Sunday, February 15, 2015

Pedaling across America: August 2007

Lake at the top of Togwotee Pass.

Montana and Beyond
(August 5, 2007; 7:57 p. m.)


I am presently sitting in a hotel in Butte, Montana, after a grueling eight-mile climb across the Continental Divide on I-90. That’s right: in Montana and other western states bicycles may use the Interstate.

I have loved the last few days for the scenery and the people I have met. One night I ate dinner in Dubois, Wyoming with Judy and Ron Hartwigsen and their grandchildren, Dan and Beth Mitchell. Beth has been diabetic for three years, as I mentioned when I posted her picture, but she is a top student and her grandmother calls her “a warrior” because of her attitude in handling her disease. Dan is an avid reader and had interesting takes on many different issues.

Ron retires occasionally. Then he starts a new business and off to work he goes again. A fine family—and they paid for my dinner. Then they sent a present to my motel room. As always, any money I save goes to the JDRF fund.

The next day I rode over Togwotee Pass and down into Grand Teton National Park. Just at the top of the pass was a beautiful lake and I spent an hour relaxing there. I also enjoyed a stretch of 17 miles, coming down from the pass, requiring almost NO pedaling.

Grand Teton was beautiful; but in the afternoon it rained. I camped in the park and had the good fortune to share a bear box with the people in the next site. Bob Garcia invited me to share a steak and a meal with his family and it turned into two hours of absolute enjoyment. He was celebrating his 45th birthday and got spanked pretty good. Bob and wife Teresa have three children, Katie, 12, Jessica, 9, and Phillip, 6. They were accompanied by Teresa’s sister, Dr. Lydia Rose and her daughter Sabrina, 10.

All were hysterical to talk to. Sabrina noted that it makes her mad to be shorter than her cousin, a year younger than her. Then she added, “I’m the second shortest fifth grader in my school. And the shortest kid has a genetic problem and can’t grow any bigger!” Jessica is kind, however and doesn’t rub the size matter in. Phillip handles life with all the girls with aplomb and you could NOT find a nicer family.


More Updating
(Sunday, August 5, 2007; 11:32 p.m.)

As I was saying (when I ran out of computer time at my motel) the Garcia family was a joy to get to know. Bob worked on the B-2 bomber for a time; but the idea of delivering nuclear weapons bothered him. So he took a job as an economist with the U. S. government. Both Teresa and her sister, Dr. Rose, have taught or do teach college classes. Katie and her cousin Sabrina told me they were voracious readers.

My kind of kids.

Unfortunately, Katie let her enthusiasm carry her away and she revealed to me (and TO HER PARENTS) her secret for reading late at night. She shoves a blanket in the crack under her bedroom door.

Now Mr. and Mrs. Garcia will be checking regularly.

Phillip said he had seen a bear at Yellowstone while the family was there—but no one else was sure. Jessica was funny, too, and obviously a bright young lady. Bob should be happy every birthday. He has a fine family.

The next morning I took a picture of the Garcia’s before I left. Dr. Rose and Sabrina were not yet in sight. Dr. Rose then arose (bad pun) and wished me luck. Last I heard as I cycled away, headed for Yellowstone, everyone was teasing Sabrina for sleeping late.

 “I’m not sleeping, I’m cleaning up the tent,” she responded in an animated tone.

I spent part of the morning enjoying the scenery at Lake Jenny. Then I pedaled north to Yellowstone, crossing the Continental Divide twice, both climbs proving strenuous and long. I stopped at one stream and discovered a beautiful waterfall just off the road. A lot of young people were swimming there, some in bikinis. My wife reads this blog...so I shall pass on to another subject.

I spent two days in the park, watching Old Faithful erupt, taking pictures of geysers, the usual tourist agenda. As I was leaving by the west exit on August 3 I saw my first buffalo. So did a hundred cars filled with travelers. We stopped to gawk and take photos. That bull was photographed like Paris Hilton on release from prison. There’s one big difference though: the buffalo was probably smarter.

I pedaled out of the park and into West Yellowstone about 6:00 p.m. that night. I tried to find a motel room after three days camping (one night in the woods near Grant Village, which I settled on when all regular campgrounds were full). No deal: except one place which offered accommodations for $129 per night!

I’d rather be eaten by a bear.

