West above prisoned eyes

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Two thousand miles and 5000ft from my hometown in New York, the “Rockies” are every bit of splendor imagined. Composed of many narrow ranges, conglomerated into a whole– from a distance they become one. The silhouette, the names of places, the arid valleys and basins; all are iconic, and American as Kansas.

Boulder, and Denver and Fort Collins are all myths come to light. These are real places after all; I’ll no longer wonder how a city differs at a mile-high (it doesn’t), or how a city can be home to so many breweries (Ft. Collins, somehow), or why everyone loves to hate Boulder (because it’s great). Putting faces to names, I’m solving the Colorado puzzle. I’m looking forward to solving the westslope soon, back on the Divide.

I don’t think that Denver needs any more millions of easterners, but towns in decline and tollways and beltways make Colorado seem easy. There’s still lots of space here, and the air and water is clean. Who’s to blame for the Chesapeake and the Everglades?; if Colorado’d had east-coast industries and millions of people a hundred years ago I’d be telling you about the prettiest Superfund site in the country. In some cases, mining has made quick work of what easterners took decades to do.

With circumstance and luck, the people came later and some hard lessons had already been learned in the east. By the time the modern population boom
hit Colorado, Aldo Leopold and John Muir were resting below ground, and on bookshelves countrywide. And by that time we’d learned to appreciate inhospitable, rocky landscapes for their ecological and aesthetic value; or their property value.

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Wyoming, for a minute

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Wyoming comes into view. Jackson and the National Parks are an easy introduction to the Cowboy State, but the ride toward the interior brings the obvious into focus– this is a big state with few people, some cows, and vast dry grassy expanses. And some of the most scenic mountains anywhere (Tetons, Wind River Ranges).

Fast forward: Ron picked us up outside of Pinedale, and with a few phone calls had secured a ride to Colorado. Cole drives 14 hours at least four days a week to Denver, transporting drilling equipment used in the natural gas fields. Cole is a real cowboy-turned truck driver by the gas boom. We swapped stories; he lost an ear to a bronco.

And then we were surrounded by collegians and tree-lined boulevards; Fort Collins looks more like the midwest than the sagebrush uplands of Wyoming, except for the Rockies loomimg to the west.

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Les Grand Tetons and other place names

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Some sources suggest the Tetons were named to honor their anatomical resemblance (female, of course), while less imaginative scholars link the name to the Sioux. Early explorers to the region and French-Canadian trappers were male and were destined to see a series of breasts on the horizon rather than a bent elbow, a skyward foot, or soldiers standing at attention. I have spotted a few oddities over the years; no doubt there is one near your home. Pennsylvania is the proud home to both Intercourse and Bird-in-Hand. One AAA map positioned the names so close together that for a while I rerouted my travels toward Bird-in-Hand Intercourse so as to catch a glimpse of hand-held avian copulation.

The Tetons are, arguably, aptly named. There are, however, no less than one hundred other place names in the US that refer to female anatomy, mostly breasts. In my opinion, the Tetons are some seriously perky tits.

I found a fascinating excerpt from a paper entitled “From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow” that summarizes unusual, sexual, derogatory place names and their history. See for yourself; early explorers, hunters, and trappers were a lonely bunch and author Mark Monmonier had lots of free time to search crude and erotic terms in the USGS’ GNIS (Geographic Names Information System) database.

Mammary-based toponyms
Figure 4.1. State-level counts show a concentration of mammary-based toponyms in the West. (From “Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow”, Mark Monmonier)

Bloody Dick Peak caught my eye, regrettably, on the Montana map the other day. An early trapper by the name of Jackson was the first to settle this area, surrounded by mountains on all sides. Whence comes the name Jackson’s Hole?20110924-021758.jpg20110924-021815.jpg20110924-022022.jpg

Going to Jackson; vintage Yellowstone

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Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks have provided the guard, and respite of a few days without internet. It turns out the parks can still be a place “away from it all”; not that there are any lack of tourists, all of whom seem to come from places with accents (like Mississippi, Missouri, and the Midwest) and can’t believe that I actually biked here. I have begun to fabricate truths and spin lies. Sometimes I am from Alaska or Canada; sometimes I’m going to Bolivia, or Guinea, or another country that most people can’t “place”. It’s fun, and the reaction is usually the same as if I were going to the next obvious place, Jackson. “Wow!”, “No shit.”, and “Really?” are often heard while cycling through the parks. Accordingly, I respond “Yup”, “Shit.”, and “Really.”. Over, and over, and over. I should probably have more patience with people. That’s one of several reasons I’m not a politician. Yes, I realize that’s funny to you.

Yellowstone is a beautiful corner of Wyoming– mostly (also bits of MT and ID)– encompassing a vast caldera, high plateau, mountains; and steaming, boiling, and bubbling coming out of the ground. Despite the crowds demanding to know when the next miracle of hydrogeology will occur, if you happen to wander into the woods– not in the direction of anything boiling or spewing– you won’t see anybody at all.

