Friday, September 30, 2011

Minot, North Dakota

Friends: I almost feel as if I'm back in China riding one of its industrial corridors with all the truck traffic and bustle. It is boom times in North Dakota thanks to all its oil production.

The first large city across the border from Montana, Williston, has just one per cent unemployment. There were "Help Wanted" signs everywhere, many adding "All Shifts." The local newspaper advertised a seminar this weekend for employers on how to keep their employees happy and to prevent them from leaving for another job.

Highway Two might not be the best route across North Dakota for a cyclist, as it has turned to four lanes wide, compared to the mostly two lanes in Montana, and has a steady flow of truck traffic and doesn't have much of a shoulder and what shoulder there is, a rumble strip takes up most of it. But I am stuck to it for the time as the wind has turned on me, gusting from the south east, holding me to barely ten miles per hour after doing nearly double that across all of Montana. I can't turn south to a more lightly trafficked road as that would be into the teeth of the wind.

It is wide open country with nothing to block the wind. Its another 200 miles to Minnesota and trees, but of course the wind could switch tomorrow and I'll be flying once again, wracking up the centuries. After five straight days of frolicking with a hearty tailwind I was almost feeling guilty for how easy it was, but I've had plenty of head winds over the years, including my coast-to-coast ride in 1977 east to west into the wind most of the way, though fortunately rarely as ferocious as today's wind.

If I assess my ledger of days with the wind and days into the wind, I know I have earned a good dose of tail winds from all the head winds I have endured over the years. Five straight days was a heaping big bonanza of tail winds. I greatly enjoyed it and tried to take full advantage of it, keeping my breaks to a minimum. I was just hoping it didn't spoil me, as being upgraded to first class on a trans-Atlantic flight spoiled me for flying.

Now having the wind as a foe rather than an ally, I have geared down and reconcile it taking twice as long to reach the next town as it had in Montana. It still feels good to be propelling myself along. My legs almost enjoy the extra exertion required of them. Even though the wind is from the south it doesn't have much warmth in it. It only reached 66 degrees today. When I stop to rest I have to put on a layer or two to stay warm and have not shed my tights after beginning the day with the temperature below 40.

Being in oil country with drills dotting the landscape, it was no surprise that I camped last night behind what I though was an oil company reserve. It was a one hundred foot by one hundred foot plot surrounded by a high fence with barbed wire atop it and hatches to a bunch of compartments. It was down a dirt road about a quarter mile off the highway.

I felt sure my tent couldn't been seen from the road on the backside of the plot when I set it up just before dark. There were "no trespassing" signs on the fence and some more writing that I didn't bother to read, though I noticed at the bottom there was a warning "Armed Force If Necessary." I thought that a little excessive, but gave it no more thought until I was woken in the morning, just as the sun was peaking over the horizon, by an authoritarian voice demanding, "Could you please exit your tent."

I was greeted by a burly soldier in camouflage and full military gear cradling a monstrous rifle. "This is a military zone, you must vacate the premises," he said. I was lucky it wasn't China, as I would have been hauled into the local police station or military outpost, as happened to me when I inadvertently bicycled into a forbidden zone. But this was more like Israel, when I camped near the Syria border and Israeli soldiers on night patrol stumbled upon me. They recognized by my bike I was a harmless sort and just advised me not to go wandering across the border. This soldier made a similar assessment and was most cordial about his duty. He explained I had camped alongside a weapons depot.

The night before I took refuge behind a pile of railroad ties stacked to my height alongside the railroad track that runs alongside Highway Two, the only object for miles taller than the knee high wheat. They reeked of tar, but my tent and the wind kept the scent from bothering me.

My most unique campsite though of these travels was the night I camped behind two large tubs near a spring for cattle to drink from about half a mile up a jeep trail from the road I was biking. They didn't provide full shelter from the sparse traffic along the road, but in the dark it was highly unlikely anyone would spot me. Where I shall camp each night is something I always look forward to with great anticipation.

Despite the booming economy in North Dakota, the library here in the large city of Minot is the first in these travels, and one of the few ever, to charge me to use the Internet--$2 for an hour. I don't mind at all contributing to a library's coffers. It is a large three-story facility that replaced a Carnegie in 1966. The Carnegie still stands and is now known as the Carnegie Center for Community Events.

It was my only expense for the day. I had a windfall of free food yesterday that I haven't eaten up. A kindly gentleman who has always wanted to take a bike trip gave me a bunch of food yesterday at the Williston library--chunky soup, apple sauce, saltine crackers and granola bars. I also picked up several cups of dehydrated soups still sealed in cellophane and a pound of potato chips that must have flown out the back of one of the many pick-up trucks that are a common site overloaded with supplies headed out to a drill site. It was cold enough yesterday with a wind from the north that I bought a half gallon of chocolate milk, good for two days.

