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A Little Summer Ride

 

In November of 2002, our daughter made us an offer we couldn't refuse: "Dad, Mom - do you want to ride our bikes coast to coast this summer?"

Did we?? It had been our dream for years and years! But could we? At our age (upper 50s), were we strong enough to cycle nearly 4000 miles? Could we get the time off work? Could we afford the trip? Would we still be speaking to each other at the end?

Astonishingly, everything seemed to be in our favor. I was able to pass up my usual summer teaching, and Peg got a leave of absence from her job. Heather (age 24, who had recently graduated college) had not yet found a permanent job, so taking the summer off was easy for her. There seemed to be enough money in the bank, even without the usual summer salaries. And, thanks to years of regular riding, we were skilled cyclists. We weren't as strong as we liked - but we planned to simply start off slowly, getting into shape as we toured. And yes, we've always loved vacationing together.

So Peg, Heather and I left the Atlantic Ocean on May 17, heading west. We carried all necessary gear (and some unnecessary gear!) on our bikes, and that included camping gear and "emergency" cooking gear. No sag wagon, no vehicle support - just three people on bikes, seeing America one pedal stroke at a time. 79 days later, we dipped our front wheels in the Pacific.

This article is based on e-mails I sent to family and friends every week or so, sent from libraries along the way. Here's the story of our trip.


 May 21, 2003: "From the Atlantic..."

Hello, all. Frank Krygowski here. I thought I'd let you know how our coast-to-coast bike trip is coming.

I'm writing from Brunswick, Maryland, using the internet in Brunswick's public library. This is our fourth day of riding. My sister Nancy graciously shuttled us to the Delaware coast, where we'd planned to camp at Cape Henlopen State Park, then dip our rear wheels in the Atlantic and start west.

Unfortunately, the weather at Cape Henlopen was fierce: 20 mph winds and cold rain. It was no night for camping, so we wimped out - or wimped in, to a motel. The next morning, we biked the few miles into the winds to dip our back wheels in the ocean and start riding west. The ritual was spoiled a bit when the winds blew a big Atlantic wave nearly up to our ankles! But we got our photographs taken, said goodbye to Nancy and started pedaling northwest with soggy shoes on a cold day.

At least we had tailwinds. We rode about 20 noisy miles along busy US Route 1, then about 30 quiet, pretty miles through the villages and country of Delaware. Very, very flat and very rural! Our goal was Greensboro, Maryland, home of Peg's college roommate from long ago.

Peg's friend Mert and her husband Tom put us up very graciously in their pretty house overlooking the river that flows through town. We enjoyed eating out with them in a little local restaurant, and especially enjoyed a visit to the local arts/crafts store (and yoga center, book club host, folk-music jam center, art class venue, etc., etc.) run by their friends Doug and Barb. There we traded a few tunes with a local musician, and in conversation, mentioned our dilemma about crossing the Chesapeake - that the bridge was closed to cyclists, and that the taxi service seemed sketchy at best. "No problem!" said Doug. He's a cyclist, and he was more than willing to haul us over in his pickup. Mert promised to help with her car, too. Wonderful!

The next day was also cool and rainy, but at least we still had tailwinds. How nice to have winds out of the east! Following directions by Barb, we rode pretty country roads to the bridge, then enjoyed our special chauffeuring across, and continued to Annapolis, Maryland.

Downtown Annapolis is very beautiful, very historic, and has an interesting harbor and lots of cute tourist shops. But the graduation of the Navy cadets had most of the motels filled! We ended up in a hotel that was a little more upscale than we're used to - but very convenient to a nice Irish pub and the window-shopping downtown. All in all, it was pleasant evening.

The following day we rode from Annapolis to Washington D.C., starting on pretty country highways and ending in suburban hell, full of rough roads and traffic. But once inside the D.C. limits, the architecture was very charming and the streets had much less traffic. We spent several hours biking to various monuments (we especially loved the FDR Memorial), then biked across the Potomac River to Arlington, Virginia. There we spent the night at the home of friends I'd made through bicycle discussions on the internet. These people regularly welcome bicyclists into their home, and seem to know everybody who's anybody in the world of bicycling!

Next morning, we had a fun breakfast with one of our best friends, Dwight, who's just moved to the D. C. area. Then we headed northwest on the historic C&O Canal Towpath Trail. This path along the Potomac was to be our quiet, level way of bypassing the Appalachians all the way to Cumberland, Maryland. And at least near D. C., the path was very pretty and very rideable.

Unfortunately, due to the incredible amount of rain in the area has had, much of the path soon became almost impassible. Toward the end of the day, we were forced to stop every mile or less to scrape mud out of our fenders. We did about 35 miles on the path and camped there last night, but this morning we abandoned it for the regrettably hilly roads of Virginia.

Today's ride was rain and steep hills all the way - and they're predicting more for the next several days! Hope we can ride out of it!

But we're still smiling and still speaking to each other. And we're getting stronger every day. It's been a lot of fun so far, even if it's been wetter than we like.

Well, that's the news so far. I'll write only when we hit a library, which will be pretty seldom. Wish us luck!

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June 2, 2003: "Krygowskis' USA trip, Maryland to Ohio"

As promised (or as threatened) I'm sending e-mail about our bicycle trip when possible - that is, when internet access is available and time permits.

We're now in day #17, writing from Norwalk, Ohio, in the Firelands region of the Connecticut Western Reserve. When I last wrote, we were still in Eastern Maryland, recovering from a rainy and hilly ride.

Maryland has a western portion which is barely connected to its east, with the connection squeezed between the Potomac River and the Pennsylvania border. We weren't sure about how we'd get through the squeeze, since the road maps show only an interstate highway at that point. But a bike touring expert had told me about a bike trail in the area, and locals gave us some tips on how to get to it. Not all the tips were strictly legal, mind you! It's funny what sort of advice you sometimes get from grandfatherly seventy-year-olds. And I won't go into detail... but suffice to say, we didn't get caught, and we got into western Maryland! And it was a very nice bike trail, too.

One highlight was visiting Little Orleans, Maryland and Bill's Beer, Boats, Bait & Bikes. Everybody knows Bill. In fact, we were not far from Washington D.C., hundreds of miles away, when a bike shop owner told us we had to stop in at Bill's.

