Day 30: The day of the tailwind (pt. 2)

Day 30, 7/13, Glendive, MT to Dickinson, ND: 104.5 miles, 5,837 ft elevation gain, 14.7 mph average speed
Trip totals: 1,530.5 miles (63.8 daily average), 76,867 ft elevation gain, 11.8 mph overall average speed

Four days behind schedule.

Dani wrote a post calling yesterday “the day of the tailwind,” but you can’t fault her for that. We didn’t know what the wind was going to be like today.

The alarm went off at 5:30a, and we were up and out rather quickly, thanks to Dani packing all the bags that could be packed last night.

Glendive is at the bottom of the Yellowstone River Valley, and we started the day by climbing out. That in and of itself wasn’t a big deal; we’ve often started days with climbs. What made today special is that we were climbing on Interstate 94. There aren’t too many roads heading west out of Eastern Montana, so the ACA maps took us onto I-94 for the first 13 or so miles of the day.

  
We actually ended up riding on I-94 for a significant portion of the day. Riding our bikes on an interstate was not something we were looking forward to, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought it would be. Pros of riding on the interstate: the hills are more gently graded, the shoulder is consistently huge, it’s usually the shortest distance between points a and b, and we always seem to ride faster when we’re on busier roads. Cons: traffic moves faster, taking breaks is not pleasant, it’s loud and stressful, and there is often sharp debris on the shoulder.

After 13 or so miles, we exited to ride a frontage road for another dozen miles. We took advantage of being off there interstate to stretch and eat, but shortly into our ride on the frontage road we decided they pros of the interstate outweighed the cons. The wind was already starting to pick up at our backs, and we wanted to take full advantage.

So we hopped back on I-94 at the earliest opportunity and we flew down the road to Medora. The wind was amazing. I don’t know much about gauging wind speeds, but I’m guessing it was guessing around 25 mph. We were riding 18-20mph uphill. When the wind gusted, we felt like it was carrying us over the hills. What a fun way to ride a bike.

About 40 miles into the day, we finally left Montana and entered North Dakota. This goes into the obvious observation files, but Montana is a huge state. We spent the better part of 18 days in Montana (including our time stranded in Glacier), and we rode approximately 870 miles in the state. That’s over a fifth of our total trip in one state. A state with maybe a third of the population of Brooklyn.

  
Anyways, I might not have had the greatest expectations for scenery in North Dakota, but the country in the western part of the state blew us away. We spent most of our day riding through the badlands, and they were unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

   
    

We were cruising along, making excellent time to Medora, when I heard Dani’s tire pop from a good 20 yards behind her. She had ridden over something nasty that sliced right through the sidewall of her tire. For those of you who don’t know, a gash to the sidewall is a death sentence for the structural integrity of a tire. Luckily we a) had a tire boot to use as an emergency fix (my bike tool kit is really getting some use!), and b) were close to Medora, which has a great bike shop. While we were changing the tube, a man named Chuck stopped to offer us help! He owns a bookshop in Seattle and is also riding across the country with his wife driving a support car. He was in the support car because his tire blew out in Vida and he had to go all the way to Medora to get a tire. He’s not going to cheat, though. His wife will drive him back to Vida to cover that section again. 

A few miles after Dani’s flat (and about 60 miles into the day) we exited I-94 and headed toward Medora, the launching-off point for Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There was a bike path that took us into town alongside a small stream. Oh man, so beautiful. It hurts my heart that we weren’t able to spend any real time in the park. We really wanted to take some time to explore, but our Glacier fiasco set us back and we just didn’t have time.

  

Medora is another faux-western tourist town, but I have a confession to make: we love tourist towns. We love all of the cute little shops and cafes, the ice cream, the assurance that there will be good food, and how clean and maintained everything looks. We know it isn’t “real,” but we love it anyway.

   
    

Our first stop in town was Dakota Cyclery, and I can’t recommend the shop enough. They were well stocked with high quality touring tires, and they were exceptionally friendly and helpful, completely lacking the snobbishness that is often a part of the bike shop experience.

We decided to eat lunch before we bought the tire and hopped over to Boots Bar and Grill, where Dani had a fried fish basket and I had a steak sandwich that was delicious, but small.

Then we headed back to the bike store, bought a new tire, and changed the tire while we ate ice cream.

Then we headed out of town, trying to rack up some more miles with this lovely tailwind. Immediately after exiting town proper, we began to climb. It wasn’t too long of a hill, but it was steep. Holy moly. Maybe the steepest grade of the trip so far. But the wind was helping us, and we made it up the hill and back onto I-94.

   
 

The ACA maps have you taking old highway 10 for this section of the day, but we heard that there was a lot of oil truck traffic on that part of 10, and we wanted to get as many miles in as possible, so we elected to stay on the interstate. A few miles after Medora, we pulled off at the Painted Canyon overlook. Yep. It was stunning.

  

Back on the road, we were trying to make it to Richardton, where there is an Abbey that extends its hospitality to touring cyclists. But I-94 had other plans for us, and shortly after we were congratulating ourselves for having the good fortune to lose a tire right before an excellent bike shop, my tire blew. I don’t know what I hit, but the tire went from full to flat in barely a second. Luckily, the tire itself remained intact, and all I had to do was switch out the tube. 

   

 

Pedaling again, we were starting to tire out despite the tailwind. Riding 100+ miles wears you out, even with a favorable wind! We rolled into Dickinson after 102 miles close to 5:00p.

