Skip to content

Archive for

Out of Oregon

Thematically, Bound South is an adventure beyond the shadow of a doubt.  If one were to write the book, it would not be a placid Walden on wheels.  A life by bicycle is not one of boundless mental reflection and meditation; it is actually a life missing its comfortable dose of autopilot.  We are overloaded with the sounds and smells of the world and the subtleties of the sympathetic nervous system, listening to the engines of our body and attending constantly to the biology of hunger, thirst, and joy.  There are moments of exhilaration; the car that passes too close, the lost connection of fast wheels in loose dirt, and the magical descents when your disc brakes can run cold in a wheeled emulation of flight.

Red Dirt Descent down Forest Service Development Road 60

Lest I give you the wrong impression, however, this is no thriller novel.  There are some moments of climactic choice; whether to take the ditch at the sound of an oncoming 18-wheeler, to take uncertain forest roads versus sterile and certain highways, and whether to seize the $1.88 tortilla chips in the constant battlefield of the grocery aisle or rather cede victory to the twin nemeses of Hunger and Budget.  Our maxim has become, “When in doubt, choose adventure and choose food.”  There is enough oscillation between meditation, exhilaration, and simple self-preservation to occupy the mind for a lifetime of riding.  If you don’t believe me, just get outside and ride your bike.

Camping at Cultus Lake at high altitude. Too cold to swim.

Leaving Bend was no easy task.  Getting to Crater Lake National Park was at least as difficult.  The most extensive and difficult climbs of our journey made each day a trial of our accumulated strength.  Holding to our word and our maxim, we “chose adventure” through the Deschutes and Umpqua National Forests, eschewing the paved roads off of the Cascade Lakes Highway and instead traversing some of the most impassable and spectacular forest service roads we had ever seen.  The Trolls were made for this, after all.  One only has to climb up to 6,000 ft. Windigo Pass with a heavy bike on sandy single-lane dirt to appreciate what we faced on just one afternoon in central Oregon.

Stopped and stood for a while at the rim of Crater Lake. Also too cold to swim.

What goes up must come down, and we earned every single vertical foot that brought us up to the wonder of the world known as Crater Lake.  Thousands of feet deep, Crater Lake rests as the remnant of a volcanic collapse from an ancient era, ringed by park roads and campsites closed for the proximate winter.  It was absurd to ride our bicycles over nearly 8,000-foot-high Crater Lake in late October, a blessing of a warm sun and clear skies.

Lodgepole pine remnants from the Davis Fire of a decade past.

 

We hope and pray for more pleasant absurdities between here and Argentina, such as the outhouse we used to cook oatmeal in when our campsite froze overnight west of Prospect.  Or the reappearance of my awesome tan lines.

Tan-lines too marvelous for words.

We ride on for California and continue a dogged but sustainable pace, stopping to rest and reflect in equal measure with our adventures and absurdities.  Why we ride will always be the critical thread that moves with us to Argentina and will one day bring us home.

The long road to Crater Lake over old volcanic ash.

Minimalism

“Minimalism” might seem like a redundant concept to three men who can already hold their entire lives inside the panniers a bicycle.  Simplicity in how we pack, purchase, ride, and live is a guiding force. What we carry will go with us through all of our days and over all of our mountain climbs.  When you must carry everything, the non-essentials weigh on you both mentally and physically.  An unused ball cap is hardly a boat anchor, but throwing it all away proves to be good for mind, body, and machine.  Minimalism is a fitting philosophy for a trio of bicycle cowboys, so we make a habit of constantly reevaluating our needs.  Last week in Bend, we did just that.

Pile of non-necessities.

Realizing that we were all carrying some excess baggage, we attempted to rearrange our necessities into three rather than five bags each, and succeeded largely because we share so many essential items, i.e. tent, camp stove, spare parts. So, after purging the expendables, we are now riding without front panniers. Now, it may not seem that exciting to some, but it was a liberating experience for the three of us.

Stripping oneself of all decadence and nonessentials and being content with basic clothing, shelter, and food are humbling, but extremely rewarding. It’s an idea that will go with me on the road ahead, especially now that I’m lighter and faster.

Bend and Break

Synchronization.  I was devastated when I spelled that word wrong at the Ramsey County Spelling Bee in 7th grade.  The word captures the feeling I’ve had since crossing the volcanic arc of Oregon’s northern Cascades.  Things seem to have come together for Bound South, with a shared rhythm despite the brotherly dissonance that makes a journey like this so special.  Our MSR Mutha Hubba seems to erect itself when night falls.  The innumerable varieties of Campbell’s Chunky Soup have been thoroughly vetted.  The clear winners have emerged to take their rightful place in our panniers alongside our rice and rotini.

Early morning over Mt. Hood, 107 miles to go.

We rise with the sun and ride despite the wind until the time is right to stop.  There are few explicit plans or deadlines and yet we have internalized this southward tempo like some kind of circadian rhythm.  How far today?  This has become a rhetorical question, an inspiration, and our daily adventure.

From lush timber forest to desert in just a few miles. Amazing contrast.