Bill is a friendly old guy who chomps a cigar, serves good soup and good beer, and gets a visit from everyone who passes through - partly because there's no reason to pass through except to visit Bill's! Bill's is the only place to stop for miles and miles.

That day, we had been on and off the C&O Towpath. We rode the towpath until we were tired of the mud and roughness, then we switched to the roads until the leg-crushing grades chased us back onto the towpath. The Appalachians are truly tough opponents! Following Bill's advice, we forsook the roads and followed the towpath through the Paw Paw Tunnel. We'd hoped to stay in a hostel in Paw Paw, WV, but it was filled with other towpath travelers, so we spent the night in a very nice bed and breakfast.

Next day, we finished the towpath into Cumberland, Maryland. Overall, the towpath was too rough and muddy for Peg and Heather, but I was somewhat sad to leave it. It was very peaceful, very historic, and very flat! Appalachian hills are tough with a fully loaded touring bike!

But there were no vacancies in the motels in Cumberland. The previous day there was an 85 car pileup on the freeway. This, added to the local college graduation, had the few in-town motels full. We were advised to ride on up to the town of La Vale - and up was right! It was only a few miles, but all of it a long upgrade - and when we reached a motel we were told they were all full, too! Peg and Heather looked pretty dejected. What to do?

An outgoing, athletic-looking retired guy apologized to dejected Peg, saying he'd just gotten the last room. "It's crazy - I didn't even want it, it's huge two-room suite, just for me! I don't need all that space!" Peg said "Want to rent out a room?" And before long, we were splitting the cost and setting up in one of the rooms! His room had the queen-sized bed, full bath and Jacuzzi. We got the bigger TV, microwave, sink, sofa bed and half bath

The gentleman is a physician, an ex-marathoner, ex-medical professor, ex-magazine writer, and is currently researching for a series of novels on the French and Indian War. What an interesting guy! What a fun time! And he's promised us a free copy when his book comes out.

Next day - Savage Mountain, the steep 2900' barrier between the C&O Towpath and the Allegheny Highlands rail-trail into Pittsburgh. Well folks, it wasn't easy, and at least one of us walked a bit of it, but we conquered the thing. We got hearty congratulations from several people at the top, and we got rewarded by one of the prettiest rides of the trip, a long downhill coast through beautiful small farms and wooded hills, into Meyersdale, Pennsylvania, which is the start of the Allegheny Highlands Trail.

The AHT is less historic, but much smoother, nicer riding than the C&O. We sailed along into Pittsburgh in 2 1/2 days, stopping once to camp trailside and once in a cheap motel - regrettably, several miles uphill away from the trail. The AHT becomes the Yough River Trail at some point, and the section from Confluence to Ohiopyle and west is absolutely beautiful, through fern-filled woods, rocky cliffs and waterfalls. Well worth taking a trip to ride it, I'd say.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, was less beautiful. We dealt with grinding hills and an incomprehensible maze of traffic-congested streets to get to sister Nancy's place in Squirrel Hill. But the visit was so nice! I'd have loved to spend an extra day there, but Nancy had to work, and our home in Ohio beckoned - so next morning, more grinding hills and city streets, eventually climbing perhaps 15 miles of Route 8 (with its four lanes, trucks, and constant uphill) to get into the countryside. We rode through Mars, Evansville and into the planned stopping point, a motel in Zelienople...

...which had closed down. We were forced to push on, and finished the day at a very nice campground, which was unfortunately at the top of yet another killer hill! But we slept well, and for the first time, our tents did not attract rain! In fact, we came close to having a rain-free 24 hours for only the second time so far.

Close, but, as they say, no cigar. Because the next day, after biking through Ellwood City and New Castle, we got poured on within 20 miles of home!

We took two "rest" days at home, during which I didn't rest, but solved some minor bike problems that had cropped up - changing tire sizes, re-adjusting fenders, cleaning the mud out of derailleur pulleys, etc. It was only because of home-made cookies (donated by Shawna and Brenda) that I was able to get it all done!

Sunday, we continued west, riding right out busy Route 224, escorted by our good friends Jean, Cindy and John. This bike trip is fun, but it would be even more fun if we could have friends like these along! And if the sun would shine like it did that day. And if the winds wouldn't blast against us, like they did that day. Yes, it was our first day of significant headwinds. We rode to the west side of Akron and another motel, but we were pretty beat by the time we got there!

Today's been beautiful. We've ridden mostly flat territory in northwest Ohio, passing through lovely little towns with ornate old houses and buildings, then riding quiet farmland roads. Did I mention it was mostly flat? And the wind is a mere breeze (although I'd prefer it to come from behind).

So, we're still having a great time after about 700 miles. We finish each day thoroughly tired - but that's how you get in shape, right? (Please say that's right!) And now it's time to re-fuel. Looks like a really nice selection of locally owned restaurants here in Norwalk.

Tomorrow - on to Bowling Green, Ohio. Wish us luck!

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June 10, 2003: "Krygowskis'  Ohio to Illinois"

OK, this one's going to be a bit sketchy, since my notes and maps are back at the motel. I'm relying only on my memory, and everyone automatically loses ten IQ points on vacation, right?

So, we left to ride to Bowling Green. One major challenge of this trip is figuring where we'll stay each night. We never know exactly what the riding will be like, or just how many miles we'll be able to do, so we search the map for alternatives each day. (We're shooting for about 60 miles per day.)

This day, we planned to mooch a stay from our friend Kathi in Bowling Green - but it turned out she was on vacation overseas! So, after riding with tailwinds (yay!) along isolated northwest Ohio country roads, rain was again on the way, and we had to settle for an uninspiring motel out by the freeway. (We're now following Adventure Cycling's "Northern Tier" route maps.)

Next day started with brief rain, then settled into just headwinds. Headwinds hurt. They turn the ride from a cruise into work. Still, the roads were pleasant, and we had fun stopping at a funky bike business, which sells antique balloon-tired bikes and their components via mail order. Want the proper headlight for the 1951 Rollmaster bike you owned as a kid? They've got it!