Later, George

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wolf Point, Montana

Friends: When I finished my photo shoot with Greg at Adventure Cycling and was ready to be on my way, he asked if he could give me some advice on the best way to head north to Route 2. How could I say no to the man who has mapped out a whole network of the most renowned and most traveled bike routes in America totaling thousands of miles--not only the Grand Daddy of them all, the 1976 Bikecentennial Trail from Virginia to Oregon, but northern and southern coast-to-coast routes as well, and routes down the Pacific Coast and along the Mississippi River and about the western National Parks and down the Continental Divide.

I pulled out my Montana map and let him guide the way. "It may seem counter-intuitive," he said, "to go a bit south at first, but if you follow the frontage road along Interstate 90 to Helena and then follow Interstate 15 to Great Falls, you'll be following a drainage and will avoid a series of nasty hills on highway 200. It may be a little longer, but it won't be as hard. You'll have to ride on the Interstate for a couple of short stretches, buts its legal to ride on it any where in Montana.

I noticed I'd be climbing to 6,325 feet to cross the Continental Divide his way, compared to a pass of 5,609 feet the other way. He said the steep hills would make more aggregate climbing though. I was pleased to be able to take this "Siple option." I would allow me to pass through the state capital, Helena, and then to follow the Missouri River on to Great Falls.

It was a little after five when I bid Greg farewell. After sitting around all day and having only ridden twelve miles that morning after camping along the Lolo River the night before just outside of Missoula, I was eager to do some biking. Two-and-a-half hours of light remained, but first I had to swing by the Free Cycle bike co-op a mile away that fellow touring cyclist Nicolas had highly recommended to drop off all the water bottles and bungee cords and some stray tools I had collected along the road. Nicolas had spent a couple of nights there and said I'd no doubt be able to as well if I so desired. I didn't think I cared to linger, but I still wanted to see this non-profit operation that provided bikes and parts and repairs without charge, just donations.

There was no mistaking Free Cycles as I approached it in a residential area on the outskirts of Missoula. A huge pile of bike frames stripped of their parts was in a lot beside the Free Cycle warehouse. Inside it was a clone of Working Bikes in Chicago with bins and bins of brakes and derailleurs and other bike parts and neatly organized clusters of wheels and handlebars and forks.

Free Cycles started up seven years ago and is so successful that it has expanded to an even larger warehouse across the street. There were a handful of volunteers working on various projects. The most ambitious was a "bike bus'--a large rectangular frame that would seat 21 people and would be powered by two cyclists.

I could have spent the night, but I was too eager to ride my bike and to spend the night in my tent off in a forest. When I mentioned the interstate route that Greg had suggested, I was told that the camping wouldn't be so easy along that way. As I studied the map, looking at the route I had originally planned on biking, I remember one of the reasons I was attracted to that route was that it took me through Lincoln, the town the Unabomber had chosen to live in after moving west from back east. Some steep hills couldn't deer me from giving it a look.

I had a superlative campsite twenty miles outside of Missoula along a creek. It was another 58 miles to Lincoln, in Lewis and Clark County. There had been a Lewis and Clark historical marker or reference every few miles since I picked up their trail in Salmon, Idaho. I had multiple opportunities to camp exactly where they had. Their pioneering trail of 1805 is quite well-documented. There was just one stretch over a pass up from the Salmon River when the rapids became too intense for them to continue to follow the river where there is great debate as to where they camped three nights.

I was welcomed to Lincoln with a sign that advertised itself as "Part Wilderness, Part Paradise." There was a series of small nondescript motels and cafes through the small town and a small grocery store. I took advantage of the laundromat alongside it for a quick wash. This one didn't have a shower, as some of these small western towns have, just a rest room. There was no reference to the Unabomber. I resisted asking any of the locals if they had known him. I knew he had taken advantage of the town's small library on its outskirts, but it was closed on Saturday, a rare small town library that had Sunday hours, but not Saturday.

It was a gradual 18 miles up to the Continental Divide. Though there was a pull-out for vehicles to put on chains, the grade never exceeded four per cent, making it not much of a strain. It was a much steeper grade on the descent, through a pine forest of mostly dead trees, victims of the gypsy beetle. The descent took me out of the forests of Montana and out into the plains of wheat fields and cattle grazing. No more bear worries. But then came a series of the killer hills that Greg had warned me about. They went on for 25 miles or so.

