We went on a hiatus from Warm Showers hosting in early June to have time to prepare for our own perambulations of the summer: Vancouver Island in early July and our 10800-km shuttle in the van between trails in the Midwest in August and September. After returning home in mid-September, we put ourselves back on the “Available” list and hosted six more tourists, well into the rainy season, putting the total for the year at 22 guests.
The end of September brought us Marge, from France, on a Canada (Vancouver) to Argentina (Ushuaia) quest. Marge was a bit wary of the general lack of respect for bicycles in America, so we gifted her with the trailer flag we used on our Atlantic Coast tour last year. The flag shows up in her blog post photos from time to time as she heads south. I accompanied Marge out to the highway to head south, as I often do to lead guests out of our neighborhood and back on their route. The usual preferred Adventure Cycling route, Cloquallum Road, was being resurfaced on the big hill west of town, so she elected to ride Highway 108 to Hicklin Road north of McCleary.
In mid-October, we took in two couples, Daniel and Alex from Germany and Ed and Marty from Scotland, who had met another Warm Showers host’s the day before. They had elected to take the southern route to Portland rather than directly to the coast, so we routed them around Olympia (which is 15 km shorter than the Adventure Cycling route through Elma). Again, I led them out to Hwy 3, a good plan, as they initially missed the turn, continuing across the intersection onto Arcadia road south. With all the inlets of south Puget Sound between, it is not intuitive to get south to Olympia by first proceeding west to US 101 and then southeast.
The bicycle touring season usually ends in late October as the frost line moves south a bit faster than most tourists can pedal, and the rainy season picks up with the storms of November. But, every few years, we get an intrepid soul with enough stamina and wet and cold weather experience to challenge the elements.
So, in mid-November, we met Bryan, from New York, who was misdirected to the wrong ferry in Seattle, ending up on Bainbridge Island, many kilometers farther from his intended destination of Elma. His late request resulted in even later arrival, as he chose to ride all the way despite making several offers to meet him on the road with the van before dark. We did get a chance to visit more, however: Bryan had sent himself a supply package to Elma, but, arriving on the weekend, he would have had to wait for the post office to open, so we invited him to spend another day, to pass through Elma mid-day and have more time to heal up from crashing in the dark on the way to Shelton. Bryan is a professional cook, so fixed dinner for us the second day, an excellent cap on this, our seventh season of hosting.
Our long weekend in the Madison area was filled with family activities, which mostly involved eating way too much way too often: having adult grandchildren with their own schedules often means visiting with each separately. We got in one bike ride, with family. We stayed at an AirBnB near our favorite area coffee shop, Firefly, in Oregon, WI. We took in the Taste of Madison on the capitol square. We did stay an extra day, as our son is usually called out for work at least once during our visits, giving us time to actually visit him instead of his house…
Heading back into Minnesota for the second time this trip, we visited a second cousin with whom I had corresponded regarding family genealogy but never met. She and her husband are gardeners, and were having a dinner party for a group of friends, with garden produce as the main attraction. We had a delightful evening and stayed a while to talk about family. My mother’s father died when she was only one year old. My grandmother remarried and the family moved, losing touch with the uncles and aunt on granddad’s side of the family, for fifty years. My mother had discovered her lost relatives in the 1970s, but I never found contact information in her effects, so they were lost again until the modern age of genomics reconnected the families.
On the way north in the morning, we realized we had been within a few miles of another cousin on the Parkins side with whom I have sporadic contact. However, since we didn’t know where my “new” cousin lived until a few hours before arriving, we didn’t have opportunity to make contact. So it goes. Hopefully, we have more trips to the Midwest in us. We did spot lots of interesting bicycle trails in that area, worth coming back for a longer visit and maybe look up other misplaced relatives in the process.
Arriving late afternoon at a state park south of where our weekend’s family reunion was scheduled, we took out the bicycle and rode the newly completed southern section of the Paul Bunyan Trail into town (16 km, 10 miles) to do some grocery shopping. The next morning, we drove north to where we had turned around in our trail ride in 2015 and rode 20 km north to Pequot Lakes, a section of the PBT with lots of lakes and a few climbs where the trail deviated from the old rail bed. With the exception of a short section of urban trail along busy streets, we have now completed about 55 km of the 220-km long trail, which claims to be the longest paved bicycle trail in the U.S.
