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Jun 24, 2012

Seattle to Missoula

Clicking the week’s summary chart will bring up a detailed route map for the week including elevation gains. After the summary and overview of the week and Sheila’s op-ed piece, you’ll see the posts in order starting with the first post of the week.You can view any week of posts by clicking on the week in the sidebar.

Click to see week-1 overview summary

One week down and 8 to go! The first week was spectacular. This may well be the hardest week as it was 7 days instead of the usual 6 and featured 4 centuries and a few passes, totaling 600 miles and 26,210 feet of elevation gain. Note click images to see them enlarged.

This week’s op-ed from Sheila

Today is our day off. That means 2 nights in a motel with a real bed, and private, nearby bathroom. We’re well situated near a vegan-friendly restaurant. We plan to do laundry, catch up on email and news, and of course clean the bike. Spencer writes the daily posts but today he gets a break and hopefully a nap. My role is usually just editing and adding the photos. Today is my turn at the keyboard.

If you haven’t been reading our daily entries you can easily catch up by going to Week 1 in the top navigation bar. It will start with this post and then work it’s way down the days in reverse. Simply scroll to the bottom to read them sequentially. Or you can start with the first post and click on the link to the next post at the bottom right.

Also, in case you haven’t noticed yet, on the homepage there’s a couple of different maps. The top one displays a point by point tracking of our journey. You can click any of the red pushpin markers to view that day’s post. You can pan within the map and zoom in or out as well. The other map is a graphic image of the trip overview map with each week’s destination point marked. Under it is a link to the full itinerary day by day. The image at the top of this post comes from that document.

daily support

water filtering

water stop

This graphic from Cycle America’s handbook gives you some idea of a typical day. I thought I’d fill in some details of the rhythm and routine. We wake up between 4:30-5:30 and start packing up the gear. Breakfast is at 6:30 and we’re usually riding between 7-7:30. I was impressed to see that they actually filter all the water they provide along the route. And as you can see they provide it at well spaced intervals. The Picnic Stop always includes a wide variety of foods to meet any preference. Depending on the distance and gain for the day we get in around 4-4:30. We assess the weather report and terrain and decide if we’ll set up the tent outside or choose to camp in the school gym. Setting up camp takes an hour or so. Then we shower, find places to charge all our technology and it’s time for the evening dinner and meeting. We’re usually in bed with eye-mask and ear-plugs between 9-10 pm. And as they say “rinse, wash, repeat”…

There are a bunch of folks on the tour doing fundraising. We’ve set up a page listing who they are and what they’re raising funds for in case any of you are inspired to support their efforts. We’re not raising money ourselves.

By the way..we’ve really been enjoying seeing your comments even if we’re not responding directly. Now off to enjoy our rest day together.

Jun 16, 2012

The cyclists gather

Coast to Coast kickoff orientation

Coast to CoastToday is our transition day. Our house sitter has arrived, the bags are packed. We thought you might find it interesting to know more about the folks we’ll be spending the summer with. From the provided material we have gleaned the following information:

Number of Cross-Country Riders: 37
Number of Support Staff:  14
Youngest Rider: 17
Oldest Rider:  75

Age Breakdown

Under 20:        1
20 – 29:          7
30 – 39:          4
40 – 49:          6
50 – 59:          20
60 – 69:          23
70 & over:      4

10 to 40 Additional Riders will join each Cross-State Segment and we will average 60+ riders per tour (Including the support staff).

Eleven Coast-to-Coast riders have ridden a previous Cycle America tour. Two of these riders will complete their series of Coast-to-Coast segments. One rider has ridden Coast-to-Coast before and enjoyed it so much, they decided to ride it again. There are riders from 16 states and 9 other countries including:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • England
  • France
  • Israel
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom

Coast to Coast kickoff orientation

We finally have some faces to put with some of these facts after our first meal and first meeting with this new community. We’ve already met people from South Africa, Vermont, a family from London and a tandem couple from Chicago. That’s the tour director, Greg, picture on the far right. We’re grateful to Linda for coming from Kansas to take care of Morrie while we’re gone. We’re grateful to Bill & Sooz for taking us to the start point in Everett. And we’re grateful to our friends Rick and Carol for hosting us tonight so we don’t have to camp in the rain on the very first night.


