Tourversary

A year ago today, Ben and I rolled off the back side of the Cuyamaca Mountains into Anza Borrego desert where we crawled into our new tent and sleeping bag not quite sure of the amazing adventure that lay before us.

A year later, we are sitting in the comfort of the local bar, drinking our beer on tap while we wait for food made by someone else, Ben with a respectably short beard, myself typing on a cracked screen, our thighs fitting in our pants the way they used to.

Yet the excitement and wonder that began on that cool January day lingers within us, and as far as I know, it always will.

Thank you all who took the journey with us.

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Also, we promise to get the Washington post up soon!

Montana

The cross into Montana went unnoticed, lost within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park – I had to settle with a picture of the northern gateway in Gardiner, MT.

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We hopped on highway 89, the road we would take all the way up to Glacier National Park, and took a short day to Livingston, glad to be rid of the family-packed congestion. Little did we know what lay ahead…

After a stop at the local coffee shop, we set up camp at the Livingston Fairgrounds beside an empty sheep barn. As we were finishing dinner, gusty winds began to pick up, a tell-tale sign of an approaching storm. We immediately engaged in our well practiced ‘weather prep,’ eventually climbing into our warm tent with our gear covered and secured. A performance of lightning and thunder could be seen and heard in the distance. The wind danced around us, taunting the trees to take a bow. The rain never came.

Eventually, the wind calmed, with just enough energy left to whisper what it had done. Smoke filled the tent, sirens filled the air. The lightning had caused a fire only a few blocks away. Smoke could be seen billowing from a second fire further away in the path of the wind. The groundskeeper came out to warn us of the potential danger, telling us where the hose was in case the flames came too close. We sat in our smokey tent, tired from having to breathe so much smoke in the last month. We might as well be smokers.

We awoke the next morning in a smokeless tent, our bikes still standing under the little white gazebo. We downed some bars and were on our way. After about 30 miles, I began feeling a bit woozy. We pulled over in the tiny town of Wilsall, where I promptly fell asleep on a bench in front of an old gas station turned Historical Center. While I slept for a good half hour, Ben enjoyed some coffee from across the street. By the time we got up and left, we were both feeling a bit better.

On the empty road to White Sulfer Springs

On the empty road to White Sulfer Springs

We pushed our way toward White Sulfur Springs, where we stopped for our second lunch at a place that conveniently also served ice cream. Can you guess what happened next? It’s happened before, and it happened again. Ben left his wallet on the bench in the tiny town of Wilsall, 50 miles away. And if that wasn’t enough to put a damper on the situation, it looked like rain, so we cut our day short only to find out that the “white sulphur springs” was really just a hotel that charged $20 to experience their sulphur spring heated indoor pool. Bollocks.

As we headed over to an RV park, we saw a local woman fall over on her bicycle into a ditch with her baby (don’t worry, both were okay) and a pack of 4 young boys riding the Northern Tier to the east who were very glad to be done with the mountains we still had yet to conquer. We assured them of flat riding till Yellowstone and went on our way, only to find them setting up their tent at the RV Park moments later.

After showers, realizing I had left my favorite necklace on the gazebo in Livingston, mowing down on Ramen Supreme, and suspiciously walking around the ice cream social only to return to our tent after deciding it was rude to eat the ice cream without socializing, a tottering couple stopped by for a chat and made it clear that they thought a British couple the had met travelling around the country with their tiny European car stuffed full with their lives was much more impressive than what we, or the 4 boys just across the way, were doing. We should have gotten ice cream.

 

Wondering if we'll be stormed on two day in a row. The clouds always look serious in MT.

Wondering if we’ll be stormed on two day in a row. The clouds always look serious in MT.

The next morning, Ben called the bar across the street from where I napped in Wilsall in hopes that someone had turned in his wallet. As soon as he introduced himself as Ben, without yet mentioning his lost wallet, the woman on the other end asked, “Ben Blue?” Hooray for small towns and their honest inhabitants; this kind of thing wouldn’t fly in San Diego. Ben eventually organized a mail drop in Libby, MT at the house of some friends of friends we were planning on staying with, who to my delight, read our blog and noticed this wasn’t the first time this sort of thing had happened.

Originally planning for a 100 mile day all the way through the Louis and Clark National Forest to stay with a Warm Showers host in Great Falls, we quickly traded in our mileage pride for an opportunity to stay at the hosts cabin at the far end of the forest. After walking our bikes up the most ridiculously treacherous driveway (think vertical, no joke), we spent our evening envisioning America before white people (Ben was reading 1491), watching the bike-friendly comedy Breaking Away, sipping on a well deserved 6-pack, and playing a very long and inaccurate game of scrabble. Can you find the mistake?

if you look close enough, it should appear....

if you look close enough, it should appear….

 

 

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Descent from the Lewis and Clark National Forest toward Great Falls

Descent from the Lewis and Clark National Forest toward Great Falls

It was hard to leave the next day, both mentally and physically (that driveway was way harder going down), but the riding into Great Falls was pretty easy, though as ugly and boring as urban gets. Just as we were about to leave Great Falls forever, Ben ran into a parked U-Haul trailer and somersaulted over his bike while looking up the next few turn-by-turn directions. Lesson learned? Don’t text and ride.

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While Ben jumped back up with no more than a scratch on his elbow, Ben’s bike did not bounce back so quickly. Can you see it?

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Look at the fork, on the front wheel. You can compare with the one below…

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The impact bent his front fork back a good 3 inches. Luckily the wheel itself was not damaged, but Ben’s bike was no longer safe to ride. And it was 6p.m. in Great Falls on a Friday.

We had 3 options. Find someone who would bend the fork back in place, buy a replacement fork, or buy a ticket home.

We called around and pretty much everyone wouldn’t bend Ben’s fork back – it was a liability, and the only person who was willing to do it was 250 miles away. To buy a replacement, we would have to wait till the next morning to order the part, then pay a ridiculous amount to get it shipped overnight and pick it up on Monday (because Sunday is, well, Sunday) then pay someone to swap the parts out. Buying a ticket home was hardly an option. Also, it was getting dark.

We called the only people we didn’t really know, John and Kristen Judis, the couple who let us stay in their cabin the night before, and told them our situation. Of course, they helped us out, and were more than happy to do so. We jammed our bikes into Kristen’s blue subaru and were fed and entertained with a leftover keg of beer, s’mores, a snippet of the Tour de France, and a dog who liked to go swimming in the uninhabited coy pond. The Judis’ were also hosting a man who had been on the road for just over a year, touring around the country to visit every single national forest (not parks – he was very strict about the distinction) the US has to offer, with only 4 or so more to go.

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That night, we made the best decision we could – we were going to rent a car and drive to Whitefish, MT to the frame builder who said he would bend poor Rosanonte’s fork back in place, 250 miles away.

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$200 later + the under 25 fee (Ben still doesn’t have his wallet, remember?), we somehow managed to stuff our bikes into a Nissan Altima, thanked John and Kristen for their hospitality, and hit the road, although this time with an engine. It didn’t take long before my legs started cramping. Since we had been looking forward to the scenic ride all the way up the 89 to Glacier National Park, that’s what we took, and were bummed to find the rain clouds covering the supposedly stunning view of the Rocky Mountains. It took us 3 hours to cover what would have taken us 3 days, and before long, we were passing through the mountains into Whitefish, both of us dying to get back in our saddles.

We pulled up to Chris Boedeker’s house, a custom bike builder, and brought Ben’s broken bicycle into his garage workshop. After Chris assured Ben that it would either work or it wouldn’t, the boys began bending with all their might. And I say “their might” because, well, take a look.

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As luck would have it (it seemed to have been absent the last few days after all), there were no ripples or crumpling in the steel and it was deemed good to go. After a few test rides we were on our merry way, although still with this damn car! (Check out Chris’s bikes, at Boedie Cycles)

We drove our car to a far away campsite where we had to pay the car entrance fee (even though we were waved through because we only had $5 in cash and the sites were $16) and we went right on car camping in the middle of our bicycle touring trip, and it was pretty strange. At least we didn’t have to hang any of our food bags that night.

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The bent fork created a lot more problems than I had anticipated. Now that we were in Whitefish with Ben’s bike somewhat fixed, we were now at the opposite end of the Going-to-the-Sun Highway through Glacier, a road we had been fantasizing about riding since Ohio (perhaps a sentiment sustained by all the corn).

We returned the car early the next morning just as it started pouring rain, and waited under an awning in an airport parking lot for about an hour putting our bikes back together and waiting for the rain to subside. Of course, it didn’t. We hopped on our bikes, rain gear and all, and rode out onto the busy highway in the drizzling rain. Sooner or later Ben got a flat, and for the briefest of moments, standing there on the side of the highway, I thought of the Nissan Altima…

We watched the magnificent mountains looming above us get taller and taller as we rode toward the park entrance. There’s nothing like a good glacial mountain-scape to make you feel small and insignificant.

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We had finally decided that we would ride in from the west entrance, take a shuttle that fortunately carried bicycles all the way to the east side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and ride it all the way back out the west entrance again – there was no way we were going to miss this.

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And that’s exactly what we did.

McDonald Lake at Sprague Creek Campground – stayed at a hiker/biker campsite with a few hikers

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Next morning, we took the bus over the pass, getting a chance to see what we were getting ourselves into.

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We took the shuttle down to Sun Point, where we hiked around Saint Mary Lake and made jokes about getting eaten by grizzly bears.

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What jingles and smells like peppers?

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you guessed it, a grizzly bear! (think bells and bear spray)

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We rode down to the Rising Sun campsite, making sure to pick up enough rations before settling in.

