I grew up in rural northeast Ohio. We lived about 25 miles east of Cleveland which was far enough to have dark skies, ponds, toad, Jack in the Pulpits and dogs running loose. I went to college at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, in part to see if living in a city was as bad as I thought it would be. I stayed there through graduation and for two more years working for their Computer Science department.
While cities do have benefits, the steel industry was still strong (and smelly), the nights never really dark (I counted 5 stars one clear night), and I joined the Explorers Club for my freshman year, an outing club that did get me to some interesting places. I noticed that on my first trip home I was sitting on the edge of my seat on the bus looking for the first road I recognized. For my sophomore year, I brought my bicycle and that let me get out of the city reasonably quickly.
Still, six years was a quarter of my life and after a couple schemes to drive out west fell through, I began to think about bicycling through the west. I went home for Christmas once and found my parents had bought a coffee table book on the National Parks, and I realized that I could start in the "Silicon Valley" area south of San Francisco and bike from park to park and see lots of good stuff along the way. One of the grad students had bicycled across the country, so he had a lot of suggestions about what to do and what was worth worrying about. I spent a huge amount of time at the map repository at the University of Pittsburgh plotting a route, expecting to follow the first half very closely and allow for some changes in the second half.
My original plan was to go north, then across southern Canada and bike all the way home. Ultimately, I found that bicycling in the mountains was more fun than I expected so when I reached the prairie I turned south and rode through Glacier National Park and Yellowstone. Well, not Glacier, unless you count a ride in the back of a pickup truck driven by a drunk Indian.
There were no cell phones or mapping GPS receivers then, and it was a couple years before the creation of what is now Adventure Cycling, an organization that maps routes and offers group tours. In case I were to disappear off the face of the Earth, I wrote a letter home every day. That way, people would have an idea of where to start looking. The letters are the primary content of these pages, I've added a little commentary, from either a 1974 perspective or of a current perspective. The latter will include a few references to my family's 2003 tour through Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. (Paula continued solo to Michigan.)
One major omission are all the photographs I took along the way. Even after culling the best out of 14 rolls of 36 exposure Kodachrome film, there's a lot. While I do have a nice slide scanner, I haven't had time to scan them and won't for the foreseeable future. Kodachrome is rather contrasty, and many photos were taken with a polarizing filter, so they're a bit of a challenge to scan.
The impetus to get the letters in here is that 2009 is a multiple of 5 years since the trip. It's high time to get this part on the web. Just to be annoying, I'm putting letters up on their 35th anniversary, distractions permitting. Hey, it took me 42 days of riding, it should take you 42 days of reading!
To keep things managable, I've broken the trip into approximately week-long segments: