The Final Map

A quick followup: I’ve just exported the GPS data from my trusty eTrex 20, and after cleaning up the bigger “knots” of data (clusters of points from when I was sitting still, which sometimes added as much as 0.2 miles of distance) the final total of what I’ll call the official mileage is 5065 miles!

The map below is the route I took.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with it. I designed it to take in a lot of parts of the country I wanted to see, while avoiding the worst of the steep and/or constant climbs I might encounter elsewhere, and I think I made pretty good decisions.

The Appalachians are notoriously difficult on bikes, as my time living in the Shenandoah Valley reminded me. I skipped right through the Ridge and Valley by following the Lehigh River, and then stuck to the flats of Ohio and Michigan for the rest of the first segment of the trip.

I avoided what sounded like some really unpleasant parts of the TransAmerica Trail, which due to its history and popularity is considered the classic cross-country route. Its eastern section spends quite a while climbing up and down endless steep hills through Kentucky and Missouri, and this year the westbound TransAmers all reported it was extremely hot and muggy there when they rode through. Of course, I did experience some of that in Iowa, but the hills there were nowhere near as bad as I’ve heard the Ozarks are.

I also skipped Kansas, whose completely monotonous flatlands and powerful crosswinds are also somewhat legendary. Instead, Nebraska and South Dakota offered a surprising amount of scenic value and, in the case of the former, even tree cover.

My route did sadly miss out on the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Montana, but I did get a healthy dose of Rocky Mountain scenery, ecosystems and climbing in the Bighorns, Wind Rivers, and passing the Tetons and through Yellowstone.

Southern Idaho was one section I knew I was only visiting because I had family there, and I would advise other bike tourists to do likewise. The desert in the northeastern part of the Snake River Plain is actually really beautiful (at least, I thought so), but the majority of the time I spent there was through often-smelly farmland, and the wind was against me the entire time to boot – as it would be for anyone riding in that direction, since it apparently blow more or less upstream in the valley at all times. Crossing the Idaho Rockies would have meant much more hard climbing, but probably less in the way of headwinds, and much better views and cooler temperatures.

I enjoyed eastern Oregon a lot, and got some more of the TransAm experience, riding with other cyclists and staying in churches that know lots of cyclists are riding through and offer free or donation-based places to sleep. The state was scenic almost the whole way through, and I even got a little taste of riding southward with a coastal tailwind – though I didn’t actually get any views of the ocean without detouring. People say the Oregon coast is beautiful to ride along, but I guess I was in the wrong part of the state for that. Still a great ride though.

It’s hard to imagine doing a ride like this again. Perhaps when I’m retired and have lots of time, and hopefully am still as physically fit as the many older folks I crossed paths with along the way. I wouldn’t do it alone, certainly. And I’d take a different route, even though mine was, in some places, probably the optimal route. I still haven’t seen the mountains of Colorado or the Northern Rockies, or much of Utah, or the Sierras. On the other hand, plenty of other parts of the country don’t appeal to me in terms of a bike trip, and I think I did a pretty decent job piecing together some of the best while keeping the zigzagging to a relative minimum.

That’s with one big exception, of course, which was northern Michigan. I could have cut a week and a half off the trip by heading straight from Ohio to Chicago, and if I were doing this route again, I would. Michigan was pleasant enough to ride in, with cool weather and lots of state forest campsites accessible to cyclists (and all next to lakes or streams) but northern Michigan was horrifically mosquito-infested, and actually not all that interesting to ride in – the roads, for the most part, don’t pass the scenic views, and to really enjoy that area, you’ve got to go off into the woods. And not in summer, either. I do want to return someday, but only in fall when the bugs aren’t out in such force.

Crossing the country isn’t a Herculean achievement, at all. Post-trip, when my aunt near Seattle drove me to drop off the bike for shipping at a nearby shop, she was amused by how low-key the discussion was between myself and the staff. “Yeah, I just finished riding across the country.” “Oh, nice.” “Yeah, it was a good trip.” Non-bike-people tend to be a lot more impressed, more, I think, than is reasonable. When I hear about someone finishing a cross-country ride, I’m impressed, but not awed. It’s just a matter of stubbornness for the most part, and doing your research beforehand to avert most problems before they ever occur. You can do it too!