Jun 17, 2012

Let the adventure begin


Let the adventure begin

  • Everett to Skykomish
  • June 17
  •  56.3 miles
  • 1565′ climbing
  • everything but snow
  • One 14% grade
  • one flat

Today our group of 50 gathered for a breakfast of oatmeal, muffins, fresh fruit, with eggs and bacon for the carnivores. We didn’t rush to get started because it was going to be a short day, made shorter by our decision to not ride the extra 7 miles to dip our wheel in Puget Sound. After all, that was the point of our trip from Westport two weeks ago.

SnohomishWe set out with our bike bedecked with a Gay Pride flag since it is pride week. Notice the Seattle to Boston emblazoned on the fender! By cutting off the 7 miles for the dip at the start of the day, we launched ourselves into the front of the pack. That’s not a place we’re used to being. We passed our new friend Carole from Salem (the only other vegan) on the way to Snohomish and we were in the lead.

The roads were familiar and pretty flat from Everett to Snohomish to Monroe to Sultan. That road to Sultan had one short hill that topped out at 14%! We continued zipping in to Sultan and the lunch stop. Wouldn’t you know it? One of the strong young bucks from England passed us 50′ from the lunch stop. WShulie’d lost the lead.

Lunch was plentiful, but way too early to actually eat. We packed up some sandwiches and by that time lots of people were catching us. Tim, the guy who caught us at the lunch stop, had actually ridden in the Fremont Solstice Parade with the naked bicyclists. He decided nobody in this country knew him, so why not? That’s Shuli who’s in charge of the daily lunch stop.

WeSkykomish eventually headed out under increasingly cloudy skies. Pretty soon we had rain squalls going by more and more frequently. Raingear on, raingear off. Raingear on, raingear off. During one of those stops we ran over a roofing nail. Needless to say, that flatted our back tire as quick as you can say “bang”. We followed the Skykomish river which was uncharacteristically high for this time of year.

We fixed it and headed the last 8 miles to Skykomish. Along the way we were caught by Alex, one of the UK boys. We kicked it into gear and led him into town at 19-20 mph. It was an exhilarating end to a great ride.

bagsWhen we arrived all the bags were neatly lined up under a canopy. A good thing as the sky opened up shortly thereafter. Notice how these bags look exactly alike? We thought ourselves quite clever to have made ours so easily identifiable with checkerboard tape.  Tonight we’ll sleep safe and warm inside the gym at Skykomish rather than camp outside since it’s now raining pretty hard.

Spencer blogging We’ve plugged everything in to charge, prepped this blog post, and soon will be checking email. We even were early enough for hot showers. Life is good!

Jun 18, 2012

Cold rain to windy sunshine

  • Skykomish to Wenatchee
  • 78.3 miles
  •  14.2 mph
  • ascent 4361
  • starting temp 50, pass temp 40, arrival temp 70
breakfastBefore we get to today’s report, we have to mention the food. It has been terrific. One of our great concerns was whether we’d get enough vegan nutrition. So far that hasn’t been a problem. The rest of the crew had lasagne last night, but we had a delightful quinoa dish with beans and sweet potatoes. Plenty of protein there! And salad bars every night. Breakfasts have always included oatmeal with raisins and soy milk. Today’s picnic lunch even had a hot veggie pasta dish. We hope it continues.

Stevens Pass-ElevationOur ride today was set to take us over Stevens Pass, 4,061′. The rain was relentless. We were soaked through in 5 miles with 11 to go to the summit. We kept a good attitude. This too will change. We stopped at Deception Falls and were awed by the power of water. We have a movie of it (see bottom of page). We helped another tandem recover from a flat tire. We just kept churning until we finally reached the top.

Wenatche River from stoker's seatWe flew down the backside of the pass and were delighted to find the rain stop and the temperature rise steadily. The sun came out. The birds sang. The clouds parted. If only our clothes were dry, it would have been perfect. As it was, our sodden gloves wouldn’t allow our hands to warm. We began stripping off wet stuff and immediately began to warm up.

