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.
In 2016, we started our travels with a self-supported, self-contained bicycle tour. 600 km into the tour, we decided the road ahead was too dangerous and some of the stages too far, and reconsidered our bicycling future. The rest of the season, we traveled by car to interesting venues and fun, safe trails. By the end of the summer, we purchased an older (1996) cargo van and planned to use it as a bicycle transporter and camping shelter. We became more convinced this was the way to proceed after a long road trip in the car with the bicycle on top, greatly reducing our fuel economy.
Over the winter, we struggled with water leaks in the van, making yet another car trip, sans bicycle. On our return, we resolved the leaks, purged the resulting mold, and began to outfit the van with a sleeping platform that contained storage for our other camping equipment while leaving room for the bicycle. The platform folds in sections: the first allows room to move the bicycle in and out; the second folds the center section up to accommodate larger cargo between the wheel wells.
Our first van trip was to central Idaho, camping overnight en route to and from a resort outing with friends. Our first bicycle rides of the season were on snowy trails around McCall and the paved portions of a waterlogged gravel trail in a nearby valley. By June, we had signed up for a charity ride in Shelton, beginning to do some road rides to train. The week before the ride, we tested our endurance on a ride the length of the charity ride. We passed with flying colors, but the bicycle frame broke at the target distance. The chainstay on the drive side, where the most stress occurs, developed a crack that, over time, spread around the weld, finally giving way.
We delivered the bicycle to the factory in Eugene, Oregon to be welded and tuned for the rest of the season. The trip to Eugene showed us that the van needed a lot more mechanical work to be ready for an extended road trip, so we used savings to take care of necessary repairs.
Meanwhile, we dusted off the old Santana tandem we had ridden for 25 years before we bought the new Bike Friday machine, and used it to ride the 32-km charity ride, plus a few other rides on local roads and trails, eventually totaling 168 km (104 miles). The other bicycle was supposed to be ready before our planned trip to Victoria, British Columbia, but wasn’t. The second trip to Eugene resulted in a “check engine” alert on the van, so a final trip to the repair shop for final adjustments gave us confidence that our aging truck was ready for an extended adventure.
The Victoria trip led us on several trails on Vancouver Island that weren’t paved, and the Santana proved a better choice for those paths. We had an uneventful series of rides, though with great scenery and lots of other trail users. On return, we continued to refine our camping arrangements, installing a satellite radio dock, upholstering the sleeping platform, and reducing the bike trailer to one of the two cases, as we don’t intend to break down the bike or spend more than one night at a time away from the car and don’t need the extra towing capacity. We also picked up some open-top plastic crates to hold our clothing and food supplies that fit well under the platform.
Road Trip Summer 2017 evolved as a Grand Tour: we would visit friends in northern Idaho, then family and friends in western Montana before heading east to visit family in Minnesota and Wisconsin. On the way, we would stop over in Lincoln, Nebraska for the solar eclipse and ride bike trails in Nebraska and Iowa, plus what time permitted in Montana, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
The final preparations were to arrange for the mail to be held and check 20-year-old Delia into Just Cats Hotel. And, unload the Santana to make room for the Bike Friday, which we would pick up in Eugene on the first leg of our journey.
Good, fast, or cheap: pick any two. A few years ago, I decided to build a webcam, rather than buy one, which were about $100, plus whatever monthly service charge for hosting the link on the cloud. I’m not sure I beat the cost, quality, or speed, but it’s kept me actively managing the system. Instead of a plug-n-play wifi-enabled little module, I have a rats-nest of wires, USB hubs, USB external disk drives, Raspberry Pi with external camera on a ribbon cable, and, now, extension cords and 50-foot CAT5e cable. About once a year, I wear out the flash drive that the system runs from, so there is some on-going cost. Plus, much coding in Python and Bash, a distributed network system to process the video, cron jobs, an API key and code to get weather information and sunrise/sunset times to turn the camera on and off.
Meanwhile, the landscaping has grown up around the office window, so the camera sees mostly flowers and bees (left view). So, I moved it to the office closet, which was not so simple. 1) Being “cheap and fast,” the software wasn’t very “good,” so I had to modify the Python code to provide a way to restart the system during the day without losing all the footage: the system keeps a week’s worth of data, and erases last week’s when starting a new day. This also entailed generating images with a timestamp, rather than a simple index, as the camera software libraries start indexing at 1 each instance.
