Hidden Gem

Make America Bike Again – Day 6

“What makes the desert beautiful,” said the Little Prince, “Is that somewhere it hides a well…”                    Antoine de Saint-Exupery

By this same logic, a bicycle tour is beautiful because of the hidden gems that are revealed along the way. One of these gems has got to be the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Yes. It’s true that during the summer there are many tourists, RV’s, and trucks. That just lends support for touring it on a bicycle.

Another reason for the bicycle preference is that just a few miles down the road … between the towns of Hood River and “The Dalles…” the Historic Columbia River Highway becomes hiker/biker only. There’s an invigorating blend of climbing into sunlit Oregon forest, views that compel a stop, and finally, an exhilarating descent into the river valley below. The pictures speak volumes.

Look at the craftsmanship in the 100 year old guardrail pictured in the header. What a narrow roadway! This was one of the first public highways built in the Pacific Northwest. Construction began in 1913…about the same time that Henry Ford began making automobiles affordable. According to the highway engineer for the project, it was designed to make: “Those points where the most beautiful things along the line might be seen in the best advantage, and if possible to locate the road in such a way as to reach them.”

The incredible stretch of downhill roadway in the picture above could easily be mistaken for a location somewhere along Europe’s Mediterranean. To feel it through the tires of a balanced and stable touring bike was a joy. To ride with the knowledge that there could be no cars or trucks following to close behind, with their irritated and distracted drivers, just adds to the moment. This stretch of highway called the Historic Columbia River Highway is truly a gem, waiting to be discovered along the Lewis & Clark trail.

When the highway was conceived, its purpose was to build access to places of great natural beauty. Now, one hundred years later the balance has shifted. Within the more popular national parks and scenic areas, waiting for a parking space with the engine running and the air-conditioner on, is the norm. There are many good reasons for remembering how much fun it can be to ride and travel on a bicycle.

 

 

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Columbia River Gorge

Make America Bike Again – Day 5

Touring bicycles travel close to the earth. Loaded with gear the days roll by at about 10 or 12 miles an hour. It is a relatively slow speed, perfect for unplugging from the digital world and just right for noticing the little things in the natural world, with all of the senses engaged. Maybe that’s why cyclists smile a lot. On day 5 we would make just 28 miles. The pace was particularly slow that, but IMG_1265it wasn’t our fault. We were beset with overflowing beauty at every turn. It was a day of climbing into panoramic views, followed by the twisting road of an inevitable descent into shadow, forest, and the scent of old leaves. We were touring the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. It is a must see and experience for the touring cyclist and bicycle.

 

By evening we reached another of Oregon’s fine network of campgrounds with hiker/biker sites in the town of Cascade Falls. An Adventure Cycling Association tour group of about 15 riders was already there setting up camp. We were right on the river, and a local brew pub a short walk away.

By the time we returned to the campground, the ACA group had already started a campfire. For the second time in as many days Gerry got out his guitar and many voices rose in song.

St Helens – Portland – Troutdale

Make America Bike Again – Day 4

This day would be a memorable stretch of the Lewis & Clark trail, beginning with some morning mirth. We sliced up a watermelon in the parking of the Safeway store and devoured it joyously. Then, time to ride.IMG_1214

A celebration was going on in every town along the way. It was a perfect day for bicycling. As we neared Portland and the road headed turned east, Mt St. Helens, one of our active volcanoes, came into view. We crossed the St John’s bridge into Portland. Robert had to stop and take in the views, but we didn’t linger.

Portland from the bridgeInstead, we kept going into Troutdale, a scenic area at the western end of the Columbia River Gorge. The town straddles a small tributary of the Columbia. The Sandy River is named for the large natural build ups of sand that adorn it’s banks.

At the close of the holiday weekend, they were filled with bathers and other revelers. But not us. We had to find a place for the night. There were several state parks in the area, but also an abundance of “No Camping” signs. It was dusk when Frosty asked a young man in a pick up truck where we might find a place to camp that night?

“There’s no camping for twenty miles,” he replied, “And, it’s uphill.”

Next there was silence. I could see the young man, Brian, talking with his wife in the front seat, their small child comfortably in between. All around us passengers in other vehicles slowed to stare. Until Brian turned back toward Frosty and invited all of us to camp on the lawn of his parent’s home in nearby Corbett, and join in their celebration.

IMG_1246This is how trail angels often appear. Just when things look bleakest, a kindness appears in the form of a hospitable stranger, to turn events around. It was the beginning of a fun and memorable evening. Everyone in our group carries a luxury item or two. Robert has his books and his air mattress. For Gerry, the Irishman, it’s a small traveling guitar. He is a gifted player and a professional musician in his homeland. That night he had a campfire and a willing audience of singers. It was unforgettable.

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Robert, Frank, Gerry, friend of host, Frosty, Brian’s son, Don, and Brian. (Can anyone reading this remember the dog’s name?)

