Monday, July 30, 2007

Spoke Too Soon

Ok, we finally had a real bike failure worth talking about. Yesterday, while riding, Jason got a flat which we promptly fixed (that makes 4 flats total). But while fixing it, Jason noticed that one of his spokes was broken. This was no problem, as it allowed me to make use of my kevlar emergency spoke (see picture). So we rigged up the emergency spoke and loaded the wheel again, only to notice that the wheel was way out of true (out of plane) and was rubbing on his brakes each rotation. So I did a quick field-truing of the wheel and Jason rode on it for 2 days into Minot, ND, where we were able to get a replacement spoke. I noticed that after fixing up his wheel, Jason was riding much faster. Since there seems no reason that his flat would cause a broken spoke, and I suspect that it had been broken for days and the rubbing of the brakes had been the cause of his recent trouble keeping speed. Ever since the repair he has been going a fair bit faster.

In Minot, we went to a bike shop where the guy confidently measured the spokes and gave us the wrong replacement spoke (the ones he said were right were too short). Luckily, we also bought some other spokes (for a different part of his wheel) that worked, but were still shorter than they should have been. Finally I trued up the wheel, and actually did a pretty good job of it. On the road repairs: no problem.

Also, this is what my legs look like after doing battle with Jason's wheel (Click for zoom).

The Wicked Witch of the... East?

So every book, guide, map, and local person states that the wind in this area (the plains) blows predominantly from the West. But we have found this to be very much not true. We have been on the plains for 6 days and have seen wind every direction from North to South (by way of East), but have only seen a wind from the West one, weakly, for 2 hours. The favorite direction is definitively from the East, which is exactly how it "never" blows, and coincidentally the direction that is the worst for us. It seems that every day it should change to the dominant direction (it has to blow from the West sometime, right?), but it never does.

Also, why isn't the land flat yet?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

For Those Keeping Score at Home

We have been on the road for 17 days now and here is the tally of bike repairs needed:

Flat Tires:
Jason Rear Tire (Bent wire in tire): patched
Jason Rear Tire (Screw in tire): patched - needed 2 patches
Eric Front Tire (Staple in tire): patched

Jason derailleur jockey gear fell off on road: pieces gathered, reassembled, later went to bike shop to get it loctited

Eric grinding in drivetrain: brought to bike shop, crankset reassembled (retightened)

Safe Havre

It turns out (and we knew this going in) that we are doing this whole trip backwards. Instead of starting out in familiar territory, where the land is relatively flat and we know many people, we flew to Seattle and started there. The weather, animals, and bugs are all foreign and somewhat strange. The first pass we did (Washington Pass) was the single highest climb of our entire trip (and incidentally, the first mountain pass either of us had ever done). And the longest stretch of the whole trip without a know friendly face was the stretch between Seattle and Shelby, MT (2 weeks). By the end of the trip, through Ohio and New York, we are going to have stops every day or two and be cruising through early autumn weather in familiar and fairly level ground.

But for that reason, it was delightful to meet Cindy (a distant relative of Erik (not me, note the "K")), who greeted us with ice cold Powerade, cooked us dinner, washed our clothes, had beds for us to sleep in, made us breakfast, and gave us cherries for the road. That was a huge boost after our terrible day yesterday.

Now we are in Havre, having finished 104 miles today. We are staying in a church that Jason hooked up for us. This is quite important, as it turns out, since the mosquitos are really bad here. I killed at least 50 going to and from dinner, and at one point I could see 6 at one time on my legs. Indoors is good.

Oh, and some folks had requested that we google map so that people can follow along with us, but this is probably too much work for us, since we have a very busy schedule (any time I am not actively doing something, I stop to think of what needs to be done, and there's always something). But the best bet is to look at the Adventure Cycling map page for our trip. This can easily be matched up with google maps.

