Sunday, September 26, 2004

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Sunday, August 22, 2004

One thing Sarah and I have been worrying about on this trip is the possibility of a new military draft. Looks like we're not the only ones:

Let's hope it won't come to that again...

A little change of pace...

We've been off the bikes for a few weeks now, staying with and visiting friends in Portland and Seattle, and letting Sarah's poor hands rest a bit. We have not been idle, however, visiting the Oregon coast twice, hiking in the Cascades and on Mount Rainier, and doing one day of biking (Portland to Kelso/Longview, WA).

Perhaps to Sarah's chagrin, staying with friends has given me access to high-speed internet, first at Gabe's and now at Marti and Charlie's. It's nice to be a little caught up, but I think it will be even nicer to be on the move again, happily oblivious.

At any rate, here's an e-mail our friend Fightin' J sent to me (I can't for the life of me imagine why):

Bear downs 36 beers, passes out at campground
Rainier, not Busch, the beverage of choice for thirsty black bear

The Associated Press
Updated: 7:26 a.m. ET Aug. 19, 2004

BAKER LAKE, Wash. - When state Fish and Wildlife agents recently found a black bear passed out on the lawn of Baker Lake Resort, there were some clues scattered nearby — dozens of empty cans of Rainier Beer.

The bear apparently got into campers’ coolers and used his claws and teeth to puncture the cans. And not just any cans.

“He drank the Rainier and wouldn’t drink the Busch beer,” said Lisa Broxson, bookkeeper at the campground and cabins resort east of Mount Baker.

Fish and Wildlife enforcement Sgt. Bill Heinck said the bear did try one can of Busch, but ignored the rest. The beast then consumed about 36 cans of Rainier.

A wildlife agent tried to chase the bear from the campground but the animal just climbed a tree to sleep it off for another four hours. Agents finally herded the bear away, but it returned the next morning.

Agents then used a large, humane trap to capture it for relocation, baiting the trap with the usual: doughnuts, honey and, in this case, two open cans of Rainier.

That did the trick.

“This is a new one on me,” Heinck said. “I’ve known them to get into cans, but nothing like this. And it definitely had a preference

Picky bears! What's the world coming to?

Here's some pictures, courtesy of Trudy Karlson and Dan Barry:

Ladies Love Cool Will

Another Mighty Karlson

...I'm kind of at a loss for this one...

Next Post: More adventures, I promise! But it's a cool rainy Sunday in Seattle, I'm listening to Scratchy Ol' Jazz Radio Show on the alarm clock as I type, and Sarah's upstairs baking apple pie...My mind is off the open road, at present.

Love to all!

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Mountains? Yeah, we climbed some mountains...

...but they were all in Washington. No mountains in Montana for us. Go figure!

Sherman Pass? Oh yeah.

Wauconda Pass? Maybe. No, seriously, we did it.

Loup-Loup Pass? It has a silly name.

Washington Pass, you ain't so tough!

Rainy Pass...was okay.

And here's my favorite picture of Sarah from the entire trip so far:

She's such a beauty.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

And then there was Montana, Idaho, and Washington....

Oh my word, western Montana was quite a shocker after the flat, flat, shadeless nothing of the great plains stretching out from the windows of the train forever. Yes, we took a train over North Dakota and Eastern Montana in favor of biking through the mountains and getting to Portland in time for our good buddies Gwyn and Frunch's wedding. After a sleepless night at the train station surrounded by 25 high school students from South Dakota on a Lutheran church service trip who could not stop screaming and/or running around lest they should fall asleep, we found ourselves boarding the train at 5:00 am and, with a pitying look, the conductor motioned us to the same car as the church group. So we escaped to the dining car and watched the sun rise over the plains. As the day continued, the sun blazed down on the nothingness around us and that's how the scenery remained for many, many hours--until we reached western Montana. It was amazing--one moment there was the same treeless, dry, flat scenery studded with underground nuclear missile sites (yikes) we had been staring at for hours, and the next second there were giant mountains looming in the distance rising straight up from the plains. The atmosphere on the train began to feel electric as we drew closer to the mountains, and everyone became awestruck as the landscape changed, gorges appeared, wildflowers appeared, and fast moving streams of intensely turquoise water broke through the mountains and rushed along beside the train. And then the pine-covered, waterfall dappled mountains were upon us and the train suddenly felt ridiculously small and insignificant, completely dwarfed by the scenery. We rushed along the tracks past a grizzly bear and we realized that the midwest was truly far, far behind us. We sped through Glacier National Park, wanting more than anything to bust out and dash off into the woods and up those mountains...but that will have to be another trip.

Majestic Kootenai Falls

The train is a wonderful way to travel--everyone is coming from somewhere, traveling to someplace else, and carrying their stories along with them. And we all just happen to be in close quarters for long enough to have no choice but to become part of one another's stories. There was a man on the train who was a truck-driver, but lost his ability to drive when someone jumped out in front of his truck to commit suicide. So his was a story of desperate sadness and guilt. There was a woman on the train named Flower who was raised in the mountains of Idaho, isolated in a cabin and home-schooled until high school, and was returning from visiting her sister in Rochester, NY, where I grew up! We also met a surfer named Isaac from California, a man who had had a psychotic break after returning from Iraq, a couple of men from Florida who were traveling to a remote part of Montana to pick up their truck that had broken down there the previous winter, a man traveling across the country from Maine--and each one had a different story. When you're traveling by car, people in other cars are simply objects, but traveling by train they become people and you get a glimpse into the secrets of other lives.

So we reached Whitefish, Montana, and took off by bike the following morning into the mountains. The crisp air and the butterscotch smell of the pines as we zipped along was extremely invigorating after the humidity of the midwest, and we were surrounded nothing but mountains and lakes for miles and miles. Breathing in and out, we were both filled to bursting with a feeling of life and freedom. That first night venturing into Montana we camped on a pine-covered rise next to a perfectly blue-green lake (North Dickey Lake--hahaha) and were thrilled at the cool breeze and the complete lack of mosquitoes (we nearly got carried off by them in Minnesota). The whole ride through that state was phenomenal--except for the steep, unexpected pass on a cliffside that we had to climb to reach the Yaak Valley outside of Troy, Montana to get to the remote bit of land where my cousin, Hays, and his wife Kelly are building a cabin. But once we crested the climb, we found ourselves biking through a county that is over 98% protected wilderness, with Bald Eagles soaring overhead and Osprey as common as crows nesting anywhere there was a high, visible spot--dead trees, electric posts--anywhere. A wonderful change after a night in Libby, Montana, the home of Zonolite, where one in four people had died of Asbestosis. The town was definitely dying in every way possible, and the fireman's campground we stayed at for $2 was just about as sketchy as they come.