We’ve found a few blogs of people who are doing the same trip as us, but are a few days ahead. These are great sources for tips on riding conditions, etc., but today we found perhaps the best tip ever: there’s a Qdoba in Dickinson.

Yay for giant burrito bowls and unlimited seltzer water! It was the perfect dinner to end the day.

Except the day wasn’t supposed to end yet. We were supposed to ride another 25 miles to free camping at the Abbey. But we were exhausted, so we decided to call it a day.

We ended up staying at an RV park in town. It was $25, but it had a nice shower, WiFi, shady trees, and it was quiet. It’s the most we’ve paid for camping so far, but the showers made it a better deal than the Montana Bike Hostel, in case you were wondering. 

   
 

We’re going to try to make it into Bismarck tomorrow, which would be another century ride!

Day 28: The day of the lucky bathroom break

Day 28, Glasgow, MT to Vida, MT: 73 miles, 2,023 ft. elevation gain, 13 mph average speed.
Trip Totals: 1,345.8 miles (61.2 daily average), 67,081 ft. elevation gain, 11.5 mph overall average.

Four days behind schedule.

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Hey! Guess what! We have a waterproof tent!

Tanja had warned us that there was a pretty fierce storm rolling in, and it landed sometime in the middle of the night. Rain, lightning, and lots and lots of wind. The wind repeatedly blew our tent over to a 45 degree angle before the tent snapped back into place.

It was a bit frightening, but not enough to keep me awake after fighting through that headwind all day. But then–and here’s the exciting part–we woke up in the morning and we were dry! All of us! And all of our stuff! Happy day!

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We were terrified of having to fight that headwind again, so the alarm went off at 4:30a and we were on the road by 5:20a. We spent most of the intervening time being eaten by mosquitoes. If these early morning mosquitoes stay this bad, we might have to toss this all natural, cruelty-free repellent and get some DEET. I’m tired of being breakfast before I eat breakfast.

Anyway, we got on the road and pedaled with the all of the strength of our fear of another headwind. Also biking fast keeps the mosquitoes away, so that was an extra motivator. We made it 30 miles by 7:30a before we stopped to eat first breakfast. We were on track to make it to Wolf Point (50 miles) before 9:00a, but then a shattered beer bottle introduced itself to my rear tire, and the interaction didn’t go too well.

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I changed the tire in 20 or so minutes and we were back on our bikes and into Wolf Point at 9:31a (so close!), and we headed straight for McDonald’s.

I hope we’re not forming long lasting bad habits, but 1) McGriddles are delicious, and 2) since we were stupid enough to make this trip with T-Mobile, we are reliant on WiFi to plan, etc.

Here’s where our days typically fall apart. We have a great start to the morning and decide to congratulate ourselves with hot breakfast food, and then we sit. And sit. And talk about how we need to get going, but without making any effort to stop sitting. It ruins us.

After close to an hour and a half, we finally got ourselves out of McDonald’s and swung by the grocery store on our way out of town, where we found our favorite chocolate milk (Darigold Old Fashioned) probably for the last time.

Aside: Apparently we are now in TruMoo country, and I wouldn’t even wish that sorry excuse for chocolate milk on someone who decides to ship their house on a shoulderless two-lane highway.

We headed out of Wolf Point, leaving Rt. 2 behind after over 300 miles and we joined Rt. 13 south to take us to Circle.

Let’s talk a little about expectations here. I’ve seen a lot of people complain on the Internet about the hills coming out of Wolf Point after crossing the Missouri River (oh yeah, we did that), and I think it’s because they take people by surprise. The Adventure Cycling Association maps included an elevation profile for the first two sections, but not for the third section. I think people see this and assume that the whole ride is mostly flat. Then they ride for the first 300 miles of the section and it IS mostly flat. Then they cross the Missouri, and WHAM!

There are hills there. Lots and lots of hills. Hills that are rolling, but rolling consistently upward. I can see how these hills could be a bit demoralizing if you were expecting a flat ride, but we had the elevation profile on the route we uploaded to Ride With GPS, and I had been dreading these hills for days.
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From that perspective, they really weren’t that bad. They weren’t the best thing ever, especially when a mostly headwind picked up around 12:00p, but they weren’t all that bad. And the country was just lovely. A little terrain variation can go a long way, aesthetically. And when we paused to recover from climbing into the wind, we noticed how cool that same wind looked moving through the fields. That “amber waves of grain” thing again, I guess.

Round about 1:45, we made it to the tiny town of Vida, 22 miles of rolling hills out of Wolf Point.

So. Vida. Not much there. A post office with limited hours (8:00-8:45 on Saturday), a community church, and a bar. The ACA map doesn’t even record it having a population. What it does have though is a wonderful shade tree standing over a wonderful bench that is wonderfully protected from the wind. It was wonderful.

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We sat on the bench (and laid on the ground next to it), and ate peanut butter Oreos, Philly cheesesteak-flavored cured meat sticks, jalapeño potato chips, and pop tarts. A well-balanced lunch, in other words.

And then we fell victim to our sitting weakness. We had gone 72 miles and we were tired. And the wind was getting stronger. And the tree was so nice.

But there wasn’t any place to camp in Vida, so we had to move on. We packed our bags and were about to take off when nature started calling me. Loudly. The type of call that can’t be answered on the side of the road.

