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Journey to the East – initial Stages

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

When I lost my job at the end of July 2011 I was thinking I’d set right off on a cross country bicycle tour. However all of the business involved in the lay off necessitated that I be in the area for at least a month and ideally three months. So I took my shorter 2011 tour and began planning for the cross country tour in 2012.  I have always found it the case that for the last, say 10% of the tour one finds ones thoughts turning primarily toward the post-tour. That is to say at that point you are ready for it to be done. I use the percentage because this time scales depending on the length of the tour. That is to say it may only be the last couple of days on an 2 week tour but perhaps the last week on a 10 week tour. This has held true for me on all my (self supported) tours which have ranged from 9 days to 103 days.  But for the cross country trip I wasn’t sure how touring in the months range would go – my longest tour at that point was just under four weeks (2009). So taking this into account I planned the tour in stages.

The five stages of the tour were:

Stage 1: Seattle  to Olympia
Stage 2: Olympia to Anacortes
Stage 3: Anacortes to Glacier National Park
Stage 4: Glacier to Minneapolis/St. Paul
Stage 5: Minneapolis to Bar Harbor

Now I should say that the “planning” for this was pretty loose. I basically have reached a point now where I can just pick up and tour and if I use the Adventure Cycling maps I don’t really even need to think much about the route (beyond getting on to their route that is – usually the first few days).  In all honesty I really planned out the first three stages and was rather coy about touring beyond that (see my initial Journey to the East post). The latter two stages, while really always expected, were defined in situ.   To give a good overview of the entire tour I’ll describe each of these stages both as planned and as they turned out in two posts. In this one I’ll cover the initial three stages – which is only about a quarter of the total tour – and in the next the last two.

Stage 1: Seattle to Olympia; 2 days (April 30th — May 1st);  88.5 miles

I’d been living in Seattle since returning from my 2011 tour and the first stage involved all the preparation for the tour. I had a storage place while I lived in Seattle and I spent much of the months I was living there selling stuff out of it. I was in a massive downsizing mode. My goal was to get to having all my stuff fit into a 5′ x 10′ storage unit. I also went car free during this time, for the first time since college. Two days before move out day I put everything into a van and put it into a storage unit in Olympia. I returned the truck in Oly and took the bus back. I was then in my apartment with only my touring gear and some cleaning supplies. I cleaned the apartment, checked out and by noon on April 30th I was bicycling away. My Journey to the East had begun.

I had the full load on my bicycle plus an extra dry bag of stuff (mostly clothes) from leaving the apartment.  I knew I’d get out of Seattle fairly late due to the check out appointment so I had a pretty short days ride planned. I rode to the downtown Seattle Ferry terminals mostly via trails and took the ferry to Bremerton. From there I took back roads to Twanoh State Park where I camped right on the water. The day was a relatively easy 42 miles but it was definitely tough with that heavy load. This is also the earliest in the year I have camped and it was pretty cold that night. The next day was just a bit more miles to Olympia via the reverse of the route I’d done on several occasions (including the year before). A blustery rainy day it was a good test of my new rain gear.

In Olympia I spent the next 3 days getting ready. I decided to get ride of some of the stuff I was carrying based on the last couple of days ride. I bought an initial supply of alcohol for my stove at REI as well as other needed supplies. My maps from Adventure Cycling arrived (I had waited until the last moment to get these to get the updated maps). The whole packing up my apartment and moving had been pretty strenuous so this break was welcome.

