in Slovenia. They headed south into the Balkans as we pedaled east toward Hungary, memories of our time together lodged in my memory. It was time for The Woodchipper and The Hammer to ride some extra miles to burn off all the cinnamon rolls and gelato.

I’ll leave you with a fun video compilation of our time together, or click to watch below. Ciao!

 

England to Holland By Bike (and a Ferry)

Middelburg, Holland

Traveling by bicycle is a surefire way to create delicious highs, but also generate lows that drag along like a heavy anvil. And just as night needs the sun to tip its rays over the horizon line every morning, bliss shines brightest after hard work and challenge.

We were not blessed by fair-natured weather fairies the last few days. England almost left us with only memories of sunshine, but rallied to serve up a surprise whopper of a rainstorm minutes away from the ferry terminal, our rain gear buried in our bags. Wet as muddy dogs in a puddle (but considerably less happy), we dripped our way into a restaurant overlooking a choppy North Sea. Two full dinners later (plus lots of cups of tea), a wave of cheer washed over me as I looked east across the Channel toward Holland, our next destination.

Tea time

Revived and happy, we pedaled our bikes into the hold of a gleaming ship, a 13-deck giant complete with a multiple restaurants, private lounges, a gambling hall, and enough foreign languages spoken by passengers to rival the floor of the United Nations. Our cozy cabin for the overnight trip featured bunk beds, shiny accents, and, we learned the next morning, a loudspeaker whistling a cheery rendition of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” as a wake up call. A Dutch voice then told us, in politically correct terms, that all passengers should rouse their lazy butts and “prepare to disembark.”

I'M ON A BOAT!

I’M ON A BOAT!

We emerged from the ship for European Union passport control by amiable Dutch border guards. “How many days will you be here?” 88. “Do you have enough money?” I sure hope so! Tick tick tick – our 90 day time limit in the Schengen Zone began. (U.S. citizens can only stay for 90 out of 180 days.)

And we were off…straight into the maw of a raging downpour. Not fazed at all, the unassailable Dutch were out en masse in packs of riders cranking around the best network of cycling paths I have ever seen. Cars, obviously second-class citizens next to bicycles, drove slowly and yielded to us at roundabouts, a nice change from England.

Holland flowers

It’s not just a myth: EVERYONE in Holland rides bikes. From kiddos to people in their 80’s, people get around on bicycles. We saw everything from carbon racers to clunkers, but the majority of bikes were practical and designed for comfort. (The flat terrain makes that a bit more doable, I think.) E-bikes are common, which I think is a terrific way to stay active, and also a great way to make me and Chelsea feel weak and slow when we’re passed uphill by a zippy senior laden with groceries. Stores have two cars and 58 bikes parked out front, and train stations have literally hundreds of bikes stored outside. It was clear that cycling in Holland is the linchpin for a healthy, connected way of life.

Quintessential Holland

Bike parking in Holland

Back on the bikes, our weather-beaten spirits rose skyward as we spun through pretty canal towns. Europe’s architecture practically emits a cozy glow to warm even the most sodden traveler, and (again) hot coffee and tea over lunch did the trick. The next 30 miles included a short ferry ride and riding past tall wind turbines that slashed the sky as headwinds insisted we were going the wrong direction. Ah, some days just aren’t the best for cycling.

Wind turbines in Holland

Our route south through Holland followed the 2015 Tour de France Route, which kicks off July 4th.

Our route south through Holland followed the 2015 Tour de France Route, which kicks off July 4th. I totally got 1st place in the prelude!

One of the perks of renting out our house and working while I travel is that we have zero guilt about staying in a hotel when the weather is horrible or if we want a comfortable night’s stay. Chelsea is the resident genius at finding fantastic accommodations at bargain prices, whereas I will try to save $5 to stay in a dingy former brothel next to a freeway. (She has, shall we say, better attention to detail than I do.) For the remainder of this trip, and possibly our lives, I will handle navigation and she will handle lodging.

For our first night in Holland, she scored a gorgeous room at the Grand Hotel in Burgh-Haamstede. After being devoured by the elements all day, we relaxed tired muscles in the steam room, made fools of ourselves in the pool, and were reminded once again that the magic of bliss lies in the contrast between ups and downs.

The next day’s forecast called for downpours, but not enough to drown out hot beverages, solid exercise, and gorgeous architecture. It was certainly insufficient to snuff out the joy of taking each day as it comes, whether a sparkling moment in the sun or a rain-soaked hour in the saddle.

Grand Hotel Burgh-Haamstede

Chelsea in front of the Grand Hotel.

Holland countryside

Friendly sheep in Middelburg

Well hello, random flock of sheep in the middle of a city…

Pudding Wine? I’ll Just Have the Chips, Thanks

Tree-lined pathI’ve never had trouble ordering a drink before. Then I went to England.

“I’ll have a water,” I told my server at a London restaurant. He stared at me as if I were speaking a dialect of Baboon. “Wa-ter,” I repeated. He shook his head, sorry to be dealing with someone so incredibly stupid.

Two more tries, both of us 100% certain the other was a bleeding idiot. Then, he got it. “Oh, woh-tuh!”

If there is one experience so far that sums up the difference between England and the U.S., that almost-fail of a drink order is it. You see, I’ve found most things are similar to back home, but all experiences contain a slight tweak.

Tweaks like smaller vehicle exclusion gates. Either my bike is fat or this pathway is too narrow...

Tweaks like smaller vehicle-exclusion gates. Either my bike is fat or this is too narrow…

 

There’s the language, which is the “same,” yet totally different. Speed bumps are “humped crossings” (giggle) or “sleeping policeman,” as a speeding taxi driver told us. Pants are underwear, and trousers are pants. (I still haven’t figured out which to wear as an exterior layer.) Courgette is zucchini, aubergine is eggplant, and “the dog’s bollocks” means “that is the shit.” Pudding is dessert, as in “pudding wine” for a sweet finish to a meal. And while we’re talking about food, all lodging features hot water boilers for tea, but never coffee makers.

As you may know, everyone drives on the left side of the road in England. Easy enough, right? Well, this is terrifying on a bike and makes me feel hunted at traffic intersections. I carefully look both ways, but fully expect a vehicle to drop out of the sky and crush me nonetheless. Roundabouts replace stop sign intersections and act as slingshots for the vehicles that gun through them like rocket ships trying to escape a planet’s pull.

Fields and paths

Luckily, most of our days are spent on car-free paths like this.

Away from cities, bike lanes and the national cycling network make for quiet, scenic riding. Compared to touring in the U.S., equivalent mileage takes much longer here. In the States, we might follow one or two quiet highways all day, which allowed for consistent pedaling. Route finding is tougher here, with dozens of tricky turns to navigate. Beyond that, the riding is slower through gated fields, bumpy canal walkways with ancient bridges, and gravel paths in the middle of nowhere. It’s a shift in mentality to ride fewer miles, but we’re handling it nicely so far.