Our stop that evening was Defiance, Ohio, where we rested at a coffee shop. When we asked for directions to a motel, the owner sent us instead to a beautiful and inexpensive Bed and Breakfast owned by a friend. It was wonderful to relax in a homey atmosphere.

Then on to Indiana. We had more breezes from the west, but no rain. Still, we had to get wet once each day, so someone arranged some water sprinklers for us to ride through!

That evening, we stayed at our first "Warm Showers" house, in Fort Wayne, Indiana (which means we conquered another state!). We have signed onto the internet's "Warm Showers List," thereby volunteering to host touring cyclists that pass through our area. In return, we get to ask the same of other list members.

Our hosts, Chuck and Linda, actually left the house open for us until they got home from work! They're dedicated bike people, of course, and just as dedicated to their quirky little dog Tina. We enjoyed being chauffeured to a bike shop for Heather to buy new riding shorts, and enjoyed trading bicycling stories. Next morning, they gave us a wonderful breakfast and saw us off.

Getting out of Fort Wayne was a navigating challenge, but it was a nice riding day. Still, we had the problem that Adventure Cycling uses very remote roads. In fact, their maps seem to avoid cities almost entirely. I saw they were going to take us about ten miles out of the way to avoid the restaurants of Huntington, Indiana - but we were hungry! So we fueled up and saved mileage by riding a beautiful river road, off the official route, into Huntington. It was so pleasant we stayed along the river after lunch, all the way into Wabash, Indiana for the evening. It was a 75 mile day, our longest so far, and we felt great despite the unpredicted rain that fell.

Speaking of fell, Heather decided to demonstrate how not to cross wet railroad tracks, immediately after Dad's instructions. Nothing was hurt but her ego. But we ended up at the hospital anyway, because a local resident told us its cafeteria was the best dinner deal in town! Even if the staff raised their eyebrows at our riding clothes, it was well worth it.

Next day was scheduled to be even longer. There were no good lodging possibilities for about 80 miles, until Renssalaer, Indiana. And unfortunately, I was feeling slow and draggy from breakfast onward. But we cranked on into the breezes, with Peg and Heather drafting me, until we got to town. We were excited because the map showed a hostel, which means cheap indoor accommodation for self-propelled travelers. In our (mostly overseas) experience, hostels are good values and lots of fun.

But this one, it turned out, was actually a college dorm, available only on occasion - and this wasn't the occasion. It was a little college, very empty on the weekend, and we tried to get someone to take pity on us, but had no success. We ended up having to ride to the motels outside of town. We finished the 94 mile ride in late dusk with our headlights running. All in all, it was a tough day.

Sunday, we figured we needed an easy day. But no! This is when the breezes turned into fierce headwinds. We watched the trees bending and the grasses rolling in the wind as we plowed onward - and it actually felt like we were pulling plows! 9 MPH was about all we could manage, for mile after mile, despite frequent rests.

But once we finally dragged into Kankakee, Illinois (another state!) we were well taken care of. The "Warm Showers" guy was Rich, who with friend Paul had ridden from Illinois to Los Angeles last summer. They were wonderful company, very witty and interesting. It was a great visit.

Yesterday, yet more headwinds. Funny, I had so many people tell me "don't worry about going east to west, the winds aren't any different." Hmmm. The winds weren't blowing the boulders across the road like the previous day, but they were tough nonetheless. We plowed into Streator, Illinois and checked into a motel for a rest day today, since there are severe thunderstorms and severe headwinds predicted.

But just as we checked into the motel, we were accosted by Greg, driving his company truck. His hobby, apparently, is snagging touring cyclists and forcing them to come to dinner at his family's house! Greg's wife Arlette and their two teenage kids take this in stride, and we got terrific food and wonderful conversation until late at night. How about a house with an antique tandem in a special display in the kitchen? The family rides two tandems very, very enthusiastically, and have gone to tandem rallies all around the midwest. Wonderful stories - very cool people!

So, we're holding up really well (except Heather has a heat rash or something similar), but we'll enjoy this day off the bikes.

And tomorrow? The weather channel is predicting strong tailwinds. Hurray!

=====================================================

June 18, 2003: "Krygowskis' Coast-to-coast, #4"

Hi there. I'm writing from Mapleton, Iowa, less than a day's ride from the Missouri River. We crossed the Mississippi several days ago (what a milestone!) and can't wait to make it to the Missouri and leave Iowa.

I shouldn't sound too harsh. Iowa certainly has its good points. Cyclists all know this state as the home of RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa), a 15,000-strong rolling party that crosses the state each year. RAGBRAI brings much money into the tiny hamlets it visits (the route changes each year) and perhaps because of that, we've found Iowans and Iowa drivers to be absolutely the friendliest, most patient, most supportive people we've met. In fact, in the last two days, we've had two people offer to loan us their cars for side trips!

Furthermore, the Iowa countryside is very pretty - very rural, and very sparsely populated by our standards. Plus, Iowa has served up nice tailwinds almost every day! The wind makes a big difference when bicycling, especially with full packs.

But, on the other hand: Iowa still hasn't figured out road paving. Almost all the side roads in the state's countryside are loose, dusty gravel, and thus unrideable, so we've been using bigger highways much more than usual. And even the bigger highways are much rougher than average - a pain (literally) when riding 100 psi tires. Furthermore, when Iowa says "this road needs shoulders," it throws down a few feet of loose, unrideable gravel. Good thing the drivers are so considerate! Finally, we've found some bike paths that went in our direction (they're nice, because they tend to be shaded from the hot sun), but they too seem to have rough surfaces.

So we'll be happy to try a different state for a while. Meanwhile, we've fallen into a pretty consistent pattern. We almost always wake up in a motel, get a slightly too-greasy breakfast in a little "mom & pop" restaurant in a tiny town, where we try to decide our day's objective, based on available accommodations. We shoot for about 60 miles per day. We bike from hamlet to hamlet and stop at every one for a cold pop or other drink (yes, Jean, V-8 juice helps!), we stop and ask directions frequently, and we get in about 5 P.M., having had a slightly too-greasy lunch along the way. We're pretty much fueled by french fries, I'd say!