Whether you’d want to is another matter. I don’t think I really want to again (which isn’t to say I regret it or wouldn’t do it for the first time, if I were traveling back in time to decide). I mostly rode alone, with a small taste of riding with others, but I would certainly not do another trip of this length without a partner or group. And I’m sure I’ll start to daydream about future trips after a little while, but for now I’m just ready to be sleeping in the same bed for many months.

I’ve still got to look through all my photos and do a little post-processing, the results of which will be uploaded…someday. Till then, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it!

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Finish line!

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Mission accomplished! I touched my feet and bike wheels to the Pacific Ocean last Friday and am now enjoying a few days of happy loafing at my aunt and uncle’s place north of Seattle, with comfy chairs and beautiful views of the Cascades – at least when it’s not cloudy, which may or may not happen before I leave.

I did take the shorter route I mentioned in my previous post, otherwise I’d still be riding. As it happened, I rented a car to drive up to Seattle and drove most of the route I would have ridden, and I’m not sorry not to have cycled it. Not too much in the way of views (except for some epic ones of Mt. Hood) and lots of beautiful, but repetitive, temperate rainforest. It would have been a long, long week.

I’ll be flying back to Philly soon, and someday putting together a more complete photo journal of this trip (like what I’ve got from a bunch of other, mostly shorter, trips at http://www.julianbender.net). Until then, here are the photos of Oregon, which I really enjoyed.

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Still more sagebrush desert, but Oregon got gradually greener as I approached the coast. Unfortunately, somewhere along here my new camera’s faulty lens cover appears to have let something damage the lens, and it now takes the form of a big gray blob on all my pictures. At least it sounds like Canon is willing to do a replacement, if not a refund.

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The first suspicion of a wildfire appears, far on the horizon. It will get bigger.

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More scenes from the old west. Eastern Oregon had as much of a Wild West feel to it as Wyoming, which I somehow hadn’t expected. I’ll miss the smell and color of sagebrush.

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I always like finding a good haunted house.

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Entering Picture Gorge, a narrow weaving basalt canyon, near Dayville. The lack of light inside made it impossible for my point and shoot camera to capture the interior, sadly.

Up a mountain pass and down the other side. There were plenty of these in Oregon, but not too many to keep me from counting down how many the trip had left. This was the third to last, from Dayville over to Mitchell.

A few last buttes ‘n barns. Around the bend from here, I was within sight of the Cascades.

I thought at first that this was Mt. Hood. Nope – it’s Mt. Jefferson. Mt. Hood is considerably bigger and more impressive; I got to see it later from a car.

I was happy to see these volcanos, the Three Sisters, looming in the background. Even happier to see the alpacas coming over to say hello. Of course, when they realized I wasn’t feeding them, they headed out pretty quickly.

Great views of volcanos and lava fields, as I climbed McKenzie Pass – over the Cascades and the last mountain pass of the trip!

And then, down into thick forests and a new, green world that almost looked like home. The temperature was significantly cooler, too. If it weren’t for the 9-10 months a year in which the sun does not come out, the Northwest would be a pretty tempting place!

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Down in the Willamette Valley, these were everywhere. Some, like this one, looked shady; others were quite on the nose, with Rastafarian-themed decorations and everything.

Another cross-country rider, Glen, kept catching up with me; eventually we pulled in – after, for me, 110 miles – to camp behind the church in Swisshome. One more day to go!

Morning mist – another new feature, and sign of the coast!

Still a little amazed by how green this place is, after a month in the dry country. And then, more and more blue – not the ocean yet, but I could almost smell it.

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And there’s the beach! I found a couple conveniently posted up right by the water and commissioned them to take my wheel-dip photos, then lugged the bike back across the sand to crank out 20 more miles to Coos Bay, where I rented a car to drive north.

