Thursday, August 5, 2010

Signing off

8-5-10: Southeast of La Cross, Wisconsin in an Amtrak Superliner bound for Chicago.

Well, I this is it. In another 4 hours I’m be in the Chicago station with a 3-4 hr layover for my Clev bound train. Can’t say that this has been a blast on the train, especially at night – not like I remembered some 20 yrs ago when I could just snatch a bulkhead seat and then sleep on the floor at night. Not on this train anyway. The bulkhead seats are reserved for parities of two. So I had to do a regular seat. Now they’re much bigger than airline seats, but sleeping in them – forget it. Especially when the train was full last night and I had someone next to me. It was just torture plain and simple. I got in every contorted position possible, and maybe, just maybe snagged 3 or so hours of total sleep. I even imbibed in some of my aged bourbon whiskey to kind of help the effect of slumber, but to no avail.

So really, that totally sucked, the sleep part. But what was interesting was going through Montana and North Dakota yesterday and seeing the stretches of road I rode on, and even going through some of the towns that I had stopped over at – brought back a lot of good memories. As we jammed through Montana I just couldn’t help but think back to all those ass-kicking days in that state, and the miles of nothingness. I even heard people on the train comment on how vast and wide that place is. It’s like a wide screen cinema in front of you, and it just wraps around every part of your senses.

I ended up not doing the diner car last night – just too much BS with dinner reservations, and then you kind of have to eat when they want to fit you in. I could have gotten in at like 5 pm, but I was in no mood to eat that early. So I eventually went to the café car and got a sub and a ham sandwich, both of which were pretty lousy. Thankfully I had brought a small arsenal of food on board, in addition to my alcohol, so I didn’t need to order but that one meal for 2 straight days of training across the country. This stuff was like the junk you buy in a convenient food store and pop in the micro wave. So I also got a couple of beers at the café and then went back to eat. So that was my grand dining experience.

Also steered clear of the observation car due to the converging of humanity up there to the point to where it was just chaos. Felt much better in my little cocoon coach seat. Pulled out my “stash” around 10 PM and have a couple of small waterbottles of whiskey. Woke up this morning feeling like I was a participant of some kind of grad student sleep deprivation study – on day two. Just pathetic feeling all the way around. Did like a mini “marine shower” down in the handicapped bathroom where I did just enough to get my face, pits and arms and hands swabbed clean for the good morning call. Woke up just around Fargo, ND, and finally became human around St. Paul MN. Did some skyping and eating my breakfast bars from the food stash, and then went to the café for some coffee. At least the coffee is quality!

We crossed the Mississippi River from Minnesota into Wisconsin, and I’ll tell you, that river is massive. I remember when I crossed it way the hell up in Northern MN, and it was just about the size of a creek. On the train, back there at the border, seemed like a mile wide! Train just now stopped at Tomah, WI, and I’m kind of running out of stuff here to say. I’m tired. My ass is some sort of sore from sitting. And I’m way to anxious to get the hell done with this all. The time is right to end.

So I just want to thank everyone for checking out the blogsite and sending me words of encouragement every now and then. I always felt like you were this invisible companion out there with me. This has been a dynamite trip, and I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to do it. So until next year, whatever that endeavor that will be, I’m going to sign out for 2010 and say: All the best; have a great year; and………..I’m OUT!............Pete

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Blogging on a Real Train

8-4-10: Whitefish, Montana up to West Glacier, Montana in an Amtrak Superliner

Yea, I’ve been pretty lax in the blogging for the last couple of days. And with good reason, I mean seriously, other than doing an adventure - where life on the road can be funny, crazy, scary, the whole gamut - my regular life is pretty mundane, so I find it kind of laughable to think that it’s necessary to just “blog” my little “non-adventure” nothings and ramblings onto the net on a daily basis and believe that people are going to wait with baited breath to read such gibberish. So maybe like two more blogs to go then I’m going to pull the plug and get back to my day to day existace.

Spent the last two days in downtown Seattle, up in the Capital Hill district at my sister’s friend Duane’s appt. Duane was one heck of a great sport hosting me for 3.5 days. He has cats, and a couple of them are pretty skittish, so I was hoping I wouldn’t have the “Gladden” curse on them as my sister had a year or so back, where Duane eventually had to take one of the cats in to the vet due to a “bashful bladder” episode. Luckily, the cat felt more at home pissing in the litter box with me there than my sister! That made me feel good – take that Kim.