Stage 2: Olympia to Anacortes; 10 days (May 5th — May 15th);  429.2 miles (517.7 total)

The next stage of the tour was getting to Anacortes the start of the Northern Tier. Now I had just the year before ridden from Olympia to Anacortes over three days along the inside of the Puget Sound.  However I had several considerations beyond a quick route to the Norther Tier in mind so I decided to do a loop around the Olympic Peninsula. First and foremost all the passes (Rainy/Washington) on the North Cascades Highway had had not yet opened up and it wasn’t looking like they would for at least a week. Secondly while a loop around the Olympic Peninsula is nearly 500 miles it never is that far from cities where I could get any needed repairs, missing supplies and the like. Basically I spent an extra ten days doing extensive shakedown on the gear. With new wheels on the bicycle and a bunch of new camping gear I felt this was a good idea.  The final consideration was that I really wanted to go the most NW corner of the United States. Bar Harbor isn’t quite the most North Easterly corner but it is pretty close. Anacortes, though the town I grew up in which I dearly love, is not even on the Pacific Ocean: tt is on the Puget Sound (which I also love). For me a cross country trip should at the very least go from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

I had ridden counter-clockwise around the Olympic Peninsula a number of years before (tour 2007) this so I knew the basic route. But I picked up Adventure Cycling’s Washington Parks route as it differed from my previous route in that it bypassed hwy 101 around Lake Crescent which I felt was the most dangerous section of that road and looked to be even worse east bound. Plus it connected with the route I’d need to take up to  Cape Flattery (the most North Western corner of the US).  The ACA route had a few deviations from the route I’d taken before which was welcome.  I also worked out my first day of riding out to Lake Sylvia where I connected with the ACA Washington Parks route.

This first part of the tour was interesting; cold, especially at night and the parks mostly empty. I also found a number of the places I intended to camp either not open or permanently closed. The addenda that ACA provides for the route was of course not updated for this year so it was always a crap shoot on whether I’d find a place to camp. My second night at Lake Quinault I found none of the four campsites open and ended up staying at a hotel.  The night after that I was in the large Kalaloch campground which had only a few other people there besides myself. That night a raccoon unzipped my front pannier and stole my food bag. Luckily I was able to have breakfast the next day at the Kalaloch Lodge and resupply that afternoon in Forks. From that point on I either used a little padlock on my pannier or hung up my food. That same night the campsite I was heading for was closed and ended up going off route a bit to stay at a DNR campground (which doesn’t charge anything for cyclists which is pretty nice. No services though).

Campgrounds were either empty or packed with fisherman. As I headed out toward Cape Flattery I stayed at a campground that catered to fisherman and due to the start of halibut season it was just crazy packed. I stayed there two nights as I rode out to the Cape. The fishermen were generally good people and though the fishing didn’t seem so good this season (nobody I talked to caught their limited of one (1) halibut) they were having a good time. The next day the campground I stayed at was empty again. After two days on hwy 112 – which was a new route for me – I arrived in Port Angeles and the route was now very familiar – The Olympic Discovery Trail (third time riding this) then various roads to Fort Townsend State Park (only person in the hiker/biker area) then a rest day in Port Townsend staying at Fort Flagler for the first time (again the only occupant in the H/B area). After the day off I took the ferry to Whidbey Island and rode very familiar roads (I grew up on these islands) to Anacortes and the end of stage 2.

As I said most of this was familiar routes but with enough variety to mix it up.  This is one of the most beautiful areas in the states and I never tire of riding out here. Doing so in the spring and taking some different routes just added to the experience. Everything worked out with the bicycle and gear so by the time I left Anacortes (the biggest town I’d stay in for quite a while) I was in good shape.

Stage 3: Anacortes to Glacier National Park; 19 days (May 15th — June 3rd );  780.7 miles (1298.4 total)

I was now on the official Northern Tier route which begins in Anacortes. I more or less took the same route from Anacortes to Sedro Wooley that I used in 2011. This route is partly my own devising with overlapping segments with various published routes. I also chose to use the Cascade Trail from Sedro Wooley to Rasar State Park as opposed to the ACA route. This is basically because the route while on very nice back roads is on the other side of the Skagit river. To get to Rasar State Park you have to cross at Concrete and backtrack (which I did last year). Now there are other parks but Rasar has a great hiker/biker site, is on the river and I for one prefer City/State/National/DNR campgrounds over private. Plus it made for a better days ride distance ride at this juncture. I was again alone in the H/B site.  The next few days were a repeat of the previous years crossing of Rainey/Washington Pass. The North Cascades National Park campgrounds had yet to have opened up but luckily one of the parks had winter camping which was free, though there was no services.  The hwy had only been open for a week or so at this point and there was huge snow walls as I rode over the passes. There was a lot of people engaged in x-country skiing, snow shoeing and other snow based activities at the top of Washington Pass. Once again I wondered why there was nobody handing me a beer as I summitted. Clearly life does not mirror our advertisements.