We got out of there in record time in the morning to get on the road to visit Hays and Kelly, and their little woodbaby West, who are living in a teepee on their land surrounded by pines and mountains with an open-air kitchen while they build a simple cabin that will eventually be their shed when they build a log cabin up the hill where their teepee now perches. The way they are living, bucking the cultural norms of this country, is really inspiring. Kelly made scones in their dutch oven over the fire and the neighbors and their two children came over to visit. Suddenly there were three little wood babies running around who gradually dropped off to sleep in the laps of their respective mothers as the stars began to shine. The stars seemed so close, and there was a strange brightness, almost like a spotlight, reaching over the entire sky in a completely straight line--we thought it might be the northern lights, but we'll never know. A magical little corner of the world, indeed. Andy and I slept in their half-roofed house curled up with their insistent little kitten, who nudged his way into any warm nook he could find and purred so loudly our bodies vibrated with it.

Hays and West in the pantry.

In the morning, Kelly took us down the mountain, past Troy, to Jim's house--he and his mother live on a wooded bit of land beside a lake where they built a 3-story straw-bale house that is beyond amazing. Just when we thought we must have seen the whole house, Jim would lead us to another ladder going up to a loft or deck. They had just built a mud oven outside and were eager to try it out. A little pocket of progressive change in a very conservative area.

When we left, we biked 4 miles up an incredibly steep grade to see a forest of old growth cedars, but completely bonked before getting there for lack of sleep and blood sugar. It was amazing nonetheless. The entire forest felt ancient, and was almost too quiet except for a haunting note resonating from the tree-tops. We couldn't figure out if it was a bird or flying squirrel or ancient magic of some kind haunting the woods. The campground we chose that night was full, but a friendly couple let us share their site for the night. And then we were off again, already nearly through Montana.

We rode through the panhandle of Idaho, having no idea what to expect, but with potatoes on the brain. There were, in fact, no potatoes to be seen. Instead, the area we rode through, along the shores of Lake Pend d'Oreille (a 43-mile lake, almost 1200 feet deep), looked eerily like the coast of Maine. The water was choppy and the pine-covered islands popping up from the lake really gave the impression of the ocean. The weather was extremely hot, but the ride along that lake was so stunning that it made up for the discomfort. We stayed in Sandpoint and were once again surrounded by more Espresso stands than we could believe (it seems to be a theme of the West). By that time, we had really fallen into the rhythm of our days. We would wake up when the sun began to rise, I would make oatmeal and instant coffee with Ovaltine while Andy took down the tent, we would pack up and do our dishes, fill our waterbottles, get all sunscreened up, and hit the road in the chill of the morning. Then we would ride all day, find a campsite when we were beat, make some food, write in journals, read books, listen to the sounds of the night around us, curl up in our tent, and start the whole thing all over again. Not a bad way to live. Simple, but extremely satisfying and comfortable. And intensely freeing, somehow.


And before we knew it, we were in Washington state. The extreme eastern part of the state was breathtaking, more woods and streams and mountains, but the sky was filled with smoke from the huge forest fires going on in Canada and Wenatchie, Washington. It made breathing a bit more difficult, but at the same time it made for the most stunning sunsets and sunrises. The sun would turn into an intense glowing orange orb as it sunk to the horizon and the rivers glowed through the haze. We pulled into a campsite along the river as the light of day prematurely went out from the smoke and were immediately offered a free night by the campground host, who said we looked tired. She and her husband were in their mid-70's a extremely vocal about their political views. They were watching the Democratic Convention in their camper and hooting and hollering with approval or disapproval---they desperately hated the current administration and she recounted a tale of a Bush supporter stopping to camp. She said to him, "How do you spell Bush? S-T-U-P-I-D". I wonder if it effects the income of that particular campground...

The next day was the beginning of our real climbs. And man, were they climbs. As we rode to the foot of the first big rise, a trucker coming down gave us some blatant hand signals to turn back while we still had the chance--but, not knowing what we were getting into, we continued on. As we huffed and puffed up that first extremely steep 7 miles, we were approached by an old shirtless fellow biking towards us. He asked us if the wind was at our backs, and when we said no he said, "Well, I best head back to Colville, then!" . Colville was 60 miles away from us, over a pass. He turned around, we noted that he didn't have any water, and began flying back up the pass like it was nothing. The bikers we've encountered have often surprised us--they don't usually have the typical athletic build and can really shock you with their strength and gusto.

So our vertical journey had really just begun as we dropped into Colville and stayed in the Fairgrounds for the night. It's amazing how quickly, and wrongly, you can judge people if you don't bother to approach them. There were a few people that made us a little nervous, and we decided the best way to deal with it was to talk to them. So we did, and soon knew all of our neighbors and bits of their stories. It's been really valuable for us to set politics and things aside when we meet people, because most of the folks we've met, regardless of their positions in the world, have been truly good people when it comes down to it, and that's been very refreshing to experience.

Our next 10 days were a great push to get over the mountains, with little time for rest--and little desire for it because of a need to get out of the desert as quickly as possible. Our first true pass was Sherman Pass, 23 miles of climbing, and we conquered it quite by accident on a scheduled rest day, as the campsite we planned on staying at was not where we had thought. We were fooled into thinking it would be an easy climb, as it began rather gently, but soon found out that we were woefully wrong. The sun was getting low and we were so beat by the time we were a mile from the top, that we stopped for the night at the campground there, which, in retrospect, was the best thing we could have done. We got to spend the evening high in the mountains, close to the stars, and far from the nearest town. And after a last 1 mile push in the morning, we got to spend 20 miles flying down the other side with the cool morning wind in our hair. We were feeling so rejeuvenated by the trip down, that we decided to tackle the next pass that afternoon--Wauconda Pass. To our surprise and disappointment, we peaked that pass only to fly down the other side into the broiling inferno of the Washington desert. We decided to camp the night in Tonasket--the option ended up being the yard of an ice cream parlor 10 feet from the highway. It was one of the hottest, most miserable nights thus far, and our planned rest day (to make up for climbing Sherman pass on our last one) was foiled again. There was no way we were going to spend another day there. But we met some neat old men wearing cowboy garb and joined them for ice cream under the gigantic Catalpa tree and passed the afternoon chatting.