For fun, here is a picture of a "Used Vehicle Lot" that we passed.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

No More Messing Around

Ok rock stars,

anybody who thinks we have been moving quickly so far is in for a surprise. We have been going up and down mountains, touring through beautiful places. We have gone north, east, south, west, north, just rolling around visiting every neat thing in the area. Well, all that is changing now.

We are now headed express across the plains, straight as an arrow, East. And we plan on making some good time. So hold on to your hats for the section I like to call Minnesota Express. I have a date with a plane on August 9, and I have no interest in missing it.

The Salt of the Earth

So another new thing: salted bodies. With the massive sweating we are doing, along with the dry air, at the end of each day our clothes and skin are coated with salt. In the clothes, it appears as salt stains, and on the skin it appears as legitimate, salt-packet-style crystals which feel a lot like sand on the skin. Jason sweats more than me, and thus gets a better harvest, but we both have noticed this.

The Bubble of Determination

"If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!"


So, awful awful times today. Awful. Really bad.

As of today, we are on the plains. Great, we thought, no more mountains. And we were hoping that the prevailing winds from the West, along with the smooth earth would help us sail right along. But we were wrong.
We did 96 miles today, insisting that we show up in Shelby, MT. The 100 degree heat was bad, but nothing that we hadn't dealt with before (Everywhere we go, people say, "Oh, it's never this hot around here - but they say the heat will break in a few days." We've been hearing this for weeks as we drag the heat across with us). What also hurt in a new way was the 75 mile stretch with no services, not even a tree for shade in the aforementioned heat. But what was completely debilitating was the 20 MPH headwind (coming from the SE, another unlikely meteorologic event) for the entire day.
When we rode, we struggled to maintain 10 MPH ground speed into the wind. When we stopped, we had no shade and flies would immediately swarm around us. As we came into Cut Bank, both of us were ready to fall off our bikes. At the diner, I couldn't eat much, as my digestive system (a non-essential function) had shut down a while back.
And we still had 25 more miles to go. It was very hard to get ourselves up out of that diner and haul our bodies another 25 miles, but we did it. About 10 miles into those last 25, my water ran out, and my emergency water had acquired the strong taste of burning plastic and was undrinkable without vomiting. My front tire, due to a staple found earlier in the day, was getting increasingly flat. The headwind was getting stronger, trucks kept whizzing by our elbows, and I was very very tired. And all I wanted to do was dump my bike and sit by the side of the road and cry. But there was no time for that. I figured that I would either ride that bike into Shebly or die on the road, and I didn't really feel like dying.
Then a train went by us, and gave a few long toots on the whistle for us. And though it sounds stupid, it is little things like that, knowing that some totally unknown person is cheering you on, that makes you go. And we did. Jason, also feeling a few shades past death, came up and we waged war on the wind. For a little while there, it was just him and me, battling the wind in a little bubble of determination. In the end, things like drinkable water and inflated tires take a backseat to utter determination. They say that the spirit/mind gives out long before the body does, and I think we got a little taste of what that means today.

Glacial Motion

So we had a great time in Glacier National Park. Hiked up to Avalanche lake, camped, biked over Logan Pass (up Going-To-The-Sun Highway), and coasted down the other side. Great stuff, and not too hard, given our two short days through the Park.

My only complaint is their non-bike friendliness at the Park. It cost us $24 to get in (one Dollar less than an SUV full of people), $10 to camp (the same price as an RV), and the highway over the pass is closed to bikes from 11 AM to 4 PM (though this is somewhat understandable for safety reasons).
And we ate at an amazing restaurant (Johnson's Family Restaurant) in St. Mary's on the East entrance to the park.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Uphills and Downs

"If someone tells you that something is indescribable, you can bet that they're going to have a go at it anyway..."
Its a bit hard to convey what a trip like this does to you. Whereas regular life is a tightly moderated bubble of mediocre satisfaction, this trip is a huge roller coaster of highs and lows. Just like the terrain that we go through, there are some moments that are just amazing and great, and other times when it seems like life is so awful that you just want to cry. And its amazing what a good shower or meal will do for you after a long day of biking in the heat.

