Monday, January 9, 2012

New Year, new calendar.

It's been three months since the last time I awoke in my tent and began the morning rituals which represented my life for over half a year. It's been over nine months since April 4th, the rainy day three novice adolescents pedaled off to cross a continent. I began 2011 in Seoul where I was slowly preparing a farewell to a very special place in my heart. Looking back, I can't seem to recall what I did to celebrate the new year; all I have is a photo of the picnic tables outside the building Emily and I called home for 18 months.

In a life of repetition, a week can pass by appearing as a mere instance in the memory bank; one hundred and sixty eight hours, and all a brain can do is prove it's existence based on the weather, a current event, or another minimally significant anecdote.   For times of adventure, neurons burn experiences and emotions into a more permanent storage unit.  If I sat and thought long enough--with a little photographic and cartographic assistance--I could recall 90% of our route and determine where we slept, what we saw, how far we rode, and much more.  Unfortunately in most instances, including mine, these memories don't serve as a productive function to the rest of society, and therefore can't generate sustainable income.  Over time, even those who seem have evaded the rigors of reality are forced to become functioning members of society; if only temporarily.  There will, however, always be the memories, which are worth the weight of decades in repetition.


I'm now working towards a printed account of our experience, if only for the sake of personal enjoyment years from now.  I can hope the winter forces me inside to tackle this task, but it won't, so I can only promise to post a note here when finished, in case anyone wants a copy.

For now, I can offer a calendar I created using a few of my favorite photos, seen above.  I have a handful of extras and am happy to ship them off to interested parties for $10.  Please send an email request to Ross.Kenney at gmail dot com.

Thanks again for reading.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The final countdown.

The transition we experienced crossing the Idaho/Wyoming border represented much more change than we anticipated.  Moving west, the separation of Idaho and Wyoming is divided by one final high mountain pass before the lower lying hills of the western continental US.  However, geographical change has been the essence of this trip, so it comes as no surprise, nor have we found much difficulty in adjusting.  The transition which caught us by surprise is all too familiar to us as northwest natives, but difficult to adjust to while living outdoors; this transition is fall, and more specifically:  Rain.  Our first full day in the state of potato production began with a late morning shower, which brought on enough chill to dig out the rain pants; the first time since leaving San Francisco.  This minor rain event was merely a precursor to the trying weather we would face in the final days of our journey.


The following day began with a quick and easy twenty miles, but by eleven, it was clear we were in for a storm.  Information from the weather forecasts and our friends from home were loud and clear:  The first big storm of the season is moving your way.  It began by producing crosswinds and headwinds as it blew our way, and once the precipitation arrived, we then enjoyed rain as well.  Presently, our outlook on an aggressive schedule became bleak as we sat wet footed and exhausted.  That night, camping west of Arco, ID in the Craters of the Moon, we were lucky to have enough dry weather for dinner before the bedtime rainfall.

We awoke to a cold, cloudy, but dry morning in the Craters, with enough time to tear down camp and eat before the precipitation once again struck us disappointed.  Quite literally, the first click into our pedals was an alert to the clouds, and to our dismay, snow began to fall.  At just over three miles from camp, we reached a visitor center near the top of the pass, and pulled in for our first break of the day.  The combination of wet socks and gloves from the previous day numbed our fingers and toes in an unfair disadvantage. Lucky for us, the visitor center had two heated electric hand dryers, which presented an opportunity to warm and dry things before pushing downhill and below the snow level.

This will remain as one of the most trying moments of the trip.  As the snow continued to accumulate outside the visitor center, we were forced to wonder what weather would lay ahead.  Had our trip ran out of time as the early winter weather fast approaches?  How many more days could we handle the cold, wet weather?  Would we risk our health by continuing?  How would we get home?  Of course, none of these questions were mentioned aloud until days later.


Thirty five miles beyond the visitor center, at a highway junction just south of Sun Valley, ID, we took refuge from the endless bone chilling drizzle in a rest area to fix a broken spoke.  As we sat inside, we could all but foresee our ability to suit up and go back into the rain.  Meanwhile, the constant rotation of people passing by, themselves struggling with the gap between their vehicle and the entrance to the building, were intrigued and sympathetic to our situation.  As one hour turned into three, a return out into the rain seemed less and less likely; we decided instead, at the risk of breaking an unspoken rule, to pitch our tents in the grass at dusk.  Having noticed the pity of the passers by, I had convinced myself that no officer of the law could be heartless enough to evict us under the current circumstances.  Sometime around eight or nine, we still hadn't resorted to moving outside, and the cleaning lady arrived for her evening obligations.  With absolute insistence, she told us to roll out our sleeping bags inside, and not camp in the wet grass.  Her official approval was enough to bring on an excellent and worry free sleep, indoors.  The next day we woke to warm, dry gear, and precipitation free--but windy--conditions.  Enough good weather to successfully complete the stretch into Mountain Home, ID for our final rest day.