The next day we biked to Okanogan and stayed at the fairgrounds, where we posted our audioblog. There we befriended a dog, Baxter, that hung around with us under the giant maple tree all day and night and spent the afternoon playing in the sprinklers that run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to keep the grass green for the few days a year that the fairground is actually used. Bizarre. I can't figure out why people insist on living in a place that most life is definitely not suited for. No water, no farming without heavy, heavy irrigation--a completely hostile environment.

Forest fires make for creepy sunrises

We biked over Loup Loup pass the following morning and were dying of heat by three in the afternoon when we arrived in Winthrop and suffered some big time culture shock. The town was completely tourist-ridden and apparently a popular place for most of the Harley Davidson riders in the country. It was all built up as an Old West town and we debated traveling on, but the heat persuaded us to stay--which ended up being for the best in a lot of ways. No sooner had we gotten a site at the campground than we were approached by two men insisting that we pour out our warm water in our water bottles and refill them will some fresh refrigerated water they had brought up in a big jug. They mentioned that they were biking enthusiasts and that we should come and tent near them--and then proceeded to get more of their party to come up the hill and carry our stuff down to their area. The rest of the night was completely nuts--and completely wonderful. We found out that this group was primarily made of bus drivers and retired bus drivers from Seattle--and they happened to be some of the most generous, fun, happy people I have ever met. Randy bought us a pizza, Ed found us some PBR beer (in honor of Wisconsin), Charlie and Marti (who happened to have a crazy amount of Wisconsin ties) pulled out a bunch of maps and gave us tons of advice for the rest of our travels, Stan tuned up our bikes, Ed insisted that we take showers (he told us we smelled bad, which was in fact true), Frank insisted that we stay in his bed in their air conditioned mobile home for the night, Gary "baked" us a pie (so he said, but he really bought it), and Rita and Kathy laughed at the mahem going on. We talked and laughed until the sun went down, and crashed happily in a bed for the night. The morning came, along with a pancake breakfast cooked by Ed, Randy, and Frank (who supplied the killer Texan sausage), and we got off to a late start because we were having so much fun. And because of a wrong turn, many unnecessary miles, terrible traffic, and being caught at the bottom of Washington Pass in the heat of the afternoon, we camped at Early Winters campground to conquer the last climb of the cascades in the cool of the morning.

Back row, r to l: Andy, Frank, Charlie, Marti, and Randy
Front row, r to l: Stan, Kathy, Ed, and Sarah

[Andy here: I had just drifted off to sleep that evening in Early Winters, pooped from the heat and from splashing around in the river, when I was awoken by Sarah getting up and out of the tent to talk to a pair of fellows who had just walked up: one man who was camping there with his family, and a cyclist who was freshly arrived. It was 9:30 at night, almost totally dark. The biker had crested Washington Pass at 8 pm, and was headed for Nebraska or Kansas--somewhere in the flat middle. As Sarah approached, he, seeing the two parked and loaded bikes, asked her, "Are you biking with a partner, or did you bring an extra bike?" Yeah, just in case she got a flat on the first bike. Of course, considering the volume of gear this guy had, it wasn't a totally unreasonable question. In addition to his four bulging panniers, he was towing a B.O.B. trailer stuffed to maybe four times ordinary capacity! He said that his gear weighed 325 pounds. Holy shit. When Sarah asked what could account for all that weight, he said, "Well, I swim and I run, so I have all that stuff...I also only eat whole foods, so there's a lot of stuff you can't get ...out there." He'd been loaded-touring for 30 years he said, so he must know what he was doing. For me, though, biking with 80 or 90 pounds of bike and gear up and over the mountains feels borderline nuts. Getting it done with four times that weight...Man. Plus, he was a tiny little guy!]

Sarah at Early Winters Creek, in the 110 degree heat

Joe Jackson said it best: "Is she really going out with him?"

We began to climb the killer Washington Pass marveling at the signs of life coming back into the world--gorges and waterfalls, the whole works-- and, 7 miles from the top at a campground, we found a bag of goodies left by these great folks as they drove over the pass to head back to Seattle. They left us a gallon of cold water, a couple of PBR's and a note--it was like Christmas. Not only that, but we have an open invitation to stay with Charlie and Marti when we get to Seattle. They're planning a post-bike trip gathering with the whole gang when we get there to look at pictures and celebrate. And man, did we need that water for the last 7 miles of 7% grade to the top of the pass. It was an amazing ride and the scenery complete with snow-capped peaks, wildflowers, and pine trees (hooray for being out of the desert!), was breathtaking enough to take our minds off the climb. And when we got to the top, we looked down at the road winding away below us and felt as though we had just conquered the Swiss Alps. It was an undescribable feeling of accomplishment and happiness as the oppressive heat of the desert fell away with the dread of the looming pass was left behind us. Then we had the thrill of barrelling down the other side past hundreds of colors of wildflowers and many burbling streams--until we reached the shores of the unnaturally turquoise Diablo Lake and were constantly fighting against the sidewinds, making us work hard even to go downhill. We struggled to keep from being blown from the road, and decided to camp on the shores of the lake when we reached the bottom. We cracked open the beers that we had collected in our goody bag and drank them in our hike-in campsite secluded in the woods next to the lake as the wind rushed across the water to cool us and our muscles thanked us for being done with the Cascades. It was a triumphant, cool night and we decided life would be a fine thing if our trip never ended.