I haven’t yet plugged in my GPS to a computer, so no word on what my total distance was, but I’m betting it was close to 5000 miles. I’ll put up a postscript about that, once I’ve got it together.

Thanks for reading! I hope this was entertaining and, perhaps, a little enlightening. I’ll update again when a full photo journal is online, maybe sometime this winter.

State #13 down


Just a quick update. I managed to reach Oregon without dying of dysentery or losing any family members in river crossings!

I have been pondering a route alteration, on which would shorten the ride by up to a week. The downsides are that I would miss riding through some terrain that would likely be cool – up the Cascades, and around the Olympic peninsula. Though I’ve heard nothing too good about cycling in the latter. The upsides are that I’d be done riding sooner – and between the best and having been riding for three months now, I’m pretty much ready for that. The excitement of constantly seeing new country has been tempered by the intense heat and headwinds I’ve had ever since hitting Idaho, and I’m more or less at the saturation point for enjoyment of cycle touring and the idea of seeing more mountains is only very mildly exciting. The idea of shade, a shower, and a bed, on the other hand, is the stuff dreams are made of. 

If I continue on my original route, I’ll probably have a bit under two more weeks to go, and finish around the very latest date if ever estimated for the trip’s end. Most of that riding will be east of the Cascades, in terrain I expect to be consistently hot and dry. I like deserts, but what was tolerable in early July is proving to be substantially less enjoyable as August approaches, much like listening to election podcasts as the polls tighten and the odds of a gibbering, puerile psychopath entering the White House become those of a coin toss. 

Another option would be to follow the TransAmerica Trail, which I should be back onto tomorrow, to its end in Astoria. This would mean I’d likely have the chance to cross the finish line with other cross-country riders, which would mean plenty of enjoyable camaraderie. The TransAm stretches many unnecessary miles to the north, though, and would probably mean an end date not too much earlier than if I followed the original route. 

Or, I could head straight west through Eugene and to the coast, in which case is probably finish before this weekend. Needless to say, that’s appealing. It would satisfy my ocean-to-ocean ambition every bit as well as the original plan would, even if Florence, OR has nothing interesting to its name (or maybe it does, I don’t know) – nothing was special about the grubby, casino-side patch of Atlantic City beach I began at, either, other than that Atlantic waves were rolling onto it. That’s the part that counts. 

Getting to Seattle could then be accomplished by train or bus, or perhaps by rental car. This last would let me see the same roads I would have cycled on up the Cascade Range, albeit at a cost somewhat higher than that of the campsites and food I would have paid for over days of cycling. If you can tell, I’m currently leaning heavily toward the last option here. I don’t have to decide yet – when I get to Sisters in a few days, I’ll check forecasts and my mood and finalize a plan. 

Fortunately things are looking up. The temperatures should be cooling down tomorrow to a brisk high of 93, making the riding less punishing, and I’ll gain a couple thousand feet in elevation to boot. If I take the short way, only one more mountain pass awaits before the west coast. Now if I can have a change from the incessant west winds that my previous casual dismissal no doubt summoned to Idaho, everything will be just peachy. 

Snake River Plain and Sawtooth Mountains

Since West Yellowstone, I’ve been heading across a section of Idaho that bike tourists might be well-advised to avoid. This isn’t the cool, high mountains; it’s closer to the basin and range of Nevada, at least in climate. I’ve been told the temperatures hit 105 one day! I didn’t actually feel that hot – the one nice thing about the constant headwinds (from the south, but also from the west whenever I’m heading west) is that they do keep you cooler. 

I’m now wrapping up a number of days off the bike, my longest break from the trip since Chicago. This is occasioned by another rear-wheel-related problem or two. The rear wheel is showing a number of rapidly-growing cracks, signs that it has just been ridden into the ground and might give out at any moment; a failure even more catastrophic than that time my rear tire exploded. Also, my brand-new rear tire was somehow pierced by a bolt which became stuck in the rubber; I’ve yet to figure out how this is physically possible, as the bolt had no sharp edges. Miraculously this latest piercing didn’t render the tire non-functional and the tube was undamaged. I made it the rest of the 128 mile day to Buhl, ID, the only effect of the bolt incident being that I had to pump up my rear tire every 10 or 15 miles due to a new slow leak back there. 

This dual disaster was better timed, as Buhl is home to Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Jim, who offered me the use of a car to go explore the Sawtooth Mountains to the north. What better way to spend the interval on which I waited for the bike parts I needed? They also fed me lavishly, including stocking up a cooler for me to take into the mountains; Aunt Elizabeth seemed anxious that I would not report here that I’d gone away hungry. Certainly no worries on that front! Sadly, I didn’t meet any other bike tourists with whom to share said cooler’s generous contents. More for me!

Tomorrow I should be rolling again and by Friday I hope to be in Boise where the rest of the Barker family lives. From there it’s probably under two weeks to the finish line. Wow!


State #11 down. That one went quick. The power outage that hit just as I was about it go grocery shopping, and blacked out the entire region, is a story that will have to wait until I do a full photo journal later on. 


I rapidly left the Rockies behind as I headed into the Snake River plain, a weird lava-leveled arc dividing the northern Rockies from the basin and range. 


No big climbs in the near future. Sadly, constant and strong high winds from the south seemed to be the new way of things. I was headed south. 


Semi-stealthy camping with a moon view. 


Tiny rain clouds and nice morning light. 

Wave goodbye to the Tetons. It occurred to me that this route was going to be largely a retreading of a drive I did with my parents nine years earlier, to a family wedding in Buhl. Not being desert people, it made a big impression on us. 


After a last minute route change necessitated a grocery stop in Rexburg, I was luckily taken in by a last-minute Warmshowers host there. Centered around a BYU campus, the town seemed to be all Mormon. Sadly, I was not holy enough to enter the temple and gawk. By coincidence (or was it?!?!?) and email reminder arrived the following day, reminding me to book spots to tour the Mormon temple now nearing completion in downtown Philly, before it is made off limits to all heathens, or rather Gentiles I believe the term is. Looks like there are still plenty of weekday times if you’re interested. 


I couldn’t tell if this was a real ghost town or a movie set or something. This is terrain that has had me wishing for a montain bike.


The very edge of the Rockies. 

Remains of volcanoes. The replacement camera does not have a perfect autofocus finction, I learned. 



The ridiculous headwinds aside, this was beautiful country. Or maybe I like deserts more than most people would. 


The smell of sagebrush brought me back to the mountains of the Sinai, where a related plant is added to tea for flavor and alleged medicinal benefits (though it sure didn’t help my food poisoning). I haven’t tried this species to drink yet. Then, enjoying the evening light and recovering from dehydration in Arco. 

This morning, having a fairly early start, I began to conceived of doing the entire distance to Buhl. Besides getting me enough miles to set a new lifetime record for distance in a day, it would also bring an early beginning to my planned rest and car-based hiking trip. 



Naturally, the trend of winds from the south and west, according to my direction at a given time, held up. Couldn’t have those 128 miles come too easy. 


Attempting to forestall the slow leak with a dollar bill boot. I don’t think it did much to help. After merely a week of service my new rear tire was nearly out of commission. 


Plenty of these views, to bore even what Bertie Wooster might term a “ho for the open spaces bird.” Accompanied by what my mom calls “country air,” someone local called “the smell of money,” and what I might euphemistically name the stench of cow output in Augean quantities. 


My last few hours of riding were in the dark; this faint view of the Snake River was about the last thing I saw. 


Enjoying some dispersed camping in the borrowed car, in the Sawtooth Valley. I especially liked that I could stretch out and sleep in the back, saving me the trouble of setting up my tent. 


Just a few shots of the truly classic hike up to Alice and Twin Lakes. 