This was decidedly inconvenient, because there are three buildings in Vida and the bar and post office were definitely closed. So, with fingers crossed, I waddled up the hill to the church.

It was open! And there was a bathroom right next to the front door! Sweet relief!

Then, as I was leaving the church, I heard a shout from a group of people hanging out around two RVs behind the church. It was Cycling 4 Change!

Turns out they received permission from the pastor to spend the night at the church. They again piled us with gifts–sports drinks, chocolate milk, and leftover breakfast–and we got to chatting (and sitting, which I mentioned we love). We hadn’t met everyone the first time, but they were all here then: Sanoosh, Raj, Arool, Zuli, Hannah, Nitha, Lydia, Sarah, Josh, Daniel, Noah, Zachary, Julian, and Daniel (another one). I hope I spelled everyone’s name right!

We hung out for a while, listening to the kids play music and sing songs. Josh plays violin, guitar, and piano, which he taught himself, and is great at all of them. It was beautiful to hear them all sing together. What a talented, adorable family!

By that time it was even later AND even windier, and we really didn’t want to leave. So we asked if we could set up our tent behind the church and they said yes. We passed the rest of the evening talking and playing with the kids. They invited us to join them for dinner (pork chops, hamburgers, hot dogs, pasta, spicy rice and beans, and Israeli couscous salad), and everything was delicious.

After dinner we washed the dishes, and then we headed to bed.

I’m glad I had to poop!

Day 26: The day of Cycling 4 Change

Day 26, Havre, MT to Malta, MT: 90.3 miles, 1,240 ft. elevation gain, 13.2 mph average speed.
Trip Totals: 1,202 miles (60.1 daily average), 63,701 ft. elevation gain, 11.5 mph overall average speed

Four days behind schedule.

Some of you might think that our ride recaps can be a little long. For anyone that has that opinion, here is the abbreviated summary of today:

Hot. Long. Hot. Prairie. Hot. Happy ending.

That’s the day in a nutshell. Now for a little more detail.

We’ve been doing much better at getting an early start over the past few days. It’s amazing how willing and eager Dani has been to wake up at 5:00a. It’s way out of character for her, but a few rides in midday heat and the fear of potential headwinds have overcome her fierce desire to sleep in.

All that being said, we got a really late start today. In many ways it was out of our control. Our new tent didn’t arrive when it was supposed to, so we had to wait for the post office to open at 8:30a. But then we slept in a little too late and we didn’t end up getting on the road until a little after 9:00a.

It was already getting uncomfortably warm, and the late start also ended up creating a bit of a psychological challenge as well. We’ve been pushing ourselves to see how many miles we could ride before 9:00a, 9:30a, etc. as a way to keep ourselves motivated. Yesterday, for example, we were stoked to finish the 42 miles between Shelby and Chester before 9:30a. So when started off at 9:00a, it felt like we were already 40 miles off pace and we were intimidated by the prospect of our 90 mile ride for the day. But intimidated or not, we had no choice but to ride, so off we went.

A couple of miles down the road I noticed a truck with flashing lights veer into the shoulder behind us. Before I could even start freaking out properly, the truck started honking. They honked long enough to make it clear that they were honking at us, so I yelled up to Dani and we pulled over.

“I got a 30 ft. load coming up, and y’all aren’t gonna want to be on the road. You better get down into the ditch until it passes.”

Uh, OK. We got off our bikes and headed down into the ditch, and then this passed us.


This was a bit of a continuation of a theme. Yesterday (during the rumble strip shoulder part of the day) we were passed by a couple trucks carrying houses on their beds that were as wide as the entire road. After the second or third time being forced off the road, Dani started (fruitlessly) yelling at the passing trucks, inquiring why people don’t just build their houses where they want to live.

Turns out the Spa/Bar combo isn’t too successful. 

Anyway, we got back on the road and pedaled on. It was approaching 90 by 10:00a, and well beyond by 11:00a. We spent much of the late morning and early afternoon counting down the miles until the next town so we could get (at least two liters of) cold drinks, snacks, and fill up our water bottles with ice at the fountain machine. Those insulated water bottles Dani talked about have been absolute lifesavers. We pack them full of ice and just top them off with water. Then, when we’re riding through the 95 degree heat, we’ll drink the cold water and reuse the ice to chill more water. We generally get 3-4 cold refills out of each bottle of ice. The cold water is manna from heaven. There is nothing worse than having to drink 95 degree water on a 95 degree day.

Cold drinks were our main focus as we pushed through the prairie past Chinook and Harlem. The drivers this morning weren’t the friendliest and the shoulder wasn’t the widest, so Dani took a break and took a picture of this whimsical sign to cheer herself up.


Past Harlem but before Malta we ran into a group of cyclists operating out of an RV and we stopped to say hi.

The group is called Cycling 4 Change. Two brothers and their families started a nonprofit and are riding across the country to raise money to fight human trafficking. The families consist of a mom, dad, and four kids each (four boys and four girls), and they have two unrelated college students riding with them. Three people are cycling the entire route, and everyone else is biking sections. They gave us cantaloupe, chocolate milk, sports drinks, and bananas as we chatted, a welcome treat with 10 miles to go! They are wonderfully generous and kind people who believe deeply in their cause. It was wonderful to meet them and we wish them the best of luck in their endeavor.