We've camped much less than we thought we would. And most of the motels are, sadly, out in suburban plaza-land. Seems there are no downtown motels or hotels left in America! As an example: on our last day in Illinois, the Adventure Cycling map showed no accommodations for 75 miles; so we pushed on, helped by peanut butter hamburgers ("We sell the only burger in America that sticks to the roof of your mouth!") and triumphantly crossed the Mississippi into Muscatine, Iowa.

Our plan was to stay in Hotel Muscatine, since it fit my daydreams perfectly: a beautiful old building right downtown, walking distance from the library, across the street from a river-front park, nice restaurant right inside... but it recently went out of the hotel business! We had to ride on out to plaza-land. <Sigh.>

But yesterday was different. Unfortunately, it was largely because Peg was feeling bad. She'd been complaining about allergy symptoms, and things had now moved down into her chest. She was very hoarse and congested, and feeling very weak riding, especially on hills. We were worried.

So we stopped in a clinic in Coon Rapids, Iowa, where the doctor assured her it was just allergies. The doctor (and several other people) told us that Iowa is the worst state in the union for allergies, and this year is worse than usual.

Anyway, we had to get the prescriptions filled - but the Coon River Pharmacy has no connection to our health network. We could pay well over $100 for the prescriptions, or we could bike to the nearest Wal-Mart, over 20 miles away, and have them paid for by our insurance.

Peg elected to bike on. Blessedly, the winds were out of the southwest as we rode north toward Carroll, Iowa. We rode gently, taking it easy on Peg. At the little town of Glidden, we got a cold soft drink before turning west into the wind - only to find that the wind had shifted, and was again behind us, out of the east! So we cruised into Carroll, got the medicine, and found a really neat old motel right downtown. It was a converted private residence, really charming, and it was within walking distance of the library!

Another "different" day was when we learned that our planned campground didn't exist. A person on the Warm Showers List had given us directions to a campground in some tiny Iowa town, and gave us the phone number for reservations. We biked to within about 20 miles, then phoned ahead from another tiny town called Kalona - and found we'd been given a Michigan phone number! There was no such campground in Iowa! We spent much time at the local Chamber of Commerce looking for alternatives. Our only choice was to camp at Kalona's city park. But the park had a swimming pool with showers. An all-you-can-eat catfish buffet and a nighttime slow-pitch softball game made it all just fine.

(By the way, while we were inside the Chamber of Commerce, a thunderstorm struck, missing us. The storm looked very frustrated as it moved on!)

As I've said, Iowans have been interested in our biking. It was neat to be eating breakfast in a little main street cafe, populated with lots of older guys wearing baggy old jeans, suspenders, flannel shirts and John Deere caps - then have two different ones come over to our table and talk about their days as avid cyclists! (One rode a Raleigh International, the bike I used to lust after, but couldn't afford!)

One of our rare sightseeing excursions was to visit the Living History Village on the outskirts of Des Moines. We all love these re-created villages, where you can talk to the "residents" and try your hand at some of their tools and chores. It was a pleasant stop.

Today's ride was just plain rough. We agonized over two different routes, one of which looked flat but busy, the other looking quiet but with unknown terrain. We settled on quiet - and got the worst day of hills we've had yet. In fact, the proprietor of today's motel says we've ridden the worst hills he knows in Iowa. Not as bad as some you'd find in Western Pennsylvania, mind you, but still: fly down at 25 mph for fifteen seconds, then shift into the lowest "granny" gear and grind uphill at 5 mph for five minutes. Repeat all day long.

We were dripping sweat in the hot sun, so naturally I prayed for cloud cover, and naturally, clouds arrived in the form of a massive thunderstorm, cracking thunder every ten seconds! Fortunately it was just north of us, and we were given a few miles of flatter roads, which we used to outrun the storm. We got only a few drops of rain.

But at this point, we're pretty darned beat. We've been promised flatter roads tomorrow, and tomorrow we'll begin using Adventure Cycling's "Lewis & Clark" route maps. At least, if the hills are bad, I can blame someone else!

That's more than enough for now. Hope everyone is having a restful, relaxing summer!

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June 23, 2003: "Krygowskis' Iowa to Dakotas, #5"

Greetings from Huron, South Dakota. Yes, we made it out of Iowa, so we've conquered yet another state.

When I last wrote, we had been beaten into the ground by the hills of western Iowa, but we had more hills to go - specifically, the "Loess Hills." This is a band of hills about 200 miles north-to-south, but only ten to thirty miles east-to-west, which lie just east of the Missouri River. They're pretty unique geologically, and they're noted for being very pretty - but are the people doing the "noting" on bikes? How tough would they be?

We got conflicting predictions. Our Harley-riding motel owner said they were nowhere near as tough as what we'd just ridden. The local librarian, however, said they were at least as bad!

Turns out the Loess Hills were both easy and beautiful. They are sharply rolling, lush green, well wooded, and very warm and homey looking, like parts of West Virginia. But unlike West Virginia, the road climbed very gradually then rolled along level for quite a way. After two moderate climbs we were rewarded with one of the best downhills of our trip. We were through the Loess Hills so quickly, I hardly got any pictures!

The rest of the day's riding was fast and level, with yet another tailwind pushing us briskly along. The winds are definitely working out in our favor! At a brief lunch stop, we talked with yet another ex bike tourist, this time a guy who'd led overseas tours in Europe. He and his wife now did traditional Scandinavian dancing, traveling around to folk festivals to perform. We talked about bicycling and traditional music for well over an hour. Interesting people!

In Sioux City, we saw the monument at the grave of Sgt. Floyd, the only member of the Lewis & Clark expedition to perish (of appendicitis). From the monument, we had our first view of the Missouri River - another landmark. From this point, we'd be following - more or less - the Lewis & Clark bike route developed by Adventure Cycling. We actually abandoned the route very soon, to view a Lewis &Clark Welcome Center and Museum in Sioux City, where we stayed in a nice downtown motel.

Then we had another day of tremendous (25 mph) tailwinds / crosswinds, good for an 80 mile day ending at a campsite.