107 miles separated us from Bend in Oregon’s high desert, a full day of hard riding from the timber forest of Mt. Hood where we camped.  A hard day of riding was followed by some splendid days of Habitat building, photography presentations, and meeting with family and friends.  Bend has been the welcome breath between movements that we needed.  The seemingly permanent sunshine of Central Oregon belies the cold roads and high altitudes that still lie ahead.  We can’t help but soak it in while it lasts.

David shows off his Habitat build painting skills.

Every day I like to ask myself whether I believe in what I am doing that day.  It’s a simple litmus test to isolate the road ahead from the accumulated weight of the long road behind us.  Days of rest have been sweet here in Bend, but already I am itching to get back on my bike and ride south.  I love this journey as much now as I did leaving Anchorage in August.

Long and windy road to Bend with mountains to the west.

 

Different Names

Unsurprisingly, Washington State was named for the honest President, American hero and amateur cherry-tree butcher known as George Washington.  One might assume that the names of other places across the Americas are logically assigned as well; however, one would be sorely mistaken.  Our inner romantics cry out for a Jasper of the Canadian Rockies that must have been named for those opaque stone walls of a heavenly New Jerusalem; or perhaps for a Portland that was framed as a majestic gateway to Oregon’s western shores.  In reality, Jasper was named after an unremarkable fur-trading post, and Portland is Portland because of the strange coincidence of a lost coin-toss, a New England city, and an isle near Dorset, England.

The Gorge closer to Portland.

The names and town signs and landscape changes with every mile we pedal.  Vast geographical differences can mask the wondrous commonalities shared by the people we encounter.  Small anecdotes from our days riding through the Inland Empire illustrate much of this goodness.  A marine biologist and schoolteacher sheltered us from cold rain in the mountainous apogee of the Columbia Gorge.  A bar owner let us camp in his beer garden, sheltered from the ruthless winds that were arrayed daily against us on the flat desert plains of central Washington.  Perfect strangers offered donations, directions, and invariably a prediction of our impending doom in Mexico.

I wonder when this strange mixture of luck and providence will run out.  I wouldn’t mind being lucky and good…but usually I don’t count on either.  When I consider our journey I recognize that there really is no such thing as an expiration of luck or providence.  The deepest depths of frustration and misery that we encountered (which seemed rather unlucky at the time) are rooted now so firmly in our most spectacular rides and relationships.  It was bad luck that gave us headwinds on the Columbia, but that same bad luck that gave us a beautiful tent site on a sandy patch of land in the Gorge.

Sunrise, camping on the Columbia Gorge.

A weekend in Portland brought us time to rest, to eat unheard of amounts of food, to race our Trolls for fun, and to explore what the city had to offer.  We will miss Portland and its roses, its food carts, its bicycles, its swing, and its indelible urban culture.  We’ll be back someday without a doubt.  Yet there is no remorse in leaving, no sense of loss as we once more saddle up and ride towards Bend.  The names and faces will change but I am confident that there will always be a few for whom this goodness that we so enjoy will remain unaltered.

Obscene amounts of exquisite food with the Pfeiffers.

If I could offer you one highlight from our  weekend in Portlandia it would be our continuing tradition of doing non-restful things on rest days.  Case in point: cyclocross racing at Cross Crusade here in Portland.  The local ‘cross scene in Portland is arguably the best in the nation and we couldn’t pass up the chance to race and experience the spectacle.  We leave for Bend with just a little bit of fear in our legs but no regrets.  David and Nathan received their initiation to the world of bicycle racing and we all pushed our limits.  Onward through Oregon and on the road once more, Argentina is still very far away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home on the Range

There_is_something startlingly familiar about the Palouse in eastern Washington. It’s not the landscape (we just said goodbye to the Rockies and it’s unlike anything we have seen thus far on the road), vineyards, or wineries. Rather, it’s familiar because it reminds us of home. Everything about it – the friendliness and warmth most small towns hone, agriculture, back roads to explore, open skies fit for sunrises and sunsets, home cooked meals of meat and potatoes, and so much more – seems to remind us of North Dakota.

Between Spokane and Walla Walla, we traversed rolling stubble fields of harvested wheat on dirt and gravel roads. Rolling along, we had plenty of opportunities to pick apples from abandoned farmsteads, wave to farmers working the land, and chat with country folk after their dogs chased us down. In the small town of Diamond, WA (a town very similar in size to Starkweather), we found shelter from the rain in a family’s garage. At times, I wondered where we were and why we were climbing some of the steepest grades we have seen thus far (on a mud-tracked prairie road, too), yet I felt at home.

As we ride closer to the Oregon coast along the Columbia River in the sage brush-covered desert land of southern Washington and northern Oregon, the Palouse, a gem in the Pacific Northwest, pulls me back. It is a place I won’t soon forget.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

America

_____________”The spirit is at home, if not entirely satisfied, in America.”_____________

Thus wrote Allan Bloom in Closing of the American Mind.  I couldn’t help but commit the quotation to memory and it came to mind as we passed through the invisible veil separating Canada and the United States.  The boundary between them is an arbitrary political construction that poses no barrier to the mixed conifer forests, mountains, and cold autumnal rain that covers the landscape this time of year.  The casual bicycling observer would note that miles pass by much more slowly than kilometers, and that America got something right when it minimized taxes at the grocery store.  Yet these are trivial distinctions that lay like debris over the spectacular character of this America that we call home.