The National Cycling Network is a mix of narrow country roads, dirt paths, and canal walkways that cross England. Follow the signs for a good ride!

The National Cycling Network is a mix of narrow country roads, dirt paths, and canal walkways that cross England. Follow the signs for a good ride!

Slightly random, but I am impressed by the ADA accessibility. Most toilets (as bathrooms are called) are designed to accommodate wheelchairs, with low sinks and plentiful grab handles. Hand dryers also replace paper towels. It’s as if the country is designed for the least physically capable. Perhaps I’m reading into it, but to me that’s a representation of England’s willingness to take care of society’s fringes, whether through welfare, medical care, or something as simple as a handle to assist getting off the can.

Tipping is also different. It’s rarely done, and then only at nice restaurants of the type we aren’t allowed to patronize in full spandex cycling garb. I think the lack of tips explains why bartenders will kick people out at exactly closing time. A British woman told us that servers and salespeople in the U.S. felt overly saccharine and helpful; to us, the distant, pre-occupied employees seem almost rude. I should also point out that tipping is unrelated to, “no fly tipping,” which means “don’t dump your junky furniture in this field.” (In the U.S., the sign would say “no illegal dumping.”)

We enjoyed four days of parties and festivities in and around London for my good friend Ryan's wedding to his beautiful and oh-so-nice new wife, Dhara. (She also kept our attendance a secret, down to giving us Indian names on the seating charts!) My first time to a Hindu wedding, which was so fun!

We enjoyed four days of parties and festivities in and around London for my good friend Ryan’s wedding to his lovely new wife, Dhara. (She also kept our surprise attendance a secret, down to giving us Indian names on the seating charts to hide it from Ryan.) My first time to a Hindu wedding, which was so fun!

People still live in houses. Except here in England, many residences are OLD. Like, built-800-years-ago old. People who visit the U.S. marvel at the shiny, big, and new; we are struck by the quaint and ancient. Pedaling along country lanes past stone fences laid centuries ago, bouncing over cobblestones in a tiny village, or enjoying a chai in a market square (every city we’ve seen has a walking-only central shopping district), we are struck by how present history is here versus covered by “progress.” Back home on the west coast, old is 120 years. Here, that’s scarcely a blip on time’s fickle radar. When a gravestone laments the death of someone who died from The Black Plague, that is old.

Pedaling through a centuries-old village north of London.

Pedaling through a centuries-old village north of London.

It feels good to be bike touring! Assembling the trip and traveling abroad was exhausting, but jet lag’s gloomy mist has cleared and our brain’s are working again. I am quite relaxed compared to last year when we pushed hard on the bikes and threw down mileage every day. We smile and laugh at town names like “Leighton Buzzard” or “Heath and Reach” and take each day as a fresh adventure. Less mileage means the slower going is fine, a nice treat.

Bridges and canals

In fact, we decided to kick back for an impromptu birthday stop today at That Amazing Place, a 1000 year-old monastery turned B&B. I could wax poetic about this divine location for a full paragraph, but suffice to say it features both a custom-built obstacle course AND complimentary wine refills while relaxing in the hot tub with a view of the English countryside. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my 33rd birthday! (Unfortunately, I missed the obstacle course record by a bit. I must be getting old.)

In two days, we’ll roll the bikes aboard a night ferry on England’s east coast. The next morning, we’ll wake up in Holland and wheel south toward Belgium. And that’s what makes Europe the dog’s bollocks: each country is a short hop (or pedal) away, yet represents a new language, fresh customs, and a totally different experience. I may continue to have issues ordering drinks, but at least we’ll be back on the right (excuse me, correct) side of road soon.

Back windows

Still gotta handle logistics! D gets a haircut in the central square in Bicester (pronounced "Bister").

Still gotta handle logistics! D gets a haircut in the central square in Bicester (pronounced “Bister”).

A heron hunts for his dinner along a canal with houseboats in the background.

A heron hunts for his dinner along a canal with houseboats in the background.

Bikes, Europe, Go!

Bike tour Europe

Our latest trip has me excited, and also thinking about time zones. It’s a strange neurosis.

As I write this, I’m sitting on a plane across the Atlantic Ocean while Chelsea snoozes at my side. Tired travelers shift in their chairs around me, struggling to make the seven hour flight passably comfortable. According to the plane’s flight tracker, it’s -55 degrees outside with a 75 mph tailwind as we pass south of Greenland.

Three weeks ago, I was mountain biking in Santa Cruz. Our summer plan was in place: another few weeks in California, then motoring north to the Pacific Northwest for sunshine in the forest. It was nice to have plans…and then we scrapped them! A day later, we bought plane tickets and changed direction completely.

The new plan? A 3.5 month bike tour in Europe. Fly into London to surprise a friend at his pre-wedding party (only his fiance knows to expect us). Pedal for a few months. Fly out of Prague to attend wedding festivities at a farm sanctuary near New York City. In between the nuptials, there’s no set route and no plans except to explore, enjoy, and spin on as many no-car bike paths as possible.

This tour is going to be different than last year’s U.S. jaunt. For one, the distance is shorter – it’s barely 1,000 miles from London to Prague – which allows us to meander. We did that much mileage in just Montana during our bike ride to Maine last year! We could scorch through 1,000 miles in a few weeks and still have ample time to linger in French cafes and perfect the jaunty angle of a beret. Instead of cranking out miles every day, our goal this year is to linger in areas we love, keep our daily mileage below 50, and treat this less as a physical challenge than an exploration of culture and beautiful places.

We talked through this trip last fall when we were stoked and physically strong from 4,000 miles of bike touring. By the end, however, the logistics of 101 days of touring had drained our energy and we were tapped out like sugar maples after a long season. We needed to just hang out awhile, and planning a European tour was too much at the time. As we left for our Utah jaunt in March, we told ourselves that the one thing we wouldn’t do this summer would be a bike tour in Europe.

Whaaaat shall we bring for 3.5 months of biking, camping, and looking hawt in cafes? Can't believe all this stuff fits in four panniers!

Whaaaat shall we bring for 3.5 months of biking, camping, and looking hawt in cafes? Can’t believe all this stuff fits in four panniers!

Still, the time is never right for a big trip overseas. I could conjure excuses for a decade about why doing this another year makes more sense. First and foremost, my business is cranked to the max right and taking a lot of my time. I will also be dealing with being nine hours ahead. At 5 pm European time, the west coast of the U.S. is just sitting down with their coffee to check Facebook and their morning emails. At midnight, it’s lights out here and merely mid-afternoon back home.

I’m leery of handling this, but confident it will work out. I’ve learned that a strong foundation sometimes only imparts enough of a launch pad to let me stand in one place and dream. To attach wings to a dreams requires wrapping uncertainty in a fiery bear hug and jumping into the deep end with it. When I look back, anything that excited and scared me, even as I sprang off the diving board, invariably resulted in my learning something about myself or the world. Sometimes there’s wreckage to pick through, a burning heap of a failed attempt, but that’s usually not the case. I’m not setting out to build a new enterprise – I simply need to take my tried and true remote work techniques to a new level.