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That night, we shared a hiker/biker campsite with some hikers, two boys just out of college, hiking around…wherever. As we sipped our not-so-frosty beverages and filled ourselves up on ramen supreme, the boys invited themselves over to our table with their boxed wine and we started to chat. They were on a journey with no destination, just wandering around exploring the great outdoors – apparently this was their second night at the campsite. The folks in the site next to us ended up cooking more then they could eat themselves and offered the 4 of us steak, salad, and a ton of bread; of course we said yes to everything. Somehow, even after eating 2 massive meals in one sitting, we decided we needed more wine, so we all trekked our way over to the general store, just outside the campground. Long story short, we stayed up and chatted for quite a while. I can’t remember exactly what about at this point in time, but a part of me wonders if they’re still hanging out at that campsite…

We packed all our gear at 7:30 the next morning and headed back over the pass. ~15 miles of steady incline, ~1,500 ft. elevation gain, all of it absolutely beautiful.

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Just starting out on the east side of Going to the Sun hwy. Early morning sun on the mountains.

Just starting out on the east side of Going to the Sun road. Early morning sun on the mountains.

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We made it! (3rd crossing of the Continental Divide)

We had originally planned to do some hiking at the top to comply with the 11am-4pm bicycle restriction (due to insane traffic), but the one hike we were planning to do was shut down due to a recent snow accident so we decided to keep on rolling all the way down to Lake McDonald since we still had plenty of time. However, because the road has been undergoing renovation, our trip down wasn’t exactly smooth. We met a few cyclists on our way down and saw a whole load of them heading up.

Starting the decent down the west side of Logan Pass. You can see the road grade angle down to the right.

Starting the decent down the west side of Logan Pass. You can see the road grade angle down on the right.

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One of many waterfalls passes under stonework form the 1920s. Incredible civil engineering on this road.

One of many waterfalls passes under stonework from the 1920s. Incredible civil engineering on this road.

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Even after the repair, Ben's bike pulls slightly to the left because of the bent fork. Good spot for a road test!

Even after the repair, Ben’s bike pulls slightly to the left because of the bent fork. Good spot for a road test!

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an amateur amidst professionals.

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We took full advantage of an all you can eat buffet at the Lake McDonald Lodge then sat watching the thunderclouds roll over the lake outside the hunting lodge where I slept off my lunch. Between the rain showers, we ate ice cream, met some cyclists from South America touring the western US, and shared a campsite at Apgar with one of the hikers we met on our first night at Sprague Creek. We discovered luck was back on our side when we heard there had been a mudslide on the western side of Logan Pass, causing the road to be closed around 1 in the afternoon for what turned into a few days. If we had decided to hike around, we would still have been up there and would have had to go back out the eastern entrance and all the way around. Phew!

We left Glacier in the morning using a secret bike path that could get any biker/hiker in without paying the already reduced fee (it’s right after the bridge crossing the Middle Fork Flathead River on the right side and takes you all the way to Apgar Village. If you’ve passed the “Welcome to Glacier” sign, you passed it!). We took the same road back into Whitefish, where we restocked on food and gear, then headed up the 93 on one of the worst roads of the trip. No shoulder, tons of potholes, and logging trucks going 60 miles an hour on a windy road. If I ever made any headway on growing some hair on my chest, that was the day.

We ran into a few cyclists headed to Glacier, 2 older men and an older woman by herself, all 3 of them in the silver fox stage of their lives – a good reminder that anyone can ride their bike across the country as long as you set your mind to it. Although, all of them seemed pretty burnt out from the mountains between us and Seattle.

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Miles of mustard.

Miles of mustard.

 

That night we were lucky to find a hiker/biker campsite at Dickey Lake for only $2 that was set apart from all the car campers. We watched a beautiful sunset over the lake and had a campfire for the first time since Ohio!

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We rode north to Eureka, about 10 miles south of the Canadian border, then south along Lake Koocanusa all the way to Libby Dam. The ride was hilly with spectacular views of the lake. We found a spot with easy access to the water for lunch and Ben took a dip while I examined the flowers.

Bridge over Lake Koocanusa.

Bridge over Lake Koocanusa.

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We stayed the night just below Libby Dam at a free campsite with no running water. The air was hot and stagnant; we considered jumping in the lake, but the water was murky and had a sour smell to it, so we laid in the grass, choosing to be bitten by the growing number of mosquitoes over sweating in our jackets. A fellow camper gave us a gallon of water in a plastic jug with a hole in the bottom while his friend talked about how bad the skeeters were this year. We crawled into our tent early that night…

The next morning we rode into Libby, stopping for at a diner for the usual breakfast of champions (2 eggs over-easy, hashbrowns, 2 wheat toasts with jam, 2 strips of bacon, and cheap oj). Bellies full, we sped off to meet Randy, our host for the night, at Kootenai Falls, who insisted that we check out the falls before he drove us to his home.

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Since we had already seen so many waterfalls on our trip, Ben and I talked about the qualities of a satisfying waterfall experience. This is what we decided: the most important factor is force; the more powerful the better, whether it’s quantity or simply a good rock bed to splash upon. The second is framing; any waterfall can be made more spectacular with some healthy natural foliage or a good vantage point of a tiered waterfall. Third is height; there’s nothing better than a far away view of a tall waterfall falling through a sea of green. Kootenai Falls, while short and framed poorly, was pure force, and therefore good enough for me.

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We hopped into Randy’s truck and he drove us to his humble abode, the third house we stayed in that was built by its owner. Randy is a friend of Barney Sokol, a gentleman we stayed with in Asheville, NC, who is an old family friend of mine. Barney was excited to find we were headed in the same direction his long time friend lived and was eager for us to meet.

Not to long after we arrived at the house and just after we demolished the bowl of cherries (local, in season, and absolutely delicious!), a wind storm ripped through eastern Montana, blowing over a tree in the front yard before Ben’s very eyes. It’s a good thing we were aware of the upcoming storm – I’m not too sure our tent would have survived…

Randy’s wife, Judy, and their daughter and grand-daughter eventually arrived after having pulled over during the worst of the wind storm and then waiting while fallen trees were removed from the road (they were returning from a successful day of garage sale shopping) just in time for the power to go out. I knew we should have done laundry first!

After the grand tour of the library, kids rooms, and clothes line, admiring Judy’s quilting table, talking about how Barney married Randy and Judy just outside on the lawn, hiking out to the cabin on their property, and feasting on venison shot, cleaned, and prepared by Randy himself, we curled into bed, thankful to be out of the wind.

Next morning we grabbed our gear, which finally included Ben’s wallet, and hit the tree limb littered road, where I managed to get my very last flat tire of the trip. We also noticed my back rack was missing a bolt, so Ben jammed a piece of chip in the slot and we rode onward to Idaho and beyond.

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Yellowstone

East Entrance

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Yellowstone Lake

West Thumb

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Camped at Grant Village w/ a Californian son and father and a Japanese woman as campsite companions. Saw a ton of other cycling tourists that day. We were all very impressed by the variety and price of the beer sold in the general store, a single bottle of which was the same price as the mushy apples and dry oranges.

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2nd crossing

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Old Faithful in the rain

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“Look like a geyser!”

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First Bison sighting – you can’t see it, but we were stuck in a traffic jam

Geyser Basin

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Cuidado!

Fountain Paint Pots

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Camped at Norris Geyser Basin – We watched 2 buffalo chase a man around a lunch table (don’t worry, he was unharmed)

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Norris Geyser Basin

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steamboat geyser – worlds tallest geyser, up to 50 year intervals. all we saw was steam, which I guess is fairly appropriate

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“Choked by Ignorance”

Camped at Canyon Village – Short day, camped with Andrew, who was riding the Continental Divide

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

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Photoshop?

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Mammoth Hot Springs

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As we sat in the shade of the general store, enjoying our ice cream, we once again talked about going home; now that we had gotten over the hump of Ben’s fork, we started to realize that riding all the way to Washington, then all the way down to Hayward, CA, might take longer than the 6 weeks we had before we needed to be back to work at Camp Stevens in San Diego. So, we scheduled a get together with my mom in Seattle and bought a train ticket from Seattle to Hayward. The end was near.

Camped at Mammoth Hot Springs that night with our new friend Andrew, our last night in Wyoming.

Wyoming and the relief of a jagged horizon

As Laney mentioned, the relief started in South Dakota–little erosive features puncturing smooth seas of grain like volcanic islands. Ahead of us pheasants careened out of roadside ponds that would have been impossible in most of the Midwest, where the roads run straight and cornstalks crowd right up against the pavement. In Iowa especially, you got the sense that without fresh asphalt armor applied at regular intervals, robust spears of corn would march straight across the dotted yellow line and on to the the other side, trampling highways just as easily as they had trees and native grasses years before.

Westward in South Dakota, little unplanted islands stood taller and finally rebelled en masse as The Black Hills, and I finally realized that what had been so discouraging about Iowa and similar states wasn’t so much the wind, or the monotony, but the complete human subjugation of the landscape. An old oak surviving in an Iowa state park serves the same purpose as an Indian hauled across the Atlantic and stuffed, stockinged and cravated, into a London drawing room to serve tea: a curio of a destroyed ecology.

We don’t always lament the result of a conflict between agriculture and environment. That the Machu Pichu terraces are much photographed, for example, testifies to the frequent beauty of forced compromise. Architecture profits from the same tensions; its sculptural qualities elevated by straddling an inconvenience in the landscape or posing against tall trees and dark mountains.

But against the advance of modern agriculture, the only geographic defense the plains could muster was, in places, a slight ripple–not enough to force any concessions. The effect is one of careless domination–a cheap corn carpet rolled out over a hardwood floor. Wide houses amble out from the city centers, plopping down in the open whenever they get to squinting distance from their neighbors. And why not? There will always be a place just a bit further off for the animals to run and birds to nest, and so the empty space is forced to retreat continually over the horizon.