Again, people are so nice! Picture this: We go into a smoky bar in the middle of nowhere to get a much-needed soft drink. Guys with dirty jeans, tattoos and beards are sitting around drinking beer, cussing and talking about putting bigger engines in their pickups. And within ten minutes, they're all saying our trip is "awesome" and congratulating us on how tough we are! Or, picture the lean white haired guy who rushed out of his car to flag us down just before the campground. He'd done a thousand-mile tour 20 years ago, and gave us his phone number in case the campground was full, to stay at his house. Heck, as of yesterday, there were three separate people who have offered to loan us their cars for side trips!

Saturday, we left camp and headed due west on the Adventure Cycling route. But the winds were the strongest yet, gusting up to 30 mph out of the south-southeast. It was a battle just to ride straight! At least, the eastern component pushed us along nicely, and the highway was flat and smooth - but then the route maps showed us turning south, into the wind!

I had no South Dakota map, so we flagged down a guy in a pickup. He advised us not to turn south. The road we were on was a smoother, flatter and shorter route to our planned stopping point for the day, just slightly less scenic. So we abandoned the route map for a while, and soon came to Tabor, South Dakota.

Tabor's a town of about 400, which hosts an annual Czech Festival that draws up to 10,000 people, and we hit it in progress! We stayed only a couple hours, watching the kiddies parade by in traditional Czech costumes, touring historic buildings, listening to Czech polkas and eating traditional food. Then, having been given a South Dakota map, we got back on the highway...

... and found the wind had shifted. Now it was a direct crosswind, and no help at all. We battled along due west at about 11 mph until I called a conference. I showed the map to Peg and Heather (and the very friendly farm dog who joined us at that point), explaining that we'd be heading north in two days; why not do it now, while the wind was trying to push us that way?

Everybody agreed (even the dog) and we flew north at over 20 mph - yes, even the dog, who followed us for several miles! The road was as smooth as a billiard table, traffic was light, and we were on schedule for early arrival in Mitchell, South Dakota (home of the Corn Palace), knocking off a fast, fast 85 miles! It was awesomely fast riding. It was perfect.

There was very little traffic on the wide two lane. Because the shoulder was slightly rougher than the road, we were (as usual) riding on the main pavement, careful to avoid the intermittent rumble strips which wake drifting drivers. But then, ten miles from our goal, we had five cars heading south and a tractor-trailer heading north. I led the way between the rumbles onto the shoulder. The truck roared past... and Heather's front tire went BANG. She'd hit the only rock for miles, and a sharp one it was.

This was bad. Her front tire is a non-standard size. (Her Terry bicycle uses this design to accommodate shorter riders more comfortably.) Of our six tires, the hole was in the only one we couldn't easily replace. And the hole was extreme, a cut about 5/8" long.

It took at least 45 minutes to triple-boot the tire, patching with a tire patch, duct tape and a piece of cardboard, and it still looked like a scary lump. We stopped at a church down the road and started calling about replacements, since it was now close to 5 P.M. on Saturday, and we were nowhere. I even called our good friend Al back home, but he wasn't successful at reaching a bike shop with the tire.

We limped into Mitchell and I re-did my tire boot, adding hand-stitching of the tire itself, and we continued trying, unsuccessfully, to reach a tire supplier.

Next day, the winds were still strong out of the south and everything was still closed. What to do? We kept riding north - this time, almost as fast, but much wetter. We got caught in a prairie thunderstorm, complete with its own tornado watch.

And now we're in Huron, South Dakota, taking a well-deserved rest day. More storms are predicted, and since Terry Precision Bicycles was open this morning, they're next-day-air shipping a tire to a bike shop in Pierre. Two days riding should get us to our tire.

Wish us luck!

=====================================================

June 30, 2003: "The Krygowskis in the Dakotas"

Greetings from Bismarck, North Dakota! As you can see, we're knocking off the states pretty regularly. That's pretty satisfying.

Also satisfying is the fact that we're pretty much on schedule. In fact, a few days ago I took our detailed route maps for the remainder of the trip and marked where we would be each day if we maintain our average. Looks like we're nicely on schedule. Of course, there are those Rocky Mountains in the way, and then there are the famous headwinds of the Columbia River Gorge...

But we've just come off a day of pleasant riding and nice tailwinds, so we're full of confidence. And we've had mostly good riding since the last post, too. In fact, the ride after our rest day was a real gift, a great day.

Again, unless you ride long distances, it's hard to realize how much difference the wind direction makes. And the prediction was for strong crosswinds, plus severe thunderstorms, damaging hail... really nasty. Instead, we got prediction-defying tailwinds! We sailed along yet again, riding quickly on level roads, and saw no rain but a tiny sprinkle.

Of course, the roads in the Dakotas are anything but crowded. Towns are tiny and far apart, so we must plan our stops fairly carefully. We wanted to get further than the town of Miller, so from there we tried calling the motel we'd heard about in Highmore, 20 miles down the road. No answer. But the guy standing next to us overheard, and said, "Oh, she'll have vacancies, I'm sure. And if she doesn't, we'll put you up. Here's my card."

He knew about the motel because he lived in Highmore - along with only 198 other people! But he didn't know her motel was filled with construction workers. No matter - when we arrived, she called him, and he came right over and led us to his house. Our lodging was a spare camping trailer the family had bought for just this purpose, in case surprise guests showed up!

As we were unloading, his very friendly daughters were chatting away with Heather, and Jordan, his strapping 18-year-old son was helping us out. Somebody mentioned music, and Jordan said "I like Irish jigs and reels. I play the tin whistle." (... along with about five other instruments!) Well, talk about music to my ears! That's the music I most enjoy playing. Even more amazing, he had recently been given a fiddle. I hadn't had my hands on a fiddle since leaving home!

Within minutes, he and Heather and I were playing tunes together in the trailer. I also took some time to set up his fiddle for him, and to teach him a few basics about playing it. The only sad thing was, they had family visiting from Texas, so our time together was somewhat restricted.

We slept in the travel trailer, and would have been very comfortable, but that was the night that over 50 tornadoes hit South Dakota. Luckily, Highmore suffered only trailer-rocking thunderstorms. Miller narrowly missed getting hit - its tornado sirens had everybody in basements! And tiny Manchester, about 40 miles away, was leveled. You may have seen that on the news.