I found a somewhat protected gully to camp in a bit off the road, 38 miles from Great Falls. Out in the open I was able to take advantage of a south westerly wind the next day, arriving in the large city of Great Falls on the Missouri River before noon. I went in search of its library, a Carnegie. It had been torn town and replaced by a large modern library. If it had been a week later I could have gone inside, when it began Sunday hours in October. One of the gray beards I asked for directions told me if I had been a couple hours earlier I could have had a free breakfast at the Salvation Army.

Out of Great Falls heading northeast to Route Two 114 miles away the wind had me romping along at better than twenty miles per hour. Forty miles away at Fort Benton another Carnegie awaited me, this one in fine shape, a white brick building with a matching expansion just a block from the Missouri and an old iron bridge that was now only available for pedestrian and bicycle use.

Four more Carnegies awaited me on Route 2, allowing me to check out eight of the seventeen built in Montana at the beginning of the 1900s. None of the four were still in use as libraries. The one in Havre is now an Art Museum as is the one in Missoula. Chinook's Carnegie, twenty-two miles to the east, was now occupied by the Bear Paw Cooperative and wasn't being well cared for. The one in Malta was vacant after having been the county museum for a few years. It looked most forlorn, though its grandeur could not be hidden. It is a gem waiting to be restored. Malta was a thriving community at one point with at least two movie theaters--one now a medical facility and the other an H and R Block outlet.

The Carnegie in Glasgow, like that in Great Falls, was no more, torn down and replaced by a characterless library at the same location in 1966. The contents from its 1908 cornerstone now reside in the new cornerstone. The library wasn't too far from the high school. Its mascot is the Scotties. The back of the team bus said, "You are behind the Scotties once again."

No more Carnegies now until North Dakota, less than 100 miles away. With the winds still at my back I'll be there in no time. Four of its eight are on my three hundred route across the top of the state. They no doubt will be as distinctive and majestic and worthy of preservation as all I have come across over the years.

Later, George

Monday, September 26, 2011

Missoula, Montana

Friends: I first became aware of Greg Siple in May of 1973 when he and his wife June, along with Dan Burden and his wife, were featured in a National Geographic cover story about a bicycle trip from Alaska to the tip of South America. I was a month away from graduating from Northwestern. The story planted the idea of long distance bike travel in my mind, though I wasn't able to act upon it for several years.

If I were the ardent cyclist then that I am now, I would have recognized the name Siple, as he and his father in 1962 founded TOSRV, Tour of the Scioto River Valley, a two-day 210-mile tour in Ohio, a tour that spawned Indiana's Hilly Hundred and Michigan's Apple Cider Century and Iowa's RAGBRAI and countless others.

I next heard of Siple in the summer of 1976 when he and his wife and the Burdens established a coast-to-coast bicycle route called Bikecentennial to celebrate the nation's Bicentennial. More than 3,000 cyclists, most in groups of ten to fifteen, rode the route. A friend in Chicago was among those. He loaned me his maps and I began my career as a touring cyclist in 1977, the first cyclist across the route the year after the mass migration of cyclists.

I have wanted to meet the Siples and Burdens ever since that National Geographic article, and even more so after they established the Bicentennial organization that was renamed Adventure Cycling Association. I was fortunate enough to meet Greg two years ago when I helped move a friend who was hired by Dan to be his assistant running his Walkable Organization, from Orlando to Port Townsend, Washington, where he is based. He was a most affable and easy-going individual with loads of inspiring stories.

Greg Siple has continued with the Bikecentennial/Adventure Cycling Organization, based in Missoula. He wasn't around in 1977 when I passed through on the Bikecentennial Trail and I hadn't been back since. When I learned from fellow touring cyclist Nicolas (http://gypsybytrade.wordpress.com/), who I met while touring in Maryland this past spring, that the Adventure Cycling office had one of Ian Hibbell's bicycles, Missoula immediately became a bicycling pilgrimage site for me. Hibbell too has been one of my inspirations. This English cyclist is a legendary figure--the first cyclist to ride from the tip of South America to Alaska, including the Darien Gap, at least as best he could, and also the first to ride from the northernmost point in Europe to the tip of Africa in the 1970s through the Sahara.

When I walked into the offices of the Adventure Cycling Association's offices this past Friday morning there was Greg talking to the receptionist. He immediately recognized me as a touring cyclist and offered me an ice cream cone from the freezer in the the reception area for touring cyclists, which also included a computer for Internet use. I told him I was most interested in seeing Ian Hibbell's bike. He corrected my pronunciation of Hibbell. It is actually a long i, not a short i. The same goes for Siple's name.