I don’t intend this as a commentary on people’s intentions or the necessity of any of it, just as a general lament of the effects. Thankfully, Wyoming is stuffed with unsubtle reminders that the docile patchwork layer we’ve created for ourselves bobs precariously on a roiling magma caldron. Despite appearances in the Midwest, it’s good to remember that the Earth is just barely tolerating us.

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On the first day of July, we rode north out of Spearfish toward Belle Fourche, then headed west through the Wyoming installment of the Black Hills, which actually take a reddish turn once you leave South Dakota. Clay bands wrap around their base and brighten the banks alongside the rivers, more reminiscent of the Southwest than the pine and granite background around Rapid City. Around midday we passed the point where Gen. Custer gleefully shot his first Grizzly, a species that was hunted to extinction in the area within 5 years of his little triumph.

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The good folks of the NPS have inexhaustible energy for the creation and placement of signs illustrating the wonderful ways the earth gives birth to rocks. Early on I dutifully read all descriptions, for instance, of how a pile of ancient sea-creatures had transmogrified into the chalky layer before me, but quickly succumbed to a kind of guilty indifference. In efforts to sooth my outraged inner compulsive-reader, I adopted the same intent stare into the distance one uses on campus to avoid useless conversations with former classmates. Oh, did we miss a sign?

In the afternoon we spotted Devil’s Tower over the distant hills, looking like a single tooth snaggling the jaw of the Earth, and I appreciated it for being such a straight-forward geological feature–it doesn’t require much imagination or sign study to envision a giant subterranean cavern filling with liquid rock, then cooling and being exposed by erosion. I get it… volcano skeleton! Apparently a couple guys first climbed it in the 19th century with 300 foot wooden ladders, which is obviously insane, but I look forward to a return trip with rock-climbing gear.

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The ride to get to the campground at the tower’s base was really toasty, so we took a dip in the river and waited for things to cool off before riding to the base to give the tower a closer look in the moonlight.

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We rode out of Devil’s Tower the next morning and quickly overtook another cyclist towing a trailer with a dog inside. While this is obviously an absurd way to travel (realizing I occupy a very small space in which to talk here), it’s also surprisingly popular. I do understand its initial appeal, but five minutes of thought seem sufficient to expose this arrangement as a really bad idea. The dude seemed pretty sorrowful about finding himself in the middle of South Dakota towing a dog, and the dog even more so, since she kept up an impressively continuous howl from the confines of her trailer. Laney and I tried to give them both some company, but the amount of time we were prepared to ride our bikes really slowly for the pleasure of listening to a dog make a lot of noise proved very short indeed. I suspect dude was actually glad to see us go because he got to put his headphones back on.

The howls faded into the distance with the help of a headwind that was strengthening as we rode south. The extra work was bad enough, but soon things started to take on a campfire smell. The highway had led us straight into a thick column of smoke emanating from an inferno somewhere in South Dakota. We tied bandanas over our faces–a bandit fashion that hadn’t been in vogue on the trip since they were spraying pesticides along the highway in California. The bandana filtration system, though fashionable, makes it really hard to ride up hills–like artificially gaining 10,000 ft of elevation. We struggled through it, only to be rewarded with even stronger headwinds when we finally escaped the smoke outside Moorcroft, WY. After lunch the temperature climbed up toward the triple digits, but the wind was now only attacking from the side. We finally ticked off a bunch of miles and quickly overtook our 2nd and 3rd bikers of the day, an older couple headed to Gillette, where we’d also planned on stopping for the night. We dawdled with them the last ten miles into town, chatting, until they peeled off, exhausted, toward the first campground they saw.

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Laney and I pulled into a park and considered the weather. Starting just outside of Gillette, we had 100 miles of desolate riding until Buffalo, WY with scant services along the way. We did know there was a bar 35 miles north where you could get water, and sometimes camp if you were lucky. If we rode on, the iPhone predicted we would have a tailwind for the next few hours; if we waited, we’d contend with a strong headwind the next morning. We’d already ridden over 65 miles, but we grabbed some snacks and decided to go for it–it’d pass quickly with the tailwind… which of course failed to materialize. For three hours we slogged up and down hills in hot, stagnant air. But as the map promised, when we passed the last natural gas plant the high desert emptied out completely and we rode the last 20 miles to the Spotted Horse Bar in incredible stillness among hills brushed with pink from the setting sun.

Despite the peacefulness, we were happy to tether the bikes in front of the Spotted Horse, which is mostly a collection of used tires, dilapidated trailers and a large trash pit to burn anything that might sully the scene. I’d developed a raging saddle sore and had to ride the last 15 miles standing; and while a beautiful landscape does have many soothing properties, after a certain point it ceases functioning as a salve, and we limped into the bar in search of something stronger.

After settling on Bud Light as the lesser of available evils, I commenced drinking as many as I could before Laney insisted on sleeping. At first, the conversation mostly concerned the subtleties of hay-bailing and the vagaries of water rights, so not much was interrupting my efforts to recruit a phalanx of empty cans to defend my little piece of the bar. Then talk turned to politics, which is when we should have left to set up the tent. A fat hay farmer quickly executed the redneck triple axle: praising guns, hating gays, and referring to the President as a nigger. With the “r” and everything. The rest of the bar awarded him high marks. I almost lost my shit, but confined myself to letting the owner know that I thought it was a pretty embarrassing collection of assholes he let drink in his place. Showing better judgement, Laney dragged me out before I could have further discussions with the upstanding denizens of Spotted Horse. To cap it all off, the water there was contaminated, so we rationed what we had and planned to fill up somewhere further down the road the next morning. We spent the night tucked in between trailers on a patch of grass with another biker who’d arrived earlier but had the good sense to take to his tent before the light of the full moon started turning people into monsters.

We hopped on the road early the next morning to avoid any further socializing and to get a jump on the inevitable afternoon wind. A slight but steady incline slowed our pace for the first hour or so, but when we finally crested the ridge we were treated to the sight of the mighty Bighorn Mountains frosting the distant horizon. After the entire eastern part of the country it was such an unfamiliar but welcome landmark to be leaning toward. The terrain flattened out on the approach to Buffalo and our legs quickened at the prospect of feeling the exhilarating strain of the mountains once again.

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We cruised into Buffalo, WY just after noon and treated ourselves to what was unfortunately, but surely, the worst milkshake of the entire trip. Undaunted, we pedaled over to the enormous and free public pool to escape another afternoon of temperatures in the high 90s.

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Since we’d made such good time that morning, we thought we might as well get a jump on what promised to be some strenuous climbing over the pass. After restocking groceries and waiting as long as we could for a late afternoon break in the heat, we gave up, peeled off our shirts and started the climb amidst the omnipresent haze of distant wildfires. We planned to put in about 17 miles of climbing to make it easier on ourselves the next day. We payed our dues that night though, pouring sweat and struggling up to the campground. I don’t know if it was the heat, or the the novelty of a sustained climb, but those last five miles were some of the hardest riding of the trip for me. We collapsed into the last available campsite and it promptly started raining as we scrambled to get the tent up. It cleared a little later that night and we took a slow walk around the campground, appreciating the smells, sounds and shadows of evergreens, steep canyon walls, and fast, clear water.

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The ride to the summit the next morning felt a lot easier. First we knocked out a series of ups and downs–the seven sisters–then began the long sustained climb to the top of Cloud Pass. Gaining altitude, we were able to appreciate the vestiges of the famed Bighorn wildflowers. Severe snow-covered rock faces monitored our progress from a distance.

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After a quick side-of-the-road lunch we started the charge down Tensleep Canyon. Despite a small hiccup of about 3 miles of road construction that left us with nothing but severely rutted dirt at a 7% grade, the decent was spectacular. The terrain is completely different than the eastern side of the mountain, with enormous rock ramparts lining the sides of the canyon and occasional immense buttresses that force the road to redirect around sweeping hairpin turns. Halfway down, Tensleep creek makes an appearance hundreds of feet below among the cottonwoods, and we followed its icy surge east toward the town of Tensleep and the plateaus of the Bighorn Basin.

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Haze ruined all the pictures of Tensleep Canyon

After the necessary ice cream in Tensleep, WY, we decide to call it a day, and grabbed a campsite in an RV park next to the fairgrounds, teeming with people in town for the annual 4th of July rodeo. Tensleep itself seems a town divided–between cowboys and rock climbers. We hit the cowboy bar that night, and the rock climber’s cafe the next morning. The bar was a bar, but Laney and I both had a moment of supreme enjoyment polishing off breakfast burritos at the cafe the next morning. I remember a distinctly pleasurable feeling of eating the first food in a long time that felt like it had any care put into it, but also a strong urge to be back home enjoying food cooked by friends.

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We opted against sticking around for the 4th of July rodeo, though it did look like some patriotism was about to go down on Main St., Tensleep. The ride out of town was mostly flat with endless irrigated hayfields gleaming slightly unnaturally under brick-colored river bluffs. We stopped for lunch in the inexplicably deserted town of Basin, WY. It was a fairly good-sized place, but there was absolutely no one on the street, we figured maybe they were all at the rodeo. We ate scones and leftover pizza underneath an enormous birch-like tree while church bells somewhere in the distance serenaded the empty streets with John Philip Souza tunes.

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We hit our stopping point of Burlington in the late afternoon and set up in the city park a safe distance from a massive cottonwood–they grow em big out there in the Bighorn Basin. Different groups of children passed through the park, spending a little time in the playground before moving on. None of them paid us any attention, and we concluded they must be used to tents and bikes popping up inexplicably in their park. The local dogs didn’t seem to mind us either.

