Thursday, September 2, 2010

Post TransAm reunions galore....and then off to Maui for the 'Cycle to the Sun'

After nearly 4,600 miles of epic adventure on the TransAm, when I reached Astoria I had very mixed feelings about whether or not I wanted it to end; in fact, I waited until the very last possible minute before Shaw and Lindsay started the car to drive back to Portland before I committed to actually getting in the car and going with them. I had thoughts of going further, up into Washington on the Olympic Peninsula, perhaps over to Seattle, and ultimately getting back to Portland approximately two weeks later, but I just decided that really the trip did have to end sometime and that if I rode another two weeks, I'd probably be feeling the same apprehension about ending then. It was the crappy, cold, drizzly weather that finally swayed me, and once I made the decision to stop, I headed back to Portland feeling emotionally finished.
The next week, however, would prove to be a really nice transition time at the end of the ride. People that I had ridden with off and on over the summer began trickling into Portland and getting in touch with me, desiring advice on how to get around Portland, as well as to hang out together and see the Portland sights or share a beer/meal/coffee. It was quite enjoyable to see these people again, not only because I had the opportunity to show off my hometown, but because it was a way to continue to share the experience of the TransAm with others who understood what it was all about even now that it was over.
Robin from PA and Zack from VA actually arrived in P-town a few hours before I did. The next day we were all reunited, along with Dennis, Ellen, and Marga, our friends from the Netherlands. Phyllis from Seattle and her riding partner Jerry, from Baltimore rolled in a few days later. The entire group of us, along with Tony (who's also from Portland) had several opportunities to gather again, either as one big group or in several smaller ones. Ellen and I went hiking in the Columbia Gorge up around the Multnomah and Wahkeena Falls area. Phyllis and I met up for coffee and a meal. The entire group of us met for a barbeque at Jerry's nephew's place in Portland's West Hills area.
On one sunny morning Robin, Zack, Tony and I had an amazing breakfast at the Hawthorne Cafe. I then hung with Robin and Zack as they were shopping at various secondhand clothing stores in the Hawthorne area (Portland is BIG into funky, secondhand clothing joints). We later found our Dutch friends as well and the group of us rolled into and ransacked Powell's City of Books, which encompasses an entire Portland city block, is multiple levels tall, and may, I believe, be the largest bookstore in the United States (possibly the world??) We even managed to time it right to get Nick Tempest and his mom (Nick I knew from hosteling together in Montana and I had randomly seen him and his mother when I ended the ride at the Astoria Column) together with most of the group at the Amnesia Brewing Company one evening.

Here is, from left to right, Ellen, Tony, me, Phyllis, Jerry, Dennis, and kneeling is Marga:

Ellen, at a small random waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge.

Bruce Moore, who I had ridden with for three days back in Virginia, (and who happened to be one of the very few people who rode with me when I had my little dog Buck accompanying me in my handlebar bag) had his wife fly into Portland to meet him; once here, they found me and Stefaan (a Belgian guy I rode with in Kentucky, who along with his wife Tara, had ridden across the U.S. in permanent move from Durham, NC to Portland) for a great patio dinner at sunset at a Mississippi German beer joint (Prost!)

Here we are at dinner, from the left is Bruce, Kristen, Stefaan, and me:

Not long afterward, two other Dutch friends named Klaas and Gosse (a couple of guys that I'd met over lunch back in CO and spoken to for 20 minutes before heading on solo down the road) contacted me and we met up two times over two days, taking in some local Portland sights and flavor, including Pittock Mansion, the St. John's Bridge, Mt. Tabor Park, and the International Rose Test Garden. I also took them to experience a one-of-a-kind taste sensation...a fresh-squeezed lemonade at Liquid Sunshine, of which my friend of 20+ years, Clint Bissell, is the proprietor. Though I'd only talked with them briefly on the road, meeting up with them in Portland was a fabulous experience; they were educated, interesting, generous, funny, down-to-earth, and positively interesting. They are pushing me to do a bike tour next year in The Netherlands, Germany, and perhaps a few other European countries and say they'll help me plan it and let me stay with them as long as I like when I roll through their medieval little town! I must say I am going to strongly consider this.

Here are Gosse, me, and Klaas standing behind my car and in front of the Portland Motel 6 (which they thought was the very best budget motel they stayed in on the entire TransAm!!):

After all my friends had passed through Portland on their way back to wherever they are from, I turned my attention back to the bicycle, wanting to both just keep riding, as well as to get a couple of final training rides in for Maui’s upcoming Cycle to the Sun race for which I had already registered. I once again loaded my clothing/camping gear/supplies up on my touring bike and headed up to Mossyrock, WA (where my sister Jennifer and her family have a lake home) for a little family reunion. Phyllis (yes, TransAm Phyllis) drove me in her SUV for the first 70 miles toward Mossyrock and I then rode the last 30 miles on my bike. I had a wonderful visit for two days with my sister Jennifer, her husband Ryan, my nieces Madison (age 16) and Molly (10), and my nephew Wyatt (5). My brother Kris and his partner Ron were also in town and all of us had a great time catching up on life, playing on the lake, drinking a few too many adult beverages, and simply relaxing. It was there on the gorgeous and warm Lake Mayfield that I tried wakesurfing for the first time, behind Ryan and Jen’s really nice Mastercraft boat. I am proud to say that I was able to get up out of the water and surfing on my first try, though I never did master the trick of letting go of the rope and finding that perfect sweet spot in the wake where you can surf without having to be pulled by the boat; though I got better and better, the longest I was able to surf without holding the rope in my hands was about 30 seconds.