I had another hike planned for today, but once again my decision to wear Chacos proved disastrous. An extraordinary amount of dust and grit led to some really painful foot wounds and I had to skip Sawtooth Lake which I’d planned to hike today. I’m pretty sure REI will still take these sandals back, and after that I’m never going hiking without shoes again. No matter how difficult they are to pack on a touring bike. 


As always, it felt too soon to leave the alpine lakes. 


Dusk at another blissful dispersed campsite. Once again a mountain bike would have been the perfect item here – the downside of the fast, skinny tired road bike is that I’m very limited in how far I can get from roads and developed, built up areas. 

With any luck, tomorrow I’ll be rolling again and now it’s the home stretch. Forecasts of “warm” temperatures, which is what people on the radio  who could use a good smacking like to call highs of 100 or more. If I’m lucky maybe the wind will still be from the south and at least be somewhat helpful. Haha, who am I kidding. 

Tetons and Yellowstone

Reporting it from West Yellowstone, MT. Just got out of a great long weekend in two of the most impressive national parks we’ve got. I’ve been spending the afternoon in the public library poring over maps and figuring out a route across Idaho.

The parks were great, and I’ve included a somewhat random selection of photos, because now that I’m in scenic places I’m taking a lot and it’s hard to judge from the tiny thumbnails my phone offers which pictures are the best. While there I continued to enjoy being on and near the TransAmerica Trail and meeting lots more cycle tourists (enough that I’ve officially given up keeping count). I did a little hiking and saw quite a few wildlifes, and even some grizzly poop – but no bears in person. What a rip-off!

My calculations have also revealed that I’m likely to finish the trip a bit earlier than I had been guessing – probably around the first weekend of august, barring any major delays. I’m excited to be on the home stretch even though the parts coming up are going to be the best – hopefully including, and not despite, a traverse of southern Idaho’s desert. 

Grand Teton NP offers far more singularly stunning views than Yellowstone. I got plenty of photos of these peaks. 







Views from my campsite at Jenny Lake. 





On to Yellowstone after a big climb into the plateau. 


A natural feature up an isolated trail. 


Bison were quite relaxed in their attitude toward people and our dwellings. 


They also didn’t seem to care if they caused traffic jams. 


And they enjoy the smell of rotten eggs; at least I assume that’s why they were always hanging around geothermal features. 

One of many holes spewing smelly steam from the ground. 


Hayden Valley was wildlife central. I later saw some shots taken by a wildlife photographer of the wolf packs that roam the area. 


Shot includes a bald eagle and z herd of elk crossing the river. 


The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was a highlight. 


Obligatory reference to “Neature Walk,” my favorite YouTube video. 


More steaming gateways to hell!


Nice meadow where I camped last night. 


I rode yesterday with this Canadian guy, Ben, on his way to Vancouver. 



More great western scenes on the way down from Yellowstone. 



State #10 down. I’ll also knock out Montana today for my only three-state day of the trip. 

Now I have to rush to get groceries for the next two days of riding through desolate country, and push another 18 miles to a Warmshowers. The wind looks strong; sure hope it’s with me. 

Across the Great Divide

There’s more 60s lyrics for you to write to me, Dad. 

This may be the last post for a while, as I’m about to head up into the nTional parks; or the last post ever if any grizzlies decide to stroll into my campsite and eat me. I’m in Jackson, WY, waiting for bike shops to open so I can get a new tire. I’ll also see if I can get a reasonably priced and decent camera. If not I’ll probably settle for a cheaper point and shoot. Jackson was the first place in the west that I ever visited, 9 years ago this month (west coast not included). The town seems to consist largely of souvenir shops and If I were in the market for cowboy hats or boots, I’d be all set. It looks familar, but what stands out, of course, are the Grand Teton mountains just north of town. 

I climbed steadily out of Dubois and met bike tourists #28-30, all of them riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, a mostly off-road trail that runs the length of the Rockies from Banff to the Mexican border. It’s also on my bucket list. It overlaps the TransAmerica Trail briefly. It sounds tough and despite that I’d like to do it one day, I’m kid of glad I’m just riding on asphalt right now. Two days ago I mentioned to the Dutch couple I met that I really don’t enjoy climbing anything steeper than about a 3 or 4% grade. “You’re 40 years younger than me and you don’t want to climb?!” Peter scolded. “You’re lazy!” I certainly won’t dispute that.

