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!
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.
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…)
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.
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.
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!
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.”
P.S. More photos below! Check ’em out.
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.