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Day 66 – Living by principles

(73 miles)

The Goldilocks Principle (as applied to cycle touring): Everything (body, mind, soul) must be in just the right condition for you to totally enjoy cycle touring. If one of those things is ‘off’, then it becomes a chore. Yesterday they were firing on all cylinders, so to speak. This morning though I just wasn’t feeling it. It was overcast and windy. My legs felt tired for the first time in weeks. My stomach wasn’t happy. And the headwind was messing with my mind. The first 35 miles seemed to drag on for ages.

Its not all plain sailing. This morning was bleugh! (But check out Mt Hood in the distance!)

Fortunately it often doesn’t take much to improve the situation. We stopped at a gas station and thanks to a bathroom break, some Chex Mix (love that stuff!), some good banter with Matt and Pat, and the sun coming out, when we rode off I was ‘back in the game’ and the rest of the days ride passed much more easily.

The sunshine makes most things better :-)

4000 miles in and our first tunnel

What are the chances that we'd tick over onto 4000 miles INSIDE a tunnel?! Had to stop just after to take this pic.

 

The ACA maps of the route always list the population of towns we pass through. This is a useful way of gauging the extent of facilities we can expect in each place, and plan accordingly. After several weeks on the route we began to notice two trends:

  1. There are almost no towns with a population between 2000 and 3000. There are loads with less than 2000 and loads with more than 3000 but very few in between.
  2. Towns with a population of more than 3000 are almost guaranteed to have a ‘good’ (depending on your perspective) selection of fast-food chains and other large chain shops etc. Towns with a population of less than 2000 almost never have these type of restaurants/shops.

This has led me to form a new theory of town lifecycles. We’ll call it ‘McCulloch’s Fast-Food Population Coefficient Principle’. Snappy, eh? Here’s the theory:

  • When a town is growing in size, the fast-food businesses will only open a branch once the population reaches about 2000. Below that number, it’s not economically viable. The presence of popular fast-food restaurants attracts more people to the town (I know – it’s tragic!) and the population quickly rises past 3000.
  • Conversely, when a town’s population is falling, the big chain fast-food restaurants pull out when the population drops below about 3000. Without the comfort of their favourite fast-food round the corner, many more people pack up and leave town and the population quickly drops below 2000.

This explains the lack of towns with a population of 2000-3000!

(Disclaimer: the above light-hearted ‘Swiss cheese’ explanation should in no way influence your opinion on my general intellect and business acumen. I’m not that naive!)

The point is this: when we approached our destination for the day, the little town of Bingen, pop 650, we were 100% confident there would be no air-conditioned, WiFi’d, dollar-menu’d McDonalds in which to hang out. Imagine our disbelief/delight when we saw a huge billboard advert for McDonalds in the town. Bingen officially bucks the trend! (Just wait – within a year it will have ballooned in size…)

Bingen also contains a certified nutcase – and, just our luck, he spotted us in McDonalds and came over to chat. Having found out we were on a long cycle tour, he disappeared into his car (which seemed to double as a portable trash can), reappearing 15 minutes later with a hand-drawn map on a strip of cardboard box. In painstaking detail he proceeded to talk us through his plans for the rest of our cycle trip to the coast, right down to which tent pitch (‘R32 is the best, but R34 is pretty good too’) in a particular campsite (60 miles off our actual route) we should camp at.

Adventure Cycling cartographers - I think your jobs are secure...

 

Having finished his instructions for our onward journey, we we saying our polite goodbyes when out of nowhere he asks ‘So, are you guys all single?’. Now, at this point my mind started racing: Was the conversation about to get really awkward?! But he proceeded to tell us that he was writing a book for single men, some sort of ‘pilot’s manual for men in relationships’ as he described it. That’s nice, we said. But he wasn’t finished. Not until he had given us a few specific tips. And by specific, I mean the length of time and the way in which you should rub your wife’s feet every night. And which ingredients to avoid in the massage oil. (Sorry ladies – I’ve forgotten already). It was all so entertaining though that I snuck my iPhone out and began secretly videoing him as he talked. I’ll try and get the video up here sometime! (If that’s legal…)

We camped at the RV park in town. On my way back from showering, I stopped outside a huge motorhome as there was a funky ‘frog-on-a-bicycle’ wind-ornament (photo coming soon) outside. I asked the woman if I could get a quick video clip of it. Immediately she asked (in a English accent) where I was from. And so began our evening with Nigel and Jill, originally from Manchester but based in Florida and now retired and touring the country in their luxury motorhome. They are both avid cyclists and do about 40 miles a day, picking nice paths and routes in the area around wherever they’re parked up at the time.

