Map Top

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


So, that's it. Above is the finish line they made for me on the driveway in San Jose. There was also a line of tape that I broke as I rode through. A really nice ending.

A map, not quite to scale, of my route. Don't be fooled - I did in fact go through West Virginia.

A blue ribbon can make anyone feel special.

The last known picture of me and my summer-long home and best friend. Dropping it off for boxing and shipping back to Cambridge.

I don't know how best to write any sort of epilogue or finale or summary of the trip. I never really got that "hooray, I've done it!" feeling, not even as I literally crossed the finish line. There was happiness and relief, but not a sense that I had accomplished a goal as of that moment. My brother put it a good way:
If we choose to do things that we enjoy doing, then it is each moment (or most of the moments) that add up to the excitement/fun/rewarding experience. So, finishing things can often be more melancholy than expected if it means that you are now done doing something you enjoy. Of course, finishing things usually forces us to look back on what we've just done, so that can be a fun time to relish in the memories and experiences along the way that were enjoyable. I think finishing the trip without a huge rush of 'I did it' might be a really good sign that you've been biking because you enjoy biking and having the experiences along the journey, rather than having been biking for the purpose of being able to say 'I biked across the country'.
And I guess that's what it comes down to. The stated goal was to "bike across the country", but it was the fun and adventure of the whole summer that I enjoyed, not simply the conclusion. There would have been something missing if I had fallen short of the ending, and was not able to claim that I had "biked across the country", but the experience would have been far less had I, say, put my head down and zoomed west as fast and direct as I could, as if the only important thing was to reach San Francisco.

And that's why writing a conclusion only 6 days after finishing feels odd. If you've followed along, you have a pretty good sense of where I've been, what I've done, and how I've felt about things and people and places along the way. So, a literal summary of the trip isn't needed. What I've really done this summer is give myself an enormous trove of experiences that I can draw from for years to come, and it will be a while before I'll be able to look back and determine how, as a monolithic entity, "the trip" has effected me.

Enough philosophy! Compiling those lists was fun because it forced me to think back and remember all the different highlights of the summer. And that was just a handful of categories. I can turn this into some sort of game. Come up with a category, and I can fill it in from the trip. Worst campsites? Best skyline? Meanest convenience store clerk? Favorite river? They'll all come pouring out.

I would thank people here but I'd certainly forget someone, so I'll stick with general categories:
Thank you to everyone who bit their tongue and didn't tell me this was a terrible idea and I shouldn't do it.
Thank you to everyone who read this blog - pretending that I was sharing my trip with all of you helped to keep me sane. The fact that people were actually reading continues to astound me.
Thank you to everyone I met on the road, whether you put me up for the night, biked with me, gave me directions or shared a conversation.
Thank you to everyone - I could never have done it without you. Seriously - friends and family were so supportive, strangers were so impressed, people everywhere were kind and helpful. I'd have run out of gumption if you didn't help keep me going.

Is it too cliche to end with a cliche? Here goes!
You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Lists, part 2

Favorite climbs:
Trail Ridge Road, Colorado
As the name implies, it was along a ridge, rather then up and over a pass. That means that you have sweeping views of distant valleys and snow-capped mountains the entire ride up. Add in the snowballs and the wildflowers and the pride of biking the highest continuous highway in the continental U.S....a top climb for sure.

Leggett Hill, California
When you turn off 101 to Highway 1 in Leggett, you're greeted with a steep, twisting 1000-foot climb up through the woods. It's my favorite kind of climbing, up around switchbacks and hairpin turns, never forced to stare at a mile-long hill in front of you. Keep those turns coming and I'll climb forever.

Willow Creek Canyon, Colorado
This was the day after Trail Ridge, and my first time really climbing up and over a pass. The road winds up a narrow canyon, following a small creek. You get to a point where you're staring at a mountain, wondering where the road goes. Sometimes you get closer and realize there's a small gap you slip through, other times you take a 90-degree turn, and the canyon continues in the that direction. The final climb up to the pass (it's always most difficult between where you leave the river and the pass) wasn't too steep, either.

Mount Mitchell, North Carolina
To be honest, this climb was long and steep and high and miserable. The road from Marion up to the Blue Ridge Parkway was so steep and winding and miserable that people told me that didn't like driving on it. There were a few nice views on the way up but nothing spectacular. But I WANTED this mountain so badly. I made it into my personal enemy and gave it a personality and told it how I would defeat it. I'd say I got as much of a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from finishing this climb as I did from any other one thing on this trip.

