Friday, August 26, 2011

Washington: The Everything State (Part 1 of 2)


The United States of America is a vast place. It has oceans, mountain ranges, valleys, grasslands, deserts, glaciers, rivers, canyons, cities, islands, volcanoes and much more. There is another place that has all of this too, and it is in the US. Its Washington. I would be hard pressed to find another place that spans so many geological states and formations such as this state.

When I arrived, I had been cycling through the fake green landscape of wine country in the Okanagan valley of Canada. Once I pleasantly crossed the border into the United States, the grapes went away and the full force of the Sonora desert came blasting on me. The day was cloudless and hot, with temps in the 90's and the sun baking my already baked skin. A oasis of ice and filtered water greeted me in one of the small towns before I made camp in Omak, home of the gruesome “Suicide Hill” where horses are forced to run down a super steep hill and several die each year.

Another stunning day of cycling as I leisurely made my way over my thus far favorite named pass, Loup Loup before freewheeling it into Twisp and the Methow Valley. Spent the night in a very efficient house and ended up taking a sorta rest day as I biked only 10 miles to the next town, the wild wild west town of Winthrop. Sun, blue skies and headwinds all greeted me on a two mountain pass day, the first of which was Washington pass, about 5,400 ft with grand views of the valley and snow capped peaks. A little down and some more up over Rainy Pass where a secret cyclist note lead me to Rainy Lake and a beautiful photo of Eduardo. A night spent in the mossy forest was a nice way to end an amazing day in the Cascade mountains.


I followed the Skagit river, in the Skagit valley, passing the fabled Cascadian Farm before heading south towards Mt Baker and slowly made my way to Seattle. I had thought it would be a two day riding, camping somewhere that night, but as I rode closer and closer, I thought, “Well, why not just bang this puppy out?” And so, 10 ½ hours and 132 miles later, as the sun set over Puget sound I pulled into my extended stop at the world headquarters of Sonadei, LLC.



Eduardo got a makeover with a new drivetrain and new bottom bracket, along with gearing better suited for touring than I had had. Cruising the Seattle bike paths and streets, drinking coffee and tallying my stats for the anticipated 4 month wrap up. I'll take a non-bike trip to Mt. Rainier, the highest peak in Washington before leaving for the Olympic Peninsula and make my way to Portland for the end of this 4 month solo bike trip across America.

Enjoy the photos at picasaweb.google.com/rossbikepics, thanks for all the letters, comments and support, and I hope freedom and love fill your days and hearts.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Cycling in Canada: Reconsiderations


They put all that delicious candy right at the cashier, and at a child's eye level, all for a perfect reason. Either your child will see candy and demand some, or you will see it at the last moment and say, what the heck. We often make flash decisions based on a whim, and as such, it may be true of my admonition of Canada about a week ago. Coming into Canada, I hit a little bicycle tourer low after a strong stretch of awesomeness. The traffic, plus increased prices, and lack of cycling accommodations all combined to make a grumpy Bingler. Well, now that I can smell the sweet stank of the USA, what say I now?

Cycling the Icefields Parkway was truly an amazing two day event. Not only did I see glaciers on top of mountains, but one literally came down to the road, part of the Columbia Icefield. The colors, smells, sounds all made a remarkable experience that I would be hard pressed to not want others to live. Leaving Jasper National Park, I crossed the continental divide for the lucky #9th time, and entered the pacific timezone. I was also now in Mt Robson Provincial Park. Mt Robson is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, and even though it was cloudy when I saw it, it still dominated the skyline. I hit my most northern point before swinging south and ending a cold, rainy day in Valemount. A foggy, cold morning greeted me, but so did the start of the Thompson River Valley. This valley, at the northern part, was unlike all the other valleys I had cycled in because it wasn't huge; it was tight, hugging, squeezing me on all sides. To my left and right were towering walls of green pine trees, rocks and hidden waterfalls all there for me to discover. The day turned sunny and I cycled all day before some stealth camping at a rest stop where Western Union long ago had left wires in the hopes of creating an international wire line to Europe.

Blue skies, warm winds (head winds of course) and I was on my way, passing through the little towns of Clearwater, Little Fort and Barriere. A pleasant day of cycling as the valley started getting wider and wider as the Thompson river grew in size. The traffic was also growing in size, the logging trucks seemed to multiply at the blink of an eye. When a logging truck passes you, it sucks you in and then swoops the air all over you. When a logging truck comes the opposite way of you, it sucks you in and then bashes you in the face with a wall of wind. Wonderful either way. Another day of camping along the banks of the Thompson in Barriere.