 

 

Coming down Washington Pass I found the campground where I stayed the previous year full and once again skipping the published route I rode into Winthrop. My main motivation in this was going to the Old Schoolhouse Brewery though that necessitated staying at a KOA which I’m generally not in favor of. The next day after a couple hours of riding I turned onto the road up Loup Loup Pass concluding the section of this route which overlapped with the previous year and I was from now on always riding new territory. There were three more passes to do which I did in pretty quick succession: Loup Loup followed with a day off in Omak then Wauconda Pass where I camped a few miles shy of the summit and finally Sherman where it snowed on me as a sumitted. The campground I stayed at near the summit of Wauconda I was again the only occupant. In fact they weren’t technically open for the season so the proprietor let me stay there for free. I ended up having dinner at the gas station/general store/restaurant in Wauconda with said proprietor and his son. I signed the book at the restaurant which was filled with previous Northern Tier riders. This was the first place I’d been to where people knew exactly what the route was all about and were quite familiar with tourons from years past. I received many stories from these guys from various years as well as more info about the area.  I also heard about for the first the people that were “ahead” of me – this was a trend that would continue. There was apparently a Scottish fellow who was about a week ahead (and thus crossed Washington Pass the day it opened) and who was determined to be “the first person to complete the Northern Tier in 2012” – he would write such in the books that I’d see as I rode across. There was also a couple that had stayed here a couple of days prior.

After Sherman Pass there is a long descent and you arrive at the Columbia River. I’ve been all over Washington State – first camping as a kid with my parents and such and later on my own and then of course the last decade of bicycle touring but there are still many places I haven’t been. This northeast corner of the state is one of them. Even after the long descent you are still at a pretty high altitude. This would persist all across the “high plains”. The terrain is pretty interesting too – its all scrub and juniper and the like in between the Cascades and Sherman Pass but then you descend to cross the Columbia and enter the Colville National Forest. There is is much more like the Pacific NW with denser undergrowth and evidence of a lot more water. This persists until East Montana. The Colville National Forest is more or less the end of Washington State and at Newport I crossed into Idaho – the second state of the tour.

 

The weather had been pretty rainy, though in the typical spring on and off style for the last week or so. I was rained on less on the Olympic Peninsula in the rain forest than I was during my couple weeks of negotiating mountains. Of course as clouds cross mountains they do tend to lose water so not a huge surprise.  It was cold, especially at night during this period, dropping below freezing the night I camped at Wauconda. This would more or less persist until I was out of the mountains and into East Montana. I took another rest day in Sand Point Idaho where I was able to stock up on locally roasted coffee and drink beers in the local brewpub. The motel I stayed at was the best deal of the tour and was quite nice. It even had a little kitchen which let me continue to make my own breakfasts as is my wont. Soon enough I was back on the road and also quite soon I was in Montana – the panhandle of Idaho could be easily crossed in a typical touring day.

I would be in Montana for a long time – it is the widest state on this route. There were a lot of alternative routes on the ACA maps and I would take them or not as the mood struck. Mainly as long as I could get to services and campgrounds I needed I would take the more out of the way and deserted routes. I was on one of these alt routes, riding on a dirt road as matter of fact, when I unceremoniously crossed into Montana.  The first campground I stayed at in Montana was empty except for the campground host as was the next. These were both on lakes and just fantastic. The campground host at the second of these camps regaled me with stories of wildlife and other bicycle tourons he had encountered.  I had thought I’d seen a wolf with cubs the day before and he did confirm that that was an area he had seen wolves so seems likely. I’d seen a bear cub the day before (the third bear of the tour) so it really was fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities here.

