Category Archives: Montana

Yellowstriping Through Yellowstone

 

 

 

 

 

The thermometer had sunk into low teens and the intrepid trio of travelers had courageously slept indoors at a hotel in West Yellowstone braving the comforts of warmth, friends and family. From the outside of the hotel room, it looked quite normal, indistinguishable from the other 87. Theoretically, if you looked inside you would see a hotel room resembling the rest. But, an aerial view inside the room would expose an abstract painting splattered with an explosion of geometrical shapes from the neon dry bags and Thermarests which disrupted the conservative array of pre-installed furniture and 7 adults having to play hop scotch with the few square inches of unoccupied space to get across the room. With the wave of a magician’s handkerchief, the 7 adults spilled out of the impossibly small hotel room and made all the food at the continental breakfast disappear. This would not be as remarkable if the buffet did not include omelettes that were a chemically crafted combination of neon Velveeta and Egg-Beaters.

Just as promised, the Yellowstone National Park had been closed to the vehicular masses, and reserved for our own enjoyment and safe passage. Days before, I asked a Park Ranger if we could still ride our bikes through the park after it closed. “Let me put it to you this way, a snow plow slid off the road,� Was her cold response. It seemed quite obvious she was ready to get all the tourists out of the park so she could be on vacation.

“Sweet! So you’re saying we can,� I thought enthusiastically as she walked off.

Old Faithful erupted, exactly as described by the hotel clerk, except for one detail. We did not have to share the view with 4,000 other eager tourists. I could swerve blindly from one side of the road to another, a personal over-sized bike path through some of the most beautiful scenery a mortal could imagine. Buffalo somehow managed to appear out of nowhere while I got lost in my pedal strokes. I suddenly found my way, startled by the appearance of the car-sized creature a mere 5 feet away from me, silently chewing on some grass.

Towards the end of our day we had climbed into the snowy elevations and crossed the Continental Divide. We dropped down into West Thumb to find a camping spot before it got too cold. Wind and snow inspired us to seek more comfortable accommodations in a nearby building.

We explored the psychedelically painted pools of scorching effervescent liquid. Steam rose from the pools with an ethereal quality, dancing with the chilling gusts of cold air and fading towards the heavens. Streams of super-heated geyser water trickled towards the shore, singeing the delicate waves on contact. I had found myself on another planet with no signs of human life for hundreds of miles and explored the area with the care and interest of an astronaut. We were treated to an explosive sunset that blasted its way over the mountains, foreshadowing the powerful storm that would follow.

Weather patterns brewed up a fierce climate while we relaxed with the comfort of our indoor accommodations. Cued by our departure, the storm was released the moment we stepped onto our bikes. A dualistic presence of ice and rain ensured that we would experience the worst of both worlds. Rain soaked us as we climbed up towards the next divide crossing where it promptly fluctuated between a combination of snow and ice. An unrelenting wind picked up, ferociously sweeping its way through the park, carrying the ice into our face with tremendous force. Seventy feet off the road I saw a fifty foot tree come crashing down, echoing its power across the valley. “Of course this storm waited for us to get back on our bikes,� I thought.

It was hard to enjoy the view as we rode out of Yellowstone. I put my face down to avoid the wind and icy debris. Progress was slow, despite pedaling as fast as I could against the elements. After leaving the confines of the park, the weather relaxed a little and gave us the chance to achieve a reasonable day’s mileage. Enriched by our human-less national park experience, we were enticed to head through the Grand Teton Park with the same private reservation as Yellowstone. We opted to yellowstripe the Great Divide section for more pristine “bike paths.�

But, our fearless leader Sean passed the turn and we wound up riding along a busy road just East of the vacant wilderness pavement. The weather was so poor that it didn’t really matter, because the Grand Tetons were shying behind the clouds and the wind/ice forced us to put our heads down and grind away at our gears. Our next stop was Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

We dropped into famed ski town beneath towering snowy cliffs and a hanglider floating overhead. I looked up at the colorful triangle and thought how nice it would be to experience moments without gravity and resistance. Two qualities that ensure each and every day, no matter how good of shape we are in, will be exhausting and challenging. But then I realized that in some twisted way; that is also why I enjoy it so much.

In Jackson Hole the next day, we drank beer at the local brewery with Peter Wuerslin and Tim Young, two guys who traveled the world on bikes in the early 80’s on what was deemed the “Too Tyred Tour.� They passed through civil war torn Central America, crossed the Darien Gap down through S. America, and flew over the pond to S. Africa with their remaining funds. Earned some money and continued up through Africa, designed innovative bikes to pedal on railroad tracks to cross the sandy deserts of Sudan. They passed through Iran & Iraq during the war and were the first bicycle tourists ever to enter Tibet. 55,000 miles and 6-1/2 years, they finished their tour around the world. I was what would be described as star struck, sitting across the table from these guys.

Bike touring really didn’t exist in that scope, when they began their journey. Bike racks had to be custom designed to accommodate their gear and special bike frames were also created for the occasion. Communications were comparatively primitive, with fax machines being touted as state-of-the-art. They weren’t just riding their bikes around the world, they were bicycle nomads, living on their bikes.

They couldn’t just have a bottom bracket air mailed to them if theirs broke. They had to get the parts machined, they had to fix things, invent things, to continue their journey. Their life was bicycle touring, much as someone else gets up each day and goes to work, they get up each day and ride their bike. Conversations with them proved invaluable and helped give us insight into our own experience and journey.

They had traveled with three people and commented on the advantage of the “democracy of three.� Decisions will always weigh towards one side, and no matter what the decision is, you have to go with it. A four-person group could reach a 2-2 decision that has the potential to split up the group, making three a powerful number. They continued by describing how they felt like brothers and the extent they would go to stick up for each other, under any circumstances. “We were a force to be reckoned with,� Tim said.

Their philosophy of bike touring as a lifestyle was really inspiring and helped solidify our own direction with the adventure. We had yellowstriped some of the dangerously snowy sections of the Great Divide Route and were frustrated by our inability to stick with our plan. We wanted to get bikes designed to ride in the snow so we could continue. Our attempts to get sponsored with snow bikes were futile and we felt defeated when we detoured away from the snowy passes. It would cost a little over 1,000 dollars for each of us to get frames that could accommodate a 3-4� wheel that could get some traction on the snow. Unfortunately, there is no way we could afford this. We are not a well funded expedition attempting the world’s first something or other, we are simply bicycle nomads trying to migrate south towards warmer weather. It appeared so simple under their perspective.

At this point, we would have a better chance at continuing the off-road bike touring if we dropped in elevation some, which was our priority. Trails like the Kokopelli from Grand Junction to Moab, Utah, and the Arizona Trail from Utah into Mexico, offered a promising alternative. If we stayed close to our designated route, we would be forced to take busier highways, plowed and maintained for the multitude of vehicles traveling. Our experiences with black ice and vehicles swerving off the road, just a few feet from killing us, have left us to fear and respect the automobile, especially in icy circumstances. Some of the off-road routes on the great divide trail could put you over a steep pass and drop you down at the base of another. A two-three day ride under normal conditions, and twice that in the snow. The thought of the sky dumping a couple feet of powder overnight, could turn the joyride, into..well.. our last ride, I suppose. Our next stop was Pinedale, Wyoming and an opportunity to get back on the great divide trail. We would consider our options when we got there.

In the Jackson Hole community, effigies were burned as sacrifices to the snow gods, grown men danced various jigs outside of the local brewery to encourage the powder to fall, and we remained the only sacrilegious people in confines of the city that did not want snow (except for Tim and Peter). Luckily, we were granted a snow-free day to pedal out of town, despite our inability to craft up any ceremonial dances to preserve the sunshine. We sailed south along a chocolate ribbon of road, cutting up through the freshly frosted canyon. After one final icy stretch, we made it out and onto level ground. I drifted far behind the others, feeling spent within an hour of riding. No amount of candy or Peruvian frosting given to us by Goat’s dad, could revive me. It wasn’t until after it got dark that I saw the familiar flashing red light in the distance of Sean.

But Goat was nowhere to be seen. The freezing temperatures had taken their toll on my feet, and riding into the night only made my frostbitten toes worse, I could only imagine what Goat’s felt like. Sean was miserable as well and ready to camp, and it was out of the ordinary for Goat to blast ahead of us like this. I reached a junction with a truck stop just 10 miles shy of Pinedale.

I parked my bike near the street and left my flashing light on while I sought warmth inside the building. At first, I wandered through attempting to coax the blood to flow to my feet once again. I cursed the holes in my shoes and aimlessly sauntered through the store, pretending like I was there for something besides the free heater. Eyes of the clerks began falling on me, suspiciously; so I made conversation, hoping to comfort them with my unusually haggard presence.

“Have you seen another cyclist stop through here?� I asked, as I sat down at a table near the counter and began taking off my shoes and socks.

“If you ask me, I think you’re crazy to be riding this late in the cold,� She said and looked at me like I was dangerously dumb.

I struggled to maintain a level of courtesy with my reply, “Uhm…well..I actually just asked you if you had seen another cyclist.�

“Nope. Can’t say that I have. When’d ya last see him?�

“Noon-ish, I suppose. Just south of Jackson City.�

Her face seemed to flush with concern. She said, “Honey, he may be in trouble. Jes last year, a snowboarder your age was hitchin’ ‘long this road, found a few miles from here, stabbed ‘bout 27 times.�

“Wow. Did they ever find the murderer?� I asked.

“Nope. They shor haven’t.� She slowly and dramatically shook her head back and forth, like I had just given her news of another fatal tragedy.

Just then, the bell on the door jingled and let in a cold gust of air as Sean walked through the door. I couldn’t help but laugh thinking about how I had looked coming in just a few minutes before. Frozen moisture from his breathe had added an extra ¼ inch of ice to his beard. Failed snot rockets caught on his mustache leaving two green icicles above his lips. His bloodshot eyes rolled around the room while he tried to pull off his gloves. He laughed when he found me sitting at a table with my shoes and socks off, trying to rub some circulation back in my feet. Somehow, his feet, inside Keen sandals still had plenty of life to them. We were not the picture of sanity, verified when I glanced up at the clerk behind the counter, shaking her head.

“Have you seen Goat?� He asked as he inspected his icy beard with his frozen hands.

“Nah.. But the lady behind the counter informed me that he is probably bleeding on the side of the road from knife wounds.�

“Oh really,� he replied incredulously. “That’s too bad. I sort of enjoyed his company.�

The lady interjected, “I’m closin’ it on up in here. Ya’ll are welcome to hang ‘round outside. But I gotta lock up and you don’t wanna be stuck in here all night.�

I surveyed the room and saw the shelves of food. I was certain I would enjoy a night in the food mart. But I obediently stepped outside and paced around in the cold. We were both dumbfounded by the disappearance of Goat and exhausted enough to set up camp without him but Sean claimed he had seen Goat’s tire tracks and was sure he was ahead of us so we pushed on. A huge raised pickup almost hit Sean as he crossed the sizeable intersection. I followed behind and feared something was wrong with my bottom bracket.