Our time in the rest area produced a variety of emotions and memories, not all bad.  Although the continuing misery of the weather left us reconsidering an early ending to our trip, for the second time in one day, we were reeling from the welcome we received to stay.  I must also mention the characters funneling through this rest area at the junction of US 20 and Idaho 75, us included.   They were obviously as intriguing to us as we to them, and in many cases this circumstance provided a unique opportunity to glimpse into the lives of those passing through this part of the world.


For our ride out of Mountain Home, ID, we had great weather to begin the final push to Bend on the way to Portland.  At almost exactly 100 miles from Mountain Home we crossed back into Oregon and found a yard to camp in right on the border.  Having a warm, clear day boosted moral and gave us a positive outlook on the next four days to Bend.  Sensing our proximity to home was another reason to celebrate and feel accomplished; the distance to home had been reduced to less than the breadth of one state.  However, the next day we once again experienced the wrath of fall as we pedaled out of Vale, OR into a twenty mile stretch of rain; enough to saturate our gloves, socks, and shoes for the rest of the day, and into the next.  In these times, with the end so near in sight, the present is a hard thing to appreciate.  Fortunately, this turned out to be our last bout with steady rainfall, making our final days into Bend dry to say the least.

With two nights left to Bend, the scenery started becoming familiar to Dan, who previously traveled this stretch of highway 26.  Spending so many nights out on the road, often camping only when a suitable place was discovered, it felt like the final two nights would be a breeze in our own backyard.  Unfortunately, as dusk began to set in on us ten miles west of John Day, the publicly owned ranch land we expected to find was non existent.  Enter Oregon's chance to surprise us with kindness and opportunity.  As we learned from a passing motorist, nine miles west of us in Dayville there was a bike hostel facilitated by the Dayville Presbyterian Church.  When we arrived at the church, a kind lady was waiting for us to give a tour of the available shower, kitchen, laundry, and computer.  They even keep a large bag of pancake batter on hand.  This positive anecdote of kindness in our own state left us feeling proud.


In two more days on the road--one long, one extremely short--Dan and I reached his hometown, Bend. Before shedding our gear, we took our time riding around town to parade our accomplishment.  Two days later, I left Dan in Bend and began my two day finale to Portland.  For this stretch, I took advantage of a support vehicle to carry all my gear, call me a cheater if you want.

There was significant temptation to finish the trip with Dan in Bend, and ride back to Portland in my support car.  Mainly, it was the conflict with my ego which left me questioning my decision to continue; as if the rest of the trip wasn't enough, I have to prove myself in the final two days.  Truthfully, the main motivation behind completing the loop was to ride routes previously travelled, creating a perspective by linking all the new territory of the last six months to my own location.  I was also interested in rolling over roads I know for the observation of my fitness level after six months of constant riding, compared to levels of previous years.  In hindsight, I'm glad to have stuck to my commitment; the last two days provided an excellent opportunity for reflection and enjoyment.


I want to thank all my Bend friends for the excellent hospitality during my layover, also Dan's father for buying us a deliciously satisfying dinner on our last night out.  I expect to spend the next week or two preparing final reflections, anecdotes, and memories to share as I close this epic chapter in my life.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Onward ever onward!

Plowing through the prevailing winds of Eastern Wyoming, we felt lucky to find an occasional downhill grade. Our movement was otherwise impeded by headwinds, crosswinds, and elevation gains. Each day finished higher and colder as the high plains transitioned into the Absaroka region of the Rocky Mountains. Our final ascent from the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park carried us up and over Sylvan Pass to Yellowstone Lake and into the land of roaming bison.

After a small tour across the park, we opted for a rest day at the campground in Madison, which turned out to be a great meeting place for touring cyclists. Although our habitual nature for sight seeing called, we were inclined to spend our day relaxing in the campground. Without much time, and without the ease of an automobile to transport us to trailheads, we pledged to return to Yellowstone for more exploring. Nonetheless, our route through the park was sufficient to see a few spectacular sites and realize the popularity behind the place. As I'll explain later, a common theme we're realizing is this: You can't see everything.

Rolling south along highway 287 from Madison to Yellowstone's south entrance, through Grand Teton NP, and into Jackson, we once again witnessed an extended stretch of spectacular scenery. The first of our two day route passed by Old Faithful before ascending three continental divide crossings. As daunting as we expected these three passes to be, they were truthfully minimal compared to our climb up into the park, as well as what we were about to experience over Teton Pass.

