Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 10: Boise to Mountain Home

Although why this town is named Mountain Home I cannot fathom because it seems that the closest mountain isn't very close. Our ride today was a total blast. It started out on a nice bike path along the Boise River-- a delightfully cool morning with lots of runners, bikers and dog walkers on the path. At mile 13.5 we hopped onto interstate 84 and had a great 10 mile run with a tail wind to the first SAG. There I had what they call a "SAG flat"-- a flat tire that happens right at the SAG stop. Since the mechanic is always sitting right there, they had me back up and riding in about three minutes. Flats are very common when riding on the interstate because the truck tire debris includes tiny wires that are impossible to see but lethal if you pick one up.

From there we got onto unnumbered routes that essentially followed the interstate east but with little traffic. Sadly several dead snakes as always out here. They come out onto the road for the warmth and get hit with great frequency. I have seen three that were identifiable as rattlers but most are too squished to get any idea.

I had worried that I wouldn't like the wide open terrain-- variously called high desert, plain or prairie, but it felt just wonderful to be out there riding in the wide open spaces with endless vistas in every direction. Clearly I wouldn't have loved it so much if I had been riding into a headwind but we got a wind assist all through the ride and I pulled into the hotel at mile 53, not even slightly tired. Let's hope I feel half as good when I finish tomorrow's 97 mile ride to Twin Falls.

SAG officially stands for Support and Gear but unofficially it is the place you get to just when your energy is sagging. Stopping at the SAG is mandatory on this trip and there is a very precise routine that we are asked to follow: sign in with gloves on, remove gloves, blow nose (optional, but strangely we all do it even though no-one is sick), clean hands with a wet wipe, and disinfect hands with gel. Only then can we get water, peanuts, cookies, etc. We have at least one SAG every day, usually two and on the long days, three. In between, the vans drive back and forth along the route and we can stop them for water or other assistance by patting the top of the head. Although the riders get strung out along many miles of the route, the two vans and the big box truck always know where everyone is, particularly the stragglers. Two of the slower riders left us (as planned) in Boise and we gained no new riders so there are fewer of us tortoises but the route was so great today that I flew in pretty much with everyone else. The fast riders are called "thoroughbreds" but if there is a special name for the rest of us, everyone has been kind enough not to mention it in front of me.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 8: Ontario Oregon to Boise Idaho

Turns out that our last night in Oregon was less than a mile from the Idaho state line. We crossed it within minutes of setting out. I really enjoyed the morning ride-- it was on unnumbered farm roads, very little traffic, lots of interesting irrigation schemes, crops and etc. The whole city of Ontario smelled strongly of onions in the morning-- onions being one of their chief crops. Lots of good rolling hills, no bad climbs. Stupidly I took a tumble at mile 36.8 but other than being chagrined and getting a couple minor scrapes, no harm was done. The day really started to heat up, however, and I began to lose my zip. John was riding with me today and although I could keep up with him in the morning I didn't do well as it got hotter. It was 94 when we pulled into the hotel about 2:30 and by 4:00 it was 100. Good thing I wasn't out there any longer. Very hot tomorrow but we have a rest day-- Hurrah! and by Wednesday when we hit the road again it is promised to be cooler. Total mileage in the first eight days of riding is 612.

Day 7: Baker City to Ontario

Fortunately there is a great part to each ride and today was no exception. Temps starting to heat up a bit but I am using the neck cooler thing that Friendship Quilters made for soldiers in Iraq and I periodically pour water through the holes in my helmet so I am managing reasonably well. Our ride started on "old" route 30 in Baker City; "new" route 30 runs contiguously with interstate 84. This is another location where route 30 was an evolution of the Oregon Trail.It was essentially a downhill ride at a wonderfully moderate grade that permitted very fast cycling with no need to brake or worry. Old route 30, the interstate and the railroad track were running all in parallel. Eventually there was no more of the old road and we had to ride on the interstate itself-- this was not bad at all because the shoulder was wide and we were still whizzing along at a good pace.