So I began asking around, and ran into a bicycler, Doug Toctropf, who had ridden south from Glacier National Park. He was talking to a local man, Bill (whose name I totally failed to get). Doug and I discussed options...and Bill explained that he had a piece of wooded land five miles north of town. Said we could camp there. Then he thought a minute and offered beds at his house.

“My boys are with their mother. You can have their rooms,” he said. Then he added, “I’m not much of a housekeeper. So it’s one step above a frat house.”

Still: that’s three steps above a tent.

So we took him up on the offer. Bill isn’t a cleaner, but he was fun to talk to and a philosopher. He and I shared notes on divorce and how it affects kids. He filled me in on local environmental issues.

Doug trims trees for a living in Virginia and loves the climbing. He has a tattoo of a chainsaw blade round one bicep. Doug is a hippie trapped in the wrong decade. He once spent a year hitching round the country. Then he got picked up by a recently-released convict headed north to see his girlfriend and enter rehab. Unfortunately, the ex-con had the brilliant idea of stealing a car to make the journey. A police chase ensued. The car spun out and rolled. Doug rolled with it, but suffered only minor scratches. After that he decided to end his thumbing career.

Doug and Bill were a pleasure to talk to. And if Bill reads this: good luck with the two boys, ages 12 and 14. He is committed to being a part of their lives. His license plate reads: TWO CUBS.

It reminds him of his sons.

The last two days have taken me north. I passed Earthquake Lake on Route 287. It was created by a landslide of 80,000 tons of rock in 1959, triggered by the fourth strongest quake ever to hit the United States. I stopped to eat lunch at Cabin Creek Cafe and mentioned to the waitress I was riding to raise money for JDRF.

She smiled and asked with a hint of hesitation, “Can I contribute?”


Almost before I could say “yes” she was off to find her purse. She returned with $20, half hers, half from another waitress. The gift was so spontaneous I was touched almost to tears.

Once more I camped that night in my own “roadside campground.” That is: I found a good patch of trees along the North Meadow Creek, seven miles north of Ennis, Montana. So I slumbered peacefully to the sounds of the bubbling brook.

Today I rode north on 287 and 359, through gorgeous country. Twice I had to climb three miles or more. I hit Interstate 90 and rode west for fifty miles. I had to climb eight tough miles to get to Butte. But in Butte I am.

I’ve completed 3,300 miles. Only 900 to go.

Gene Myers carried gear to cook meals.
I was too lazy and usually stopped at restaurants along the way.

Getting Close
(Saturday, August 11, 2007)

I’m sitting in the library at Walla Walla, Washington. The last three days I’ve been riding with Gene Myers, a 47-year-old computer tech worker from Pittsburgh. Gene took a leave of absence from work and started his trip in Washington, D. C. on June 4. Riding across country has been a dream of his since he was 20; and yet, like me, he finds it hard to believe how close he is to the end. I think when we crossed the Snake River and entered the state of Washington it hit both of us that we not only said we were going to ride coast-to-coast, now we are going to DO IT.

Well...I guess that depends...Gene had three flats in two days. I did my part by racking up FOUR.

Since last updating I decided I had seen enough beautiful country. So I hopped on the Interstate in Montana and rode I-90 for a day-and-a-half to gather speed. On August 6, with a strong tailwind, I managed 120 miles, from Butte to Missoula. There were several large forest fires then burning across the state. So everything was masked in a gray haze. But still no trouble riding.

I think at this point my strength and endurance are excellent.

The next day I left Missoula and pedaled south to Lolo, then took the road to Lolo Hot Springs, up over Lolo Pass. I was worried about this stretch because I knew Lewis and Clark had trouble in the area when they crossed in 1805. The pass, however, was not bad at all. It was a gradual uphill for thirty miles and then a good climb of four miles to the summit. Then it was downhill to Powell Junction, where I ran into Gene and stopped early for the day. Gene and I killed part of the evening at a campground lodge playing checkers. Neither of us could remember the rules and I said I thought you could jump your own men. Using this novel strategy, I thumped Gene soundly, three games in a row, until another camper set us straight.

On August 8 we rode down the Lochsa River, which carries a “wild and scenic” designation. It was fabulous. And the bonus: from Powell Junction to Kooskia, where we stayed that evening, it was 93 miles downhill! We enjoyed a swim in the clear, cold waters and this proved to be a great day.