Some previous cyclist felt similarly good on reaching the top of the pass, and wrote us a little song about it

The next day we continued, thrilled to be riding on flat roads in the shade of the forests dripping with green around us. It was glorious--until I got a kink in my chain and suddenly found the derailleur ripped off my bike and the frame bent. There was nothing to be done but try to get to the nearest town 40 miles away, so we had to hitchhike. A local sheriff stopped and, rather than helping us, said his truck was full and wished us luck before heading off again. Luckily, another truck stopped that was filled to busting in the back with inserts for bee-hives. John, the man driving the truck, said he had been working for Microsoft and suffered multiple organ failures before quitting and decided to go into the business of honeybees instead. His truck had an extended cab and he had three little blond, blue-eyed children with him who were super curious about everything--where we kept our food, how we slept at night, what each part of our bikes did, where we were going, where we had come from, if my mother was still alive (that one made me smile), and lots of other things. Anyways, John was really determined to help us out, so we lashed our bikes to the grill on the front of his truck and he showed us an incredible kindness by taking us not only all the way to Mount Vernon, but he also took us on a detour to see a waterfall, a family trip to the grocery store for some water, and waited for us at the bike shop to make sure we weren't stranded. It was a good thing he waited because they said to hop a train to Portland where there were good bike shops. So then he took us all the way to the train station and we picked blackberries with his children (Blaine, Zech, and Ivy) for a very long while until finally they all hugged us and were on their way. Conversing with John, we had learned that he was a born-again Christian and had nursed himself back to health eating honeycomb after Microsoft destroyed him, thus the change of career to bee-keeper. The land of milk and honey. He was adamantly against the war in Iraq, saying that it defied the message of Christ, which was love and peace. It really is heartening to know there are still people in the world who believe so strongly in love and peace.

Speaking of love, the littlest girl, Blaine, asked me at one point in the car ride regarding Andy, "Is that man your friend?" I said he was my husband, and she said, "You know what that means? You're pregnant! And you know what being pregnant means? You'll have a baby!" I had to laugh at that one. And hope it wasn't true.

So we ended up hopping a train and have had an amazing week in Portland with the wedding of the glorious Gwyn and Frunch , sleeping on the fold-out bed in Gabe's basement apartment, taking a trip to the Oregon coast where we spent the afternoon body-surfing in the waves, lots of hanging out with good friends, a stay in a cabin on the coast for a couple of days with some friends (Pete and Cris), some kite-flying, a LOT of messing around with bikes that ended in me having to actually buy a new bike while sending my old one back to Wisconsin to be fixed for free by the company--all in all our city fix has been had, and our friends fix has been great, and we're eager and ready to get back on the road tomorrow for the ride to Seattle.

PHEW!!!! If anyone can read this in one sitting, I will be amazed....much love to everyone, and we'll try to be better about keeping up so our entries aren't entire books at a time....

(Photo captions courtesy of the Amazing Andy)

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Oh, geez...

Here's two apologies, just to kick things off:

Golly, I'm really sorry about those two audio posts. Listening to ten solid minutes of directionless blabber from exhausted bikers is too much to ask of our friends and family, and it won't happen again.

Also, I'm really sorry that our updates have been ...well, nonexistent. It's sometimes hard on the bike to find cellphone reception, or computer access, but we'll work harder at keeping this blog up to date. Also, as Sarah points out, we're often having too much fun, and forget about things.

Please forgive us.

Since we left Minneapolis, over a month ago, we've covered a lot of ground, met a lot of great people, and even had a few adventures. Here's a brief synopsis, with highlights:

Minnesota was, on average, pretty flat. We had mostly sunny weather, except for one night when we camped next to the Rum River in the town of Milaca. Right in the floodplain. We were woken in the wee hours by the strongest thunderstorm either of us have ever tried to tent through. My first thought was "let's try to sleep through this." My second thought was "flashflood!" The dark fantasies of being swept away, with our bloated corpses found weeks later, miles and miles downstream, quickly won out, and we spent a frantic, soaking-wet twenty minutes moving our tent, luggage and bikes to higher ground. By the time we got all re-established, the rain had stopped and dawn was breaking. Was there, in fact, a flash flood? No. We took our soaking wet, exhausted selves to breakfast at Embers, all the same.

Does nose-picking make one a friend or an enemy of Booger?

The day before, we passed a sign that said "Used Books, next right", and then another that said "Log Cabin Books". Forgive me for stereotyping, but the part of Minnesota we were biking through didn't seem like a hotbed of used bookstore enthusiasts. We were intrigued, and pulled off the tiny two-lane county highway to check it out.

Coolest bookstore ever. Both floors of a real nineteenth century log cabin, a cheerful, knowledgeable, and well-read proprietress named Judith, a cast-iron stove in the corner, an excellent variety of high-quality reads, and, perhaps best of all, free fresh-ground coffee. We bought postcards and took pictures, and Judith gave us a Sierra Club Wilderness Reader for our travels. Coolest bookstore, ever.

Later that day, a few miles before we reached our day's destination, we met a fellow cyclist, Wally, who was training for a tour to Vermont in the fall. We talked, and he asked us a lot of questions, and invited us to stay the night in a cabin on his property! He called it his Hermitage, and had set it up for private retreats and meditation. We helped him put a dock into the river, and retreated to the hermitage when the mosquitoes got too thick. The next morning we had instant coffee with him and talked bikes and didn't get on the road until almost noon. Such good company is much much more important than early starts.

Fixing a flat tire in Long Prairie, MN

Other Minnesota Adventures: the Yellow Lab who raced with us, and ran alongside our bikes for more than three miles (we decided to call him Jack, and we couldn't get him to stop following us and go home); seeing flocks of White Pelicans soaring on thermals (Pelicans in Minnesota? For real! They have a nine foot wingspan, almost as big as the California Condor); shredding my real tire on a solo mission to buy a wine-bottle opener in Long Prairie, MN, and having to hitchhike back; and the awesome hospitality (and horrible shower) at Swanie's Resort, in Cormorant, MN (they bought us beer, cooked us salmon and catfish, took us on a boatride...we had to hitch a ride into Fargo the next morning. Ooof.).

We made the executive decision in Fargo to take Amtrak across North Dakota and Eastern Montana. The train station was open from midnight to 8 am, and the train rolled in at 5 am, so we had plenty of time to box up our bikes and monkey around with our luggage. We met an older gentleman there named Solomon Harris, who had just gotten out of the hospital in Fargo. He had been attending the funeral of an army buddy, and his heart had failed on him. While he was in the hospital, his wife had died. He was uninsured, and his Veteran's Benefits didn't cover his bills, so he was wiped out. He had been on Omaha Beach with the D-Day invasion, had lost four brothers in the war, and his only son in Vietnam. He was trying to get home to Decatur, IL, but only had money for a ticket to La Crosse thanks to his hospitalization, and was going to try to hitchhike once he got to La Crosse, and would we like to buy a fruit basket and some bungee cords? He was on oxygen, and real nice and interesting to talk to.