On day two, we enjoyed the majestic formations which represent the centerpiece of Grand Teton NP. Having reached Jackson early in the day, we opted to continue up and over the aforementioned Teton Pass, and down into Idaho. A quick glance at the topo map indicated this climb would be steep, but at the time we didn't realize how truly aggressive this grade is: 2,200 feet in five and a half miles, with grades as steep as 10%. Neither Dan nor I needed these statistics to agree by the top that this was the largest altitude gain in the shortest distance we have conquered. Not only were our legs feeling the incline, we could smell a variety of burning auto parts and fluids from the slowly passing cars.


While resting in Yellowstone at the Madison campground, we enjoyed two nights of trading stories with fellow cross country touring cyclists. Each cyclist we met was en route to cross a continent. The four people we met on the first night were crossing the continental US, from east to west. On our second night in the campground, two men pushed their bikes in at dusk and immediately deflated my ego. They themselves had just met, both coincidentally engaged in the route from Alaska to the southern tip of South America. The next day, on our way out of Yellowstone with these two gentlemen, we met yet another fellow on the same course to Argentina. For them, the adventure has only begun.

Thinking about the immense journey from the north of North America to the south of South America, I can't help but compare such a journey to my own, and reflect on the value of any kind of adventure, small or large. I will always be proud to share this accomplishment, in which I invested much time, effort, and patience, among other things. However, riding from coast to coast and back should be considered no greater feat than riding across a city, county, or state. Our recent encounters with other 'baggers' in Yellowstone have helped me to realize this notion and come to an important conclusion: The value of exploration can't be compared between individuals. In terms of bicycle touring, there are a variety of styles and personalities; some rough it, others don't; some ride long distances each day, others spend more time exploring one place; some spend multiple years on one trip, others a weekend. My point is, whether bike touring or baking cakes, there's no right or better way to do it, what matters is being out there, doing what you love, accomplishing something great in your own mind.

At the Idaho border, we nearly completed the loop by entering our 22nd and final state before returning to Oregon. Thinking of the number 22, it's hard to believe we've ridden in so many states over six months. Some of them for less than a day, a few of them over multiple weeks. Regardless, I would feel safe admitting we didn't see any of these states in their entirety. There exists a paradox for me with the idea of travel, as I continue exploring new places, my desire to see more grows; the wish list gets longer. No matter how much one can try to see everything, there just isn't enough time in the course of a lifetime to truly fulfill this objective. Someone I know claims you will never die if you have another book to read. I further the sentiment by noting you will never die if you have one more place to see.


Follow our fellow travelers:
Pedal the Unknown.
Wim Heebels (Dutch).
From Addiction to Ambition.
America Bycycle.

Monday, September 26, 2011

What a bunch of jerks.

The jerks I'm referring to are not the chiseled land grabbers photographed below, but the the ones at Sellwood Cycle Repair who put me on a Kona too solid to use as a good excuse for packing up early and catching a bus home. Also, one could say Wade at Vulture Cycles is equally a jerk for building a bulletproof bike that even Dan can't seem to break. Instead of sitting at home, fattening up on beer and pizza, Dan and I are faced with the last thousand miles before we can call it a day. Truthfully, if you want a good excuse, don't go to these guys. Jerks.


At the end our last bout with forward motion, we perched ourselves on the perimeter of Badlands National Park. For our Sabbath, we huddled into our tents to avoid blowing away in the gusts, occasionally emerging for the occurrence of digestion. Each time we appeared, the photogenic rock formations looming just down the road seemed to be calling, which led us to wonder, "Why aren't we on a hike today?" To our benefit, the fifty miles we traveled after our rest day turned out to be one of the more picturesque stretches of the trip.

Our originally planned route from the west end of the park would have required us to carry a day's worth of water, which we intended to obtain along with some snacks in the town of Scenic, SD. To our unfortunate realization, this township is more or less shut down. As we learned, almost the entire town was recently purchased, and the new owners had not yet arrived to get the place running again. In our search for potable water, we met the man now responsible for maintaining the facilities in this town of one citizen, one post office, and vacant, boarded up storefronts. He not only steered us in the direction of clean water, but also invited us to camp out pretty much anywhere in town. We chose the lawn of the Tatanka Trading Post after seriously considering the jailhouse. He also provided us with important intel on a questionable 40 mile stretch of dirt road which may or may not be maintained. In light of this information, we redirected through Rapid City, which led us into the Black Hills National Forest, past Mount Rushmore, and into the oil rich plains of eastern Wyoming. The ride through the Badlands and the Black Hills made for a satisfactory ending to the already great time we had traveling in South Dakota.