  After we said goodbye to the Cycling 4 Change folks, we finished the last 10 or so miles into Malta, where we are staying with a couchsurfing host. More kindness. More generosity. Terry welcomed us into her home and had lemonade waiting for us. And puppies. The cutest Boston terrier siblings who cuddle like they’re posing for a puppy calendar. We jumped through the shower, and then we feasted.

Steak, baked potatoes, asparagus, grilled mushrooms and onions, macaroni salad, green salad… so much amazing food!! We ate until we thought we would burst, and then we headed off to sleep in a super comfortable bed.


 What a way to end a day.

Stranded in Paradise: Things fall apart

As Dani said in the “Our favorite things” post, we carefully chose our equipment for this trip. While the criteria varied slightly with each piece of equipment, we always placed a high priority on durability.

Or at least we thought we did.

Two and a half weeks into the trip, we’ve suffered a number of equipment failures. Some of them are less serious than others, but all are annoying.

We understand that even durable equipment wears out over time, but it is an understatement to say that we weren’t expecting anything like the number and extent of the failures we’ve experienced so far.

Without further ado, here’s a few of our things that have fallen apart.

Velocity Aeroheat touring wheel:

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We’ve covered this thoroughly, but boy was this a kick in the pants. A supposedly indestructible wheel that inexplicitly fails after only 6,000 miles. A shipping mistake that strands us for a week. This really shouldn’t have failed, but it did, and now we’re here.

Havaianas flip flops:

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Six days into the trip, Dani’s three-year-old flip flops gave up the ghost. This wasn’t the most shocking of our equipment failures, nor was it the most serious. But it certainly is cause for consternation when you only have two pairs of shoes and one of them breaks. Luckily, Dani was able rig up a temporary fix with a safety pin, and it’s holding up well so far!

Keen sandals:

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Dani really isn’t having great luck with her footwear on this trip. It is a little more understandable for these sandals to fall apart, because she’s had them for 10 years. That being said, we would have really appreciated it if they chose to fall apart either a couple of months earlier or a couple of months later. As it stands, the only functional footwear that Dani has is her bike shoes. (And those are currently soaked. More on that later.)

Pearl Izumi bike gloves:

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I can’t figure out if these belong in the “it’s understandable they’re falling apart” category or not. Yes, we’ve had them for a couple of years, but we haven’t really used them all that much. In any case, the area that most often comes in contact with the handlebar is wearing away and holes are developing.  We probably won’t replace these any time soon, maybe when we visit REI in Minneapolis.

Smartwool Micro 150 t-shirt:

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This one is inexcusable. We each bought a couple of these shirts specifically for this trip. They’re super lightweight and wool stinks a lot less than synthetic fabrics, even after multiple days with lots of sweat. They’re perfect for a long-distance trip on which we will rarely have access to a laundry machine. Well, they would be perfect if they weren’t disintegrating. Dani seems to have a new hole in her shirt every single day.  My Bemba is getting a bit rusty, but I believe the proper expression is that Dani alesepula. (Aside: one of my favorite parts of learning Bemba while we were in Peace Corps was how single verbs conveyed full sentences in English. I might not be remembering perfectly, but I believe this word means to be wearing rags/not be dressed in nice clothes.)

Big Agnus insulated air core sleeping pad:

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My sleeping pad has been suffering from a slow leak since the beginning of the trip. Again, it isn’t a terrible problem. We inflate it to full right before we get in the tent, and then it slowly leaks throughout the night. When I wake up early in the morning to use the restroom, it’s probably about 40% full.

I’ve become accustomed to sleeping on a half-inflated sleeping pad, but it is getting a bit tiresome. And I know that Dani probably gets a tiny bit annoyed when I try to scooch onto her tiny sleeping pad in the morning.

Sierra Designs Sirius 2 tent:

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It rained on our penultimate day in Many Glacier. It was a strong, persistent rain that started at around 8:00p and continued until 9:00a the next day. But hey, even though our tent may not be completely waterproof any more, at least it is water resistant enough that we didn’t get too too wet.

HA! Just kidding.

We spent the entire night trying to ignore the rain that was falling on our faces. By morning, everything that wasn’t in one of our panniers (which are waterproof) was drenched.  Our sleeping pads were just about floating in the gallon+ of water that was sitting on the floor of our tent.

The gallon of water on the tent floor broke the back of the proverbial camel. As soon as we emptied and hung up the tent, we walked up to the Inn (passing on the way, for what it’s worth, another Sierra Designs tent hanging out to dry), got online, and purchased a new tent, a new sleeping pad for me, and a new pair of flip flops for Dani. We’re having them shipped general delivery to a town a few days ahead of us. As long as it doesn’t rain in the next couple of days, at the very least we’ll be safe and dry in our tent from then on!

We’re not replacing everything, but hopefully everything else holds together for the rest of the trip!

Section One Superlatives

Section One Superlatives

We’ve divided the trip up in our minds into four sections:

  1. Seattle, WA to Glacier National Park
  2. Glacier National Park to Fargo, ND
  3. Fargo, ND to Niagara Falls
  4. Niagara Falls to Brooklyn, NY

We think these sections hold together fairly well in terms of terrain, population, weather, etc. Here are our superlatives for the first section.