OK, that’s done, and the system retested, bugs fixed, etc., which ended up losing most of a couple day’s surveillance: “cheap” means not having a second system for development and test, and “fast” means not doing a proper code review before testing, which leaves “good” out of the equation.
Of course, nothing ever goes smoothly: after moving the computer/camera, the USB hub and disks into the closet, we weren’t getting communication with the processor. So, drag everything out next to the desk so we could hook up a console (keyboard, mouse, and monitor) to the computer, retest with the original ethernet cable, then with the long one. Everything worked, inexplicably, since nothing really changed except having the console hooked up. Unhooked the console, and moved everything, still running, back into the closet, then adjust the camera view, and we’re done–except for resetting the key agent so the computer could talk to the video processing computer.
Our program takes a photo every 10 seconds, updated to the web server, then assembles a timelapse video once an hour, showing one hour in 30 seconds. After letting the revised program run for a couple hours, we checked the logs and directories: still showing last week’s video. Aha. The video compositor program needs a numerical sequence for the images in order to assemble a video: the timestamp doesn’t meet specification. So, back to the drawing board, rewrite the Bash script on the video processing computer to renumber the files in a format the video assembly utility understands. Success at last. The system is now fully functional, but made a bit more complex by the simply addition of a restart ability.
So, not fast, not good, and not cheap, when you consider the effort put into a custom, one-of-a-kind system. But, it keeps me in practice coding and designing. And, because it runs on Linux, I can keep the security patches current: many purchased plug-and-play “appliances” have their code burned in at time of manufacture, and may be designed around already obsolete and buggy software. My little system has undergone several major upgrades of the Debian Linux distribution core system (Linux kernel 4.9.35, patched 30 June 2017: latest release is 4.12) and gets regular security patches and bug fixes. That’s even newer than my primary laptop (Kernel 3. 13.0, patched 26 June 2017). Considering all the little Rasperry Pi machines scattered around the house, it may be prudent to work on configuring them for diskless boot, in order to preserve the flash memory chips on-board.
WarmShowers.org is a web-based organization that connects bicycle tourists with hosts to share lodging while on tour. There are no fees, except for voluntary donations from members to keep the web site running, and accommodation provided to guests at no cost. The accommodations offered range from a place to pitch a tent with access to toilet and shower facilities to a furnished guest room or cottage with full meals, laundry service, sag service (transporting bikes, gear, and riders from their route to the accommodation or to/from bicycle repair shops, train or bus stations, or airports), and minor repairs. Guests, in turn, often bring food to share or small presents for the hosts, if convenient to do so. We provide “all the above,” serving an evening meal and breakfast. Occasionally, guests will offer to cook or treat us to dinner out, but we know from experience that a hot shower and warm meal after a long day on tour is most welcome, and a good breakfast starts the next day’s tour off right.
We first became aware of Warm Showers in the early 2000s when we lived in Hamilton, Montana, 80 km south of the headquarters of Adventure Cycling Association (ACA), and on the Transamerica and Lewis and Clark routes. There were several hosts in town and we were still working, so we didn’t sign up then. But, in the fall of 2009, we moved to western Washington, 70 km south of Bremerton, to a small town on the ACA Pacific Coast Route, Seattle Connector for the Washington Parks Route, and the route in the Kirkendall-Spring book “Cycling the Pacific Coast.” We bought a large 1920s Craftsman bungalow near downtown, and found ourselves full-up the first year, with grown children and grandchildren taking up the extra bedrooms while we all waited out the slump in the housing market to sell our former houses. Both of us continued to work at our home-based businesses, in computer consulting and long-arm quilting services.
After the family moved out, and we settled into semi-retirement, we bought a new tandem bicycle in the spring of 2011 and planned to tour again. We had gone on several multi-day tours in the 1980s, but had just taken day rides since, despite planning longer tours. Since we had three extra bedrooms now, we decided to join Warm Showers as hosts, to give us an opportunity for lodging when and if we started touring again, and to become part of the bicycle touring community, meeting other tourists and sharing stories.
Not long after we joined and shortly after we took delivery of our new bicycle, we got our first guest, Todd, who was also new to Warm Showers. The experience was perfectly natural for both of us, and we never looked back: in the six years since, we have hosted more than 160 guests, stayed with five Warm Showers hosts while on our own tours, and have so far met with one other host in a town a day’s ride away, and kept touch with her and others through social media.