Canadians will celebrate their Thanksgiving this coming Monday.  Though our own Thanksgiving is still far away, I wish to excerpt from Vermont Royster’s “And the Fair Land” which is printed annually on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page every Thanksgiving day.  We are forever grateful for the goodness of those who have helped us since our return to the States.

But we can all remind ourselves that the richness of this country was not born in the resources of the earth, though they be plentiful, but in the men that took its measure.  For that reminder is everywhere – in the cities, towns, farms, roads, factories, homes, hospitals, schools that spread everywhere over that wilderness.

We can remind ourselves that for all our social discord we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators.  Being so, we are the marvel and the mystery of the world, for that enduring liberty is no less a blessing than the abundance of the earth.

And we might remind ourselves also, that if those men setting out from Delftshaven had been daunted by the troubles they saw around them, then we could not this autumn be thankful for a fair land.

Bicycle Cowboys on Ice

Housekeepers from a lodge in Lake Louise found us behind a nondescript parking lot in the village.  They were some British Columbian girls on their way home from work.  We were huddled around our MSR stove waiting on our pasta noodles and Campbell’s Chunky Prime Rib & Vegetable soup.  Due to a closed campground, and the threat of a $2,000 fine, we were planning on stealth-camping in the trees down by the Bow River.  “You guys are like bicycle cowboys!”  I guess we are.

Taking a short break from climbing out on the cold Icefields.

It has been a wild ride from Jasper.  Like so much of the journey thus far from Alaska, it has been composed of unexpected blessings and the absence of what some might call “responsible planning.”  It all began in the town of Jasper; we arrived wet, cold, hungry, and later than expected.  This is par for the course for Bound South.  We spent more than an hour looking for an evening church service as well as a shelter to pitch our tent under.  We didn’t like the idea of spending $25 or more for a patch of cold and exposed campground dirt far from town.  We stumbled upon an evening service at a Baptist Church and before we knew it we had a place to stay.

Gratuitous yawning.

Thinking that this was too good to be true, we felt that we should be as ambitious as possible with our day of rest.  Ideally, we would be ambitious with a combination of minimal planning and abundant risk.  We are bicycle cowboys after all.  Naturally, our “rest day” consisted of hiking up 3,000 feet of vertical on Whistlers Mountain outside of Jasper.  The recommended time for doing this hike was a minimum of three hours up and two hours down.  We were up and down in three hours total, which was fortunate because it was freezing and windy at the top and we returned home in the dark.  Running up and down a mountain takes a toll on the human body and our only serious adaptation has been to riding our bikes.  Needless to say, our legs got wrecked from all of the fun we had on our rest day.

Hiking closer to the summit of Whistlers.

Walking around like crippled men, unable to descend a set of stairs without crying, the three of us pressed on from Jasper to ride the Icefields Parkway.  I don’t wish to impoverish the beauty of these Canadian Rockies by attempting to describe them.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking.  Life on the road was memorable to say the least.  We found ourselves camping in campgrounds that were shut for the winter, tenting in open shelters and braving subzero temperatures at night.  With a three-season-tent and a decent supply of cold weather gear, we were never in danger; though we did wear everything we had in order to stay warm in our tent through the night.  I am looking forward to (hopefully) warmer temperatures in the States.

Unforgettable cold crosswinds on Sunwapta Pass.

The Icefields brought us some of our highest climbs of the trip, with Bow Pass and the Columbia Icefield taking us up to nearly 7,000 feet of elevation.  Remarkably, that was within 500 feet of the summit of our Whistlers hike, which gives you some perspective as to how much we climbed.  The Icefields also acquainted us with 40mph crosswinds like we had never seen before.  With our bikes fully loaded they behave like heavy sails.  This is no exaggeration: we climbed the last segment of Sunwapta Pass with our bikes leaned over more than 45 degrees into the wind to avoid being blown across the road and into traffic.  We will probably meet crosswinds like this again in Patagonia, and luckily we have plenty of time between now and then.

The Icefields were cold but worthwhile.

The road since the Icefields has not disappointed, either.  Lake Louise brought us rest and an unexpected home stay with some housekeepers.  The road into Radium brought us some spectacular climbs and descents, including some hairy encounters with mountain goats at 45 mph on the winding descent through mountain roads flanked by cliffs on all sides.  And what would tent camping be without being greeted by deer in the morning?

One of our morning visitors.

We might get wet and cold and discouraged at different points of the ride.  Yet we believe in ourselves.  Deep down, we buy into this “bicycle cowboy” thing.  We have paid our dues, climbed our mountains, and watched our bodies change and adapt even in the short six weeks since we left Alaska.  We ride knowing we’re up to the task at hand, even if it means we’re shattered by the time we finish riding by the light of our headlamps barely find the strength to sit down to a home stay and a heaping bowl of spaghetti.

America the Beautiful beckons to us already.  As Kerouac writes, “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”

Reward after a long, cold, and rainy descent.