It was fun to ride with someone else who could appreciate the joys and difficulties of this undertaking. Gene has been riding with a variety of people, himself. For a long time he paired up with Laura “Big Red” Santiago. Laura (who I met briefly when we all stopped at the same place for a meal) joked that her diet on the trip consisted of “lard, sugar and alcohol.” Margaritas, she freely acknowledges, are her weakness. But she has ridden from North Carolina and you have to credit a woman in her 40s for the determination to even make the attempt.

As evening approached, Gene and I found a comfortable camping spot at the Kooskia City Park. The grass was soft and lush. The Middle Fork of the Clearwater River ran alongside. Our tents went up easily and soon we were fast asleep, dreaming of....what the....I awakened all too suddenly....it seemed to be raining!! Gene could be heard rummaging around with his gear, cursing softly.

It was clear sky when we went to bed. What the hell?

Suddenly a huge blast of water hit my tent. A downpour seemed to be beginning. (Fill in the bad words here if you know me.)

I unzipped my tent flap and suddenly realized the park sprinklers were pumping away only a few feet from my camping spot. Gene and I did some quick singing in the rain and moved our tents, bikes and equipment to a drier location.

After hooking up with Gene I changed course so we could ride along together for a few days. We took Route 12 across the Nez Perce Reservation and fought our way against headwinds to Lewiston, Idaho. Yesterday we got off to a late start, both fixing flats before we began, and I fixing a second inside of five miles. By the time we hit Lewiston we had dropped to 500 feet above sea level. Then we paid the price for our easy ride the day before. We climbed back to 2785 feet at Alpowa Pass, just a few miles inside the Washington State border. But what made this a real killer climb was the wind. The Pass served as a giant wind tunnel and we got knocked back most of the way by 30-45 mph blasts. In places the wind almost stopped our forward progress. It was probably the two hardest hours of riding I’ve experienced in the entire trip.

Fortunately, we recovered in Pomeroy at the Sagebrush Cafe. The food was fine and the “Brownie Delight” made the labors of the morning worthwhile.

Last night, after 75 tough miles, Gene and I camped near Dayton, Washington, still on Route 12. This morning he took Route 124 toward Seattle and I followed 12 south, aiming for Portland.

Gene was a humble, soft-spoken man and a pleasure to ride beside.


Donations
(Thursday, August 16, 2007)

I rode a lot of hard miles during my journey; but nothing I did was as hard as handling diabetes, as my daughter Emily must, or as any type-1 does every day. I think she is tougher than me. I know she never complains.

Anyone interested in donating can make out a check to JDRF. Send donations to:

John J. Viall
750 Woodbine Avenue
Glendale, Ohio 45246

I keep a total and send them in afterwards. As of now I am approaching $13,000.

I am proud of having finished my ride. I am MUCH prouder of Emily and how she handles her disease. Her mother and I and her sisters and brother hope to see a cure for this illness in her lifetime.

Thanks to all who supported our cause. My most lasting impression of this journey across America is not the scenery, but the great beauty of the human spirit. I could not have met more good people nor have been treated with greater consideration.

As for the few drivers who shouted and called me “a......” and the like, I hope you can get some creativity into your rantings. Spout some Cartesian logic when harassing bikers, for example: “I think, therefore, I shout stupidly, and I am.”

That would be cool.



I got real lucky when I married Anne.
Sarah is at left, now a nurse practitioner in Washington, D. C.
Emily, right is now a diabetic nurse counselor, also in D. C.


Safe, Sound, Done
(August 16, 2007)

It seems hard to believe: but I have finished my ride after 55 days and 4,088 miles. And I can finally admit I was worried at times—feared I might have promised to do more than I could actually do. I can also admit that I had one close call with a car when a gust of wind blew me too close to the road and one worrisome brush with the creatures of the forest.

My wife need no longer worry, because I have promised not to take another ride like this as long as she lives.

Then again...maybe I’ll take up whitewater rafting.

Gene Myers and I split up and went our separate ways on August 11 and I hope he is soon finished and as thrilled as I am today. I believe he will take great pride in having completed his route, just as any of us spandex-clad fanatics do. (Actually, I don’t wear spandex riding shorts. I don’t have the figure for it.)

As for me, I decided to cut back south into Oregon to save time and headed for Walla Walla, a pretty, prosperous college town. Then I pushed on to Umatilla across the wheat fields of eastern Washington. I saw a lot of local riders and enjoyed talking with them all. You don’t find many depressed, negative people on bicycles, by the way, which is one good reason to ride. As always, I got excellent directions from locals and was able to locate a bike shop where I could stock up on spare tubes.

