Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Deets: Part 3; Sedro-Woolley, WA to Marblemount, WA (Day 3)

The morning of day 3 came just as the morning of day 2 had: the same feeling in my gut and the same reluctance to continue with the tour. One plus, though, was that it was a pleasantly sunny morning, and at least we wouldn't have to ride in the rain again. At least, not all day. I had left my wet clothing out to dry overnight, and I found that it was still somewhat wet that morning. For breakfast, Michelle and I feasted on some of the leftover pizza from the night before.

Now, I have a thing about eating solid food in the morning. For some reason if I try to choke down any non-liquids within an hour or so of waking up, I almost always end up feeling nauseous. It's weird and annoying, and it makes it so that the only things I can put down in the mornings are 1) Instant Breakfast, 2) Smoothies, 3) Soylent, and 4) Greasy Diner Food. It's a weird problem.
It tastes kinda like gritty cake mix.
I struggled through a piece of pizza anyway, somehow managing to not vomit all over the place, and Michelle and I examined the map to try to figure out where we should stop for the evening. We decided on Marblemount, a little town at the base of a massive climb that would take us across the Cascades. It was also going to be a wicked short day (only 60 kilometers) and had very little climbing, so we decided that we could take it slow and easy and enjoy the scenery.

There was a Walgreen's about two blocks from our hotel, so after we packed up and checked out, Michelle and I went there to snatch up some food for the day. A lady greeted us out front and asked "How far have you rode?" I fought the urge to shout "'Ridden!'" into her face with an excess of phlegm, and went into the Walgreen's to pick up some snacks. It was up to Michelle to deal with the 7th grade English failure; not my problem.

The Walgreen's snack selection was hugely disappointing, and so the closest thing to riding food that I could get my hands on were a couple of King Sized Snickers bars, which I decided were close enough. By the time I paid and returned to my bike, the lady with appalling grammar had gone, and Michelle and I split up the Snickers bars as evenly as we could be bothered. Still wearing clothes wet from the day before, we set off towards Marblemount.

The sun was bright and warm, and our moist clothing dried on us while the first few hours of the day passed by without much event aside from the fact that, after the 230 kilometers of riding we had put in on the previous two days, both of our butts were exceptionally sore. I had thought that at the very least mine would be okay since I ride a lot in the summer, but it turned out that carrying a large pack filled with stuff, not least of which was three litres of water, was adding more weight to my sit bones than they could handle for any real distance. This made our progress slow, but we had already committed to a short day, and the weather was pleasant, so it didn't really matter.

To give you an idea of how easy we took it: I stopped to take a picture of a sign to try to make the folks back up at Quest laugh,
It wasn't as funny as I thought.
I saw a boat in a field,
It's been a while since it floated
we stopped for ice cream somewhere after the town of Concrete,
That face tho.
and generally wasted as much time as possible making stops for no real reason. In fact, it was the only day up to that point (and even up until now if you ignore any loop rides) where Michelle and I rode together for a majority of the day. The only time we really split up was somewhere near the end, after the ice cream, where the chip n seal (that we had been on since entering the U.S.) began to take its toll, and I spun ahead just so I could get to the end and get off my ass as quick as possible.

Just under five hours after leaving Sedro-Woolley (and less than three and a half actually moving), we arrived in the town of Marblemount, WA. Marblemount is a small, scenic little town right on the edge of the Cascades and is the last chance for gas until Winthrop. There's only the one main street and, as far as I could tell, no side streets at all. On the main street there were two gas stations, a hotel/hostel, two restaurants, and a small drive-through coffee joint. When Michelle and I arrived, we discovered that everything but the gas stations and one of the restaurants was closed. The hotel/hostel turned out to be part of the same establishment as the open restaurant, and so we checked into a small room for yet another night of being too lazy to camp, even though we had brought a tent and sleeping bags and everything.

The room had two exceptionally narrow beds; far more narrow than a regular twin bed (maybe a meter wide, probably less) that were situated about 60 cm apart. There was also a window between the beds at about the same level, and that was it. It was a very small room, but that's all we really needed for the evening and so, having set up our still-wet clothes to dry, we went out  to find something to eat.

But before we did that, we decided to wander around the town for a bit. We found a small playground that had some swings that were too narrow for us fat kids, and some monkey bars that seemed like they had been just plopped on the ground instead of set into it. I thought it would be fun to climb up on top of them and walk around on top, feeling them wobble and move about underneath me. Michelle didn't think it was as funny as I did, so I got down and we wandered into another part of town where we found a small bird-watching trail that had been mowed from the surrounding grassland, but didn't see enough traffic (with Marblemount's population of just over 200) to become an actual dirt trail.

We walked around on that for a while, through the woods and flat lands near the river until we got to the river proper and found some blackberries.

They were delicious, and we picked as many as was convenient. This wasn't too terribly many since the bushes were large and prickly. Then we decided that we were tired of wandering around, and were also starving, so we walked back into town and went to the Buffalo Restaurant, where they had a sign that made me giggle.
They have very particular diets.
I got an Alligator burger and Michelle had a Kangaroo burger, but neither of our bikes ate much at all. Both of our burgers, though, were new types of meat for the both of us, and were novel and delicious. Having ridden all day probably didn't hurt the flavour either.

After dinner, we went back to the hostel, watched some TV in the group room for a while (including the South Park episode where they should have never gone zip-lining), and sorted out our plan for our next day: Rainy and Washington Passes and then, hopefully, on to Winthrop. The climbs were big and long, starting from Marblemount at only 315 feet (96 meters), they both maxed out over 5000 (1524 meters), and for the first time since the tour began, I was actually excited; it promised to be totally hard.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Deets: Part 2; Mission, BC to Sedro-Woolley, WA (Day 2)

The morning of day two came earlier than I hoped, and Michelle and I were greeted by a grey, drizzling rain which set the theme for the whole day. Again, I had the "I really don't want to do this" feeling, although somewhat less potent than the morning before, and since I had even fewer options for postponement than I had had on day 1, we slowly suited up to the white noise of the TV and left the room for the continental breakfast downstairs.

Breakfast was in the room adjacent to the lobby, as per usual, but the room was not attached from the inside. This forced us outside into the drizzle to take almost 10 whole steps in my extremely inconvenient road bike shoes to get to food, and gave us a quick taste of the weather for the day. While we sat inside eating mediocre omelettes and drinking watery orange juice, we could watch the weather from the comfort and warmth of the indoors. At least, temporarily. The more we watched the weather, the harder it seemed to rain. Still, the wet weather would give me a chance to try out my rain gear, and I would have felt awfully silly if I packed all that gear and never used it.
At least they're under a roof
Michelle and I finished our "food," said goodbye to our pleasant if somewhat over-eager waitress, and headed into the wet. Our trajectory for the day was more-or-less due south, and despite a small jog around what a sign described as a "complex junction" that lead us through some lovely small town suburbia, it was smooth, albeit wet, sailing all the way to the border near Sumas, WA.

We arrived to the border lineup in a somewhat normal fashion, even though neither of us had any idea of how we should behave crossing the border on bikes. To be safe, we got into the back of the queue behind the cars and crept forward at the normal border crossing pace (read: slowly). Some guy yelled at us out of his car and asked where we were going; he was surprised and seemed to not really believe that we would be going all the way to Colorado. Not long after, Michelle and I decided that we should go through the foot-traffic border crossing, since we had been discussing it since we had first come to a stop.

The pedestrian border guard asked us where we were going, and gave us a weird look when we said Colorado. He then asked how we would be returning, and we told him that it would be by bicycle. He then asked where we had come from. I told him Squamish, and he asked how we would be returning. We said that we would be returning by bicycle. He had a series of questions for us, and it seemed that every other one was "How will you be returning?" to which we always replied "we'll be riding," but his face told us that at no point did he believe it. Still, our story was consistent, and he let us walk our bikes through the pedestrian border crossing and just like that we arrived in the US.

There was no fanfare. The weather didn't even let up, and I quickly took a picture to show how little things had changed even though the country had (the picture is somewhere in my twitter history near September 2 if you're curious). Because of how uneventful our crossing was, we were back on the bikes within 60 seconds, and about 60 seconds after that were on some sketchy back-road in Washington, doing our best to ignore the sounds of dueling banjos and giving as wide a berth as possible to houses that looked like the domicile of a survivalist militia member. This, as it turned out, was most of them.

The woods in Washington seemed darker and more sinister than those in the country just north of us. This was likely due to the large number of dilapidated buildings lurking in them at the ends of long, unkempt dirt driveways, as well as the particular frequency of these buildings. It felt a little like riding through a horror movie; the rain was light but constant, and there was just enough real estate between sketchy houses to briefly convince you that the last one had been, well, the last one. Of course, it never was, and just as my nerves would begin to settle, I would happen upon a hidden road, barely visible through a mass of greenery, and at the end of the road would be a building leaning at an impossible angle that was covered in tarps and surrounded by hand-chopped wood that was also covered in tarps.

For Michelle, these semi-terrifying shacks in the woods were less sketchy than they were for me because I am impatient. I could not be bothered to pedal along in my lowest gear at 12 rpm and go the same speed that she was keeping in her much much lower granny gear, and so I would press on at a pace that kept me interested for 20-30 km, or until I found a serious-looking intersection. I would stop at these to avoid getting any more split up and try my best to kill time while I waited for her to arrive. On these weird, poorly paved back roads, the echoes of the banjos was never far, and standing stationary on the side of the road made me a pretty easy target, especially in my road bike shoes.

This was how I spent the first 4 or so hours of the day; I would ride about 20 km, wait in quiet terror for Michelle, and then she would arrive and I would take off again to repeat the process. We had a small stop in the almost-town of Kendall for some Clif Bars and to charge our phones for a bit so that Strava could track the whole ride. After this break, where the rain also left us briefly, we were back on the chip n seal, and the rain returned with almost perfect timing.

A few more of these stop-start cycles, and I decided that I wanted to power through from wherever we were (somewhere near where Valley Highway, or Washinton Highway 9, intersected with Potter Road) to Sedro-Woolley without stopping. Leaving Michelle to her own devices, I put my earbuds in, got into the drops, and more-or-less abandoned her completely.

And then the rain started for real.

Almost as soon as I took off, the constant drizzle that had been dogging us all day turned into a downpour that I could not be bothered to stop for. With my waterproof riding gear on, I felt impervious to the rain, but within 20 minutes, the rain had soaked through and was doing a better job at keeping the water IN than OUT, and I felt like I was riding in a roughly human-shaped bag of water. Still, I was committed to forward motion regardless of comfort or weather, and so I just plowed on through the mostly straight, mostly flat Washington back roads hoping that Sedro-Woolley was closer than it actually was. The more I rode, the more miserable I became, and the more I wanted the town to appear. Also, the more I rode, the more the town continued to not appear.

The rain got heavier and heavier as I rode, and by the time I started to encounter non-survivalist houses somewhere in the general vicinity of town, The rain was so heavy that I could hardly see, with or without glasses. The mist being kicked up from the road cut visibility even more, to the point where for the last five kilometers into Sedro-Woolley, I was effectively guessing my way down the road, hoping that the road was as straight as the map made it look. Fortunately for me, it mostly was.

Sedro-Woolley appeared out of the mist in the shape of a gas station. I wasn't cold, but I was wet, and given a wait time that was liable to be over an hour, the wet would become freezing cold long before Michelle arrived. I pulled into the gas station and disrobed as much as I could without being arrested. While I was doing that, the rain stopped and the sun started to come out. Of course it did.

Then I checked my phone; Michelle had sent me a message about half an hour earlier telling me that she had stopped in some small cafe somewhere to warm up, get coffee, and charge her phone again. Apparently when it's not on airplane mode Strava sucks the battery dry pretty quick. This just added more time to my wait, and I decided to try to waste it by playing dumb games on my phone, playing dumb games on my ipod, and talking to the ladies who were working the gas station. One of them was new to the North West, and I advised her to get used to the type of rain that I had just ridden through.

When Michelle finally arrived, I suggested that we stay in a hotel again. She thought this was a swell idea, but seemed to be in a hurry to get out from underneath the awning that I had been hiding under since I stopped. I was in less of a hurry, even though I had also seen the big black clouds approaching from the west, but unlike her, I had underestimated them. The change in weather was the most abrupt meteorological shift I had ever experience. First, it was a bit cool and a touch overcast, but dry enough. Literally one second later, I was standing in the hardest rain that I had experienced in the whole day (and probably my whole life). I could not believe how abrupt the change had been, and since I could see a hotel vaguely through the mist, I made my way over on roads that had gone from "a bit moist" to "constantly rim-deep water" in about 35 seconds.

We checked in and I got to shower first. I was a bit hypothermic at that point since I hadn't dried fully and hadn't put any real warm clothes on either during my wait. This meant that my shower was really friggen long which Michelle complained about, and when I was finally done, I didn't have any clothes to wear; the rain of the day had soaked through everything on my body, and had also penetrated through my waterproof bag, making all of the clothing that I hadn't been wearing wet as well. I conned Michelle into letting me use her long underwear tights while she would be able to use her fleece-lined chamois (since she had more space in her bags, she was more prepared for this kind of shit than I was).

For the second night in a row, we ordered food from a place that claimed delivery but didn't deliver, but this time it was pizza. We got two of them, and they were loaded with enough toppings that two cyclists who had ridden 90 kilometers with weight in the rain were unable to finish them both. But we didn't let any of it go to waste, and I crammed the leftover pizza into my pack to save for the next day.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Deets: Part 1; Squamish, BC to Mission, BC (Day 1)

I woke up Monday morning with the distinct feeling of "I really don't want to do this" in my gut. I stayed motionless under the covers, hoping that Michelle wasn't up, instead of getting out of bed and checking; as if lying in bed long enough would somehow negate the commitment we had both made to our ludicrous endeavor. This, however, was not the case, and less than 10 minutes later both of us were up and about in the condo, sluggishly preparing our bikes and ourselves while pointedly not wearing chamois, again in an effort to postpone the inevitable.

My bike was loaded in a manner that could be generously described as "super-light," and non-generously called "not nearly enough." I had only the one seat bag, a bit of tent strapped to that, the sleeping bag lashed to the handlebars, a small pack on the top tube, and my medium sized backpack.
Everything I could ever need?
If I were going alone I wouldn't be too concerned, but I was also comparing my load to Michelle's.

Michelle had a proper touring bike with low gears and panniers and everything. Her capacity of about 60 litres of storage space made mine of ~20 look awfully paltry. Still it was already way too late to change anything, and Michelle was threatening to change into chamois. She changed and, begrudgingly, so did I, and then we were standing in the living room looking at each other from an awkward distance.

"Shall we?" I said in hopes that she would say "nah."

"I guess so," she replied. Our fates were sealed.

We loaded the bikes and ourselves onto the elevator and rode it down to the bottom floor. We rolled the bikes out onto the road and into the cold, overcast Squamish morning, still at a speed that would be best described as 'reluctant.' Our friend Tara was also there, and she took a picture of us in the last few moments before we saddled up for good.
They were never heard from again.
Pictures taken, goodbyes said, and all potential distractions exhausted, Michelle and I stepped over our bikes, clipped in, and began our bike tour: A 6000 km jaunt from Squamish, BC to Steamboat Springs, CO and back. We had given ourselves two months to complete the ride, and between the two of us, we had exactly 0 miles of previous bike touring experience, so things looked promising.

Our first obstacle was the descent from the Quest campus into the town of Squamish. It was about 3 km, but had a small steep pitch at 12%. I told Michelle that if I crashed between our apartment and the stoplight at the bottom of the hill the tour was over and I was going back up to bed. She laughed, and so did I, but in a way that said "No, really, I hope I crash into a bus." Despite this, we made it to the bottom of the hill in one piece. Michelle then realized that we didn't have any tubes to fix flats, and if that remained the case, we would become awfully sad in the middle of nowhere somewhere further down the road, so we stopped and picked up some tubes.

And so began about 50 km of uneventful pedaling down BC highway 99 towards Vancouver. Despite the clouds, the rain stayed off of us and my mood brightened somewhat with every pedal stroke. Once I was actually moving, I no longer felt the desire for bodily harm from large people-carrying vehicles and was beginning to believe the tour might not be as bad as I had initially thought.

Then we hit our first detour. We got kicked off of the main highway, which we had been planning to take all the way to the border at Sumas, WA, and onto Horseshoe Bay Drive. Initially, it seemed ok, but after some pleasantly rolling hills (where I saw a Lexus LFA, which excited me very much), the road kicked up. Any roadies in Vancouver likely know what happens when you pull off of Marine Drive onto Westport Rd. It kicks up to be ludicrously steep (when weighted down with touring gear) and grinds up a short bit that's only about 1500 meters long, but feels like it climbs 1500 meters as well. As a first day excursion, this felt a bit cruel. Plus, after the hill, it drops you back down to the freeway as the detour ends only about 5 km further down the highway. So instead of riding 5 km, we rode 8 or 10, and climbed more than we would have otherwise. Michelle was understandably upset as we got back on the highway.

The next 20 or so minutes were spent constantly checking over our collective shoulders to make sure we didn't get run over while trying to traverse exit ramps. This felt a bit like Russian Roulette, especially since less than 50% of drivers seemed to use their turn signals, and so the best I could often do was guess as to the motives of the drivers coming up on me at 120 kph. We made it work, but it was all kinds of stressful, and after the 20 minutes was up, we were forced off the highway again with a "no bikes on the highway"-type sign. Unlike the previous time, it wasn't a detour, and so once we were off of the off-ramp, there were no signs of any kind to direct cycling traffic in any meaningful way. We made a guess, and began to wander into Vancouver proper with no idea where we were going and no help from the signs either.


Less than 1000 meters later, we turned back onto Marine Drive. The same goddamn road that the detour had taken us off of not a half hour earlier.

Double Brilliant.

Navigation was already more of a train wreck than we could have imagined, and the stress from the highway combined with the stress of having to re-route our entire day through downtown Vancouver was re-enforcing my initial idea that this tour was a dumb idea. Michelle, who is more prone to stress than I, was likely doing worse, but also wasn't really talking to me anymore, so I couldn't tell.

We then spent the next five or so hours discovering bike lanes that lasted two blocks or less, one way streets that went the wrong direction, traffic that was actively trying to kill us, directions from people with impenetrable accents, and East Hastings Street. The bridges were long and narrow, with not enough space for us, the roads were poorly marked, and our phones were doing their best to navigate us to Vancouver Airport despite our best efforts to get somewhere in the vicinity of Coquitlam.

60 km and 5 hours later, with traffic so heavy and stop-light-laden that it brought down the entire average speed of the tour, we eventually ground through the infini-town into downtown Coquitlam (which is still Vancouver to me). Here, Michelle suggested that we cheat and take a bus as far south as we could manage. Cheating sounded like a great idea to me, and so we pulled over where we saw a bunch of buses grouped together and looked for a map of some kind.

The maps were obviously useless, and all of the places we wanted to go were either inaccessible or under insets in the map, and so not visible at all. Several minutes of map-examination told us that buses were likely more trouble than they were worth, so we re-applied chamois butter in the middle of a public parking lot and embarked again to suffer through more of Vancouver (I would like to point out now that everything from the Horseshoe Bay Drive exit to 116 Ave in Maple Ridge is Vancouver to me).

Several hours later, Michelle wasn't doing too terribly well. We had put in about 110 km at this point, and due to the stop-start nature of hitting almost every stop light in BC, our legs were pretty well toasted. Our original plan for the night, to camp, was totally balls, we decided, and we figured it would be best to just put ourselves up in a hotel room for the night. I am a bit faster on the bike than Michelle, and so I told her that I'd ride ahead and look for hotels. After all, we'd been riding through Vancouver for about 6 hours and there had been hotels all over the damn place, so finding one shouldn't be too hard.

But there was nothing. Almost as soon as we were moving again, Vancouver finally ended, and we were in rural Canada. I couldn't believe our timing, and, looking at my map, it looked as if our only hope was to power on to Abbotsford (notably NOT Vancouver) and hope that Michelle could get to whatever hotel I found before dark. As we had been in the saddle for almost 9 hours and the sun was going down on an already bleak, dark, grey day, darkness was coming in quick and I was moderately worried. Not least of all because, no matter what speed I was going, Michelle was going her own speed that was in no way related to mine. At all. But I put my head down and applied some power anyway on the flat, straight sections of road that we found ourselves on.

30 minutes or so later, I saw something on the side of the road that wasn't a dirt intersection or sketchy, boarded up ex-gas station. It was, in fact, a real, active gas station where people worked and were alive. I pulled in and asked the lady at the counter where I might find a hotel. She looked at me as if my eyes were actively shooting sparks due to their obvious non-functionality, and told me that the hotel was "like, a block and a half away." I thanked her and rode to the hotel where I waited for Michelle.

She arrived in around 20 minutes, and we checked into what I think was the Best Western in Mission, BC. The manager was sympathetic, but not sympathetic enough to give us a discount, and put us on the second floor. There was a small elevator into which we crammed the bikes to bring them up to the room, and after leaning them against whatever object was handy in the room, I flopped onto my face on the bed and began the process of debating which I wanted to do first: shower or eat. Michelle made up my mind, and I took a shower before heading off to FatBurger to get some massive greasy pile of probably-meat for dinner: the Hawaiian burger, obviously, and a shake.

Then the day finally ended; we were both deeply miserable from our nightmarish Vancouver navigation ordeal, Michelle was too tired to leave the bed, I was too tired to think, we were both sad because FatBurger didn't deliver, and I had just eaten way too much meat and cheese. At least the burger had some pineapple on it though, which I guess was one plus.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

We Made It!

Well it took 21 days, but we finally made it to what is more-or-less the halfway point on our tour! We covered 1,787.3 km (according to strava) and I had a moving time of 82h 2m, giving an average speed of ~21.5 kph. I'll admit: we cheated a bit by driving about 600 miles (~960 km) of the route, but I regret nothing. Seriously. If you saw how flat, straight, hot, and tedious those bits of road were, you would've skipped them too. Not only that, but driving some probably saved us a bit of cash that we'll need for the return trip (on which we'll be cheating even more). Since I didn't much update here during these past three weeks, I will be running a story time of sorts over the next few days. Basically, I will recount the trip in some serious detail and try to write it in a sort of story-type structure from my perspective.

So if you want in on that, stay tuned!


Friday, September 5, 2014

Balls Balls Balls Ballllllls

Man, things were really looking up after the rain cleared! But then my knee gave out, so... I guess we'll see how this goes. It hurts to pedal. Balls.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Kinda Crap First 2 Days

Today I'm sitting here in a hotel in Sedro-Woolley, WA typing out this very blog post on Michelle's bluetooth keyboard. It's kinda untinutive, as there's a notable lag between my input on the keyboard and when I see the letter appear on the screen of my phone. This wouldn't be a huge problem, except that every so often, I get two of the same letter in a row but often don't notice until I'm on a different word. Groan.
So here's how the first 2 days of this tour thing have gone, in brief terms because this keyboard is a bit of a pain.
Day 1: We made it from Squamish, BC to a town called Mission, BC. Navigating through Vancouver on a bike is the worst thing I've ever done on a bike, and something I will never repeat ever again if possible. It was so frustrating that I'm still upset about it even now. Even more than the rain (more on that later). Because Vancouver made it so that covering 60 km took 5 hours, we were both emotionally and physically toasted, and since there was no real place to camp, so we stayed in a hotel instead. This was great, because we could do laundry, as well as take showers and be comfortable and warm for the evening.
Day 2: The day started out rainy, and remained rainy for the entire day. Today was a hotel-to-hotel jog since the rain soaked through every single thing I've got. Camping in this state would be all kinds of miserable and soggy, so to hell with that.
This blog post has sucked, but I'm ending it here anyway and blaming my emotional state and this keyboard, so deal with it. A more in-depth post of all this stuff will come hopefully when I get to Steamboat. Bwuh...