I had one seize up on me just before setting up my bike for the trip and wanted to get the best one available to prevent any failures. A bottom bracket should not fail. Phil Woods was reputed to have some of the best bottom brackets, so I splurged 150 dollars on the finely crafted component, handmade in San Jose CA. It started to feel a bit loose; soon it evolved into an aggravated grinding rattle. And within about 15 minutes the cranks developed a significant wobble that accompanied the painful sound of clenching metal. The right side of my bottom bracket completely blew out and little ball bearings were littering the highway. I thought back to the day it arrived in a sleek box, with each little piece sitting in a slot perfectly form fit to it. A work of art, really. Goat and Sean settled for the bottom of the line Shimano BB, which set them back about 8 bucks. I was furiously disappointed with Phil. My pathetic bike hobbled towards the edge of town where Goat was patiently waiting for us.

The man seemed un-phased by the ridiculous cold we slid through all day and night. Didn’t see any need to stop at the gas station, had no frozen limbs to defrost, and so he kept going. We were expecting a package at the post office the next day, and we had to pick it up early before it closed. So he charged ahead stretching our daily mileage into about 80. Camped out on the side of the highway behind some bushes and I woke up early to get into town.

The post office was closed, and the sign on the door explained that it was Veteran’s Day. We would have to hang out in Pinedale over the weekend. I found a hardware store/bike store and was able to get a new bottom bracket, a bottom of the line Shimano. There was a nice coffee shop with free internet access that we spent a good amount of time at. Small enough place that our conversations were quite transparent. And a guy working on his computer at the other table heard us whining about having to spend the next few days in the snow. He invited us over to his house to spend the weekend.

 

Curse of the Martin Backpacker

          By: Sean     

             During our five day stay in Butte Montana my subconsciousness would continuously scream in anxiety: “Move south, winter has come�. So persistant was the thought that it may as well have been seared into my brain with a branding iron;  I very much feared encountering more of the snowy conditions endured through the first three continental divide crossings. Yet our speed and direction are ruled by our perserverant qualities of calm complacency mixed with an immutable resignation that snowy fate will have its way no matter how quickly we kick our legs. Indeed it is only natural for us to relish the comfortable homes provided by our acquaintances in big towns, if only that we learn to appreciate more the rigorous demands of roughing it in the Rockies. So we sit around drinking coffee and feign absorption in any article of literature lying within reach, and only when we feel akwardly aware of our role as the blurry mooch in the eyes of our working class hosts do we pick up and leave.
                  Leaving Butte I had begun to tow on my bike a little something extra to pass away the cold lonely nights out in the wilderness. Out of the communal funds we purchased from E-bay a Martin Backpacker guitar, being a slightly trimmed down version of a regular acoustic. In order to ensure the safety of the delicate instrument I found a hard shell rifle case. It was my hope that the case with its intimidating dimensions, would help me to fit in -if only superficially- among the world class gun carriers of Montana. Perhaps I would no longer feel so inadequately stocked when walking into Montanan bars and cafes that inevitably display colorful signs and banners welcoming the hunter into its exclusive interiors. Riding along a dark frontage road, the blazing lights of Butte behind me, and slightly muted roar of highway traffic to my left, I felt relief at finally being on the move again and ecstatic over my new medium of entertainment.
               We waited to find camp until we could at last not see the dimmest glow emitted from Butte’s city center. There was a small river on the side of the road, and a small dirt turnoff labeled with two decorated crosses marking the sight of a fatal motorist accident. It was a clear night offering a mesmerizing view of stars and moon when the headlights from the highway weren’t flooding one’s vision. While dinner was being prepared I began strumming some tunes on the guitar. Because of the narrow body I had to stand while playing, but that was nothing new, I didn’t have a Thermarest chair converter like the other guys. That night it snowed hard and the wind blew fiercely, we had not anticipated a storm but here it was pounding away at our thin canvas home seeming to say; “well it sure is good to have you fellas back out in the open again�.
                Next morning the air felt colder than the night before. Not wanting to soak my socks through so early in the day, I just slipped my sandals on and made the first treads to the bikes through the thick white blanket. I brought the cooking supplies back to the tent to make breakfast, sat down to prepare the food, then realized I had forgot the fuel. Unfortunately my feet were freezing and so I began prepping them for a second early morning ice bath. While rubbing my frozen toes, Goat dressed himself and without hesitation began trudging through the snow barefoot to get the fuel. Jacob, still in his bag, peered outside and announced that we should dig a nice ditch alongside the two crosses for him to retire in. I hammered my Dromedary bag against the ground trying to break ice chunks apart, but the damn thing was hard as rock. Had we a blow torch and pickaxe at our disposal we might have been able to thaw our water supplies after an hour of intensive labor, luckily we had camped by a stream that was only partially frozen over. It took over an hour to prepare the big morning meal -the stove was unusually grumpy. The next hour was allotted for eating and digestion at the end of which we predicted there to be a remainder of four and a half hours of light for us to get over a high pass on Roosevelt Drive.
                  We found the paved end of the road in rideable conditions. Then after a good two miles of climbing we came to the dirt section of the road that would last the next twenty miles. Though the layer of snow on the road was deep there had been a good amount of traffic to plow some narrow paths for us to follow. Unlike the continental crossing of old, Roosevelt Drive provided a gradual elevation climb over the mountains which meant we wouldn’t be sapped of all strength just to reach the summit. While cresting the top of the pass we were bombarded with gentle snow flurries. My black fleece pullover quickly turned white with the clinging powder. As we began a long downhill section I noticed how icy the road was; my rear tire was sliding all over the place and it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to maintain the balance of my rig which towered high with the added gun case. Later on I would discover that the bolts connecting the Xtracycle to my bike frame were loose and that my rear hub also was loose; a combination that hampered my ability to steer through the ice. It didn’t take long for me to lose control of the bike and crash into a snow mound. There must have been rocks beneath all that soft stuff cause when I sat up blood was spilling into my mouth. Jacob instinctively whipped out his Digital-camera snapped a shot of my wretched state.
                The descent off the mountain became steeper with every mile. Both Goat and Jacob were sliding off the road occasionally as their breaks froze. The cable running to my rear break was corroded and bent and ceased to function at all. At a small fork in the road, about ten miles from the highway we were trying to reach I lost sight of Goat and Jacob. I was sore and badly in need of water and I didn’t care if it took me all night to get to the highway. In the course of a half hour I managed to crash at least a dozen times. Concerned that I might severely injure myself, I simply hobbled alongside the bike through the steepest slopes; the sun was dissolving behind a mountain chain in the distance, it was beginning to look like it would take all night to get down.
                Freezing air began penetrating my thin layers of soaked clothing; a layer of snow stuck between my Keen sandals and wool socks, my beard and hair crusted in ice. I was now running down hill to keep warm. It was necessary to keep a triangular space between my body and the bike, my feet up high on a snow bank for traction, and my forearms pressing down upon the handle bars to keep the tires rigid. Orange and red headlights were soon visible from the highway, then the black shadowy figures of Goat and Jacob riding toward the mountain. Becoming impatient with my sluggish pace I jumped onto my left pedal with my right foot and coasted the rest of the way down, using my left foot as a break. Goat sounded relieved that I had managed to not kill myself on the trail; “we were just going to flag down a car to search for you, the temperature is dropping way to fast to keep outside�.

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                   Goat told me that he and Jacob had been biking back and forth from the bottom of the hill to the freeway overpass for the past half-hour to keep warm. Jacob had already leaped over some barbwire fences to investigate a derelict wood house. We could soon see him running back to fetch his bike giving us the green light to invade the abandoned grounds. Two of us stood lifting the rusty barb wire while the other slid the bikes underneath, then we followed a nearly frozen creek up to the backside of the house. Immediatly I stripped off all my frost caked clothing and furiously slipped into every single dry shirt and sock that I owned. All of us were dangerously dehydrated having had but a few sips of water at the begining of the days ride, so Goat went right to work setting up the stove to boil creek water. Jacob and I set to work making a barrel fire with all the yellowed pages of newspaper and splintered blocks of wood littering the house. After stoking up a sizeable inferno we all hovered close around the hobo furnace trying to ignore the freezing air that still licked at our backsides. I noticed Goat intently paying attention to his feet for a change, he had still been wearing his soaked Ski-boot liners and was undergoing the painstaking task of drying them without melting holes into the material. We each sipped at the boiling water, desperately trying to turn our blood to liquid again. Having taken care of the most important survival measures, I tried talking to Goat about preparing some food for dinner. His tone was oddly dispassionate for a subject as essential as food. When I pressed him further he reacted irritably and told me through as shivering mouth that he needed to get into his sleeping bag, that he was feeling particularly haggard. Jacob and me pleaded with him to stay by the fire, but Goat just shrugged off the sugestion and said it wasn’t working. He set out his Thermarest on the inside floor among piles of broken glass and damp carboard and resumed battling his hypothermic condition inside a sleeping bag.
                  A pot of oatmeal usually makes in under fifteen minutes, we’re used to eating it at the end of the day when we’re exhausted and near physical incompetence. That night the oatmeal took at least half an hour to make. Our stove radiated the heat of a few candles and would periodically die out completely whenever Jacob went near it. When the oatmeal was ready I put it near Goat and then briskly ran back to the fire to warm my frozen hands. Five minutes later I went to eat from the pot myself to find that Goat had taken just a few meager bites, and that the gruel was already cold. Jacob was busy boiling water to make a hot-water bag for Goat’s sleeping bag. By the time he got at the oatmeal it was nearly frozen to the pan.
                   Goat instructed me to unzip his sleeping bag at the bottom and place his dromedary bag of hot water at his feet, which weren’t warming up, and were becoming exceedingly painful. The water bag managed to leak into his sleeping bag at some point during the night and caused him a great deal more discomfort than added heat. 
                     Our blazing hobo furnace was my only consolitory comfort that night. It was questionable whether I would survive bundled up in my synthetic cocoon which was rated only to twenty degrees, so I sat in a frosty chair fueling the fire till my eyes secreted some protective glue in response to the noxious smoke and chemical fumes. I went into what had been the bathroom, kicked around sawdust and broken glass, blew air into my Thermarest and covered the top of my sleeping bag with my rain gear for further insulation. I crawled inside the bag shivering and proceed to kick my legs and rotate my body in circles trying to generate heat. It was a process that would have to be repeated a dozen times that night; I would fall asleep for fifteen minutes, wake up shivering, then shake limbs once again. Each time my eyes opened they were haunted by the sight of a horror movie ambiance of dilapidated walls, decaying wallpaper, and a dirt crusted toilet bowl.
                   I was the first one to wake up the next morning and quickly worked to set the barrel fire ablaze. Goat seemed in slightly better spirits, yet it was painfully evident that he had sustained some gnarly frostbite on his toes. The quiet reserved voices around the fire reflected disparaged spirits; Goat would be in pain for some time, and it would be necessary for him to begin wearing shoes. Attempting to elevate the mood with some music I began playing my guitar. only to stop when my hands grew too numb ten minutes later. We all began reading the 1978 editions of the Butte news publication, the big headlines relating the gruesome details on the mass suicides of the Jim Jones religious cult. There was also an intriguing article written about a search party discovering frozen bodies of hunters that had lost their way and had been forced to hold up in some remote shelter during a storm. Realizing that it might take all day for our stove to cook a decent meal, I began chopping frozen vegetable for a stew. Had I realized that all our food would be frozen for days, I might actually have packed a rifle instead of a guitar. To kill an animal up in these hills would ensure good eating for at least a month. The sight of a perfectly preserved elk carcass strapped to the back of my bike would certainly put me on good terms with the locals from Butte throughout Wyoming, and possible through Colorado as well. What was more, the gun barrel would generate heat that would temporarily warm my hand. The more I thought about it the more I cursed my love of music for being incompatible with the carnal instincts necessary for survival. For my guitar to save my life, I’d have use the steel strings to strangle an animal. After sometime I felt disgusted with myself for considering the benefits of a firearm. I believe that we were all a bit disoriented that morning; still mildly dehydrated, and strung out from lack of sleep, we had just experienced our first sub-zero night -we later found out that it had dropped as low as negative ten degrees.    