Next day's ride into Pierre, South Dakota was against very tough headwinds, but we made it and got the replacement tires we needed: one for Heather's cut, one for a bubble that had appeared in mine. We also met Phil and Jill, a really nice couple in their 60s (I guess) who were also biking the Lewis & Clark route. They'd done lots of long-distance tours, including two rides across Australia! We shared breakfast the next day, which we took as a semi-rest day. We rode only 20 miles, after visiting Pierre's very nice Cultural History museum, with excellent displays of Indian and settler history.

We also searched unsuccessfully for a bookstore in Pierre. To help you visualize South Dakota: the capitol city's only "bookstore" is about four racks of books in the music store in the mall! Not exactly a literary hotbed! And while the emptiness of the landscape is pleasing to Peg, to me it's just... empty. It's hard for me to see how people live in a place so isolated!

We spent that night in a huge and beautiful state park campsite, nicely isolated, with a wonderful view of the Dakota hills and a peaceful lake. We shared hours of conversation and several glasses of wine with some other cyclists who were traveling in a luxury motor home. But unfortunately, we had to ask a state policeman to evict some people who had noisily invaded the upper part of our campsite. Fortunately, the incident was only mildly unpleasant.

The next two days riding were pretty tough. A detour forced us onto dirt and gravel roads for 20 miles, and headwinds made the riding hard work. Although Peg really didn't like this, I found it interesting. This was definitely the most remote place I've ever cycled! If a person looked around, he couldn't even guess where the next human being might be.

One human being stopped us when she drove by in a pickup. Turned out her family was herding about 20 cows down the road, and they were very spooked by cyclists! At her request, we hid way off in the field, behind a hay roll, until the cows and the horsemen went by! (It turned out the cows originally escaped when Phil and Jill rode by on their bikes. The cows got so upset they stampeded through barbed wire!)

After stopping in another bleak little Dakota town (at a non-luxurious "Bed and Breakfast" with no breakfast!) we spent today riding the enjoyable tailwinds into Bismarck, North Dakota. We're lucky enough to have an inexpensive motel right downtown, five blocks from the library, three blocks from a combination bike shop and coffee house. We may just stay here an extra day!

So that's the news so far. Keep praying for tailwinds!

=====================================================

July 11, 2003: "Biking News from Montana"

Hello from Montana! We're taking a rest day in Billings, and I'm going to try to get through the Billings' library's restrictive policies to send an e-mail.

We really enjoyed our last rest day in Bismarck. It seemed a very friendly town - but it was hot! The heat, and some confusing bike paths, kept us from visiting Abraham Lincoln State Park with its reconstructed Mandan Indian lodge and other attractions.

Interestingly, North Dakota is one of the few states with a "Mandatory Sidepath Law." This means, if they give you a bike path, you're compelled to use it. This caused us some confusion, and got us lost once, but at least we got no tickets.

In practice, a North Dakota bike path can parallel a road, then zoom off in another direction entirely. It may have a fence between the road and the path, so when it zooms off, you have to lift your bike over the fence. It may have no sign telling you a fenced-off bike path is beginning. It may suddenly run the bike path against traffic on a sidewalk (terribly dangerous), or it may just end at an unrideable dirt surface. We saw all of these and more. Needless to say, we violated the Mandatory Sidepath Law many times.

But the road riding has been very nice since the last post. These truly are the wide open spaces! It's not unusual to go, say, 25 miles between "towns," where the town is five houses, one run- down gas station and hopefully a pop machine! Really, two nights ago, we slept in a "motel" which was an old mobile home, in a town whose population was 143.

Since facilities are so far between, we've done some long rides. We've had runs of several days, each between 70 and 80 miles. It's more than we really want to ride in a day, and if its a hot, hilly day, and/or a day with headwinds, it can be tough. We have the equipment to "bush camp," but Peg and Heather greatly prefer showers, so we ride on to the next motel.

For me, the Wild West scenery is now a real treat. Western North Dakota began looking a bit like the cowboy movies of my youth. (Yes, I was a youth once!) Montana definitely has that look.

We're now following the Yellowstone River, which William Clark followed on Lewis & Clark's return trip. It's the longest un-dammed river in the USA, and very often looks just like what Clark saw, with beautiful yellow cliffs and buttes overlooking the meandering water. All that's missing are the "emmense herds of buffaloe and antelope" that he described.

Another frequent treat is talking with people along the way. As an example: one morning, leaving that town of 143 on a deserted road, we saw three young guys with huge backpacks, one dog, and one guitar walking away from the railroad tracks. They were very scruffy looking - and they were hobos, it turns out. Naturally, we stopped to talk! So, for 20 minutes or so, we asked them about the places they'd been, what it's like to hop a freight train, how they know where to go, and so on. They, in turn, asked lots of questions about our trip, and were very impressed with our accomplishments and spirit of adventure.

And it occurred to me, we've gotten such tremendous approval from other cyclists, from waitresses in restaurants, from tough-looking Harley riders, from wealthy motorcycle tourists on luxurious Gold Wings, from prosperous-looking matrons in Cadillacs, and now from hobos! It certainly adds to the fun.

It's not been perfect, of course. For whatever reason, several drivers near the North Dakota - Montana border wanted to "instruct" us about exactly where or how we should ride our bikes. But stupid gestures, honking horns or unusual body language didn't convince me that they knew more than we did! Fortunately, such yahoos are easily ignored, and are tremendously outnumbered.

In Montana, our riding has mostly been on either the excellent old highway paralleling the interstate, or (legal and recommended) on the interstate itself. I've noticed the truck drivers have been particularly friendly and courteous, almost always moving to the left lane although we're on the right shoulder. I think it helps to be riding with two cute ladies!

Other highlights:

a long conversation with a Metis (i.e. French-Chippewa) woman in a tiny roadside convenience store, ending with discussion of Metis fiddle styles;

stopping at an archeological dig of an abandoned Mandan village and talking with the head archeologist;

talking with an eastbound bike tourist doing our same route, whose belly weighs as much as my panniers (if he can do it, we can do it...);

visiting Makoshika State Park, site of numerous dinosaur digs, and home of a nice little museum on the discoveries;

talking to about 20 very friendly cyclists riding east to Washington D.C. on a charity ride, and helping one of them with mechanical problems;

seeing William Clark's signature and date (1806) carved into the rock formation called Pompey's Pillar;

and last night, in Billings, enjoying a street fair with outdoor music and excellent beer on a perfectly clear night, just walking distance from our motel.