We left 84 at Huntington and headed south on 201 to Ontario. This is where we began to follow the Snake River, interesting initially just because one has always read of pioneers following the Snake but soon the valley widened out considerably and we lost sight of the river entirely. The last 25 miles was, dare I say it, pretty uninteresting. Through an agricultural area irrigated by the Snake and tributaries-- flat, hot and tedious. The final three miles to the hotel was even worse-- lots of traffic, lights, bad pavement, turns, and urban sprawl at its worst. Oh well, I tell myself-- must take the rough with the smooth, the bitter with the sweet, the thorn with the rose.
Went into a new time zone yesterday. Now we are only two hours behind New England. Today we ride only 60 miles into Boise. Tomorrow is a much needed rest day. Both John and I will try two pairs of shorts today and I will wear two pairs of gloves. John has bruises on his "sit" bones, I won't give the details about my "private" parts and my hands are very unhappy.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 6: John Day to Baker City

Today was another very hard day with 80 miles of riding and 4650 feet of climbing; only 350 less than yesterday. Simply by contrast, however, it seemed relatively easy. There were three long climbs, the first being the worst one but the first is made easier by cooler temperatures and being more rested. We were still on route 26, a road that essentially follows the Oregon Trail. And who knew that the scenery is Oregon is so spectacular? I suppose all of those who have been here, but I certainly had no idea. In six days we have passed through a land of incredible contrasts. The Pacific Coast seems much like Maine, the Portland area was beautiful because of the Columbia River, the Cascades were deep dark forest and towering snow covered peaks, the high desert was like the American Southwest and today we rode through Brokeback Mountain type scenery-- sparsely treed hillsides with green fertile meadows and a lovely rushing river beside the road. At mile 28 we left Route 26 and turned north on Route 7, a perfectly gorgeous road with much less traffic than 26-- that took us all the way to Baker City. Except for a headwind the last 10 miles, the trip seemed comfortable. I made it in 9.5 hours of riding.

More on Day 5:

Day 5 with 117 miles of riding and 5000 feet of climbing is supposed to be the hardest day of the trip. Unfortunately it comes pretty early on and was very stress making for many in the group-- John and I were among those who had never done a century (100 miles); in fact for both of us our longest day ever was the 75 miles we rode on Day 2. After "Route Rap" we went right to bed (at 8:30) but I found it hard to sleep. We got up at 4:15 and I was on the road by 5:45. The staff suggested that those who thought the route too long should sag to the first rest stop at mile 29.5 but I preferred to start out with the possibility that I might make the whole thing. The day followed the usual dynamic. I start early, driven on by fear of being the slowest. After a few miles the other riders begin to pass me. That goes on for perhaps an hour. Eventually I am behind all the fast ones and ahead of the very few who are slower than I am. On this day, however, four of the slowest had chosen to sag so there were fewer slow boats left. There were two huge climbs and two very long descents with a long moderate climb for the last 36 miles. I eventually ended up third from last and was terrified that those behind me would give up and I would be out there alone (not really alone, of course, because the staff was driving back and forth along the route constantly to make sure we had water and were otherwise okay). John was long gone, needless to say, and made it the whole way two hours ahead of me. My original goal was to get to 100 miles and then see if I could keep going. At 102 Jeff stopped with a van and gave me water and although I was in floods of tears, he said the two behind me were still riding so I decided to go on. At 108 miles Jim was waiting with the other van so I got more water and he said that since I only had a few miles to go and there was a slight tail wind, I should try it. I caught up with Philip, a librarian from California, who is also one of the slower riders and we talked each other in the rest of the way. I nearly fell over faint when I got off the bike but was okay within a few minutes. I had other problems like sore hands, cold shower, really tacky hotel but toppled into bed about 7:30 without even undressing or brushing my teeth and slept well until 5:00 am this morning. The entire route was on 26 east.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 5: Prineville to John Day 117 miles!

I finished the ride but I am too tired to talk about it! Dragged my butt in to the motel after 11.5 hours of riding! The first utterly crappy motel we have been put in; dirty, uncomfortable, and no hot water. Let's hope I feel better by morning when we start another long hard ride-- but only 80 miles...yes, I will grudgingly admit that the scenery was phenomenal and we had a lot of downhill.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 4: Kah-nee-ta to Prineville

This was a "short" day-- only 60 miles! They had a late luggage load and we got off at about 7:30. It was cool and nice and we were off Route 26 although only for a few miles. In Madras we were back on 26 again and at mile 18 started a long climb. If a multi-mile climb can be called good, this one was. Not terribly steep but very beautiful switchbacking up along a canyon wall with the drop off into the valley to our right. I felt good the whole way and in fact felt good until about mile 30 when we started the second half of our ride. This was through the "Crooked River National Grasslands". It was long, slightly hilly, very hot and to me seemed tedious. Just when I my attitude was going negative, there was an ABB truck with cold water and I topped a hill to find that the rest of the ride into town was downhill and freshly paved. Most of the road surfaces so far have been what they call "chip and seal"-- very hard to ride on but this was real paving like we have in the good old State of Maine and a welcome relief it was.