Jim Jones & the Baby Killers

We searched around for internet hoping to establish our plans with the Grand Canyon. My conversation with the park ranger in the region above the Canyon was dismal, offensive even. Just uttering the idea of fixin’ to reckon on thinking about possibly attempting to access the North Rim, forced him to treat the conversation as if was made collect from an asylum. The next plan was to call him up pretending to be a cross country skier, interested in playing in his forest on my winter friendly sports gear. This ploy gained nothing useful from the ranger who picked up the phone and said patronizingly.“Well, if you look up the weather for Jacob Lake, that should tell you everything you need to know.”

“Can’t you just look outside and tell me how much snow there is on the ground?” I Pleaded.

“I don’t know, can’t say for certain.” He replied dumbly.

“Well do you know if there was anywhere that we can get some food supplies in the town.?”

“Jacob’s Lake Inn has some food, you can give them a call at 7232.”

Jacob´s  Lake claimed that they could not sell us any real groceries and that there was a good foot to two feet of soft powdery snow that would prove quite difficult to plow through on a bike. The collective decision we made a few towns back was that we were just going to head to the south rim, but I wasn’t ready to give up yet. I had resolved to cross the canyon solo and meet the others later, and with such forceful resolution I helped sway the decision to go for it. We had arrived at a few ultimatums to help us decide. Both of which we patently ignored. “Okay so if there is more than a foot of snow or if we can’t get food in Jacob Lake, we’ll bail and head to straight to the south Rim.” I decreed.

“So there is 1-2 feet of snow and we’ll have to carry our food all the way from Page. Shoot. We should flip a coin.” I said.

“If it lands on heads, we use ‘em and skip the canyon, tails, we bust ours and go for it.” I said with a quarter in my hand.

Sean had temporarily bailed on the idea and was going to meet us at the South Rim if we made it.

TAILS.

There we have it. Our fullproof oracle has spoken and our fate certain.

Sean couldn’t resist missing out on the absurd plan and somewhat begrudgingly offered to join us.

At the visitor’s center we met Ron Watch, a Navajo native who owned and operated the e-café and visitor’s center, which also doubled as a community center. We had missed a Navajo metal show by just a few days. The building was a round patio with a huge double fireplace and open roofed center. It was called the Shepherd’s Eye due to it’s circular architecture. Ron had long black hair, and dark eyes that burned with intensity. Past his stern appearance, he was an incredibly kind of and thoughtful individual who offered to let us sleep in the courtyard. It was supposed to drop down to -4 that night and we wished nothing more than to secure a bit of warmth for our near future.
We took the opportunity to do some laundry that desperately needed attention. My socks were so crusty that I could actually stand them upright, as if my foot was still in them. We were not the only ones eager to restore a bit of freshness to our clothing as we squeeze our way into the frantic Laundromat filled with Navajo kids who seemed to all but spin themselves silly in the “there’s too much chaos in here for me to sit still” cycle. One girl was dragging around her friend with short hair and two pierced ears, maybe 5-6 years old, erupting in spontaneous fits of “rolling on the Laundromat floor.” The girl with pierced ears did a spiraling maneuver with a great big smile and twirled out of the girls grips and disappeared behind an aisle of washing machines. </font></p>
Sean’s birthday was on this fateful evening and we did our best to celebrate the occasion. Since we were in Navajo country, there was no alcohol to be found for hundreds of miles (unless you know the right people in the town, of whom we did not). We got 10 dollars worth of beef “slabs,” a mysterious cut of meat that did in fact resemble a steak in appearance, particularly if you kind of cross your eyes and blur your vision as if you were looking at one of those “seeing eye” posters. Strapped for cash as usual we also opted for the cheapest barbecue sauce we could find, and completed the meal with random veggies.
Campfires are a rarity in our world and grilled food is tough to beat, so we were drooling with anticipation for the feast.
The fire was roaring and we gave a good long thought to sleeping near it. But when the time came to go to sleep, we went straight towards the heated bathroom and rolled out our tarps and pads in our own respective stalls. I imagined that Sean would have never guessed at any point in his entire life that he would be spending his 23<sup>rd</sup> birthday sleeping in a bathroom in the small Navajo town of Kayenta. We couldn’t sleep right away and spent a good amount of the night’s bathroom slumber party with nonsensical comments.

A long chilly ride towards Kaibeto was blessed with a tailwind and relatively flat riding. By the end of the day, I was far ahead of the others and too cold to stop. So I rode towards a nearby ranch house, disturbed their dog and horse until I found a path towards the home. An older man waved at me and jogged towards his house, which after 77 years of life, assumed a pace less than hasty. On his porch step he motioned me towards his house and I followed. A wave of heat consumed me as I stepped in his house, smiling and nodding my head to acknowledge his wife busily making a basket by their blazing stove.
“Hi, I am on a long bike journey and am hoping to get permission to camp on your land.” I said quickly.
The old man smiled and poked at my back. My Camelbak was underneath my coat so it wouldn’t freeze and made me look like a hunchback.
“It’s cold. Do you have a tent?” He asked.
“Yeah.”
“You gonna build a fire?”

“Ehh.. probably not. We’re probably just gonna go right to sleep.”
He turned and spoke to his wife in Navajo for a minute. “You want to sleep inside?”
“Ehh…. Of course, it’s darn cold out, but we don’t want to impose. There are three of us.” I looked around at the lack of space and could not imagine them being comfortable having us over.
“How about you sleep in traditional Hogan?”
“Wow.. That would be incredible.”
“Follow me.”

I said goodbye to the woman and followed the man outside.
I started to get worried that my companions would pass the side road I turned, and I would end up having to chase them down the road all night. “Mm…I gotta go flag down my friends, I don’t want them to pass me.”
“Over here.. Follow me.” He said as if he didn’t hear me.
He stepped over to a huge 10 sided building with a conical roof and turns a key in a padlock. The door swings in letting in a stream of sunlight. He turns and says to me, “This is church Hogan. People come pray here for all night. Always wood for fire in here. In times of war, like these days, lots of prayer.”
“It’s beautiful. This will be amazing. I gotta go wave down my friends. If they don’t stop here, I’ll be chasing after them all night.”
I rushed back to my bike and found them quick enough and brought them back with tremendous enthusiasm to the traditional Hogan. The expected low of -5 was sure to be unpleasant without the kindness of Henry, our hospitable Navajo friend.

Inside the Hogan was a large wood stove with a pipe that stretched into the roof of the structure. A generous pile of wood lay in front. Around the edges of the structure were pieces of carpets numbered 1-10, lining each edge. There was a calendar of Arizona Golf courses, a photo of a bald eagle, and a couple broadhead arrows over the doorframe. There was also a plaque from a coal mining company, a bag of herbs and a list of family members who signed in at a gathering in April of 1996. A stack of sheepskins were piled about waist high, which we assumed were for sitting/sleeping on.
Henry came back in and brought a shovel full of coals. “You guys know how to start a fire?”
“Oh yeah. I suppose.”
A heapfull of burning coals sure helps, and within minutes the fire was stoked and the Hogan was heating up. He asked where we were from and told us a little about his kids and life.
“I have retalives (relatives) in California. I work natural gas pipeline in Los Angeles, to Bakersfield all way up to Oakland. My kids are in military. Marines. I went school at Riverside when I your age.” He said.
“I’m seeeveeenty seevennnn years old now.” He said, heavily emphasizing his age with pride. “That was long time ago.” He concluded.

After the fire had heated up the place sufficiently, he wished us a goodnight. He put his hand on a latch and said as he went out the door, “Here is lock, to keep out the witches.” He laughed.
We brought in a big hunk of coal and the fire kept up until about 3 AM when Goat got up and put some more wood in there. It was the first time we could sleep in our bags without all our clothes since we left Moab. After sleeping soundly, and all encountering remarkably vivid dreams, we woke up oddly refreshed. I hadn’t realized how poorly I had been sleeping in the cold weather until a night in the comfort of warmth.
We reached Kaibeto early the next day and decided on an off-road route after attempting to extract any useful information at the trading post. Up the road we were looking for route 201, and by the time the sun had set we still had not found it. I approached a car exiting a dirt road and asked him about it.
He claimed about a 4 miles up there was a road that we could take, it would bring us all the way over to the 89, cutting underneath Page. I saw one of his dogs underneath his wheel sniffing the tire; shocked, I warned him, “Whoah.. your dog is under your wheel.” I scrambled to scare the dog from out of the car.
“Ohh that’s Mano.” And he revved his engine up.
Sean pulled up and showed the man our map, and he confidently pointed out the route. As he was passing back the map, Sean stumbled back over his Camelbak and scared the dog into the road where it was swiftly hit by a passing car, offering a thunderous sound to the desert landscape.

Sean looked over at the owner who appeared unphased and said, “Holy shit. You just see your dog get hit.”
The owner just laughed and casually shrugged.

“You want me to take it off the road?” I asked.

“Ehh.. yeah.. Just drag it over there.” He replied.
I waited for the traffic to clear up, hoping I wouldn’t have to witness any further gruesome mutilation to the poor creature’s body. I grabbed ahold of its limp front legs and pulled it off the road, trying not to think about the situation.
We continued our search for the 201 after it got dark and found ourselves desperate enough to take a random off road route, thinking that it must lead us to one of the main roads. Our depth perception was off and the sand was thick. We slid around the road dangerously through the night, keeping slow enough to avoid a serious crash. We crossed the electric train tracks, the same ones that the Monkey Wrench gang sabotaged in Ed Abbey’s book. We were lost. Our maps sucked. And we were terrible at navigating. Especially in the dark. So we set up camp and decided to deal with it tomorrow. Fortunately, a rancher passed through that night and we flagged them down for directions. They pointed us down a road, said it went about two miles and would T at the main road. That main road would take us to the 89.
“Heh..You guys are WAAAYYYY off!” He said as he drove off into the night.

