Lewis, Clark, and Transamerica


Been there, done that. Sort of.

Many moons ago (like about 377, as in year 1974) I started my first longer than one day bike ride in Palo Alto, California. I had graduated from Carnegie-Mellon Univ two years before and had stayed in Pittsburgh working for the Computer Science Dept. A few attempts to visit the west coast with friends never came together, but I wasn't pursuing that very hard. On a trip home for Christmas, My parents had a coffee table book of some of the US National Parks and I noticed I could link visits to several into an interesting bike tour. One friend at school had bicycled across the country himself, and another came from Washington state and kept telling me about all the neat places there I should visit.

The decision do the tour came fairly soon, the route planning was done largely at the Univ. of Pittsburgh's Library. They were a "map depository" and had all the topos and other maps I could ever expect. Ultimately, the National Geographic US map was my primary source. It's big enough to show state highways, small enough to show, well, the whole country.

I came up with a detailed route for the first half of the trip and approximate routes for the rest, in part because I figured I'd have a better idea of what to look for by then and in part because I wasn't certain exactly what I wanted to do by then. My original plan was to follow the Pacific Coast north, around the Olympic penninsula, across the Cascades, up to the Trans-Canada highway and east to Ohio where my family was. The first adjustment was to skip Crater Lake, the coastal range through California had been more than enough hills, and Crater Lake is the top of a volcano. Half way into Oregon, I ran into the summer-long Northwest winds and adjusted things inland, then said the heck with headwinds and took a bus to Seattle.

As I biked toward the North Cascades and real mountains, unlike the "rolling mountains" of the coast, I hoped I was finally in shape for them. Not a problem - my route (Washington's Rt 20) follwed the bank of the Skagit River for 100 miles, the only challenging hills were around the hydro-electric dams and the final climb to Rainy Pass.

Going through the Rockies wasn't as easy as the trans-Canada highway is not built at the river's edge. (Boy, I'd love a bike path next to the railroad tracks though!) Still, it cemented my decision to skip the flat and stay in the mountains. So, I headed south from Calgary, crossed Glacier Natl. Park in the back of a pickup because the road had been closed to bicyclists for their safety. (Long story, now isn't the time, but it was to reopen a week or two after I was there.) Then through Montana to Yellowstone, an awful place to be a bicyclist, a wonderful, amazing place 100 feet off the road.

Leaving via the northeast entrance I went through pleasant roads and scenery that really should be part of the park up to Beartooth Pass at 11,000 feet, then all downhill to Billings where I boarded a train for home.

This'll be different

Paula has long wanted to bicycle across the country, I've kinda sorta wanted to get back and do some loops through places I missed before like the road between Banff and Jasper, the Lake Chelan ferry, and parts of Yellowstone that I couldn't reach without backtracking.

There's a lot to be said for touring through Provance or Great Britain, and a host of other places.

However, the Lewis and Clark bicycle route is new and interesting, the Transamerica route would be interesting because I rode on parts of it in my ride. At any rate, we'll be on roads I've ridden before, I think we'll cross another, the Cascades in Oregon look interesting and doable. I'd rather not be in Yellowstone during the summer, but we'll be on what should be easier roads.

Paula intends to do a lot of camp cooking, which makes sense in many ways. On my trip my goal was to make a "quick" trip to find places to spend more time, Paula is planning to take the time now since she'll have three decades fewer to return.

Geeks and bike tours

I did my tour when the ARPAnet was new and people were just learning what a connected life meant. Several members of the community would consider new jobs only if it meant continued access to the net. Soon after my tour, someone in the Bay area loaded up a bicycle with a small computer so he could at least have computes. He later set up something with a satellite link into the ARPAnet as a research project. I think the result was that it was completely impractical.

I didn't have the time I needed nor was really willing to spend enough money to do things right. I had hoped that our old Compaq iPaqs could be hooked into the Internet, and I found a nice CF modem card that indeed let me in on a dialup line from www.maglobe.com. Unfortunately, it appears the (Microsoft!) software doesn't connect to a POP Email server and its web browser doesn't seem to handle WWW logins. A pity, we'll see what we can do for Email and WWW updates from libraries and schools along the way. Don't expect too many updates!

Next trip, I'll do things in style! Should be trivial in a few years, too.

On the road

June 30: Paula has this knack for finishing major projects at the last minute. Many legal briefs have been taken to the post office to ensure they get the right postmark or hand delivered to court. This trip is no different with Paula sewing and dying T-shirts pretty much up to the very end. Some of this was my fault, I asked if we had something I could use for a toiletry bag and she sewed one to fit. However, a lot of this meant we really couldn't load panniers until late on the 29th. Finishing at 0200 and getting up at 0345 made for a very long day before it really began!

