Friends for three days

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Jane came, and Jane went; exactly as you imagine. You’d think there are healthy, like-minded people riding bicycles all over the countryside. There aren’t. It’s a big country and a lonely planet, with no shortage of roadways on which to ride, and hide.

There are, however, half a dozen towns around the country that are temporary destinations to cyclists en route, typically ACA routes. Whitefish is one such town; on the Great Divide, Northern Tier, and Great Parks routes. Within moments of meeting, the talk was of Townes and Texas; salsa, horchata, burritos; and Glacier. We both dismissed the idea of biking to Glacier, despite being ” this close”. The next morning over coffee, I said, “I’ll go if you go”. Deal. And that afternoon, we left. That is, after noon, we ate maple-bacon ice cream, drank local beers by the river, and swam through the heat of the day; we left, finally, at 5 PM.

We entered the park via the secret cyclist’s entrance and made camp for the night. A soon-to-be typical late start the next morning forced an afternoon of riverside relaxation; road closures to cyclists in the park necessitate a logistical tango. There is no loss in swimming and sleeping for five of the best hours of the day– thanks Sam.

The road goes up, and the road goes down. Pie is eaten in St. Mary at dinner and at breakfast, and the road is ridden in reverse to our start. Ascending, descending; ascending, descending, descending, descending. Palindromic Glacier days. O sunny Glacier days.

As quickly as we met, we part: “See ya, have a good ride”. We will have good rides, and we will see each other again. That’s how these things work. Two constantly changing trajectories may never meet, but they may also meet many times. Straight lines only have one meeting, unless they run parallel and never meet. You miss a lot of things going straight.

Of colliding trajectories: I’m headed to Missoula to meet some runners that I met in the Copper Canyon, Mexico. They said to visit if/when in Missoula; here I am, less than six months later. The world is getting smaller.

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Road closures force swimming

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Sections of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are closed to cyclists between 11AM and 4PM, to preserve to flow of traffic and “to protect cyclists from high-traffic volumes, and the precipitous cliff along the roadside”. What about the precipitous cliff of inactivity, heart disease, mental stagnation? My lips are sealed, but the National Parks have inflamed me more than once in the last few weeks. They may be “America’s best idea”, but they are not without flaw or fault– drive from afar, to then drive a scenic mountain road through a national treasure of wildness? Ed Abbey rolls in his grave; Jane and I count a lot of grumpy looking motorists.

Due to road closure, we swim, sunburn ourselves and launder our clothing in Glacier’s waters. Riverside– a few cups of coffee a nap make a day in Glacier.

A complete report upon returning to Whitefish.

The Park Cafe in St. Mary’s– on the park’s eastern edge– serves up home-cooked meals from an upbeat college aged staff in a dimly lit, screened in setting– Montana ambience and hospitality. Every meal ends in a slice of pie with rich Montana ice cream; the cafe logo proclaims, “pie for strength”. Agreed, with a slice of pie for breakfast.

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Going to the Sun

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Jane rolled into town at 10PM last night. I hunt touring cyclists for sport, and I quickly spotted her Miyata 210/BOB trailer amidst the urban thicket of downtown Whitefish. I arranged a roof and a gaggle of cyclists talked until all hours. A cup of coffee and a change of plans this morning; Jane and I are headed into Glacier NP–sans BOB, the literal third wheel. The most alluring road name I have heard, we ride the road named Going-to-the-Sun.

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Legion of the lost

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Larry caught my eye from a mile away. Something about his sillhouette spoke to my touring sensibilities. Smallish panniers in the rear; a tidy bundle up front simultaneously suspended from the handlebars and atop a Nitto mini-rack, “from those guys with the nice catalog”, he says. I know what he means.

I ask where, when, why?… all the annoying questions. My queries slide off him as if he were coated in Teflon– a sure sign he knows what he’s doing.

He’s an engineer, as evidenced by his spreadsheets. Oh, his spreadsheets– they account for everything. But they are a help, not a hindrance. He’s got touring style; just not my style.