I spent two hours warming my fingers and eating oats at the Old Faithful Visitor’s Center. I didn’t bother to see the the geyser. It was a nice day to be elsewhere. You don’t take 75 deg days for granted in northern Wyoming a few days short of the autumnal equinox, at 8000 ft.

Five days from sea level and Lael (proudly, pompously) crossed the Continental Divide three times in Yellowstone–all in a day, at or above 8000 ft.

Our first night in Yellowstone, we bathed in the union of the Boiling River and the Gardner River. Scalding hot plus freezing cold equals tolerably scalding, mixed with lukewarm and cool. Perfect on a near freezing evening.

I’ve been fighting a cold for a few days. Almost eighty during the day, almost twenty at night; the weather is brilliant, but my body is confused.

Jackson is a great bike town, and a great place to hide away and relax for a few days. There are a couple of framebuilders in town. I spotted a 26″ wheeled touring mountain
bike with more braze-ons than I could count (six on the topside of the downtube) and vintage Suntour Alpine Gearing (36 or 38t freewheel cog); a 1997 700c “touring bike” that fits 2.1 inch MTB tires, which makes it a pioneering 29er by accident, also with a softride stem and drop bars (Salsa Fargo?); and an impressively crafted swingbike (like the old Schwinns), with real-world parts including Schwalbe tires and vintage MTB equipment. 20110924-015156.jpg20110924-021240.jpg20110924-021339.jpg20110924-021406.jpg20110924-021523.jpg20110924-021543.jpg20110924-022145.jpg20110924-022216.jpg20110924-022304.jpg20110924-022403.jpg20110924-022440.jpg20110924-022536.jpg20110924-022550.jpg20110924-022620.jpg20110924-022751.jpg20110924-022823.jpg20110924-022851.jpg20110924-023021.jpg20110924-023206.jpg20110924-023217.jpg20110924-023233.jpg20110924-023412.jpg20110924-024421.jpg20110924-024440.jpg

Some kind of bike trip

Twelve miles into headwinds must have been enough; I turned away to clean and lube my chain, and when I returned to the road, I found the following:

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We waited by the roadside for a moment, but it seemed all the friendly tourists were in overloaded, out of state Subarus; stone-faced locals were flying solo in Ram 3500s and Chevy somethings. We fished; no fast forward button today.

Something will have to happen for us to get to Denver in two weeks for Lael to catch her flight. We can’t enjoy the sights the way we want and catch the plane.

Luckily, Chico Hot Springs was 3.4 miles away. A $6.50 admission to the spring-fed pool is valid until 11PM and includes access to blue-collar food and drink specials, an evening reggae show, and bottomless wi-fi.

Prime camping a quarter mile away on a grassy knoll– this is too easy. This is some kind of bike trip.

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Paradise Valley

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Trail Creek Road rises gently over a corner of the Gallatin Range, offering a scenic route from Bozeman to the Paradise Valley, and towards the north entrance to Yellowstone NP at Gardiner, MT. This route also avoids additional miles on the interstate into Livingston. Paradise Valley is a long slender valley bounded by the Gallatin and the Absaroka Range, and contains the broad waters of the Yellowstone River. The Yellowstone, largely due to the romantic associations of its name to most Americans, is the longest stretch of undammed water in the country. The Paradise Valley hosted a whispy, grey rainstorm, surrounded by sunny skies, backdropped by the Absaroka and Mt. Cowan (11,200 ft). Recently topped with snow, signs of autumn abound.

Someone(?) looks like she’s having a good time.

We stayed with some friends on the river, at their more-than-typical Montanan ranch constructed of recycled barn wood, found objects, and regional oddities. Yellowstone today; hopefully hot springs.

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The road ahead; that time of year

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Bozeman is about a hundred miles east of the Great Divide Route; the route south of Butte makes a meandering path around Yellowstone and Jackson, while the north entrance to the park lay about 75 mi to the south. This may be the perfect chance to tour the park as many tourists have left for the summer– it seems like the right thing to do. Further, Lael’s got a flight out of Denver in two weeks to visit friends in Seattle, so some more direct road miles should put us closer to that goal. Finally, summer is waning and our time will be better spent enjoying the more spectacular and scenic; the season for casually hanging out in the mountains is closing. Snow is becoming a possibility at higher elevations.

Beyond Yellowstone: Jackson, the Tetons, and some broad expanses of Wyoming. We may be looking for a way to fast forward through southern Wyoming and into Colorado.

Colorado sounds nice.

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Maybe we’re both eight years old

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Bozeman has been all reunion, renaissance, and reconnaissance– looking at maps and routes ahead and scouting out the town; swapping tires and changing chains; showering and shaving; along with good food and better humor. It’s fun to be adults, and to buy plane tickets and quit jobs and bike sunny places and visit friends. But mostly, we’re just eight year olds with bikes, and a map, and a tent.

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Greg Siple; ACA, Hemistour, and TOSRV

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He looks like someone’s dad, on his way to grandfather; secretly, he’s one badass dude. It’s likely that Greg isn’t described that way often enough. Maybe I just like saying that because he’s so nice, and humble; and half a foot shorter than me.