We were faced with the reality that when you go off paved roads in the desert, it will be sandy. Not only will it be sandy, but it will be…shall we say, less than conducive to bike riding. So instead of riding many sections we pushed, or maneuvered a track stand stall/crawl, inching our way towards the next foot of ground that would hold our tires with a bit of luck. There was a good mile’s worth of sand that we could not ride over and were forced to push our bikes through. Slowly and surely, we carved our way through the windblown sand. My arrowhead obsession had continued so I scanned the ground constantly, and by some miracle, actually found one. The main road was much more rideable, but that doesn’t say much for riding across a desert. All the while, I dreamed about the Surly Pugsley bicycle with it’s 4″ wide tires, thinking about how nice it would be to float over the sand. Not only was it difficult to merely pedal across flat/uphill sections, but even going downhill, you had to maintain full concentration so you wouldn’t crash. By the end of the day, we all had at least one good spill. It was always humorous to see the tracks (there wasn’t an inch of surface on the road that wasn’t painted visibly with our tread patterns) wend and twist when somebody lost control. Often you could even see a body impression as if it was outlined in chalk marking the fall.
Eventually we reached our half way point and were guided by some Navajo which direction to go. The map looked clear enough to follow, but there were so may people living out there, that roads often crisscrossed our route, leaving us to constantly question which direction to go. Driveways stretched for miles towards their houses, hidden in the distance. Petrified sand rose up aside the road, layered inch by inch of varying colors and shades, morphed into orblike shapes, twisting and swirling as if it was captured in an exotic lavalamp. Some trees managed to puncture their roots through the smooth rocks and lived in a seemingly impossible location, leaving their profile protruding above the horizon. About 35 miles into the sandy washed roads, we saw a turnout for a Baptist church. About 10 miles later we even saw a school bus tromping through the sand. A few minutes before we thought we were in the middle of nowhere, but that was hardly the case. We were in he middle of Navajo reservation land. “Rez country” as a teenager a few towns back described. I was about 50 yards from Goat at one point, and by the time I pushed my bike up a long steep hill, I could look down for miles at a lengthy hill we would descend. He was about a mile ahead. I figured I’d catch him on the hill. But the further I went down, the more space he made between us. Riding in the sand, I would begin to get a bit of speed and then my front wheel would catch and send me wildly sliding to the other side of the road where I would regain my traction and attempt to veer myself back down the hill. At other points I would just sink and stop in the sand. Each time I would see Goat’s tracks somehow perfectly cutting through the sand. I was amazed.

The hill leveled out for a couple miles, and was fortunately much less sandy. I heard bells in the distance and saw sheep being herded by dogs around a nearby rock monument. Next thing I knew I was being chased by dogs, for a good mile until they lost interest.

We hit the road and instantly found ourselves on Antelope Pass with a about 14 miles and 2500 feet in elevation to drop until we reached Lee’s Ferry. It was one of those incredible ear-popping out of your mind hills that left you feeling like the elevation you climbed was actually worth the downhill (which can be rare). On each side of us were steep cliffs towering into the sky.

Our Lady of the Rockies

          By: Jacob

   

             Our lady of the Rockies shown bright on a cliff high above the old mining town of Butte.  Once boasting over a hundred thousand people and the fame of being the first town to get electricity, it is now a fragment of what it once was.  Hardly a quaint ghost town, however, with about 35,000 people you can see the city sprawl from the top of the divide as you coast your way into town, traversing acres of scorched earth (mining), under the watchful eye of the 60 foot illuminated statue.      

             Â Â Â  We contacted a Couchsurfing host by the name of Abigail who was somehow willing to let 3 strangers she’d never met instantly take up residence in her home.  After getting the grand tour of the house, we unloaded our worldly possessions off our bikes and moved in.  Replaced the family photos on the mantle, hung up our towels in the bathroom, and began walking around the house in our boxers. 

      Â Â  Couchsurfing is one of the newest and most unrecognized marvels of the modern world.   It reminds me a lot of hitchhiking, except that you get to have a slumber party and use their toothbrush.  While it may not be for everybody, there are over 100,000 people signed up, creating a global network of places to be “the dude on the couch.â€�

      Â Â Â  The conversation could go something like this, “Hi, I’m Jacob, a fellow Couchsurfer who you have never met in your entire life. I just came into town and read that you had a couch available to sleep on?â€�

         Â Â  “Yeah, very true.â€�  They would then continue to humbly acknowledge that they have little to offer but would be happy to have you over.

         Â Â  “Where can we meet up?â€�

         Â Â  And within 5 minutes of entering a town it would be set.  The first night is easy enough, after that you have to prove to them that you actually don’t smell that bad after a shower, and that you can cook without smearing bacon grease over all surfaces in the kitchen.     

         Abigail is a partial owner of a vintage clothing store that she describes as a boutique, and not to be mistaken as a thrift store.  She is 24, goes to school, and works until late in the evening.  Her photograph on her Couchsurfing profile shows her with brown hair, but we saw her with very blonde hair and a smile just as bright.  She grew up in California and could tolerate the unrelenting, and often incoherent nonsense that bushwhacked bicyclists pour out in an attempt to communicate.  We got along nicely.

        The apartment was shared between Abigail, Nick and another couch surfer.  Nick’s father, Ron, had taken up a more permanent residence in the house a couple days prior to our arrival.  He (and his Shit Zhu dog that would compulsively hump your leg) instantly became a household fixture, growing roots the moment he arrived.  You could even hear his limbs permanently grafting themselves to the home as he woke up at 5 AM to loudly wash the dishes and drink his morning cup of coffee.    

       Â Â  Nick is an eccentric individual, capable of hours of humorous banter, punctuated with a loud contagious laugh.  The dynamics between him and his father are nothing short of a comedy routine you might encounter in the performance hall of a cruise ship.  Constant bickering exposing the underlying absurdity of Nick’s couch surfing dad filled the home with the warmth of a quality family dispute.  The two danced around the generation gap with a flair for the dramatics and an entertaining father/son role reversal.

          Due to health conditions Ron has recently retired from his career as a car-salesman and has moved in with his son.  The medication he was prescribed, lead to the loss of his botom front teeth, which was recent enough that he was constantly tonguing the area, as if playing with dentures.  His straight grey hair was long enough to comb back, but still short enough that with any intervention, could stand straight out, giving him a mad scientist look.  He wore surplus military pants pulled up to his belly button and a t-shirt with a picture of Osama Bin Laden framed by the words “Wanted: Dead or Alive.â€�   He is an endearing character, and the extent of his personality and charm could only be refined and established with a long life and a few tours in Vietnam.  From the moment you meet him, he is like your best friend you haven’t seen in years.  I believe he must have been one hell of a car-salesman before he retired and moved into his beloved town of Butte, MT.

      Â Â  After a couple nights in town, we could see why he liked it, and not only because we were enjoying the same rent-free accommodations.  It feels very much like a small western town.  While checking out the nightlife we saw dogs running freely around inside the bars, a man get thrown through a window in a bar fight as high schoolers casually hung out around the pool tables.  I had a conversation with a lady that night who found out I was from California and quickly made it her goal in life to recruit me to dissuade all people from Cali from ever coming to her city. 

        Â  The one notable quirk about the Montanans I’ve met was that the overwhelming majority of them can’t stand “the Californians,â€� who are somehow responsible for all the problems in their state.  Getting a rational explanation for their feelings about us “left-coastersâ€� is nearly impossible.  A few have shared their frustration that Californians buy up all the land and block access to public property or they are bunch of “tree-huggin’ hippies who don’t care ‘bout nothin’.â€�  The best example of this underlying state discrimination is a comment from the lady we rescued after she slid on black ice and rolled her truck (nearly hitting Goat in the process), injuring her neck.  After we laid her down on a Thermarest and put our sleeping bag on her and rushed to get further assistance she commented, “You guys are so nice.  I promise I won’t say anything bad about Californians ever again.â€�    

         Being in Butte on Halloween weekend, we had to attend the festivities and use our imaginations for costumes since we had not planned on dressing up. Goat was Floyd Landis, adorned in bicycle spandex, complete with a yellow jersey, Sean was a California surfer boy, sporting only board-shorts and curly hair, and I dressed as a hobo with a bindle on a stick.  Pretty outrageous costumes for Montana, realizing that at the beginning of winter, not too many folks wear costumes that do not include a shirt or long pants.  Throughout the night, I was happy as a hobo heading out of town to be wearing plenty of clothes to ward off the Montana cold.  Couldn’t help but laugh at Sean out in the cold northern night, shivering without his shirt on. 

        Sean & I quickly got bored at the party, abandoned the house to explore a huge metal mining rig, towering 100 feet above the city outlined in red LED lights.  Hovering above the city, we could see the expanse of lights for miles around.  A tremendous feeling of wellbeing swept over me, with the realization of what a crazy adventure we were on.  That we get to ride through this city and back out into the wilderness; that we get to ride our bikes every single day across the globe.  At that moment it felt like “Our Lady of the Rockiesâ€� was smiling a gentle approval. 

        Â Â Â  It wasn’t until our first night back out into the Rockies, that I began to wonder if her smile wasn’t sinister in nature…..    