I was happy to see the National Geographic article on the wall alongside the receptionist's desk. There were bicycles mounted on the wall in the large, high-ceilinged main office. The building had formerly been a Christian Science Church, the religion I was raised in. Adventure Cycling purchased the building in 1992. The door handles on the pair of doors of the main entry into the former church were bicycle handlebars with green foam handlebar tape.

Greg said he was under deadline editing the photos for the nine-times a year Adventure Cycling magazine, but he could give me a quick tour. In the touring cyclist receptionist area were photos of touring cyclists who had visited Missoula over the years. The first was Frank Lenz in 1892, the cyclist who disappeared in Turkey on an around the world tour that was the subject of David Herlihy's biography last year, "The Lost Cyclist," and the cyclist that I went in search of in Turkey last fall.

Greg specializes in photographing cyclists and asked if he could take my picture as well, though later in the day would be best when he was done with his work and the lighting was better. I said I was in no hurry and had planned to make the day a rest day in Missoula.

Adventure Cycling is the largest bike membership group in North America, with 45,000 members. It has a staff of 30 and an annual budget of $4 million. Last year 1,l00 touring cyclists stopped by, and this year was on a similar pace. It is a bare trickle compared to that Bicentennial year and what it ought to be, though the organization itself is thriving. Greg said he is still amazed that the idea for the Bikecenntenial Trail that has grown into this thriving organization got its birth in a tent in Mexico.

Greg saved Hibbel's bike to the end of my tour. It is hidden away down in the basement. It was the bike that Hibbell rode through Africa. It was complete with several of the three-liter containers that he carried with him. It was a custom-built frame with no decals on it. It was a small frame with down handlebars and skinny tires. Greg said he was about his height, feet feet eight inches. Greg said the bike he saw Ian on in Mexico now resides in some bike shop in the mid-west.  I asked which, as I would make that my next destination after I returned from this journey.   Greg said he didn't know nor did Ian even remember.  Greg would like to track it down himself, so he could add it to the Adventure Cycling collection.

He said Ian had delivered it to their offices shortly before his death in Greece in 2008. Greg and June had actually met Ian in 1972 in Mexico, after the Burdans had abandoned their trip due to hepatitis. Ian had already crossed the Darien Gap and was still recovering from the ordeal. The Siples were headed that direction. They flew over the Darien Gap as did I when I made the trip in 1989. Neither of us cared to spend several weeks hacking through the jungle for a couple hundred miles.

Greg maintained a close friendship with Ian ever since then. Ian and a girl friend began another trip to South America in the late '70s in Missoula so he could visit the Siples. Ian wrote about that trip, in which he crossed South America at its widest point from Lima, Peru to Recife, Brazil in the book "Into the Remote Places," published in 1984, his only book. The book also included his Cape Horn to Alaska trip as well as the North Cape to Cape Town trip.

I have long been in search of the book and wasn't willing to pay the $150 that Amazon wants. It was among the hundreds of bicycling books in Adventure Cycling's library. I could have spent the rest of the year reading many of its rare cycling books--bios of Hinault and Anquetil and Cadell Evans and Davis Phinney and lots of oddball touring books, many decades old, such as "Elvin's Tales" about Harold Elvin's rides in Thailand, Lapland and Cambodia and "Crackers and Peaches" about bicycling in Georgia by Jane Schnell and "Cycling, Wine and Men" by Nancy Brook about biking in France.

Greg was most happy to let me sit and read all day. He kept checking on me every hour or so, offering more stories and food. He told me that in 1968 when he was touring in Europe he crossed paths with the Tour de France and biked along with Raymond Poulidor for a few miles as he warmed up pedaling from his hotel to the stage start.

After several hours he said, "You're the first person to sit here all day and read a book." It was 204 pages long and riveting, stirring many memories of my own, having traveled many of the miles he wrote about. I stuck with it, resisting all the other temptations the office walls offered. I could have easily spent the day simply looking at all the photographs that Greg had taken of touring cyclists the past couple of decades when he began the National Bicycle Touring Portrait Collection, and reading the brief description the many cyclists offered of themselves. I will most certainly have to return.

It was just before five when Greg was ready to take my photograph. But first he added an appendix to Hibbell's book. The woman he traveled with through South America until she had to abandon the trip due to hepatitis eventually became his wife, though it didn't last long. She later returned to Missoula with a second husband and Ian's child as well as a child by her second husband.

Greg told me to bring my bike around back in the alley where he had a white canopy to drop down as an official backdrop for all his touring cyclist photographs. Behind it was a scale that he weighs every bike with its gear. Mine came to 107 pounds, a bit more than I would have guessed. Greg said I needed to send 27 pounds home. I did have a dozen water bottles to donate to the Free Cycle bicycle shop a few blocks away, one of eight bike shops in Missoula, plus REI, which also sells bikes and accessories. He was happy to take my photo with the ten water bottles in a basket atop my tent and sleeping bag that I had scavenged along the way, definitely something he had never photographed before.