The one challenge we experienced in the Black Hills had nothing to do with the climbs, but instead what the land once was, and now represents. In response to a post 1849 gold rush within the Black Hills, the US government broke a treaty with the Lakota tribe and assumed possession of their sacred land. To rub salt in the wound, about fifty years later the US government funded a project to carve the likeness of four great American leaders into Mount Rushmore. The carvings on Mount Rushmore have succeeded in attracting tourism and thus turned the surrounding hills into an endless oasis of go carts, mini-golf, and other carnival amusements; nothing is sacred. Lucky for us, the entrance fee into the Mount Rushmore Memorial is waived for cyclists, allowing us to avoid paying directly in support of the obstruction.

The history behind the Black Hills brought forth critical considerations of the treatment of Native Americans, both past and present, and all over the country. Coming from a mixture of European migration, my existence in this land will always be marred by the truth of what it represents. If my ancestors hadn't crossed the Atlantic to find opportunity at the expense of others, I would not be alive, nor would the majority of us Americans. However, we can't accept responsibility for such things beyond our control, we can't pack up and go back to Europe, so there's no use in looking backwards. Instead, we should consider the opportunities looking forward, which honor Native American ancestry and culture, preserve the land they still have, negotiate the return of sacred ground, and stop waiting for these people to waste away.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The obvious contrast.

Over this past week, we've been preparing for, and saying goodbye to the Midwest of America. Riding west out of Des Moines, Iowa, we saw the beautiful rolling hills which give credence to the infamous RAGBRAI. We then took a quick trip across the Missouri River into Nebraska, and headed north along the river to reach South Dakota. It is my understanding that we officially entered the great plains after crossing the Fort Randall Dam; our third and final Missouri River crossing. As mentioned to us, and we confirm, South Dakota is geographically partitioned into two sides; east and west of the Missouri. The eastern portion having more precipitation and corn than the arid and grassy west. For us, reaching the western side has meant less traffic, with more seclusion and space between areas of civilization, but mostly a welcome change to the two or three previous weeks of overabundant corn and soy crops.

If one simplifies the concept of endless rolling hills and plains, the longterm monotony may seem much too uneventful to enjoy from the seat of a bicycle. I conclude this generalized simplification to be wrong. For westward travel (i.e. Leaving the populated eastern portion of the continent) it represents the wild western frontier, and resembles the experience of the Oregon Trail travelers. Dan suggests our instincts may find pleasure in scenery which contains livability, including bountiful plants and animals. Perhaps for us modern day explorers, the appearance of less cultivated soil provides the experience of 'roughing it.' I would also not shy away from associating our pleasure with a closer proximity to home.


If our route and tempo eastward was indirect, unpredictable, and off budget, our route west could thus far be considered much more calculated. Simply put, we resembled Kerouac and friends heading east--give and take--and westbound are the new age Lewis and Clark; on a mission to find the passage to Oregon before the British do. Again, simply put, 5,500 miles out in five months will earn many valuable perspectives into the culture and people of this country; 3,200+ miles back in two months will contradict one's preconception that this country is immense in size, which it is.

As the hours of daylight in the northern hemisphere slowly dwindle, so do our feasible riding hours. Our distance goals, however, have been loftier in the past weeks. This means we had to wake at dawn, complete our morning routines, and begin riding each day before noon--usually before nine. Even on such a schedule, we've been finding it harder to reach our daily destinations before sunset. Luckily, we're far enough west at this juncture, to confidently establish a finish date on a less aggressive schedule, with hopefully more free time to enjoy the national forests and parks in front of us.

Athough we've been covering much more ground since NYC, I'm finding no shortage of anecdotes to consider sharing. Like the night we crossed a closed bridge (don't worry Moms), to randomly happen upon a campground, to wake up with frost on our tents next to a steaming and picture perfect Missouri River. Or that other night in the wildlife refuge when some locals parked and proceeded to find themselves in the grips of a passionate frenzy, unaware of the proximity of our involuntary, sleep distracted ears. Or the all-you-can-eat breakfast where we earned two compliments while likely consuming the day's profit. This and more within the course of seven days, you get the point.

At about 1,200 miles from home, we will likely have three more rest days. Therefore I'm likely to post three more times before reaching home, then probably one final salutation at the end. I've been happy to hear praise from a number of you, and I'm more gratified in knowing this effort isn't unnoticed. Thanks again for your support and for reading.


Last, but certainly not least, I want to give a big thanks to the Stone family in Des Moines for stepping up and giving Dan refuge while I was off observing the matrimonial ceremony of two fine folks.