I didn't totally buy his story about being hired by Steven Spielberg as a consultant on Saving Private Ryan , but I was offended that a veteran should be so forgotten by the system that he would have to hitchhike. We bought the fruit and bungees for $10, and slipped him another $20 on top. We tried to buy his ticket through to Decatur, but the man behind the counter (after making a cryptic remark, chuckling under his breath "Yeah, he gets that a lot") said it was sold out. We helped him onto his train, and that was that.

A few days ago, here in Portland, we were telling Frunch and Gwyn that story, and a suspicious little voice in my ear told me to run a quick google search on "Solomon Harris". This is what I found. I can't say I'm as mad as the guy who wrote that article, but it's truly no fun getting conned.

The scenery out the train window convinced us we had chosen wisely, and we hopped off in Whitefish, Montana, feeling all messed up , but excited for new scenery and new challenges. My eyes are falling out of my head, so I'm turning it over to Sarah to tell about Montana. Take it away, Sarah!

Monday, July 05, 2004

Mighty Minneapolis!

We've had some good times in Minneapolis! We went to a treehouse exhibit in the University of Minneapolis Arboteum that was cool...kind of hit-or-miss, but there were three really cool ones:

a bona-fide walk-in birdsnest--is this what TMBG had in mind?

TreeMan was my personal fave. You could walk up into his head!

The Sugar Maple Ship would have been neater if you could climb around in it, but hey...

We also went to the Walker Art Museum sculpture garden, and played 10 holes of mini-golf, each hole designed by an artist or team of artists. If you are in the Twin Cities any time soon, I highly recommend the experience. Get this! One of the photos on the Walker's website featured my high-school friend Karl Frankowski!!! He's famous!

Karl Frankowski, goin' to town!

We also watched fireworks from the Stone Arch Bridge, but I couldn't find any neat pictures of that. So much for our last hit of big-city culture until Fargo ND! Scratch that, until Minot, ND! No, Sandpoint ID! Okay, who're we fooling, Portland, here we come!!!

But seriously, there's more to life than big city culture, and Sarah and I are both looking forward to getting back on the road, camping like mofos, and not spending so much $$$.
this is an audio post - click to play

Happy times are here at last!

Mister Fatface looking for adventure

Missus Fatface is equally beefy-cheeked!

The Force is strong with these tires...

The Mighty Adventure Begins!

Well, here we are--all the way to Minneapolis, Minnesota relaxing with Areca and Karl for the 4th of July weekend. Yay for friends! We've been visiting fools, dashing about the midwest with the great pleasure of a few days with Andy's grandmother and her Swedish guests, Ulla and Torbjorn, before coming here. Unfortunately, I've been having some knee troubles and we had to take a couple of rest days. Fortunately, the Swedes were both knee doctors and gave me a full examination which, to my relief, revealed simply that my patella is jumping its groove and causing inflammation. All this means is that I need to beef up my quads, which I am indeed in the process of doing!

Beef them quads!

So our morning of departure dawned looking a bit forboding weather-wise. It began to rain as soon as we mounted our bikes at 5:30 am, and we had a damp chilly ride out of town accompanied by our farewell party--Amy and her son Matthew pulled behind in a Burley trailer. When we parted ways, the rain really started to come down. But we rode on in true epic adventure style through the torrential rains and the freezing winds--and I am completely baffled by how I could ever have possibly thought that there were no hills in Wisconsin because MAN are there hills. WHEW! Beautiful rolling hills that are a doosey to heft yourself up on a fully loaded bike. Just wait until we get to the Rockies (gulp).

Amy and Matthew

Is this Heaven? No, it's Wisconsin...

After 25 miles, we wheeled our soaking bikes and selves into the town of Lodi where we were greeted by waves and cheers from strangers looking at us in a pitying fashion from the window of a restaurant. We thought we must know them, but when we went to investigate, they said they were just trying to give us moral support. So we went into a coffee shop and had steaming mugs of hot cocoa and chatted with a few of the locals, who were not envious of the 25 miles we had left to go. So, shivering and still wet, we decided we'd better roll on before we lost our resolve. And on we went.

Adventure Buddies Power Team Raincoat Strategy Activate!!!

The rain began to let up a bit around lunchtime, and we made our way to the Merrimac Ferry that took us across the Wisconsin River. Luckily, it was running despite the weather and the river nearly getting the better of its banks from the ridiculous amount of rain we've had this spring. After the ferry, we biked on and the sun peeked out just in time for us to warm up a little with our peanut butter and honey lunch on the side of a little winding road.

The Merrimac Ferry

The approach to Devil's Lake State Park, our destination, was completely miserable. Miles of uphill on a winding road with a crusty or nonexistent shoulder where no vehicle was going less than 70 mph. We resorted to walking after nearly getting squashed a time or two. And then, finally, when we never thought it would end, we arrived at the entrance to the campsite and were greeted by a lovely camping spot under a great sugar maple and the promise of a sunny afternoon. We were totally whipped, and it was heaven to spread our stuff and ourselves out in the sun to soak up some warmth. I don't remember a time feeling more glad to see the sun. We danced around and cooked an incredible dinner of lentils and rice and as the afternoon went on, we kept moving across the campground finding new perching places that were still warmed by the gradually setting sun. Too tired to write in our journals, we played some cards and then passed out in our tent when the sun went down.

And the next morning we were off again. We rode through a sunny crisp morning in the countryside. Everything was damp and shining with dew, and the low angle of the sun made everything look freshly washed. We rode through valleys and over ridges and happened upon a roadside farm called The Berry Farmer. Luck was on our side, because it was strawberry picking day. Cars began to appear from out of nowhere and line up to head out into the fields for picking. We bought a pint of strawberries and a bag of freshly picked sugarsnap peas and had the most glorious mid-morning snack a person could have in spring in the Wisconsin countryside.

On we went, through a wooded glade called the Hoot Owl Valley. It was altogether too steep a climb to get our bikes up the other side, but it was a beautiful, quiet, magical place. The type of place where you wouldn't be surprised if you were approached by a gnome or a wood nymph. A steep, long climb out of the valley to the top of Hogsback ridge rewarded us with a view of the country stretching out forever on all sides.