Over the years, our guest list has included five small children under the age of five, and two dogs. We’ve also had two adult mother-daughter teams and one father-son team. Our guests have ranged in age from 8 months to early 70s, but most are in the 25-45 age range.
In the early years, we would sometimes ride out with our guests in the morning, up to 20 or 25 km. Sarah, below, on her second tour and first solo tour, was a bit apprehensive about cycling the back roads, but continued on another 20 days. We’ve kept in touch: she has had some amazing adventures in Patagonia and across the country, and now works as a tour guide for ACA.
Located a day’s ride from Seattle and three to five days ride from Vancouver, we found that a lot of our guests were in a “shakedown” stage of their tours: mechanical problems tend to show up within a few days of starting out. We also noted that, if guests arrived on a Surly, Salsa, Kona, or other brand specifically designed and built for long-distance loaded touring, we would send them off in the morning with no more than topping off tires and water bottles. The bike-shop road bikes, overloaded or without front racks, would get loaded onto the car bike rack and sagged off to the nearest bike shop, 30 km away in Olympia. Bike shops normally have a minimum shop fee and a two-to-three-week turn-around time, but I was able to make a deal with a neighborhood shop to get tourist’s bikes in first thing in the morning so they were on their way by noon. Most we rerouted with maps from the bike shop back to their intended route.
While we advertise a maximum of four guests (we have two furnished guest rooms with queen beds), we rarely turn away “drop-in” guests who call the same day. The group above called from a few blocks away on a rainy evening after we had already set dinner for two guests who had arrived earlier. We ordered pizza delivery while setting up sleeping space in the living room and craft studio for the extras. We’ve also set up an air mattress in the upstairs craft studio when we’ve had three or more guests who didn’t want to share a bed.
Sometimes, we get guests going both directions: the foursome above had two headed for Seattle after riding around the Olympic Peninsula, the other two coming from Vancouver, headed for California.
In this case, the couple with the baby found their friend (with the dog) was traveling the same direction, but by a different route, and arranged to meet at our house. We met her on the road while returning home that day and led her to our house before her friends arrived.
On our own tour, we didn’t plan on using Warm Showers for the last half, as we had shipped our camping gear home earlier, but Scot spotted us in a grocery store parking lot and brought us home, giving up his own bedroom to sleep on the sofa.
The only time we cancelled on guest reservations: I failed a treadmill test and woke up with a 20-cm incision down my chest and tubes hanging out. And a spot on my leg where they had borrowed one of those good bicycling veins to bypass a clogged artery in my heart. That also put us on the “unavailable” list for the rest of the summer.
We’ve had a number of Warm Showers members who have made contact and gotten information, or who have miscalculated weather, distance, or other factors that caused them to cancel or undershoot or overshoot us. Some have shifted dates after first contact. It’s always good to update hosts with projected arrival times, delays, etc.
Several years ago, Eric ran into late-season wet, cold weather, leaving him stranded “in the middle of nowhere” wet, cold, and in the dark. We got a call at 7:30 in the evening, after he had tried to contact many other hosts near his location. We made a 60-km run to rescue him. He had been touring continuously for over a year and his rain gear was worn out, not that it would have done much good in the cold November rain. He has since ridden the GDMBR (Great Divide Mountain Bike Race) and rode the first 1000 km of the Transamerica race. We’ve since upgraded our sag vehicle from a small SUV with a tandem rack on top to a cargo van.
We keep a small collection of toys our grandsons outgrew, to entertain our younger guests. Toddlers take readily to touring, as long as the parents juggle nap time and play time into their riding schedules. Older children do well on tandems, triples, and pedal trailers.
We usually cook, but some guests like to have a home-cooked meal of their own, and treat us. We’ve collected a few good recipes from guests. We convinced this couple to stay and extra day and continue by public transit on Monday during a period of cold and wet weather, so they took over the cooking chores after a day out downtown. We live within walking distance of a movie theater, supermarket, several restaurants and coffee shops, and the public library, giving guests an opportunity to explore a bit off the bike.
Some of our guests have overextended or had mechanical problems, arriving courtesy of passers-by who sagged them to our house. Sometimes—and we have first-hand experience ourselves, on tour—those “tour angels” spot trouble before the riders realize they could use help. We do now offer sag service, having acquired a van for our own rail-trail touring plans, but there are areas of poor cell service in our area, so calling for pickup is not always an option. We have hosted guests from a dozen different countries: some have purchased SIM cards to use their phones in the U.S., but some don’t, relying on WiFi for data connections.