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Laney and I both figured we wouldn’t be getting much of a fireworks show (Burlington, pop. 143) and felt a little disappointment as we crawled into our tent. But the residents of Burlington rallied in a serious way as darkness fell, attacking local trashbins with fireworks, sending off endless streams of rockets skyward, and finally, as it got even later, venturing out into the park to detonate more ordinance, sometimes only 10 feet from our tent. We drifted off to sleep assuming the last round was in our honor.

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High comedy the next morning from the proprietress of the local convenience store as we shop for groceries. Seconds after we walk in–unprompted: “Um… we don’t really have anything, uh, healthy here.” It’s okay lady, we’re just here for your muffins and peanut butter.

The hay fields faded to scrubland as we rode toward Cody, but I was still scanning the landscape intently in hopes of catching a glimpse of the wild mustang herds that roam those parts. Luck was with us and I managed to snap this picture. The iPhone lacks a telephoto lens, but those ant-like objects in the distance are indeed horses.

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We hit Cody, WY–the eastern gateway to Yellowstone NP late morning. I made a beeline to the bike shop on an urgent mission to pick up a new pair of cycling shorts and avert another potentially devastating saddle-sore incident. We saw about 6-7 other touring cyclists in Cody and chances looked high for us having buddies in the hiker-biker sites when we got to Yellowstone. After the errands, we hitched ourselves to a welcome tailwind and started up toward the Shoshone National Forest. A short way up the canyon we rode through the epic and slightly terrifying tunnel just before Buffalo Bill Reservoir, which is probably a full half-mile long.

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We were flying up the canyon, but it started smelling a lot like rain, so we made a quick stop at the grizzly info station to check our milage to the campground and met a couple cyclists who told us it was just ahead. We decided to call it a day, setting up camp and eating dinner very fastidiously, super conscious of actually being in REAL bear country for the first time on the trip.

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The night was uneventful, and we rolled out early to finish the climb into Yellowstone. _____, one of the cyclists we met the night before reeled us in about a mile up the highway. She was headed up the canyon on her morning ride and offered to let us sit on her wheel for a bit, which we thankfully did for the next 15 miles until she turned back. We continued working our way up the pass as the grade steepened and the turns came sharper and more frequently. We left the red banks of the Shoshone in the canyon bottom far below, rolling through thickening forest as pattering waterfalls tickled the road and the tops of snowy treeless peaks stood up in the distance. Every so often you could catch a glimpse of the old road further below, a thin dirt ribbon twisting endlessly back on itself as it labored upward. I was impressed by the reckless optimism it would have taken to point a Model T up that trail toward the park and hope for the best.

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We finally cleared the top of the pass and enjoyed a spectacular decent to Yellowstone Lake through stands of blackened lodgepole pine sparkling with wildflowers and a bright matting of green young trees, the Tetons just visible as a toothy distant mass to the south.

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This is getting rather long already, so I won’t do a blow-by-blow account of all our time in Yellowstone, as it’s probably one of the places we traveled where the resulting pictures are most able to speak for themselves. Our general path through the park was through the East Entrance south to Grant –> north through Old Faithful to Norris –> east over to the Yellowstone Canyon –> up the North Loop to the Mammoth Geyser Basin.

Of all the things I could possibly say about Yellowstone, it seems fairest to start with the fact that it’s incredibly beautiful in traditional and also extremely bizarre ways. Cars and RVs are everywhere though, and the traffic and crowds really do make for a disturbing experience sometimes. Humans and animals interact unnaturally–each way too comfortable with the other, constantly invading each other’s space, with the vibe bordering on petting zoo. In Yellowstone, every animal is elevated to photo-worthy status, and it’s not uncommon to see a crowd of 20 camera wielding humans creeping as close as possible to an entirely indifferent family of mule deer, which exist in such numbers everywhere in the country that hardly a day went by when we didn’t see 2-3 dead on the side of the road.

On the plus side, no one goes to see anything they can’t drive to, and people are rarely up early. So even on a summer weekend, we were about to take hikes along the canyon where we didn’t pass a single soul, even though there were hundreds parked just a half-mile away at an overlook. And if you get to geyser basins early enough, you can enjoy the simmering landscape in the cold morning air without someone standing in front of you to take pictures. So while the average American way of camping and sightseeing comes off as pretty lazy and lamentable, it does leave the even slightly intrepid traveler with many opportunities for beauty and solitude.

Yellowstone is also very accommodating to cyclists as you’re guaranteed a campsite for $5 regardless of how full they are, and we had the nice change of camping with other touring cyclists 3 of the 4 nights we spent in the park. Scenery highlights were the West Thumb Geyser Basin, the Norris Geyser Basin, and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Mammoth Hot Springs is a must, but it’s also unavoidably a madhouse.

Updates coming!

Just a quick word on the long silence here, for anyone who’s still listening–we’re not stuck in South Dakota. Writing these updates on the road and formatting them with pictures (all done on collaboratively on two iphones) was really time consuming. In the flurry of finishing the trip and visiting all our friends and family back on the West Coast, we got further behind than usual.

We tried to post the rest of the recap once we got settled back in Julian, but alas, the internet connectivity at Camp Stevens somehow lags almost every other populated area of the country we visited–we literally couldn’t post to the site because the pictures took too long to upload and timed out WordPress.

Now, over the winter break, and armed with middling, but still vastly improved! internet connections in Hayward/Costa Mesa, the journey continues. Hopefully anyone that was really disappointed has by now redirected their displeasure at Peter Jackson for splitting The Hobbit into three parts…

South Dakota

The day we crossed into South Dakota, I remember telling Ben, “Wouldn’t it be great if the corn stopped with Iowa?”

Ben said something along the lines of, “yes, but I doubt it will.”

We laughed at the absurdity of the question in an attempt to hide our faltering hope that it would.

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As soon as we crossed the border, it was not cornfields we saw, but casinos. Lots and lots of casinos, a trend that would continue throughout the state.

After we passed the strip, we came upon a building complex that was painted to look like a spotted cow. Who remembers Gateway?

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We took our lunch break at a park in Jefferson and were soon accompanied by two bored teenagers who somehow got on the topic of the president. After overhearing rambling statements of dislike devoid of reason or explanation, the teenagers managed to notice we were there and promptly became enthusiastic about our journey, although swearing they could and would never do such a thing themselves. I’m sure I would have doubted myself too at that age…

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Soon after Jefferson, we came face to face with a narrowly coned two-way construction zone on the freeway that professed itself to be 10 miles long. There was no way we were going to make it through without causing even more traffic, getting hit, and/or shitting our pants, so we took the detour that ended up adding 15 miles to our journey (in addition to the 10) through the cornfields. I was not happy.

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Eventually, we made our way to Yankton, where we had trouble locating the “free camping behind the visitor center” that we had heard about. We decided to make our camping decision later, and headed off to Ben’s Bar to watch the 5th game of the basketball finals, where we were happy to discover a familiar favorite on tap – Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale. We didn’t know it then, but we had finally crossed back into the land of good beer.

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After the Heat won, we scrambled onto our bikes and went off to search for a campsite in the dark.

The next day the scenery started to change. Cornfields, while certainly still around, were scattered between plots of untouched grazing land, some of which supported trees. As the day went on, the cornfields became less, and the land became more. For the first time since we entered Ohio a month prior, I was able to breathe.

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I couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful South Dakota was.

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We spent that night at a recreation area right on the Missouri River, not to far away from yet another casino.

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After fueling up on homemade donuts, we were pleased to find a slight tailwind pushing us along. South Dakota was turning out to be everything Iowa (and Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio) were not.

We pulled into the county park in Winner and listened to young children splash around in the pool while we ate our cold dinner – a collection of fruits, vegetables, and cottage cheese. We set up our tent without the fly in the free camping area and lounged around until the sun went down.

Remember how our tent’s mesh interior is super stealthy when set up on its own? Well, later that night, I woke up to the sound of voices. A group of 3 or 4 people had been walking around the campsite and one of them had spotted our bikes propped up against a barbecue in the dark. The group walked over to our bicycles, reaching out to touch them, when a voice from nowhere said in a firm voice, “Don’t touch our bikes.” Ben and I were lying in our tent no more than 5 feet from where our bicycles stood, completely unnoticed by the wandering group. They immediately turned around and started muttering their surprise. Good thing Ben was awake.

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The next day we made our way to White River, the wind still at our backs. We were already riding a short day in order to set ourselves up for the upcoming reservation, and in combination with the wind, we were at our destination by lunchtime. We settled in at another free county park and spent the day reading in the shade, swatting black flies all the while.

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Next morning, we rode through the reservation and into the Badlands National Park, again arriving around lunchtime thanks to a slight tailwind.

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We pitched our tent in the blazing sun and decided to wait till it cooled down before we hiked around.

After dinner we gathered our things and rode up the hill to the trailhead. Originally hoping for a modest 2 mile hike, we opted for take the shorter walk after noticing some ominous clouds in the distance. We walked for a few minutes, watching as the clouds zoomed closer. We decided to turn around and settle with an overlook, not wanting to risk being caught in the rain. The clouds were now above us, lightning flashing in the distance. We rushed back to our bicycles. People offered to give us a ride back down to our campsite, which was only 1 mile down the hill. We told them we’d be fine. As we raced back, Ben reminded me that our bikes are basically mobile lightning rods. My heart began to race.