We rode on, and this was when my knee went from being a bit sore to incessantly burning with every pedal. So we cut our mileage a bit short and settled for a campsite outside of Lyndon Station which, much to our disappointment, was $25.00 a night and fully equipped with mini-golf, "train" rides through the woods (really a trailer dragged by a tractor), a video arcade, and Friday Fish Fry delivery to the campsites. We were the only tent campers that didn't have an inflatable mattress inside our tent. And compared to the number of RV campers, we tent campers were hardly there at all. And we were definitely the only people to have arrived by bicycle. It was not the camping experience we had envisioned, but there we were--stuck until my knee was functional for biking again. Which ended up meaning 2 full days of trying to figure out what to do with ourselves.

What to do with ourselves

The first day of rest was actually wonderful, as we hadn't had time to slow down yet from our harried tying up of loose ends in Madison. We lounged in the sun and wrote in our journals, read books, did a little birdwatching, and had couple of the $1 cups of Leinenkugel's Creamy Dark beer that was the saving grace of the campground. We fell asleep to the roaring of the highway near our campsite and awoke in the mornings to swarms of mosquitoes--the kind that mind neither the sun nor the heat of the day. The second day of rest quickly became claustrophobic, and the rain began in the afternoon, quarantining us to our tent from 3 pm on. Needless to say, we were moving on the in morning regardless of my knee.

Over the next few days my knee got progressively better and the riding became completely glorious. We hooked up with a rails-to-trails bike path called the Elroy-Sparta Trail and biked all day on fairly flat terrain in the absence of cars and, largely, the absence of other people. The trail began looking like Lover's Lane, as the boughs of the trees had grown up and over the trail, stretching out to each other creating a tunnel of green. The sunlight spackled the trail through the filter of leaves and we escaped the beating sun for a while. We counted over two dozen rabbits on the trail one morning, and saw green-backed herons with bright orange legs for mating season. We also kept riding through throngs of tiny little frogs, about the size of my thumbnail, that scattered like mad out of the path of our bike tires. There were orioles zipping about like flecks of gold and goldfinches dancing along beside us like dolphins playing in the wake of a boat. Sandhill cranes warbled in the fields and a pheasant herded her young across the road. Morning is an incredible time of day for seeing the life around you that is often hidden.

We camped at a DNR walk-in campsite outside of Elroy that was the polar opposite of our previous night's experience at the RV park. The campsite was virtually empty, and the sites situated at the top of a cliff rising up over the road. It felt very secluded and peaceful in the afternoon breeze. There were campsites scattered through a field of daisies, campsites tucked into wooded areas, and a single campsite under the boughs of pine trees where the ground was soft and fragrant in the way that only a pine forest creates. This was the campsite that we chose. We spent a relaxed afternoon playing cribbage and basking in the sun.

As the evening approached, a man set up camp at a site across the grassy path. He was touring by bike with only a basket on the front and rear of his bicycle for holding food and gear. His "tent" was simply a mosquito net that he situated over his head and a sleeping bag that he set out on the picnic table at his site. There he slept as soon as the sun went down, and he was already gone by the time we had awoken in the morning.

That night we got to fall asleep to the haunting lullaby of the Barred Owl and Great Horned Owl, and the strange yippings of coyotes communicating over the hills. Fireflies softly lit up the woods as we slept under the screen skylight of our tent. No need for a rainfly that glorious night.

The morning found us biking along the trail, only to come across a number of old, abandoned railroad tunnels. As we walked through the tunnels, the light dimmed and was soon completely absent. Water dripped from the roof and it was impossible without a light to tell whether or not you were about to walk your bike off the edge of the path. There were frequent doorways and indentations on the sides of the tunnels for the safety of the former railroad workers that gave me an unsettling feeling of being watched. As we got deeper and deeper into the tunnels, my eyes began to play tricks on me. At one point I was certain that there was a biker coming towards me from the other direction and I tried to move further to one side. As I did, it appeared that the other biker adjusted themselves to ensure a headlong collision again. So I kept shifting back and forth, only to realize after a while that the little glint of light I had been seeing was in fact a puddle on the floor of the tunnel reflecting the tiny speck of light from the exit far off in the distance. I can't imagine the men who would work in these tunnels. They must have completely lost track of time and space after the hours in the dripping, echoing, complete darkness. I wouldn't be surprised if their eyes grew bulbous and their skin grew sleek and they began discussing their precious with themselves. I don't think I could've done it without going stark raving mad.

Approaching the tunnel

Our night at the DNR campsite in Sparta, after a 35 mile day for the sake of the knee, was absolutely miserable. It was extremely hot and humid and the walk through the grass to the campsite kicked up thousands of persistent whining mosquitoes that didn't leave us until we were safely sweltering in our tent. We couldn't decided which was worse--losing your mind to swarms of mosquitoes or lying in a puddle of your own sweat in a cozy two-man tent where you can't help but stick to the person next to you. It was the worst. But we managed to start out the next morning before 6 am, before the mosquitos could brave the cold, and had the most beautiful, long morning ride with nary a soul to disturb us. We rode next to one another and talked about things and sang songs practically all the way to LaCrosse.

It is so hot in here, I took off all my clothes.

The LaCrosse River Trail brought us right into town to the Riverside Park where Riverfest just happened to be kicking off. There were riverboats coming and going, old-timey bands playing, carnival foods of all kinds, and people strolling about in period costume. We wandered into town to find some bread and cheese and were invited by some street performers to visit the Bawdy House, where a scantily clad painted woman was dangling her leg from a second-story window. LaCrosse is a very cool town, with all the charm of a small city and all the beauty of the Wisconsin hills and the banks of the Mississippi River. We ate our lunch and wandered about the festivities before heading to the bus station where we got an amazing deal on some bus tickets to Minneapolis via Rochester, Minnesota. My knee wasn't up to the hills we would have had to climb to get out of the river valley.

So we hopped a bus, and the man selling us tickets didn't charge us for our bikes or make us box them up, which we were apparently supposed to do. The miles flying by us effortlessly as we looked out the window seemed ridiculous after being so completely aware of every rise and fall of the landscape from the seat of our bikes. The Mississippi stretched for miles and miles, twisting and turning and flattening the valley, before the road wound up steeply into the hills.

We arrived in Rochester, only to find that there was no longer a bus station in town. We were deposited at a gas station way outside of town and made our miserable trek in the scorching afternoon sun through rush hour traffic on busy streets, getting lost a couple of times before finally finding our way to Grandma Karlson's house. Stepping into her house, though, is like stepping into a different world from that of the construction and traffic and blaring noise of a city. We took badly needed showers and washed our clothes and slept in beds in the cool of the air conditioner and ate turkey--all of the things we took for granted when we weren't traveling.