Our father-son team, above, and a mother-daughter team, below. The mother, below, turned out to be friends with long-time friends of ours who live in her home town. Over the years, we’ve hosted cyclists who know each other, or who have stayed as guests at hosts who have been our guests. We’ve read tales of guests meeting up with other guests farther down the coast and riding together or staying at the same other hosts. It’s a small community, considering.
Over the years, we’ve met so many people from many countries, of all ages, and different work backgrounds, but the thing we have in common is that we all crazy in the same way–we just have to get on our bicycles and pedal off over the horizon now and then. Being hosts has kept us active in cycling: since opening our doors to Warm Showers guests in our late 60s, we’ve made three tours of a week or more, and many day trips, often on trails across the country. Since joining Warm Showers, we’ve logged more than 5000 km, despite nearly a year off to recover from heart surgery.
As we get older, hosting becomes a bit of a burden, especially during the busy season, when we get one to four guests a night for several days running. This year, we decided to book time for ourselves to train and prepare for our own outings, limiting hosting to a few short periods during the season. For a couple of years, we were the only hosts in our town, so we were reluctant to turn away guests, but now there are three in town and a couple of others not far away.
Our hosting facilities:
Of course, meals are prepared in the kitchen and served in the dining room, photos of both shown earlier with guests. Evening conversation moves to the living room, where there is a gas fireplace for chilly evenings and mornings. The covered porch, patio, and lower deck are also available for conversation or privacy in warm weather. We offer high-speed Internet (cable) with WiFi, and have a small older laptop with a guest account for use if needed. We often print out Google maps and cue sheets for custom routes, and have supplied GPS track files or Google map links via email or message.
We have a floor pump with Presta and Schrader fittings for use by guests, and the usual tools for minor repairs, including degreaser and shop rags. In addition to limited sag service with our own vehicles, Mason County Transit buses run Monday through Saturday from downtown Shelton, with bike racks and service to Olympia, Bremerton, and Brinnon, with connections to Grays Harbor County (Montesano & Aberdeen) and Jefferson County (Port Townsend) transit services as well as Kitsap County transit, the Washington State Ferries to Seattle, and the Olympia Intercity Transit with connection to Amtrak. Roll-on bicycle service is available on Amtrak at the Olympia-Lacey terminal with service to Seattle, Portland, and Eugene.
Over the years, in addition to delivering bikes to the bike shop in the city, we’ve also made runs to the nearby hardware store for missing or stripped stainless steel metric screws, safety-wired a homemade trailer hitch, supplied a spare tire from our stash, and delivered articles left, either in person or by parcel service. We’ve answered queries from travelers who didn’t stay with us, including route advice, and where to leave your car when starting/ending a tour nearby (try a self-storage yard). Not surprisingly, we’ve had reciprocal treatment when we travel–hosts picking up most of our gear for the last few miles, sag lifts from strangers met on the road, a lift to a bike shop for supplies, awesome meals, and close-up encounters feeding apples to a captive elk herd. Being part of the Warm Showers community enriches our lives and is a means of paying forward all the kindnesses done for us over the years, cycling or not.
Last, but not least, being a part of Warm Showers brings us closer to the bicycle touring community and makes it more likely for us to reach out to tourists we see that could use a hand. A couple of weeks ago, we were at a nearby (20 km) bakery on a rainy day when an older bicycle tourist came in to dry out and warm up, intending to wait out the rain, even if it meant bivouacking behind the bakery. We struck up a conversation, soon recognizing him as a legend among the world trekking and bicycle touring folks, as well as in his home country, Australia, for his cycling exploits and trekking with camels around Australia. The rain subsided somewhat, later that day, and Klaus took us up on our invite to spend the night, even though he wasn’t a Warm Showers member. Normally, we’d ask tourists we meet this way to join (that’s how we recruit), but Klaus has been nomadic for 23 years and, at 69, doesn’t plan to settle down anytime soon. He also prefers to camp wherever the day ends, but was grateful for a chance to dry his gear and sleep out of the rain. And, we were glad to have met him, hear his stories first hand, and to have a chance to ride with a legend, if only a short way to send him off on the next leg of his life-long adventure.