Here is a pic taken before I let go of the rope:

Jen and Ryan also recently allowed my niece Molly to adopt a rescue dog from the Oakland, CA humane society. The newest addition to their family, Max, is the most adorable and well-behaved little Chihuahua. Sadly, he was abused by his previous owners and that abuse resulted in his little legs having gaping wounds on them at the time my family adopted him. It was so sad to see the wonderful little guy with bandages covering his legs, and later, because he was finding a way to lick under the edge of the bandages and prevent timely wound healing, a plastic “lampshade” cone around his neck. Each night Jen and the girls would get out the wound cleaning supplies, the Betadyne, and fresh bandages and lovingly tend to poor Max’s wounds. I haven’t heard how he’s doing in the three weeks since I was there, but I would imagine he’s only getting better and better, given how much care the girls were putting into his recovery.

Here is little Max, all bandaged, coned, and sweatered up:

After a couple of wonderfully relaxing days of family time, I hit the road and rode the entire 100 miles back home to Portland in one day. It took me about nine hours, including probably and hour and half or so of resting/eating along the way. It was nice to know that being off my bike for a week or so hadn’t adversely affected my fitness level. Also, wanting to get in one final hill ride at at least some kind of challenging altitude, I did a ride up as high as you can get on a paved road in Oregon, up to Mt. Hood’s Timberline Lodge which sits at 6000’ of elevation. The Timberline Lodge road’s grade is quite similar to that of the road up Haleakalá, the mountain which Cycle to the Sun ascends, so it was a very realistic training ride. Unfortunately, however, I couldn’t train at the altitude I would experience in the race because the elevation at the summit of Haleakalá where the race ends is 10,000’.

The view just before turning the corner to the parking lot at Timberline Lodge:

I was both encouraged and discouraged by the results of the Timberline training ride. Yes, I’d just ridden from 1500’ to 6000’ at a faster pace than I’d been able to ride at last year’s Cycle to the Sun, but I was also sucking wind when I got to the end of the road at Timberline Lodge...not a good sign for how I might perform when riding all the way to 10,000’ ten days later in Maui. Regardless, I took the results of the ride as a positive, knowing that I’d ridden all summer to develop a base fitness level, that I was feeling pretty strong, and that I’d probably feel better after the upcoming ten days of tapering for race day.
I rode only a couple of times, and only for short, easy spins, in the days after the Timberline ride. When I arrived on Maui two days before the race, I immediately loaded up my bike into my friend Karen’s Honda Pilot and headed up Haleakalá. My plan was to do a very short ride just to spin my legs for a few minutes but to do it at a high altitude so my body could experience the feeling of riding with less oxygen again. I drove to the 8000’ mark and from there I did an easy 10-12 minute climb, ensuring that I didn’t tire myself out or overdo it in any way. After that short ride up, I coasted back down to the truck, loaded up the bike again, and this time drove to the 10,000’ summit. I had a book and a picnic lunch with me and I spent the majority of the day up there, not only to enjoy the spectacular view afforded to those who make the effort to ascend the mountain, but also in hopes that even five hours at such a high elevation would somehow jumpstart my body’s red blood cell production and allow me to better acclimate to the altitude. Here are a variety of pics from my day chilling on the mountain.

The Haleakalá road's final push up to the 10,000' summit and race finish line:

The view backward from the finish line itself:

The view down into the extinct volcano's crater from just below the summit:

The road at 9,500' descending down toward the clouds (yes, you pass through them on the ascent):

Want proof? At about 6,700', they actually WARN you to turn on your headlights!!

Below the clouds, at around 5,500', here is the road descending toward the ocean and into the afternoon sun:

The Cycle to the Sun race is a grueling, fast-paced ascent up a relentless mountain. From a distance, Haleakalá appears to have a gentle grade, but looks are very deceiving as the grade actually averages approximately 6%, and has short, steep spikes up to 18%!! There are only two places on the entire ascent where a brief respite appears, and both are very flat downhills that only provide 15-30 seconds of temporary relief. Other than for those two brief moments, the road snakes upward, climbing constantly for 36 consecutive miles, from the sandy, palm tree-lined beach of Paia to the majestic summit of the mighty Haleakalá.
Race day rolled around and found me in a very excited, energetic state. I had trained all summer riding a loaded bike on the TransAm, I had wisely tapered for the last three weeks in an attempt to go into the race feeling strong, and I had eaten sensibly and slept soundly in the days leading up to the event. All indications were that I was as ready as I could possibly be for the ride. As expected, when the sound of the gun indicated the start of the race, I was feeling great. I had, the night before, visualized how I wanted the ride to play out and my goal was to avoid shooting so quickly out of the blocks that I wasted all my energy early on, leaving nothing for the end. I really tried hard to ride at a sensible pace, having experienced Haleakalá’s lung-sucking, leg-pounding, merciless onslought the year before, and knowing that the smart racer paces himself up the hill.
As I got past the initial lactic acid burn and settled into a rhythm requiring only moderate but constant effort, I was feeling really, really good. I noticed that not only was I pacing myself nicely, I was making good time. In fact, I realized that for the first time in any of the few events in which I have competed, I had begun to actually RACE. Typically am not particularly competitive with other people in these sorts of races and am really am only participating in an attempt to compete with and better MYSELF. On this day, however, I noticed that all my training and all the viewing of various stages of the Tour de France was beginning to change the way I rode. I was more alert, constantly scanning the race landscape to be aware of where others were and how they were riding. I was remembering all of last year’s training rides on this very road, as well as last year’s race day, and using that information to plot where I might find a good place to make up time and perhaps pass other participants. I was watching for others’ weaknesses and strengths, quickly assessing whether or not it was appropriate to work together in drafting to help each other save time and energy, if I should pass because they might hold me back, or if they were simply too strong for me to hold their wheel.
This alone was exciting enough because I was beginning to feel like a real cyclist, plotting, strategizing, and the like. However, what thrilled me even more was when I realized that I passed the 5000’ halfway point at one hour and fifty six minutes...faster than a four-hour pace!! Breaking the four-hour mark is considered a big milestone in this race and only about a third of the participants are able to make it. Though it was my stated goal to finish in 4:30 or less, I was thinking at that moment that I really did have a chance to break 4:00 because I thought I’d been pacing myself nicely for the first half of the race.
But, as I climbed from 5000’ to 6000’ feet, I noticed I was beginning to wear down a little; not a lot, but enough that some concern was beginning to creep in. As I passed by the 7000’ mark, I turned a switchback and immediately hit a fairly stiff headwind. Quickly my energy began to drain away and I found myself realizing that I could not maintain the same pace. I was struggling to get some calories into my body, my heavy breathing and strong effort making it difficult to chew and swallow bits of a Clif bar, and my liquid energy/electrolyte replacement drink rapidly disappearing. As I passed by the 8000’ sign, I was weak and relying on sheer willpower to carry me up that grade. There were long stretches of repeated switchbacks, and there was more mileage into the wind than there was with wind at our backs. Though I was wearing down, I was not giving up and I was not yet “bonking” (“bonking” in an endurance event is when you run of calories and hydration and your body literally just has to stop or slow way, way down because it is unable to go on any longer).
As I passed 9000’ feet, however, I started to feel better. The road began to follow a path with a less forceful headwind and the grade flattened slightly. The calories I’d forced down began to be utilized by my body. And my mood improved. I started to pass a few people that I’d let pass me over the previous two thousand feet of climbing. I started to pick up a bit more speed, my feet able to move a bit faster, my legs able to shift up to a slightly more challenging gear, and I found my second wind.
A little while later, I turned the corner and there it was, illuminated by bright sunlight, standing tall and suddenly within reach...Haleakalá’s summit. I had about 500’ of elevation gain left, and I knew that the final quarter to third of a mile was nearly straight up, approaching up to a 14% grade. I turned the corner where the road passes by the visitor center parking lot and I hit the final hill within the hill. I was unable to consistently sit as I pedaled, my strength too low and the hill too steep, so I frequently stood tall and hammered away with all I had, only sitting when my legs and lungs demanded it. I somehow summoned the energy to finish the race in a sprint, shooting past the only other competitor who was near me as I approached the finish line.
I’d done it! Thirty six straight miles up a 6% grade, without a rest, in four hours and fifteen minutes. 4:15!! Though I didn’t reach goal of breaking the 4:00 mark, I did handily surpass my original goal of 4:30, and I shattered my previous year’s time of 4:43. Slashing last year’s time by 28 minutes is a very significant improvement and left me smiling widely. I finished the race in the ideal fashion, I think: fully spent, feeling like I could not have poured even one more ounce of myself into that day’s ride; being completely exhausted but not in any way hurt or injured; and happy with my time but not fully satisfied because I know that I can do better.
I know that my summer of bicycle touring with a heavy load, all the way across America, over the Appalachian, Ozark, Rocky, and Cascade mountain ranges, left me well-prepared to summit Haleakalá. I cannot help but wonder, however, if I might have EASILY broken the 4:00 mark if the Cycle to the Sun race had been held about a month earlier. At THAT time, I’d just finished riding through Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, and for several straight weeks I rode every day, every hill, fully loaded, between elevations of 7500’ to 11500’. If only the ride up Haleakalá had happened when I was not only strong, but strong at high altitude. I will always wonder about what could have been, but hey, there’s no reason why I can’t find out the answer to this question by training more at altitude closer to raceday before a future Cycle to the Sun experience, right?! 
Ultimately, my time of 4:15 proved to be good for 77th place out of 175 people that began the race (and only 156 actually finished). That is a marked improvement from my 94th place finish in last year’s event. In my age group, the men’s 30-39 division, I finished 17th out of 27 people, versus last year ending up 16th out of 24; not a significant change. (And frighteningly, the 40-49 age group which I will enter next year, is MORE competitive and even faster.) It is very, very humbling to realize that after months and months of training, and giving everything I can possibly give in an event, that 44% of the ride’s entrants still beat me!! There are some AMAZING athletes out there who simply ride at a level that I never will. However, I did learn that of the 25 people that this year signed up to ONLY ride the first half of the race to the 5000’ mark, my time would have finished fourth overall.
Fortunately, after the Cycle to the Sun, I still had another nine days on Maui to relax and have a true vacation. All summer long on the TransAm, while technically on a vacation, I had been constantly working, whether it be riding the bike, hauling gear, moving to a new camp, or trying to find food, shelter, or services. All of that, logistically speaking, required a lot of energy and I was now ready for a relaxing vacation. After the race, Maui provided the perfect complement to the summer's working vacation. I spent nine straight days walking the beach, swimming, eating at my favorite local Maui haunts, playing with my friend Karen’s three adorable Golden Retrievers, sleeping, watching the Little League World Series on ESPN, reading, napping, sorting out (and deleting many of my) digital TransAm photos, and, of course, writing multiple blog posts to finalize my summer cycling experience for my ardent fans. I fattened myself on fresh mangoes, coconut/pineapple/banana smoothies, mango scones, and a lot of the freshest Ono fish tacos you can imagine!
Of course my Maui time was spent seeing great friends as well. Karen, from whom I’ve rented a room each time I’ve come to Maui for contract Physical Therapy work, has become a good friend of mine and she was generous enough to both let me stay with her during these 12 days and let me drive an extra car that she has. This allowed me to not only have a true place to call home, but to be able to get out and experience Maui on my own as well without having to rent a vehicle. I cannot thank her enough for her generosity. And, did I mention that I got to play, cuddle, and hang with her three sweet and loving Goldens?! (Karen, you’re lucky that I didn’t pack my loverboy Nemo in my suitcase bound for Portland!)