I only wish my wheels were this cool

All through the trip it had been a desire of mine to get to look inside one of these massive motorhomes. So I was properly chuffed when Nigel invited us in to show us around. It was like a very nice hotel suite inside. A full kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and lounge. The sides of the lounge/kitchen area and the bedroom area all expand outwards at the press of a button to create a larger interior space. It was a totally different world from our tiny tents and two panniers of possessions.

Rubbish photo of a magnificent motor-home!

Inside Nigel and Jill's motor-home.

 

Later, Nigel and Jill cooked for us and kept us stocked all night with beer, wine and tales of their adventures all around the country. I don’t think I’ve ever met a couple that have seen as much of the US as Nigel and Jill have. They knew all the best places to stay and cycle around in all the states. Nigel could write a book on the subject!

We all had a great time and the food was delicious. I’m really going to miss the American grill cooking when I go home. Thanks so much to Nigel and Jill for a quality evening – you were very generous!

Nigel and Jill - thanks for a superb evening, you guys are fantastic!

 

Day 65 – Ramping it up

(110 miles)

I’ll be honest – I was worried about the wind today when I got up. We’d spoken to so many folk over the last week who’d told us horror stories about the headwinds as you head west along the Columbia river gorge.  And this was our task for today.

But the ride started easily enough with a 25-mile stretch that was mostly downhill to the river, with almost no wind. As we turned the corner and began to make our way along the river gorge the wind still didn’t materialise. I was almost holding my breath for it, constantly watching the tall blades of grass and wheat beside the road for any sign of them being blown back. The gorge itself was magnificent. Huge walls of red rock on both sides are divided by what seemed more like a sea than just a river. The Columbia river is massive, and apparently the only river in the world to cross/traverse a mountain range (the Cascades). Railway lines follow the water line on both sides and they are phenomenally busy – trains were trundling past pretty much every 20 minutes or so.

About to enter the Columbia River Gorge

You should definitely cycle this route along the Columbia River (although maybe in the other direction)

Thank goodness for dynamite and modern roads. Smooth, flat riding!

Shortly after reaching the Columbia river we crossed into Oregon. In theory this should have been a historic point on the trip as Oregon is our last state. But we knew that just down the road we would be crossing back into Washington for another day or two’s riding. Still, eleven states down!

Ok, so I may have been quite enthusiastic about reaching our last state...

 

We kept riding with a slight but noticeable headwind until we got to Crow Butte State Park, a 1-2 mile detour off route but we wanted a proper place to eat our picnic lunch and there was nothing else around. The park is on what appears to be a bit of an arid desert island on the river. So we were pleasantly surprised when we rounded a corner and came across a large expanse of lush green grass, picnic tables, rest-rooms and a snack shop! Lots of folk were out (it’s Saturday) enjoying the weather. We lazed around for a good couple of hours before we got going again. The wind was getting louder in the trees and I was worried the last 20 miles would be tough.

Pat takes a nap after lunch. And we didn't even draw on his face!

 

How wrong I was! When we re-emerged onto the highway the impossible had happened: we had a tailwind! The fabled wind from the west was blowing from the east. My iPod seemed to sense my delight and served up a aural feast of tunes as we cruised through the miles. I’ve never felt better on a bike – I reckon I could have gone on for another 30-40 miles, I was feeling so comfortable.

One of many. Apparently all the trains in America have come to the Columbia River to hang out for the summer

Looking out over the Columbia River

 

At the end of our longest day yet (mileage-wise) we pulled up to the only place to eat in miles. “Sorry guys, the kitchen’s closed today”. ‘What?!’ I thought – you are kidding me. I felt like grabbing the man and saying ‘Listen – do you realise we’ve just cycled 110 miles to get here and now you tell me the kitchens closed?!’. But instead we ordered a beer (always a good course of action when your plans have been foiled). Then we headed to a convenience store and cobbled together a meal of microwaved burritos, potato chips and tinned peaches.

