Days 12-16: Prince George, BC to New Hazleton, BC

The weather has warmed up significantly. On the road into Prince George I was wearing my warmest gloves to keep from freezing but it was a balmy seventy degrees exiting town. The first twenty miles went by quickly but a headwind picked up and slowed our progress towards the town of Vanderhoof.

Towns are more prevalent out here than I initially thought and so we’re going to be hopping from town to town for the next few days.

Sunday brought more subdued headwinds and progress was better as we continued west, stopping in the town of Burns Lake. The Chinese restaurant in town is closed Sundays but the pub has a surprisingly good menu.

Another day on the road brings strong headwinds once more. A downed power line stops all traffic on the highway for over an hour and we decide to call it a night in the town of Houston. The Chinese restaurant here is closed on Mondays and we head to the pub in town instead. The menu is not as good as yesterday’s.

Heading out from Houston the scenery is getting nicer. The rolling plains and pine trees are yielding to snow-capped mountains. We have a large climb and more magnificent views as the mountains grow closer. The town of Smithers has the last bike shop for a long while so I pick up some more tubes. Smithers has a pretty nice downtown area and we stop for a late lunch and decide to stick around for the night. Three beers later and we head out in search of a motel. Not a block later we get stopped by two girls handing out cookies. It turns out one of them, Lillian, had done a tour in the past. She offered us a place to stay for the night and we took her up on the offer. Twelve miles out of town and a big hill later we arrive at the farm at which she’s staying.

A good night’s sleep and an excellent breakfast later we backtrack the twelve miles to Smithers and continue west. Stopping in a tiny town for lunch, the only cafe in town is no longer a cafe. It’s an office of some sort but they just haven’t bothered to take down the sign or even erase the menu on the chalkboard. This is a bit of a recurring theme up here – places will often have a large “open” sign out front only to be shuttered permanently. And the restaurants and motels that are in fact open more often than not have a “for sale” sign prominently displayed. It’s all rather strange.

The scenery continues to be amazing and before long we reach the town of New Hazelton. We head off tomorrow into bear country and onto the Stewart-Cassiar highway, which will eventually link us up with the Alaska highway. There are very few towns for the next several hundred miles so I’ll be checking in when I can.

Mileage:
Day 12: 64
Day 13: 80
Day 14: 52
Day 15: 54
Day 16: 54
Total: 907

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Days 5-11, Hope, BC – Prince George, BC

Leaving Hope was a double entendre. Heavy rain came down and just a few minutes in we were drenched as we  headed north into Fraser Canyon and  the hills began. What would have ordinarily been a scenic view was obscured by the rain and mist. A couple hours of suffering later and the rain gave way to sunshine. For the rest of the day a strong tailwind pushed us towards the town of Lytton for the night. The restaurant in town served us half-frozen spring rolls.

The small towns we stay in overnight are now spaced 60-75 miles apart, usually with one even smaller town somewhere in between. Food choices range between pubs, cafes, and the occasional Chinese food which at first breaks up the monotony before becoming part of it.

Leaving Lytton we were treated by beautiful weather and views. Another stiff tailwind kept us moving quickly through the mountains, following a river. Before too long I got my first flat – a piece of metal managed to pierce my rear tire going down a hill. I made quick work of the fix and we continued on to eat lunch in a bar on the side of the road.  Another couple hours in the saddle and we arrived at Cache Creek, a tiny town at the junction of route 1 which we had been following and route 97 which would take us north. The couple next door in the motel talked loudly past 3am.

The next morning was frigid and once on the road we were greeted by a headwind. Progress was slow as the headwind turned into a never-ending hill climb which gave way to more wind and even snow as we approached the mountain pass. A quick lunch in the town of Clinton and the headwinds and snow continued as we pushed towards 100 Mile House for the night. The motels seem to be getting seedier somehow.

The bagels I picked up a few days ago are positively mediocre so every morning I force myself to eat some in order to get them over with. After another such meal we head out towards Williams Lake. There’s some more snow and I do my best to zone out of the freezing weather and just focus on making progress.

The days are starting to blur together. The road from Williams Lake to Quesnell has a nice tailwind so we make good time, but leaving Quesnell there is heavy rain that makes the morning full of suffering but it manages to clear up in the afternoon and another tailwind brings us to Prince George. This is the last large town before Whitehorse, a thousand miles away so we’re spending a rest day here to visit a bike shop, do some laundry, and relax.

Mileage:
Day 5: 70
Day 6: 52
Day 7: 71
Day 8: 58
Day 9: 75
Day 10: 76
Day 11: 0
Total: 603 miles

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Days 1-4, Seattle, WA to Hope, BC

As always seems to be the case with these sorts of things, we got a late start on the first day. Grabbing the ferry to Bainbridge, Donald and I wound our way up the Olympic peninsula before having a meal in port Townsend and ending the short day in Fort Casey state park on Whidbey island. The almost-full moon looked like headlights on my tent walls.