He also wanted me to write in my profile that in my US bicycle travels I make Carnegie libraries a quest. Carnegie built 17 libraries in Montana, including one in Missoula. It was right across the street from Adventure Cycling, though it was now an art museum. It had been desecrated by a second floor addition that was less in keeping with its original look than any addition I have ever seen on a Carnegie. Most are quite seamless and virtually undetectable, such as the one in Hamilton, Montana that I had visited the day before.

Greg presented me with a dozen bicycle past cards of his photography before I left. Just like his founding partner Dan he was a wonderfully unassuming, quietly self-assured, decent and considerate gentleman--someone I could have spend hours chatting with. It is one of life's great occasions to meet a person one has always admired and respected and wanted to meet and to discover that person has been worthy of the high esteem one has given them.

Later, George

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Salmon, Idaho

Friends: For the first time since leaving Telluride twelve days and 850 miles ago I was within close enough range of a town when I began my day that I could arrive before breakfast time had expired, allowing me to stop at a cafe and gorge on a stack of hotcakes for breakfast. I didn't need to munch on the usual peanut butter sandwich or two as I broke camp in anticipation of a feast.  

I needed  the high octane fuel as the Lost Trail Pass on the Idaho/Montana border awaited me. I was at 4,000 feet elevation, the lowest I'd been since leaving Telluride. It will be a 3,000 foot climb to 6,995 feet, then down hill to Missoula, one hundred miles further.

I camped along the Salmon River last night in a farmer's field hidden behind a stack of bales of hay. It was a gentle twelve mile descent to the town of Salmon following the river, but a cold one with the sun hidden by a ridge of mountains flanking the river. I needed to wear my tights for the second time. I ought to get used to them with the days only getting chillier as I head due north to Missoula and then another couple hundred miles north from there to pick up route two along the Canada border to Minnesota before heading south to Chicago. I passed the 45th parallel shortly before camping last night, putting me closer now to the North Pole than the Equator.

As I head east and begin my descent to lower elevations the mornings ought to be not so cold, but the days are growing shorter and winter is approaching. It takes several hours for the sun to warm the air. At least there is little wind at the start of the day. I've been battling late afternoon winds from the north and west. If the westerlies continue, I'll be gobbling up the miles once I begin heading east from Missoula.

I may not have another chance for food or water all day so I stocked up at the local Safeway. After ringing up my purchases the sales clerk congratulated me, "That's a lot of food for six dollars." I took advantage of what items I saw on sale--a pound of tortilla chips for a dollar, a pound of corn flakes for a dollar, three yogurts for a dollar, three ramens for a dollar, two cans of baked beans for a dollar, and a pint of chocolate milk. I still have half a loaf of bread and peanut butter and honey as well as a stash of Luna bars left over from Telluride, rations for two days if necessary.

I made the great discovery a few days ago that I don't need boiling water to soften up ramen noodles. I took the risk of purchasing them even though I don't have a stove when they were one of the few items in stock at a small general store. I knew from my travels in Japan that the even skinnier noodles in cups of soup could be made edible with cold water. Fifteen minutes in my Tupperware bowl with a cup of water is all it takes to make the ramen noodles edible. Two or three packs a day has dropped my food expenditures to well below ten dollars a day.

I had another first in these travels yesterday as well--the first dog to give me chase, or at least the first one not tethered to a tree or barricaded by a fence. I wouldn't even have known I was being chased if I hadn't heard the dog's owner shouting "Lacey come back, Lacey come back." I looked back to see a medium-sized mutt bounding after me without barking. Usually dogs that don't bark are the most serious, but this one wasn't much of a threat. He put up a feeble chase and hardly looked menacing.

It was just beyond the town of Challlis where I began a 58-mile ride along the Salmon River, a designated scenic route. From one outskirts of Challis to the other there was a series of home made Tea Party signs, almost as much of a joke as the mutt--"Next on their agenda--our guns," "Government Takeover--No States rights, no constitution, no drilling, no logging, no grazing, no border, no mining, no roads. Wake up America," "BLM--friend or foe. Wake up Idaho."

It was the most politicizing I'd come across other than a gigantic billboard in Utah with a burly police officer snarling, "If your parents don't catch you, we will. Zero tolerance for drinking and driving."

The wall of a thrift store in the small town of Moore, Idaho was adorned with a mural featuring a heart with an arrow through it and a crying teen with the warning "Meth breaks up families."

There are none of the church message boards so common in the Bible Belt with their preachy and punny sermon titles.