Hanging with the big boys

 

We camped at West Roosevelt city park which is more like a free campsite than a city park. When we got there we were astonished to find dozens of cars in the parking lot and what seemed like a massive party in full-swing. We discovered there was a whole crowd of Mexicans camped out here for several weeks while they worked on nearby farms picking cherries.  Agonisingly for us, having just suffered the culinary ignominy of microwaved burritos, the smell of fresh tacos wafted through the whole park all evening as various groups of Mexicans cooked their dinners all around us.

We were planning on another night under the stars in our sleeping bags, but something about the number of times the camp-ground host mentioned the word ‘rattlesnake’ in his brief (and one-sided) conversation with us persuaded us that tents might be a more sensible option. While we were setting up, a chap came up and started chatting to us. He was one a short break with his family for some windsurfing (more evidence that this valley is better suited to sporting activities that benefit from the wind). He returned later in the evening with a bunch of chocolate, peaches and tomatoes that he’d rounded up from his families supply to give to us for the road. People can be great, eh?

Our longest day today and pretty much three century rides in the last four days. We’re kind of ramping it up as we sense the finish approaching. I think we’re all keen to reach the end and relax. But for the moment we still feel strong and full of cheer.

Camping beside the Columbia River

 

 

Day 64 – Walla load of wind

(73 miles)

We got up at 5am, hoping to beat the wind. But the wind had obviously caught wind of heard of our plans and had started blowing hard before we’d even set off. We toiled along the valley floor all morning, taking turns to lead into the wind. It was mentally very tough, especially when you were leading. When you’re behind one of the others, its way easier to pedal and consequently your mind is more relaxed and positive. I got the iPod out much sooner than I usually do and listened to podcasts all day to keep me sane. At times the landscape resembled some sort of Kansas nightmare, with a harsh sun beating down on vast fields of wheat all around, but this time the fields were all warped and wrinkled. The road weaved up and down and around but always the wind seemed to be blowing against us. If it wasn’t for the distraction of the podcasts I think I would have lost the plot!

No wonder its so windy, what with all those fans on the hillside...

Eastern Washington - Kansas on drugs

Wind really isn't photogenic

We hung out in Walla Walla for a bit (love that name – well done Washington, very entertaining). Pat got a new rear tire at Allegro Cyclery as the rubber on his old one had worn through completely and I got some frozen yoghurt as I hadn’t had anything sweet and calorific for at least 2 hours…

I’d found another warmshowers host for the night. Alice, Zeke and Jesse all live and work on a little organic farm just to the west of Walla Walla. They live outside in tents during the summer as its cooler outside (and there are no mosquitoes around here!).  There is a kitchen hut out there, an rudimentary outhouse, an outdoor camp shower (fill a bag with water, hang it from a tree and open the shower head attached to the bag), a plumbed sink, picnic tables and chairs and a campfire. As we were just next to the creek, Matt took a quick dip. It was only about a foot deep and not massively clean so I didn’t bother.

The 'bathroom'

The 'living room'

The camp sink area

Matt braves the icy water to take a dip

I wasn't even tempted to get in myself

 

Alice, Zeke and Jesse were out for dinner so we were left to our own devices for the evening. For the first time on our trip we *gasp* cooked ourselves a meal. And *gasp* it was pretty good. We’d bought pasta, sauce and sausages from the store and added some fresh vegetables from the farm as well as some feta cheese and walnuts on top. It would certainly be a hassle cooking like this every night of our trip but as a one-off it was quite special. We even lit the candles. All that was  missing was a bottle of wine!

Self-portrait

Not a bad spot for camping

Day 64 - finally our first attempt at cooking. Note the candle!

 

 

Day 63 – My phone can fly!