Here we are, two guys that probably know everything about riding bikes, and it takes a minute to find something to talk about. I don’t need to ask if his ride has been enjoyable, or if he likes his bike, or gets lots of flats. We talk about places we’ve lived and places we’ve been; bikes on Amtrack and Greyhound; drinking half-gallons of milk, eating loaves of bread, and thumbing rides.

This is exactly how I met George the Cyclist (Annapolis), and Cass Gilbert (Anchorage, Denali), and Chris Harne (Key West). None is the same as the other, but we are always moving, and we often hide our transience. At any time, you must be able to decide to stay, or to go– a trade secret.

In Whitefish, I stay.

I haven’t known a more contented, intelligent group of people than my fellow cycle-tourists. My comrades in transience, we are an army of moving philosophers. Being right isn’t important; spinning circles with our legs and thinking, is.

The Teton Cyclery Cyclo-Tourist’s Register takes account of over a decade of tales from the road; broken Campy axles, headwinds, hills, traffic and shoulders are common fare. I read it all, and I left my mark. The registry is resurrected after 19 years.

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Whitefish cares for me, full circle

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I pushed up and over two passes and eighty miles yesterday to reach Whitefish by afternoon. Sunny, smiling, and prosperous; Whitefish invites me to stay, for a while. Ski season is around the corner, as is Glacier National Park, Whitefish lake, and plentiful hiking and biking trails. Work seems plentiful, mostly in the service industry. Whitefish definitely makes the list.

Whitefish has two great bike shops; always a good reference in describing a town. And I saw two Pinarellos before 10AM, another telling reference.

The Great Northern Bike Shop is a transplant of Teton Cyclery of Jackson Hole, WY, the owner’s former shop and residence. Contained within the GNBS is a manicured boutique of high-end road and mountain bikes, and a real coffee bar, offering caffeinated fare with as many as 6 shots (did I read that right?). One overcaffeinated drink was called “The Mechanic”. Aside from a free Americano and cup of blueberries (thanks Zana, not the last time), the shop was postered with historical cycling memoribilia, and featured some choice, vintage gear including: a Paul Components CNC rear derailleur, Campagnolo Gran Turismo rear derailleur, and assorted vintage bar-end shifters. Finally, disguised as “just another book on a shelf” was a cyclist’s touring register from before I was born. Apparently today was the day for it to be reborn-
- after 19 years. See the post titled “Legion of the lost”.

The Great Northern Bar has music and burgers and beer. Works for me.

Murmurs of a Pedalin’ Pete aroused my curiosity– an area resident who rode up to Denali for a little climb in the park. After hearing about him the second time, I demanded to know how to find this “Pete”. I was given his phone number on the spot.

I hesitated. Then I called. Pete answered; he was nice from the first word. I mumbled something about his Tout-Terrain Silkroad that I had also heard about, twice. He invited me to dinner, offered a place to stay, and we were on-site friends within the hour. His friend expertly managed a pizza-making marathon; sun-dried tomato goat cheese, Kansas City style bacon, avocado, and herb-crusted blackened chicken all made the topside of our dough. His friend– Zana. I’ll be damned if the same woman fed me breakfast and dinner in the same day, and provided a roof for the night. Whitefish comes full circle.

Spotted in Whitefish:

A Raleigh Technium city bike featuring a six-speed Maillard freewheel hub with drum brake, and large wire basket. An unexpectedly slick bike with some RivAtlantis-like flair. Check the stem height.

A 1986 Schwinn High Sierra, spotted from 50 ft away. I shouted at the operator to come hither. He was delighted at our pair of old bicycles. I delighted at his svelte SR MT-150 stem, a cousin of my MT-100.

A modern hybrid– not my favorite interpretation– with a fishing pole lashed to the top tube. That’s how they roll in Whitefish. A gun rack for your bike, sort of.

Canis lupis: are these dogs or wolves?
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Sweet Tuesday and the valsalva maneuver

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Rolling at times, otherwise broadly sweeping upward and tumbling back down; the Great Divide is quite rideable, until Galton Pass. First a section of grassy “singletrack” signalled by a Rivendellian rock cairn and an animal skull is only sometimes rideable; then, a steep, muddy ascent is a challenge to hike with even a moderate touring load. Finally, the first real climb of the route up to Galton Pass is uneasily tempered on the backside by a 3300 ft descent over 8 miles. In short, it got dirty and fun today.