Tomorrow, however, is the day that I have been blocking from my consciousness since the beginning. A very hard day with 5000 feet of climbing (today was 3,300) and 117 miles to ride, all on Route 26 to a place called John Day. ABB really has no choice about the length of the day; there is no hotel between Prineville and John Day. We are going to leave at 5:30 and just do our best. Our leader, Mike Munk, thinks I can do it. Tune in tomorrow to see what happens!

A bit about the group. There are 54 riders now, 47 of whom will go the whole way. Some will leave at various points and new riders will join us. There is a 17 year girl and a young man riding tandem with his dad. There is one man well into his seventies who has done it before and as I mentioned before, I am the second oldest woman (by only two months!). John, at 65, is among the older men. Most people are in the 40's and 50's. I am not the slowest, thanks be.

Day 3: Welches to Kah-nee-ta

Riding cross country on a bicycle is very much like having a baby. There is no way you can get prepared for either one and both are aweful and awful. And apparently, like childbirth, you forget the horror and think about doing it again. One of the women here, rode across on a southern route a few years ago and swore never again. Here she is, however, and interestingly she is the only other person from Maine and beats me out by two months as the oldest woman on the ride.

A day of astonishing contrasts. We stayed last night at “The Resort” in Welches—located just off Route 26 in the Mt. Hood National Forest. Deep in the evergreen forest with high peaks on either side—very dark and quiet and woodsy. Tonight we are on an Indian reservation in the high desert with classic western movie features and endless vistas.

When we left this morning the climb started at mile 0 and went on for 13.8 miles. I was fresh and mentally prepared for the length of the climb—the weather was comfortable and there was no wind but it took me two hours 45 minutes. My positive attitude faltered at mile 10 but then I read a historic marker about the difficulties the Oregon Trail Pioneers had on the same route and I realized that my ride was a piece of cake.

The route continued through the Mt. Hood National Forest with spectacular views. There were some long descents and some shorter climbs. At mile 43 the route turned left onto Route 9 toward Kah-nee-ta. By that time we were riding through the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. The left turn was like going through the wardrobe—suddenly we were out of the forest and in the high desert. Just gorgeous. It was another twenty three miles to the destination; miles both exhilarating and exhausting. I was riding by myself as I had most of the day and stopped more and more frequently on the hills—but never walked the bike. There was an unbelievably long downhill, all switchbacks and gorgeous scenery and then the dreadful reality of a 1.6 mile climb up to this resort and casino. No pain, no gain! John got here about an hour ahead of me and nicely collected my baggage and my bike so that I could collapse.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

First set of Pictures

A picture of our bikes at the hotel in Astoria-- before they were unpacked.
The view from our window in the Astoria Motel. Bridge to Washington State
We skipped dipping the wheels in the Pacific but did get this picture
A view on one of the long climbs on Monday.
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Day 3: St. Helens to Welches, Oregon

John's 65th birthday today and he got the gift of riding his bicycle 76 miles on a day that was pretty great overall which is not to say that our butts weren't dragging pretty badly the last five miles or so. I left at 6:20 am in cool and overcast weather and booked 20 miles on Route 30 down to Portland where John caught up with me. Route 30, which we rode exclusively yesterday is peppered with Lewis and Clark Trail signs. John made me laugh with the dry remark that following Route 30 must have made it pretty nice for them. Oddly the route is also thick with little homegrown espresso drive through shops. The next 20 miles were really great-- through a bit of residential Portland and then miles along the Columbia River on a bike path. At Mile 44 we started a long climb but only the first mile was really demanding-- from then on it was rolling terrain. At Mile 50 we got our first view of Mt. Hood and there were lots of great views from that point on. At about mile 59 we made the big mistake of stopping at the (recommended) restaurant called Calamity Jane's. A calamity it was. Although we ordered the smallest size hamburger (the "city slicker" portion) and a milkshake and neither of us finished our food, we carried big heavy lumps in our innards the remaining 15 miles to our hotel. And now we can't face dinner! This place has a bar, however, and I think all will agree that the birthday boy and his wife need a drink.