Now Duane has a great location, being just about 1.5 miles up above the downtown area. And his view out of the living room window is to die for, let alone one the roof where we hung out a couple of times and just knocked back a few brews and watched the sun set over the Sound. Saturday we strolled downtown and checked out the market place and scoped some places to eat. Ended up going back to that Vietnamese place where I had the massive spring rolls….then to this pretty tasty Indian restaurant. And that was pretty much the story of my stay there – walk around a bit (and leave the appt for a bit so Mr. Blue, the kitty with the bashful bladder, could have some piece and quiet so he could take a leak), eat, walk, eat, walk, and on and on. Have to say that I’d eaten more Vietnamese food in that 3-day stint in Seattle than all the combined Vietnamese sittings in various parts of the world. I was just STUCK on the Vietnamese food thing! Just love their soups – hearty, massive, spicy and filling.

It’s just been glorious to NOT have to ride for the past several days, yet I was still waking at around 5:30 each and every morning while at Duane’s appt. That’s still my rhythm of life, and I hope this train ride breaks the rhythm what with trying to sleep in a seat for 3 nights in a row. Boarded this #8 Empire Builder Amtrak Superliner yesterday at around 5:30 PM for the 2-day trip to Chicago. I had cooked some food for this trip at Duane’s appt. – fried chicken, chicken strips – and then purchased some additional items such as jerky, sport bars, trail mix ……..and a great big bottle of chocolate stout and a pint bottle of prime aged bourbon whiskey. Now alchohol is not allowed to be brought on board unless you have a sleeper car. Guess they figure that if you’re paying a thousand bucks to do a sleeper you deserve not to have to pay six bucks of a one shot mixed drink or four bucks for a bottle of beer.

But hell, you know me – scofflaw that I am – I’m bringing my own private stock by God! So anyway, we got rolling after a one hour delay and got my seat. Now the seating situation on Amtrak has changed since the last time I rode this – about 20 years ago I went 15 thousand miles all across the US. And back then you could just get any seat you wanted, and I always went for the bulkhead seats due to them having tons of extra room. Well, on this train, and it’s probably the way they do things now, they put up “reserved for parties of two” signs all over the coach, and the bulkheads were prime party of two areas. I laid out my Bob yak bag on the floor in front of me because it contained my food and drink, than and my computer where right alongside my seat. The ride goes along the very Rt 2 that I had ridden, and it was so much fun watching that road from a different perspective – especially seeing that the wind was blowing hard out of the west.

The train went north out of Seattle, right past where I finished the trip at the beach and lighthouse, and then veered to the right to go easy up to the Steven’s Pass area in the Cascades. I was a fantastic run up into the Cascades as we went over the Skykomish river numerous times on the climb up to the pass. That’s about the time I cracked open my chocolate stout – ahhhhhh, fantastic even slightly warm. Had some chicken and trail mix for dinner out of my bag. Which leads me to the next rambling: eating on Amtrak. Well, eating on Amtrak is analogous to eating in an airport – freaking stupid expensive. The meals in the dining car are fun, kind relaxing, and a neat experience, and I’ll likely have ONE dinner in the dining car out of the 3-day trip. But they’re portioned just a smidge bigger than airline meals, and they’re just too much money – like 13 bucks for pasta dishes and 18 bucks for meat dishes. They also have 10 dollar breakfasts and lunches, along with a café car where they sell sandwiches, small pizzas, beer, wine, pop, coffee etc.

So I brought enough food to last me all the way to Chicago allowing for just one diner car dinner. Anyway, after my chicken and trail mix dinner, it was starting to get dark and that was my chance to pop the top on my finely aged bourbon whiskey, and pour some into one of my strategically placed water bottles – ahhhhhhhh, wonderful! Just sipped whiskey as we climbed up over and then descended the Cascades. That was it, and the next 8 hours was positioning myself in like every crazy sleeping position possible on the two coach chairs I’m in – so far no one has decided to sit by me so I have two seats. I mean I was twisted up like a freaking pretzel at times trying to sleep. Had my camp pillow and an Amtrak pillow. I did sleep but it was about a 2 on a scale of 1-10, with one being just total shit! Woke at my customary 5:30 AM – Mountain Time Zone – and ate more chicken and trail mix, this time for breakfast.