Riding into the Crosshairs

By Sean
      A city of 25,000. The sheer mass of Helena initially frightened and intimidated the backcountry-loving bike nomads. Upon the first peddle stroke into the deadly congested city limits, boisterous oaths were uttered from all, “we’ll just be passing on through”. In reality we ended up passing from one couch surfer’s home to another, from seedy bar scene to dimly lit bohemian espresso shop, antique bookshop to farmers market; for nearly a week we embraced metropolitan society.
     Our second couch-surfing crash-sight belonged to an older couple who were not at all aware of how couch surfing worked. Their son signed them up for the program at the same time that we were forced to depart the residence of our first host. The couple offered us a warm studio above their garage, and after some nervous consideration decided to feed us in exchange for various odd jobs that included cooking, gardening, and cleaning the house. Perhaps an overabundance of cold snowy mountain trails had succeed in diminishing our usual haughty disdain for modern indoor comforts. We settled uneasily into domesticated routines while retaining our shaggy wild animal appearance; Goat would fashion dough for pie crust, Jacob would vacuum every floor in the house and search the internet for piano chords to play reggae tunes on his new Melodica, I would play the dark wooded upright piano of impeccable tone till my fingers are numb and then go out and uproot leeks for soup. Our host in this quaint Helena abode attempted to persuade us to fashion a commune on some land they had purchased up in the hills, maybe build tree houses, turn the earth, and cultivate silent minds. It did not take long to cultivate a desire to depart from this comfort, from this metropolis that rolls out in unkempt suburbia over the flat stretches of plains creeping up to snow capped mountains.
     The phone rings, no one of the household is present to pick up, the message clicks on, its a man we’ve never met offering fair warning of the divide trail. “Yeah, about those cyclists, they’d be nuts to ride out onto the trails, there’s six to eight inches of snow on all the roads, and its the first day of hunting season”.
     Yes indeed, hunting season has begun and well over half the male population of the county are oiling rifles, polishing scopes, filling coolers with beer, and sharpening their filleting knifes. We had been warned by several concerned citizens to take the safety measure of wearing orange vests to prove our neutrality in the escalating war on the wild. Despite being flashy and fashionably flamboyant, the vest may prove not to be an adequate precaution against heavy fire since men up in the hills will shoot anything that moves. As Vice President Cheyney demonstrated last year being buddy with the man with the gun doesn’t ensure one’s safety, and we were hearing reports of old men suffering from Glaucoma out on the trails. At best wearing the vest might provide us an appearance of being legitimately oriented to Montanan back-country etiquette. Then if a hunter were to shoot one of us he could not simply accuse us of sabotaging the festive activities that happen only once a year. The orange vest was essential to our survival out in game land, to leave it behind would be tantamount to parading around the north pole in grinch costumes on christmas day.
     We weren’t too concerned with the reports of heavy snow accumulation; we hoped that the endless caravans of hunting bound vehicles would pack that slush down to a manageable surface. It so happened that we were waiting for new tires to replace the wide knoby monstrosities that we had installed on our bikes just a few hundred miles back. The wide treads had been slowing us down and we figured the real heavy snow wouldn’t appear for at least another few weeks. However cruel and miserable the outcome the change may prove it would be a useful experiment to see how much worse -or better- the narrow tires faired in the snow.
     Straddling the polished leather saddle of our newly revamped mountain bikes we busted out of Helena with a vengeance, determined as ever to conquer the Great Divide trails. Ten minutes out of the city and a considerable headwind thrashed our faces, the trail degraded to soft mud below puddles of melting snow. We climbed a gradual hill of seven miles, coasted down a pleasant downhill section of four miles than climbed another steeper hill of at least nine miles. It was an exhausting day; my feeble limbs softened by nearly a week of domestic leisure were sore, my lungs felt constricted from rising altitude, and personally I felt that the narrow tires weren’t helping my momentum. Approaching the beautiful and nearly frozen-over Park Lake we were informed by a man in a pickup truck of our failure to wear striking colors. Except for my plaid bell bottoms, everyone was wearing dark or camouflage clothing splattered with mud; we were quite indistinguishable from dirt. In an official self-registration campsite, we found one occupied sight containing two pickup trucks with one pulling a motor home, the other a trailer with two ATV’s, complete with gun racks and beer coolers. No sounds, not even the irritating buzz of a gas powered generator providing quality indoor visual stimulation, our neighbor campers must have exerted themselves to the extreme during the day to have crashed before sundown. We pitched our tent finished off a bottle of whiskey that had been purchased to congratulate our previous triple Divide crossings, and dozzed off. Late that night, at some obscene hour reserved for the squeals of hovering banshees and the howlings of rabid wolves, I was roused from blissful unconsciousness by Ozzie Osborne wailing something unintelligible. It was Iron Man blasting through four hundred watt speakers, accompanied by the war cries of some young hunter dudes riling themselves up to begin shooting. I expected gun fire followed by blasting caps, white flashes of burning magnesium, penetrating laser pointers dancing around the tent, who knew what incendiary display would accompany the preparation for a late night hunt. Early the next morning Goat told me that people often hunt at night intrigued by the possibility of sneaking up on a dear asleep on its legs. Goat’s slumber hadn’t been disturbed by last nights’ pep rally, leaving me to believe that he wouldn’t serve as an alert look out -should the occasion ever arise that we would need to monitor the premises of our camp.
     Simon and Garfunkel’s tune “Slip Slidden Away” became the soundtrack to my mornings’ ascent up the snowy ice bound roads as we set out to conquer the remaining thousand feet of elevation. There came a point where our trail map prescribed a steep climb up a ‘rough four wheel drive’ trail for two miles and being the trusty navigator I grew a bit disheartened at the prospect of following a trail that may very well be buried in snow, with no human tracks to follow. As it turned out, the trail wasn’t ridable, we dismounted and pushed our bikes up rocky ledges, snow up to our ankles. looking ahead I cringed in horror at Goat’s feet hoping gracefully through the blinding white powder wearing only ski-boot liners, I was wearing Keen sandles with snow building up between sock and sole and generally feeling inadequately insulated. For two miserable miles our generally neglected arms were sapped of all strength, one holding the handle-bars steady, the other yanking at the saddle. It was nearly impossible to position oneself in a manner that would avoid having the back of our calves chaffed by our peddles and/or xtracycle bags. It would take an experienced oarsmen from a Viking slave galleon to efficiently haul our loads up that hill, anybody less would no doubt succumb to nervous and physical exhaustion. Any hunter within a mile would no doubt be drawn to the wretched gutteral sounds eminating from our disgruntled throats; surely we were easy targets for the itchy finger assailants. At about the mileage where we should have been able to see the summit, Goat turned back and began descending the hill. “The trail just ends at a tree, and the hunter’s tracks lead up the slope of a hill that we can’t climb,” Goat flatly offered his prognosis. A good part of me desired to fling my bike off the side of the hill and try my luck at suspended animation for the duration of winter, yet reluctantly I complied with the inevitable and backtracked two miles to the beginning of the trail.
     After some discussion we concluded that this would be a good point to begin altering our route, and opted to follow an steep downhill route toward a town called Wicks. Disheartening though it was to know that an early descent would ensure more uphill climbing overall, we believed it better than trudging through blankets of snow and risk getting lost for a second time. The road conditions downhill were incredibly rocky, with deep rain indented ruts that would catch tires as they struggled to steer through hair-pin curves. On one downhill the cold air was blasting my face at such a speed that my eyes teared up obscuring my vision. My tires got caught in a rut that led to the edge of a rocky cliff and reflexively I rolled off the side of my bike onto the rocky slope. Immediately my bicycle flipped ontop of me as I attempted to brace myself from sliding further down the slope and the two of us shared a worthwhile moment of intimate bonding. After throwing my bike further down the hill and cursing my miserable existence I looked up to find Jacob holding his camera; I cursed him as well and set about finding a spot to convalesce. Finally we found camp beside some grazing cattle, and ended the day content in achieving negative mileage.
     The next day we came into Wicks. I mistook the line of gutted buildings for a ghost-town until a white S.U.V pulled up in front of an oversized trailer home. The old couple that stepped out of the car asserted that we were lost which I confirmed with a nervous laugh. I noticed the corpse of a recently shot deer strung up to dry from the roof of a derelict shack across the street, and that served as a slight intimidation while asking for directions back to the main highway. The man told me that it was necessary to backtrack on the road I had just come down some six or seven miles, he was describing a route that we had been avoiding in favor of a shorter one through the mountains. After informing the man of the presence of a direct road from Wicks to the highway his wife laughed out loud, “yeah, Finn Gulch, my god you boys will still be riding on that till night comes”. The man reasserted his advice that we backtrack seven miles, saying that biking up Finn Gulch as foolhardy; “You don’t realize how many people we have to pull out of that mess in the winter!”. The woman sent us off with a bag full of her ‘Wicks Famous” cookies, telling us to be safe. Naturally we ignored the local wisdom and ascended Finn Gulch amidst the boisterous protests of innumerable dogs that erupted in spasmodic discontent in every yard along the road. Indeed the hill proved to be treacherous being close to a twenty percent grade covered with slushy snow, it was however little over two miles long, and as we crested the hill top and gazed over the vast stretches of mine terraced hills we laughed in triumph over local wisdom. It would be all downhill from here to the city of Butte, where we would inevitably begin again exploit the warm local hospitality.

A Sub-Zero Update

We are very appreciative of the flood of concern for our wellbeing. Our inbox was pleasantly innundated with lots of worried emails. Overall, we are in good shape and are pushing South, with a brief detour through Yellowstone to see the geysers, etc. We have been working on updates for the website but have been quite overwhelmed with the intense conditions we’ve encountered.

The weather was so cold that the digital camera would not take pictures. The Alphasmart word processor we use to type up our entries was also too cold to operate. None of us are prepared for Sub-Zero temperatures and have encountered them with increasing frequency lately. Hit a blizzard outside of Butte, MT, camped out, and woke up with an unrelenting cold spell for the next week. Temperatures would drop to 0 degrees before sunset, and on a bike going down a hill against the wind, 0 degrees becomes MUCH colder.

Goat has pretty bad frostbite on his feet, covering his big toe and the pads of his feet. I got a bit on my big toe because of the hole in my shoe, but nothing compared to his situation. Every day has been outrageous and exciting. One day Goat and Sean almost got hit by some lady who slipped on black ice and flipped her car and hurt her neck. We all crashed on that stretch of ice as well (among many others). Another day we’re battling sub-zero temperatures and impossibly snowy downhill sections resulting in multiple crashes. One night we had to help Goat fight off hypothermia, racing to boil water and get it into a container to warm up his sleeping bag. Not ideal bike touring conditions.

As you can see, the weather has already taken it’s toll and we are now in the coldest part of the United States, hurrying South. We will be working on updating the site as we head through Wyoming. There is a bit of catching up to do. Lots of exciting stories we hope you will enjoy. So please check back often, we appreciate your support and interest in the trip.

Frozen Feet Kick Frozen Machine

By: Sean
A total of three continental divide passes spanned the trail between Lincoln and Helena. These passes would prove to be a most formidable barrier to our progress, taking as it did about an hour and a half to move a mere five miles while riding up the first pass.

As soon as we made it over the first divide we bundled up in moderately dry clothes preparing ourselves for the incredibly steep downhill. I had been wearing but a tee-shirt, Columbia Dry pants, and wool gloves the entire day of climbing through the light snow flurries. To supplement these inadequate layers I put on my non-breathable nylon coat, and a knit hat. The freezing air penetrated right through the coat the second I pushed off on my bike, yet at the same time I felt liberated from the consistently strained lungs and diaphragm, and general overheating endured during the long uphill. Coasting down the narrow pathway of jagged rocks, small ice patches, without working breaks was reminiscent of snow-boarding; one had to use defensive steering to avoid rolling out of control in a tempestuous pace. At the bottom of the hill, I waited for my two biking companions to follow, watching as the twilight faded behind a ghostly grey hill that bore only one small tree casting an awkward movie set-design shadow. Goat and Jacob were either taking an incredibly careful and lazy decent down the pass or something was wrong. I began biking back and found them with the tool kit between their upturned bikes. They had dismantled their rear derailleur in order to clean out the frozen mud that was clinging and impairing the momentum of the tiny pulley cogs that allow the chain to shift into different gear. My derailleur turned out to be frozen stiff as well forcing my shivering arms to hunker down and affectionately clean and dry the tiny pieces to the pulley.

It was dark when our bikes were –somewhat- functioning again. We moved past lands thick with barbed wire, small barns that looked like quite an appealing squat to the likely alternative of pitching a soggy wet mess tent. We bike another three or four miles, slipping like clowns on banana peels through extensive mud puddles that we could not see. Finally we decided to bound down a mud hill into private grazing land –it being the only flat non-mud area for miles. First it was necessary to cut a single strand of barb wire; there had been other strands of the fence already broken from wear. The tiny mud hill was incredibly steep and slippery foreshadowing a near impossible amount of strength that would be required to haul them back up in the morning. Quickly we raised the tent without a word between us, and set about cooking oats and eggs over easy. Our tent sagged down low attesting to the sizeable amount of snow falling, dreams were absorbed in imagining the daunting task of bike snow plowing.