Here is a two-headed dog monster attacking me on the couch:

I was able to connect several times with my awesome local Hawaiian friends Brad and Shirley Falcon, whom I know from having run as a member of their Hana Relay team two years ago when I was living on Maui. (Some of you may know who Brad is, if you ever watched an episode of ‘Deal or No Deal’ and saw Howie Mandel playing the game with a guy he called “The Cryin’ Hawaiian”.) Brad and Shirley cooked a fabulous dinner one evening and also invited over another buddy Scott from our relay team. Brad and Shirley’s kids Christian (13) and Brendan Sky (15 months) were a real treat to spend time with, particularly when we all loaded up and went to Olawalu Beach, frolicking for a couple of hours in the calm, shallow, warm water under the spectacular Maui sun.

Here are the fabulous Shirley, Brad, and their niece Shantelle:

Something else really special was being invited to watch another local Hawaiian friend’s children dance a hula show one night in Paia town. Devin, the office manager for the clinic at which I worked when I was here last year, and I continue to communicate on Facebook and I dropped in to see her at the clinic one day early in my trip. She invited me to watch her lovely daughters’ hula show the following week, and I had the best time! They and the other dancers were really adorable, and they were really good at dancing the hula and other Polynesian dances as well. It was obvious that they’d spent hours and hours practicing! I was honored that the girls would share that experience with me, and even more touched when they came up and gave “Uncle Dennis” big hugs afterwards, even after not having seen me for nearly a year!

I got to hang with Angie Peters, my PT school classmate who originally orchestrated my introduction to Karen so that I had a place to live the first time I came to work on Maui. Meeting Angie’s precious, five-month-old daughter Hazel for the first time was really a special treat. Just like Angie, she is simply angelic, and just like Angie, everyone loves her! Perfectly behaved each of the three times I saw her, Hazel’s sweet innocence and calm demeanor embodies that of Angie and her most excellent husband Paul.

Angie and Paul run a lovely Maui beachfront inn (the Blue Tile Beach House), and I snapped this pic as I sat on the bench outside with a book and a drink one early afternoon:

Here are Karen and Angie, after Angie cooked us a scrumptious homemade pizza dinner:

My buddy Karl Kolbeck (the guy who, along with his wife Sasha, had taken time out of his day of Oregon surfing to meet me as I pedaled through the very last day of my TransAm trip) also happened to be on Maui during the last week of my trip; we were able to connect several times over food or smoothies or coffee and share travel or other life stories. Karl, incidentally, is the reason I ever ended up doing contract therapy work on Maui in the first place, so it was really cool to get to hang with him there. And, getting Karl and Karen together over a meal was even was awesome introducing the two people most instrumental in the success of my Maui life!
I got a fabulous massage from the best massage therapist I have ever had....Rene Haynes, of Maui Body Works. Each time I come to Maui, I get at least one massage from this most amazing woman! She will lovingly work you over until you leave feeling like you have stumbled upon a secret, like you know something everyone else doesn’t, like you have found the way to make your body feel exactly the way it wants to and should.
Oh, speaking of massages...on the night of the Cycle to the Sun race, at the after-race dinner, there were several massage therapists that were contracted by the race promoter to give free massages to the riders. I got there early and Jessica called me over to her table for her first massage of the evening. Normally, these free post-race massages are fairly unremarkable, lasting only five or ten minutes because a) there is a long line of people waiting behind you, and b) the massage therapists are being paid very little (or nothing) so they want to see more people to increase their chance of making better money through tips. So that is what I expected when Jessica laid me down, but that is not what I got. No, Jessica just went on and on and on, working out every kink as if I were a paying client in her clinic. Furthermore, I learned that she is one of the TOUR DE FRANCE’S massage therapists, and has worked on the all the biggest names in the cycling world. If ever there were a person you’d want massaging you after a bike race, it’s her, the therapist to the most elite bike athletes in the world. She lives part of the year in Girona, Spain, which is where a large number of the Tour’s athletes live and train, and then she travels along with the Tour, massaging her team’s athletes nightly after their insanely difficult and long rides. She was chock full of interesting stories that bike geeks like me get off on, and her ex-boyfriend is Ryder Hesjedal, a former world mountain bike champion who finished something like sixth in this year’s Tour de France. She had nothing but good things to say about people, although she did admit that she thought a certain VERY famous cyclist is a real dick because he openly cheated on his famous celebrity girlfriend while at the Tour. Anyway, Jessica was just what the doctor ordered after such a grueling ride earlier in the day!
That’s about all I have to say for now. I am home in Portland, having just started work. I am contracted through May 31, 2011 and quite likely can have the summer off if I want it (and if I can afford it, of course). I wonder what’s next for me. Any comments, suggestions, thoughts from any of you? Thanks for being a part of my amazing summer, everyone!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Random TransAm stuff.

Some random statistics/observations:

Trip dates: May 9 - July 31
Route: Yorktown, VA to Astoria, OR
Total miles ridden: 4,550
Total trip days: 84
Days of actual riding: 75
Days of rest: 9
     Days of rest due to fatigue: 4
     Days of rest due to injury: 3
     Days of rest due to not wanting to leave a cool town: 2

Longest ride: 120 miles (Sonora, KY to Sebree, KY)
Shortest ride: 17.5 miles (Hayter's Gap, VA to Elk Garden, VA)

# of states visited: 10       Average miles ridden per day (overall trip): 60

# days in Virginia: 13        Average miles per day (Virginia): 46
# days in Kentucky: 8       Average miles per day (Kentucky): 64
# days in Illinois: 4            Average miles per day (Illinois): 66
# days in Missouri: 6         Average miles per day (Missouri): 61
# days in Kansas: 10        Average miles per day (Kansas): 59
# days in Colorado: 9        Average miles per day (Colorado): 65
# days in Wyoming: 9       Average miles per day (Wyoming): 52
# days in Montana: 9        Average miles per day (Montana): 60
# days in Idaho: 5            Average miles per day (Idaho): 63
# days in Oregon: 11        Average miles per day (Oregon): 66