Thanks so much Brian, Ed, and Corinne for your hospitality that day, for the elegant campsite with its many blooming hydrangea, and for sharing the 4th of July with us.

A Bell in the Courthouse

Make America Bike Again – Day 3

On the road from Gnat Creek to St. Helens, Oregon. It’s another warm, clear day. We tried picking up the pace a little, but the shoulder of the road had another idea.  First, my rear tire went flat. It is July 3rd, a Monday. Traffic is heavy. We stopped to fix the tire. Feels like half the drivers in Oregon are on the road. We caught up with the rest of the crew. All those cars must be looking for a good place to camp and watch fireworks. Just as soon as we started up again, Frank had the next flat…Nothing to do but smile!

The sun was setting by the time we reached the town of St. Helens. It was late. We were tired, and we kept going. After dinner and a few missteps, we found our way to the courthouse grounds…right along the Columbia River…where preparations were underway for an all day July 4th celebration. The gatekeeper wanted to let us in. His boss had a different idea. Finally, with two veterans in our group and some skillful negotiation (a solemn pledge to be history by morning,) the event planner relented. That night we camped on lush courthouse grass, right next to the mighty Columbia river. The bell tower sounded every hour.

 

 

 

Eagles in the Sky

Make America Bike Again – Day 2

Our first full day on the road, the earth seemed to reach out and welcome us. By mid-morning a hazy sun presided over a deep blue sky. It was the right temperature for bicycling, never getting hot and staying in the 70’s. Before it ended we would leave Astoria behind, travel about 40 miles and camp at a flyspeck of a campground called Gnat Creek. Twice that day eagles soared aloft. We could see them easily: two over a wetland area at mid-day, and two more over our campsite that evening. What an omen! What a day!

It is a short ride from Fort Stevens to Fort Clatsup, a national park commemorating the completion of the Lewis & Clark expedition. There are some statues and historical reconstructions. Lewis and Clark spent a full winter in this area, with Sacajawea’s connections and guidance, before returning to St Louis.

IMG_1204At the park we met two very curious and friendly volunteers. They wanted Robert to complete a survey. They wanted to know who we were and where we were going. He explained that he was a writer, always looking for characters and scenes for his next book. They wanted his card. (His latest book is an acclaimed work of historical fiction set in ancient Greece.) One host replied that she loved history and was an avid reader. This was just the first day! Already, we were connecting with others along the way, sharing our stories, and growing the network of readers.

Eagles are chief among the winged creatures. They soar, not just in the highest reaches of the sky, but nearest to the gods. In Greek mythology eagles are the bird of choice for carrying messages and directives from Zeus. With their help the King of the Gods gained control over thunder and lightening. He used an eagle to carry out the punishment of Prometheus. And, he used a pair of them to determine the proper location for the Oracle at Delphi.

In so many traditions and cultures, the eagle has been used to represent strength, leadership, and vision. I believe that today’s eagles are messengers. To encounter them at the beginning of an adventure or journey such as this one, is both invitation and blessing. (My ancestor was a demigod. I know these things.) I believe that Robert and each of his friends is being offered a wellspring of courage and vision from the natural world, to empower both their individual dreams and the collective quest of this bicycle tour. The energy will follow them, whether the path is an asphalt road or goes deep within.

 

The Launch

Make America Bike Again – Day 1

Met up with Don, Frank, Frosty & Gerry in the Budget Rental Car parking lot. From there we rode west about 10 miles to Fort Stevens State Park on the coast. It was Saturday afternoon, July 1st, the first step of our journey. There, the rear wheels of all the bikes were dipped into the surf and salt waters of the Pacific Ocean. (Take my word for it, that water is more than just cold.) Three of our group are going all the way to the Atlantic.

Day 1 - The Launch
Frosty, Robert, Frank, Don & Gerry

Frosty gets a nod for bringing us all together for this trip. He is the glue, the instigator, and the motivator.

The State of Oregon gets a nod for its forward thinking public policy  and the accommodating face presented to campers and their bicycles arriving at state parks unburdened by the conventional gasoline-powered vehicle of plastic, fiberglass and steel. Fort Stevens State Park offers hiker/biker campsites, no reservation required for a nominal fee. There’s a 3-day maximum stay and warm showers. What a state!

 

Heading Home

Make America Bike Again Tour – Day 42

There are no more miles to pedal. Robert is at the airport three hours early. He’s eager and anxious to get home. Sad to be leaving the Northern Tier Trail and the satisfactions of life astride a bicycle seat.