The next morning a jolly voice woke us from slumber, “Hey you campers�! None of these campers were interested in rising to greet the voice that obviously came from the owner of the land that we were trespassing on. We attempted to legitimate our presence by relating the story of last night’s mechanical failures, and luckily the man on the other side sounded sympathetic. Well, at least I could hear no sounds of a cover crew cocking their shotguns or pulling arrows back on their hunting bow, I tried frantically to open the tent flap and press my haggard face in greeting to the owner, but the zipper was stuck, broken, stubbornly obstinate. The owner must have been convinced of our peril for he directed us to an easier entrance/exit to the land located about ten paces from where we cut the fence. “I’m just going to go up and fix the barb wire now, I’ve got cattle roaming around here, so whenever your ready to leave, just unhinge that door and make sure you close it tight�. It was a bit surprising hearing such helpful advice from a man I could not even see. We took our time and cooked an enormous meal with the rest of our bacon; it would take all our strength to make it over the two continental divide passes lined back to back that day. A large amount of snow may have accumulated over night, yet the road provided decent traction due to the presence of tire tracks dug in by a truck driver –one of the benefits of making a late start is that someone will likely plough the road for you. A herd of twenty cattle block the center of the narrow mud trail, perhaps in protest of our insane endeavor. I road my bike straight at them, yelling, feeling like a cowboy robbed of spurs and a ten-gallon hat, and chased them up a hill. At the remains of an ancient mine we passed by a terraced section of hill that had been reinforced with a stone wall, some giant rusted stone grinding equipment littered the left side of the road, freshly cut trees lay in a heap to the right. We climbed higher and higher into the hills, and with the shifting temperature to colder air more and more ice had formed over the tire tracks. It was becoming more and more difficult to peddle, and to make matters worse the derailleurs were freezing again. During the progression of the day not every thought was consumed with the continual degrading condition of body and machine, the view of snow dusted mountains for miles and miles around reassured us that all the hardship of roughing the snow was worthwhile. When one huffs and puffs and works the lungs like an unfeeling appendage to slave up steep grades an incredibly serene euphoria sets in the soul when the traveler crests the top of a hill. Such a state of elevated spirit could never be equaled by any chemical/drug intake; ones realm of existence is suddenly completely redefined; no more city dweller, tax-payer, bus-taker, music for entertainment, daily gossip of other people’s lives, the eternal drudgery of political discourse, T.V. remote/ pushing buttons, heading weather predictions –all this evaporates with the steam off the forehead.

Can it really be snowing already?

   By: Jacob 

   We woke up to flurries outside the town of Lincoln, MT.  Our streak of big clear Montana skies was broken by the slushy accumulation on top of the endless fences sprawling along the countryside.  These fences are the only thing larger than the skies in this country, sprawling out like the suburbs of Los Angeles, in their own subtly insidious manner. 

       We have enjoyed the luxury of camping on the side of the road for a good 3000 miles, and have now found ourselves caged in by fences all around us.  Finding a campsite can become an ordeal for tired bodies hosting a healthy respect for Montanan property rights.  Our efforts to avoid any conflicts over the matter has reached hours of exhaustive post-sunset riding.

     Our time in Lincoln was uneventful except for the conversation with a crystal miner/logger in a tired old trucker café.  Every time he mentioned crystals his eyes lit up as if they were gems transferring the entire light spectrum wherever they looked. And his smile shone with the brilliance of freshly polished opals.  He proudly plopped down a small bag of crystals he just found pokin’ around in the last two weeks. He told us how he’s been in the area for over 13 years before he found his salvation searching through old mine tailin’s to uncover the undiscovered treasures of semi-precious rocks of insignificant monetary value.  He don’t give a hoot if they ain’t worth nothin’ to nobody but himself, but he’s sure pleased as a peach to find a quartz crystal that’s been around since the dinosaurs.  His enthusiasm practically had me trading in my bike for a pick and shovel.  After receiving the last glitter of his presence, he offered us one of them small crystals in the bag if we like as we headed out the door.

      This was to be our first continental divide crossing in the United States, one of about 29 to come, weather permitting.   We approached with little comfort as the voice of the waitress settled in our stomachs claiming they were to expect two-three feet of snow.  In fact, it settled in my stomach about as well as the corned beef hash and biscuits n’ gravy, which seemed to contort my bowels into shapes unintended by nature outside of a truck stop.  The elevation profile of the divide crossing on the map looked nearly vertical, and the narrative claiming that the super steep 4.4 mile uphill might warrant a longer, but more reasonable detour. 

      The hill starts out with a vengeance, rutted by four wheelers that plowed the path into narrow channels. Stripped even further by the erosion of time, washing the dirt down, leaving behind loose rocks and unearthed roots to complicate our ascent.  Snow was falling lightly, melting into the developing streams gurgling down our trail. 

      As we began to rise in elevation, the snow began sticking more and more, decorating the trees with a light frosting and accenting the landscape with a touch of Jack Frost who molested the furious yellow leaves into depressed foliage drooping with the weight of the snow.  Streams spilled onto the trail, flooding it with icy patches and muddy bogs that would reach its grimy hands into our bike’s components like a monkey wrench.  The pulleys on our rear derailleur would instantly seize after being splashed by the slushy water.

       We struggled up the hills, watching our bike computers fluctuate between 0 and 2 miles per hour.  Cautiously cycling up, delicately balancing our weight to avoid the rear tire from spinning out and forcing us to re-mount our ride.  The second I step down, the cleats on my shoes get caked with snow making it difficult to re-clip into the pedals.  Only through a precarious maneuver involving hitting my shoes against the frame while simultaneously pedaling the bike to keep momentum was I able to get going again.  Most cyclists have experienced the difficulty of getting their feet into rat-traps or clip-ins on a real steep incline, it can be quite frustrating. 

     After a good two and a half hours, we reached the top of the divide.  We tallied a grand total of 4.5 miles for about 3 hours of the most laborious cycling we’ve ever encountered.  In light of victory, we took some quick snapshots to document the insanity of the event and see a huge storm brewing on the horizon, with the wind headed straight towards us.  Fearing the 2-3 feet of snow predicted and the total loss of sensation in my feet, we quickly descended.  We still had two more divide crossings to cover before we could refill our dwindling food supplies in Helena, MT.  It was surely not going to be an easy go.       

Mail Drop

 When we arrived in Whitefish, the  post office was overflowing with gifts, so many in fact, that we could barely fit them on our bikes to ride away.  Spurred by the joy of chocolate cookies, goji berries and bike parts, l decided to fufill my promise to Mr. Murph and post a mail drop list. So here it is, in slightly primitive form 

Our pace is too random to accurately predict our whereabouts, but we will keep it up dated, and the address should remain valid. 

if you are inspired to send us things, you should address them as follows:

 General Delivery 

 Hold for (Reciepient’s Legal Name) (Address listed below) 

oh — and even though it spoils the surprise — you need to tell us you are sending something, so we go to the post office. 

We are currently in Montana 

  We are about 4 days from Butte,

60 W Galena St, Butte,MT 59701

         Weather affects the future pace.

96 Billings Creek RD Polaris, MT 59746

wyoming 

413 Pine St, Pinedale, WY 82941

106 5th St, Rawlins, WY 82301

colorado 

200 Lincoln Ave

, Steamboat Spgs, CO 80487 

88 Mariposa St, Hartsel, CO 80449


 

 

310 D St, Salida, CO 81201

590 Columbia Ave, Del Norte, CO 81132

new mexico 

4 County Road

165, Abiquiu, NM 87510  6358 Main St, Cuba, NM 87013 

816 W Santa Fe Ave

, Grants, NM 87020  MM 56 N HWY 60 pie town NM 8727  

500 N Hudson St, Silver City, NM 88061

26 B St, Hachita, NM 88040

3456.7

By Jacob:   

    I am not a very mathematical person. In grade school I used to loathe the endless stream of quadratic equations we were supposed to float on each night for homework. As an academic at UCSC, I did my very best to avoid the river of numbers in the science degrees and opted for a much less traveled route of liberal arts, breaching into the absurd with a bachelor’s degree in Subculture Studies.
   I have acquired a newfound interest in numbers, inspired by my omnipotent companion, the CatEye Enduro 8. My fixation on the computer, has at times, and to no avail, forced me to close its eyes with a piece of tape. It seems determined and quite adept at ruling my life.
   If we’ve run out of food and are 15 miles from town, there is no way that I can satisfy my appetite unless the computer decided to manipulate the odometer reading 15 miles. Climbing a “super steep 4.4 mile hill� my exhaustion will find no rest until the Cateye says that we in fact achieved those precious miles. And so, when the computer is gracious enough to grant me the miles that bring about a genuine change in my quality of life, I am ever so appreciative. My reverence is sometimes displayed with a picture of the computer when it grants me various milestones, other times it has been displayed by a triumphant exclamation lost to the wilderness.
   These numbers that I have spent so much time avoiding in my life, are now essentially, controlling it. I watch the numbers with keen interest, eager for them to tell me something. Am I finally nearing the summit of the pass? Are we entering a new state? I don’t think that I’ve ever operated on the illusion that I was in control of the beast, especially considering that I wasn’t even able to command it to display miles per hour while I helplessly watched myself traveling by rate of kilometers, earlier in this journey.
   I believe my relationship with the Cateye has evolved into a relatively agreeable situation. I look for signs of communication above and beyond it’s normal LCD display. There are moments when It is trying to tell me something, and I believe it occurs within the patterns. Milestones to be noticed, whether it is 1000.0 miles, or a flush of numbers 1234.5. These are the times when the computer has a message, but it is up to me to pay attention to it.
   As if I was on a losing streak in a poker game, I was eagerly awaiting the flush. I missed every one so far, and I was only about 6 miles away from 3456.7 miles. I was sure that this was going to be a victorious moment. We were enjoying the view about a mile from the summit of one particularly arduous 6.6 mile hill. I asked my companions to remind me to check out my computer in 6 miles so that I wouldn’t miss out on my moment of triumph. They feigned some degree of deference in my request but clearly did not share the same passion in the pattern of numbers. I thought to myself that they must not have enjoyed math when they were younger.
   We were headed to Seely Lake and covered some of the most amazing wilderness. We turned off of wide logging roads and onto overgrown single-track, bivouacking our bikes through tall grass and sporadic shrubbery. Winding along creeks and mountainsides. Some sections afforded a relaxing ride, like a breeze through the countryside, while others commanded a very technical and exhaustive approach as we maneuvered our way around large boulders, down big drops, and up steep rocky terrain. There were times when we even managed to enjoy the company of our oversized downhill tires, that slowed us down exponentially. 

mont1.JPG

   After cresting the 6+ mile hill, we saw behind us an incredible valley spanning into the horizon, framed by the Rocky Mountains on all sides. We could almost see where we began our ride earlier that morning and marveled at the exquisite transformation of perspective. In front of us, lay another valley of equal splendor, ripping and twisting its way along the earth and into the unknown. I relished the thought that later that evening, I will be sitting at camp and will be able to see the ridge we came down, forgetting about the valley we passed and thinking about the one ahead.
   The descent was a rough ATV trail, deeply rutted and heavily overgrown with Pine trees. It hugged the mountainside tightly in some places and spilled itself down the hill in others, where landslides broke the intimacy of the path and hill. There remained a vague imprint of the vehicles that passed through the area decades ago. Two faint lines, at best, split down the middle by a constant array of newly formed trees. The descent required you to change lanes, depending on the terrain, pulling your bike into the right lane if the trees grew too heavy on the left. Or you might have to zigzag your way in between the two if the drops were a bit to large for a long touring bike.
   The branches would lash at your arms and hands as you flew past them, as if they were exclaiming how hard they had to work to get where they were, and that they were not going to let some fool bicyclists break any of their branches. The experience was far too exhilarating to pay attention to my bike computer, whose odometer was winding it’s way towards the “flush.� Any glance down at the machine would certainly break the concentration and send you crashing to the ground. We swept down that valley like water that finally broke the dam that had held it back all those years. When you are bike touring, you do not take downhills lightly, they are like freedom, redeeming your extensive efforts of climbing to the top of the pass. I kept coming up on the tail of the other two and stopping briefly enough so I could enjoy the hill at full speed.
   With confidence, I took the hill as if I wasn’t on a fully-loaded Xtracycle. My fork would bottom out and violently rub the tire against my fender. After a decent hit, I’d shake my head to restore some clarity to the trail and keep maneuvering myself in between the two lanes. While I was paying attention to the gnarled roots jetting out from the surface, the loose boulders on the trail, and the tree lashing out at me, my computer was slowly winding it’s way up. It was probably at 3456.6 by now.
   The trees were offering an increasingly narrow path, whipping at me with rising force. I could feel them beginning to tug at me, sensing their anger that I was so carelessly drifting through their world. Suddenly, a branch reached out and savagely took hold of my super wide handlebar, pulling the wheel sharply to the left, stopping the motion of the bike, and propelling me into the air.
   I landed on my head, a surge of pain flushed through my spine and neck, celebrated briefly by an array of stars in my vision. I could almost see myself from above, helplessly grinding my way through the loose rocks, as if a wave took ahold of me and was spinning me in’s currents with unrelenting fury. When I watched the head-sized chunks of granite come inches from my face, I could only help but think of one thing: that I was glad to have my helmet on.
   I was released from the torments of motion and gravity as quickly as I was succumbed to them. My head felt fine, thanks to the helmet. The surge of pain found its way out of my spine, and hoping that it was not merely adrenaline induced opioids easing my suffering, I got up. My knee had a horrible gash in it. The kind where part of it looks like hamburger meat and the other part looks like a pathetic flap of skin, exposing the white fatty underside. I attempted to wipe off some of the blood but found it futile. My right middle finger felt like it had been ripped out of it’s socket and replaced at an odd angle, rendering it useless. I groaned and moaned to help alleviate my pain through some sort of vocal release, but found it of no use.