Notice the transition in the sky

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As we turned a corner to start the descent, a giant blast of wind literally blew Ben and I off our bicycles, the wind whipping sand onto our faces and into our eyes. There was no way we were going to get down the hill in this weather. Somebody honked at us. We scurried up to an overlook, hoping for some kind of shelter. Even cars were pulling off to the side of the road, wary of driving in the wind. A woman beckoned us from her minivan, warning us of the predicted hailstorm and inviting us in to her car. We locked our bikes to a pole and climbed in the car, where we were offered homemade chocolate chip cookies. 3 young girls were squished in the back, the father was driving. They were on a road trip from Syracuse, NY and we never got their names. They drove us down to our campsite but we stayed in their car until the storm died down, watching the lightening arc across the sky. Most of the people in the campsite had taken their tents down. Those who didn’t watched as their tent struggled to keep its shape, most becoming completely horizontal, from the safety of their vehicles. Our tent was holding up beautifully – the benefits of spending some money on a nice tent. I was very proud. As the wind and rain subsided (it never hailed), they drove us back to our bicycles, where we thanked them prodigiously for saving us from what would have been a horrible evening. We hurried back to our campsite, popped a few beers, and watched the rest of the show. The storm had passed over us, but was still occurring in the north and south, almost a 360 view. People slowly came out of the cars and started setting up/fixing their tents. The people next to us, who had set up their brand new tent for the first time that night, were bummed to find their poles bent and broken. Ben helped them rig up a support line, suggesting to use their car as a wind barrier in case it started up again. The lightening continued for a good few hours more, most of them arcing across the sky, never touching the ground. It was the scariest and most magnificent lightening storm I have ever experienced.

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We woke up the next morning at 5:30, eager to get ahead of the predicted 100 degrees predicted that day. We pushed our way to Rapid City, arriving just after lunchtime in the sweltering heat. We ducked out in a coffee shop, which was still uncomfortably humid despite the AC. As I was waiting in a bike shop while they worked on my bike, it started raining. It didn’t last long and certainly didn’t do much to help the heat. Soon after, we found out there was a large, unconfined and growing fire not to far from where we were, and unfortunately in the area we were planning on riding through to get to the Black Hills. It was 109 degrees.

With Colorado and the Black Hills on fire, crazy lightening storms and rain appearing from nowhere, and record breaking temperatures across the nation, it seemed like the world was on the verge of exploding. !!!!!!!!

We decided to take a rest day in Rapid City, not so much because we were afraid that the world was going to end, but because we realized that the last time we took a full rest day (we had taken a few short days), was in Chicago.

During our rest day, we had a fancy breakfast, saw some folk art, attempted a 3-D marble maze (we got to level 15/~200), walked through an alleyway covered in graffiti, ate raspberry shakes, and went to see the Chapel in the Hills.

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The fire was still blazing away, although under more control than before. We located another route through the Black Hills that was more direct and would still keep us off the major highway.

“Hill” is an understatement. The Black Hills are ridiculously steep. Miniature mountains or sloped cliff might be more accurate. The good thing was, although they were probably an average grade of 9%+, they were generally pretty short climbs. That being said, our first day into the Black Hills caught me off guard.

We pulled into Keystone expecting to find a cutesy little town, perhaps reminiscent of Julian (or at least I was…). Instead, we found a giant tourist town, complete with miniature golf courses, nestled beneath the steep climb to Mt. Rushmore. We took a coffee break at a shop called Grapes and Grinds, specializing in wine and coffee, where the nice ladies working behind the counter let us leave all of our baggage in the back so that we could make the ascent to Mt. Rushmore unburdened. And good thing, the climb to Mt. Rushmore was no joke.

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We crested the mountain and slid through the parking pay booths, locking our bikes up by the buses.

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I’ll admit, I was expecting the faces to be bigger than they were. Four faces in the distance wasn’t really that impressive.

However, reading about the history and process of chiseling giant men into stone caught my attention. Apparently the original plan was to carve local leaders and heroes, white men and native american’s alike, in an attempt to increase tourism in the Black Hills. Borglum, the sculptor, thought it should have a national focus and chose to carve the faces of four white men completely irrelevant and unknown to the people that lived in the area, a decision that brought up a lot of controversy. Jefferson’s nose started cracking and his face was redone 3 different times in an attempt to avoid the crack. The rock for Roosevelt’s head wasn’t solid enough to work with for many feet, which is why his face is so far behind the others. There was a huge debate about whether or not Lincoln should have a beard. AND (my favorite) there is a Record Room built behind Lincoln’s head with the sole purpose of storing the American and Mt. Rushmore history as a way to explain the 4 anonymous men in the mountain to future generations. It sounded to me like Borglum believed in aliens. Unfortunately, it was never completed, like the rest of the statue.

Ben and I as Presidents.

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The ride back to the coffee shop took a fraction of the time it took to get to Mt. Rushmore, and after some not-so-quick wine tasting of horribly sweet wines, which turned out to have no grapes in them anyways (fermented fruits), we headed to Hill City via Old Hill City Rd. From Hill City we hopped onto the Mickelson Trail, a rails to trails pathway that runs all the way through the Black Hills on a much appreciated railroad grade. We stopped for the night on the side of the trail in one of the trail’s provided shelters, which, as we found out the next morning from a nice ranger, we were not allowed to camp at. Whoops!

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Next morning we rolled through Deadwood and into Spearfish, forgetting to take the turn that would have taken us through the beautiful Spearfish Canyon instead of on a bustling highway. Oh well. We spent our afternoon tasting beers at Crows Peak Brewing before heading off to spend our last night in South Dakota at the local campground.

Chicago and the tyranny of the “bikepath”

Sorry for the lack of action on the blog lately–hopefully the march of pins across the map kept everyone convinced of the ride’s progress. As we moved westward, cell coverage and opportunities for charging electronics tailed off. Also, I think we both stumbled into higher quality reading material, which entangled more of our evening hours. But we’ve committed to recapping as much as we can, and updates should materialize fairly rapidly now. So keep checking back.

So to pick up sort of in the middle of where we left off, Laney and I turned our bikes north along Lake Michigan toward Chicago.

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By virtue of the city being taller than everything else around it, there are great views in the Chicago area despite the landscape lacking any prominence beyond what you’d expect to find atop an unambitious pancake.

Approaching a major urban area by bicycle is like moving a beehive: intimidating, but safe with the proper precautions. Prior to traversing some complicated routing, I usually do a lot of poking around the internet for suggestions so we don’t end up on a major arterial dodging delivery trucks and rush hour commuters. The Chicago research was notable for the amount of fear and casual racism that accompanied the routing suggestions. (Casual racism has been an unfortunate recurring pattern in our interactions with people around the country, and I’ll probably write more about it another time.) The most repeated instructions were to avoid Gary, IN at all costs and to try not to linger in South Chicago, don’t stop at red lights, etc. The reasons were usually laid out with deliberate vagueness: these areas are “depressed”, “run-down”, etc. Read: Many black people live there. I’d love to see the stats on muggings committed against people on bicycles–I’m quite sure the risk is entirely out of proportion to the amount of sphincter tightening the prospect incites among people that post about riding bikes on the internet.

Anyway, the ride through South Chicago is nicely signed and about as pleasant as you can hope for big city riding. After awhile you link up with the lakefront trail that runs the length of the city and things actually do take a terrifying turn. The closer you get to downtown, the more people cram themselves onto the paved multi-use lakefront trial: pedestrians of various walking speeds and states of awareness, joggers, bike commuters, cyclists in spandex singlets trying to hold 20+ miles an hour on training rides, tourists pushing strollers. At rush-hour, quite simply, it is a f’ing madhouse. There were, of course, no warnings about this part of the ride into Chicago even though it did feel legitimately dangerous–as long as the person who runs you down on their racing bike is white, it’s probably nothing to worry about.

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The lakeside trail in a quiet moment when I wasn’t too busy fearing for my life to take pictures

Out of self-interest and raised awareness I’ve been reading more about urban planning/bikeable cities on this trip, and the experience of riding into Chicago clarified my thinking about a few particular issues.

First, multi-use pathways are surpassed only by freeways as the most unpleasant place to ride a bike. Even the concept is ridiculous when you think about it: lets take a space not much larger than a regular sidewalk and fill it with all-ages two-way traffic moving at speeds from ~2-25mph, govern it by mostly informal rules that no one really knows or even tries to adhere to, post such transparently stupid traffic control signs so frequently that the only rational response is to completely ignore them, and hope everything goes well. Hell, let’s call it the cornerstone of our green/pedestrian-friendly/alternative transportation strategy. I’m surprised I haven’t come across more tragic stories like this one. And yet, these paths are ALWAYS full of people. It really highlights just how much (sub)urban places completely lack safe places to walk and bike–pave a short stretch and promise people they won’t have to stop at red lights every 50 yards or risk getting hit by a car and they’re all over it.

Now, the people that are doing road bike training on these trails (always men) are unquestionably annoying idiots. Likewise, most pedestrians feel free to take up the whole trail, stop, move around unexpectedly, and take no responsibility for their own safety. No one comes out of these interactions looking good or occupying any moral high ground. Bike advocates vehemently debate whether or not to segregate bicycles from cars/pedestrians. After riding around the country for 6 months, I feel like they should be separated (at least with a bike lane) from cars sometimes (say on roads with speed limits over 25 miles an hour) and pedestrians always. At the very least separate trails should exist for bikes and walkers. Sidewalks are a whole different story, and I should probably stop going down the rabbit hole at this point.

I guess my conclusion for this segment is to suggest that anyone who feels any city with a few car-free paths is doing pretty well should attempt a stroll along Lake Michigan around, say, 4:30pm on a sunny weekday and see if you have fresh opinions.