Friday night, the clan began to gather: the local group of second cousins, and the first cousins from southern Minnesota. In the morning, we stopped at a grocery to pick up ingredients for my contribution to the traditional family recipes before heading to the township hall near where our great-grandparents had settled over a century ago. We had been there before, in 2015, but almost everyone else got lost. As in most rural parts of the world, the names on the maps match neither what the signage says nor the landmarks by which the locals navigate. Even with a GPS, we nearly missed a turn.
Well into the afternoon, with a few stragglers still calling in from unknown locations in unknown directions, we set off on a tractor-drawn wagon tour of the long-disappeared landmarks of our forebears: where the school used to be, where the grandparents’ and great-great-uncles’ farms used to be (often reverted to forest), the overgrown foundation of the church, the cemetery where our forbearer Adolph’s siblings and their descendants rested, etc.
Finally, stuffed with potluck samples of dishes we oldsters remembered from extended family get-togethers in the 1950s and 60s, and documented by cousin Becky in a reunion cookbook, we retreated to one of the hotels for an evening of reminiscing and sharing old family photos. In the morning, about half the family, those who had traveled long distances, dispersed to other travel commitments. The rest of us met for a buffet brunch (yes, more food!) before heading off to home or other travels. We had planned to stay through the day, so ended up helping reduce the load of leftovers from the Saturday picnic that evening.
Needless to say, we started our westward trip toward home with a light breakfast and lighter lunch, with more visits with relatives on Judy’s side of the family scheduled along the way.
With our family heirloom duties out of the way, the bike finally “tour-ready,” and our feathers ruffled by our first encounter with camper class discrimination, we moved on to survey the High Trestle Trail, our next bucket list item. We checked out the trailheads in Woodward and Madrid, deciding to start our ride the next day in Madrid. Our choice for RV parks didn’t pan out: near the big city (Des Moines, the capital) and Saylorville Lake, all sites were booked for the weekend. So, we cashed in some of our discount points and stayed in a motel in the city for the weekend.
On Friday, we set out from Madrid, where the Flat Tire Lounge served up dark beers and microwaved frozen cheese pizza after our ride. We crossed the spectacular High Trestle to Woodward, then retraced the path back to Madrid and finished with a round trip across the prairie to Slater, for 41 km total. On Saturday, we started at the southern terminus of the trail in Ankeny and rode the hillier half north to Slater, where a Boy Scout Jamboree was in progress, explaining the dozens of teens on bikes we saw on the trail. Being Saturday, and soon after RAGBRAI, (the 44-year-old annual ride across Iowa that is a rite of passage for riders from all over the country), the trail was crowded with many other cyclists as well. Despite the light rain starting out, we had a good ride, another 40 km.
Sunday, we took a spin around the Iowa state capitol, then headed southeast to the corner of the state, Keokuk, at the confluence of the Des Moines and Mississippi Rivers. On the way, we stopped in Eldon at the house that inspired the famous Grant Wood painting, “American Gothic.” Thunderstorms swept in, so we opted for yet another motel night, upriver in Fort Madison.
Moving up the Mississippi, we crossed over into Illinois to survey the Great River Trail (GRT) through Moline. We stayed at the Illiniwek Campground, which was a delight and right on the trail. Again, we had to plead with the management to treat our nondescript-looking van as an RV and give us a site with electricity so we could run our refrigerator and computers (WiFi, and fast, too!) The neighbors in our section were mostly travel trailers rather than land yachts, and seemed friendly enough.
We seemed to have picked the best of the GRT, through East Moline and Moline, with great river views, riding through riverfront parks and on the levee for the most part, and we even found a decent, if expensive, coffee shop. We turned around as the trail got confused in road construction near the I-74 bridge, riding back through our campground and under I-80 to Rapids City, where the trail was mainly a widened shoulder on the southbound lane of the highway. We stopped at a family restaurant and found suitable fare, though a bit calorie-heavy.
The next day, on recommendation from a cyclist we met on the GRT, we drove across the river to Bettendorf, to the Devils Glen park and rode up the Duck Creek Parkway, a paved bike path winding up the creek through a series of parks, ending at a golf course on the west side of Davenport, the fourth of the Quad Cities, finishing off the week with another 70 km for the two days of riding in the Quad Cities.
After checking out Port Byron on the Illinois side a few miles north, we decided to resume our river tour on the Iowa side, with a grocery stop and coffee shop at Le Claire, then north through Clinton to Bellevue State Park, a quiet campground on top of a hill, away from town and separate from the day-use section of the park. In the morning, we stopped in Dubuque for coffee and fuel before briefly dipping back into Illinois, cutting through East Dubuque into Wisconsin, where we drove quiet roads into Monroe.