There’s magic in pushing the envelope into discomfort. While I’m wary of the lug nuts on my business loosening and a wheel or two clunking off into the dust, what this is going to do is force me to innovate. The simple aspects of my work will be easiest to outsource; it’s the functions that I think (pretend?) are unique to me that will take creative engineering. But the more I think about having the entire day free to just ride and explore, with work starting up in the evening, the better it sounds. There are always silver linings.

Taking the bikes apart to box and ship them through on the plane. SCARY.

Taking the bikes apart to box and ship them through on the plane. Thanks for the help, Steve!

The worst case is posting up in a town and simply working remotely late at night all summer. The best case (my favorite) is that we have an amazing time exploring the European continent on a relaxed schedule and, as a side benefit, further extricate myself from the day-to-day mechanics of my business. With a bucket list that includes many off-the-grid adventures with weeks away from a cell connection or a laptop, I need systems in place to take care of this. Nothing like a fire under my arse to accomplish it.

More updates to come as we wheel our way east across the continent. Cheers to no plan, the unexpected, and the network of bike paths that apparently crisscross this area of the world. Follow along with daily shots on Instagram (@traipsingabout) and I’ll also be updating this blog as time allows (and this trip map). This latest adventure is officially launched!

P.S. If you have recommendations for places to visit or have friends we could meet up with, let us know! We’d love your input.

Smashing Fall Colors in New England – Bike Touring Video, Part 4

Welcome to the final installment (part 4 of 4) of the video series covering our 4,000 mile bike tour in the summer of 2014. If you missed previous episodes, here are parts one, two and three. This video details our travels from upstate New York to the Atlantic Ocean in Portland, Maine.Adirondack fall colors

Everyone has an opinion about the timing for prime fall color viewing. “This coming weekend, for sure.” “Oh, you just missed them by six minutes. Bummer.” It seems like the changing leaves are a German train sticking to a tight timetable, not a process unfolding slowly in the woods. All aboard the Peak Foliage Express!

From the beginning, our bike tour goal was to hit New England in time to 1) avoid cycling in snow (Abominable Snowmen hate cyclists) and 2) smash into the explosion of colors for which the area is so famous. Somehow, it all worked out.

A perfect day along a river in the Adirondacks.

A perfect day along a river in the Adirondacks.

This was our favorite part of the tour. Crisp, cool weather coupled with scenic views that left our jaws hanging like a teenager at a strip club. It really is as good as they say. (Fall colors, people – stick with me here.)

We lucked out in other ways too. Warm Showers hosts graced us with their hospitality and we added a half dozen new friends to our lives. A guy in a coffee shop invited us back for lunch at his “camp”, which turned into a boat and plane adventure. A new buddy in Burlington is Chelsea’s new soul sister. A couple in Montpelier and their incredible adventures bike touring all over the world (four years total!) inspired us to push our limits.

New England was the perfect conclusion to a trip we’ll remember forever. The journey brought us closer together as a couple, further seared a love of adventure into our souls and inspired us for another bike tour sooner than later. Even if the fall colors are only 36 hours (pffft, we saw them into late October) and the locals can’t understand what all the fuss is about, we can’t wait to get back. I can’t recommend this area of the U.S. highly enough.

Here’s the link to the final video from our tour or just click play below. Turns out that video editing is a lot of work (I’d never done it before) and I’m glad to wrap this up. A few more photos below the video too. Enjoy, and onward!

Dakota

Ducks preen and watch a kayaker on Blue Mountain Lake.

Ducks preen and watch a kayaker on Blue Mountain Lake.

I found this funny - a short bus hiding out in the Tug Hill Wilderness in the middle of nowhere New York.

I found this funny – a short bus hiding out in the Tug Hill Wilderness in the middle of nowhere New York.

A lovely evening in Burlington, VT.

A lovely evening in Burlington, VT.

 

Cyborgs on Bikes – Bike Touring Video (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of 4 of the video series documenting our 101 day trip cycling across the the U.S. in the summer of 2014. If you missed Part 2, click here to check it out. This section covers from Indiana to the middle of upstate New York.

A gorgeous night on Fletcher Lake in Indiana. Jumped in for a swim and then we watched lightning on the horizon before camping out under a giant maple tree and listening to the rain on the tent.

A gorgeous night on Fletcher Lake in Indiana. Jumped in for a swim and then we watched lightning on the horizon before camping out under a giant maple tree and listening to the rain on the tent.

Three thousand miles into the tour, we are like cyborgs on bikes. With day-to-day routines nailed (except for my elusive rain jacket, which hides in the bottom of a pannier during storms) and legs forged from steely dragon’s teeth, we zip east. Most days, we don’t even break a sweat (<–dirty lie, even cyborgs sweat in 90% humidity).

At this point, we’re both starting to think about Maine, a far-distant mirage in our minds for the first 2/3 of the trip. The realization that we might actually complete the tour without our bodies breaking down feels great. But first, we finish out Indiana, head up toward Cleveland and then skirt along the southern edge of Lake Erie all the way to Niagara Falls before heading east into upstate New York. The magnitude of the effort to get this far sank in as the fall colors of New York beckoned from afar and the days cooled off, a welcome change.

A little metal barn in the middle of nowhere on a back country road in Indiana.

A little metal barn in the middle of nowhere on a back country road in Indiana. Sad news: C’s rainbow socks wore out by the end of the trip. 🙁

You’ll notice I’m goofier in this series. Believe me, all videos are off-the-cuff and I (obviously) don’t employ a joke writer. I think you’ll get a couple chuckles at our random antics as we roll from nowhere Indiana all the way into the NE. If nothing else, it’s a good picture of what the terrain looks like!

Here’s the movie link for email subscribers, or click play below on the embedded video if you visit the site directly. Enjoy.

Dakota

P.S. There are a few more photos below the movie if you want to check those out first.

Between the motorcycle rallies and car shows, we learned quite a bit about vehicles. (Not.)

Between all the motorcycle rallies and car shows we biked through, we learned quite a bit about vehicles. Ok, not really.

A family fishes off a bridge in Ohio.

The thing to do (apparently) in Grand Rapids, Ohio is to go fishing at sunset off a small dam in town.

Cold beans by the side of the road. Accessed with an old-school can opener, no less.

Cold beans by the side of the road (on a hot day at least). Accessed with an old-school can opener, no less.

Always fun to find covered bridges!

Always fun to find covered bridges! This one is in Roann, Indiana.

Punching Through the Midwest – Bike Touring Video (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of 4 of the video series documenting our 101 day trip cycling across the the U.S. in the summer of 2014. If you missed Part 1, click here to check it out. This section covers from Spearfish, South Dakota all the way to the Indiana border. Straight through the heart of the Midwest in summer like true masochists. 