In the beginning there were five cyclists, all at least 60; aging men motivated toward continued growth and the experience of life to the fullest. As planned, Frank went as far as Missoula, Mt. and then, back home to California. Unplanned, my chain broke on the southeastern plains of Montana. It was the 23rd day. We were few miles west of the Musselshell River. Unable to repair the chain, Robert and I hitchhiked ahead, leaving Don, Frosty, and Gerry on the road of the Lewis and Clark Trail, and with the smoke from a prairie grass fire filling the sky ahead. Their goal, to cross the continent from west to east, ending at Bar Harbor, Maine.

From the beginning, our goal has been a more modest one. To reach Akron, Ohio with enough time to return to Denver for Lee’s wedding. Here’s some pictures of father and daughter together.

 

 

(These were taken at Norfolk, Virginia in 2007. Lee was still in the Navy. Robert, still practicing law.)

Lee’s marriage is truly a milestone and not to be missed. It is the daughters and sons who inherit the earth. They stand and blossom, while fathers age, commemorate events if they can, and pass away.

In terms of priorities, it just doesn’t get much higher than family. So, Robert’s decision to leave the bicycle trail in Minneapolis – after 2,096 miles – is the right one. So too, his decision to ride on alone after my chain replacement in Medora, North Dakota.

A coast to coast ride need not be completed in one pyrrhic effort. The trail will be there next year, and many more after that. And to my friends, Don, Frosty, and Gerry, be safe and travel well.

Thanks to everyone who has read and enjoyed this blog. Even though the bicycle journey has reached a temporary resolution, the blogging goes on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting Out The Storm

Make America Bike Again – Day 40

“You’re going to get wet out there if you leave today!”

It is the lighthearted voice of Donn Olsen, a cheerful generous man and the owner/operator of the Bicycle Bunkhouse. It’s early morning. Grey billowing clouds fill the sky and the sun, nowhere to be seen.

 

We’re seating at the table in this remarkably dry and cozy space. There’s a hot shower, a fully stock kitchen, and plenty of cots for any number of sleeping cyclists. Donn likes large groups.

So much to be thankful for.

His farm lies along the Northern Tier bicycle trail (Adventure Cycling Association,) just outside of Dalbo, Minnesota. Donn was born there. And, he returned here after his service in the military. His is the signature bicycle hostel, offering bunks, a stocked kitchen, and a hot shower to anyone who can pedal there. Guests are expected to share the accommodations. He only charges for the food and snacks used. Donations accepted. Among the bicycle touring community, his hospitality is legend.

To do the Bicycle Bunkhouse justice, here’s what his renovated barn looks like when the sun is shining.

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In response to Donn’s warning, Robert explains our situation and the looming deadline of Friday’s flight back to Denver. They talk about the options. Our host advises us to go off the Northern Tier route. He produces a different map to explain the difference. His suggestion would cut the distance to the airport in half, an easy day’s ride away.

This continuing appearance of trail angels is one of great and unexpected luxuries of travel, balanced astride a bicycle seat. The encounters can become moments of great satisfaction and happiness. In all my years of city life, there is nothing to compare.

Thank you, Donn for your gifts.

 

 

 

Honor The Local Gods

Make America Bike Again – Day 39

From Alice’s Attic there’s only about 80 miles of county highway to cover. Then, nothing but asphalt all the way to the airport through Minneapolis’ extensive bicycle trail system. We have two full days to do it. After the miles Robert and I have covered, should be like a downhill slide.

Except for one thing. The weather report calls for two days of rain and thunder showers.

We have to be at the airport on Friday morning. At least, Robert does. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be disassembled, boxed up, and shipped back to Denver by then. I know it seems unfair. But, really, I could use a break. I’ve been holding him up by the shorts every day for the last 39 days.

You get the picture.IMG_1540

Can you see the water drops falling off the roof? It’s raining right now!

We have encountered local spirits in every state we’ve crossed. If they like you, they simply don’t want you to leave. And, they generally like us the touring cyclists. We move so slowly across the land.

(I know these things. Daedalus, my namesake, was descended from a line of demigods. One reaching all the way back to Hephaestus and Demeter. She is the goddess of agriculture and the harvest. He’s the god of craftsmen and artists, metals and the forge, and by logical extension, volcanoes.)

Out of Oregon we faced high winds. Idaho, it was brush and forest fires. Exiting Montana I had a broken chain. A flat tire on the way out of North Dakota. Now, two days of rain.

Robert’s the one with the opposable thumbs. I do hope he finds a way to appease the local gods.

Trail Angel

Make America Bike Again – Days 37& 38

Day 38 was a blue sky day that ended in the cozy shelter of a renovated barn called Alice’s Attic.

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It’s an eclectic patchwork of flowers, fields, folk art and shadow. (Find out more at: http://www.alicesattic.com)

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Here’s Alice and Robert having morning coffee.

For cyclists on the Northern Tier Trail it’s a welcoming place, and Alice, a Trail Angel of distinction!

What happened to day 37? If you’re curious, think rain, mosquitos and history at Charles Lindberg State Park.