State with the worst wind: Wyoming, and then Kansas
State with the most unfriendly, dangerous drivers: Missouri
State with the most unfriendly people: Kentucky
State with the nicest, most genuine people: Kansas
States with the most difficult mountains to ride: Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri (the Appalachians and Ozarks)
Highest altitude crossed: 11,542', Hoosier Pass, Colorado
State with the most rain: Virginia
State with the best food: Oregon
State with the worst food: Kentucky, Missouri

# nights spent camping: 41
# nights spent in someone's home: 10
# nights spent in motel: 19
# nights spent in hostels: 8
# nights spent in a church: 4
# nights spent at a fire department: 3

# of times I was stopped and interrogated by a police officer: 2
# of tickets I was issued by police officers: 0

# of "phantom" flat tires: 1 (On day 3, the front tire went flat while riding, but I couldn't find a leak. I pumped it back up and rode the final ~ 4,400 miles without a problem.)
# of actual flat tires: 1 (the rear tire, 40 miles outside Pueblo, CO in the desert)
# of times I had to replace a used tire: 0 (Yes, I now have ~ 5000 miles on the original set of tires!)

# lbs of body weight I lost in 84 days: 2.5 (Yes, that's all. I too was disappointed! Too much biscuits and gravy?)

# of times I got a ride in a school bus (with my bike) through where a river had flooded the road: 1

# of live rattlesnakes I almost ran over on the road: 1
# of dead rattlesnakes I saw on the road: probably more than hundred
# of dead rattlesnakes I ran over: 1 (I was zoning out...then THUMP scared the HELL out of me!!)

Some random photos:

Look closely: Pure.....USED.....oil??

Yes, in Kentucky, they really DO play a game, in public no less, called "Corn Hole":

This Kentucky dude not only drove a tractor on the road, but he'd attached a patio umbrella to it:

# of adorable puppies I found abandoned, then rescued and carried with me for three days in my handlebar bag: 1

You know you're in Amish country when you see this sign:

# blow up dolls I saw riding on Kentucky tractors: 1 (is that really all?)

# of times I slept in some Good Samaritan's garage because of a tornado warning: 1

# of Rubik's Cube masters doubling as touring cyclists that I met: 1 (Nice work, Zach!  1 min, 9 sec. flat!!)

Chicago dog!!!! (In the Chicago Amtrak terminal while I waited for the train to D.C.)

Really?! Ten and a half street?! Of course it's a dead's half a street!!

I'm sure the locals thought they were being funny here...but I think steep uphill rides ARE fun!!!

Thank you, Captain Obvious.

You know, I'm really NOT craving a drink at the moment, thanks.

Actually, yes! Kansas WAS so flat, boring, and remote at times that I took a picture of an intersection:

Uh, who is that "manning" the hotel's front desk?

Yes, I know the flies are encased in plastic...but it still creeps me out to think about sitting there.

Yes, let's ALL give a round of applause for Mr. Johnson (without whom none of us would be sitting here today)!!!

This spot in the middle of NOWHERE really excited me because it was the first sign I saw for Portland (home):

I thought the bumper sticker alone was a funny photo. Then Shaw spontaneously made it funnier.

There are some CRAZY folk out there.

I would LOVE to drive this thing in the Yellowstone snow...check out those "wheels"!!

ALL these trails crossed right HERE in the boonies of Wyoming!! (The Pony Express, Oregon Trail, Mormon Pioneer Trail, & California Trail.)

Anyone feel like fishing?

Seeing this guy (Sky) riding the TransAm really humbled me. I had it easy.

This dude (Mike), on the patio outside a Kansas bar, was cool as hell. He even let me play his guitar.

A snowy train ride at dawn through Montana's Glacier National Park was a great way to begin my trip!

The best cookie of my LIFE, no question, in Kansas at Buhler's Mustard Seed Deli...a perfect pecan chocolate chip, covered with a caramel drizzle.

And thus ends the TransAm journey. More posts are coming soon, however, regarding TransAm reunions in Portland (because a number of us that had ridden together but finished at different times ended up seeing each other again in Portland), and Hawaii's Cycle to the Sun race.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Coffee, Ocean, Hills, Friends, and...The End of the TransAm??? Really?!

True to form, the Dutch were up early and took off out of Florence just minutes after sunrise, leaving me, Tony, Robin, and Zack to linger somewhat over our packing and eating rituals. Everyone on the TransAm moves at their own speed when it comes to cooking, eating, packing, cleaning, riding, shopping, or whatever. It's understood that unless otherwise agreed upon, if you're not ready when someone else is, that person may leave you. Maybe you'll end up at the same town/camp as they do later that day and maybe you won't. And it's ok. No hurt feelings.

We didn't take too long to wrap things up and we warmed up gently for a few miles as we pedaled north, then west, on Florence's backroads looking for a street that would take us to U.S. Highway 101. When we did find a street that intersected with 101, we were pleased to discover that there was an espresso cart open for business on the corner, and even more pleased to see that there was a super-cute and smiley barista chick ready to serve us (why is it that all the espresso cart chicks are hot?!). She was a very good sport and handled the four probably-overly-flirtatious biker guys with aplomb...AND she made a MEAN mocha. She did agree to a photo, and while I'm sure she has a name, I never asked what it was.