Well, that's the news that fits in the library's time limit - and just as well, I suppose! Hope everyone else is having as much fun with their summer!

=====================================================

July 24, 2003: "And now, from Washington:"

It's been an eventful couple of weeks! We have now exited Montana; we've conquered Bozeman Pass, Pipestone Pass and Lolo Pass; we've crossed the Continental Divide (what a milestone!); we've entered the Pacific Time Zone; we've crossed Idaho, and as of an hour ago, entered the state of Washington. The scenery has been spectacular, the people have been wonderful - and the heat has been amazing! I've got photos of thermometers reading 107 degrees Fahrenheit, but we've actually been out in 109 degrees!

We've settled into a new routine. We now set our alarms for 5:30 AM. (This was a shock to me. I didn't realize there was a 5:30 AM!) We roll out as quickly as we can, cramming in a breakfast at some point. We ride until the temperature gets to "Broil" on my little thermometer (usually around 2 PM), and we dive into whatever air conditioned motel room we can find. Then we listen to people say "It's never this hot around here!"

On the better days, we may do 60 miles. Today we did 70. But there have been days that temperatures, headwinds, mountain passes, or lack of accommodations have limited us to 30 or 40 miles. Astonishingly, we're still pretty much on schedule!

Now understand, towns are still very sparse out here, so planning stops is a little like a chess game: if we stop here tonight, then it's too far to there tomorrow, so we'll have to make it to that place before 2:00...

This planning is easier when we're on Adventure Cycling's "Lewis & Clark" route. The route maps are very detailed, and show where to find restaurants, motels, campgrounds, groceries, etc. But we've cheated a bit. For example, Lewis & Clark traveled south into the mountains between Three Forks and Missoula, probably because Interstate 90 wasn't built yet! But the interstate is 80 miles shorter, has gentler grades, good shoulders, and usually has a beautiful "Frontage Road" paralleling its route. When we must ride on the freeway, it's a bit noisy, but it's fast and perfectly safe. So we took that big shortcut and saved at least a day.

Still, when we're "off route" that way, finding accommodations can be a guessing game. We get lots of directions and advice from local folks, and they're always eager to help us out. It's still true that everybody loves our adventure.

We've been in some neat little towns. We especially love the ones with healthy old downtowns, coffee shops or bookstores, and a cool place to stay within walking distance.

We've often been treated wonderfully by new friends we've met. As an example: we left the beautiful old Grand Hotel in Big Timber, Montana to (hopefully) ride over Bozeman Pass and into the town of Bozeman. But the heat and headwinds that day were fierce! After about 35 miles, we were collapsed in a sandwich shop in Livingston, wondering whether to tackle that pass.

At that point, a young lady stopped by to put up posters for her company, which does luxury bike tours for women. We were soon asking her advice about the pass, but she thought we looked too tired to try it. She convinced us to delay by inviting us to spend the night in her home! It was a wonderful visit, filled with hours of warm and friendly conversation, and she was able to ride over the pass with us the next day. Things like this are highlights of the trip!

Bozeman was a fun town, with dozens of interesting shops, as well as the best food co-op we've ever seen. But the most interesting aspect was our visit with Scott & Katie. Scott had met Heather in Billings, where he was one of the authors participating in a book reading. At his invitation, we spent the night in their new, super-insulated solar electric home. It was a fascinating visit! Scott and Katie are very active people, with their cycle touring, jogging, fly fishing, canoeing, swimming, boat-building, backpacking, writing and more. And both are engineers by training (like me), so you know they're cool people! ;-) We traded stories of our adventures well into the evening.

Climbing the mountain passes has been a real adventure. I'll confess, I was pretty nervous about this at first - but what they say is true: the Rockies are easier than the Appalachians! At Lolo Pass, for example, we climbed for about 40 miles, but most of it was so gentle, we were in our middle gears doing 13 mph! Only the last few miles got us into our low "granny" gears, and if not for the hot temperatures, the pass would have been a piece of cake. (Compare this with little "hills" in the East, where you shift to your super-lowest gear, then stand up and crank as hard as you possibly can!)

Once you're at the summit out west, the rewards are tremendous, in the form of spectacular views and mile upon mile of swooping downhills. In fact, after Lolo's summit, we had well over 100 miles of downhill! The first few miles were an adrenaline rush, but the next 90+ miles were constant, gentle downhill along one of the prettiest rivers we've seen, the Lochsa.

That day featured some great times socializing with another coast-to-coast couple about our age, Betsy and Lloyd from the Washington D.C. area. It also featured the most beautiful campsite we've had on the trip, a private, shaded site with the river right in our backyard, providing natural air conditioning and soothing sounds during the night.

Incidentally, Lolo Pass showed us something else: Don't believe the dire warnings! A guy we met in North Dakota had tried to talk us out of Lolo Pass. "The road is narrow, it's terribly winding, and the truck drivers just don't care; they'll run you over!" In fact, the curves were no problem, the truckers were cooperative, and the views easily made up for any difficulties!

On the other hand, there was a very interesting incident at the beginning of the second day's descent. With Betsy and Lloyd, we had just pulled out onto the highway, when an Idaho State Patrolman roared up, hit his flashers, and shouted though his loudspeaker "You bicyclists get ON THE SHOULDER immediately, or you will get a ticket! I don't want you delaying the traffic on this road! And YOU there, you are riding two abreast! That's illegal, and you WILL get a ticket if I see that again!"

We stopped in amazement. Betsy said "But there is no shoulder!" He responded "The shoulder is white, and I want you on the shoulder!" He was talking about the six-inch-wide fog line! And me, the "two abreast" guy - first, I simply hadn't had time to get single file, but second, I was positive riding two abreast was legal.

Very carefully, we began asking for clarification. When he began talking about what was legal in Idaho, I told him I was very interested, and would appreciate him giving me the details from the vehicle code so I could check them out. Understand, I was doing this in my most polite and diplomatic - but insistent - manner.