Best day: Day 12, Clark Fork, ID to Libby, MT (so beautiful!)
Worst day: Day 13, Libby, MT to Eureka, MT (too hot!)
Best meal: Mike’s Four Star BBQ (those garlicky cheese fries!)
Favorite post-ride refreshment: Nantucket Nectars Fresh-Squeezed Lemonade, Tim’s Cascade Snacks Jalapeno Potato Chips, Hostess cupcakes (Dani), Darigold Whole Chocolate Milk, Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips, Peanut Butter Oreos (Ted)
Best pass: Logan Pass (those views!)
Best campsite: Sprague Creek Campground (perfect swimming!)
Worst campsite: Riverside Park, Sedro-Woolley, WA
Longest day: Day 10, Colville, WA to Newport, WA (86.2 miles)
Shortest day: Day 17, St. Mary’s Campground to Many Glacier Campground (23.4 miles)
Best beer: Republic Brewing Company Brown Ale (Ted), Great Northern Brewing Company Huckleberry Wheat Lager (Dani)
Scariest day: Day 7, Tonasket, WA to Republic, WA (so many dangerous drivers!)
Scariest vehicle on the road: trucks carrying gravel doing road work on Going to the Sun Road (95 percent of them pushed either us or oncoming traffic off the road)

The next two categories are broad generalizations, but are common enough to be notable. As with all stereotypes, there are plenty of exceptions.

Drivers that give us the widest berth: Idahoans, commercial truck drivers, Subarus, cars with bike racks

Drivers that seem to be trying to kill us: British Columbians, flashy pickup trucks (the ones with flashy paint jobs, fancy lights, lift kits, etc.), pickup trucks towing boats, pickup trucks towing long RVs, RVs towing SUVs, RVs towing boats, coach bus-sized RVs, logging trucks

We also met some of the most wonderful, generous people I’ve ever met during this section of the trip, whether through warmshowers.org or at a local brewery. Thanks to Sue and Lloyd on Bainbridge Island, Patty and Rob in Republic, Terry in Clark Fork, and Nikki in Eureka. We’ll carry your kindness with us for the rest of our trip!

Day 17: The day we came to paradise

Day 17, St. Mary’s Campground to Many Glacier Campground: 23.2 miles, 1,407 ft. elevation gain, 11.4 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 890.7 miles (55.7 mile daily average), 55,000 ft. elevation gain, 11 mph average speed

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It stormed last night, the first big rainstorm of the trip and we were lucky enough to be in our tent. The storm was short, but the rain was torrential. We have a few holes in our rainfly and we didn’t bother with the ground tarp since it really didn’t look like it was going to rain as we were going to bed, so our tent last night was probably best described as very water resistant rather than waterproof. But it was really just a little damp at the corners, not a big deal at all. At least ourselves and all of our things inside the tent fared a lot better than our freshly-washed clothes that we left on our clothesline overnight.

In any case, I woke up with more pressing priorities than damp clothes. Using Gina’s phone (thanks again, Gina!!), I called Velocity to see if they could help me. The rep answered the phone, perhaps a little hung-over, perhaps just not fully awake. (I was calling at 9:01a EST, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he had just sat down at his desk.) I told him my sob story, and he asked me a series of questions about the wheel, how it was failing, when it was made, what tire I was using, and under what pressure.

After the questions, he said, “Do you have an address to which we could ship you a new wheel?”

And that was that! Velocity is going to ship me a brand new wheel for free! He even agreed to ship it express. We’re having it shipped to the Many Glacier Hotel, and it should be there by Thursday. This is perhaps the best way this could have worked out. I get a replacement wheel for free and we get an excuse to do some hikes in the most beautiful part of Glacier National Park. Yay!

Since we were riding less than 25 miles, we decided to take it slow in the morning. We put things that got caught in the rain (helmets, shoes, the tent) into the sun and took Dan and Gina up on their offer to share their oatmeal breakfast. We finally packed up and got on the road, only to stop after about five miles when we saw a cool, funky looking restaurant called Two Sisters Cafe in the middle of nowhere between St. Mary, MT and Babb, MT. The server was a bike tourist, and regaled us with stories of his trips while we enjoyed a bison burger, an open-faced chili cheeseburger, mango-berry lemonade, and a piece of PB&J huckleberry pie (huckleberry pie meets peanut butter mousse!).

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After that incredibly satisfying meal, we continued on to Babb, MT where we stocked up on groceries for the next couple of days before riding the final 12 miles into the park.

Holy headwind, Batman. It was rough! I’m not going to complain though. I want that exact wind blowing at our back for the next two weeks.

Many Glacier is beautiful. So so so beautiful. It has a rugged majesty, a feeling that this is what the world was like before humans got involved. Walking and riding around here, you just can’t help but feel awed and amazed.

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We fought our way through the wind and made our way to Many Glacier campground, which was full… but not for us! The National Park Service always sets a site aside for hikers and cyclists that enter the park without a vehicle, and we headed straight to that site and set up our tent. It was still pretty early in the day, so we went out to explore our surroundings. It turns out that the campground is a five-minute walk away from the Swiftcurrent Inn, which has a camp store fully stocked with cold drinks including chocolate milk, lemonade, and single beers. What more could we want? Public hot showers? Ok! A porch that looks out onto amazing scenery where we could sit and drink a beer? Sure!

This is a great place.

We decided to make the most of our time here, and so we found a short (3.6 miles round trip) hike to Red Rock Falls. I have a feeling that we’re going to spend the next few blog posts struggling to express the beauty around us, so maybe it will just be easier to say that if anybody is wondering where they should go on their next vacation, we suggest putting Many Glacier near the top of your list.