Yellowstone Park, Wyoming
In particular, the road from Grant Village to Old Faithful, which crosses the continental divide twice. Some required backstory: when Alicia and I drove to California, we camped here, and I rode my mountain bike along this same route. I was out of shape, had never really climbed before, and never been anywhere near that elevation (8000 feet). It destroyed me. This time, however, the advantage was mine - I was in shape, accustomed to climbing, and had been at elevation for weeks. I was almost embarrassed how easily I made it over both passes.

Favorite descents:
Route 9, California
The whole reason I tortured myself with Skyline Blvd the other day. My old climbing route, it was fun to finally see it on the way down. Even without the history, it's an enormous descent over 7 miles, and was a long cruise down to victory.

Lolo Pass, Idaho
This pretty much covers the entire time I was in Idaho. The top of the pass is at 5000', and Lewiston is at 900', without a single uphill between them. The road winds through the Sawtooth Mountains, following the Lochsa River. A couple miles of this would have been amazing, but 100 miles across the majority of northern Idaho? Epic.

Bitterroot Valley, Montana
This starts with the descent from the top of Chief Joseph pass, and continues through a narrow gorge along the Bitterroot River. From the top of the pass, the road wound down the edge of a canyon for several miles. Along the way I was able to outrun a logging truck for a couple miles - I was going that fast and the curves were sharp enough to keep the truck at bay. Once the steep descent ran out at Sula, I was joined by the Bitterroot River and continued on a downward slope through a narrow gorge for another 10 miles.

Madison Canyon, Montana
This was not a steep descent, but was my first taste of what awaited me in Montana. The Madison River flows from Yellowstone Lake into Hebgen Lake, then through a narrow, twisting canyon until it settles into a wide valley and flows towards Ennis. But for a few miles after Hebgen Lake, the road tilts downward and the mountains rise up. After a week of Wyoming void and National Park overload, a simple, winding canyon was the perfect ride.

Leggett Hill, California
This one made the list for the climb, but the descent was just as great. Similar to the way up, the road was narrow and twisting as it dropped towards the sea. The first descent was long and fast. The second descent was shorter but seemed more fun. I was singing to myself as I came around a corner and saw the ocean - I broke into outright joyous laughter than probably worried any cars passing the other way.

Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
The main descent from the summit was long and fast and fun, but what I really liked was following the Little River from Gatlinburg to Townsend. It was a gentle slope, but the river and woods were beautiful. You could play a game by watching the river - your speed was tightly correlated to how strong the rapids were in the river. When you saw them coming ahead, you knew the road was about to tilt down a bit and you were going to speed up.

Favorite breakfasts:
Marionberry French Toast at Fishtails, Oregon
Perhaps the greatest thing I've ever eaten. Delicious French toast stuffed with marionberries and cream cheese.

Hashbrowns at Deb's, Darby, Montana
A revolution in hashbrown design. A standard breakfast comes with eggs, hasbrowns and toast, each on their own section of plate. At Deb's, they start with a layer of hashbrowns, then serve the eggs and toast on top of that. They were good enough by themselves, but once they soak up all the cheese and veggies and other goo that comes out of the eggs, they're amazing.

Pancakes in Lexington, Kentucky
Technically these were terrible pancakes, but they earned their place here because a single order was as big as a good-sized birthday cake. The owner said he loves to see the look on peoples' faces when they see them for the first time. But they were dry and tasteless! And an honest waste of food - if a touring cyclist can't finish a meal, trust me, no one can. My brother put it best - there's a fine line between giving someone something they don't expect and something they don't want. Sadly, I think the owner has spent years misunderstanding the reaction of customers getting something they don't want.

Favorite Beer States:
Big Sky does Moose Drool, a regional favorite. Missoula had several of their own breweries, and I had some great stuff from Bozeman, Butte and others, including tiny Hamilton.


I'm not a big fan of Rogue, but Ninkasi and Hopworks were great. Hopworks also had a location called "Bike Bar". It wasn't quite as bike-centric as I had hoped, but they did have frames from local bike makers hanging above the bar. Kinda cool. But the beer WAS terrific.

This was also the part of my trip where I began to pick up a 24 oz. bottle of something every night before getting to camp. I was particularly a fan of anything from Lagunitas. Sierra Nevada and Anchor Steam are always great (and available!).

Fat Tire's the big one, but there's tons out of Denver, Boulder, and others.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Lists, part 1

This turned out to be a lot of writing, so I'll break it up into multiple posts.

Rankings are in no particular order.

Favorite states:

I still can't believe it. I was so afraid of Kansas when I saw how hot it gets and how far apart the towns are. But once I got there I found that the people were the nicest in the world. And I was magically immune to the heat. And while the towns were 25 miles apart, they were lovely - convenience stores, diners, community pools; everything a cyclist could ever need. The flat terrain led to days of huge mileage, and I lucked out on the wind - the dreaded Kansas headwind came at me mostly from the south while I was there.

Days and days of biking along wide river valleys. Short, enjoyable climbs over passes to get from one valley to the next. Nice people and more frequent towns than I had gotten used to in Wyoming and Colorado.

There were three separate great stretches here - Shenandoah, the New River bike trail, and the Buena Vista area. Shenandoah was when I started to realize just how magnificent some parts of this trip were going to be.

Eastern Colorado was similar to Kansas, so it gets credit there. All the routes through the Rockies were amazing. I got to make a snow angel in July and I didn't throw up at 12,183'. Took two days off to explore Denver and Boulder, both very nice towns. Even saw the Rockies come from behind to win in the bottom of the 9th.

Favorite Vista points:
Trail Ridge Road, Colorado
This one had views all the way up. Being along a ridge and so far above the tree line allowed for some amazing views of the surroundings in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Skyline Drive, Virginia
One great thing about Skyline is that there are overlooks around almost every turn. They were all slightly different and beautiful in their own way, but two stick out in my mind. One was where the ridge takes an unusually sharp turn, and you are able to look south along the length of the entire ridge. It was actually a but intimidating to be shown all the hills that remained in my way. The second was overlooking the valley to the west. I don't remember the name of the overlook or exactly where it was, but I remember being particularly awed by the 180-degree view of the valley and opposing range.

Togwotee Pass, Wyoming
This was an enormously difficult climb, but once on top you get that ridiculous view of the Grand Tetons. I may have sat at that vista point for longer than I did at any other.

Mount Mitchell, North Carolina
Unless I'm forgetting something, this is the only time I biked to the peak of a mountain. There were lots of passes and ridges, but for 360-degree, top-of-the-world views, I think this was it. One of my more glorious moments was when I finished this climb. I was also surprised by how high the surrounding mountains are. Mitchell is only the highest by a skim margin - the entire area is filled with 6000+ foot peaks.

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
I didn't even need to climb a mountain for this one. The entire thing is one big vista point, but there were a couple spots that stood out. The Rowena Crest lookout was something like 500 feet above the river and I could see far down the gorge both east and west. The top of a bike-only path looked down on Hood River, and I was there after sunset as all the lights were coming on.

Favorite cities:
Portland, Oregon
The famously bike-friendly city lived up to its reputation. There were well marked bike lanes all the way in to town, and many streets all over the city had separate bike lanes. Downtown was compact and fun and easy to get around. I found excellent food all over town, and they make some excellent beer here. You have to get pretty far out of town before you find a sketchy neighborhood. The occasional glimpse of Mt. Hood in the distance is a nice touch.

Missoula, Montana
A relatively small town, but it seemed pretty nice. Home to the University of Montana, so it's got that college-town vibe. A surprisingly large and hopping downtown for a town of only 66,000.

Louisville, Kentucky
I'm sort of split on this one. I got into town through a neighborhood on the east side of town. You come in through a lovely park with wide pedestrian and bike paths. This half of town is full of restaurants and bars and galleries and interesting stuff. However, I continued through town to get to Churchill Downs. From the track into downtown was pretty dull. Fourth Street Live is the pedestrian mall part of town, but it felt kind of forced and corporate. But, I was a big enough fan of that east-side neighborhood to put it up here.

St. Louis, Missouri
I had hosts and tour guides here, and that does skew things positively. I did, however, have a good time here. There's a bit of driving to be done to get from neighborhood to neighborhood, but within each area there's a lot you can walk to. I've always loved the Arch, and that view of the Arch, courthouse, and fountain is as postcard-ready a view as you'll find.

Lander, Wyoming
This one needs a little context. I arrived in Lander at 9:30 PM after a 100+ mile day that included murderous winds and a final 39-mile push that began at 6:00. But I found Lander to be very charming (in fact, I met a couple other cyclists who referred to the secret city of Lander). I had dinner and some drinks at a bar downtown that served beer from the Lander Brewing Company (it was next door). Finally, the town park in Lander not only allows camping, but has an actual bike-friendly campground. There's not much in Wyoming, but Lander was a nice find.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Level 5.... clear!