And cursed I was by the gods: I racked up eight flats in a three-day period!

On August 12 I headed straight down the Columbia River Gorge, despite warnings that winds in the area come “howling up the river.” It was the straightest route to the coast and I wanted to get home. By that point, 51 days into my ride, the only scenery I wanted to see was my wife.

Sure enough the winds blasted me all day and I averaged nine miles per hour and spent nine hours cursing into a gale. I camped free again on Army Corps of Engineers land near John Day Dam. Stars were out in full and the breeze continued till morning, lulling me to sleep.

The next day I was planning to swing south out of the Gorge and out of the wind. Then I heard the weather report on the radio. There would, said the announcer, be no real wind that day. So I kept going, down the Columbia, and was rewarded with spectacular scenery all the way. Sometimes I rode along I-84. But there are large sections of Old Route 30 paralleling the modern road and 30, built around 1916, has great tunnels, challenging climbs, hairpin turns and fantastic views. Rowena Crest requires a climb of several miles but the panorama at the top is worth every drop of sweat. Crown Point, which I reached the next day, also requires a climb of several miles, and is crowned with a wonderful visitor’s rotunda. I talked to a variety of local riders and like a missionary touted the joys of a trip coast-to-coast. I also had an enjoyable conversation with Rabbi Deborah Schloss and her husband, who were kind in their comments about my ride and my desire to raise money for JDRF.

I should also mention the help provided by my brother Tim. The last two days he trailed me or got out ahead and took pictures and helped finalize details of my plane ride home. Last night we stayed in Forest Hills, Oregon, on Route 8. Then I got up early and rode the last sixty miles, through rich, rolling farmland and heavy forest, across the Coastal Range on Route 6, into Tillamook.

Suddenly, I was out of the last mountains and could smell the ocean—or the cow manure near the ocean. Tillamook is the heart of Oregon cheese country. So there are a lot of cows. And a lot of cow wastes. And a lot of cow odors.

Unfortunately, the town sits a mile inland. So that meant riding three miles north to Bay City before I could dip my wheels in the Pacific.

And that, suddenly, was that. The ride was ended. I said I could cross the United States and I did it.

One of my good friends asked before I started, “Why would you even WANT TO?”

Others recommended I carry a gun. My wife feared I would be robbed, by bikejackers, I guess. Almost everyone agreed going solo was a mistake. If a car nailed me and I went flying into the woods, who would find me??

Well, how about bears?

I can now reveal (since I am done riding and my wife no longer need worry) that when I was in Yellowstone I camped in unauthorized territory. I began looking for lodgings around 2 p.m. but camp sites and hotel rooms were already booked. It was raining and cold. So I flaunted rules and pitched my tent a 100 yards from the road in a thick grove of pines. I knew I might be in bear country. So I bagged my food and toiletries and hung them in a tree. Then I lay me down to sleep. Round 10 p.m. some small woodland creature skittered across a corner of my tent and startled me awake. Like a true pioneer I soon fell back to sleep.

About midnight, however, a LARGE creature could be heard snuffing outside my front door.

I grabbed my pepper spray (which I carried to ward off human pests) and clicked the red button to “fire.” I also gripped my bicycle helmet like a frying pan and prepared to whack at any claws that came ripping through my tent. I waved my flashlight about, inside the canvas, but thought better about opening the flap and antagonizing my visitor. Daniel Boone would have handled it differently, perhaps.

But I’m a sissy.

The beast soon wandered away and after overcoming my nerves I eventually went back to sleep. The next morning I found fresh “scat” three feet from my tent. I have described this poop to several knowledgeable individuals and have consulted books about animals, their habits, footprints and bowel movements. Elk and deer leave pellets when they answer nature’s call. And what I saw wasn’t pellets. Then again, elk don’t always leave pellets in the summer. So it could have been an elk. Or it could have been a bear.

If it was a bear I’m glad he was a peace-loving or vegan bear. And if I had looked out and seen a bear three feet from my tent I KNOW who would have been defecating in the woods!

So the bad drivers in big SUV’s didn't get me.

And God’s woodland creatures didn’t get me, either.

Now I am happy to fly home to my family. I feel lucky and give thanks to Anne for allowing me to have my adventure and for being a steady companion and friend and fantastic mother all these years.

I also thank the many contributors to JDRF. It has meant a great deal to our family to have such support.

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