(103 miles)

I love sleeping outside with just a sleeping bag! If England was warm and dry enough I definitely think I’d just spend the summers sleeping outside in my garden. But lets face it: England is not warm. And its not dry. So I’ll have to stick to the double bed…

Most of today’s ride was alongside the Clearwater river. The road was super busy (I’ve noticed people in the States use the word ‘super’ a lot – I’ve started picking it up, much to my dismay) with trucks, pickups and SUVs whizzing past you constantly. The shoulder was littered with rocks, wood and other debris so you had to concentrate so hard on the tarmac in front of you that you couldn’t look up much and enjoy the fantastic scenery you were passing.

Clearwater river

As we were negotiating this road, I had my first properly scary moment on the bike this trip. I was riding just behind Matt, keeping out of the wind, when all of a sudden my bike launched itself into the air. I’d hit a rock. A big rock. My handlebar bag flew open and I watched as, seemingly in slow motion, my wallet, notebook and iPhone rose out of the bag and floated through the air before crashing down in the middle of the road. My bike returned to the ground (as they tend to do), I scrambled for the brakes and screeched to a halt. I literally jumped off the bike, threw it against the concrete barrier at the side of the shoulder and turned and sprinted back to where my stuff was lying all over the road, waving at the rapidly approaching traffic to slow down and not run me or my stuff over! I grabbed all my bits and pieces (except for a bunch of change which I decided wasn’t worth the risk of playing in traffic) and took stock. It was nothing short of a miracle. My iPhone, which is just in a fairly basic case with no screen protection, was unharmed. Not even scratched. Everything else from my bag was undamaged. And my front wheel, which had born the brunt of the impact, was still true and the tube hadn’t burst. Amazingly there had been a large gap in the traffic immediately behind us so no cars had run over my stuff. I said a quick but heart-felt prayer of thanks to God that I and my phone were ok and we pedalled on.

Early in the afternoon we crossed Snake River and entered Washington, our 10th (and originally unexpected as the TransAmerica route doesn’t pass through Washington) state. Once again we made the most of Mr Mcdonalds hospitality. I also picked up some degreaser and sponges from the dollar store along with pop-tarts and Granola bars. When you’re touring its really not worth carrying bike-cleaning stuff with you – you may as well just buy some cheap stuff as and when you need it and leave it somewhere for any other passing cyclists. Pop-tarts and Granola bars have become our staple morning diet. As Dustin says, pop-tarts represent about the best ‘calories per dollar’ purchase you can get.

Lewiston, ID, is a bit industrial

Crossing the bridge into Washington

"Er.... this state wasn't on our list!"

 

At about the 80 mile mark we started a 2500 ft climb. Earlier in the trip this would have been daunting. In fact earlier in the trip we would have stopped before 80 miles, let alone even considered attempting a climb that late in the day’s ride. But we’re fitter and tougher these days and knew we could do it just fine. It was a long climb but we just kept pedalling all the way to the top. It wasn’t a ‘Pass’ but, standing at the top, I had a strange mix of emotions. It felt great that we were fit enough to just nail that climb at the end of a day’s ride without too much bother. There was relief that we’d done the last hard climb of the ride (according to the elevation profiles on our maps, which admittedly are not always to be trusted…) – it would be mostly ‘flat’ from now on. But right alongside that feeling of relief there was sadness – I’ve grown to relish the challenges of a good climb (Alex – you were right!) and the feeling of ‘me against the mountain’. And now we were leaving the mountains behind. There would be no more battles – the ‘war’ would peter out on the gentle river-side gradients of Washington and Oregon. Standing on the top of this hill, I looked back at where we’d come from, picturing range upon range of all the mountains and hills we’d slogged up and screamed down since that first grind up the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. Then we turned and pedalled on, into a strengthening headwind.

I nearly got off my bike and kissed this sign

 

By the time we reached Pomeroy the wind had reached the level of ‘furious’. We camped at the Pomeroy Fairground which seemed to be free for tent camping. A kindly RV-owner who knew the area well pointed out a sheltered spot behind some trees to pitch our tents. The wind was getting stronger by the minute. Over the next week we would hear countless folk utter the phrase ‘you should have seen the wind here on Thursday!’. We got pretty lucky I think, getting most of our riding done before it hit us.