 

 

While most every day on tour is a great day you’ll still have better days than others. For some reason the day I rode into Libby was one of these. I was in this city campground that was just really beat and exposed and wasn’t feeling it too much. So I hung out at the library and then went to a hardware store where I got my windup radio. There being a super market right next to the campground I was able to get get some heavy items I normally wouldn’t want to carry and had a good solid dinner listening to NPR. So was back in good spirits by the next day. It was only a few more days of riding until I reached Glacier and these were some of the wettest days of the tour. Particularly the day I rode into Glacier it had poured rain and I lingered in Whitefish for as long as I could trying to wait it out.  It was still drizzling when I finally set out and would continue to do so – with bursts of real rain – all the way to Glacier. This was also the only period where I couldn’t find any HEET for my alcohol stove but it worked out as I ate most of my meals at the restaurant at Glacier.

It rained most of the time I was at Glacier and thunderstoms  predicted the day I ended up leaving. So while I had intended to stay at least three days there I only stayed two. The inter park shuttle system had started up yet and barring riding all over the park I had no way to see much beyond where I was. So I ended up taking on of the Red Bus tours which drove to several points around the park. It was again a rainy day and while I got to see much a lot was pretty fogged in. The Going to the Sun road had yet to open so I was not going to be able to ride out of the park on the main route. A pity but I know I’ll be back some day.

So that is the initial stages of the tour.  All in all it went pretty smoothly and there hadn’t been anything I could handle. The early days when campgrounds were not certain to be open was the most problematic but it all worked out. There was of course some down days, but surprisingly few. Most importantly by the time I’d reached Glacier I was at thirty-five days of riding and I wasn’t burned out on touring at all.  I knew I could continue on from and make it to the east coast of which I’ll recount in the next post.

Journey to the East: 14 June 2012

Friday, June 15th, 2012

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Hellooooo North Dakota

All day long, today
I have walked in the wind.
 
-Santoka

I thought I was going to be in Montana forever
I entered Montana on the afternoon of May 28th and left it in the afternoon of June 14th. 18 days in the state and nearly a thousand miles of riding. This was one of my long days but I was propelled by perhaps the strongest tailwind to date. At least the gusts were the strongest – they nearly blew my rent down in the morning. Also was on the interstate for the first time in a long time, a recent change to the route brought on by the irresponsible actions from the fracking bubble. The rocky hills continued from Monatana, interspersed with valley lands. The hills became more plateau like as I entered North Dakota like smaller version of Devils Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (which is in Wyoming). Took a great side road through fields and then canyon lands most of the way in ND almost all the way to Medora. This tiny little town is like Winthrop WA – an old west town with a lot of the old buildings preserved. Also like Winthrop most of these shops sell knick-knacks or are ice cream parlors. I rode a couple miles out of town to Sully State Park which also is the trailhead for the nearly 100 mile long Maah Daah Hey mountain biking trail. Good to be in a state park again and I was able to camp among trees away from the wind.

Finally the wind quiets down;
the birds songs are more present

Journey to the East: 13 June 2012

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

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Badlands

The beauty of the sunset
grieves not for old age
 
–Santoka

Makoshika
So the route turned back east today which was a relief as it put the wind behind me. That and it being overcast most of the day made for much more pleasant riding than the day before. The terrain was about the same though – rolling hills trending upwards. Then fissures began to appear and s rocky wall like outcropping was clearly what we were limping toward. A nice bit of variance in the scenery and after climbing those rocks it was flat or downhill all the way to Glendive. It had cleared up by niw and was pretty warm if not as hot as yesterday.I made it to town pretty early so I spent some time at coffee houses, beer halls and grocery stores. Then I rode the couple miles out of town to Makoshika State Park. Now this was some nice camping – out amidst these canyon rocks, almost like being in the southwest. Apparently many fossils had been found there and it had the worn aspect of a park that’d been around for a long time. This was the first time this tour in a Montana State Park, perhaps because they are quite pricey for out of staters. The only downside was there was no water in the campground itself, I had to ride a mile and a half to get some.

