Monday, July 8, 2013

The Journey Begins

Distance to date: 40 miles
Average speed: 11.80 miles per hour
Top Speed: 38 mph
Top Speed on Gravel: 34 mph
Money spent: $0

It was the 3rd of July, and I was 4 hours away from home, still needing to get ready to start my trip the next day. By the time we got home I had only about 20 hours to get ready - unpack, pack, figure out how to load my bike, and get a good night's sleep - before the time I had decided to leave.

While eating supper that evening, the neighbor kids came over and asked for me, asking if I could come out and play. So I obliged for a few minutes - for the last time - until they were called back home. I'll see them again when I return.

At first I thought I had plenty of space in the borrowed panniers I'm using (older than myself). Getting everything together was a bit of a challenge, though. I'd think of one thing, and then not be sure what all I'd need (clothing is a challenge - how do you decide which half dozen items to wear for the next year?), so I'd go work on something else, then switch back, something else... Finally I got everything together and started packing.

Oh, wait.. One more problem. The elastic retention straps on the panniers, to keep them from swinging or falling off, being, well, 25 year old elastic, were not worth anything, so needed replaced. Shoot! Should have gotten to that a couple weeks ago. By this time it was after normal business hours, but my mom was in town, and Walmart is still open at this time of night..

Well, after a bunch of figuring, I was able to get the straps I needed, and started loading everything on my bike. Wait. Where's all this stuff supposed to go? Do I actually have too much..?

Last minute, I decided I could live without a second backpack (overflow storage), without an extra church shirt (short sleeve), without a second option for sleeping shelter (hammock), and dropped a few other smaller items. A second pair of shoes still seemed prudent..

Ok, if you've never tried mounting fully loaded panniers on a bike for the first time, it can be a little bit of a challenge keeping the bike upright. I have a double legged kick-stand, which is supposed to help with balance issues, but in the living room, on carpet, it proved to be quite the challenge. Especially once I started putting weight on the front.

Wow, why so heavy? I got out the bathroom scale, and proceeded to weigh my bike, like any commercial vehicle - by the weight to the road per axle. For some reason 55 pounds on the front and 63 pounds on the back seemed.. a little high. But what's so heavy? I broke the load down again and did a piece by piece weight check. Balanced it a little.. Hey, I'm going to bed.. It's midnight.


The next morning, the 4th, the day my journey would officially begin.. As I'd been informed by my doctor friend that getting a good night's sleep was close to most important, I slept till I didn't think I could sleep any more, instead of setting an alarm. My last night in my bed... I never sleep as well traveling. This might be my last chance for a few weeks, till I get used to it all.

Oh, and for the first time I can remember, I slept with my phone in another room altogether, instead of next to my pillow. It was nice.

I got up, dangerously close to when I'd intended to leave. Hey, I've got 6 months to get where I'm going, what's a few extra hour's delay? So, I packed up my bike, trying to find more areas to lose weight.. finally got it all ready. Oh, I can't forget breakfast!

Finally, hugs and a prayer, "bye", and I left home.

Man, this weight up front sure makes the bike unruly. I'll have to get used to that..

First stop, picking up my last paycheck, and telling my long time employer goodbye - for the last time till I return. Ouch. My hands area already hurting a little. Must be the extra weight. I've never had this problem before. Together with my last check, covering two pay periods together, so I wouldn't have to wait 2 weeks to get the rest of it, was a $20 bill with a post-it-note saying "for banana money". Thanks Aunt Beryl!

Now the riding begins in earnest. I've gotten control of my front-heavy bike effectively enough. Now comes the steepest hill climb I'll have to deal with.. well, today at least. Came into the bottom of the hill at 12 miles an hour, and dropping fast. Huh.. there's an overturned semi-truck trailer on the other side of the road. Guess they missed the corner. Someone asks me if I want some apples. "I don't want to stop!" I say defeatedly..

This hill is a true challenge. My speed drops to 5-5.5 miles per hour, and I hold it steady for the last half of the climb. Ah, the top is nearly in sight. I'll stop when I get up to that marker. Wait.. no, I think I can make it till the power pole.. Oh, I'm at the crest now.. I'll just stop at the stop sign in a mile.