I left the highway and put my faith in a map (mistake). The back road would cut a bunch of miles and help me stay off the highway, and it indicated a dirt part, so I knew it was coming. And come it did, and it wasn't so bad. Sure, the logging trucks were still there, but they were few and I got a quiet ride with birds and herons and hawks and secret waterfalls for my eyes only. But then...but then... The road that crossed the Trans Canadian Highway was meant to be paved the ENTIRE way. But it wasn't. Not even for 1 mile. I had a choice. Cycle 30 miles on a dirt road of varying quality, or take the god awful highway for 24 miles. I choose god awful. The shoulder was pretty good, the traffic pretty bad, but my hiccup came when my normally smooth ride started lumping, up and down. And I knew. I didn't need to look. I didn’t need to feel or to hear. I knew I had a flat. Though it should be impossible to get a flat on a Schwable marathon Plus, even they can puncture when you run over an industrial sized staple. So, stripping Eduardo of all my gear (Eduardo told me later that he felt ashamed being upside down, naked on the side of the road), I struggled for 30 minutes to patch the flat while the trucks and cars zoomed by. Finally, I was on my way and arrived in Salmon Arm to realize where I was camping, as is always the case, was at the other end of town and up many steep hills. Some days just go like that.

And some days don't. There is little else as pure, elating and life affirming than a single superb day on a bicycle. Whether traveling 100 miles on a year long bike journey, or cycling around town on a warm summer day visiting friends. The bicycle transports us physically, but emotionally as well. Riding a bicycle releases chemicals in our bodies that elate our mood, riding a bicycle brings us into communion with the winds, the terrain, the planet that lives under, around and above us. You smell the world, you hear the creeks, the hidden animals scurrying off, you know the gentle roll of the planet. And you see others on bikes and you smile, you and them are part of a community. In all my time bicycle touring, I have never seen someone walk over to someone in a car and ask them about their trip, where they are going, etc. But, every time I stop anywhere, someone will come up to me and start a conversation. It's not too often now a days for people to engage in conversations with strangers. But that’s another thing a bicycle does, it makes you vulnerable and brings out the warmth and kindness in humans. A bicycle is a bicycle, and its a bridge. It can take us to such great places, what we do when we get there is up to us.

From Salmon Arm I continued south towards the touristy towns of Vernon and Kelowna, crossing the lake into West Kelowna for a stay at a warmshower host. It was two days of, excuse my french, "circulation routière horrible et laide".  With little option for other routes, I was forced to ride the often litter and rock strewn highway shoulder for many, many miles.  Now, in the Okanagan Valley, the semi arid desert landscape has opened up a huge valley before me that shall lead me south to the United States border tomorrow.  Once in the US, I go south a wee bit before turning west and crossing through the Cascade mountains and freewheeling it into Seattle in about a week.  If you happen to have not yet sent me mail there, do so now to:

Ross Guberman
Sonadei, LLC
PO Box 99133
Seattle, WA 98139-0313

Naturally, see all the ups and downs via photographs of my two weeks in Canada at picasaweb.google.com/rossbikepics.  And so, farewell to Canada, which tested me in many ways, offered up it's most splendid beauty, cost me a pretty canadian penny, and taught me to better understand the old hiker adage: The difference between an ordeal and adventure is your mindset.  Till next in the USA, keep pedaling and keep smiling.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Interlude: Icefields Parkway (Banff and Jasper National Parks)







Sneaky little Canada.  Just when I had you pegged, you go and throw your best shot at winning me back.  The Icefields Parkway is one of the top 20 bicycle rides you can do on Earth.  From Lake Louise to the town of Jasper, through Banff and Jasper National Parks, the Icefields Parkway traverses along snow capped mountains, mirror glaicer lakes, glaciers themselves, and incredible views non stop.  I spent two days cycling along this great road and have to admit, Canada aint that bad.  Enjoy the photos and of course find them all at picasaweb.google.com/rossbikepics, and if you are sending mail, I'll be in Seattle at the end of August.  Till next time, probably from the USA, keep pedaling.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cycling in Canada: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


What is your job?” Well, I did work for a bike organization but I now am biking. So you have no job?” Not in the way your define one. “Do you have a wife and kids?” If I did would I be biking? So, you are coming into Canada with no job and no ties to the US?” God I hate the border. Am I, on a bike, that much of a threat to the holiness that is the colony of England called Canada? Is having a job a requirement to enter or exit a country, of its imaginary lines drawn on paper? With a huff and a puff my passport was handed back and I entered British Columbia with a new set of grumpy pants adorned and a bad taste in my mouth.

The long day to Cranbrook where I had a warmshower introduced me to the difference between US traffic and Canadian traffic. That being, there was more of it, and the drivers were much less nice as they passed me in than they have been in the States. And then stopping at a little store, I was reminded of another big difference. Everything in Canada is super expensive for no reason. A nice night inside and the next day it was off north towards Fairmont Hot Springs and along the Columbia Valley.