Eventually, he did get out of his patrol car with the highway code in hand, and begin citing chapter and verse - and I began carefully correcting his wording and pointing out exceptions. (It's all stuff I've seen before.) Heather and Peg were also chipping in, explaining that we are not irresponsible, we are very careful, and there are good reasons we do what we do.

Believe it or not, after about half an hour's conversation, he was smiling and shaking our hands! Heather even got a friendly photo of him.

But it was still bad police work, in my opinion. I'll probably mail him some information on safe bicycling once we're back home. And I'll be interested in discussing this with my friends who are cops and ex-cops!

Well, ever since Lolo, we've had the pleasure of riding downhill along rivers. The water is now flowing with us, toward the sea. Although we'll have some heat, some tough headwinds and a few tough climbs, it's mostly downhill from here. Wish us luck!

=====================================================

August 7, 2003: "... to the Pacific."

From the Atlantic to the Pacific! Sea to shining sea! Yes, we've done it!

The last e-mail had us just entering Washington, at the town of Clarkston. From there, we had some of our roughest riding days, those in eastern Washington and eastern Oregon.

Eastern Washington and Oregon are not the lush green forest you see in picture books. Instead, visualize endless steep, rolling hills of a parched tan color. The hills are covered with either wheat or grass, but to my eye it had the look of desert sand - probably due to the brutal temperatures. Yes, it was even hotter than before! Temperatures were setting records.

The terrain wasn't easy, either. Soon after Clarkston, we learned that even without mountain passes, the hills could punish us. It was psychologically hard to be back in our lowest gears for miles on end, with no "Pass" shown as a landmark, and with inexplicably unfriendly truckers as company.

Worse, on a day we'd planned as a semi-rest day - 30 all-downhill miles into Walla Walla, according to the map - we found ourselves grinding up more brutal hills. The route profiles on the Adventure Cycling maps have frequently been inaccurate, but none hurt us as much as that day. We really needed the zero-mile rest day we took in Walla Walla.

That day was courtesy of Jamey and Blythe, a young couple who began talking to us the minute we rode into town. Seems they wanted to pick our brains about bike touring. They are planning a huge trip around North America, combining a bike tour across Canada, a canoe tour down the Mississippi, and a backpacking trip up the Pacific Crest trail. In return for our advice they put us up in their home for one night, and arranged for us to be in a college dorm room a second night. They were great company, and it was especially nice for Heather to spend time talking with folks her age, for a change.

Finally, we followed the Columbia River to the coast. Here we battled the most broiling heat of the trip, plus the infamous headwinds of the Columbia River Gorge. It was not unusual to be pedaling head down, at only 8 miles per hour, while nearby windsurfers enjoyed themselves at our expense. And this was on the noisy freeway, since there are no side roads through most of the Columbia's route. Our days were now ending at noon. Afternoons were so hot, there were times I was afraid our tires would blow!

But two days before Portland, everything changed for the better. We began entering the Cascade Mountains and their cool, mossy forests. Here are remnants of the old Historic Columbia River Highway, the first paved road in the region. Back in the early 1900s, it was built with scenery as a priority, passing the most beautiful spots along the river's route. The old highway has very little traffic, and in some places, it exists only as a bike path, so it's infinitely more pleasant than the freeway. With its arched stone bridges and hewn sandstone railings, it reminded me of beautiful Mill Creek Park in Youngstown, Ohio, but on a tremendously larger scale.

Still, we had some awe-inspiring climbs to deal with. I remember looking up at a mountain in front of us, and seeing our road weaving like a ribbon up to an impossibly high overlook. I also remember a road section through a forest, where we could never see more than one quarter mile of road at a time, but where each turn uncovered an even steeper section - perhaps the toughest climb of our entire journey.

But it was wonderful to be back among trees! And the day's ride into Portland was perhaps the most beautiful of the summer. The old highway passed Multnomah Falls, Latourell Falls and other hundreds-feet-high cascades, then climbed up and up to Vista House, from which we could see perhaps 50 miles up and down the Columbia. By now, we were also treated to regular views of snow-capped Mount Hood and Mount Adams. We knew we were getting close to our goal!

We had miles and miles of downhill into Portland, then we rode city streets to meet our son Michael at Powell's Bookstore - our favorite Portland browsing spot. Michael shuttled us off-route to his home. We enjoyed the evening with him, his wife Leigh, and Leigh's visiting parents, then got shuttled back to Powell's to continue our ride the next day.

Finally, two more days of riding busy Route 30 to the coast. I wish the last two days had been cool, scenic, flat and traffic-free. I wish - but two out of four isn't bad, I suppose. We enjoyed the cool cloudiness and the views of the Columbia peeking out between the forested hills. There were more tough hills - but we conquered them. And unfortunately, the road was pretty busy - but we dealt with it. We arrived in Astoria on a tourist-season Sunday, so the reputedly charming town was just gridlocked with RVs, SUVs, and vehicles of every other description.

And, it turns out Astoria's not on the Pacific! We had to ride another ten miles to dip our wheels in the ocean! But as soon as we crossed the bridge out of Astoria, we were on quiet two-lane roads. The traffic was gone, the weather was cool, and the sun began peeking out through the clouds. We rode along through a couple tiny villages, asking directions to Fort Stevens State Park, and getting congratulated for our accomplishment.

With Michael's help, we found our way to the beach and tugged our bikes through the sand. And on a cool day, with the sun shining through silvery-grey clouds, the Pacific Ocean washed its waves over our front wheels - and our shoes!

Before we began our trip, my wild guess had been 4000 miles. In fact, we were 18 miles short of that. I'd planned on 80 days, and we finished one day early. We'd worried about heat, but we found a way to beat an extended, record-setting heat wave. We'd worried about climbing mountains, but we conquered climb after tough climb. We rode through the wind, we rode through the rain, we navigated our way faultlessly, and we handled everything the road threw at us.

There were tough parts, of course. There were times I honestly wished I were elsewhere. But there were so many times I would never have wanted to miss! There were so many beautiful views, so many kindnesses from strangers, so many wonderful experiences. And through it all, we enjoyed each others' company, and we enjoyed sharing the experience as a family.

What a great summer!

- Frank Krygowski

 

 

By
Frank Krygowski

 

 

Adventure Cycling

 

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08/16/11
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