Glen: we followed Route 30 from Astoria to Portland. Then, although we meandered a bit, we essentially followed Marine Drive along the river. We went through Gresham and Trout(dale?) but didn't get on another numbered route until a place called Sandy where we turned East on Route 26.

Monday, June 21, 2010

69 miles with a minimum of fuss

Left Astoria Oregon at about 7 am and 69 miles later arrived in St. Helens at 2 pm. Only glitch was that I went to bed with a bad sore throat, worried about it all night, woke up worse and decided to ignore it. So here I am tired, stiff and sore but pleased with my ride and glad to have at least one day behind me. This part of Oregon seems much like Maine and while scenic at times was not spectacular. Lots of lumbering and related industries. Lots of bark debris on the road. One of the ABB staffers said that our route today was one of the busiest we will have on the whole trip. It was busy and there were countless trucks but there was a good shoulder and I pretty much tune out the traffic. The profile showed two big climbs but only the second was really challenging-- not because it was steep but because it was about four miles of climbing.

We did a 25 mile ride yesterday from Astoria to the Pacific Ocean but neither John nor I cared to actually dip our bikes in the water. We decided that a picture with the ocean in the background would suffice. One of these days I will have the energy to add some pictures.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Really Ready...Not!

So far from feet are weird and unhappy, I have a wonky knee and I am so stiff that I can hardly sit up or down. People keep looking at me with pity and offering me seats on the light rail. How perplexed they would be if they knew what I was doing here. It has been ten days since I last was on my bike and it feels more like ten weeks. Magic needs to happen when I start riding-- tomorrow actually because the bikes have reached Astoria safely (thanks to Fed Ex) and we will be there by about 8 tonight. The ride doesn't really start until Monday but we will unpack the bikes and take a warm up ride.

Portland is a great city but cities are tough on me in my old age. Yesterday we toured the Chinese Garden, the Forestry Museum and the Japanese Garden, then walked a few miles back into the city from the top of Washington Park. Today we toured the Historical Society and the Zoo-- lots more walking. By 3 this afternoon I knew that I wouldn't walk further if I learned that there was a herd of unicorns around the bend.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Portland to Portland: Ride minus four days

It is not light in Portland O at 5 am and it is not dark at 10 pm but it is three hours behind Portland M so my internal clock is wondering what the heck hit it. Lucky John is able to snooze on but I am up and looking at a gloomy but promising Oregon sunrise. Little shreds of pink clouds and a sky slowly turning from gray to blue.

Margaret drove us from Belfast to Portland M in the Aztek and I obediently sat in the back and did not criticize her driving. Both things very hard for me but in fact her driving was excellent. Otherwise our travel day must not be taken as a significant sign of things to come because it was a misery and my attitude was not bright and cheerful. Not that anything actually went wrong-- it was just airports and air travel in general, mixed with my anxieties, particularly about leaving the dog. I was super tired from trying to do in a couple of days what should be done all the time-- that is to say deal with the results of too much bike riding and too little housekeeping. My feet, never happy to perform their primary function, were particularly bad and limping down long airport corridors wondering if I should give up and ask for a wheelchair, seemed ridiculous for a woman setting off to ride a bicycle more than 3600 miles.

A really fine dinner at Deschutes Brewery and the wonderful bed at the Mark Spencer Hotel has put all to rights. Deschutes has a very long beer list, including a gluten free beer and a large separate gluten free menu-- this matters to me because I have a friend who has celiac and finding gf is always welcome for her. I had a great beer and a spicy hot mac and cheese. John had a great beer, mussels and a Celtics game to watch.

The first leg of our flight was to Chicago in rainy weather and there was no visibility. From Chicago on, however, we could see the ground much of the time. I have always enjoyed the scenery from an airplane but it holds a special fascination for me now thinking that I will bicycle back through it. Our flight path was probably somewhat north of the bicycle route but there were all sorts of different terrains below including what John called "a whole lot of nothing". Stay posted!