Elk Pass, Cabin Pass, Galton Pass…

I rolled into one of BC’s user-maintained campsites along the Bighorn River last night, and was welcomed by fly-fishermen offering beers– godly, in a place a day away from beers in any direction.

Doc, is a biologist working for various parties as needed, and often travels to consult or collect samples. He knows how to identify and preserve once-living things, and has a passion for the unfiction in the world. He has a keen ear, and can turn a few words into wisdom.

Mack is a cartoonist by trade, despite formal training in economics. He is a serial generalist, always has a way of making things sound alright, and admires Doc greatly. “We really should do something nice for Doc.”

A sweet Tuesday.

The descent from Galton Pass required some active pressure management– the valsalva maneuver, or “forced exhalation against a closed passageway”.

Montana greets me with unfamiliar dry heat, and big skies.

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Sweet Tuesday and the valsalva maneuver

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Rolling at times, otherwise broadly sweeping upward and tumbling back down; the Great Divide is quite rideable, until Galton Pass. First a section of grassy “singletrack” signalled by a Rivendellian rock cairn and an animal skull is only sometimes rideable; then, a steep, muddy ascent is a challenge to hike with even a moderate touring load. Finally, the first real climb of the route up to Galton Pass is uneasily tempered on the backside by a 3300 ft descent over 8 miles. In short, it got dirty and fun today.

Elk Pass, Cabin Pass, Galton Pass…

I rolled into one of BC’s user-maintained campsites along the Bighorn River last night, and was welcomed by fly-fishermen offering beers– godly, in a place a day away from beers in any direction.

Doc, is a biologist working for various parties as needed, and often travels to consult or collect samples. He knows how to identify and preserve once-living things, and has a passion for the unfiction in the world. He has a keen ear, and can turn a few words into wisdom.

Mack is a cartoonist by trade, despite formal training in economics. He is a serial generalist, always has a way of making things sound alright, and admires Doc greatly. “We really should do something nice for Doc.”

A sweet Tuesday.

The descent from Galton Pass required some active pressure management– the valsalva maneuver, or “forced exhalation against a closed passageway”.

Montana greets me with unfamiliar dry heat, and big skies.

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Day 1 1/2: Backcountry birthday cake

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Keeping it simple today. I passed the Tobermory Forest Service cabin yesterday, a popular hang for Divide riders; woke up beside Blue Lake; and treated myself to a litre of whole milk and a stack of Alberta honey, peanut, sunflower seed, and raisin sandwiches– backcountry birthday cake.

For real, PB and raisin is more substantial (protein, fibre, and natural sugars), lighter, and more packable than jelly.

Yesterday included paved roads, busy provincial park dirt tracks, deserted forest service roads, and some powerline doubletrack trails.

And some more Europeans with full trekking kit: when you already have four panniers, what do you put in the other two hanging from your Extrawheel trailer? Rocks, I presume. At least I would; or firewood and brazing rod for backwoods frame repairs.

Tonight, shooting for a BC Forest Service cabin listed on the map; upscale accommodations for the big day. Tobermory Cabin reminded me of the cover of the Delaney and Bonnie album entitled “Home”, on Stax.

The hills are alive around here; wildlife and wildflowers, and timber and mines. Finally, I met a man on medical leave from a local mine. The company bought him a hybrid bicycle, which he begrudgingly rides daily for the sake of the “ticker”. He was skeptical of my travels, and of my fancy “adventure-quashing” maps, but he took down some information about the ACA and generator hubs. Still a spark of adventure in this northwoods resident.

My bike celebrates 26 years by rolling around in the dirt. Oh, at the heart of my food bundle yesterday was a persimmon. No small task to pack persimmons and plums amongst books and cookware.

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Bulking up

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Banff is the apex of my trajectory, at which point I have travelled about two months and expect a few months ahead. I turn, southward, in coincidence with my birthday. An occasion for a visit from my mother; we toured the Icefields Parkway and Kananaskis Country, stayed at the finest mountain chateau(s?), walked along the toe of the Athabasca Glacier, bathed in thermal springs, and dined atop rooftops and mountainsides. And finally, we spent a night outdoors at about 6000 ft, her first time since pregnant with my older sister.