Grandma Karlson is a wonderful woman with bookshelves full to overflowing in every room and pictures of 4 generations of family filling the walls and corners. Her house has that feeling of home that only years of life and family can create, and I was eager to hear stories of her life. She told us about living in the Great Depression in a small house with her mother and siblings and two sons and the necessity of pooling all of their money into a single account, of which only she and her mother were allowed to write checks. She told us of the countless duties she had during her days of teaching and her days in Iowa when her father ran a drugstore. She told us of the Thanksgiving that she fed her husband's 27 visiting relatives. She told us about the 3 years that she and her husband were seperated during the war. An amazing woman with an amazing story.

Beautiful Sarah on the back porch

We sat on her back porch in the mornings watching the birds bathe in the bird bath and the vines blooming up the side of her kitchen window. We baked a pumpkin pie for Ulla, the Swedish woman who had spent a year in high school as part of the Karlson family and was visiting for a high school reunion, and her companion Torbjorn.

Then we were on to Minneapolis. My knee was in excellent shape after the rest, and we met a number of characters on the bus trip here before a wonderful bike ride along the river through the city to Areca and Karl's house. And here we are. We went to see a tree house exhibit in the arboretum outside of the city, wandered about through the 4th of July festivities, watched fireworks from The Stone Arch Bridge over the river, and are generally having a grand old time. We explored Nicollet Island and felt like we were stepping back in time. The streets were made of brick and the houses were old and grandeous--it felt like we were out east. It was quiet and calm, and the only sound was the bumping of the Reggae Festival nearby. What a neat little tucked away secret in this big, bustling city. And tomorrow morning we are off again--it feels like this is the jump-off point where we leave our safety nets behind for a time and our grand adventure west truly begins.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Adventure Begins, I Tell Ya!

Well,after 6 days of intensive packing, cleaning, socializing like fiends, and eating nasty nasty refrigerator remnants we're ALMOST ready to go...Our apartment is super echoey and spooky and the sunny crisp day outside is just asking for a couple of biking fools to hop on out and bust their hineys for a few months.

The ASAP (Ali-Sarah-Andy-Paul) crew; socializing fiends

This week included a car breakdown at an intersection on the railroad tracks, a leaky air mattress (our bed since our mattress has been gone) that demanded to be refilled every 4 hours all through the night, a popped bike inner tube and tire destroyed by glass shards, not much sleep, LOTS of fun, and much stinkiness on our parts as we schlepped all manner of whatnots out of our house--how can two people accumulate so much poop, you ask? WE DON'T HAVE A FREAKING CLUE! But it happens.

The leaky bed in the messy room

We're REALLY going to miss our little apartment on the lake. It's been so cozy and wonderful, with the lake breeze coming through our bedroom window at night singing us to sleep with the chords from our windchimes and the screech owl humming in the park across the street--sad to leave, but oh so happy, too.
At the crack of dawn tomorrow we'll be off--so stay tuned!

Go Adventure Buddies!!!

Monday, June 14, 2004


Testing, testing....1....2...

Friday, April 23, 2004

April 23, 2004

Two big developments in Operation: Outta Dodge:

After a positive flurry of tinkering and a few minor purchases, both of our bikes are about ready for the trip. New shifters for Sarah, bike racks, bike computers, and handlebar bags and panniers are attached and ready for action.
Also, we talked with our landlady Gretchen last night, and dropped the bomb that May would be our last month in the apartment. Hot damn, now we gotta go!
Yesterday I filled my panniers, front and back, with maybe eighty pounds of books from our shelves, and went on a joyride around town. It was great. Not so much extra work as I thought it was going to be, although I felt it in my arms afterwards. I went just under 13 miles in just over an hour, which I didn't think was too bad for a test run. If we can hold to an average speed in the twelve to thirteen mph range on the trip, we'll be on the bikes for maybe five or six hours a day, and be able to take it with some degree of leisure. This, after all, is to be a vacation, not a deathmarch.
On an aside, Andrew W. K., my Bizzarro-World rock'n'roll alter-ego, is playing a free show tomorrow night in James Madison Park. Hopefully I can get Sarah to go: my eardrums haven't bled since I got fired from my construction job, and it's been forever since I (as W.K. puts it), "Part[ied] Til' [I] Puke[d]"!

Friday, April 16, 2004

April 16, 2004

What a gorgeous freakin’ day! Sunny and warm, with everything greening thanks to last night’s rain. One can’t help but be reminded of the classic, epic Onion headline: Area Students Prepare Breasts for Increased Springtime Display. I feel happy about not working today, and will soon be applying for my unemployment-check-mandated two weekly jobs. When I get home, I will work on Sarah’s bike. When she gets home, we will go on a run. Then I will take her out on a date. There is the possibility of beer and nachos, as well as a movie. Make that the Strong Possibility.
My bike-trip-related cold feet of the last week are slowly warming, due mostly to Mom’s revelation that she regrets not having done more adventures in her youth, and to the realization that due to Jane’s poor health, our apartment may cease to be such a steal sometime soon. Also, despite the lure of science-teacher jobs in McFarland, and the Russ Feingold Senate Campaign, this is a good opportunity to skip town.
(This was always my favorite thing about State high school: I could come down here and be certain to see people I knew. Already I’ve run into Sean’s school chum Lena, and I just saw Avital Livny and her mom across the street. I wonder what her brother Jon is up to…)
Yeah, a good opportunity. Whether it’s the stress of a new school (for Sarah) or the stress of continuing unemployment (for me) or even the stress of bike trip prep and apartment liquidation and social uprooting, but we have both been having strong feelings of dread, of big impending badness. Tuesday morning at four am, a loud noise startled us both awake: all the windows in the house were rattling and shaking in their frames. First thoughts: A-bomb, earthquake, plane crash…? Turns out that what had woken us was a house explosion over on Division St., by the G-L’s house, across from the park Robin and I played frisbee in back in the day.
Also, I just got to the cataclysm chapters A Short History of Nearly Everything: meteor strike, Yellowstone National Park eruption, both long overdue, and both capable of worldwide and total annihilation without warning…Jiminy Cricket! Add in the political situation, in which Our Dear Leader seems determined to court apocalypse on as many fronts as possible… It seems like an uncommonly good time to enjoy the parts of life and the world that are still sweet and unsullied, and let the future take care of itself for a little while. After all, the world could quite literally end today or tomorrow, utterly without warning, and without any of us being able to do anything about it, so why the hell not go on a frikkin’ bike trip?