In a happy coincidence, my sister Marea was flying into Chicago for an Americorps reunion the exact day of our arrival and we were able to share a downtown hotel room for a night. Taken-aback hotel employees even managed to stack our bikes in the luggage closet, though it did take 15 minutes to quarry them out of the black suitcase mountain the following morning.

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After the night downtown with Marea, the three of us shared a mediocre breakfast, (Frequently disregarded iron law of breakfast: chain breakfast places always disappoint, though the coffee will be better on average than a random greasy spoon) then did the standard Millennium Park-riverwalk tourist loop.

Normally any major city’s most touristy destination oozes lameness and unabashed hucksterism, but Millennium Park feels really worthwhile on almost almost all fronts. The Cloud Gate is a brilliantly interactive piece of art, the gardens are beautiful, and the combination of the park and the space along the river makes gawking at buildings much more satisfying since they can be admired from a distance. It compares well to SF and NYC where an architectural walking tour sometimes imposes the sensation of sitting front row in an IMAX theatre.

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It was sad to get only a half day with the sister but we had to share with her Americorps buddies. So after a quick stop to replace Laney’s worn tire and some tubes, we relocated to Lincoln Square where Laney’s stepbrother Brendon graciously hosted us for a few days.

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Brendon moved to Chicago for art school 10 years ago and has since managed to curate one of the most interesting and immaculate apartments I’ve ever seen. Aside from good coffee, he was well-stocked with political/historical insights about the city, food recommendations, suggestions of notable public art and good conversation generally. This blog post is doubling as my public offer to publish his tour guide to Chicago.

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Following some of his good suggestions, we managed to catch part of the free Chicago Blues Festival in a return trip to Millennium Park–the music was good, but watching people deranged by the sun and the possibility of public exhibition attempt dancing was more entertaining.

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We also stopped in at the Chicago Cultural Center, formally the city’s main public library. The CCC would be worth checking out even just as a spot to duck out of the downtown heat and madness, but it’s an incredible building, extensively mosaiced on the interior and crowned by two Tiffany stained-glass domes.

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When we visited we wandered through Morbid Curiosity, a salon-style exhibit of hundreds of items–a fraction of a private art collection on the subject of death–from Dürer prints to 15th century Catholic funeral vestments. Macabre and fascinating.

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I could only sneak one illegal photo at the exhibit

We didn’t do a ton of fancy eating in Chicago, just a couple of quality neighborhood places–Thai and Ethiopian–that Brendan took us to close to his place. In keeping with the pursuit of regional “specialties” we grabbed the inevitable deep-dish pizza for lunch. Verdict: Fairly delicious. There are definitely worse tourist foods. We also had good pastries (Cafe Selmarie) at a place in Lincoln Square.

Laney and I have both been to Chicago before. For me, just as recently as last September with my mom (another awesome trip). So even though it’s a really fantastic city to visit, we both felt the urge to get back on road (seemingly stronger and stronger as the trip goes on), and we struck out toward Iowa after a two-day visit. Short by our standards, but a much needed cultural revitalization amidst the cornfields. This time, for the unpleasant ride out of the city we decided to consult Google Maps, which despite a penchant for turning a blind eye to the practical differences between paved and gravel roads, suffers from no racial biases as far as I can tell.

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There’s no “I” in Corn

Indiana

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Apart from the reindeer, the initial transition into Indiana was seamless – the corn was nothing new. It wasn’t until we were 30 or so miles in that corn fields turned into tidy garden plots, tractors into horse drawn buggies. Every other house had laundry flapping in the wind, the muted colors of children’s overalls, women’s dresses, and ill-fitted pants the same on every line – one size fits all.

Welcome to Amish Country.

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Never before had we been able to pass anything else on the road. Trotting along the shoulders, the horses hooves slowly tear up the asphalt, adding another obstacle to their already prolific excrement. Children ride in buggies without adults, innocent to the horrors of the DMV as they ogle at our own odd arrangement (it’s all relative). Bicycles are neatly propped along the sides of houses, the rack space limited. Many cyclists passed us on the road, most of them beardless young men sporting stocking caps. Young children playing ball in the front yard, all the girls tucked behind their little white bonnets. I felt like I had travelled back through time.

The best part about it all, everyone seemed eager to wave back.

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After a quick ride through the very touristy Shipshewana, we stopped at the Amish/Mennonite museum, excited to learn the reason behind the mysterious lack of mustaches.

A not-so-quick history/my personal opinion lesson:
The Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterites are all Anabaptists, meaning they all hold the belief that adults should voluntarily choose to be baptized. The state, however, was all for involuntary infant baptism, and was unsurprisingly intolerant and harsh toward these ‘radicals.’ So the Anabaptists made their way to the Americas to voluntarily baptize in peace. No longer busy resisting a common enemy, the Anabaptists struggled to find common grounds amongst themselves and split into many subgroups, eventually evolving into the main three: Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite.

To use the same metaphor chosen by the museum, the Amish are masters at building fences, keeping their communities together and the rest of the ‘world’ out. They are only allowed to engage in things that simultaneously strengthen the community and bring them closer to god; everything else is forbidden. This is where a lot of the discrepancies occur – not everyone agrees on what is considered a distraction. However, the various subgroups of the Amish all seem to agree that formal education (because ignorance is bliss), electricity (because the wires will connect them to the world), cars (because people will travel too far from home), drinking (because it’s obvious), and music (because…I’m honestly not sure why) are serious no-no’s. Simplicity, in all sense of the word, seems to be a strong theme.

However (this is a big however), the Amish have been known to bend their own rules. While they are not allowed to drive a car themselves, they are allowed to be driven around in a car by a non-Amish individual! Same goes with other electronics. I can’t decide if this is mere laziness or selfishness (Hopefully none of them are employing someone to read this post…). The museum also used an example of a local cheese factory, that, in order to continue selling their cheese to the public, had to begin using some kind of electric machine to insure the quality of their product. Big question here, “Does cheese bring us closer to god?” They must have specialized in swiss – the holiest cheese – because their answer was a big, “yes!”

There are also a lot of strict rules regarding personal appearances. Since they value the community over the individual, everyone must dress the same – modest and simple, with a lot of rules. All the little boys wear overalls, married women aren’t allowed to wear buttons, and married men must grow out their mustache-less beards.

The reason behind the lack of mustaches is because mustaches were popular during the second world war (think Hitler) and therefore, became linked with war and violence. I wonder if people would stop yelling rude comments out of the safety of their vehicles if Ben shaved his mustache….

According the the museum, the Amish population is on the rise. How is this possible, one might think, since they spend their lives keeping everyone out? Still unsure? Two words: birth, control. Or lack there-of really. One wonders if this is really a sustainable lifestyle…you can only build so many fences.

Also, at the ripe age of 16, young Amish boys and girls are allowed to have their Rumspringa, a two year free pass to do whatever they want before they voluntarily choose to never do it again. The museum said the return rate was around 90%, probably because after 16 years of estrangement from the “world,” living a “worldly” life might seem a little, for lack of a better word, strange.

The Mennonites are a group that split away from the Amish early on, disagreeing with the strict isolation and simplicity so strongly desired by the Amish. Although they do share similar core religious beliefs, they do not think engaging with the “world” brings them farther from god. Mennonites dress in normal clothes, use electricity, drive cars, and listen to music – in other words, they chose not to build any more fences. In my opinion, this seems a lot more simple.

The museum did not talk about the Hutterites at all, beyond ensuring us that they existed. I’m not sure I was convinced. Just kidding!

After the museum, we headed over to Rise n’ Roll bakery, recommended by our hosts for the night, to get a taste of “Amish crack” (aka donuts). I’m not sure who keeps up the website… Unfortunately, they were out of fresh donuts, so we strapped a half-dozen frozen caramel cinnamon donuts to the back of my bike hoping they would defrost by the time we arrived at our host’s house in Goshen, IN.

Thankfully they did, and it was out of politeness that we did not eat the whole box in one sitting, which is pretty astonishing considering the nature of crack, Amish or not.

Our hosts, Tari and her son Nick. After feasting on fajitas, we rode over to Chief’s Ice Cream for a delicious dessert (the donuts leave you wanting more), than back to the house to discuss HeLa cells and the cellphone/popcorn myth.

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The next morning, we headed out to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, stopping at Notre Dame in South Bend, on the way.

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We snuck into a primitive campsite tucked out of sight beneath the trees (surprisingly, there was no sand to be seen), and feasted on cucumbers with crackers and triple creme cheese, cherries, wine, and watermelon – a delicious birthday dinner!

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Eager to see some dunes, we headed out to the lakeshore with high hopes. Unfortunately, the dunes were further up the eastern side of the beach, and we, of course, were headed west. Whoops!

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Can you see Chicago?
Look right above the tip of the patch of grass – click on the picture to enlarge it.

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How about now?

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Illinois

As we closed in to Chicago, cornfields and gardens turned to tightly fenced backyards, tractors and buggies to minivan traffic jams – a corn-eater metropolis.

We were lucky to have discovered a series of bike trails that would take us from the Dunes all the way into Chicago without having to fear being hit by a careless cell-phone driver. Yes, it’s still legal out here.

We popped off the trail to fuel up on Mexican food, which we haven’t had since….I cant even remember. Apparently Chicago is known for having good Mexican food. As we munched on tacos and fajitas, a man with his wife and daughter walked in and promptly started asking about our bikes. After a full meal of across-table-talking, the man took care of our bill in return for a tour of our bicycles. We were more than happy to comply.

***We decided to write about Chicago separately – check back for Ben’s post about the Windy City soon!***

Riding out of Chicago was much worse than riding in, as it always is around big cities. Despite having hopped on the Grand Illinois Trail, which will take us all the way across the state from Chicago to Moline on a series of canal-ways, we were still riding through urban areas for at least 40 miles.