Corn crop

We didn’t plan to bike through the Midwest in August. It just worked out that way. Our timing, framed around hitting New England during peak fall colors, meant we had to spend some time in the sweltering summer. To echo Vonnegut, so it goes… Trade-offs are part of living.

After clearing Montana, we headed south through the Black Hills of South Dakota. Instead of highways, we spent a few days on the Mickelson Trail, which is a 110-mile gravel trail that cuts right through the heart of the area near Mt. Rushmore. Timing it perfectly (not), we managed to hit the area just as 500,000 motorcycles descended like loud, buzzing bees for the Sturgis Rally. I think I heard, “Put an engine on that thing!” almost as much as “I could never do what you’re doing.”

Foggy morning in Nebraska in the corn fields.

Foggy morning in Nebraska in the corn fields.

I asked a bartender in Cody, NE (pop 154) if they knew anyone who might take us in for the night since a big storm was rolling in. Isla helped us out and her cheery granddaughter made us laugh and laugh.

I asked a bartender in Cody, NE (pop 154) if they knew anyone who might take us in for the night since a big storm was rolling in. Isla helped us out and her cheery granddaughter made us laugh and laugh.

The Midwest gets a bad rap sometimes, and part of it is a bit undeserved. Take Nebraska, for instance. I think most people picture horribly flat, ugly terrain stretching for miles. Flat? On the highways, yes. Country roads were rolling and nice. Ugly? Not in the NW part of the state in the pretty, rolling Sand Hills region. We lucked out and fog was more prevalent than crushing sun for the first half of Nebraska. Clear, hot skies came as we neared Omaha, as did gnarly traffic. My advice is to avoid big cities whenever possible if you go touring because navigating them on bicycle is often difficult or just plain nerve-wracking.

Iowa’s surprise was constant rolling steep hills, not flat corn country. We toiled up them through temperatures soaring into the high 90’s in humidity so thick we could have backstroked in it. Locals were kind, generous and excited to talk to us. A new idea (to us) was Casey’s, a gas station chain also featuring pizza ovens. We ate no-cheese, veggie pizza ($12.74 with tax) and scored ice cubes for our water bottles frequently to survive. That convenience was unfortunately offset by the stink of factory farms and the doomed animals inside them that permeated the air in many stretches of the state. An up-close, visceral look at the underbelly of our food system.

Up close and personal with a soy bean field.

Up close and personal with a soy bean field.

In eastern Iowa, road shoulders were 10 feet wide to accommodate the large Amish population and their buggies, which whisk along behind quickly trotting horses. We stopped at Stringtown Grocery, an Amish establishment featuring re-bagged bulk goods branded under the store’s name. And then we hit a big milestone – The Mississippi River! I stared at the flat brown flowing waters and thought of the Louisiana Purchase. To think that a huge chunk of land west of this grand body of water at one point wasn’t even part of the United States before France sold it to us. 2,300 miles on our bikes to get here and we were barely half way to Maine.

Scenery past the Mississippi was the cliche Midwest fare. Rather non-descript days pedaling through the corn and soy fields of Illinois blend together into podcasts and audiobooks that curbed the monotony a bit. Long days in the sun melded into one big mass of states starting with I as we left Iowa for Illinois and Indiana.

Corn fields and a rusty silo to hold the bounty.

Corn fields and a rusty silo to hold the bounty.

Our ability to forget difficult trials is powerful. This portion of our tour is scarcely three months ago and yet feels so long ago. The events of August in the Midwest are already softer in my mind. Memories of days where we had to linger in a gas station to let our internal temperatures cool down are slipping away. The sun’s fangs are blunted and the sauna of the humidity diminishes. Even the sameness of the landscape – corn, soy, repeat – looks better in the pictures.

What remains etched in stone is a mental confidence that we persevered as a team, pushing through conditions we normally would choose to avoid at all costs. The crucible of the Midwest forged our relationship into a stronger bond. For that reason alone, this tough section of the tour was worth it.

Enough chit chat. How about that video?! Email subscribers: click here for Part 2 of 4. Visitors to the website, just click play below in the embedded video. Enjoy…and see you shortly in Part 3!

Cheers,

Dakota

 

Cranking Through the Rockies – Bike Touring Video (Part 1 of 4)

Waterton National Park, Alberta

I rarely look back. Forward, onward, tally ho! Always new adventures on the horizon, people to visit, places to see, as they say. Perhaps you’ve picked up on that?

Maybe that’s the reason I so enjoyed digging into the videos from our bike tour between hikes in Acadia National Park while we “kicked back” in Maine. Photos are fun to flip through, but they don’t pick up the wind, the rumble of a motorcycle, a joke or stupid song (there were lots) or the patter of raindrops. And even though the experiences are fresh, taking the journey anew through the videos was a fabulous time. I loved combining them into one continuous film voyage to bring you along for the ride and hopefully inspire you to take your own tour. Or maybe convince you that touring is the dumbest thing ever and you’d rather get on a plane to Cabo instead. (I had those thoughts…see Day 23 in the video.)

It was interesting watching my tone change as the trip progressed. You can literally see me relax and get into a flow where I was less stressed or worried. Lots more joking as my goofy side took charge and my business side (which isn’t the real me anyway) slid into the background. It was still there taking care of logistics, but the rest of the time I was more carefree and open to whatever came our way. I think you’ll notice too.

When we were deciding if extended touring was for us, I would have loved to see a video like this with commentary from the rider rather than just music. From a couple hours of clips, I cut it way down to pass along the ups and downs of touring plus scenery from many parts of the country that most people never visit. I think you’ll dig it!

This is part 1 of 4 and covers 32 days from our start in Viola, Idaho to Spearfish, SD over 1,346 miles. (Here’s part 2.) Come along for the ride! It winds through the Rocky Mountains with some amazing scenery in Glacier and Waterton National Parks. Then we hit the plains and roll across Montana in a diagonal line to Spearfish, South Dakota.

Email subscribers, click here to view the video. Others, just click play below to watch the embedded version. A note that all videos were taken with an iPhone and were impromptu, unrehearsed and occasionally ridiculous. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cheerio,

Dakota

P.S. In case you haven’t seen it, check out the stats summary with all the numbers from our bike tour.

 

We Biked to the Atlantic Ocean!

We made it!We made it! Bonjour from Portland, Maine. 4,000 miles of effort, laughter, sweat and adventures lay to the west and the Atlantic Ocean stretches to the east with 101 days of bike touring at our backs.

And now, it’s time to turn around and pedal back! We are gearing up for a winter assault through Canada since Chelsea loves the test of freezing temps and I’ve always wanted to Eskimo kiss a caribou. Without rest days, I calculate we can reach the west coast by Christmas.