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After our hike, we came back to the inn, had a few beers on the porch, and reflected that if my wheel was going to break, this is the best possible place on our trip to be stuck for a few days. We’ll get to do a few more hikes than we thought, and we should be able to make up the day or two that we’ll lose.

Dinner was pasta with a spicy red sauce with tuna, green pepper, and carrots, and we went to bed immediately after cleaning up. Tomorrow we’re going to hike to Grinell Glacier, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful hikes in the park!

Day 15: The first day of Glacier

Note: Our current access to internet is very slow, and we’re having trouble with uploading pictures. I think I managed to get some pictures into this post, but I’m not positive. If not, I’ll come back and update again later.

Day 15: Montana Bike Hostel (Whitefish, MT) to Sprague Creek Campground, Glacier National Park: 35 miles, 1,392 ft. elevation gain, 12.4 mph average speed
Trip Totals: 781.4 total miles(55.8 daily average), 49,635 ft. elevation gain, 11.1 overall average speed.

Today was a great day. It was a great day for relaxing and enjoying our surroundings, for slowing down the general “we have to rush to the place we’ll be sleeping” mentality that sneaks into your mind when you’re on a bike tour.

There’s a little irony there, because today we actually did have to rush to the place we were going to sleep. Glacier National Park prohibits cyclists on certain stretches of Going to the Sun Road, the main road through Glacier. We had to ride 35 miles before 11:00a to make it to Sprague Creek Campground in the park, which several people had told us was the best place to camp on the west side of Logan Pass. There were a few hills on the way, and we decided we’d rather have too much time than too little, so we were awake at 5:15a, and on the road at 6:00a.

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We were a little better informed heading out of the overpriced backyard hostel than we were coming in, so we were able to stay on paved roads heading into and through Columbia Falls. The Northern Tier route took us on back roads, since apparently sections of Route 2 between Columbia Falls and the park are terrifically dangerous for cyclists. The back roads were nice, but we had to fight against a powerful headwind for four or five miles. At that point, we turned off North Fork Road and escaped the headwind, but then we had to ride on a gravel/dirt road again, this time for 2.6 miles. As much as we don’t really enjoy riding on gravel, the experience is reminiscent of our time in Zambia. There we pretty much exclusively rode on gravel, and the best road there was less well-maintained than the worst gravel road we’ve ridden on here.

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We made it through the gravel and back onto Route 2 for only of a couple of miles before we turned toward the park. We passed through West Glacier, which was a cute-looking town, but we didn’t want to stop because we wanted to get to the campground as soon as we could. The road inside the park was flat and newly paved. It’s amazing how big of a difference a beautifully smooth surface can make. We felt like we were flying! We covered the nine miles between the entrance gate and our campground in a half hour or less, which got us to the campground by 9:15a. That’s right, we were finished riding for the day by 9:15a. How exciting!

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Dan and Gina arrived shortly after us, and Clive was staying a mile up the road at the historic Lake McDonald Lodge. We set up camp and headed up to the lodge, where we all passed a lovely day doing not much at all. We bought snacks, lemonade, and chocolate milk at the convenience store; sat on a bench behind the lodge and chatted and watched the lake; and ate a buffet lunch, stuffing ourselves with as many calories as possible and making sure we got our money’s worth. After lunch, Clive ran into another British biker tourist named Jules, who, funnily enough, was ALSO touring on a carbon road bike with minimal gear packed into a Carradice saddlebag. Something about these English men, apparently.

After chatting with Jules for a while, we headed back to our campsite, which, as it turns out, was situated right by a beach on Lake McDonald. We jumped into our suits and jumped into the lake, alternating between floating on top where the water was warm and diving down into the chilly snowmelt below.

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When we finished swimming we headed back up to the Lodge, where Clive was kind enough to let us use the shower in his room. As Dani showered, I investigated (for what was at least the third time) a squeaking noise that my rear wheel had been making for a week. It had suddenly gotten worse, evolving from a simple squeak to a shuddering, antilock-brake shaking every time I used my rear brake. I was dismayed to discover that my rear rim was unaccountably bulging right by the valve. I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew it wasn’t good.

Dani finished her shower and headed back to the campground and I quickly cleaned myself before throwing myself into Google to try to figure out exactly what was going on. I read that bulges like mine might indicate a cracked rim, and I hurried back to camp to remove my tire to see if this was, in fact, what had happened.

Back at the campsite, I found Dani talking to a Dutch couple, Gerry and Klaas, who were biking around Southern Canada and the Northern US and had bike toured extensively in their life. They were a charming older couple, and they were full of good advice from their experience. They also developed an inspirational (at least to us) style of touring that emphasized comfort on the bike and in the campsite. Their tent was like a palace, including a vestibule to store all of their gear, and still folded down to be quite small. We’ll definitely be taking some of their tips on our next trip.

Anyways, Dani had our chicken burritos ready when I made it back to camp (what a girl!), so I didn’t look at my bike until after we ate. I took the wheel off the bike and the tire and tube off the wheel, and my fears were confirmed. My rim had developed a jagged crack at the inside joint of the rim wall and base.