We stopped in Monroe, next to a local shoe store on the old town square, picking up some shoes—I had worn out the hiking shoes I bought after my heart surgery for my recovery walks, and Judy needed some sturdy slippers. We walked around the town square and through the old historic courthouse before moving on north toward Madison, stopping once for a snack at New Glarus, a Swiss settlement with a tempting bakery.
We were a day early into Madison, so checked into a motel to do laundry and catch up on computer upgrades. We visited with family in the evening, pausing in our month-long journey and looking forward to the weekend visits.
Getting a late start on our journey east from western Montana, we headed down I-90 instead of meandering through the Big Hole as we had thought we might. We had decided to try city park camping, first stop, Columbus, Montana, on the Yellowstone River. We arrived late and found one campsite left, and that only because a group of tent campers decided to combine into one site. In the morning we tried breakfast at McDonalds, the first time we had been in one in several years. Yogurt parfait and coffee was all we dared. Coffee wasn’t bad, yogurt was partly frozen. Hmm.
We set off into new territory, south to Cody, Wyoming, then on to Casper and Douglas, ending at a KOA for the night, parked in the grass in the tent area. The management had set up a dozen or so tents and several portable toilets in anticipation of eclipse traffic. A long walk through the woods to the showers and rest rooms. The next morning, another repeat at McD’s. This time, the coffee was acid but the yogurt was OK. We decided to end that experiment and do our usual grocery/Starbucks foraging in the future.
Steadily rolling off the high plains to western Nebraska, we checked in at the Wacky West RV Park in Valentine, in 33°C temps and strong winds. We walked to a nearby “health food” store that mostly stocked organic candies plus and got a couple of wraps, then decided to ride the rail trail to the high trestle over the Niobrara River that evening instead of waiting until morning. Just past the campground, the trail turned to gravel, and we ground on into the crosswind (read: an impediment both ways). It was still hot, but a thunderstorm was predicted later and we didn’t want to take a chance on getting caught out on the prairie. And, thunder and heavy rain did come, just at dark.
The next morning, we sped on east on US 20, paralleling the Cowboy Trail, stopping in Long Pine to ride across the Pine Creek trestle, as high as the Niobrara trestle, but not as long, and much closer to town. Then, off to the east end of the trail to camp at a city park in Norfolk, Nebraska.
Early morning, we rode the Cowboy Trail up the Elkhorn River 8 km and back, finishing with a spin around the concrete trail through the park and athletic fields before packing up and checking out the local coffees hop downtown. Finally, off to Lincoln and a basement B&B for the eclipse weekend. An overnight thunderstorm knocked out power over most of the city, uprooting trees and leaving streets littered with branches and blocked by fallen trees. After fumbling around our lodging by flashlight, we threaded our way out though the debris-filled streets in search of a laundromat with power, then took a walk around the state capitol complex and scoped out likely viewing spots for the eclipse.
Monday, we checked out and positioned ourselves in a city park with a good view and set up to watch the eclipse. We constructed a viewing contraption with a cardboard box and binoculars, having passed up a chance to buy the paper eclipse glasses when we passed through Oregon at the start of our trip. We moved our truck to make room for another parking spot next to us, and the grateful couple gave us a couple spare glasses, so we didn’t have to fight with the box in the wind during the whole event. It was spectacular, despite the sometimes heavy cloud cover. Judy had seen the total eclipse that passed over the Northwest in 1979, but I had only seen partial eclipses. Our photos did not do it justice.
Immediately after the totality, we got in line to exit the park and find our way out of the city. Headed north, we decided to stay at the city park in Norfolk again, as it was a very nice, quiet camp. After leaving the park, traffic was fairly normal until we got to Columbia, with traffic lights and merging eclipse traffic from Grand Island, which was squarely in the path of longest totality. Arriving in Norfolk, the campground was again lightly used: some of the same campers were still there, and we stayed in the same campsite as before.