Later, George

Monday, September 19, 2011

Arco, Idaho

Friends: A fabulous Monday morning riding a high desert plain framed by the Tetons to the east and a trio of volcanic buttes to the west through the heart of Idaho. No wind and the flat has had me effortlessly gliding along at sixteen miles per hour.

Though it was only 49 degrees at eight a.m. when I broke camp from behind an FAA tower, ten degrees warmer than yesterday, I didn't need my tights or warm gloves as I did yesterday. Within an hour I shed my wind-breaker and vest and not much later traded my long sleeve Garmin jersey for the short sleeve version. I continue to wear them with great pride, especially after Christian Vande Velde's sterling performance at last month's week-long Colorado race finishing a close second to Levi Leiphimer besting five of the top ten finishers in this year's Tour de France, including the first three--Cadel Evans and the Schleck brothers.

I began my day in the middle of a 67-mile townless stretch between Idaho Springs and Arco. With 50,000 people, Idaho Springs was the largest town by far I had passed through in a week since Grand Junction. It is on the Snake River. I was hoping it was enough of a metropolis for its library to be open on Sunday, but it wasn't. It was a fine recently built facility, replacing its Carnegie, a couple of blocks away along the railroad tracks, the only Carnegie I have come across in 750 miles. The old library is now part of a museum, the old brick building contrasting sharply with the glass-paneled addition.

The only dots of civilization between Arco and Idaho Springs were a few nuclear research operations. There are fifty nuclear reactors in the vicinity, the largest concentration in the world, though they are below ground and not to be seen.

Pedaling along, glorying in the vast, wide-open spaces minimally marred by man, I could rejoice in my bicycle once again for allowing me to be a man in the world while not being of it. Two comments from the Telluride Film Festival by noteworthy figures echoing such sentiments continue to resonate with me.

Tilda Swinton commented in her courthouse conversation that she is happiest when she is tending to her garden. The day before, Olivia Harrison, George Harrison's wife of thirty years, said the same was true of George. She said he was always delighted when someone came by their property in Hawaii and would mistake him as the gardener, asking if this was the home of the former Beatle. They affirm the wisdom of the sages that the quiet, simple life is the most satisfying. Lucky is the one who is not consumed by materialistic urges.

Though bike touring isn't gardening, it does allow one a similar closeness to the land, especially if one is wild-camping, and frees one of those acquisitive materialistic urges that corrupt and bankrupt the soul. Appreciating the landscape and the scent of the air and the direction of the wind dominate my thought, not wanting to possess any of them.

In years past after the Telluride Film Festival I have biked across southern Utah and Nevada on my way to visit friends in northern California following the Pony Express Trail. This year taking a more northerly route, I picked up the Oregon Trail for a couple of days in Kemmerer, Wyoming, where J.C. Penny was founded in 1902. The original store is still in business. Just a block away is the modest home of Mr. Penny, not much different from Andy Griffith's childhood home in North Carolina that my travels took me past last April. The traveler never knows what novelty of historical significance one might stumble upon.

After a couple days on the Oregon Trail I veered off on the Lander Cut-Off over the 7,610 foot high Salt River Pass established in 1857 heading north to Jackson and central Idaho. Tens of thousands of settlers took this alternative until the trans-continental railroad was completed in 1869.

Shortly after I departed the Oregon Trail in Geneva on the Idaho-Wyoming border I began seeing discarded bicycle water bottles along the road as if I were following the Tour de France, though the bottles were mostly of Utah bicycle shops rather than of teams. The husband-wife proprietors of a motel-general store along the way explained that 2,500 bicyclists had ridden this route the previous Saturday on the 29th annual one-day 208-mile ride from Logan, Utah to Jackson Hole, the same day as the 18.2 mile Imogene Pass run over the second highest road in North America to Telluride that I had stuck around to see.

Before I had reached the summit of the Salt River Pass I had collected over a dozen bottles and was at my capacity. Ten of the large size bottles fit neatly standing upright in the wire mesh handlebar basket I had found along the road several days ago as if in anticipation of this bounty. Yonder Vittles would surely applaud the site of this water bottle reserve sitting perched atop my sleeping bag and tent behind my seat, as if I were Ian Hibbel setting out for a crossing of the Sahara.

It is a fine collection from various Utah bike shops and assorted companies including a colorful Trek bottle with bands of pastel greens and top that perfectly matches my bike as well as a thermal bottle and a couple of bottles with pro-biking slogans. I've dispersed several of them already to cyclists I've met along the way. The rest I can donate to Free Cycles in Missoula, a bike co-op similar to Working Bikes in Chicago.