Togwotee (I think I spelled that right) Pass was almost as high as the Powder River pass over the Bighorns, but the climb was a breeze by comparison. I started much higher and the total elevation gain was probably 1/3 overall of what the former climb was. A fairly steady 4% grade meant I wanted the occasional breather, but didn’t really work too hard. At the top a picnic spot by a small lake made a good place for lunch. The descent was disappointing – lots of little climbs on the way and few sustained sections of coasting. A continual intense headwind had me pedaling even downhill. But, my first view of the Tetons came a short way into the downhill, and it was probably one of the greatest views in the lower 48. 

Then I sped south through Jackson Hole, admiring mountains, bison and the Snake River. I had met a touring cyclist (off duty) just outside Philly at the beginning of my trip, who told me to look him up if I was around Jackson at the right time, as his family has a house out there. I had been thinking of stashing my bike with them to go backpacking in the Tetons for a few days, but those dreams exploded along with my rear tire and the subsequent delay. I caught them on their last night before leaving, thiugh, and they very kindly took me along to dinner and put me up on an air mattress with a stellar view of the sunrise on the Tetons. 

I’m heading up to camp by Jenny Lake tonight, and maybe do a bit of hiking if I can. Then it’ll be on to Yellowstone where I’ll probably not do huge numbers of miles a day. No definite ETA on emerging from the park; probably early or middle of next week at the latest. 

I also crossed the continental divide on yesterday’s pass, hence the title of the post. In the Pacific watershed, and the end is starting to come, very faintly, into sight! 


Upper reaches of the Wind River. 


“Bears on road. Stay in vehicle.”

Jimmy, cycle tourist #28, nears the top of the pass and the Great Divide. Of course, this was less significant for him than me, as the route he’s riding crosses the divide at least a dozen times. 





First view of the Teton Range. 


Down in Jackson Hole. 


Ansel Adams apparently took this photo once. Presumably in the morning, not afternoon. 


Got up at 5:45 for this. 


Once I get my shopping done I may be too late to have good light on the mountains while I ride north. Glad I got to see this. 

Wind River (with pictures!)

A batch of photos, while I wait for the Episcopal church in Dubois, WY to finish up a meeting in the same room where they let cyclists sleep. Including the last photos probably ever taken by my late camera. Also, I meant to make a remark on how it’s not hard to guess how the Wind River got its name. You know that feeling when a 10mph headwind feels like a tailwind because you’ve been taking 30-40mph winds to the face all day?


Two views from the butte outside Thermopolis. 

Entrance to Wind River canyon. 

Within the canyon. 

First glimpse of the Wind River mountains. 


Enjoying the scenery, if not the wind direction, of the Wind River valley.  

Camped by a large and presumably artificial lake. Right here is where my camera quit working. 

Cool buttes. 

Wyoming!

Crow Heart Butte. Named after a post-battle display of a Crow warrior’s heart on a Shoshone chief’s spear. The sign also noted that he liked white men and didn’t have any of their scalps in his tepee. How nice of him. 


At lunch I met three other bike tourists, two Dutch and one American. Then we crossed paths with three more going the opposite way. Sure is crowded here on the TransAm. 


The scenery was great all day, especially after lunch. As much as I could keep my head up as opposed to staying as far under the wind as possible, I enjoyed looking around. 


Still reminds me of Utah, which I guess has no monopoly on red rock. 


Several crossings of the Wind River. 


Eventually the hoodoos started looking reminiscent of Bryce Canyon, a bit. 



Finally in Dubois. Nice view of the mountains, a burger, and then taken in by episcopalians. Happy camping in the church office floor. Been warned not to leave the highway on the pass tomorrow – grizzly country! Given that thousands of cyclists bike this route every year, I feel fairly safe.