Saturday, March 29, 2014

Transcontinental Bicycle Trip

As I get older, the milestones I have accomplished in the past grow in importance, perhaps due to the realization that these events will stand as my "personal best."  I'm coming to grips with the fact that, although I have climbed Idaho's third highest peak, it becomes less and less likely that I will reach the summit of the second highest or premier mountain.  So, rather than just being frustrated by limitations, I revel in memories of what I have done and try not to dwell upon that which I have not yet accomplished.

I don't think I'll ever travel farther under my own power than I did on this transcontinental bicycle trip.  I began in Maine, at the rocky coast of the Atlantic Ocean and headed southwest through New England, crossing Lake Champlain, then entering Canada and proceeding west through mosquito infested territory north of the Great Lakes, dropping south into the United States at Sault Saint Marie. I was sorely (really sorely) tempted to quit when I reached my friend Mike's house in Wisconsin.  It would have been easy to take the bus home.  But after a rest, I forged onward across the great plains.

I had many adventures and saw America.  I heard the morning drumming of grouse (and was even attacked by one that darted from the underbrush and charged my feet as I pedaled through upstate New York).  I enjoyed seeing Devil's Tower and reveled in the cool pine-scented air of the Black Hills.  The sun in the Badlands heated the temperature to over 100 degrees, and I drank a lot of water and wore white.  I watched the Bighorn Mountains loom larger as I approached across the endless flat plains, then mounted them to sleep astride their heights in a meadow of alpine wildflowers at the base of a snowbank.  Down to the plains, then back up into Yellowstone National Park, to sleep with the grizzly bears.  By then I was pretty much coated with grease, so maybe I smelled so bad they left me alone.  In Idaho I quit.

If you're contemplating a transcontinental bicycle tour, don't go past your own home.  The temptation to stop is great, and I did.  I wrote up the adventure I had experienced and submitted it to Bicycling Magazine along with some photos.  I called the story, 'From Sea to Shining Idaho.'  They didn't buy it.  But they did offer me a contract to complete the trip and then they would buy it.  I got back on the bike.  I want to thank my sponsor, The Elephant's Perch sporting goods store in Ketchum, Idaho.  On the first leg of my trip I had hauled a lot of stuff, including a rather heavy tent.  Though it was good for keeping the mosquitoes out of my dreams, it was a lot to haul thousands of miles over mountain ranges.  The Elephant's Perch provided me with a very nice Gore-tex bivy sack.  I did without the tent for the last 850 miles or so.

The trip from Idaho to the Pacific followed a route rich in natural and human history.  There just are not many ways to get there from here, so I had to closely follow the Lewis and Clark route.  As I pedaled along on pavement I thought often of them walking an unmarked route through an unfamiliar land.  Any claim I might have to a "difficult journey" evaporated as I marveled at their determination and stamina.  Never forget, once at their destination their next task was to turn around and walk back.

I was also following the route of the migrating salmon that are flushed to the sea by the melting snows of spring in Idaho's central mountains.  Those Sockeye Salmon, too, have a return journey ahead of them.  They must swim from the ocean, upstream, overcoming dam after dam until they return to Redfish Lake where they originated ... then spawn and die.  One year only a single Sockeye made it back.  No spawning.  Just death.  I think we should celebrate this heroic effort, this fish that traveled farther upstream, to a higher elevation, than any other fish on the planet.  We give our Olympic athletes medals for less.  But one of Idaho's elected representatives stated that as long as she could buy salmon in a can at the grocery store she could care less about Idaho's Sockeye Salmon.  They hover on the brink of extinction, their fate completely in the hands of people like that representative.

It is hard to avoid pondering these things as one moves through the landscape day after day, week after week, and month after month using muscle power, the wheel, and gravity to move ever westward chasing the setting sun.

Here is where I started, in Maine, in Acadia National Park, at the Atlantic Ocean.

Below you'll see me about to head into the mountains that divide Idaho from Montana, following at this moment the same route used by the Corps of Discovery, the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  I'm quite close to the birthplace of Sacajawea, and traveling in the opposite direction but along the same route followed by Chief Joseph during his long fighting retreat away from the United States Cavalry and many armed volunteers.

Yeah, it is a Schwinn Continental.

At the mouth of the Columbia River, near Seaside, Oregon.  Yes, I traveled most of this journey alone, riding one day in Idaho with my friend Anne.  I encountered a great deal of kindness and generosity on this ride.  I was often asked, "How far are you going?"

I took to answering, "All the way."

Another common question was what cause I was doing this for.  As a kid, I once rode in a Bike-a-thon for the American Cancer Society, and I guess some who make this journey do it for a cause.  I did it because I could, and because it was there.  The adventure taught me a life lesson about perseverance and patience that has never dimmed over the years.