The proprietors of the general store warned me that after the pass I would descend into a valley populated by millionaires who had been driven out of Jackson by the new crop of billionaires. I was purposefully bypassing Jackson to avoid that blight of trophy houses, not knowing there was a new crop here. The run-in to Afton, with 2,000 residents the largest town along the stretch to Jackson, was a forest of for sale signs.

I spoke with a 64-year old cyclist from Salt Lake City, 230 miles away, who had a second home in the area. He said property values had plummeted in the past couple of years. It used to be you couldn't buy a piece of property in the vicinity for less than $700,000. Now you can find things for $200,000. He said he was all set to retire, but his half million dollar home in Salt Lake was only worth $300,00 now, so he was going to work for another year or two.

"At least I have a good job," he said. "I'd like to take a long tour on my bike like you're doing, but my wife won't let me. The best I can do is go out for an afternoon ride."

Later, George

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mountain View, Wyoming

Friends: The first historical marker I came upon in Wyoming just across the border from Utah outside of Burnt Fork paid tribute to a rendezvous in 1825 of 800 trappers and folks who lived in the vicinity. It was an annual event until 1840 when the beaver population had diminished and towns were established.

Burnt Fork is no longer much of a town and had no stores with supplies. It was along a 48-mile stretch from Manila, Utah without services, one of the shorter stretches I've experienced since leaving Telluride six days ago. At least it was relatively flat. The 62 mile stretch from Vernal, Utah to Manila included a long steep climb with eight per cent grades to 8,400 feet. A couple of ranchers in Rangely, Colorado had tried to talk me out of going that way, advising me to take a longer, flatter route that would have added fifty miles to my ride. I asked if it was worse than the 3,700 foot climb I had just come up. They said it was a "baby climb" by comparison, but they couldn't tell me how long or how high it was.

It was indeed a brute of a climb, but not as hard as many of the Tour de France climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees. The worst of it was hitting a hail storm just as I reached the summit. I could see forboding black clouds moving in as I finished off the climb. When they unleashed, blue sky still lay ahead. I quickly put on my rain coat and charged ahead hoping to outrace the hail. It was only a gradual descent so I could keep pedaling and generate some body heat. Still I was pelted for twenty minutes until I escaped.

Though I was able to keep my torso dry, I had cooled off considerably. When I reached a sheltered picnic table ten miles later I was shivering cold and needed to put on a sweater and vest and wool cap and gloves to warm up. It was my first taste of winter. It will be nipping at me for the next month or so as I pedal back to Chicago.

But the cycling gods are looking out for me already. I scavenged a Marmot fleece jacket that fits me perfectly along the road today. It is a prized item that will make for a great pillow if nothing else. I found it shortly after the historical marker. I accepted it as a reward of a sort for an offering I left at the marker. I had picked up a couple of wrestling medallions dangling from red, white and blue ribbons earlier in the day. I could only speculate on what they were doing along the road. Had some wrestler pitched them in disgust or had they inadvertently fallen from a pick-up truck or had some wrestler's girl friend tossed them out of spite. They at one time had to have been some one's prized possessions. So I left the two of them dangling at the historical marker for someone to recover.

I have yet to find a bandanna along the road, but I have found a top-of-the-line Camelback water bottle and also a Bell handlebar basket. The basket has been dangling from my heap of gear behind my seat, awaiting either someone to bequeath it to or perhaps making it all the way back to Chicago. David, the German I cycled the Tour de France with this past summer, had such a basket on his Bianchi racing bike. It served him well.

I am still up on a high plateau over 7,000 feet in the southwest corner of Wyoming. I will follow the western border for a hundred miles or so before crossing into Idaho, bypassing Jackson and Yellowstone. I have the roads almost to myself. Though I am at high altitude, it is desert terrain. Bears are no worry, just rattlesnakes. Deer do abound, usually in groups of two or three. A solitary one today kept me company for a mile or so bounding along on the other side of a fence, scampering up mounds that he could have easily bypassed, evidently for the fun of it and for a view.

Twice I've had to open a gate to camp down dirt roads that showed no tire tracks. Not all of the terrain is fenced though. There have been stretches of open range with cattle grazing at the road's edge. A cluster of black cows in the distance gave me some concern, as early in my ride I came upon a black bear cub along the road. I let up a bit hoping a vehicle might come along to scare off the bears, but as I neared it was clear they were no threat. It was as if I was back in India where cows are considered sacred creatures and mosey about everywhere.

Just 43 miles to the next supply point in Kemmerer. I'll be passing under interstate 80, but I'm told there is no service station at the intersection, so I need to fill all my water bottles.