I'm thoroughly winded after the hard climb. Man, I'm not used to this. I can't breath! For the first time in months I use my inhaler, then rest for a while.. That's better, I think I can go again.

Running across the hill tops is much easier. My target is to average 8 miles an hour - seems like a safe number. Well, I'm at 50% effort, and closer to 10. Ok, I'll slow down as I go if necessary.

Hands are still sore. Man, this is substantial. What's the deal? Ah, well.. discomfort must be ignored at a certain point. I'm loving this.. plenty of shoulder.. It's interesting that the vehicles you would most want to move over are often the ones that often move the least. Mid-sized pickups are generally good. Semi-trucks? Not likely. Now if you want a sure-fire wide-berth pass, those station wagons with a car top carrier and a couple bikes? Those are tops. Almost give a whole lane.

Tail wind is nice. I'm still averaging above my anticipated speed, while averaging an altitude gain. Twelve miles down? Yeah, this could go on for a while.. best knuckle down.

Oh, I'm hating this now.. a 5 mile gradual uphill stretch. In a car you don't even notice, but it's draining the energy out of me. Well, I'm maintaining a steady 10-10.5 miles per hour. No worries, I'll be fine.

Fifteen mile mark. Ouch. For once the pain in my rear end is greater than in my hands. Ok, I'll stop at my turn off from the highway. Only a few more miles. I can do this. Think about something else. Keep your mind busy. The pain will be more manageable. I try singing. Nope, don't have a voice right now. Ok, a little cross wind would be nice.. Still air makes it feel even hotter. I wonder... and so fade off into thought.

Ah, a shady spot along the highway! Yes! Can't pass it up.. Another couple miles and a couple substantial hills before my exit, but I can't wait.

Why did I put all my food items in my back pannier? I partially unload my bike to access a few granola bars, and drink probably a quart of water. My hands are a tad red. Must be from the vibrations.

After sitting under the tree for a while, I knock on the door of the nearby house, and ask to use the bathroom. Really it's a proof of concept, as much as anything. After a moment I'm invited in, and shown through the labyrinth of the house to the bathroom. Upon emerging again, I tentatively make my way back towards the kitchen where I'd entered the residence.

In the kitchen, the husband and wife are preparing to have guests over later. They offer me a bottle of cold water and some watermelon, which I accept gratefully. My water is getting a little warm. I tell them that I used to go to the church across the street, that I live 20 minutes away, but that I'm starting on a cross country bike trip that day, to Florida, via Maine. I get the sense that I'd have gotten the same "I can't even imagine..." response if I had only mentioned riding Michigan..

Well, time to hit the road again. Ouch! I can hardly sit down! Ok, the stop was good. Feeling much more energetic. By the time I reach the top of the next hill I don't even notice my sore seat, as moving again makes me feel so alive.

Now Here's an opportunity to set a speed record! Next up is a steep downhill stretch, followed by an up hill section of the same length. Every extra bit of energy I can get going down will help on the way up. And I want to see just how fast I can go - I've already broken my previous speed record today.

I pedal as fast as I can, but soon I can't even keep up, so just coast, all the way up to 38 miles per hour! Nice! I top the corresponding climb at a measly 6 miles per hour.

Ok, at this point I could keep following the highway - the shoulder's wide enough, but I'm getting tired of the heavy traffic anyway. Now, looking at the map on my phone, it looks like taking a back route would save me a couple intimidating hills, a couple down town left turns, and give me a little more solitude. I decide to take the option.

Man, I'm going faster now than I was in the first half! I'm loving this! Having reached the highest point between Pendleton and Walla Walla, everything's mostly going to be down hill from here.

Oh, wait.. is this a gravel road? Gravel can be a pain! Nah, I'll just keep going. I'll be fine. Actually, this road isn't bad - smoother than the railroad right of way I've been riding on back at home.. And I'm still maintaining over 12 miles per hour. This is going well.

Country roads are nice. Way more quiet than the highway. Not a car in sight. I won't be passed again by a car till I've been back on pavement for a while.