This is the first big bike problem of the trip, and the fact that it’s my wheel failing is rather ironic. I have Velocity wheels, which are renowned for their toughness and durability. The rims are wide and the spoke count is high. These wheels should be able to withstand anything. When I went to my local bike shop to measure our spokes so I could get some spares, the mechanic said, “I could sell you some spare spokes if you want, but I would be shocked if you were able to break a spoke on this wheel. This might be the most solid wheel I’ve ever seen.” Several other cyclists we’ve met on our trip have echoed his sentiment. “Boy,” they all said, “You’re really ready for anything with those wheels, huh?” The word “bombproof” has been thrown around a half dozen or more times.

I guess I was ready for anything except an inexplicable wheel failure after only 5 years and 6,000 or so miles. Oops.

Klaas, who has a significant amount of on-the-road maintenance experience, took a look at my wheel and told me that I should definitely get it replaced, but that I could ride on it until it was convenient to replace it. He opined that it might even last for several hundred additional miles or more. But most importantly, he said that when it failed, it wouldn’t be some sort of catastrophic failure that would send me flying off the bike at high speed, but rather a loss of tension and balance that would break spokes and make it impossible to ride, but not before I had time to realize what was happening and slow down and get off the bike.

So that’s that. We’re climbing our last big pass of the trip tomorrow and I’m doing it on a gimpy wheel. I’m not exactly sure what we’re going to do next. We’re a few hundred miles away from the closest bike store, and I don’t know if I willing to gamble that much. I think I’m going to try to call Velocity from the other side of the pass and see what they can do for me. We’ll see!

Day 10: The day of Pond O’Ray

Day 10, Bacon Bike Hostel to Newport, WA: 86.9 miles, 4,035 ft. elevation gain,12.1 mph average speed

Trip totals: 517.8 miles (57.3 mile daily average), 33,820 ft. elevation gain, 10.8 mph overall average speed

Map and stats here.

What a gorgeous day to be on a bike tour.

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We were anxious to be back on the road, yet reluctant to leave the homelike comfort of the bike hostel, so we compromised by leaving at 7:35a, exactly the same time we’ve been leaving every day.

We had a long day ahead of us, but we felt rejuvenated by the day off, and started the day bright and chipper. Not even the 1,000+ ft. evelation gain coming out of the hostel could get us down.

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We spent the first half of our day riding through the highlands above Ione, WA. I think it was the most perfect morning of the trip so far (and I’m fairly certain I’m not just saying that because we weren’t climbing a pass). The skies were blue, the sun was shining—but not too hot—and we weren’t climbing a pass (okay, so maybe that did play a small role in it). About 12 miles into the day, we saw a sign for Crystal Falls, and pulled over to see a beautiful set of waterfalls right off the road!

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Shortly after we stopped for snacks and the restroom at a lakeside resort (about 25 miles in), we descended to the Pend Orielle (pronounced Pond O’Ray) river valley. This was the best descent of the trip. We followed a steeply descending road with several switchbacks reminiscent of Cadillac commercials, with lush evergreen forests on either side and a valley surrounded by green mountains opening up before us.

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After we got to the bottom we crossed the river and turned south. The next 45 miles traced the Pend Oreille River, providing several stunning views and inciting much desire to take a break from riding and leap into the water. We had the road almost entirely to ourselves, and the only downside was the persistent headwind that we fought throughout the afternoon.

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A quick aside: Something that we’ve wanted to mention for a couple of days, but keep forgetting is the uncanny frequency with which we’re passed simultaneously by cars going in opposite directions. We’ll ride for miles without seeing a car, but then we’ll see two, traveling in opposite directions, passing each other precisely where we’re riding. I know it probably seems like I’m exaggerating, but I promise that I’m not.

In any case, we passed a couple of Canadians who attempted to ride the Adventure Cycling Association Continental Divide trail, but were derailed (HA!) by a serious rear derailleur malfunction and were biking back home to Whistler. One of them was significantly more cheerful than the other; I think he was the one whose bike didn’t break. Shortly after passing these folks we stopped at the Manresa Grotto (Tagline: A beautiful grotto exists) to rest in the shade and refill our water bottles. We are always very grateful to the various organizations (USFS, DNR, NPS, state parks, etc.) who put little bits of shade on the sides of very hot roads.

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After that it was twenty more miles into Newport. We were struggling by the end, and were ever so grateful to roll into town and immediately see a Safeway, where we stocked up on things such as cookies, pineapple, lemonade, chocolate milk, and salami. So, you know, the basics.

Danielle was willing to ride on to find a campground, but I was beat, so I convinced her that we would be doing enough free camping in the coming weeks to justify staying in a motel. We ended up at the Newport Antler Motel (complete with taxidermy in the office), where we watched TV, drank a half gallon of chocolate milk, ate salami sandwiches, and fell asleep by 9:00p. It was our fourth consecutive day sleeping in a bed; we’re getting spoiled.

We’re camping tomorrow though!

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Postscript:  I just wanted to mention that I am the subject of the overwhelming majority of our pictures only because Dani carries (and controls) the camera. But I’ll try to wrest it off of her so anyone who’s following along has the opportunity to see both halves of our dynamic duo!

Day 9: The day we slept in

Today we took an actual rest day at the Bacon Bike Hostel.

The Bacon Bike Hostel was created by Shelly and Barry Bacon, a couple who spent several years living and working as medical missionaries in Africa before deciding to settle in near Colville, WA to raise their family.

They built a beautiful house, and they also built a four-bedroom, cyclists-only hostel for people biking the Northern Tier route. It has everything a person could possibly want (except for wifi), including hot showers, comfy beds, and complimentary laundry.