Later, George

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dinosaur, Colorado


Friends: After a month in Telluride it’s back to the bike, a perfect decompression after all the socializing and movies. My twentieth annual visit to Telluride has become as much a family reunion as an immersion into the world of cinema. There are hundreds of us who converge upon Telluride from all over the world year after year for its second to none celebration of cinema, and I count dozens of them as kindred spirits and bosom buddies.

As I've been bicycling through the rugged and largely uninhabited desert scenery of northwestern Colorado the past four days, my mind has been dwelling as much upon the many great friends I have made over the years as upon the great cinema I was treated to. It is always a thrill to renew acquaintances and difficult to say goodbye. Ringmaster Doug, one of my roommates and long-time friend, summed up the great bond many of us feel when he commented as we gave each other a farewell hug, "There are some people I hate to say goodbye to, and you are one of them." There were no more words to say, as our eyes crinkled.

The film festival wins undying loyalty from filmmakers as well as pass holders and staff. Ken Burns has attended the festival for more than two decades and gives an inspiring address to the staff every year. In the past year he said he became a father for the fourth time--another daughter. It occurred to him after he named her that the first initial of his four daughters spell out SLOW. He said he nearly named his second daughter Hannah. If he had, instead of SLOW, their initials would have spelled out SHOW, the slogan of the film festival.

Opera director Peter Sellars, a man of boundless energy and the world's most unrestrained hugger, is also a film festival regular. He too shares a few words with the staff. He fully recognizes the great spirit of those putting on the festival, saying how rare it is in these times to find a group of people who unselfishly give of themselves for a higher cause. "It seems everyone these days is looking for their cut. There is none of that here."

Another of the many noted figures of cinema who are part of the Telluride family is Godfrey Reggio, director of the seminal film Koyaanisqatsi. He is one of the resident curators of the festival overseeing the shorts program. He observed that each of us attending the four-day festival is exposed to more images during the festival than everyone in the Middle Ages combined. It is a lot to process. But I have had the perfect tableau to do it, as I pedaled through a fabulous canyon for 44 miles from Gateway to just before Grand Junction on the lightly traveled route 141 climbing 2,500 feet and then 72 miles from Loma to Rangely without any services on Route 139 gaining 3,700 feet with even less traffic.

George Clooney and Tilda Swinton, two of the festival's three tributees, dominated the festival, but there were many other highlights as well. The tribute to Pierre Etaix, a French director and actor from the 1960s and 1970s, was one of those typical Telluride rediscoveries. Etaix was a more subtle and refined Tati. It was a thrill to sit in the Opera House at his tribute sharing in his pride at hearing everyone laugh during the screening of clips from his films.

It was also a most inspiring hour listening to George Harrison's widow, Olivia, talk about the making of the three-and-a-half hour Martin Scorcese documentary "Living in the Material World" on "the quiet Beatle" in the intimacy of the County Courthouse with 80 other devotees. She said that everyone interviewed for the documentary at one point broke into tears talking about George. Watching the film in the outdoor theater with hundreds of others bundled up in winter gear will be one of those great memories of Telluride. Greil Marcus, rock critic and scholar extraordinaire and another Telluride regular, introduced the film and also presided over Olivia's conversation in the courthouse.

I saw quite a few other documentaries on exemplary figures. The most stirring was "Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel." Vreeland was fashion editor for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. She was a most outspoken and original figure with an opinion on everything. Though she died a few years ago there is considerable footage of her to draw upon, including interviews with George Plimpton and Dick Cavett.

There was also a fascinating documentary on fashion photographer Bert Stern, "Becoming Bert Stern," by a former model of his. Both were in attendance. He had a several day shoot with Marilyn Monroe just before she committed suicide. He began photographing when it was illegal for women to appear in liquor ads. He caused quite a stir when a photograph of his showing a woman with her mouth open made the cover of a fashion magazine back in the '60s.

My days will be filled with much reminiscing of films and friends as I head to Missoula, about 1,000 miles from Telluride, to pay homage to the bicycle of Ian Hibbel at the Adventure Cycling headquarters. Hibbel was a legendary English touring cyclist who died at the age of 74 riding his bike in Greece in 2008. The Economist gave him a full-page obituary. He was the first person I knew of to travel by bicycle.

I am also eager to meet Greg Siple, one of the co-founders of the Bikecentenial Organization that was renamed Adventure Cycling a few years ago. He helped establish the Bikecentennial Trail across the US in 1976 to commemorate the Bicentennial. Two years ago I met the other co-founder, Dan Burden. Siple and his wife June were the first people I knew of to ride the Tour de France route as touring cyclists. I have been aware of them both since they co-authored a May 1973 National Geographic cover story on bicycling from Alaska to Mexico.

Later, George