leg.JPG

   When you are thirty miles from any signs of civilization and your friends are a thousand feet below you, there is little help that can be offered. I did my best to pick up my bike and limp our way along the path, where I could soon whine with an audience to hear. I couldn’t pull my rear brake because of my finger, which made the downhill a little trickier and my front fork was blown, forcing me to lean forward a couple more inches.

   As I began the painful descent, I looked at my Cateye for some reassurance. I had completely forgotten about the pattern of numbers that I was so eagerly expecting. The odometer read 3456.8. The agony swelled. I had missed the moment again. It won’t happen for another 1000+ miles. I was furious. Then I became slightly paranoid, heading the words of Kurt Cobaine, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.� Was the computer upset that I was neglecting it? Was this a sign or some form of communication from the omnipotent icon on my bicycle. I couldn’t tell whether it was merely hysteria inducing these paranoid delusions or not. It just seemed too coincidental.
   Before I even put a band-aid un my leg. I made sure to apply a fresh strip of tape, covering the LCD screen

 

Good ‘ol Whitefish, MT

 By: Jacob 

    The hospitality of Whitefish, MT helps restore one’s virtuous sense of humanity.  One of the most beautiful railroad towns I’ve ever encountered, coupled with a healthy reverence for the outdoors (not to mention some amazing coffee) gives this place a very welcoming character. 

     SealLine was kind enough to send me new dry bags to an outdoor store called The White Room.  Kyle & Tim held my attention for a while as we talked about adventures, etc.  Ran into a girl named Hillary, who was lively and exciting, bursting with conversation. I ran into her an hour or so later at the local coffee store where she claimed that I wasn’t going to have to pay for anything while I was there.  As a token of truth, I was handed a giant chocolate cookie and ushered to fill up my cup. 

       Goat and Sean arrived, saw the smile on my face and gave me a look of concern, as if they were worried I had drank too much coffee. Hillary stepped over and invited us to stay at her house and drew up directions, then tried to influence us to take her car, hang out on her couches, take showers, and come back later for the music.  We attempted to decipher her comment in regards to the shower.  We did not want to drive to her house, nor did we want to ride for 30 minutes to take a shower and ride back.  All of us knew we needed to take a shower, but were quite unsure of the specific urgency. After being kicked out of an Ecafe in Banff because we smelled bad, we were more sensitive to our social presence.  And so…the conclusion was that she was just being kind and understanding of travellin’ folk and we did not rush to take a shower. 

     After a late night of beating Sean at pool (Truth be told: I am HORRIBLE at the game, but always manage to win when Sean scratches on the 8 ball) and listening to some good ol’ twangy soft rock cover music. We made our journey to Hillary’s distant house, arriving long after she had gone to bed.  A note welcomed us to make the home our own, and mentioned that she would not be there when we woke up. 

     We enjoyed the luxuries of having running water and a full selection of cooking utensils.  We lounged on the couch and listened to music and we took the well-needed shower. Her presence in the house seemed impossible, incongruous at best.  It was one of the creepiest residences I’ve ever encountered. 

       Out in the middle of back roads Montana.  A two bedroom house overwhelmed by an unkempt lawn and chain link fence sat sourly, like a cow pie drying in the tall grass.  Paint past peeling on walls scoured by the elements draped loosely over the structure.  Door frames were unaligned and despite being a beautifully sunny day, very little light found its way inside.  To sum things up, it looked like a nice quaint little house for a chainsaw massacre.  We couldn’t bring ourselves to believe that our young 5’ tall benefactor had it in her.  And we got the feeling that she rarely spent much time there as we biked back into town. 

      We met Annie, who had bike-toured across the states and invited us to stay at her place on the lake.  She checked in with her housemate and sent us to her humble abode.  We arrived to find a humungous St. Bernard bellowing a most disheartening bark worthy of a creature its size.  “I hope you’ve eaten already, little puppy.� I said cautiously, easing myself behind my bike to possibly delay the pain the dog was ready to inflict. 

   “Oh don’t worry about him, he’s all bark.� The owner claimed.  I noticed that his head was bigger than my waist and the owner did not answer my question.  A tint of fear remained that maybe he was tired of spending so much money on dog food and considered couchsurfers worthy supper for his little pooch. 

           A bike traveler learns to fear those beasts that can appear out of nowhere.  You might be idling along admiring a quaint country cottage until you hear a soft pitter patter of pawsteps quickly engage into a fierce roar as it begins the chase, defending its property.  Even rather small dogs are able to jump out in such a way to cause a good amount of fright. 

     Our bikes found a suitable parking place and we entered a beautiful 3 story house overlooking a nearby golf course and lake.  A dozen people were hanging out, eager to hear about our trip and ensure that we had something to drink.  Before we could even finish our first, we felt like we were at home, in the company of old friends.  The kindness of the people we met that evening was nothing short of magical. 

    The girl Annie who originally invited us over was not even there.  During our stay, we saw her a few times, for very brief moments.  After we got our bikes fixed up we hung around for the rest of the day, with the entire house to ourselves. The only two people living there were busy working, all day and out all night.  We conspired to take over their house, reside in the bottom floor just to see how long we could before they even noticed.  

     We planned to depart on Monday, but a few last minute bike repairs kept us in town until quite late.  We put downhill tires on our bikes for better traction.  My drivetrain was blown after the first 3300 miles and needed a new cassette and gears.  Somehow Sean and Goat managed to get off with just a new chain and cassette.  Our monster tires were too wide and rubbed against the chain. Goat tinkered away with it, took away a gear and offset the cassette enough to barely allow it clearance. I was now riding a mean, 7 speed downhill machine…across the country? 

      I wish I could say the tuned up bike felt like a million bucks, but with the new knobby downhill tires, it felt like an exercise bike set to the tune of Jazzercise 8.  Even on smooth, flat pavement it required an overwhelming amount of force to get the wheels turning. I would estimate that on a surface I normally would go 15 mph easy, I was struggling to reach 9 or 10.  

     After re-supplying at the grocery store we were considering whether we should get as far out of town as possible, or wait until morning.  Our decision was easy after James enticed us to camp out on his property.  The man oozed kindness from his every being. He lived in a small cabin and taught PE to elementary kids a few days a week and worked on authoring a book the rest of the time.  Beautiful drawings were hanging around the room intended for his story.  

     “You guys need anything for your trip?� He asked gently. 

     “Actually, the one thing that we’ve needed has been a spatula.� I replied, somewhat lost in my thoughts. 

      Without hesitation he gave us a beautifully handcrafted spatula that he had made out of beech wood. 

      After chatting late into the night, we set up our campsite under a beautiful star-filled sky. 

      As the sun was making it’s appearance, so were the neighborhood dogs, who insisted on barking until we got up, as if we were sleeping on the exact place they wanted to lay among the 15 acres of property they owned.  We enjoyed making a meal on a real stove, with cast-iron pans.  Graciously received the pile of books he left for us on his table and hit the trail. 

        Towns like Whitefish are real difficult to leave. The generosity and hospitality of everybody we met was far above any reasonable expectation.  It’s incredible what a difference a little kindness can make in a traveler’s world.  We’ve been blessed countless times by folks who go out of their way to help us out.  If we were to mention kind gestures of the folks we meet along the way, there would be no room in the travelogue for anything else.  I go to sleep at night, thinking that my day was just like the movie Waking Life, where the main character meets people who all live by a different philosophy of life.  Everybody has some amazing stories and experiences to share, you just have to be in a position to actually listen to what they say.  It is amazing to have the opportunity to listen. 

Nightmare Off-roading and Old-timers

By Sean:

  