July 2nd: In my update to the main page, I mentioned the illegal camp at a small town park. In my tour in 1974, I often looked for logging roads, especially in the National Forests, as they often went into the woods to a clearing (or at least a not-very-overgrown spot) where I could find a place to plant my tent. Places like that county park are quite a bit more problematic, but running water in the bathroom is worth it, especially since we were planning to cook dinner and breakfast. A nice source of water for pasta and cleaning is important. I also camped out in places I'd rather not try again - next to a monument by a graveyard and in a town park where the police drove up after dark and asked "Are you wet?" which I think means drunk and kicked out of the house if indeed there is a home.

On the other hand, I once was looking for a good roadside spot and a forest ranger saw me and invited me in for the night. He ran herd on a group of college students with summer jobs fighting forest fires. No fires at the time, he just brought them back from the movie theater. He had bike around New Zealand and if times permitted invites other tourers in for food, rest, and more food in the morning. That was a good find!

Across the Cascades

On my old tour, I crossed the Cascades in Washington on State Rt. 20. Here, we could have crossed on US Rt. 20, but the next road south, Rt. 242, is much better bicycling thanks to tight switchbacks and narrow pavement that forces a ban on vehicles greater than 35' long. Both my crossings were on roads that close due to snow in the fall and reopen sometime in June or July. Beyond that, the crossings are quite different, and overall my crossing in Washington wins by far. The Oregon crossing is at Mckenzie Pass, and the climb begins near Eugene on the McKenzie River (no coincidence). Large rivers are flat rivers (with some notable exceptions) and the cycling is easy. I think we started in a glacial valley, which has a wide "U" shaped floor. A lot of time we couldn't see the river and the valley is wide enough to support various farms and small towns. I'll dig up the distances sometime in the future, but we followed the river for 30-40 miles, all with a gradual uphill. Pretty easy riding. We spent a night at the town of McKenzie Bridge where a bridge crosses the river (no coincidence). The next day we continued along the river for four more miles and turned up next to the tributary White Branch, but far enough away to not see it. Smaller river, steeper road. After another six miles or so I began to worry about the pitch up to the pass, but we soon left the valley and began the serious climb on the switchbacks up to the pass.

We never got above the tree line so most of the ride up remained in forest. Eventually we passed a hiking path through a lava flow. The flow was only a few feet off the road, but I knew there were more ahead and we didn't stop. We did camp soon after it. The next day took us up more switchbacks, then leveled off and the area around the pass was mostly lava flow. The eruptions produced little ash, so vegetation has had little opportunity to get a foothold since the eruptions, only some 1500-1700 years ago.

The ride down from the pass wasn't as steep, and the vertical drop was much less than we climbed. The eastern side is in a rain shadow so the terrain changes from mossy forests of fir, cedar, and hemlock to Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pine and on into the town of Sisters.

My Washington crossing was much the same in some ways, but I'll concentrate on the differences. The approach is via the Skagit River which I picked up near the coast. Rt. 20 (umm, Interstate, I think. More fuzzy memory ahead, will fix after I get home.) at that point is a four lane divided highway, but traffic wasn't too bad. A bridge over the river afforded a good view of the distant mountains. Not having crossed a real mountain range before, they looked as though some serious challenges lay ahead but I found the climbs on both crossings are easier than the coastal roads. Once on Washington Rt 20, the road rolls through towns with interesting names like Concrete and Sedro Wooley. I camped soon after passing them. Once in the hills, the road sticks next to the bank of the river and trees don't obstruct the view of the valley as much. I saw one great example of a "hanging valley," a glacial feature caused by the glacier cutting down the main valley into the "U" but not the side stream.

I could see all the tributaries I passed, and eventually the valley narrowed and the river was running high due to the spring melt (this was late June). The only downhill stretch in a day's riding was to get around three power dams, and that also entailed some steep climbs. Other than that, the day was spent in a lowish gear but not working very hard.

Eventually I reached a snow covered stream with so much pine needle and related debris on it that most people driving by didn't see it. From there on I gradually passed more and more patches of snow, and discovered that many streams that flowed under the road also brought chilled air flowing down their valleys, over the road and down the other side. I got in the habit of slowing down and letting the cool air wash over me. I camped that night close to the pass, but before where the road leaves the river.

The next morning I got on the road, passed a deer that watched me until a pickup truck roared past, and started the harder climb away from the Skagit. Looking at the dirty snowbanks as I passed them, I suddenly realized they weren't really dirty, but hosted bacteria colonies that I had recently read about. One species was yellow and the other magenta, both pastel. One lived on the ridges in the snow and the other in depressions. At the top, Rainy Pass, their was solid snow cover some 5' deep. I was intrigued with a hiking trail sign that barely stuck out of the ground, other people were intrigued with this bicyclist wearing shorts amongst all the snow.

There is a stretch of road that was easy riding before a second pass and then a fast downhill into the rain shadow and semi-arid rangeland and the Methow River. The Methow, running bank full made for an incongruous comparison with the dry surroundings.

[Written July 19th, last edit July 26.]

Contact info: Sporadic at best! name: bike, domain: werme.8m.net, as in bike@w...net

Last updated 2003 July 19.