Oh, get this, and this happened yesterday evening. I took my shoes off to relax in the seat, and I guess my socks and feet kind of stunk, I mean really stunk. And I had a foot on the very back of the armrest of the seat in front of me. Like it was nowhere near the lady’s arm in front of me. And in a bit this lady turns around and looks at me and holds her nose and says: “could you please move your foot, it smells!” And I’m like, “wooooooow, sure, no problem.” My feet seemed to smell like my feet do after having climbing shoes on for about two hours – stinky as all hell. I had specifically taken a shower just before I left for the train, because I knew I wouldn’t have a shower for 2-3 days. And I was kind of freaked, because all of a sudden I could really smell them. So I changed socks fast for the second time in a day - and then grabbed and took a whiff of my shoes – holy *&%&$^$#%^# - they were the main culprit, just absolutely horrible! And those shoes were right under this lady’s seat. I quickly got a plastic bag out of my yak bag and tied the shoes up – suffocating that rancid, rotten shoe smell. That did the trick and now I only take those stink bombs out of the bag when I need to hit the head or go get some coffee in the café car.

So we’re heading into West Glacier National Park right now, and there’s good old Rt 2 right out the window to my right. Feels fantastic to see that road from here, from a different perspective. Now I tried to use my air card on the train, but most areas are just totally blank with bars. I had to wait until we got to Whitefish to plug in, where I thought there’d be cell service, and then I quickly got on line and sent and received my emails – still pretty slowly. As soon as we got like 5 miles out of Whitefish the signal was gone. I’m hoping to send this blog out when we get to West Glacier where I think there will be some cell towers. If not I’ll have to wait until Browning, Montana or a bigger place that has cell service. Right now looks like a cloudy, overcast day out in the Montana Rockies. It’s funny, I’ve been on the train for like 16 hours. On my bike going west, that stretch had taken me about 7-8 days to complete. I’m really looking forward to getting on to the Great Plains and watching that gnarly stretch just flash by.

Well, that’s about it. I’ll do like one more blog from the train and then that will be it for this year on my blogging. Look forward to getting home and seeing everyone. All the best……..Pete

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Postscript day 1

8-1-10: Seattle, Washington: Noah’s Bagel Shop, Broadway Ave.

Well, just sitting here at 7:35 AM on a lazy Sunday morning in Seattle having a nice strong coffee, some sesame seed bagels and a spinach and egg panini. Damn does it feel good, for the second day in a row to not to pull on those dank cycling shorts, prep gear, and get on the bike and ride. Ending feels so glorious. Looking back on it all feels so amazing. But I know though that as the weeks start to pass, and August turns into September, and September gives way to October, be damned if I won’t start longing for those care-free days on the road again. I guess it’s in my blood – that wonderlust thing. Something about new places and new faces each and every day that just heightens and exaggerates the joy of being alive. Some days it’s like a spike in the arm the buzz is so great. But today, nope, today is part of that period of time for reflection on the adventure. You can’t be on the high forever! So I sit here in Seattle with a kind of post-adventure hangover.

It’s funny how everything involved in an adventure kind of goes together to make the whole experience so wonderful – the pre-trip preparation with the anticipation, planning and the nervousness; the actual trip itself where you go through a roller coaster of emotions for weeks and months on end, with good days, bad days, great days and stellar days; and then there’s the end, where, as you get closer and closer to the terminal point you ready yourself to be finished, both mentally and physically; and then when you’re done you can just sit down and let those memories replay like a endless film loop over and over again in your mind. It all seems to fit together so perfectly and seamlessly. And it’s this whole experience, the pre, during, and post, that stirs the soul for yet more and more adventures. So you probably think I’m leading into the next adventure…, not really. And that’s the big question I’m asked now that I’m finished: “What’s next?”

Honestly, I just want to savor this trip and these memories and experiences before I just let go of them in search of yet another adrenaline buzz down the road. Yea, for sure I have all these crazy ideas that constantly run through my head, and some rank right up there as real potential candidates, but for right now I’m quite content to let this trip’s imagery play and replay in my mind. The Canadian adventure and now my US adventure, they’ve kind of renewed my thirst for adventure, the thirst I had back when I was in college. Then, some thirty years ago, I’d spend countless hours up on the tenth floor of the Kent State Library pouring through old books and memoirs of famous adventurers like Alexander McKenzie and Lewis and Clark, just marveling at their grit, determination, persistence and thirst for adventure as they explored yet unexplored hinterlands of North America. I envied their experiences, and eventually developed what at that time I called my “hit list” of the trips I wanted to do in life. Today it’s called the Bucket List. Well, I still have my “Bucket List,” and it’s a faded piece of notebook paper that I keep in my top desk drawer. Up until last year, when Ryan and I decided to do the Canadian adventure, I hadn’t looked at that list for over twenty years. But just prior to, and since the Canadian Adventure, I’ve checked that list out numerous times. I’ve checked off yet another item having just finished my trip across the US.

Heck, and the crazy thing is that despite the fact that I still have many items left on the original list, be damned of I couldn’t, right now, ADD more items to that bloody list! To me, doing stuff like this is life changing, and very magical. And it all feeds on itself.

Examining this trip as compared to last year’s Canadian cycling adventure, I’d really have to say this was much more difficult, that because of two things – doing it solo and doing it from east to west. First the solo aspect: Soloing is something that I love and hate. I love soloing because it forces me to deal with myself on a full-time basis. You have to be comfortable with yourself to have to deal with yourself being alone so much – sometimes you’re your best companion! I really dig that, because it’s so bloody challenging. I can only depend on me each and every day. I talk to myself, think to myself, argue with myself like Tom Hanks did in the movie “Stranded”, and sometimes I think I’m going insane. I go through a gamut of emotions on an hourly and daily basis. I really believe that soloing makes you a stronger person, both mentally and physically.

But there also a part of soloing that I hate, and that’s the lonely part, the part where you cannot share the experiences with anyone at the end of the day. No taking and rehashing, no sense of kinship, no bonding, no brotherhood and sisterhood stuff in the solo. It’s something that cannot be shared. It’s a selfish endeavor. And no matter what I tell you, explain to you, show you with pictures, you’ll just not “get it” like I did. Take my “Billion Dollar Day” in the blog, the second to last day of the trip where Barney joined me. THAT is sharing an experience. That day, that moment, that ride – he get’s it! And I was privileged to be able to share that day with a friend and fellow adventurer like Barney. Sharing that experience heightened the moment, and eventually the day – and the trip!

The second aspect of this trip VS last year’s Canadian trip was of coarse the fact that I did it from east to west, bucking all traditional conventions. Going east to west was going counter to the prevailing winds, the same winds that sent Ryan and I across Canada on 120-150 miles days with tailwinds that were just beyond amazing. Yup, there were days where we’d average over 20 mph for nearly 100 miles due to the westerlies – and that was with our pulling some 85 pounds of gear. On this trip, I think the very, VERY best day I had I averaged about 16 mph, and that was with a tailwind. Most of the time my average was in the 10-12 mph range, with some sort of headwind each and every day. And what I lucked out on by not having the super tough Rocky Mountain climbing this year that I had last year, well, I gained the toughness factor back x 100 in the headwinds I took on each and every day.

Now I wasn’t stupid, and totally knew what I was getting into when I decided to ride east to west. But for the life of me, I’d done west to east – I just had to try east to west for the challenge of those winds, those same winds that sent me into a state of crazy back in ’09 at times crossing Canada. I think when I had headwinds back in ’09, I was pissed just because I expected the prevailing to ALWAYS be out of the west – “that was our right by God!” Well, not really, but I can only surmise. So this time, I fully expected the winds to we out of the west each and every day. And that was so tough, especially from a mental standpoint, getting up each morning and wondering just how hard the wind was going to be blowing against me, all day long, mile after mile. Go through the blog and look, from about Minnesota onward, the winds were just ferocious. And as I worked my way out of the forests of Minnesota and into the treeless Great Plains, those winds became exponentially tougher – nowhere to hide on the plains!

I remember at a stop in Ray, North Dakota, where I was talking to a couple of locals, and the guy told me: “you think the winds are bad here, wait till you get into Montana!” And he was right. Montana broke me and crushed me like a bug being hit by a semi truck. Montana forced me to dig into places I haven’t dug into for over 11 years – ever since I stopped racing. Montana made my legs hurt so bad that I think they just never recovered from the effort of 450 miles of pain in the plains. Montana was like this foe that I so respected I was humbled by it. Montana forced me to develop gameplans that I’d never done before when doing cross-country bike trips. But Montana gave me the biggest sense of accomplishment once I left her border. Montana made me a strong man!

So there it is – ramblings of a mad man. I really do look forward to coming back to Ohio to see my friends and family. Despite all the places I’ve seen and experienced, I still have the invisible bond to my roots, to my home. I’m anxious to get back and rejoin the real world again, so anxious that I was kind of bummed out when I could not get an Amtrak ticket to start home any earlier than this Tuesday afternoon. Believe it or not, Amtrak was booked solid thru this Monday, that or I had a choice of coming back on Monday in a thousand dollar sleep car …….ah no on that one! So I’m here in Seattle until Tuesday at 4:40 PM, when I board a train and actually retrace over 1500 miles of my trip, but on a train. There were numerous times when I was out there riding and I saw the Amtrak train going by me east or west. So I’m just totally looking forward to seeing those same old stretches of road, but from a train. No headwinds. No sore ass. No watching the miles slowly tick by.

Now it’s not exactly a BUMMER, that I’m kind of stuck here in Seattle for another 2.5 days. It’s a beautiful city with just a ton of stuff to do, so I’ll not be bored. I’m going to walk around the city and shoot pics, eat at some new types of restaurants (I ate at two Vietnamese restaurants last night – more on that later), and just savor this awesome place. As I said, last night I just had to try some different dining options – no Subway, no buffet! So the first place I hit up was a Vietnamese soup restaurant, and it was just crazy good. I had no clue, here, other than the fact that I’d dined Vietnamese many years ago when Judy and I were in Ottawa. And the soups were off the charts good. So I looked at a menu that I just didn’t have a clue, and ended up ordering this rice noodle soup with brisket & and “tendon.” Yup, tendon, the chewy, crunchy stuff! And they had like 4 different sizes: small, medium, large, and XL. What did the foodaholic do” Yea, XL! And dude brings me this bucket of soup which could have fed a small Vietnamese family.

Haven’t used chopsticks and oriental soup spoon for years, and with no silverware on the table I wasn’t about to be Joe Tourista and ask for them. So I muddled by with the sticks and spoon. The soup was just awesome, and though I must have looked like a really rookie using those chopsticks, I was still able to get the noodles in my mouth. I left feeling pretty satiated, but yet wanted just one more “taster” for the evening, so I went to another Vietnamese place just up the street. This place had regular dishes in addition to the soups. So I ordered up the Vietnamese spring rolls and a charred pork and noodle dish. Again, the spring rolls were more like sushi, a wrap with rice and shrimp with a peanut dipping sauce. The pork dish was atop a heaping helping of rice noodles. Another homerun. I was just stuffed when I walked out of there. On the way back I stopped at this awesome grocery and picked up a Ben & Jerry’s for myself and for Duane, who was back at the Appt.

Earlier in the day, Barney and I had come here to this bagel shop for breakfast, and then we walked down to REI so I could buy yet another duffle bag for shipping gear home. Must have spent 2 hours in the place mulling about, and then watching kids climbing on this 6-story indoor climbing monolith. Walked back and then helped Barney load his SUV for his trip back to Vancouver. Got to tell you that Barney is just a fantastic guy, and I wish you could all meet him. I get this feeling that we’re like long lost brothers, him being my older brother, and me being the impetuous young pup. He’s an amazing guy, and I was blown away by the fact that he took the time and energy and money to come down here to Washington and ride me in to the finish. THAT meant more to me than I can convey to you! So the time came for us each going our own ways, and as usual we did a firm handshake and the dude hug thing, and then Barney hopped in his car drove away down Boyleston St and off to I-5 north to Vancouver. Thank you again Barney!!!

Well, that’s enough for the day, a day where I didn’t even ride a lick and yet I’ve been typing away for far too long. Been here two hours now sipping coffee and tapping away at this computer. I’ve got to get on to some work - enough blogtime. Talk to you tomorrow from Seattle………Pete