Juuust kidding. Biking in the cold sucks. I will say that if I had a dollar for every person who asked, “How are you getting home? Biking?” I could fly us both home first-class and probably buy a nice messenger bag to carry my two ratty, grease-spotted cycling jerseys too. That isn’t the plan though.

We considered continuing our cycle tour down the east coast all the way to the Florida Keys. (Yes, we’re still having that much fun.) We scoped out routes, deliberated a bit and then axed that idea. With days getting short and nasty weather looming, we decided it would be doable, but not nearly as enjoyable as returning another time to explore the Atlantic seaboard on bikes. Put that one on the bucket list, shelved for now.

A cool, foggy start to our last day in Maine.

A cool, foggy start to our last day in Maine.

Instead, we’re shipping our trusty touring steeds, the Salsa Fargo and Surly Cross-Check, back to Idaho to reunite with the van. And then…

The journey continues! We’re not done yet. Over eleven months on the road since we took off in the van last November. No bikes and no Sprinter van for this next leg, just us and the backpacks that Chelsea’s parents brought with them on the plane last night.

In November, we will be in one place (location to be announced, grin) awhile to reflect as winter rolls in. We’re slowing down the pace to let the past year soak in and wash over us. Time to let ideas from our trip marinate, sprout and take hold, which is always tougher when we’re constantly on the move.

Thanks for coming along for the ride! We love sharing it with you and so appreciate hearing from people we’ve met all over the country or those who found us through the magic of the Interwebs. Looking forward to having you aboard as we traipse about.

 Onward!

Dakota

 

Every finish to a bike ride requires matching lightning socks! D is blue/yellow, C is black/red. Shazam!

Every finish to a bike ride requires matching lightning socks! D is blue/yellow, C is black/red. Shazam!

Heel click at the Atlantic!

Heel click at the Atlantic!

The Best Way to Break Into a House, or Admiration without Ownership

One of my creepy pleasures is checking out the interiors of giant mansions. Sure, there are the scowling stone lions and spiky fences to dodge. But once inside, scoping out luxury kitchens and looking out from patios at ocean views is an easy way to feel rich. From clifftop compounds in Carmel to palatial estates on the shores of Lake Erie, exploring a different perspective on life is a fun retreat, if only for a moment.

Luckily, technology is on my side. I do all this with my phone’s Zillow app. (What, you thought I was breaking and entering?) And after flipping through the 15 photos and expressing indignation at the cost of the home, I’m ready to move on from this quick hit. Back to real life.

These days, I try to be appreciative rather than envious. Admiration need not equal desire. I can imagine an evening in a sitting room with a view that turns Medusa into a honey-tongued princess, but I don’t want the property taxes. The $100k kitchen is beautiful, but I don’t want the mortgage payment squelching my ability to work on my own terms and travel. No thanks on landscaper and housekeeper costs either. And I certainly don’t want to decorate it!

In the same vein, we can admire a gorgeous bird warbling in the wild without needing to possess it. I’ve had the desire, as many of us do, to see something beautiful and wish I owned it so that I could see it every day. Put that bird in a cage and it’s no longer amazing, just a shrouded voice behind bars.

Chelsea offers a baby bird water. Always a tough call to know when to intervene, but with the sun beating down on him in the middle of a giant lawn, we decided to help out.

Chelsea offers a baby bird  some water. Always a tough call to know when to intervene, but with the sun beating down on him in the middle of a giant lawn, we decided to help out.

I DO love ogling expensive sports cars. Chelsea, the more practical of our duo, can’t at all understand my admiration. To her, cars are all the same save one difference: the color. Beyond that, who cares? And she’s practically spot on. Admiring a hot red Ferrari is perhaps what any American lad does, but now the thought of owning one freaks me out. Just one more anchor.

Back in college when I thought an MLM was a smart path to riches (hindsight burns), I wasn’t this way. Using a technique the hucksters recommend to solidify my vision of a “successful” future, I drove my old Corolla a few hours inland from the California coast to test drive a new Lexus IS300. The smooth lines and upscale image of the purring car appealed to the “hey, look at me!” ego clamoring inside. I took that sweet car out, cranked the stereo and floored it on I-5 near Bakersfield. As I weaved through traffic, I dreamed of mansions and the fast cars that would fill my 10-car garage.

A sunset on the Waumee River in Ohio.

A sunset on the Waumee River in Ohio.

Well, those easy riches didn’t play out. It took me a couple more lessons to learn there wasn’t any way to make money except putting yourself out there, working your butt off and creating value for others every single day. And the reality is that I’m glad it didn’t work out and that expensive car-house combo never happened. You see, the more I test drive my current life of flexibility, of exploring the world and testing my own comfort zones, the less I want any physical object that doesn’t directly correlate to empowering those goals. Shiny cars and turreted homes are pretty, but they don’t accomplish that. And they certainly don’t help me invest in experiences, tick off items on my bucket list or allocate money for charity.

Traveling in our van made me appreciate the smaller amenities in life and bicycle touring upped that exponentially. I am so grateful for the comforts of a home, such as the lovely couch I am sitting on while writing this. A nice car (especially compared to a bike seat) feels like a luxury, yet I prefer hopping in a car-share vehicle and leaving the maintenance to the company who owns it. This isn’t about eschewing ownership completely, merely applying a conscious mental exercise to the purchase. The value delivered to our lives by owning our expensive camper van is worth the energy spent earning the money to buy it. And I can’t always win – the Sprinter sits moldering in Idaho as we bike tour, which irks me.

Perhaps there will again come a time when ownership of things resurfaces as an important aspect of my life. If or when it does, I hope I possess the clarity to see what value the object adds to my life and what the cost will be. These days, my goal when I see or experience something beautiful is to appreciate it. To be inspired by the comfort or happiness someone may find by experiencing it. And then I grin at the lions flanking the ornate gate and pedal on toward the next adventure.

Dakota

Waves and rockin' sunset in Barcelona, NY on Lake Erie.

Waves and rockin’ sunset in Barcelona, NY on Lake Erie. Photo credit Chelsea.

 

 

We Biked to Niagara Falls!

Niagara Falls

Holy smokin’ frijoles, how did that happen? Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and back into Canada for the second time on this trip. I can’t believe we just biked to Niagara! I feel like a giant spring coiled in the Midwest and suddenly sproing we’re in New England overnight.

Last Friday night near Cleveland, as if to send us off into the Northeast, there was a gigantic thunderstorm that cleared the slate. We weathered it in the Riders Inn, a B&B 200 years old. The inn featured Underground Railroad tunnels beneath it and tales of hosting soldiers during the war of 1812 told by the salty woman who runs the place. We woke to a new world. Humidity, gone. Temps in the low 70’s beneath blue skies with birds chirping. Fair maidens at picturesque farm stands hand us grapes and frosty-cold beverages along Lake Erie’s coast as if we are royalty.

Vineyards along the shores of Lake Erie.

