Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Third Coast

I am currently riding around Lake Michigan and blogging the trip on The Third Coast Tour.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I reached Astoria over two weeks ago and I've been back in Chicago for a week and a half. But time is deceptive. It passes differently now that I've ended my journey. My seventy-five days on the Transamerica Trail may well have been a year; the past few weeks but a few days. This is one of the many things that I'm readjusting to now that I'm back home.

It's hard to sum up the ride without resorting to a string of tired superlatives. It was simply the best thing I've ever done. The adventure, the challenge, the people, the scenery, and a significant amount of good fortune combined to provide an experience that I will remember fondly for the rest of my life. I won't say that it was a once in a lifetime experience, as I would certainly consider pedaling across the country again on a different route.

After the details and colors of each state's beauty have faded from my mind, what will remain are memories of my time spent with people from across the country. Often my encounters with these strangers, almost all of whom I'll never see again, were short, but their conversation and hospitality defined my journey as much as the roads and terrain that I travelled.

A story from my last day provides a perfect illustration. On Sunday morning, the final day of my ride, I pushed my loaded bike through a few hundred feet of sand in Seaside, OR, so that I could dip my tires in the Pacific. Rolling my Surly through the loose sand proved to be one of the more difficult challenges of the trip. As I stood beside my bike taking in the ocean's breeze and reflecting on the past two and a half months, a middle-aged guy playing fetch with his dog walked up the beach toward me. "This looks symbolic," he said. "Where'd you come from?" When I told him the Atlantic, he broke into a huge grin and excitedly said, "That's what I was hoping you'd say!" He congratulated me, gave me a high five and said, "I don't even know you and I'm proud of you." I told him a bit about the trip, he graciously took a few pictures of me and then he headed off back toward town.

Several people who had finished the Transamerica before me had commented on how reaching the Pacific can be anti-climactic. There's no bannered finish line, no parade, and no fireworks. There's just another town going about it's daily business. Yet, my five-minute encounter with that stranger on the beach provided all the acknowledgment that I needed at the end of my 4,700 mile ride.

A few readers have requested a best/worst of list. Below is a hodgepodge of awards marking some of the trip's highlights and lowlights.

Trip Awards

Best Mexican: Mexican Food Bus, Dillon, MT. The attention to detail given to the presentation of my $4 plate of tacos-to-go was truly impressive. An array of radishes and hot peppers accompanied the taco assortment made with surprisingly fresh vegetables.

Best pizza: Christian's Pizza, Charlottesville, VA.

Best BBQ: Sugarfoot & Peaches, Fort Scott, KS.

Best shake: Fresh raspberry shake at a fruit stand outside Tillamook, OR.

Best pie: Apple Pie at Delaney's on Broadway in Goreville, IL. Truly memorable pie and I ate a lot of pie.

Most consumed meal: Bacon cheeseburger.

Least amount of Heath in a Heath Bar Blizzard: DQ in Scott City, KS. The dearth of Heath in my Blizzard forced me to inform the workers that their DQ was the most miserly with their Blizzard fillings from Kansas to the eastern seaboard.

Best donut: Daylight Donuts, Scott City, KS. The town redeems itself.


State with the most roaming dogs miles from any visible residence: Kentucky. Was there any doubt?

State with my closest encounter with a dog: Virginia (reenactment pictured here).

Most common roadkill in the East: Turtles and snakes.

Most common roadkill in the West: Deer.

Animal only seen dead never alive: Armadillos.

Best animal sighting: Foxes on the Katy Trail.

Vehicles and roads

State with the most cars built before 1980 on the road: Montana.

State with worst road conditions: Kentucky.

State with the best shoulders: Wyoming.

State with best drivers: Virginia, Kansas, Wyoming.

State with worst drivers: Out of respect to my friends in Missouri I won't name the winner.

Scariest vehicles: Rented RVs the size of a Rolling Stones tour bus that are pulling an SUV and being driven by an elderly couple that probably should not even be driving a car much less a 50 foot-long vehicle. Runner-up: Empty school buses. The drivers are like teenagers whose parents are gone for the weekend -- all wild abandon.

Biggest pet peeve: Oncoming cars passing other oncoming cars by moving into my lane while I'm in it.

My dumbest move: Flipping off those oncoming drivers.


Best campsite: Cliffside site at a Jellystone Campground near Canon City, CO.

Sourest people: Employees of the HOB Cafe in Hartsel, CO. I knew I was in trouble when a customer was told she could smoke in the restaurant if she paid a dollar. It is illegal to smoke indoors so the owner charges customers for the privilege to pay off the fines.

Most photographed state: Wyoming (pictured here). Runners-up: Colorado, Oregon.

Least photographed state: Illinois (I only spent three nights in the state).

State with the most free overnight stays: Virginia.

Most expensive lodging: Jackson, WY.

The Tops

Favorite states: Montana (pictured outside Ennis in the panorama above), Colorado, Virginia, Idaho.

Favorite city: Missoula, MT.

Most enjoyably tacky town: West Yellowstone, MT.

Most peaceful ride: The Katy Trail, MO.