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Naturally carved canyon walls

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Magic hour in the park

Journey to the East: 12 June 2012

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

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Endless fields

I can’t do anything;
my life of contradictions
blown by the wind
 
–Santoka

Unlucky 13S or heat, hills and headwinds
Today we bid farewell to the “Hi-Line” and turn south. While the day had dawned sunny, calm and with nary a cloud in the sky, this was not to last. As I left Wolf Point and turned south on Hwy 13 the winds picked up and as has been the trend they were coming out of the south east. So a cross/headwind for most of the ride. And it was hot and humid too. Clouds began to drift in, these solitary cotton ball clouds that I took to refer to as “erratics” after the solitary stones that the glaciers left behind on these high plans after the lat ice age. The only relief from the sun was when one of the erratics would momentarily block it. The road crossed the Missouri River and then climbed out of the river valley. From then on for about forty miles it was rolling hills, with a trend toward gaining a bit of altitude. The combination of all of these factors made it a pretty tough riding day. The scenery was almost all farmland- massive farms with a small industrial area surrounded by vast fields. I have rarely been so happy to arrive somewhere as when I made it to the tiny town of Circle. Alas it was sort of an epic quest to find the one campground, but eventually I did and called it a night.

An erratic cloud
swallows the quarter moon —
late spring wind

Journey to the East: 11 June 2012

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

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Wet land

My heart
is happy
on a spring day
when I see the birds
flocking together, playing.
 
-Ryōkan

Subtle shifts
The high plains are a thing of beauty, but it’s a subtle beauty: slight variances in heights, shades of green, tend and brown, shifting shadows. Today, mostly sunny and with a steady tailwind I quickly moved across these plains. Things began to slowly change today: the grassland was wetter, with standing water and little lakes with irrigation leading to crops other than grass for hay and trees began to appear. Trees! Here’s what I wrote as I first entered the high plains outside of East Glacier:

Plains as far as the eye can see —
no trees only windmills

I didn’t see many more wind farms after that day though. I dig deserts and rolling plains but I can’t deny I miss the trees. The route today shifted off Hwy 2 for a couple dozen miles which was a nice break and put one right among these trees. I’d lingered long in Glasgow and thus even with this easy days riding made it to Wolf Point around five in the afternoon. Shortly after I arrived the wind blessedly died down. I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve been out of the wind.

The croaking frogs,
as I pass flooded grassland,
grows to a roar

Journey to the East: 10 June 2012

Monday, June 11th, 2012

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Twilight in Glasgow

Wind blows dark clouds across the lake —
and birds are singing

A difference of direction
The day began sunny and windy but over the reservoir was a line of black clouds rolling in by the time I’d broken camp it was completely overcast and I was in the strongest wind yet. It was a horrible headwind until I got to the 2 and then it was the most amazing tailwind for probably close to 30 miles. Nice riding through the barren rangeland. But then the road began to snake around, often bending southerly making they tailwind into a vicious crosswind, even a headwind. The last 25 miles of the day were much more of a slog and the rolling hills didn’t help much. Still made it to Glasgow (home of the Scotties) around 3:30 and as I was setting up at an Hotel/RV Park/campground it began to pour rain. I waited it out in the hotel lounge and when it had finally stopped and i returned to the campground I found those two fellow tourons (the boys from Texas) setting up. Third time we’ve ended up at the same campground, sort of how it was on the Pacific Coast.

Only the blowing wind and rustling grass —
suddenly crickets!

Journey to the East: 9 June 2012

Monday, June 11th, 2012

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Sunset over the reservoir

I’m on travel;
Until my monk’s robe dries up,
Wind comes from the weeds.
 