Wednesday morning was sunny and warm so we relaxed for a couple hours in the park before departing along the hilly route up Whidbey. A combination of bike problems, frequent and extended breaks, and a late start led us to only make it forty miles to Bay View state park. We did make it to camp in time top perform some much needed bicycle maintenance so we were ready for a long day on Thursday.

Thursday came and despite a late start, we made quick work of the 25 miles to Bellingham, our last large city for a while. Stopping in REI for supplies, Donald had his bike looked at because he was still having some shifting issues. It was a good thing too, because he had some major problems, most importantly a broken derailer hanger. Additionally, his bike uses a rather rare kind of hanger and they didn’t have a replacement in stock. We found another bike shop in town, Earl’s Bike Shop who saved the day by having the spare part in stock and graciously making time to fix up Donald’s bike. By that time it was already almost evening so we had to call it a night  in Bellingham.

Friday brought tailwinds. The thirty miles from Bellingham to the border was gone in under two hours, the border crossing was smooth, and the roads were flat. After a quick stop in Chilliwack we hopped on the Trans-Canada highway for the last thirty miles to the town of Hope. The three restaurants near our hotel were either closed permanently or for the day so we headed over to a subway for dinner.

We’ve had a number of setbacks but have started making better time. With two people it’s hard to get started at a decent hour in the morning, the breaks are twice as frequent and frequently longer, and the pace is reduced to the lowest common denominator. But it’s still the beginning. Heading out of Hope now, into the rain. See you in four hundred miles, from Prince George.

Mileage:
Day 1: 50
Day 2: 42
Day 3: 30
Day 4: 79
Total: 201

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Round Two: Seattle to Alaska

Next week I’ll be departing on my second extended bike tour from Seattle to Talkeetna, Alaska. I’ll be riding with my longtime friend Donald and we’re planning on covering the 2500 mile distance in about six weeks.

Cell coverage in northern Canada is hard to come by so I will be posting updates on roughly a weekly basis, when I have wifi access.

The bike trip is the first part of a larger adventure for me. Upon reaching Alaska I’ll be joining an expedition to climb Denali, the tallest mountain in North America. I’ve already shipped my mountaineering equipment to Alaska and all I have to do now is reach Talkeetna by June 4th when my mountaineering expedition is set to begin.

See you from the road!

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So I Biked Across the Country: A Retrospective

It all started with an innocent post on reddit.com that I found in February. Actually it was anything but innocent but it linked to a Google street view picture of Banff National Park in Canada. And I thought it’d be awesome to bike there. At this point I had not ridden a bike in nearly a decade.

So when the snow from DC’s blizzards melted I went biking with my friend Ryan. And it was fun. I kept it up and before long I started planning out my bike trip. I wouldn’t be able to go to Canada because if I left in July or August it would be too cold by the time I got there. But that couldn’t curb my enthusiasm and I spent my waking hours working out details for my trip. And on August 10th I got on my bike and headed northwest out of the DC area with the intention of making it to the west coast. It was only then that I had doubts about being able to do it. Besides that one day I remained stupidly optimistic about my trip. And I think you have to with this sort of thing.

At the beginning of the trip miles went by very painfully and slowly. There were of course times when the hours flew by but it wasn’t until Kansas or Colorado that I found my rhythm and the trip became less arduous. In Missouri I hit what I called a “mid-trip crisis.” My next destination was Denver, 600+ miles away and I had trouble mentally connecting the miles I was pedaling with the distance to my next stop. I often would find myself inching along at maybe 7 miles per hour due to lack of drive. But I kept at it. Never turned back. I had set a goal for myself and nothing was going to stop me.

So now I’ve finished my trip. I moved my legs the requisite number of times and found myself on the west coast. But there’s more to it than that. Each day was different (except for Kansas) and I saw some awesome scenery and met some amazing people along the way.

Arithmomania

I enjoy looking at trends in data sets and my bike trip is no exception. Feel free to skip over this if such things bore you.

Mileage / Day
My mileage per day only went up slightly as the trip went on. I think the reason for this is because I was able to do the same mileage with more ease and instead of pushing myself I was just taking it easy. Also, Mountains.

  • Total Miles: 3987
  • Total Days: 75
  • Rest Days: 18
  • Days on the Road: 57
  • Average Mileage / Day (not including rest days): 70 (69.94)
  • Longest Stretch Between Rest Days: 10 days (738 miles)
  • Longest Day: 124 miles
  • Fastest Speed: 42.8 mph

Strawberry Corn Fields Forever

Endless flat road in Kansas To be perfectly honest, all of the places in the first half of the trip kind of blur together. If I think about it I can remember where I stayed every night, where I ate every meal, and maybe even every turn I took. But visually it was all pretty similar. Corn fields, then soy fields, then corn fields, then more soy. However, as long as I could see the sky I never got sick of the views. And this part of the country is where I got chased by dogs the most, so I was kept on my toes trying to avoid them which always helps to alleviate boredom.