Vineyards along the shores of Lake Erie.

Now we slow the pace – fewer miles, more days off – to enjoy the scenery and fall colors as they flicker on in orange and red. Hitting New England in September was our plan from the start and we aren’t in a rush, so linger we shall. We are 3,200 miles and 75 days in with about 800 miles to go. We could do that in 15 days if we got after it, but we’re aiming for 30 days. Yessss. As a guy we talked to along the way said, “That doesn’t sound like a vacation, that sounds like work!” Time for more of a vacation feel. Our nerves and energy levels are frayed and beaten down from the last month in the Midwest and I think we’ve earned a respite!

And with that, I’m off to find a barrel so I can launch off the falls. Ciao for now, amigos.

Dakota

Fresh grapes at a farm stand? Yes please!

Fresh grapes at a farm stand? Yes please!

Fall is on the way!

Fall is on the way!

A full rainbow crests Horseshoe Falls at Niagara.

A full rainbow crests Horseshoe Falls at Niagara to welcome us.

Bicycling on the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota

Crushed limestone of the Mickelson.

Riding the crushed limestone gravel of the Mickelson Trail.

Wow, the last ten days have flown by! Go go go… We’re already practically across Iowa, even with a pause for a couple days to hang out with a high school friend in Omaha, Nebraska. I’ve had zero time to write for a variety of reasons, but before South Dakota is too far behind us, here are some photos from our time touring in the Black Hills.

After weeks of cycling, primarily with cars whizzing by, getting off pavement and away from vehicles (including the Sturgis Rally contingent) is as refreshing as a dip into a cold creek on a summer’s day. The Black Hills themselves, an eruption of peaks and tree-lined valleys in midst of the rolling northern plains, are beautiful and remind me of the forested regions of the Pacific Northwest. (I barely remember what a pine tree looks like these days. A corn stalk with spiky needles?)

The trail cuts through a number of cool old tunnels from the railroad days.

The trail cuts through a number of cool old tunnels from the railroad days.

Enter the George S. Mickelson Trail, 109 miles of packed limestone gravel through the heart of the Hills. It’s an old railroad bed from mining days that South Dakota turned into one of the nicest rails-to-trails I’ve seen. If you ever vist Rushmore, definitely get out on a bike (Rabbit Bicycles in Hill City rents them) and check out the trail! I won’t belabor details – these guys have the info.

Warning: If you start from Spearfish and ride up the canyon, it is a THIRTY mile climb to start out, with more elevation than climbing over Glacier. That said, it was beautiful and totally worth it. (We sure aren’t taking the flat and easy way across this country though.) Our route traced from north to south, with camping on Forest Service land one night and snagging a cozy cabin another. Can’t recommend it highly enough if you’re in the area! I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking…and here’s a video from the trail.

Tunnels of trees along the trail.

Tunnels of trees along the trail.

And with that, I bid you adieu. In one more day, we’ll cross out of Iowa into Illinois! Ticking off the miles and heading further east through the Midwest. The weather is hot and humid and life is good.

Onward!

Dakota

Chelsea watches a big herd of cows and their new offspring.

Chelsea watches a big herd of cows and their new offspring.

In some places, the trail is hewn through solid rock like this.

In some places, the trail is hewn through solid rock like this.

Lots of old bridges along the way!

Lots of old bridges along the way!

Chelsea cruises a calm section of road while I rampage on the Mickelson Trail.

Chelsea cruises a calm section of road while I rampage on the Mickelson Trail.

Chelsea approaches a gate on the trail.

Chelsea approaches a gate on the trail.

Cold water and a nice rest stop in Spearfish Canyon.

Cold water and a nice rest stop in Spearfish Canyon.

Coming out of the southern end of the trail as it flattens out and opens into plains.

Coming out of the southern end of the trail as it flattens out and opens into plains.

NOT on the trail... A side trip to the Crazy Horse monument, where they let you keep rocks from the project. I took six to weigh down my bike. Training weight!

Not on the trail… A side trip to the Crazy Horse monument, where they let you keep rocks from the project. I took six to weigh down my bike. Training weight!

One more of Mt. Rushmore. My friend Loren happened to be coming through the Black Hills while driving from San Francisco to Boston. So C and I jumped on board for a tour of the Rushmore area in a *gasp* CAR. Given all the motorcycles out that day, it was the right call! And super fun to hang with a friend along our trip.

Not on the trail… One more of Mt. Rushmore. My friend Loren happened to be coming through the Black Hills while driving from San Francisco to Boston. So C and I jumped on board for a tour of the Rushmore area in a *gasp* CAR. Given all the motorcycles out that day, it was the right call! And super fun to hang with a friend along our trip. Photo credit to awesome Kathy.

Faces from the Road: Henk from Holland

Henk from HollandThe Earth may be huge, but the world is small and coincidence abounds. For example, take Henk, whom we met in Southern Utah in Escalante in May. He was halfway through a bike tour up through the national parks to Canada. I grilled him for info on our upcoming tour and then honked and waved as we drove off in the Sprinter as he pedaled along, American flag flapping in the desert wind.

Imagine my surprise two months later when a leaner, extremely tan Henk pedaled into our campsite in Glacier with a spirited and accented “hello!” Unmistakably the same friendly, grinning guy from Utah. We quickly caught up and enjoyed chatting about our respective trips. Other than passing out from the heat in Moab on a 100+ degree day (yikes), his trip had gone well and he was loving life.

When we first met, Henk mentioned he was afraid that touring solo as a foreigner would be lonely (his wife had to work and couldn’t join him), but that the U.S. has been so friendly and he was having a wonderful time. It’s great hearing that kind of information from visitors to our country! He looked strong, fit and happy and I was stoked to have crossed paths again while on our own tour.

It’s a small world, after all!

Til next time,

Dakota

P.S. We’re exploring the Black Hills of South Dakota the next few days on a great rails-to-trails route, in case you’re wondering. Here’s the trip map for our journey so far!

Surrender: A Day in the Life of a Cycle Tourist

Our view for the last couple weeks: hay fields and open roads.

Near the headwaters of the Missouri River, Chelsea cruises through our view for the last couple weeks: hay fields and open roads. Hazy from Washington fires and hot as a firecracker in July.

The day’s intensity ratcheted higher like a rising guillotine blade. 99 degrees. 25 mph headwinds with gusts. Nothing except barb wire fences whistling in the wind for 80 miles in front of us. The “town” we’d just passed through, Mosby, consisted of two houses, one abandoned with a roof caving in. A rippling series of long rollercoaster hills spelled our doom in thousands of feet of elevation to climb that day. And there we were, two specks on the ocean of the plains, beat down and buffeted, with nary even a cell phone signal to be found to even complain on Facebook. Good thing I have a blog and can do it later!