The four of us turned left and headed north on 101 into a mild headwind. It didn't take long before Robin and Zack made it clear they wanted to ride much faster than Tony and I did, so we let them go on ahead and we chilled out on our own. Somewhere early on, Tony went ahead of me because I was wanting to stop for photo opportunities more frequently than he was. We were all heading toward the same place anyway (Newport, OR) because we'd heard there was an amazing bicycle shop there that had built a loft in their shop with couches, a TV, DVD's, and showers that touring cyclists were welcome to stop in and use. (The smallest such gestures of generosity and convenience are appreciated more than you can imagine, because most of us touring cyclists can't afford a hotel every night, we rarely get to lounge on any furniture other than a small sleeping pad, and often we skip a day or two between showers because we camp where there simply aren't any available.)

The morning ride out of Florence started out gentle enough passing inland through some forested flats and skirting some scattered, small, shallow lakes, but it fairly quickly turned into somewhat challenging coastal riding. Short, and then longer, moderately steep hills began to rise up under the asphalt, but at least the headwind was slight and the clouds and light mist kept the temperature nice and cool. There were stunning coastal views around every bend and there was very little traffic to deal with so all of this together (the challenge, the beauty, the weather, and the lack of traffic) added up to make this morning's pedal one of the most pleasant I experienced during my time on the TransAm. Here are some of the morning's photos:

Shortly before Newport, Tony had waited for me by the side of the road at another coffee shack. We then decided to get some fresh fish and chips...this little fish and crab joint at South Beach had the very BEST fresh halibut fish and chips I've ever had and Tony had a great bread bowl of clam chowder which was chock full of clams.

After lunch, we were ready to take a break and lounge out at the bike shop I mentioned above...after all, we'd already ridden 50 miles and it was only about noon. All we had to do was head up over the beautiful Newport bridge into town and find the bike shop. (In the photo below, we came over this bridge from the far right side, so it was a pretty slow and long climb.)

Riding over the bridge turned out to be a stressful and somewhat scary adventure. There is a button on a post by the side of the road just before the bridge that bicyclists are supposed to press before they start riding over the bridge, which we did. This button activates a blinking light that warns motorists of bicyclists' presence ahead on the bridge. Once on the bridge, however, the lanes are quite narrow and there is not a bike lane or a shoulder at all. Since the bridge is so long (about a mile?) and is primarily uphill when traveling north, cars do not wait fors slow cyclists; instead, one-by-one they (hopefully) hesitantly pass, trying to ensure they don't clip you or have a head-on collision with oncoming cars. Making things more freaky for the cyclist is the fact that not only is there no shoulder, there is a 2 foot high curb that is tall enough to catch a bike's panniers and cause a crash, which means it's not possible to get all the way to the right side of the lane and more safely out of the vehicles' path. It was a white-knuckled ride for sure, trying to both confidently hold my ground and make sure I was as far to the right as possible so the cars and trucks had enough room to safely pass me.

When I had nearly traversed the full length of the bridge, a small, blue, mid-1980's Toyota pickup truck pulled up alongside me. When it didn't pass, I looked over and the woman inside started screaming obscenities at me, dropping F-bombs with every second or third word as she, in no uncertain terms, let me know that she thought bicyclists were not allowed to ride on the bridge and were a danger to all the motorists trying to cross. I kept my cool and just let her spew her venom but it went on and on and on and on for about 30-40 seconds. She wouldn't pass me and she wouldn't leave me alone, and all the while I was continuing to focus on the ride, trying not to crash. I was just about to lose my cool and yell something back at her when I cast a glance toward the back of the pickup and saw a really sketchy-looking dude sitting there holding a pit bull by the collar and staring intently at me. I decided in that moment it was probably best I say nothing, lest I find them waiting for me at the other end of the bridge ready to throw down. Thankfully the moment ended innocuously enough as finally she moved on ahead; she probably felt better for unloading her hostility and I felt better for keeping my cool and for not having crashed.

Arriving in downtown Newport, we stopped at the Chamber of Commerce and got directions to the bike shop. When we arrived there, we found the three Dutch (Dennis, Marga, and their daughter Ellen), as well as Zack and Robin, all lounging around on couches, watching TV, taking naps, and reading books. Tony and I quickly joined right in and it was one big loungefest for several hours. Ultimately, several members of our group did end up going downstairs and buying various items from the bike shop and Robin had some bike repairs done so the shop did see some benefit from letting us hang out there all afternoon.

We only had six more cold and windy miles to ride to our campsite for the evening at Beverly Beach, OR. Beverly Beach was supercrowded and had space for thousands of campers; thankfully, the hiker/biker camping area is away from the rest of the RV's and vehicles. Therefore, our group of seven (along with another two cyclists we didn't know that showed up later) got to share a somewhat large area with four picnic tables and no other campers around. The campground also had some really great, clean, hot showers for us to use, which meant we didn't have to choose between staying sweatygross or submerging our sticky selves in a shallow, frigid, rocky creek.

The next day was a ride from Beverly Beach to Tillamook, OR. I got up early and left before everyone else because I planned to take a different route to Tillamook. I went inland instead of along the coast so that I could stop and visit my friend Cassie, her husband Jake, and their newborn baby girl Mackenzie in the tiny town of Beaver, OR. Beaver, OR was not on the route, but it was totally worth going out of my way to see them. I had a great afternoon catching up on things, meeting their new child, sitting in the hot tub, doing my laundry, and eating a wonderful lunch. It was really nice to spend some time with old friends and get out of touring mode for a few hours. Their new home is comfortable and very tastefully decorated, and they opened it right up to me, making me feel like family. Here is Cassie, her bernese mountain dog Dudley, and baby Mackenzie in front of their home:

Late in the afternoon I made my way into Tillamook and found our place of residence for the evening, my parents' RV. Recently my folks purchased a nice, used RV and rented a view lot from a friend of theirs right where the Tillamook River meets the Tillamook Bay; the RV has a beautiful view of the water and my parents gave permission for me and my friends to sleep there that night.