Anybody riding the Northern Tier should plan their trip around spending a night (or two!) here.  The location is perfect for a rest day after climbing all of those passes!

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Day 8: The last pass (until the continental divide)

Day 8, Republic to the Bacon Bike Hostel: 60.6 miles, 4,873 ft. elevation gain, 10.3 mph average speed
Trip totals: 430.9 miles (53.9 daily average), 29,785 ft. elevation gain, 10.6 mph overall average speed

Map and stats here.

Whoever planned the Adventure Cycling Association’s Northern Tier route designed the first week or so of the trip as a test of merit. We have climbed five mountain passes in the last five days (with over 20,000 ft. of total elevation gain), and we are pooped. Our leg muscles are crying out for rest, and, more frighteningly, our knees are hinting that we might just be overusing them a bit.

Now we’ve passed the test. We’re finished with the large passes of the Northern Cascades, and we’re thrilled to move on to some flatter rides.

The day started when we woke up well later than we intended, only to find and amazing breakfast waiting for us: eggs, bacon, huckleberry coffee cake, and huckleberry smoothies. Again, we were floored by Patty and Rob’s generosity. I don’t know if life will ever bring us back to Republic, WA, but I certainly hope to see them again.

The ride out of Republic was downhill for the first half mile to a mile, which we resented a bit because we knew that every foot of elevation lost would only have to be gained again to get to the top of Sherman Pass. Nevertheless, we were happy to spend a mile or two on a lovely paved bike path paralleling the road before we started our climb in earnest.

The first couple of miles of Sherman Pass were the steepest, but the climb was unremitting for 14.5 miles. I think that the length of these passes was the most difficult adjustment, mental and physical, that we had to make. We climbed steeper hills and had higher total daily elevation gains on our tour through Southwest Colorado, but we have never tackled such a consistent incline over such a long distance. Climbing over the passes has been at least as mentally exhausting as it has been physically exhausting. We struggled to maintain morale after an hour of punishing effort during which we covered only a little over four miles. Our general response in these situations was to lay our bikes (and ourselves) down in one of the “Slow vehicle turnouts” on the side of the road until we managed to gather up the motivation to start again.

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It took us four hours to get the top of Sherman Pass, and we were thrilled to have finished our last big pass in Washington. We sat at the top and had a snack lunch of potato chips, rye chips, apples, plums, peanut butter-filled pretzels, trail mix, cookies, and brownies (Patty, thank you so much). And then we started down.

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The descent was even longer than the climb, and it passed through a lovely evergreen forest, tracing a creek down the mountain. It was a very enjoyable descent, but I’ve decided that even the thrill of zooming along at 35-40 mph for 20+ miles is not worth the misery of the over 20-mile climb on the other side. Give me rolling hills and flats, please.

Along the way, we stopped at a historic site commemorating the FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps, which employed out of work young men during the height of the depression to build roads, trails, and dams, primarily in the national forests. They were provided with room, board, clothing, and a salary of $1 a day, but they had to agree to send $25 dollars a month back home to their families. The historic site was well designed and informative, AND it had a much needed toilet.

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At the end of the descent we crossed the Columbia River. The views were stellar, but since we were on a bridge without even a hint of a shoulder, pictures were out of the question. We took back roads through Kettle Falls and pushed through to Colville, where we stopped at Safeway, which was by far the biggest grocery store we’ve seen so far.

There were a number of hills between the Columbia River and Colville. Some were larger than others, and some had accompanying descents. But we took offense at all of them. It didn’t seem fair that we had to climb still more hills after summiting five passes in five days.   But apparently the world doesn’t give a hoot about what we think is fair.

In any case, after stocking up at Safeway we headed out to our final destination: the Bacon Bike Hostel (more on that in the next post). It was only about six and a half miles out of town, but they were all uphill. We were 3 miles in when a car moving in the other direction screeched to a halt and the driver leaned out of the window to talk to us.

“Are you all going to the bike hostel?”

“Yes, we are.”

“How tired are you? Are you tired enough to want a ride?”

At this point, I’d like to tell you that we hesitated. That we thought our current exhaustion was less important than the goal of riding every single mile between Seattle and New York City. But the truth is that our answer was both affirmative and immediate.

Our rescuer, whose name was either “Stevens County Troy” or Max, depending on the day, was driving a modified two-door Honda Civic with the rear and top cut out and replaced by a roll cage. Troy is a self-proclaimed “collector of things” and the car was pretty stuffed, but he was determined to make it work. We placed both of the bikes vertically through the top hole in the roll cage and stuffed our bags wherever we could find space among the wide variety of things he was carrying (e.g., car parts, bear skin rugs, loaves of bread, bulk paper towel packs, freshly picked cherries). Then Dani sat in the front seat and I climbed in with the bikes and crouched down to rest my armpits on the roll cage bars.

And away we went, zooming up a few miles of hills in a fraction of the time it would have taken us to ride. We arrived safely at the bike hostel and Troy helped us unload our bikes and bags, and left us with a bag of freshly-picked Washington cherries. Thank you Troy, for providing another random act of kindness that made our day!

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We’ve seen a few giant fields of cut trees being soaked by dozens of sprinklers.

Cascades Mountain Pass Superlative Awards:

Rainy Pass: Most Interminable
Washington Pass: Most Gratifying View at the Top
Loup Loup Pass: Most Enjoyable
Wauconda Pass: Most Impolite Drivers
Sherman Pass: Most Demoralizing