The Icefields Parkway extends north from Banff to Jasper National Park. About 150 miles of magificent scenery, this is a classic motorist destination like Skyline Drive atop Shenandoah Ridge. Cyclists were out in greater numbers than I have seen since the C&O canal; loaded, supported, and day riders. It’s a “must do” kind of ride, yet I managed to shrug my shoulders at it. We drove the length of the Parkway, so I have experienced some of the scenery, but the “must do” pressure is always a bit of a turn-off. Show me a dotted line on a map that “can’t be cycled”, and I’ll be off with a smile. The Divide is accessible thanks to the hard work of the ACA, but it maintains some of the same attraction to me.

Wish you could eat, carefree? Two months in and a few months left– that’ll do it. Cassoulet birthday dinner, a breakfast buffet at the Chateau Lake Louise, and a rooftop pizza and beer at the Banff Springs Hotel. A fantasy in relation to a mosquito-infested pot of mashed red lentils and rice that I will enjoy this evening (I call it vegan mac n cheese).

With a topping of steamed beets and green beans.

My winter kit has bulged my sack a bit, but not as much as the following stash of food I accumulated before leaving town:

5 apples
5 plums
4 bananas
3 beets
1 lb green beans
1 garlic bulb
…and the usual mix of oats, raisins, nuts and pumpkin and sunflower seeds; rice, lentils, coffee, and jar of honey

There’s more, I can’t even remember it all.

I did settle on a small water filter, in addition to a can of bear spray (pepper sauce, sort of). Some pants, a down jacket, a wool hat and gloves, and a vapor barrier liner ( we’ll see) bulk up my bike.

I am still carrying an extra tire because the Marathon won’t die, and two tubes. Why two tubes? I don’t get flats, I can patch tubes like a pro, and my valve holes are well covered by rim strips to prevent abrasion at the base of the valve. Seemed like the right thing to do, I guess. Except that my front tube– an inspiring Schwalbe tube of very-high quality– was purchased 15 months and 10,000 miles ago. Better safe…

…than have a good reason to hitch a ride. I guess.

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Seasonal migration

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Four the fourth consecutive year, I find myself cycling south when cooler weather arrives. The “pattern” is a bit loose but follows:

September 18, 2008: Lael and I rode from Boston to Montreal, then south to Key West, FL for two months of work and sun. Weather was cool with many freezing nights, but we were well equipped and never had consecutive days of rain. Daytime riding temps were ideal.

October 2009: Alex D. and I rode from Tacoma to San Francisco. This trip was three weeks of cool, clear weather; importantly, we discovered both Usal Road and Matt Blake on the day of his 18th month and 20,000 mi anniversary since leaving home in England.

November 5, 2010: Lael and I rode from Tacoma to Baja, then sailed to Guymas and continued riding in the Sierra Madre to the Copper Canyon. Nov. 5th is probably too late to be leaving Tacoma. The real hazard was to our hands and feet, which were perpetually wet and cold. Southern CA greeted us with record rainfalls over Christmas week. Upon entering Mexico, we didn’t see a drop of rain for almost three months.

Sunday, August 21, 2011: I leave Canmore, in lieu of Banff, as the Goat Creek Trail is temporarily closed. Geared up for cool fall riding, I look forward to the riding, the solitude ( if it exists), and the seasons. My first extended visit to the Rocky Mountain west; there can’t be a better way to take in a handful of states. Seasons are becoming a pastime. It’s like slow food, but with weather and time– of which I own a lot of shares.

I am rich in time.

I tossed a worn out pair of Adidas Sambas; I have owned six pairs in the last three years, at a rate of six months apiece. Relatively cheap, durable, and very livable; they have been reliable. I am dipping into a pair of midheight Gore-Tex lined boot-shoes, as a little insurance against the cold and the rain. With hesitation, I proceed.

I have spent restful days touring the parks with my mother. And now, with a belly full of anticipation, Unibroue La Maudite and cassoulet; I ride.

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