We cleaned up our bikes, showered, and headed into town for a bite to eat. Nearly all the diners round here offer almost identical menus. Sandwiches with a side of potato chips (crisps), burgers with a side of fries or salad or soup, or a ‘dinner’ meal which usually comes with soup, salad, bread and a side. The main problem is it is nearly impossible to eat healthily and cheaply. My view is that I can burn off the calories, but no amount of pedalling the next day will put more dollars in my wallet. So I go for the cheap burgers!

Side note: On about day three of this trip I stupidly left a tent-pole at a campsite. My tent has two poles – the long one is composed of multiple sections and loops over the top of the tent. The other one is only about two feet long (composed of two sections) and stands straight up at the foot of the tent. This was the one I accidentally left behind. So the next day I had to fashion a replacement tent pole out of a branch. Its sat on my bike rack every day since then, attracting no end of questions (“What’s with the sharpened stick?”). I actually think it does a better job than the original, as its slightly longer and gives more space between the inner and outer layers. Anyway,  I’ve now grown quite attached to my little stick – its definitely coming back to England with me!

My make-shift tent pole and toggle-button holder

 

 

Day 62 – A River Runs Through It

(98 miles)

What can i say? Today was beautiful. 90 miles downhill along the gorgeous Lochsa River valley. Warm sun, no wind. Idyllic.

Oh – except for the ‘Oversize Vehicles’ thundering by. First you see a pickup truck with the big ‘Oversize Vehicle’ warning sign and you nervously cycle on, wondering what might be following it. Then a huge truck with some random load (farm machinery, industrial equipment, large house…) appears, absolutely hooning it. Seriously, they’re not exactly cautious! There’s just enough time to pull over off the road to avoid being blown off the road as it passes.

One of the 'pack-bridges' along the way

Nope - this wasn't part of the route

Bridges are ace. Fact.

Would love to kayak down here sometime

(Correcting the 'cycle-photos to food-photos' ratio)

We've now had wall-to-wall sunshine for several days. Whoop!

Matt leads the way

At one point along the route I was looking up ahead and saw some movement in the shadows under the trees on the far side of the road. As we got closer, it was clear something was lurking in the lay-by. Ooooh, I thought – maybe we were finally going to see a bear or even a moose! But then the shape moved out of the shadows and I saw that it was not a moose but in fact another cyclist. Almost hidden behind a mountain of stuff. And this is how we met Dan. He’s been on the road for 17 years, travelling around and working occasionally – a self-proclaimed vagrant. Dan was carrying at least 200 pounds of stuff with buckets for rear panniers and home-made front racks. He was real friendly and talked almost non-stop about places he’d been, places we might see and life on the road. I was actually surprised by how ‘normal’ he was, given the crazy bike set-up and the 17 years on the road. It would have been cool to spend a few days with him to find out more and see what makes him tick. I wonder what you miss when you’re living on the road? Does he have any major regrets? Would he change anything if he could go back and ‘re-do’ the last 17 years? Or has this been his dream trip of a lifetime? Only Dan knows…

Dan gives us a wave

You can hardly see Dan behind all his stuff!

 

I tried again to sort out the photos on my blog. But WordPress would just screw it up every time I tried to save my work. After another two frustrating and wasted hours I finally threw in the towel – no more photos uploaded until I get home and can sort something better out. Its just not worth spoiling my trip by getting worked up over computer problems – there’ll be plenty of time for that when I return to work!

As you can see, I’ve now added photos! (Took a combination of upgrades and understanding how to circumnavigate WordPress’s bugs!)

Now that we’re back down at a lower altitude it is noticeably warmer. At 6:30pm it was still 34 deg C. We ate dinner in the town of Kooskia and then pushed on a bit further as there were a couple of campsites that we thought looked good for tonight. When we got there though we were told they wanted $10 each which was more than we wanted to pay. So we got back on our bikes and cycled into the next town, Kamiah, (only a couple more miles) where there was a great little city park in which we could camp. We slept in the pavilion in our sleeping bags as it was still really warm and there was no rain forecast.

Some of our two-wheeled brothers

There's got to be a story behind this...

Oh, hai there!

 

 

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