We cut our day short after discovering a free campground off the trail, exhausted from a day’s worth of exceedingly hot urban riding.

Next morning, we arrived in Morris with more than enough time for a second breakfast. We quickly stopped by the post office to pick up our mail drop (it took a lot longer trying to fit everything into our bags), and then headed over to the local diner to grab a bite. Just as we were leaving, a couple asked if they could take our picture for the local newspaper. It’s quite possible we’re famous in Morris, IL.

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20120704-182731.jpg Thanks for all the goodies! We love TJ’s!

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We continued on the GIT, stopping for lunch just in time to see a 170+ vintage tractors drive by on their way to their show!

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As we packed up our food to hit the road, I noticed I had a flat. The first one since Troy, NY.

3 flat tires later, I was ready to call it a day, so we pulled off into a city park in Spring Valley to awkwardly loiter and watch the baseball game before we felt comfortable setting up our stealth camp in the darkness. Luckily, we just traded out the interior of our tent, from solid to mesh, due to the increasing heat. This was our first night sleeping in the all mesh interior, and it proved itself to be highly stealthy. 3 cop cars rolled by without seeing us, and that was just when we were awake.

Like usual, stealth camping means incredibly early mornings, and as usual, I was not a happy camper. The gravel “highway” we took 10 miles down to breakfast, a mismatch of giant boulders and sand traps, didn’t do anything to improve my mood. It wasn’t till after some huevos rancheros, made by a darling older lady who was so excited to tell her kids about us (but decided not to once she realized they would probably be inspired to embark on a similar trip), that I was starting to feel remotely awake. We were back on the trail at 7am.

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We stopped for lunch at one of the old locks, the resting place of one of Ben’s riding gloves, taken from us by a gust of wind. The chocolate covered peanut-butter filled pretzels, given to us by Ben’s sister Marea, had reformed into a giant block. It didn’t stop them from being devoured, however.

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We encountered another touring cyclist, also headed west, at an information center along the trail. Turns out, Ryan was also planning on visiting the Badlands/Black Hills, so we talked maps for a while before wishing each other luck and hoping to run into each other somewhere in South Dakota.

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Of course we ran into him again much earlier. That very night, in fact. After stopping in town for some beers and a giant sandwich, we pulled off onto one of the locks, glad to see a tent was already pitched. We continued our previous conversation of maps and bikes, and provided some duct tape for some quick pannier-mending. As the sun was going down, two locals drove by with fresh picked raspberries promised to Ryan before we had arrived. One sporting a tie-dyed t-shirt with a giant mushroom in the center and both obviously stoned, we talked about cornfield parties and the impossibility of growing dill, all of our hands stained from the juicy wild raspberries by the time they walked off into the sunset.

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Next day was a short ride into Moline, 1 of the 5 Quad Cities (confusing, right?) where we hung out at Starbucks (we both have gift cards!), and waited for the taco ride to begin.

Um, taco ride? Yes, taco ride. Our host in Davenport goes on a ride with some of his biker buddies every Wednesday, and tonight was taco night. We met our host and his pals in front of the Celebration Belle, and rode along the eastern side of the Mississippi 10 miles or so to a dive bar with $1 beef tacos. Sure beats the mashed potato and canned sardine tacos we’ve been having….
Nothing says a good yield like a John Deere harvester.

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Iowa

After we managed to eat more tacos than everyone else, we headed back to the cars, loaded our bikes in Dustin’s van, and crossed over the Mississippi river one last time into Davenport, IA. By the way, have you heard of Ragbrai?

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Dustin ran a printing business out of the comfort of his own home. Two apartments turned into one, one of which lacked a front door and opened up into the hallway, every wall was adorned with past printing jobs. Our room had two giant wedding advertisements, the two beautiful brides and a cartoon roller derby cut out watching over us while we slept.

Dustin also had a multi-color silk screening press.

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and one day, he found a bat in his paint…

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The next morning we were both moving a little slower than usual, having had trouble sleeping through the heat. We didn’t get on the road till 11, with 70 miles to go.

As soon as we left Davenport, we were once again fully submerged in corn. When we first entered the corn belt long ago in Ohio, the corn was hardly up to our ankles. By now, the corn was well past our knees. For miles and miles the landscape remained the same – cornfield after cornfield after cornfield. The only other humans we would see were the occasional farmers driving their tractors. Otherwise it was just us and the corn. The lack of population meant the roads were mere gravel pathways, another setback to miles and miles of monotony. Also, who started the rumor that Iowa was flat?

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With all the corn just up to our knees, we quickly noticed Iowa seemed to lack any trees. We also quickly learned that any patch of trees we did see meant a state park, and thankfully that was our destination.

Ben looking sad, probably because he’s tired of corn.

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Right before Ben manages to spill the rest of the almonds. Whoops!

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Next day we headed into Cedar Rapids, a town we were told was a smaller version of Portland………..not so much. We managed to spend our whole afternoon drinking beers at a bar and writing posts, as an older motorcyclist pumped us up about riding through South Dakota. Unfortunately we still had a lot more corn to sort through…

We finished our day a little short in the town of Brandon, home of Iowa’s largest frying pan. The one good thing about Iowa is that most of the county parks have free camping and the state parks are around $9-11 a night.

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Remember a while back when I joked about us drawing detailed little maps of Illinois and Iowa in the Troy Public Library in New York? Well, Ben had planned out Iowa to the day, and our time spent drinking in Cedar Rapids had torn those plans to bits. Because neither of us wanted to re-plan the rest of Iowa, we decided to take another short day to put us back on track. So we took our time making frequent stops to pick wild raspberries. By the time we reached Waterloo, not only had I gotten raspberry juice all over my jacket (the thorns ripped tiny holes in the bag!), but my entire body was covered in raspberry bush scratches. After a few hours in a coffee shop, we acquired some cookies ‘n’ cream and feasted on wild raspberry covered ice cream in the park. Yumm!

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We were lucky to find a spot on a Saturday at the nearest state park, and even luckier to have avoided the fee. As Ben wandered through town to find an ATM (in order to pay in case we were approached), he got caught up at a bicycle bar in the rain. Bummer.

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Another day, a lot more corn, and not much else to say.

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We stopped at another tree haven state park and ran into a tandem couple riding from Washington to New York.

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The next day was super hot and super windy, the perfect excuse for an ice cream break. As we headed toward the grocery store, we ran into a ex-racer and his kids, all on bikes and full of questions. Later, he found Ben and I in the store and after asking if we were sponsored, handed us $20. It’s amazing how far $20 can go when you’re riding your bicycle. Thank you!

After another night at yet another state park, we pushed our way through tough winds to Storm Lake. After spending a few hours drinking smoothies and eating a sandwich called “The Locomotive,” we headed to the first campsite we’ve paid for in a while, and all because they had keycards for the bathrooms. After setting up camp and eating a quick dinner, we headed over to a local bar to catch game 4 of the basketball Finals.

As we headed back to the coffee shop for breakfast, we passed through the arboretum historical park – a park along the lake that has a wide variety of trees grown from seeds taken from various historical sites/occasions. While munching on bagels, the barista told me, “better get your biking done quick! It’s gonna rain in an hour.” I don’t think she understood what I meant when I told her I was going to ride all day.

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Nevertheless, we got out of there as soon as we could, hoping the storm would pass just North of us. For a while, we were riding faster than the storm, finding pockets of blue skies here and there. But of course, the rain caught up with us eventually, but thankfully could do no more than drizzle.

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We pulled into Sioux City just as the rain cleared, but were thankful to get out of the weather as we pulled our wet bikes onto the tarp in Mark’s living room.

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At the sound of “pizza and beer,” we jumped into dry clothes and were off to Mark’s favorite pizza joint, where we met up with his friend Tammy. After dinner, Mark and Tammy took us on a quick vehicular tour of the town, showing us some great architecture along the way.

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Happy Independence

The burn ban ain’t stoppin’ no one!

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Burlington, WY.

Have a safe and happy 4th!

Ohio: Into the Corn

By the time we left Buffalo, the width of New York was starting to rival Texas in our minds. It wasn’t that we expected Pennsylvania/Ohio to offer anything revolutionary in the way new scenery, but you start looking forward to border crossings as mini-events in their own right. Even though the milage varies wildly between them, there’s some cumulative feeling of accomplishment as you take a picture in front of each new sign. I might start feeling like a burden soon though–I think I’ve almost depleted my repertoire of poses.

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Still, we had just one more night in New York before we could add another notch to our belts, and we set off along the shore of Lake Erie, enjoying the novelty of a body of water that we couldn’t see completely across.

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It started getting kind of rowdy out on the road though, being Memorial Day. Every township/county/municipality in existence has its own beach and corresponding contingent of drunk young people. (Also, any chance we can standardize these designations nationally? What does it all mean?! Mostly I just want to know ahead of time who’s going to be writing the ticket when they find us camped illegally in their park.)

Delaney had a MILD (mild moms, mild) near miss when a kid pulled his car to stop on the side of the road right in front of her, and just after, another kid yelled at me to get to the side of the road out the passenger’s side of his best friend’s ride. (As I ride a bicycle, I’m always on the side of the road.)No scrubs homie. For the record, I almost always gesture obscenely when people yell at me out of car windows, but no one ever wants to stop and talk about it. Hecklers have no conviction these days.

By any reckoning, it was time to get off the pavement, and we rolled into Evangola St. Park and were happy to see three other touring cyclists sharing a site in the campground. They were doing a circumnavigation of Lake Erie, and we had a good chat about bikes, gear, and touring generally. One of the three, Jeff, was getting ready to do the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail and had one of the most lightweight setups we’ve seen on the road: fully ready for bikepacking with custom frame bags and the whole business. It was a little more extreme than I’d be willing to go for more than a few weeks, but I aspire to something similar. His site about the trip is here. We wish him luck–riding that route is certainly high on my list of future rides.