I left my cyclist friends at the RV for a while when my great friend Willow dropped by to visit me. She and I used to work together at the Tillamook Hospital and it was a real treat to get to see her for a few hours that night. She and I headed off in her car and went to see Cape Meares beach as well as walking out on the sandy spit that separates the Tillamook Bay from the open Pacific Ocean. Willow always brightens my day, and this one was no different; I was honored that she took time to come visit me as I rolled through town.

Back at the RV later that night, my friends Shaw and Lindsay from Portland showed up because Shaw planned to make the 75-mile final ride of the trip with me the next day, while Lindsay was going to drive a vehicle to Astoria and meet us at the end of the trail. That brought the total of people at the RV to eight: Shaw, Lindsay, me, the three Dutch folks, Robin, and Zack (Tony had other family he was staying with). Because we couldn't sleep eight people comfortably inside the RV, Robin chose to camp outside and Shaw and Lindsay slept in the back of their SUV.

We awoke once again to chilly Oregon coast temperatures in the low 50's, but this time the cold was accompanied by a constant drizzlemist that was lighter than rain but soaking nonetheless. Touring cyclists, though, are not deterred by a light rain and we all headed out around 7 a.m. with a nice egg and blueberry pancake breakfast in our bellies that Zack had whipped up in the RV. The entire group pitched in to clean up my parents' RV and considerately left it just as they had found it; what a great group of people I managed to hook up and ride with!

The gang split up just two miles down the road though when the Dutch went on ahead while the rest of us stopped at different places in Tillamook for coffee or snacks. Somehow though, Shaw and I ended up accidentally getting back on the road at exactly the same time and place as Robin and Zack, so we ended up forming a fast paceline together for the first 15 miles of the ride. We cruised, averaging about 20-22 mph, all the way to Rockaway Beach, OR; Robin and Zack pushed on ahead when Shaw and I stopped to wait there for some other Portland friends of mine, Michael and Emily, who were coming to meet me on the trip's final day, with Michael riding along with us on the Rockaway Beach to Cannon Beach portion of our journey.

Michael came cruising up on his superlight, sexy, 16-pound, carbon fiber road bike (compared to my loaded, 75-lb, steel touring bike) and met us curbside in Rockaway, while his wife Emily showed up in her car minutes later. After hugs all around and a 15-minute chat, Shaw, Michael and I all took off, the other Transammers all far ahead of us by this point. It was now just me with two great friends from Portland that I've known and cycled with for years who wanted to be able to share a portion of the TransAm experience with me. I can't tell you how much it meant to me to have some of my regular cycling buddies go out of their way and make a journey to the coast just to be, in some way, a part of my epic summer trip.

We stopped in a couple places along the way between Rockaway Beach and Cannon Beach. First we stopped at a little marina because it is owned by one of Cassie and Jake's friends. His name is Kelly and he was a real riot, with a quick, sharp wit and his head topped with a red fuzzy crab hat. This is me and Kelly, wearing crab hats and holding live crabs. I really want to title it "I caught crabs at Kelly's".

Outside the marina we saw some wild daisies growing alongside the road and couldn't resist this ridiculously manly pic:

As we rode up Neahkahnie Mountain, Michael blasted up ahead of Shaw and I. Steadily though, I was able to gain ground on Michael and not long before the summit I found a second wind and charged to catch him. I think he was surprised when he looked back to see that I was on his wheel again, given that the last time he'd looked back I was way, way behind...and because I was riding a loaded touring bike. He shifted and sped up and I went with him. He shifted again and sped up and I again went with him. A third shift that I matched brought us to the summit together. I've never been able to keep up with Michael before, even when on a light road bike, so I guess all the riding this summer finally paid off (well, that and the fact that he hardly trained this summer...hahaha...but I'll take what I can get because he's an animal)!! Here we all are at the Neahkahnie summit:

When we reached Oswald West State Park, we stopped to meet Karl and Sasha, some Physical Therapist friends of mine from Portland. They happened to be surfing that morning and really wanted to meet up with us as we passed by. We found Shaw's girlfriend Lindsay in the parking lot, locked up our bikes at the car, and then took off on foot down the trail down toward the ocean to look for Karl and Sasha. Before we ever reached the water, we met them coming up the trail in full wetsuits, surfboards tucked under their arms, wide smiles gracing their faces. After hugs and introductions on the trail, we walked back to the parking lot where we made a plan to meet in Cannon Beach for a pizza lunch. It took Shaw, Michael, and me about an hour to make the hilly ride to Cannon Beach which turned out to be perfect because Karl and Sasha had to return their rental surfboards on the way. We all arrived at approximately the same time and weaved our way through the incredibly busy little tourist town that Saturday afternoon, guided by the promise of pizza.

Because some of us were watching the bikes, some had to find a restroom, some were parking cars, and some were standing in the pizza line, we obviously weren't all together initially. Showing what an awesome group of friends I have (and maybe what a dirtbag I am), this is how lunch went down that day...

While I was standing there talking with Sasha, Shaw came up to me and asked if he could buy me a slice of pizza and a soda; I of course said yes and thanked him. Michael then walked up a few minutes later and asked if HE could buy me a slice of pizza; I glanced at Sasha and laughed but she didn't betray me when I answered in the affirmative to Michael. He then headed off to get in line to buy two slices. A few minutes later, after parking the car, Karl came up and the first thing he did was offer to buy me a slice of pizza. I'd already made Sasha promise to remain quiet if he offered anything because I thought it would be too funny if a third person offered to buy me lunch. Not only did Karl play right into my hand, but Sasha somehow kept a straight face and didn't utter a word, at least initially. After a few seconds though, we both bust out laughing and I had to tell Karl what I was up to. Karl laughed with us, but being the good sport he is, he said he'd still buy me a slice if I was hungry enough to eat three. I didn't want to be rude, of course, so clearly I accepted his offer. A hungry cross-country cyclist never turns down free food, right?! Ever.