Best overall rides (in geographic order): Blue Ridge Parkway, VA; Loop to Mammoth Cave, KY; Canon City, CO to Hoosier Pass, CO; Grand Tetons National Park, WY; US 12 through Idaho; Three Capes Scenic Highway, OR.

Finally, I still plan on making a few additions to the blog. After I organize and winnow down my photos, I'll post them as a single album on Flicker and provide a link here. Also, for those looking for helpful logistical information on riding the Transamerica Trail I will link to more information about what equipment proved most useful and what businesses along the route were most cyclist-friendly.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


I made it.

After relaxing for a few days, I'll post some final thoughts on the trip and what I hope will be helpful information for anyone planning their own ride on the Transamerica Trail.

For those of you who were waiting to make a donation to the Appalachia Habitat for Humanity until you were sure that I would actually make it to Astoria, now is the time to send in your check or donate online. I'll keep the link active for a few more days.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me. Your support helped me get through the tough days.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Pacific

I arrived at the Pacific yesterday afternoon. Although I hadn't reached my final destination, I was officially on the western shores of the country. I'm not certain but I may have heard angels singing.

After a six mile ride out of Monmouth yesterday morning, I stopped at the Eola Hills Winery. Eola Hills is an avid supporter of cycling, hosting bike tours of Oregon wine country every Sunday in August. These forty mile rides stop at four wineries for tastings, include a lunch stop and then end with a barbecue back at Eola Hills, where they offer unlimited food and wine. My next few rides will be more along those lines. I sampled a few red wines before starting my last stretch to the coast.

The highway heading west was extremely busy. I worried that my last few days were going to be full of unpleasant, stressful riding. Fortunately, as I approached the coast, my route moved onto less traveled roads. One stretch of road, Old Scenic Highway 101, was narrow, winding, and overgrown. Two cars passed me over the course of ten miles.

I hit the coast at Neskowin, OR. I pedaled off route so I could get my first look at the ocean and then followed the coast for twenty-five miles. The road rose and fell, providing great viewpoints at its peaks. Monolithic remnants of an earlier shoreline rise from the coastal waters.

I camped out at Cape Lookout, an Oregon State Park. Hikers and bikers pay a quarter of the price and have guaranteed spots at many Oregon parks. Four dollars secured me a spot within 100 feet of the ocean, where I was lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves.

For the first time on my trip there was a critical mass of campers in the hiker/biker section of a park. In fact, I have probably seen as many cyclists with touring gear in the past two days as I have during the previous seventy-two days. Most of these bikers are on short trips down the Oregon coast and wonder why I would cycle up the coast, against the wind.

I was up and out of the campground before anyone else was stirring. The skies were overcast and it soon began to drizzle. That early in the morning the roads were wonderfully quiet. Mist over the water made everything seem even more peaceful.

Continuing my free sample tour, I stopped in Tillamook at the Tillamook Cheese Factory welcome center. I watched workers process the sharp cheddar from an observation deck and then tried a variety of cheeses. The place was a madhouse, so I didn't stay long.

Outside the Tillamook center, I met Len, a fellow cyclist, who was heading down to San Diego. Len told me that he had been diagnosed with stage four lymphoma five years ago. He credited cycling with the fact that he was still around. Between chemo treatments he tries to take a long ride -- this was his fourth trip down the western coast. In September after he finishes this ride, he has another treatment scheduled. Despite his diagnosis, he looked healthy and strong and was tackling the tough hills along the Oregon coast.

Oregon has designated much of Highway 101 as an official bike route. The state has done a great job with signage, including a button-activated warning sign that cyclists are in the upcoming tunnel.

On the advice of a few cyclists I met back in Wyoming, I decided to stay in Seaside tonight, a town sixteen miles south of Astoria. I have heard that Astoria does not have easy access to the ocean, so I've enjoyed Seaside's two miles of beach.

The town suffers a bit from Niagara Falls syndrome, but on the upside that means multiple places to buy fudge. I had dinner at a sushi bar. When the sushi chef found out I was wrapping up my cross-country tour, sushi and beer were on the house.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Appalachia Habitat For Humanity

Over the course of my cross-country ride, people have been incredibly hospitable and generous. It has been inspiring to see strangers repeatedly go out of their way to help me and fellow cyclists. To honor those who've been so generous, I've decided to try to fund raise during my ride across Oregon, the final leg of this trip. I've chosen an organization, the Appalachia Habitat for Humanity, that serves residents of one of the poorest areas that I traveled through on the Transamerica Trail. The Appalachia Habitat is the second oldest affiliate of Habitat for Humanity. While this branch doesn't have its own website, I have talked with several employees of the organization and they stressed how important every donation is to the work that they do. The organization completes sixteen to eighteen major projects a year.