Left camp early yesterday morning to give me enough time for my big day.  And it was barely enough - I ended up being on the bike for over 8 hours and 15 minutes - the most on-bike time if the entire trip.

It took forever to get through Marin county.  The bike paths and roads sort of zig zag all over the place.  I though it was 12 miles to the bridge, and it would take an hour.  It ended up being over 20 and took 3 hours.

As you saw, I put the bike in the Pacific, then headed to Skyline.  I was delayed by a detour but eventually got up to the ridge.  It really is beautiful up there.  Sometimes you're along the west side of the ridge with a view of the mountains and ocean and fog.  Then you go around a turn, and you're looking down at the Bay and the cities along it.  My mistake was to not realize that Skyline is much more difficult heading south.  Steeper climbs, more elevation gain, etc.  Anyway, I eventually got to the intersection with route 9, which was really the goal of the whole Skyline thing. It's a 7 miles long climb out of Saratoga that gains over 2000 feet.  I'd gone up a bunch of times, but never down.  It was fun - I recognized a lot of landmarks and enjoyed zooming through switchbacks at 30 mph for 15 minutes.

From Saratoga it was just a matter of navigating city streets until I reached Amity's house (my sister-in-law).  They had some neighborhood kids over to cheer for me.  They had cow bells and a big map of my route and a finish line stretched across the driveway.  It was really nice.  I put the bike down, found my wife, and I was done.

Stay tuned.  I've got an epilogue to write in the next day or two, and some fun top 10 lists.  Which states did I like the most?  Which animals gave me the most trouble?  The thrilling conclusion!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Alice's restaurant

I can have anything I want!,-122.26507735

Skyline Blvd

It's not the shortest or flatest route to San Jose (possibly the hilliest, actually) but ending my trip here is very significant for me.  If it weren't for Skyline (and Mount Hamilton) I may have never gotten into biking, and there would never have been a bike trip.,-122.36798249

The way to San Jose,-122.41240399

Wheel in the water,-122.51337403

On the Golden Gate Bridge,-122.47905144

First glimpse of bridge

It's as beautiful as it is in my dreams.,-122.47924003

First glimpse

I can see San Francisco from here!,-122.52602569

Today's the day

Ready or not, I'm San Jose bound!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Yay area

That's no typo...

Looking southwest across San Pablo bay at the Richmond-San Rafael bridge.  The lights to the right are probably Berkeley or Oakland!

Cliff diving

I was biking over the bridge here, and heard, then saw, these kids jumping in the water.  I stopped and jumped in twice.  This stuff never gets old.

By the way, it's amazing how much the weather changes once you get a few miles off the shore.  This morning was cold and foggy, here (a bit west of Fairfax) it's sunny and warm and beautiful.,-122.70835358

Cliff diving

I was biking over the bridge here, and heard, then saw, these kids jumping in the water.  I stopped and jumped in twice.  This stuff never gets old.

By the way, it's amazing how much the weather changes once you get a few miles off the shore.  This morning was cold and foggy, here (a bit west of Fairfax) it's sunny and warm and beautiful.,-122.70835358

Cliff diving

I was biking over the bridge here, and heard, then saw, these kids jumping in the water.  I stopped and jumped in twice.  This stuff never gets old.

By the way, it's amazing how much the weather changes once you get a few miles off the shore.  This morning was cold and foggy, here (a bit west of Fairfax) it's sunny and warm and beautiful.,-122.70835358

Beard pics

As you may have noticed, I finally shaved the beard about a week ago in Bandon, Oregon.  Here are some close ups of our short time together.  Cue the Sarah McLachlan...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Man and dog

I passed these two on the road earlier today.  I stopped to talk to the guy:

Me: "where are you heading?"
Guy: "Santa Cruz"
Me: "where did you start?"
Guy: "Santa Cruz"
Me: "Just out for a couple of days?"

Not quite.  Turns out this guy (and his dog) have spent the last 3+ years biking around the perimeter of the country.  The dog trots next to him as he rolls along.  They do about 20 miles a day.  I told him I was honored to meet him so close to his destination.  I feel like this trip has become my life and my job after only 3 months - I wonder what this guy will do after 3 years on the road.

Six thousand miles

Yesterday I passed 6000 miles.  I suppose with a more direct route I'd be arriving back in Boston at this point.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wilderness still

"If the Pilgrims had landed in California, the east coast would be wilderness still."
- Ronald Reagan,-123.73227122