I first heard about Greg in relation the the Hemistour trek from Alaska to Argentina that was undertaken with his wife June, and a handful of others in the early seventies. For all the Long Haul Truckers, Europeans, and Rohloff hubs riding that length today; Greg and June did it on handbuilt 650A (26×1 3/8, 590mm) wheels, customized long-cage Campy derailleurs, and TA handlebar bags– these should be reminders that good wheels and simple gear is adequate for the long haul.

The puzzle solved itself further when I realized that Greg and June had founded the Bikecentennial project– with others– and the subsequent organization to continue the work that made for a successful summer on bike in 1976. Bikecentennial became Adventure Cycling in 1993, and as a result, youngsters such as myself know even less of the momentous and memorable summer of “76. In truth, it’s Grant Peterson who’s been insistently telling the story of the American bike industry, planting Bikecentennial and Earth Day firmly between Schwinn (of old) and Trek (Red Barn); that’s how I first heard about the happiest, healthiest summer in recent history. Bike touring is alive and well in the US, but maybe it could use another kick in the ass. Does a big summer sound like a something that could happen? help? The time may be right. The time is always right for riding bikes.

In my recent visit to ACA, I was humbly informed by Greg that he and his father had organized– a little by chance– the Tour of the Scioto River Valley (TOSRV)– the first, largest (for a while), and most prominent multi-day group tour in the country. In 1962, Greg and his father Charles embarked on a two-day ride through Ohio countryside on a weekend in May. The next year, two more joined them. Within years, there were 16, then 45, then hundreds and thousands.

Anyone who has ridden Seattle-to-Portland (STP) or another multi-day tour; the Trans-Am trail; or the length of the hemisphere, owes a bit of thanks to Greg and his cohorts. There are likely no more than two degrees of separation between Greg, and every bike trip in America this past year. Not “kind of”; Greg is a big deal.

Greg and I stood in the basement for a moment, admiring Ian Hibell’s bike– bike church.

Photographing bikes and riders: Greg has long been attached to both bike and camera, but has– with dedication– photographed touring cyclists visiting Missoula since the early 80′s. He possesses a vast collection of photographs and stories of all variety of bike travellers; dogs, trailers, folders, handcycles, octogenarians and babies all make the list. An exhibition of his work can be seen inside ACA headquarters, at a travelling show (currently in Helena), and pasted to the sides of a utility box in down town Missoula. I share a few choice examples from downtown Missoula.20110915-095256.jpg20110915-095453.jpg20110915-095643.jpg20110915-095734.jpg20110915-095814.jpg20110915-095849.jpg20110915-100111.jpg20110915-100155.jpg20110915-100220.jpg

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Warmshowers beat chilly receptions

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Warmshowers.org is an online networking resource where touring cyclists may seek and contact willing hosts. All members maintain a profile, and in theory, hosts go on tour and touring cyclists become hosts when their tour is complete. It’s better than sleeping under a bridge!

First, there’s almost nothing to be worried about; there are better ways to be a terrorist or serial muderer. I’ve used warmshowers to contact hosts in France, Mexico, Canada and in cities across the US. Hosts have all been great, most often offering food and stories of their own. They may select which services they can provide, including: bed, shower, laundry, yardspace, food, use of kitchen, etc. None are required, and a few hosts are willing to meet for coffee and a chat; usually novices looking for touring secrets. Asking a cycle-tourist about the nuances of touring could result in a lengthy, multi-day conversation. Beware.

A network of like-minded young people on bikes? Not exactly; hosts are all ages, with a slight bias toward older couples with lots of touring experience. Those seeking hosts are biased towards the post-college crowd on their first of second trip. These are just guesses, but older people have houses, while younger people have legs and big eyes for the world.

Footloose, I have gotten in the habit of not planning ahead. I forget that sleeping in town is compliicated. Did you know that most cities have “ordinances that prohibit camping in city limits”? I’ve heard that a few too many times. Some towns, cities even, designate camping areas. Hmmm, ordinances that allow, rather than prohibit? Sounds like a nice way to be; is anyone tired of saying no all the time?

Warmshowers provides a solution, especially in the larger cities that are already dealing with the “homeless problem”.

I rolled into Bozeman, all three of my contacts unavailable or out of town. A big city full of nice people and bikes– there’s gotta be a way, I thought. Warmshowers alerted me to a twenty-something with “a couch and beer in the fridge”. Seems like the kind of guy I could call out of the blue. No phone number listed; I send a quick e-mail, then spot the following words on his WS profile, “…or stop by”. I plug the address into Google Maps, and 2.1 miles later I’m speaking with Orion, in his managed, tangle of a garden. The original WS contact no longer lives there, but cyclists and “couchsurfers” have stayed here before, and a piece of grass would be mine for the night. Momentarily, the city seems to be full of inviting retreats, rather than defensive personal castles. Sharing is nice.

Get on warmshowers! I am, and many who read here are as well, but my parents aren’t and lots of people who know touring cyclists could, and should be. It doesn’t take super-sized quads to offer yardspace, a bed, or stories. I will have toured 10 of 12 months this year, which limits my hosting capabilities. Do it for me, take a load off my shoulders– host a cyclist.

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