So, if you have enjoyed this blog, or even if you haven't, and you're so inclined, please make a donation, how ever large or small. You can make a donation online by clicking the "Donate" button on the side of this blog and following the instructions. If you are more comfortable with the analog world than a digital one, you can also donate by sending a check to:

Appalachia Habitat for Humanity
P.O. Box 36
135 E Robbins Rd
Robbins, TN 37852

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for continuing to follow my travels and for your comments and emails.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Willamette Valley

After sleeping on it, I decided to ask a few more people about McKenzie Pass before climbing up there yesterday. The last thing I wanted to happen was to reach the summit, only to find that I couldn't get through and had to go back and take the Santiam Pass. At a local bike store, an employee told me in no uncertain terms that I would not be able to get across the pass due to snow and bridge work. While cyclists are allowed to ride up the road, they have to turn around at some point and retrace their path. He spoke with enough authority to convince me that I would have to take the Santiam Pass.

I got a late start because I woke up to find my rear tire partially deflated. It seems the tire had a slow leak. (Did I mention my luck is running out?) I couldn't find a hole in the tube, so I fully inflated the tire and headed out of town. The road was busy, but manageable. On the way up I had clear views of Mount Washington.

Toward the top of the pass, the land was barren. Five years ago, a fire burned over 90,000 acres leaving dead, charred trees covering the mountain sides.

In the Cascades, I passed a series of lakes, waterfalls, and campgrounds.

As I descended, the road ran alongside the McKenzie River. On the westside of the mountains, the land was considerably lusher. Nurseries and orchards became common.

My options for lodging at the 80 mile mark did not pan out. I was in a stretch with no other campgrounds, motels, or cabins, so I had to push on thirty more miles. When I arrived at my destination, Coburg, OR, I was told that the one motel in town had burned to the ground. Fortunately, there were several motels five miles down the road. IHOP, which was next to my motel, never looked so inviting.

When I talk to people about my trip these days, they often tell me how close I am. And today I began the last of the twelve maps that outline my route. So it's starting to sink in that my ride is coming to an end.

The roads I pedaled today were more like those from the East than the roads I have traveled out West. They were quieter back-roads that usually only exist as unpaved, dirt roads in many of the western states. The fields and farm houses I passed reminded me of my rides through Virginia.

As I've moved into western Oregon the wind has picked up and this afternoon it significantly slowed my progress. I was also delayed by a stop in Corvallis, which has to be one of the most bicycle friendly towns in the U.S. I stopped at Corvallis Cyclery to get what I hope is my last new tire tube of the trip. One of the mechanics had just returned from an Adventure Cycling tour of Washington and had done the Northern Tier route a few year ago, so we exchanged notes. Having failed to make it to a winery that I wanted to try before closing time, I decided to cut a few miles from my day so I can hit it tomorrow. For those keeping score at home, I'm about 177 miles from Astoria.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Passing On

Before reaching Oregon, I met several Oregonians during my ride. Clearly proud of their state, they always wanted to see my maps to check the route that I was going to take across Oregon. Several of them told me that the road through John Day and Dayville is beautiful. I wasn't disappointed. Compared with Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, eastern Oregon's landscape is more subtle. Nonetheless, it's beautiful to ride through.

The last few days have been defined by a series of passes. On Sunday, I rode over a trio of summits -- Sumpter, Tipton and Dixie. For each pass I climbed to 5000 to 5200 feet and then dropped between 1000 and 1200 feet before climbing to the next pass. Fortunately, in Baker City I was able to fully inflate my new tire tubes with a bike store's floor pump, making the climbs much easier.

At one point in the ride, the setting reminded me of northern Michigan -- a first on this trip. Pine trees lined both sides of the road and the sound of motor boats rose from a lake just beyond the trees.

After spending the night in John Day, I rode through the John Day valley yesterday. The valley is home to fossil beds that preserve its history as a tropical jungle where saber-tooth tiger and giant sloths once lived. While I wasn't able to see any of these remains, I did ride through Picture Gorge, named for the prehistoric pictographs on its face. The overcast skies muted the color of the Gorge's red rocks.

Of course, where there is a valley, there are also mountains. My day ended with climbs up two more passes. My destination was a U.S. Forest Service campground at the top of Ochoco Pass. As I neared the summit, the clouds darkened and I raced to beat the rain. I managed to set up my tent just before a short rainstorm.

This morning my day began with a gradual decline from 4700 feet. As I headed west toward the Cascades, the relatively quiet roads became busier. However, I still managed to see some wildlife.

The scenery became more dramatic when the snow-capped mountains of the Sisters range came into view.

While I was taking a picture of the mountains, a woman got out of her car and walked over to me. She invited me to camp out at her property. I just happened to be stopped right near her house where she and her husband have hosted cyclists for twenty-five years. Unfortunately, I had to push on, but the gesture boosted my spirits.

Tomorrow I have my last big climb. McKenzie Pass, the more scenic, less trafficked route is currently closed, allegedly due to snow and logging. This means that all cars are driving up the Santiam Pass, a route twenty miles longer than McKenzie. I wasn't looking forward to pedaling up to this busy summit. But tonight I heard conflicting reports about whether bicyclists can ride over the McKenzie Pass. Some say that it is open to cyclists, others say that loggers at the top may not take kindly to our presence. Given the prospect of a thirty-five mile car-free ride, I think I'll take the risk.