So, when Shaw showed up with two slices, he and I sat down to eat. When Michael came up moments later with another slice for me, the joke was out and we all had a big laugh. After a few minutes, when Karl dropped off a THIRD slice in front of me, it was just classic and we all laughed so hard it was impossible to eat for a minute. Don't I have a great group of friends?!

After lunch, we all said goodbye to one another and went our separate ways. Michael started his solo ride back to where his wife Emily was waiting for him back in Cannon Beach. Karl and Sasha headed back to Portland. Lindsay left for Astoria in Shaw's SUV. Shaw and I mounted our beautiful black bikes for the final leg to Astoria and the end (no!!!!!!!!!) of the TransAmerica Trail.

The last 25 miles of the ride only took about an hour and a half because it was fairly flat, it didn't rain, and the wind was not too bad. We rode through Seaside, Gearhart, and the outskirts of Warrenton, OR and as we arrived in Astoria, the sun started showing through the clouds and the day became a nice one. All of a sudden we crossed the two short bridges that lead into Astoria proper, where we stopped for photos at the "Welcome to Astoria" signs to capture the moment of arrival.

The true end of the TransAmerica is at the Columbia Maritime Museum in downtown Astoria and it is only a half mile from where the last picture above was taken. Arriving at the museum, however, was a significant letdown! I don't know what I expected, but all of sudden we were there and it was......well....boring and anticlimactic! There was no ocean to dip my wheel into (Astoria is on the Columbia River, and the actual ocean is about 10 miles away), there was no finish line or fanfare, and it didn't end on a difficult climb. I was thinking to myself, "This can't really be it. No way." It was then that I looked up toward the hills and saw the Astoria Column looming large over the town and knew that my trip had to end there, with some kind of a challenge.

Shaw was game to ride up to the column, even after having already pedaled for 75 miles already that day. We told Lindsay what our plan was and then headed up. The road to the column leaves right out of downtown Astoria and is only a mile or two long but it's STEEP; in fact, it was right up there with the steepest grades I rode during the entire trip and that made it feel even better to end there since I like to end on a challenge. In fact, the challenge didn't end with the ride TO the Column because there are 164 steps in a spiral staircase that take you to the Column's viewing platform. We were rewarded at the top with spectacular 360-degree views which included the town of Astoria, the Pacific Ocean, and the Columbia, Youngs, and Lewis and Clark rivers.

Taken from the top of the Column, this is a view of the town of Astoria, the curvy road up to the Column, part of the bridge over the Columbia River, the Youngs River Bay, and, in the far distance, the Pacific Ocean.

Shaw and Lindsay at the top of the Astoria Column:

After we came back down the 164 steps from the top of the column to ground level, I very coincidentally bumped into Nick Tempest, another super-cool TransAm cyclist that I'd stayed an evening with in West Yellowstone, MT. He was on a much faster pace than I was so we never rode together, but we'd kept in touch and I was shocked to see him. He'd already ridden to the end of the TransAm and then continued north up to Vancouver, B.C. where he finished his trip. He then had taken a train back to Portland, met up with his mom who'd flown in from Virginia, and rented a car to drive to Astoria to show her the Oregon Coast. How crazy was it that he ended up at the Astoria Column at the same moment I did?!?! This is me and Nick:

After saying goodbye to Nick and his mom Joanne, we loaded up the bikes and drove down to dine in Astoria. Again, Shaw generously bought me a congratulatory dinner.

At this point, I honestly was still considering staying for a couple of days in Astoria to wait for and meet up with Phyllis and Jerry, some other TransAm friends I'd ridden with quite a bit over the summer but hadn't seen in a couple of weeks. I'd even considered continuing to tour for a while longer, perhaps heading north out of Astoria, into Washington up toward Seattle, and then making my way back down south to Portland. While waiting for our dinner, however, I called Phyllis and I found out they were three days behind me instead of two. I didn't want to stay three more days in Astoria and I didn't really feel like riding any longer on the Oregon coast with the current cold, windy, and drizzly weather. So ,after dinner, with the bikes and gear loaded up, Lindsay and Shaw began the drive home to Portland and I joined them.

I expected that we'd drive Highway 30 back to Portland, but unexpectedly the navigation system in their SUV routed us south along coastal Highway 101 for the first 20 miles, the same highway we'd ridden all day to GET to Astoria. Normally it wouldn't really matter which route we took to get back to Portland, but as we passed through Seaside, I realized that this was my opportunity to actually dip my wheel into the Pacific Ocean, something I hadn't done all along the Oregon coast because I'd mistakenly thought that I'd be able to do it in Astoria. Shaw and Lindsay graciously pulled over and Shaw helped me carry my bike down to the waterline, which was far away across the sand due to a very low tide. It was then that I was able to symbolically and officially end my trip with an ocean wheel dip.

And just like that it was over. I was mostly quiet on the ride back home because, though I felt very strong physically after months of bicycle travel, my emotions were really quite mixed. I wanted to continue, yet I wanted to go home. I wanted to reminisce, yet I didn't want to think about it being over. I was mentally tired, yet I was ready for and craving more. Walking into my house late that night, I didn't quite know what to do. I just sort of dropped everything on the floor and collapsed onto my own bed for the first time in nearly three months...psyched, sad, and thoroughly satisfied.

I did it.

Coming very soon will another post with random thoughts, memories, statistics, and photos from the TransAm ride....and, the summer's topper, Hawaii's Cycle to the Sun race from sea level up to the 10,000' summit of Haleakala volcano!!

Thanks, everyone, for taking the time to read my blog!