So if we seem a bit schizophrenic, this is why.

Also, here's a picture of us at the top of Logan Pass (Continental Divide).

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Update: Chocolate Milk is the New Pink

So it turns out that I am not crazy. We ran into another biker going the opposite direction on the Northern Tier and had dinner with him. During dinner, we mostly both had our maps out - us telling him what good stuff was coming up for him and he telling us what was good on our route forward (very convenient, this information exchange). But during dinner, when I ordered my usual chocolate milk, he noted that he had heard from other people that it was a great energy drink. Thus, outside conformation.

Also, Jason has switched over and will now do chocolate milk or shakes with me.

Bike Maintenance Vindication

So back in Idaho, I took my bike into a bike shop to be checked out as the drive train was making a little noise (Jason needed some loctite on his jockey gear bolt). I suspected the crankset (the axle bearing system), but I have no real way to get in there with the tools I have (I would have to carry a lot more tools to be able to do crankset work, and this stuff never really fails catastrophically anyway). The guy told me that everything was fine except that my chain was way too grimy and had gotten stretched. His gauge essentially said that I was past the point where simply replacing the chain was possible (essentially, saying that the chain and the rear sprockets would both need to be replaced at once). This made me unhappy, since I thought that I had been keeping good care of the chain and was making sure that I would replace it before it got too stretched. He suggested that I just ride it till it breaks, then replace the whole drivetrain. (For those not in the know about drivetrains: The chain will stretch and wear over time, and will also eventually start to wear down the teeth on the sprockets (front and rear). The best thing to do is to replace the chain when it gets a little stretched (since this is cheap), thus saving the wear on the sprockets. If you wait too long and the sprockets get worn down, then a new chain will not be stretched enough for your worn sprockets, and the chain will slip - thus you have to change both the chain and sprockets (which costs more).

But today we are in Whitefish, Montana, just outside of Glacier National Park, and we stopped at another bike shop, since my drivetrain had been making increasing amounts of noise (new, intermittent clicks started to appear 2 days ago, and have gotten stronger with time). The guy said he was pretty sure it was due to a loose crankset. He also measured my chain and said that it didn't seem too worn to him. I had him disassemble/regrease the crankset and change the chain, since this was due soon. In the end, the reassembly of the pedal bearing got rid of all the noise, and the new chain doesn't slip at all on the existing sprockets, so the chain was not too worn either. 2 points for eric.

Prius With a Gun Rack

ok, so the title here is a bit of a bait and switch, as I did not actually see a Prius with a gun rack, but one of the things I have noticed during this trip is that there are a ton of Priuses (plural of Prius? Possibly Prii?) out in rural Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Second to pickup trucks, this is much of what you see. My original theory was that Washington state, being a fairly "green" place, had some sort of tax incentive to buy them, and that's why we were seeing them all over. But the Priuses have persisted even into Montana, so I am stumped...

Is the Northwest so "green" that even the rural folk buy Priuses? Is there a multi-state tax incentive? Are they useful for farm work in some unknown way?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Crossing Over - with Jason and Eric

We are just now feet from the border with Idaho. We have finished all for of the Cascades passes and have only 1 more big pass (Logan Pass in Glacier National Park). We are going for a long ride today (about 90 miles), but the going is nice a flat, so no problem. We still can't post pictures (though we have some really nice ones), but will do this ASAP.

Chocolate Milk is the new Pink?

We are now into high food mode. We've been eating four big meals a day and always eat fat and meat and desserts (The all-you-can-eat diet, essentially). This is really no suprise. But the big suprise is that gatorade is become somewhat less palatable for me. But I have found an even better substitute.

After riding for hours in the hot sun, I have found that a big container of chocolate milk really hits the spot. No joke. It sounds like it would be awful, but it combines the two things I crave after a long ride: water and fat (and has some sugar to boot).