Continuing north, we stopped at my cousin Cathy’s house in Worthington, Minnesota to drop off a family heirloom, a mantel clock her father had rebuilt in the 1950s. We then headed back south into Iowa, camping at a state park on Spirit Lake: electricity and flush toilets, but no potable water or showers, and mud in the site we picked. In the morning, we drove to Lake Okoboji, parked near the bike trails, and rode around the lake. Except, a bit more than halfway around, we had a tire failure, followed by a succession of used tubes that wouldn’t hold air. A kind runner, Greg Fox, gave us a lift to the bike shop where we not only got our tire fixed (we had a spare tire, just not any good spare tubes), but a couple of extra tubes and, best of all, got the shifting problems that had plagued us since picking up the supposedly tuned machine in Eugene several weeks before. All of the cables should have been replaced, as they are stretched and have a lot of friction in the housings. The Okoboji shop lubricated the cables and adjusted as best they could, and we finished the ride, about 10 km shorter than we had anticipated.
Wanting to find a camp with showers, we picked a nearby RV park, which was reluctant to accept our nondescript van as a real RV. They finally put us in the hiker-biker site. We got our showers and left very early in the morning, having endured the disapproving gaze of the land-yacht crowd as they returned from their days adventures.
So it went. We had finally gotten our bicycle tuned and hopefully most of the major failures behind us. We were beyond the smoke and heat of the Rocky Mountains and High Plains, and had refined our camping and traveling to a comfortable routine, even figuring out an acceptable way to cope with no air conditioning in the car—using the sun visors as baffles to reduce the noise from open windows.
Next: More Iowa bicycling, working toward Wisconsin.
July 30, 2017–Finally, our summer road tour was underway: on the first leg, we returned yet again to Eugene to pick up our bicycle, leaving on a Sunday afternoon and camping overnight near Vancouver, Washington, to be at the shop when they opened. We took a quick spin on the bike to look for any obvious problems. It seemed a bit odd feeling, but we thought it might be because we had ridden our old bike the last 168 km. We should have been a bit more vigilant, but we were anxious to get on the road.
We camped overnight again on the banks of the Columbia, at a state park next to the RV camp we had stayed at in April, then over the hills to the Yakima Valley and on to northern Idaho to visit our friends Gary and Char at their vacation home for a week before moving on to a family gathering in Montana.
Nearly 10 days into our trip, we finally pulled the bike out for our first ride, a 20-km loop around Polson, Montana. Five kilometers into the ride, it was obvious there was something wrong. We stopped, at the top of the Skyline drive, a 120-meter vertical drop on a steep grade into downtown, to find that the rear triangle (the seat-stay/chain-stay assembly we had welded) had nearly separated from the rear bottom bracket. Apparently, the bolts holding the bike together had not been tightened at the factory when the machine was reassembled. Once again, we had narrowly avoided a disastrous accident. We were also having problems with the shift adjustment. After the ride, we downloaded a copy of the SRAM repair manual and readjusted the rear derailleur to get all nine cogs indexing, but shifting remained a problem.
We also had decided that much of our discomfort on the 2016 tour had been due to poor bike fit, despite having ridden thousands of miles with the current setup. Judy had her handlebars set as high as possible, but would have liked them higher. And, having ridden the Santana all summer, I realized my handlebars were a bit too far forward, putting too much pressure on my hands and I was sitting too far forward on the saddle. The solution was simple, and no cost: swap the stems, putting the longer one on Judy’s bar to raise it, and the shorter one on my bar to bring it closer. It works.
We made a quick trip to Hamilton to visit our bead-artist and tiny-house-builder friend Theresa at her new location and new tiny studio, then stopped at our quilting friend Connie’s house to visit with her actor/director son Dan before he headed back to New York after a season of directing summer stock at Whitefish. We spent the rest of the week visiting with relatives as they arrived in smoky Montana, so we didn’t get another bike ride. As the gathering dispersed, we headed south, stopping at the Ewam Garden of 1000 Buddhas for a quick walk of the garden before the rain started.
Although we’ve been in Shelton for nearly eight years, I’m still involved with Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 517, managing their website. In Missoula, we met Steve and Sherry at the new hangar at the Missoula airport. What a facility! But, expensive, so fund-raising is an essential part of the budget plan. During lunch, we went over a few items to add to the chapter website.
Finally, we arrived in the Bitterroot Valley for a couple of days visiting with Connie and some of our quilting friends before heading east once again for our rendezvous with the solar eclipse in Nebraska. Our past trips have also included a visit to my old workplace in Hamilton, but there wasn’t room in the schedule this time, and some of my former co-workers were preparing to evacuate their homes in the face of advancing forest fires.
The next leg of our journey would take us over the continental divide, away from the smoke, and gradually downhill toward the Mississippi River.