-Santoka

Blowin’ in the wind
Things continue apace – a strong tailwind continues and the high plains roll on. Really not much between Harlem and the town of Malta. Rolling hills, wind behind, though sometimes more of a crosswind as the road bends, trains go by on the every present tracks. With the wind and nowhere to stop I made it to Malta by 2pm. There was a car show going on there with closed streets around the city park. After a short stint in a coffee shop I decided I wasn’t feeling Malta and pressed on. About 20 miles up the road was the Nelson Reservoir Recreation Area and I decided that would be tonight’s destination.. I was longing to get back to camping more in the outdoors than the RV Parks and city parks I’ve been staying at of late.. I was with the wind all the way and I felt renewed after my short stint in Malta. Ended up being the longest ride so far for this tour but I was happy to be on the edge of the Reservoir watching the birds (including pelicans!) and the setting sun.

Blowing wind,
rustling grass —
suddenly crickets!

Journey to the East: 8 June 2012

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

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Storm in the distance

Those clouds threw a rain shower;
I’m wet through.

-Santoka

Riding in the storm
Leaving Havre the wind had completed it rotation around and was now a vicious headwind. The road climbed a bit out of town and then settled down as it began to follow the Milk River. Behind me was this obvious thunderhead and I was racing to escape it. Well it caught up with me and for the second time this tour I was riding in thunder and lightning. Then the rain. It got harder; became hail. I could see sunlight ahead but I was just not outpacing the storm. Finally the rain slackened, then stopped. At this point I was near the town of Chinook so I stopped there for lunch and to dry out. The rain began again just as I parked my bicycle and went into a bakery. After lunch, as I was going to leave the power went out. The ride from this point on was completely the opposite – the sun was out, it became hot and there was now a tailwind. I could see the storm receding to the northeast. I ended up staying in the tiny town of Harlem at the city park.

Oh I almost forgot a couple days ago I uploaded a bunch more pics, including the 5 pass series in Washington: Tour 2012 photos set.

Head back, gazing into pure blue sky —
a glimpse of emptiness.

Journey to the East: 7 June 2012

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

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The Road

For a hollow mind two eyes are open
 
-Hōsai Ozaki

Burnt by the road
The day dawned cloudless with pure blue sky and warming fast. The tailwind I had enjoyed the day before was still going strong but shifted to become more of a crosswind. Not as enjoyable. The scenery was the same for the most part though there was a series of long rolling hills at one point. There were these tiny towns that seemed to have sprung up around the grain silos every so many miles along the railroad. Fields of grain and tiny farms as far as the eye can see. At one point the road was as straight as a plumb line for twenty some miles. Reaching the town of Havre late afternoon I has time to do laundry before heading up to the Great Northern Fair campground for the night.

The road itself
has been burnt into my mind –
I still see it with closed eyes.

Journey to the East: 6 June 2012

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

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The high plains

A floating weed with a tiny flower blooming in the wind

-Hōsai Ozaki

High plains drifting
So toward sunset a massive thunderstorm began. Crazy strong wind, regular lightening and then rain; becoming torrential rain. I hung out in the RV Park rec room listening to the wind howl and the thunder, until finally retiring around midnight as the storm still raged. The thunder finally stopped about a half hour later and not long after that the rains slackened then stopped. When I awoke the wind was still present, if anything it was stronger. But this was a tailwind and I have to say the riding this day was excellent. Sun with scattered clouds and this tailwind all day. With services few and far between on these vast rolling plains it’s good to be able to eat up distance. When I stopped for lunch I ran into C_ and  J_ , a pair of fellow tourons who were heading toward North Carolina. The first tourons I’ve run into heading east so far. They ended up camping at the city park in Chester as well arriving a an hour or so after I did. We went out for beers and talked touring into the night. Nice to run into some fellow travelers.

Blown along this thread
across the continent
like a seed in the wind.

Hovering clouds casting shadows
over the endless plains —
where can mind be found?