So I'm thinking that I should get the milk industry to pay me to try to break them into the sports drink business - a chocolate milk drink to compete with gatorade. Jason has suggested the name: "Udder Energy".

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Passes Past

Ok rock stars,

We have now gone over Washington Pass (elevation 5,477 ft) in blaring heat during the hottest day on record. We were sustained most of the way by icy cold (literally) water from streams running down the mountains. After filtering the water, it was freezing cold and delicious. During the hottest part of the day, with no shade, thin air, and a 4 MPH pace, we decided for safety (and sanity) sake to hide from the sun under a bridge next to a creek. The creeks there were amazingly cold - even biking past one would lower the air temperature about 20 degrees. After a few hour break (and a dive into the water - cold!) we got back and finished the ascent, in perfect time to coast down 18 miles of downhill (only a few very short bits of pedaling). Now that was fun.

Before this we had been climbing up through the Cascades, which are monsterously beautiful (we would post pictures, but the computer at this library doesn't permit it). We have been camping every night and cooking our own food except last night when we treated ourselves to a nice room and meals.

So far we are both a bit beat up physically, but in good spirits (except for the deathly heat). The equipment is all working fairly well - I have a sqeak in my drivetrain somewhere and jason is having some trouble getting a good hand position due to the geometry of his bike. Thus far things are looking good. We have exceeded our planned distance each day so far, and have conquered (I believe that this is the appropriate word) the largest ascent of the trip. We have three more ascents to do - one a day for the next three days (we will go and do the next one right after finishing up here on the Internet), and a fourth ascent in about a week. After that it should be smoother sailing.

Bottom line: It is hot, but we're doing fine.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Working Without a Net

So we are off. The date: 7-7-07. At 4 AM we woke up after a brief nap to get shuttled to the airport, making our first flight. 12 hours later, we showed up in the SeaTac airport with crossed fingers hoping that all our gear came through ok. After getting all our bags ok, we waited hesitantly for our bikes, before realizing that they were actually going to come down the baggage ramp (these bikes were essentially naked and ready for any damage that the world would throw at them)! I dove into the steel "landing area" that the ramp dumps into and did my best to "catch" the bikes. Luckily, in the end there were only minor bruises on the bikes and we spent 2 hours putting everything together, checking the gear, adjusting the brakes, etc. After getting a few hours of sleep on the plane, I felt much better and ready to rock.

So we set out on bike to visit with Brad's parents, The Emersons. It was only 20 miles or so of riding, and the weather was great. And the first thing we saw as we came around the corner was Mt. Rainer - huge, snow covered, and beautiful. The picture doesn't even convey the hugeness of it. That was great. It really hit that we are really here, with no real backup options, everything we have on our bikes. We are now operating without a net.
So the report for the day: total mileage: 17 miles, weather great, equipment great, morale great.
If we can keep this up for 8 more weeks we will be in business. And I also happened to have my first clipless-pedal related fall on my bike (as I was stopping to look at a trailside map), but I fell lightly into the grass, so no big deal.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

I had an awful, awful day today. Definitely ranking up there with the worst. I was told that I was being dishonest and sneaky in the way in which I was leaving the office and taking this bike trip, and of all the things that could have been said to me, this hurt the most. I have pondered continually over the past 18 months what is the right thing to do, and have gone out of my way to do it, even when it has negative effects on my life. So that is the nastiness. But it is now over.

But I suddenly felt a bit better when, on the ride home, I saw a car with a bumper sticker that said, "Not All Who Wander Are Lost". A tremendous phrase that so well describes my thoughts about the trip, I had half a mind to completely change the name of the blog (but I won't, since the funnier current title is more my style). Not all who wander are lost, but there are few that seem to know the difference.

