Sunday, October 25, 2015

Post-trip comments

I've been back home from my solo bike trip for about seven weeks. One of the first things I did upon returning was complete the final three blog entries. I also fixed typos, resized some photos, and added photos to the first few blog posts. Eight days after I returned, Laura and I went on an enjoyable ten-day trip to Iceland.

I wasn't tired of biking at the trip's end. One of the big surprises for me was that my exhaustion did not accumulate. A day or two of rest, except for the longer break in the Twin Cities, was enough to get me feeling fresh for another day's ride.

The total bike trip distance from Spokane to Mercer was 2,535 miles across 12 states.

I cycled for 31 days, and took another 12 days for rest and visiting, including 5 days in the Twin Cities. I averaged about 78 miles a day. The longest day was 126 miles, from Hettinger, ND to Mobridge, SD. The biggest climbing day was in Wisconsin's Driftless Area. My cycling buddy Tom MacDonald and I rode uphill for 4,170 feet, which is 52.8 feet per mile. Day 2 in Idaho and Montana would have had 4,526 feet of climbing or 58 feet per mile, but highway construction forced me to take a five-mile van shuttle ride provided by the Idaho Transportation Department and miss 1,500 feet of climbing--I was OK with that. Neither of those two days had as much vertical gain as a local training ride I did on July 3. On that day I did a 73.7 mile round trip to Chicora, PA and climbed 5,228 feet, which is 70.9 feet per mile. The hilly terrain here in western PA served me well in preparing for the trip. My two flattest days were in Ohio and Montana. The Angola, IN-Fremont, OH ride was 1,119 feet uphill across 119 miles (10.1 feet/mile) and the Harlowton, MT-Roundup ride rose 955 feet across 71 miles (13.5 feet/mile).

The trip was remarkably problem-free. I had no mechanical problems, not even a flat tire. On the two days with rain showers in southwestern North Dakota and Chicago I found shelter; and on other days I avoided afternoon rains by getting up early. Twice I woke before 5:00 AM, something highly unusual for me, but I was then rewarded with views of the sunrise from the road. My bicycle seat was uncomfortable at times, but the majority of the time I was fine. I did have some tough days; one example being the 105-mile slog from Mobridge to Aberdeen, SD with relentless headwinds and crosswinds. I questioned my desire to do long distance cycling on that day, although when I pulled into Aberdeen it was satisfying to have survived the ride. I had several white knuckle riding experiences in suburban and urban traffic. A few times vehicles passed me at high speeds, anywhere from 30-65 mph, and came close to me, say within four feet, but almost all of the time vehicles gave me wide berth, or there were no vehicles at all, sometimes for miles on end. 

Trip highlights included riding out of Minneapolis into Wisconsin with Tom for three days; a 15-mile downhill in Montana with views of the St Regis River rushing through Ponderosa-clad steep mountains; numerous occasions flying along with a tailwind; and seeing "largest in the world" objects such as a hairball in Webster, SD; a ball of twine in Darwin, MN; and drumsticks in Warren, OH. A pleasant surprise was parts of the trip that I thought would be boring were not boring. I knew I would be thrilled to see conventionally attractive landscapes like the Rockies in Idaho and Montana or Chicago's Lakefront Trail but I did not look forward to biking in flatland farming areas in say, South Dakota or northern Indiana. These two states in fact satisfied a craving I have for new landscapes; they both had a lot more variety than I assumed. I had driven through northern Indiana many times on I 80 but touring the back roads at bicycle speeds provided a whole new perspective. A more general highlight of the trip is simply the time I got to spend doing something I like, bicycling, while learning about new places. Hemingway has a well known quotation in bicycling circles that pertains here: "It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle."

An unexpected benefit of the trip was how much I would visit and enjoy libraries and history museums. Both enriched my experience in countless ways. I originally conceived of this blog as a bare bones effort to let people know on a day-to-day basis that I had survived the risks inherent in doing a long bike trip by myself. Thanks to the libraries I could research the places I was in and incorporate pictures and maps into this blog.  

Many things came together to make this trip happen. I have to start with Tom, who introduced me to multi-day bicycle trips in 1996 with a trip from Minneapolis to Fargo, ND. Including our three days on this tour, we have done 18 trips together. I could not have survived the trip on my old bike, which I bought second hand from someone considerably taller than me. I thought I could adjust that bike to my size, and it was certainly workable for shorter trips. I now greatly prefer the new bike, and for this I thank Brian Jenks of Artispin in Cleveland. He fitted, designed, and assembled my blue bike. As for planning the trip, my most useful tool was Google Map's bicycle layer. Google Maps was also invaluable in helping me find motels. The highway maps I obtained for most of the states were useful for planning the overall route. Several of the states I passed through have online bicycle maps; the Minnesota and Wisconsin websites are excellent. My second most important planning tool was It hosts bicycle touring journals, forums, and resources. Eventually I will post this trip on that site. The Roadside America phone app showed offbeat places to visit. The Find My Friends phone app helped Laura and others get my location on a phone map in real time, even in areas outside of cell phone coverage. Cyclemeter provided data and recorded my route for each day.

To end, my bike trip was in a very important sense not solo. Throughout the endeavor from start to finish I received support and encouragement from family and friends. I appreciated very much the emails, phone calls, and blog comments as well as wonderful conversations with Karen Hammel in Harlowton, MT. My sister Rita was particularly supportive. Thanks also to my brother Tom and sister-in-law Cynthia who put Laura and me up in Spokane and to Charlie Pile and Laurie Bogart who let me stay with them in Arlee, MT. I am grateful to my grade school friends Michael Lins and Frank Hennessy for some great r&r at Michael's Wisconsin cabin and to Tom and Pam MacDonald for hosting me in Minneapolis. I stayed with my parents too, and my debt and gratitude to them is infinite. Then there is Laura. As I noted in some retirement remarks about a year ago, she treats me like a dog. I mean that in a good way, of course. One of her friends said "after I die I want to come back as Laura's dog." Seriously, I am very lucky to have her in my life. 

Happy Trails,