    If lumber still commands a reasonably lucrative position in the world economy twenty years from now the town of Sparwood in southern B.C. might be revitalized by the harvesting of the tree farms planted by the lumber companies of yesterday. As it is today, the self proclaimed ‘Gateway to B.C.’ relies heavily on the assumption that small populations of other nearby towns feel the urge to escape their habitats on the weekends and since gasoline costs nearly five dollars a gallon, the nearer attractions prove more magnetic. Several old buildings in Sparwood display colorful murals depicting the history and contemporary life of the town, but what really sets Sparwood apart from any other small town, is its possession of the ‘worlds largest truck’. The dump truck is a virtual juggernaut painted bright green to impress an eco-friendly facade; it could pulverize several acres of thick forest under its massive six ton wheels into Turkish coffee sized grounds while adroitly maneuvering around a depression era film actress in a three minute Foxtrot. In the shadow of this retired beast the bike trio ate a heavy meal of chicken, sausage, eggs, and dozens of tiny salt packages swiped from the unsuspecting family food stand. Strong gusts of wind ripped through the valley between the dump truck and the visitor center, and sure enough, it being a Sunday, loads of Canadian tourists were timidly disembarking from cozy air-conditioned caravans and snapping photos of the main attraction with their digi-cams. Casually strutting over to inspect our bikes the Sunday drivers would exclaim, “Beautiful day for a bike ride” while the wind ravaged the patience of the cook, who sat with his body poised to deflect the breezy onslaught from extinguishing the stove flame. Still the pot lid would occasionally be blown ten feet away, and at one point the wind turned a dramatic 180 degrees and hurled into the air the tin-foil stove shield. The tin foil wrapped around the face of an unsuspecting cyclist lounging in what had been considered up-wind -it was like witnessing a drunk staggering toward a rest room  with his hand outstretched for the handle and abruptly twisting his head and projectile vomiting into a the solemn face of a kid who’s dog just died. His serene mood of literary meditation was completely shattered by the unexpected metallic mask imposing itself between him and his Zen in violent censorship.
            Having devoured lunch, we briefed ourselves on the logistics of the days trail, but much to our dismay the map -of off road trails- called for the use of the major highway for a good twenty miles. This did not go over well with the group, yet hope came in the form of a small path named Coal Creek which appeared to parallel the highway the entire way to our next destination of Fernie. It was not clear why the map would dare taunt bicyclists with this alternative to the congested route of smog and noise. It injured our proud dirt craving egos to be denied information on this intriguing route, without question we would pursue this unstated challenge. Just as we were preparing to leave town Goat noticed that his rear tire was flat. While repairing the tire he found that a piece of his xtracycle tubing had snapped. Playing it safe, Goat opted to ride on the highway to avoid compounding more damage to his rig; it was up to Jacob and me to explore this intriguing Coal Creek trail.
               At Shadow Mountain camp, where the map had shown the trail to start, a man stepped out of a small building and directed us to the ‘Coal Discovery’ trail. Similar enough in name, and bearing a sign of warning ‘use at your own risk’ before its steep ascent up a dusty road, Coal Discovery promised be a real technical challenge for those fixated on avoiding the smooth paved land of motorists. Coal Discovery provided the full intensity of autumn color; Aspen tree tops bearing crisp turmeric gold leaves, small shrubbery of cured tobacco and tall wheat kernels speckled with rose hip vines dancing together in the breeze, nonetheless the trail welcomed us to its own special kind of hell. Composed of narrow single track, the trail had no flat areas just a dramatic roller coaster ride over sharp rocks, knotted stumps, tangled roots, and soft mud. On over half of the uphill climbs there was almost no chance of maintaining tire traction on the sandy ground, forcing the cyclist to dismount, slip backwards, or awkwardly fall sideways and then push his hundred and twenty pound rig the rest of the way. This bike hauling presented an irritating problem for me; as my pedals are fixed with rubber cages, it is necessary to angle my toes a specific way to reattach the pedal properly to my foot -otherwise the rubber cages will dig into the ground and prevent me from achieving any momentum at all. Ideally one desires just a few feet of smooth surface to muster the coordination to slip both feet into their cages; I never encountered such conditions on the trail, it was like trying to paddle on a surfboard when the frequency of breakers allowed calm water every other ten seconds.
                Coal Discovery had several markers pointing the not so obvious direction of its trail sections. Wrapped around the wood post of one such marker was a derelict bike frame crushed so compactly it may have once experienced the wrath of Sparwood’s Jolly green juggernaught. It was an ominous sign, and mixed as it were with the fresh memory of Goat’s busted xtracycle I felt a profound desire to surrender my sense of adventure to my escalating anxiety over my bike’s fragility. Still Jacob and I continued sluggishly down the scenic route. Of the most notable obstacles there was a sheer five foot vertical waterfall over slippery rocks where one had to virtually pick up the bicycle and hurl it with all available strength over the obstruction. We managed to travel five kilometers in almost an hour, at the end of which I felt completely drained of all energy and will power. Eventually we left the Coal Discovery Trail, though not through any conscious effort on our part; we could not find the remaining trail sections. The sun had already dipped behind towering hills, and we ventured onto the dreaded highway, coasting a good twenty miles an hour along the smooth asphalt.
              Jacob and I didn’t meet up with Goat until the next morning in Fernie. It was to be the first night that the bike trio would be split apart, and although it didn’t rain -we would have been miserable since each of us carried different parts of the tent-, we were all irritable and grumpy the next morning from not experiencing an evening meal.
         Early the next morning, we reconvened in a hip coffee joint in Downtown Fernie. From surround sound speakers busted hypnotic beats of Medeski Martin & Wood and Fela Kuti, Goat and I sucked down complementary packets of jam and honey while Jacob funneled a supersized brew down his throat. Some locals pulled up chairs to our table, and we elicited from them a recommendation for a good welder who would work on Goats bike. It was God’s day of leisure, the town save this brew shop wasn’t burning any oil, it could have been construed that we were searching for a pagan/atheist who snubbed his nose at both God and the spirit of town conformity. Yet one of the guys obliged us with relevant information, “There’s some real interesting hillbilly folk in town, an old man and his son with a small shop in a tin hut behind their house. They’d probably be willing to help you out if you didn’t push the matter, but just be yourselves”. I followed Goat on this promising lead to the man’s doorstep. Immediately upon knocking the sound of a dog disturbed from its napping erupted and set us on edge. The old man came out, took his time puzzling over Goat’s request while inspecting the unusual xtracycle design. This wrinkly faced man put his dog on a leash and took the xtracycle into his grand alchemists lair cluttered with all sorts of marvelous metal debris, large bolted chains hanging from the ceiling, where thousands of knick-knacks provoked my curiosity. We shielded our eyes from the brilliant blue glow, then the man lifted his welding mask and pronounced the wreck rehabilitated. He told us his name was John, that he had been a blacksmith since 1948 and had emigrated from Czechoslovakia. He had also spent the entirety of World War two traveling around the Mediterranean; he had been in Tunisia and the Ural Mountains but wouldn’t elaborate on what kind of operations he had been involved with. Fascinated by this walking time machine, I would have felt content to hear stories from him all day, yet sadly his dog had bitten hold of my head lamp and as I yanked it from his jaws I discovered the batteries missing. I made a big fuss combing the yard fearing that the dog had swallowed all three of those toxic cylinders. Luckily they were all recovered, and the pains of hunger -we still hadn’t eaten anything substantial- forced us to depart from our benevolent brother John.     
              On the side of highway three in a town called Elko, several buildings surround busy gas pumps displaying ‘For rent’ signs around the recently applied stucco exterior. Coffee bubbled delightfully in the help yourself cauldron in a small hall dividing the town grocery store from the shabby relic of the town diner. The diner itself was no longer operational, but one could still enjoy coffee at the tables or pick up a family sized package of fireworks displayed in cellophane wrapped cardboard. The grocery store stocked meager food rations, and had an overabundance of alcoholic beverages.
     Â Â Â  An old balding man sat as if in an easy chair in his own home, in the center of the diner, his back to the transistor squeal of a local radio station switching over programs, his eyes registering the combination of warming air temperature and white fluffy filament crowding out the blue in the sky. He must have peeked not disinterestedly at our oddly designed bicycles, for he welcomed us into his nook with an enthusiastic “A little Frost on your bikes this morning, boys?” He continued with a hint of disappointment in his tone, about how this was the coldest day yet since the beginning of summer. “Minus five! Minus five at my place right now. Today it’s raining in Calgary, and we’ll have a chance of rain here tomorrow, with a high temperature of six. Six! When its six degrees and its raining that translates to snow”.  It was damn exciting to hear the dismal predictions of a local who must have developed an instinctual sense of atmospheric conditions like a man in possession of multiple mercury filled lungs. Later on the same day in the rural setting of Grasmere, I would be offered a similar overview on the inevitable dramatic seasonal change. Behind the counter of a general store -selling bait, fishing licenses and Hollywood videos- the caretaker smoked his cigarette chatting with a customer. “It’s getting cold out, eh” he daringly accused as I slammed a giant container of ice cream on the check out counter that I intended to eat, with the aid of Goat, in one sitting. “Do you think it’ll rain soon?” gesturing to the fibrous clouds weaving a heavy coat around the sun. He took a brief glimpse out his window with a skeptical grimace, nodded his head, drew deeply on his cigarette; “No, it’s just going to get cold, so cold that when you go to sleep, you’ll freeze”. The attendant sort of paused before and let linger the words ‘you’ll freeze’ to ensure that the haunting revelation would not be lost on my youthful naïveté, then he pulled his lips wide up to his hair line in an amused grin and made me promise that there wouldn’t be any fighting outside over the ice cream. I tried to refrain from feeling demoralized by the grim forecasts proffered by the wise elder company, yet the more frozen-milk-fat-solids that I ingested, the more my teeth chattered, and this nervous reflex served to elate my anxieties of a mammoth powder keg ready to explode and bombard my bike with icy shrapnel.
             The man sipping coffee in Elko called himself Tiny. Presumably an early riser, he had already unsuccessfully searched the local dumps for building materials, returned to his house to discover to his horror that his yard was frosty, and decided to spend the morning in a warm familiar social setting. The biggest decision of his day -a Monday- was whether to walk over to the coffee machine and fill his cup half way, or to return home. Eventually Tiny joined an even older man in conversation. He was in his early eighties and had emigrated from Europe in 1931. Skin hung from his hunched neck, and when he spoke, his lips betrayed that they were only mouthing syllables for a sinister inhabitant lodged deep within his throat. I thought there must have been a bull frog pulling on strings making this man’s puppet mouth move, while it contrived and uttered the stories of boyhood mischief that sounded unbefitting of this old man of reserved appearance. If he currently held a job it must have been as a sort of P.R. representative of the General store, or possibly the entire entity of Elko. I never found out his name, just the fact that he, like our altruistic welder, was born in Czechoslovakia.  Both Tiny and the P.R. man were well versed in Reality television programming; they expressed frustrations with pseudo-celebrity children milking fame through familial association like the daughter of the gangster John Gotti. Apparently in an episode of this Gotti’s life, her son expressed in a consecutive line of expletives that he would not be attending school that day.                                    
     Discussion of this episode sent the two old timers back to the days when they had cleverly devised school-ditching tactics -they reproached the Gotti son for being so idiotically straight forward in admitting his intent. The eighty year old P.R. man had not only ditched school several times a week, but succeeded in cleaning out an aloof general store manager of his stock of bubble gum and pocket knives. “They must have thought they were making a killing of a business on those devices, cause they never smarted up to fixing the cracks in the display-case” Laughed the P.R. man. Another favorite past-time had been shooting up beer bottles with a slingshot. “Sometimes I would smash hundreds of those expensive bottles with the glass stoppers the railroads would leave behind.” the P.R. man paused to be relieved by Tiny, “yeah, if only I had saved a hundred or so of them bottles, I’d be rich enough to not have to talk to you”. As morning threatened to transition to Mid-day, the gentle session of nostalgia declined, till the old timers began describing the combined horrors of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl farming conditions of southern Saskatchewan. “At that time, a woman had a tavern set up, and some miners would continually urinate on the back wall after each night of heavy drinking. The woman set up an electrified metal plate at the base of the wall, and when those delinquents went to relieve themselves they’d receive the unexpected shock, and run through the streets with pants hanging down to ankles screaming that they’d been bit by a critter.”
      Finally, the P.R. man filled in some gaps in the life of Goat’s savior, John the welder; “quite recently John sold some land that he had bought up near the coal mines for something like 1.2 million (Canadian) dollars; yeah the man’s been making out pretty well for himself these days”.  This detail really skimmed the cream from the murky surface, not only did this John live humbly, show a desire to help people in need, and live with a shack of magic tricks, but the old coot was rich beyond belief, in short, he was my new hero.
        At the end of the day, we finally managed to get the hell out of Canadia. As the border crossing came into sight I drew a sigh of relief, for here I was about to reenter the nation where beer, cheese and meat were cheap, where it was virtuous to plead ignorance, where national security held priority over everything, and where private property was passionately enforced through rusty wire fences and threatening signs. Judging the reactions of the two dazed border guards, we might have been works of fiction approaching the port Rooseville, which never sees much traffic. They asked us what weapons we were carrying and guffawed obscenely after learning that all we had were pocket knives. “How you boys manage to be alive’s beyond me,” yelled the officer of domestic security. They offered us a detailed description of a park in Eureka where we’d be able to camp illegally and probably not be hassled, also insisting that “we not inform whoever picked us up where we received the information”. They waved us through the gates, and for a split second I had the splendid sensation of being ‘back at home’, even though it was just Montana.