What If?

Make America Bike Again – Day 20

Great Falls, Montana is a natural place to rest for a while and smell the roses. Lewis & Clark , Sacagawea, the 45 volunteers that accompanied them from St. Louis, and the three large boats carrying their gear, all stopped there. Geology and a series of waterfalls determined that the party would go no further up the Missouri River in their quest to reach the Pacific Ocean from St. Louis. They stopped to reflect on their choices, adapt, and change their mode of travel. The area became known as Great Falls, because of this piece of history.

 

That was two hundred years ago. The land was without roads or railroad tracks, and abundantly populated with Native Americans and buffalo…About one hundred years after that, a dam and power plant were constructed across one of these water falls by a business consortium to create electricity for a fledgling city, and in hopes of attracting a railroad into the area. Today, the City of Great Falls boasts an international airport, a railroad, and an interstate highway filled with air-conditioned RV’s and trucks. Today, the City of Great Falls is replete with bicycle paths lining both sides of the river. The Lewis & Clark Bicycle Trail follows the route of these early explorers and passes through the heart of the city. According to Wikipedia and US census data, the human population of Great Falls peaked after World War II at about 60,000 residents. It has been declining ever since. Whether these points of historical interest are judged good or bad, I leave to each individual reader to decide.

There are better questions, such as: Where does the City of Great Falls and the State of Montana go from here?

The jobs once created by the copper industry in Great Falls are gone. Most of the remaining ones are supplied by the military, government, and the railroad. These employers are fully staffed and budgeted. Where can the young people of Great Falls look in order to feel hope for the future? Here are my ideas and suggestions:

  1. Although the dam and its electrical power were once essential for Great Falls to grow and thrive, that is no longer the case. The dam are its technology are old. They have aged in place while other sources of renewable power have become available and cost effective. The dam across the Missouri River at Great Falls is no longer essential. Nor is it the highest and best use of the river.

2. The highest and best use of the site is to remove the dam and restore the falls to their original condition. These steps, properly marketed, could bring national and even worldwide attention to the city, the state, and the upper reaches of the Missouri River as tourist destinations.

3. Montanans should recognize the importance of bicycle tourism to their state, particularly along the Lewis & Clark and TransAmericaTrails with bicycle friendly shoulders and improved state park facilities.

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Goodbye Idaho

Make America Bike Again – Day 15

Robert rose early. Packed, made coffee and oatmeal, and on the road by seven. He found good water at the old ranger station. There was more water at the Wilderness Access Campground, but Frank was already gone, heading east toward Lochsa Lodge.

We were closing in on Missoula, Montana, the navel of the bicycle touring world of North America. Both the Northern Tier and the Lewis and Clark Trails pass right through the city, and the Great Divide Bicycling Route passes very near. It is also the home of AdventureCycling.org. This has to be a good area for meeting other touring cyclists.

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First to arrive was Doug. As the distance narrowed Robert waved and applied the brakes. Doug did the same. I crossed the road onto the other shoulder. (Remember, I’m the bicycle that keeps Robert on the road.) Right away Doug informed us that he is in the race. Having no clue, as usual, Robert asks, “What race is that?”

“The ACA one,” Doug replies. “I’m racing across America, east to west.”

“How long have you been on the road?”

Six weeks,” replied Doug. “Technically, it’s already been won. Most racers go west to east. One of those racers has already finished. I just want to finish.”

The Adventure Cycling Association stated this race just a few years ago. The course follows the association’s TransAmericaTrail  from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia. Participants have to travel under their own power and self-supported. Most elect to go west to east, but a few, like Doug, choose the more challenging east to west route. You can read more about it on his blog: RideAllNight.wordpress.com.

Robert reached Lochsa Lodge by early afternoon. A breeze carried the smell of smoke and the sounds of not so distant helicopters. Frank was no where to be found. He must have taken a lunch break and kept right on going. For such a remote area, Lochsa Lodge was a busy place this time of year and a welcome stopping place for the traveler ready for a break and a good meal.

While Robert ate lunch, a large group of young cyclists arrived. They too were going east to west on a fully supported, charitable fund raiser. The earliest arrivals dropped their bikes, draping them over the grassy lawn, and close to the front doors, the bathrooms and the food.  Next came a hotshot crew, rotating out from their time spent on the fire line. They were followed by a small group of distinctly overweight motorcycle riders, dressed in Harley garb. Some carried sidearms.

Robert returned to the campsite just in time for an afternoon thunder shower. The tent and rainfly went quickly up. As the rain increased Robert grabbed his book and climbed inside for an afternoon snooze.

We would cross into Montana tomorrow. After the storm ended and dinnertime approached Robert found a meaningful way to honor the local Idaho gods. He donated a pair of Nike tennis shoes to the local lost and found, and lightened our load in the process. About 5 pm, who should roll into camp but the three lingering cyclists from our original group, Don, Frosty, and Gerry. We were back together again…minus 1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

Changing Strategy

Make America Bike Again – Day 36

Last night there was another storm.     We were alongside the Paul Bunyan trail in a primitive campsite. Once again rain pounded on the rain fly of the tent. There was no sleeping through it.

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It was that night, when it occurred to Robert that the arithmetic of miles to go, wasn’t enough For us to get to Akron on time for Lee’s wedding. He is the father of the bride after all!

With the loving support of his partner Marceil, we choose to exit the bicycle tour for the higher priority. Akron loved ones were advised. A Thanksgiving visit scheduled.

Nothing left to do, but get to Minneapolis by Friday the 11th. How difficult could that be, after bicycling over 2,000 miles from Astoria?