Sometimes, the warrior’s path is to push on, head down into the morass, battling our way to victory. We all are stronger than we think, both mentally and physically, and I am certainly in the Stoic’s camp believing that suffering makes you stronger and better equipped to handle future adversity. I find that small challenges and tests will often make life’s tougher obstacles seem easier in comparison, and am occasionally circumspect enough to cherish the pain afterward.

Cranking into the wind in the Montana plains.

Dakota cranking into the wind in the Montana plains.

This, however, was not one of those days! While we wake up with tired bodies every morning, on this day our legs hung like lead pendulums churning away in a thick soup of blasting hot air. We’d pushed through 60 mile scorchers before, yet this total feeling of exhaustion was like a crashing wave trying to drown us.

Only 25 miles in, with 50 to go, we found a rest stop in a fancy new building in the least populated area of Montana. Why they put it there, I have no idea. The cold, filtered water (most water in the plains tastes like warm dog farts) and hard slat benches to relax upon in the air conditioned space made it feel like Cleopatra’s palace. I sat and relished the cold air and took on the unofficial and unpaid Greeter of Road Trippers for awhile, chatting with each new arrival. “Heyyyy, where ya headed? Seen any stores to the east of here? No?”

The motorcyclists have been awesome! Super friendly and always interested in talking to us. Or giving me a fist bump on the highway. Good thing - the Sturgis Rally in South Dakota attracts 500,000 visitors and is starting while we're here!

The motorcyclists have been awesome! Super friendly and always interested in talking to us. Or giving me a fist bump on the highway. Good thing – the Sturgis Rally in South Dakota attracts 500,000 visitors and is starting while we’re here!

After much deliberation, we listened to our tired bodies and scoped out a spot under a picnic structure in the far corner of the parking lot. Baked brown earth lay on the other side of a sagging fence and semi trucks pulled in and out every so often, but we chugged frosty water, threw down a tent footprint and sleeping pads and lay on them with sticky backs. All our technology came up blank looking for a signal, and that was ok. Our Truckstop Hilton provided shade, solace and relief from blasting winds and it felt good.

Home sweet home at our rest stop.

Home sweet home at our Truckstop Hilton.

We’d done enough pushing through adversity for the day – there will be plenty more of that to come in future days. For now, a concrete pad and picnic table in the middle of nowhere Montana felt like a warm hug from Grandma. We reclined, napping and reading, for the afternoon, then justified carrying our emergency backpacking meal by gobbling it up for dinner. Dessert was a 180 degree lightning show crackling in the distance, the rumble of semis thundering behind us. (Why do trucks leave their engines running nonstop?!)

Next day, after absolutely terrible sleep thanks to constant semi traffic, we rose early and vanquished the remaining 50 miles on another 100 degree day with fresh(er) legs. It was a good reminder that while usually we press through biking and life doing things even when it’s tough, a day like this needn’t be misconstrued as weakness. Instead, it takes a different strength to accept our lot and deal with struggles one day at a time in a way that builds cumulative success. And, for us at least, that’s what it takes to ride through barren countryside all the way across this giant country!

A vivid sunset on the plains.

A vivid sunset on the plains.

Middle of nowhere on the plains.

Middle of nowhere on the plains. Click for full view.

Mountains, Rainbows and Rivers Make All This Pedaling Worthwhile

The last week of cycling was physically tough as we hit the mountain passes with sore butts and less-than-fresh legs. It was also tooootally worth it for the simply amazing countryside we had the pleasure of traversing thanks to Glacier and Waterton Parks in Montana and Alberta, Canada.

Here are a few choice recent shots, plus one of us to prove we’re still together and happy. 😉 The last is one of my new favorites – it captures the joy that exploring via bike is all about. Enjoy!

Dakota

Riding north on the east side of Glacier toward Canada.

Riding north on the east side of Glacier toward Canada.

Late bloom this far north up in Canada at Waterton Lake. (The mosquitoes practically carried me off as I took this picture...)

(Definitely click to view full size!) Late bloom this far north up in Canada at Waterton Lake. (The mosquitoes practically carried me off as I took this picture…)

Riding up Going-to-the-Sun Road in the early morning in Glacier.

Riding up Going-to-the-Sun Road in the early morning in Glacier.

My pot of gold at the end of a rainbow! Riding next to Weeping Wall in Glacier on Going-to-the-Sun Road.

My too-cute smiling wife at the end of a rainbow! Riding next to Weeping Wall in Glacier on Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Wait, Whose Idea Was It To Bike Tour? (Or, Musings on Ten Days Pedaling.)

A nice 20 mile back road section (Blue Slide Road) from Thompson Falls to Noxon. Avoid highway 200 and take this!

A nice 20 mile back road section (Blue Slide Road) from Thompson Falls to Noxon. Avoid highway 200 and take this!

Ten days of cycling now lay behind us, efforts etched into the muscles in our legs along with the sights and smells from the route we’ve traversed. I am stunned to discover a patient side within myself, and also an inner facet content to spin along at 12 miles per hour watching rivers flow by while stopping to chat with people at their mailboxes. Everyone, without a hitch, is so nice, and many people are inspired by our trip and tell us of their goals to backpack long distance or bike tour. Some, not so much. As one woman put it: “You do that. I’m gonna go have a beer.” Touche, madame.

Life feels simple right now. Our goal for each day is simply to ride our bikes as far as we desire, or until one of us hits the wall. (So far, we’ve dodged the latter, so we haven’t slept next to a highway in a culvert. Yet.) Perhaps the best part is that there are no expectations from anyone and no timeline. We’ll get there when we do!

Exploring a gravel road near the Idaho-Montana border.

Exploring a gravel road near the Idaho-Montana border.

Strangely, I feel even more free than I did road tripping in the van. I think it’s because our day is outlined for us by the most basic of survival instincts: find sufficient food, water and shelter to support our cross-country trek. (And the last one is easy with the tent strapped to my bike.) We hang food out of an inquisitive bear’s reach, cook dinner on a propane stove and read as the sun sets. Or we indulge our fancy-pants side and get a hotel (I’m not above that!), check in on work, go out to eat, snag some groceries and prep for our next off-grid section of the ride. I view hotels as a nice side benefit of working while traveling – no guilt. We’re mixing it up beyond that and have also couch surfed once and camped in a backyard here in Whitefish via the wonderful bicycle hospitality site Warm Showers. No no, not Golden Showers, you perv.

An absolutely picturesque scene just west of Glacier.

An absolutely picturesque scene just west of Glacier.