Despite the good company, Evangola epitomized everything that sucks about campgrounds: cars coming in and out at all hours, music, but worst of all, marauding raccoons. It’s not even the fault of the animals; people are just such a mess. Lawns flaked with a dandruff of trash, leftover food in the fire-pits, 80% of the time it’s gross and unpleasant. As darkness crept in, we looked up and noticed a fat raccoon treed just above our picnic table, waiting complacently for the opportunity to come down and scavenge. Rangers rumble by in F-250s on an endless loop. It’s hard to fork over $15 for the pleasure of this experience, and in the morning we found a dirt track leading into the woods and followed it out to the road. We’re pretty over feeling even the least bit sorry about the camp and ditch, but we cleaned up a lot of trash at Evangola and we’re calling it even.

We kept working our way west along the shore of the lake, using the intermittent rain storms as excuses to snack excessively. When the clouds darken, we eat Clif Bars. We had to keep stuffing ourselves for energy as the wind swung straight into our faces, but we slogged it out. For whatever reason, it takes so much more energy to ride into the wind than it does to attack hill. Sometimes all you can do is collapse into the grass and wait for some motivation to go on–usually forthcoming in the prospect of having to sleep on the side of the road.

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With the wind, we plodded along, getting well-acquainted with the scenery on offer: Grey water to the north, corn and grapes everywhere else. Grapes thrive next to the lake because the water mass works like a giant heat sink to extend the growing season, and the region is known for its sweet wines.

We pulled in late to Erie, Pennsylvania, and scored a sweet campsite right on the beach next to Jeff, Brian, and Daniel from the night before. We downed a couple gift Yunglings and watched the sun set over a large body of water for the first time since we left California–a comforting sight.

We had a short day planned riding out of Erie, so we stuck around for the morning and rode around Presque Isle, a preserve that juts out into the lake, and the site of some major navel happenings during the War of 1812. Quick, someone name a significant figure from the War of 1812! Commodore Perry anyone? Well, you won’t escape education if you visit Presque Isle as there’s abundant signage celebrating Perry and his accomplishments, including a dubious winter spent with his ships solidly frozen into the bay while diseased men died miserably all around him.

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It’s hard not to cast about the landscape with a suspicious eye as you stand reading these descriptions in bright sun, surrounded by verdant greenery. Who would suspect of the terroir a capriciousness capable of burying everything in sight under huge slabs of ice? Unsettling.

In the afternoon we rode out to Conneaut, OH to drop in on Calvary Camp–childhood summer retreat of our friends and former co-workers Sam Borkovic and Nicole Miller. Nicole is spending her summer there, so we got to catch up on the Camp Stevens news, and admire the baby garden she’s nursing at Calvary. (Don’t worry Nicole, based on a thorough survey, we’re pretty sure it’s impossible to fail at growing corn in your part of the country. So you’ll have that, at least.) We grabbed some beer and BBQ at a local place with Nicole and her coworkers, where I continued to be amazed ubiquity of certain San Diego microbrews. Green Flash and Ballast Point rep much harder than I would suspect having visited their tasting rooms back home (though I know GF has spread out into some bigger digs recently). Thankfully, they had some stuff we hadn’t tried and we got our first taste of Great Lakes Brewing Co., which stacked up well. We capped the evening with a cone of Whippy Dip, natch. It was good to see Nicole.

We only rode 40 miles or so the next day, because we wanted to hit the closest camping to Cleveland so we’d be perfectly set up to pass through the city in one full day. The destination was Lake Perry Township Park (Free camping for touring cyclists! Don’t mind the nuclear cooling tower!).

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It wasn’t immediately clear at this place where to check-in since all these local places have their own system. We loitered around in the park a little, and then made a move toward the campground. We were waking our bikes through the entrance when a woman popped out of snack bar with a annoyed-sounding “where ya going?!” After letting us sputter for a bit, she got around to telling us where we could camp and that it was free, but she didn’t seem too gracious about the whole thing. As we were getting over that interaction, the clouds started rolling in, and it seemed like we were going to be in for it again that night, and all through the next day. The forecast didn’t disappoint, and we woke up sopping with the prospect of more of the same.

Ever since turning west, for me at least, there’s been some anxiousness about coving ground, and both of us really wanted to avoid just sitting around for the day, but the weather was just too stormy. Figuring we could do worse than a covered pavilion in a free campground overlooking Lake Erie, we sat and watched the waves explode into foam against the sea wall and golden eagles quivering over the spray, still hunting in all the turmoil.

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Sometime in the afternoon the snack-bar lady returned, and we realized that she wasn’t mad at us the night before–just hard of hearing and prone to shouting a bit. She felt bad that we were sitting out in the weather and made us a couple hotdogs. I regretted my inner-monologue from the night before and am trying to remember the lesson that people are almost always trying to be nice/helpful. We had good reinforcement just the next morning when an older biker who done some touring previously insisted on picking up our check for breakfast. Me: “Wow, that was really nice.” Laney: “Damn, I should have ordered orange juice.” (Background: Delaney still isn’t totally used to getting up as early as we do now, and often she’s blindsided at breakfast. Drawn in by descriptions of pancake combos and exotic side-dishes (wow, scrapple!), she sometimes forgets that the first question from a waitperson is always, “Anything to drink for you?” This leads to a dilemma, as orange juice is her breakfast drink of choice, and as we all know, depending on whatever the place is calling orange juice that morning–on the Tang to fresh-squeezed scale–your average Lrg. OJ can set you back anywhere from $1-5. Usually too embarrassed to fumble through the menu under the impatient eye of the server, Laney generally does some mental calculus, the vagaries of which I still don’t completely fathom, and either gambles on the orange juice order, or not. Something about the diner that morning (they had a salad bar? the waitress had bedazzled jeans?) stayed her hand. It’s out of my power to explain further, but feel free to contact her directly if the exact equation would be of some use to you. Editor’s Note: The facts of this previous passage have come under some dispute, and fairness demands that we mention the subject contends, “[she] always searches for the price of orange juice first,” but, “sometimes can’t find it before a drink order is demanded.”)

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We started the ride through Cleveland
in a dry headwind with traffic starting to pick up as it always does on the outskirts of a city. Suburban traffic is the worst–relatively heavy number of drivers, most of whom don’t see bikers regularly. The best cities to approach have greenways leading into the heart of them: Nashville, Roanoke, Chicago; Cleveland just had suburban arterials leading to the lakefront, though there are some trails along the shore. I’ve noticed that we almost always ride through at least one really affluent neighborhood when approaching mid-to-larger cities, and I think it’s due to the correlation between wealth and less traffic. The unfortunate coincidence is that due to lack of density in these developments, the areas where the fewest people bike and walk as their primary means of transportation have the best streets for it. For me, the architecture of these neighborhoods–frequently very beautiful–has a sadness built into it. They feel empty of people (excepting the landscapers) and more like a showcase of exquisite little fortresses and their grounds. Good riding though.

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Just before downtown Cleveland, the pavement turned into something resembling an ice-flow: contiguous from a distance but riven through with cracks and holes. And thus, Cleveland snatched the the crown and left Albany to fight it out with that service road outside of Yuma.

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Downtown Cleveland, or at least the parts we rode through, has a pleasing industrial-center-all-grown-up look about it. We weren’t planning to stay the night, but we did manage a pretty surgical chili and beer excursion. Apparently Cleveland’s inner city is growing faster than its suburbs, which is unusual for many urban areas interesting in a lot of ways. All we can personally attest is that the Market Square area has impressive brewery/pub density. Would visit again.

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We couldn’t linger because we’d arranged to stay with a couple outside the city. They were offering dinner which is always a treat, and more intriguing this time since I’d confirmed we “had no dietary restrictions.” Sam and Susan pulled into the driveway with groceries just after we arrived and we commenced feasting almost immediately. Beautiful cheeses and dried fruit, simple and delicious grilled chicken, asparagus and pork tenderloin. When Sam started pulling cooked chicken fat off the meat and sandwiching it between baguette and thin slices of parmesan as little umami bites, we knew we’d found our people. But it’s not even about having a meal really, just being a guest is so refreshing sometimes, once you settle into it–letting go of the constant maintenance of your situation that accompanies every moment of extended travel in unfamiliar places. And then there’s the real joy of having conversations that go beyond the description of what the hell we’re doing, which we give multiple times a day and has solidified into a bit by now. We’re just very thankful for the ability to slip into this alternate universe every once in awhile; and, if the universe happens to accommodate falling asleep with a glass of port while watching the latest Sherlock, so much the better. Many thanks to Sam and Susan for so consummately crafting that little bubble for us, and for all our hosts along the way who’ve each taught something about how to do it graciously.

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I feel like I’m approaching a second theme for this post beyond windy corn: the constant generosity of people we meet on the road.

Going above and beyond, Sam saddled up the next morning and let us ride his wheel 20 miles out of town, giving us a bit of a head-start on yet another day of thrashing directly into the wind through corn and soy fields–a fairly apt description of the remainder of our time in Ohio.

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On our last night in the buckeye state, we couldn’t find camping anywhere and ended up cozying up to the wall of a building in a city park to watch a giant red moon rise over the Methodist church and empty baseball fields.

3 tips for this kind of camping: Loiter inconspicuously in the park until night falls and everyone leaves; try to set up in front of a backlit obstacle (large bush/a building, etc); get up early.

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Indiana to follow.