Once I got past Kansas the scenery got much more memorable. Colorado was without a doubt the best state. There was so much diversity to the terrain in Colorado, from prairies to mountain forests, dry valleys, mesas, aspen forests turning yellow, and of course stunning mountain ranges. I only spent two days in Utah but it was gorgeous, as was Arizona. The coast in California was a bit of a letdown since it rained or was cloudy for the entire week I was there, but at that point I didn’t much care since I had made it to the other side of the country. I never went more than a day or two without seeing some new sort of terrain in all of these western states which made them very enjoyable to ride through.

I took a ton of photos on the trip and there’s a gallery up on my personal website with a selection of them. This was quite a long trip so there are lots of photos but I hope you’ll find that they are varied enough to warrant their numbers. Link to the gallery at the bottom of this post.

Everyone You Meet

Jon, Andrew, Liz, Matt, and I eating dinner in Live Oak Springs, CA I randomly met far too many people to reflect on or even recall, but some did stand out. The Yellow Dog Tavern was the first place where I really met nice people other than cyclists. The college teachers/sports coaches in Pueblo, CO (I hate you for giving me that hangover and making the next day the hardest of my trip). Matt in Monticello, Utah who saved me by giving me bike supplies. Ashley in Gunnison. The people who saw me on the road in Utah, fed me dinner, and let me stay in their campground in Natural Bridges. And Andrew, Jon, Liz, and Matt with our little makeshift family at the end of the trip.

And then there are of course the people I was planning on meeting up with. My uncle/aunt/cousin in Cleveland, my brother in Denver, Daniel in Indiana, Marcus in Missouri, Will and Jackie/Brock/Mara in Phoenix, Kiet and Chris in LA. It was awesome spending time with everyone and I hope you all can make it out to my neck of the woods some time so I can return the hospitality.

Now and Forever

Rear panniers go on first. Gear on the left side, clothes on the right. Then string the straps under the rack. Put the dry bag with the camping gear on the rear rack and clip it onto the frame before tightening the straps around it. Clip the extra water bottles onto the rear straps, on the right side since the bag with clothes is lighter. Front panniers are next. Repair supplies and extra water on the right and food on the left. Put on my helmet and the dirty gloves that I always forget to wash. Clip into the pedals and head west. If I’m lucky it’ll be six or eight hours until I finish. Twelve or more if I’m unlucky.

This was my routine for two and a half months. To say life on the road was fun does not begin to explain what it’s like. There’s an appeal to being in a new place every day and not knowing where you’ll be tomorrow. A sense of empowerment from traveling so far with nothing but your own power. And a new appreciation for the beautiful chaos we call life. But also a fatigue develops that isn’t just in the legs, the knees, or the back. And it’s one that not a day or even a week of sleep can cure.

Liz, Jon, Andrew, and I celebrating our arrival in San Diego I went for over two months without seeing any other cyclists traveling east to west. For me, riding across the country by myself was the only way to do it — it would have been a completely different experience had I ridden with a group or even just another person. However, meeting everyone in the last few days made for the best imaginable finish — racing towards the coast and jumping in the ocean just wouldn’t have been the same had I been alone. Being able to share that moment with others who felt the same way made it so much better.

The week I spent in California after I reached the coast and before flying home gave time for the end of my tour to sink in. No more gas station food and Gatorade. No more getting chased by dogs. But also no more experiencing brand new people and places every day. All things must come to an end.

So where does this all leave me?

Am I different than when I left? My weight has remained constant at 155. My thighs are larger but not freakishly so, and I have a pretty wicked tan that is fading fast. I now am confident in my ability to ride anywhere. No mountain is too steep or too tall. I’m probably a little more patient. A little more straightforward. A lot more confident. A little less reclusive. But by no means am I a completely different person.

I was able to confirm what I thought I knew about America. People are mostly nice, with some jerks and idiots mixed in. I had objects thrown at me from cars in Ohio and Illinois, honked at in every state, and yelled at in a bunch of them, but for the most part people were friendly. The only time I was surprised was when a dozen cars drove by while I was bleeding all over the road in Kansas and no one stopped.

So now I’m back in Arlington. I move back into my apartment on Sunday and the current plan is to resume my job in the near future. I still don’t know if there’s something out there I can do full time without getting bored. It sure as hell isn’t biking. For now I’ll be cycling just as a means of transportation, and maybe I’ll do a double century (200 mile day) at some point. The possibility of another tour in the future is nowhere near the top of my mind, but it isn’t entirely out of the question either. I still have to go to Banff after all.

Photo gallery for the whole trip

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