Our route so far has exceeded expectations and been muy fabuloso. Rolling out the driveway at Chelsea’s parents’, we started in the rolling lentil and wheat hills in Idaho and SE Washington, soon supplanted by forested slopes of mountains and rivers feeding into Coeur d’Alene Lake, a jewel in Northern Idaho. We cruised that on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alene, the amazing rails-to-trails paved path spanning the width of the panhandle up north in Idaho. (Yay for railroads and mining companies paying out of the “kindness of their heart’s” to clean up a Super Fund site!) From there, we meandered and camped by rivers on quiet back roads and then up Thompson Pass, crossing into Montana after a hard day’s ride in 95 degree heat. Another five days of riding along rivers and lakes through sparkling green valleys and between mountain ranges and we were within a few miles of the Canadian border. Then a long 64-mile day to cap our first stint down into Whitefish, gateway to Glacier National Park. The last should have been 58 but *cough* someone (me) *cough* missed a turn. 420 miles of riding for our “warm-up” and a deserved rest day! (Don’t worry, I won’t do a point-by-point like this in the future…)

A blazing sunset over Couer d'Alene Lake from our room at the Lakeview Lodge where we sat and drank local huckleberry wine.

(Click to open for full effect.) A blazing sunset over Couer d’Alene Lake from our room at the Lakeview Lodge where we sat and drank local huckleberry wine.

I’m impressed with my body’s ability to handle hauling 100+ pounds of bike, gear, food and water. I’m REALLY impressed with Chelsea kicking butt and taking names with so much riding on a loaded bike! Initially, she was wondering how far she could go each day carrying so much weight. She’s a champ and is absolutely crushing it, with days like 56 miles and 5,500’ of elevation or our 64 miles yesterday and a couple others over 50 miles already. The Plains better watch out, here we come! I’m sure the headwinds there are cowering as I write this… As for our relationship (thanks for asking), we are doing oh-so-well. Surprisingly, perhaps, since I am an impatient jerk at times. Somehow, I’ve found my Zen space with touring and so we are having a marvelous time.

Silent back roads of eastern Washington.

Silent back roads of eastern Washington.

Our biggest concern, other than whether our legs would fall off from overuse, was where (or if) we’d find healthy plant-based food. We’ve dodged that bullet by foraging for edible berries and scraping the soft layer of bark from tree branches and hey, we’re both feeling great other than this weird tummy bug. Juuust kidding. Actually, even in tiny towns with just a tavern and a handful of residents, this has luckily not been an issue. For those of you out there who are vegetarian or vegan and planning to do a long tour, perhaps this is something you’re wondering about? Do not fear, it’s doable! I’ll continue to update and probably write an entire post on surviving small-town America without a co-op, Café Gratitude or Whole Foods from which to forage.

This is feeling far more like a sabbatical than the prior eight months. Work, while still something I briefly check in on almost daily, seems distant. I feel mellow and obligations aren’t pulling at me, a very nice change of pace. Perhaps five hours of pedaling a bicycle requires so much energy that I simply focus on the necessary aspects of life? No boredom yet either – between podcasts, audiobooks and reading on my phone’s Kindle app, I’m consuming content voraciously, and have already read close to 1,800 pages so far, including the huge biography about John D. Rockefeller. Best time to read? At the top of long, steep climbs if I happen to arrive before Chelsea.

Soft light on a curve in the rolling hills of the Palouse.

Soft light on a curve in the rolling hills of the Palouse.

Narg, the angry monster of my hungry alter-ego, is defanged by constantly eating. Nuts, fruit, granola bars and fig newtons all disappear down my gullet. My good friend Evan said one time, “I just realized something: you never stop eating!” That is even more true now that we’re riding our bikes with a heavy load with heart rates in the fat burning zone. I’m eating a lot, but so far it isn’t ridiculous. Unless you count eating an entire 12” pizza by myself ridiculous, of course. Hoping to graduate to a 15” pizza soon!

The Wild Coyote Saloon in Montana. Solid food and nice cold refills for our water bottles. (C photo)

The Wild Coyote Saloon in Montana. Solid food and nice cold refills for our water bottles. (C photo)

I know you’re itching for a story of misery, about how this is SO hard and trying. Other than a gunshot-loud tire blowout two miles from the start and a missing screw on Chelsea’s pedal cleat, I’m happy to report that the weather has been perfect, if hot, and life is good. Don’t worry, we have miles and miles to go, so I’m sure stories will surface. My karma isn’t that good. At the moment, however, I’m sitting on our hosts’ back porch (thanks Rita and Chuck!) with a view of the glowing mountains at 10 pm while drinking ice tea. We are primed and ready for our assault on the Crush-the-Quads sojourn up the steep and long Going-to-the-Sun Road through Glacier. As Jack Kerouac poetically put it, “There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”

Pedal on,

Dakota

P.S. More photos below! Check ’em out.

Testing out gear just prior to our departure.

Testing out gear just prior to our departure.

 

Our route for Days 1-10, just in case you're curious.

Our route for Days 1-10, just in case you’re curious.

Testing out video – this is from Lake Koocanusa headed north in Montana toward Canada. You may need to click through to YouTube to watch it.

Scenes like this are just everywhere in the NW. Such a great place to ride! This is a couple hours worth of riding west of Glacier.

Scenes like this are just everywhere in the NW. Such a great place to ride! This is a couple hours worth of riding west of Glacier.

As if biking isn't hard enough... (C photo)

As if biking isn’t hard enough…a super fun climb into the bathroom on the Trail of the CDA. Totally staged, for the record. (C photo)

Cooled off after a long day in the chilly Clark Fork River and then enjoyed a great night's rest.

Cooled off after a long day in the chilly Clark Fork River and then enjoyed a great night’s rest.

Lunch break at the top of steep (11% grade) Thompson Pass heading into Montana. See the road down to the right?

Lunch break at the top of steep (11% grade) Thompson Pass heading into Montana. See the road down to the right?

Flowers are still firing up in the high mountains!

Flowers are still firing up in the high mountains!

Years ago, some miner was bored in the winter up in Murray, ID and decided to dig a hole in the floor of his bedroom to mine for gold. He actually found some! Now, they just have delicious pizza.

Years ago, some miner was bored in the winter up in Murray, ID and decided to dig a hole in the floor of his bedroom to mine for gold. He actually found some! (Or some variation of that.) Now, they just have delicious food.

Crossing a half-mile trestle on the Trail of the Couer d'Alene. Camera malfunction killed the next day's shots, including the best ones with big moose and baby on the trail. :(

Crossing a half-mile trestle on the Trail of the Couer d’Alene. Camera malfunction killed the next day’s shots, including the best ones with big moose and baby on the trail. 🙁

Old-school sign at a lentil sorting facility.

Old-school sign at a lentil sorting facility.

The undesired but gonna-happen side of bike touring. Two miles in, my front tube exploded like a shotgun blast! (C photo)

The undesired but gonna-happen side of bike touring. Two miles in, my front tube exploded like a shotgun blast! (C photo)

Riding between tall silos on the border of Idaho and Montana. (C photo)

Riding between tall silos on the border of Idaho and Montana. (C photo)

Lovely contrast on a field in Washington.

Lovely contrast on a field in Washington.

Chelsea cruising down a highway in eastern Washington.

Chelsea cruising down a highway in eastern Washington.