Monday, March 08, 2004

So Spalding Gray is dead. He went missing on the tenth of January, and this weekend they pulled him from the East River. He’d been suicidal since a car accident in Ireland, and actually had attempted suicide twice in the last two (?) years.
I had read that he was missing, but stories about someone being “missing” always imply conspiracy theories: Gray emptied a secret savings account, paid cash at the airport using expensive, flawlessly crafted fake ID, and will live out the rest of his days on a beach in Thailand/The Philippines/St. Thomas/El Salvador; Gray started walking North to one of those semi-mythical chunks of Canada the size of Ireland which have never been mapped; Gray grew a beard and will finish his days as a car mechanic named Stevens in Kentucky; Gray is living with the Apes in the heart of the African jungle primeval. Or maybe he just walked out on a New York City bridge one night in January, and no one saw him jump. Articles said he was ID’d via x-rays and dental records, so he was probably pretty far decomposed. What a terrible thing to do to your wife.
I don’t know why I even care. I thought Gray was terrific in True Stories, but I never saw him live, never saw him in any other films (I’m pretty sure), and I got maybe fifteen pages into that copy of Swimming To Cambodia that Anne Foye gave me before I put it aside for years and finally gave it to charity. Or maybe I sold it to Frugal Muse… At any rate, he’s not an idol, or a hero, or a contemporary, just an interesting guy who disappeared fifty-eight days ago.

I signed up for Unemployment today. Free money for getting fired. It feels win-win right now: I get weekly money as long as I look for work, and if I find work, I find work. Actually, it feels win-win-win: the money comes out of TDS’s coffers (at least indirectly, I think). Am I bitter that they fired me? Yes. I worked hard for the company, and I tried to fit in. Were they right to fire me? Yes. I didn’t even consider arguing with Sam and Tom, because I knew they were dead right: I wasn’t working out.

In some ways, the jobs I have had since college are like a road map of cowardice. I have felt like a failure for years because I didn’t even try to succeed. I set my sights at just getting by. What have I written since college? A handful of bunk history papers for an MATC evening class. Have I made any drawings? Hardly. Music? So half-heartedly it doesn’t bear thinking about. Of course, how much of that stuff did I do in college? A little more, but not much more.
I’ve been afraid to take any steps toward what would be my success because I don’t want to fail, to be criticized, to look foolish. Like Rob says in High Fidelity, “that’s suicide…by tiny, tiny increments.” My mission is to tread water until June, and then go on a trip with Sarah. And you know what? I don’t give a fuck if we’re not the first people that ever went on a bike trip. And I don’t give a fuck if we’re not the first people that ever wrote about their lives on the road. And I don’t give a fuck if we’re not the first people that ever ran a self-infatuated web-site about their own lives. Gotta start somewhere. And starting anywhere is an improvement over starting nowhere.

Sometimes Sarah asks me what I’ve been reading on the Web. I read the web a lot—DailyKos, TalkingPointsMemo, Atrios, DailyHowler, plus the Times online and whatever else I link to (and sometimes boobies)—but I’m at a loss to summarize. Condensed, all the information I’ve just consumed seems to parse down to a few sentences or ideas. Maybe it’s more a big picture issue—the sites I read are minutiae, arcana, tiny little motes that squish together to say, “the blood’s in the water today,” or “I can’t believe that Cheney,” or “Rush Limbaugh, what a lying drug addict.” But it’s not like any of those web sites are terribly nuanced. They’re all big-picture type sites, not fine-tooth-comb parsings of economic theory or anything. Maybe information on the internet just exists unto itself, like gold that turns to dust when you take it from the enchanted cavern.

I read today that Ethan Hawke’s next movie is a sequel to Before Sunrise. Before Sunset, starring himself and Julie Delpy. That’s exciting and terrible news. Before Sunrise ended so suddenly and ambiguously, and I had such a perfect picture in my brain of their planned-upon rendezvous: Vienna train station, a few snow drifts, the wind blows a few strays curls of snow, and it is perfectly, breakingly desolate. Of course, I was a sophomore in high school when I saw the movie, so perfect, breaking desolation had more appeal than it does today. Still, I can appreciate it. I listen to the blues! I’m hip! I’m down!
I’m glad to be writing. I may have to do more of this. I may have to make myself do more than this, coz at heart, I’m afraid I’m kind of a lazy fuck. But I could be worse.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

I’m struggling through my Vermont College application essay, and having a really hard time saying that I want to be a history teacher because a good history teacher makes the world a better place, and can inspire kids to be smarter, more motivated, and more interested in their world. Too bad that sounds so square. And cliched. Don’t fear the cliché, Andy. Make it work for you.

We watched Before Sunrise last night, and I was relieved that it was as good as I remembered. Or at least, that I still like it as much as I did. Sequel? Hmmm… I see three possibilities: reunion in Vienna six months after the first movie ended, reunion ten years later (sticking to the real-time idea), or another chance encounter. Maybe the second and third are pretty much the same.

I am relieved to have been approved to collect unemployment. I feel like less of a failure, both professionally and in my ability to support me and Sarah. Also, it frees me up to volunteer for Feingold, and makes the bike trip seem more likely. I’m going to need to do something to keep from feeling like I’m spinning my wheels.

I want Blog!!!

I want to not let this blog get too cold while I get my yah-yahs together re: making it 100% A+ good bike trip web site, so here's some stuff I wrote last month, and some stuff I wrote today.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

So I was having a dream last night that me and Joe and Derek were hanging out outside my Parents' house, and we were making too much noise and my Dad yelled at us and then we went to somebody's girlfriend's house, when I was jolted awake by the sound of all the windows in the house rattling in their frames. It woke up Sarah, too. We were thinking, earthquake? Airplane crash? Atomic bomb? We heard sirens a few minutes after, and went back to bed, thinking that if there was a problem it was in good hands, and anyways we weren't in immediate danger and even if we were, there wasn't much to do about it. It turns out that what woke us was a house exploding over a mile away:

Crazy stuff. Kind of sobering to realize that your house can up and explode on you.


Thursday, April 01, 2004 we just have to figure out how to link this up to the domain name I just registered for, and we'll be ready to rumble!