The Rockies have been on my eastern side for a while now, and some other range on my west as I biked north. The scenery was nice but diluted by the non stop traffic, logging trucks, and RV's that aren't capable to giving a vulnerable road user a little bit of extra space. Getting to Fairmont, the springs of course were located at the top of the hill (typical) and when I got there it seemed the only way to enjoy the “natural” hot springs was to pay to sit in the water fed pools. Luckily, I meet a nice couple who informed me of some free baths up the hill, where I went and soaked for a while. Upon returning they offered to have me pitch my tent in their space, hence saving me the job of hunting for a free stealth spot. You can ONLY stay in Fairmont in an RV, no tenting. I felt oh so welcome.

It was another day in the Columbia Valley north towards Brisco and another warmshower. I passed through Radium, where the next day I would return to enter into Kootney National Park, which leads to Banff. The first of the two passes that day was the steepest, but not so bad. What was bad is the way Canada runs it's parks. They don’t have a sign, but they are basically saying “We are not welcoming to bicycle tourers or anyone not in a vehicle” They charge a per day use fee, the same if in a car, RV, bike or foot. Fair? No. The campgrounds have zero accommodations for hikers/bikers, unlike nearly all the parks in the States. Plus, the campgrounds charge astronomical fees for the privilege of sleeping on the earth. The end of my day saw an hour and a half of rain, and I pulled into the Lake Louise Hostel, soaked and cold. Of course, it got worse when the price to stay was nowhere near the price shown on the hostel pamphlet. Why? Because they are purposely misleading and put the winter prices without saying it. I am staying another night but volunteering with housekeeping and will stay for free. There are still clouds and rain forecast all day, and to enjoy the ride north I would prefer clearer skies.

The good, the bad and the ugly thus far. The natural landscape is amazing, the mountains and very sharp and clear as they are younger. The bad and ugly is the how I feel absolutely unwanted and unwelcome in Canada, and while I am trying to let go of these issues and allow myself to enjoy my time here, I can honestly say that I not only would, and hopefully will, never return to Canada, but would not recommend, despite the natural beauty, for a bike tourer to come here. Shame on Canada. I don't want to be super negative and complain in this post, but I also hope that anyone who is thinking of bicycle touring might take my advice and not venture to Canada until such a time as they adjust their policies and structure to be welcoming to those of us who travel and live without the use of a motor vehicle.

From here, I will head north along the Icefields Parkway for two more days and then exit Jasper National Park and make my way southwest towards the US border at Washington State. And while I very much want to enjoy the scenery and not wear a pair of grumpy pants (makes cycling difficult), I will be cycling as far as possible each day to get back to the US and out of this English backwaters known as Canada.

Check out the current Canadian photos at picasaweb.google.com/rossbikepics  .  Well my grumpy Binglers, keep pedaling with a smile on yer face. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Biking to the Sun

mountains in lake mcdonald
There have been few places that I have cycled to in the last 3 months that have left me nearly breathless due to their profound majesty, beauty, and magicalness.  Glacier National Park is one of those few places, and despite the cars and crowds, the grandeur and sereness that exist there are well worth the annoyances of all the other travelers.  Of course, I didn't just pop into the park, i first floated.

My rest day in Missoula saw me being a local and floating down the Clark river on a tube, getting dinner with Food Not Bombs and giving Eduardo a little service.  The next day turned out to be my longest day thus far, leaving Missoula and following the valley out only to turn northward into another amazing valley as I cycled 111 miles to Swam lake and collapsed.

A scant 85 miles the next day and I was in West Glacier where I got a little taste of the park by camping at the biker sites in Apgar campground near lake McDonald.  But i wasn't ready for the park just yet, so i headed out and passed south of the park, along the flathead river, up and over Marias Pass and my 6th continental divide crossing to end the day at East Glacier.  From there it was the up and down hills to St Mary and finally into the park, camping at Rising Sun as Glacier doesn't allow bikes on Going To The Sun road from 11-4pm.  I had heard there was construction so for the first time set my alarm for 4:30am so I could have the whole road to myself.

mountains in st mary lake

The next morning at 5:30, after my alarm clearly didn't wake me, I greeted the rising sun casting a pinkish hue on the snow and glacier tipped mountains as I headed up towards Logan's Pass, and yet another continental divide crossing.  It was a slow, bumpy downhill due to the construction but from one valley to the next, the sights and sounds of Glacier never failed.  My Glacier ride ended at Whitefish State park where I camped along the lake.
wild goose island

mcdonald valley


And it is now that I find myself on the edge of America and Canada in Rexford.  Tomorrow I cross and enter British Columbia for a while as I cycle due north towards Banff National Park and Jasper National Park.  Till next time, enjoy all of Montana and Glacier pics at picasaweb.google.com/rossbikepics, send me mail in Seattle, and keep on pedaling!!!!