Wait, where did this drop come from? Twenty-five miles per hour is a little fast on this steep, windy, narrow gravel road. I brake, and try to keep it under 15, sometimes pulling it down to 6 miles per hour, before letting it out again. Just a little bit scary. I have no option but to ride it down.

Yes, the end in sight! I can let it out now. Wow, I guess that is pretty steep. Um, I don't really want to break my recently made speed record... on gravel. At 34 miles per hour I stop watching the speedometer, and concentrate completely on keeping my bike upright, and maintaining the gentle curve of the road. Maybe a little prayer for safety wouldn't be a bad idea..

Safe again. That was close.

People are friendly out this way. Passing people working in their yard, they hear my bike, look up, we wave, I smile.. Country folk are so nice.

Hills now are short and quickly dealt with. Just a few more miles, then to my destination. I get passed by a few cars. They give me a full lane berth in passing. At one point a pickup, in an effort to give me enough passing distance, crosses the yellow line, and comes within a foot of hitting a vehicle in the opposing lane. Man, people out here are so polite to cyclists.

I'm hot. The irrigation ditch looks tempting. I ride on.

Finally I arrive at my destination. It's about 4 o'clock. I left home 5 hours ago, although only 3.5 of that has been riding. Wow, so close to 12 miles per hour average - half again my target! I can totally do this! Man, once I get in shape, I'll have no problem doing 60, 70, maybe even 80 miles a day! Even with a 40 pound bike, and 80 pounds of gear..


"All" the extended family is at my aunt's house, for a cousin's birthday, and 4th of July celebrations. I guess I did get a bit of a sun burn riding up.. My uncle gives me some aloe vera, etc. spray, and some old toe clips for my pedals, and I talk with a cousin about my ride up. A good friend shows up and gives me my parting gift - a Canon 35mm f/1.4L lens. Thanks Elwyn! There's no way I could have afforded a lens like that on my own. Now my prime lens collection is "complete". Well, enough..

After dark we launch some paper lanterns over the valley. Most of them behave just fine, but one crashes into a wheat field. After jumping a fence and running at top speed, in short pants and sandals, through the field, I manage to catch the lantern 4 inches above the almost ready to harvest wheat, requiring me to spend a few hours over the next couple days picking out grass seeds... now That was too close for comfort..

Elwyn, on the left, and the hosts, and relatives
On Friday I took my bike in to get serviced. Oops.. I guess I should have planned better. Looks like I'll have to pick it up Monday. That's a pain. In the evening, Elwyn, who I'm staying with for the weekend took me to a friend's house for lunch, and I listen as he and the friend - who is also leaving the area in the next week, and who won't be around when I come back - practice their respective cello and violin together. They sent us back with left overs.

The diminutive youth group. I'm in the black shirt.
Sabbath I went to the Stateline church for the last time till I return. The Junior and Youth classes generally have 30-40 young people between them, but this morning it's closer to a dozen. In the Youth class up stairs, the group is less than half the size it normally is, and all the normal teachers are out of town, so a college student fills in. I'm struck in realizing that of the 13 people who are in the room once we finish, half of them will not be there the next week. I guess everyone's going everywhere for the summer.. I'm struck by the fact, though, that I'll not even have made it to Michigan, where the first person I know after Idaho lives, before most of them are back. Man, that makes my trip sound eternal.

After church there's a picnic which all the remaining families and fragments attend, and we go up on the mountain to see a lookout tower, which we climb. After returning to the valley, Elwyn and I grab sleeping bags, and head back up, to spend the night star gazing with the Walla Walla University Astronomy Club - about half a dozen of us stay the night.

Today, Sunday, Elwyn and I went up to another friend's house, and helped them prepare their pasture - carved out of the forest - for the horse they received this morning. They're a nice family.. Their house, over half an hour from town, is tiny, and completely off grid. I could live in a place like that..

Well, I'd best get to bed. It's midnight. Tomorrow I have to pick up my bike, procure food for the next week, pack up again, then ride 50 miles. I'm hoping it goes well.

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