The reactions that people give when you talk about biking across the country are widely varying. Some people simply look at you blankly, clearly cannot compute this information, and say, "Wow, you're crazy.", just as if you had announced that you were running for King of the Moon on the '08 elections. There are also some people who "get it". You can immediately tell from their eyes and their comments. But the majority of people seem to fall into another category: apathetic. These folks don't understand the motivation for such a journey, consider it a waste of time and money, and are not in any way impressed by it (not that the point is to impress people - it's just that they don't see it as any sort of challenge, as if you planned on spending nine weeks buying beer and throwing it out of car windows).

And this has been my problem at work: unimaginative bureaucrats that view this trip as an odd request (abnormal = bad) rather than as a personal challenge. They feel that approving this kind of thing would be a big favor, and see no value in it. Well, I didn't set out to do this as a passing fancy - I am doing it because it is a challenge, to see if I can, to meet the people and places of America, and to come back a better, stronger person. As Kennedy said of the journey to the moon:
"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

How to Pack for Every Occasion

So it is really a bit of luck combined with a torrent of technology that allows the modern bike tourist to actually pack an entire self-contained world on their bike. Apart from refilling on food twice a week and water a bit more frequently, Jason and I will be entirely self-sufficient (though this doesn't mean we will be ignoring the benefits of civilization when they appear). In fact, we are touring pretty "heavy" and are bring some luxury items like a camcorder and a Go board. Numerous people have asked me how I cram all this stuff onto my bike, so I made a few quick movies to describe what I am bringing and how I pack.

So, firstly, I have a touring bike (named "The Iron Giant") with front and rear racks, full fenders, three water bottle cages, and clipless pedals (see the picture above for a good approximation of what it will look like in a few days).

As to the videos mentioned above, they can be seen here: first, second, third, and fourth. And thus is my packing.

Elephant Eating

So, I named this blog "Eating the Elphant" for a few reasons. As the quote at the top of the page says, "Biking across the country is like eating an elephant - you just do one little bite at a time." I think this is an appropriate description of the process, and one that everyone can understand. Secondly, I have learned that pioneers heading west in wagon trains spoke of "Seeing the Elephant" - this is what it was called when someone gave up, turned around, and headed back east. Well, I don't plan on getting spooked by that elephant: in fact, I am intent on slowly devouring it. So this blog, assuming that I keep it updated, will be the public log of my gastronomical journey while eating that elephant.

And a few words about what makes a trip like this happen. Certainly, it has a high cost in terms of both money and time. Jason is taking a leave-of-absence and will simply not be paid for the duration of the trip. I had to quit my job and get a new one in order to do this trip. Why? Well, the first episode of project pedal really has it down (if you are able to watch this, I think you should). As he says, its about attempting something that you have a very real chance of failing, and slowly, over time, proving yourself wrong.

Now for some nuts and bolts. We fly out to Seattle Saturday morning. From there we head north to Anacortes, then straight east. We will be following the Northern Tier route most of the way, but will diverge somewhere around Ithica to head southeast through Conneticut into Rhode Island. We have full camping gear and plan on mostly camping and occasionally staying with the friends, friends of friends, and uncles of friend's co-workers that we have along the route. As for food, we plan on doing a lot of cooking on our own.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Blogged Down

Ok rock stars,
Many of you know my policy on blogs. Some of you may not. My policy is that 99.4% percent of blogs are made by jerks who have nothing of value to say and are simply polluting the already polluted streams of the Internet with shouts of "Me! I'm important! Listen to what I have to say!". So, despite the "encouragers" who have said, "Eric, you should have a blog - if I got really bored, I might read it and that would be mildly entertaining", I have until this point stayed blog-free. But at least for the next 9 weeks, I will have something interesting to talk about and the popular opinion has spoken ("Hey, are you going to have a blog or something for your trip?").

So here it is: The Cross-Country Bike Trip Blog...

In case you haven't been following the eric-related news, myself and my friend Jason are going to be biking across the country from Seattle to Rhode Island starting on July 7. We will be self-supported and camping most of the time. Posts to this blog may be intermittent and crappy, but its pretty much the only way you will be able to keep track of us, so you'll just have to deal.