Alex and William from UKIn no time were we at the lunch stop in Tumwater Canyon for the great food. We ran into our family from England again, gazing peacefully at the serene Wenatchee River. As soon as we left the lunch spot and headed downhill, the river did the same and then it turned wild! There must have been five miles of solid whitewater. It was incredible.

When we got to Leavenworth, we took a detour to visit  my old teaching partner, Ellen Gass and her 3 boys, Vincent, Cole and Shane. We spent a lovely half hour catching up, then returned to the trip at hand.

Ellen and SpencerFor the next 20 miles we played hopscotch with Robin, William and Alex. They’d pass us on a hill, then we’d pass the boys who had stopped and were waiting for dad. Then they’d pass us again. With four miles to go, they were coming up to catch us one more time. I saw a short hill ahead and decided they weren’t going to pass us on that hill. We put maximum effort into the hill and got a gap on them. Sheila was getting faint of heart, but we crested it ahead of them and then, praise the lord, we immediately got a downhill and stayed ahead of them all the way to Wenatchee. What fun!

Ellen's kidsAs soon as we were all settled in our school, I realized I was missing a piece of one of my hearing aids. Sheila lept into action, found a hearing aid dispenser within 10 blocks of our school. I called and they miraculously sold the same aid as I have and would stay open late to let me get there. Horan and Fevold Hearing Clinic saved my life. Thanks a lot guys!

Now we’ve got to get to bed. More than 100 miles tomorrow with the toughest climb in the whole trip, 5 miles with a chunk of 12% grade. Good night!


Jun 19, 2012

Challenging and exhilarating

  • Wenatchee to Grand Coulee Dam
  • 103 miles
  • 4556′ elevation
  •  two flats in first 10 miles

We are beat. It was a hard, hard day in many ways. And it was a great, easy day in many ways. Fortunately or unfortunately, the bad stuff came first.

flatWe knew it was going to be challenging, so we tried to get an early start. But when we dropped the bike from the kickstand, the rear tire was flat again. I did an especially fast change and we were on the road in 17 minutes. We were near the tail end, but moving quickly with the strong tailwinds. Just after we saw a support vehicle go by around mile 18, I realized the bike felt squishy. I stopped and checked and yes, the back was flat again. Oh joy. I’d pinched the tube when I installed the last one and it leaked. Another change. I think we were at the dead last position now and at least an hour behind when we wanted to be there.

The cycling was good, though. We got into a short paceline with Robin and Theo (Theo’s from the Netherlands) and made good time. Before long, we got to “the climb”.

5 miles 14% grade hillThe climb was 5.5 miles long. The sign at the bottom said it was 12%. For those of you who don’t know, that is awfully steep. Not Dravus steep, but maybe Queen Anne Ave steep (for the Seattlites). It was indeed 12 at the start, and at the end, and in many places in between. But it also backed down as low as 4 or 5%. Mostly it was around 10. We stopped 3 times on the way up to steel ourselves for the next bit. There was only one way to take it and that was one pedal stroke at a time. Finally, we crested at the 45 mile mark.

At the top we were on a big flat plateau with a tendency toward downhill. We streaked along, pulling our friend William for a bit. Lunch (a big spread again) was at mile 57. From there we rode on three roads for the last 45 miles. And the first two had zero turns or curves. Dead straight. We still had tailwinds so the first 20 miles flew by.

Grand Coulee DamWe knew the last 7 miles were all downhill, so we only had about 15 miles to get through from the last water stop. They turned out to be “character building”. We were tired. Our butts finally were complaining so much that we stood often just to relieve the pressure. And the end never seemed to get closer. Just when we were ready to give it up, we saw our favorite sign: Truck on Cheese. We had made it to the downhill. We flew down without pedaling and without sitting down. We arrived at the Grand Coulee Dam to see it in full glory, spilling tons of water over the spillway.

Jun 20, 2012

Sailing into Spokane

  • Grand Coulee to Spokane
  • 94 miles
  • 3010′ elevation
  • Sunny with relentless headwinds

After yesterday’s grueling climb, we were hoping for an easier time of it on what is virtually our second century in a row. The trip from Grand Coulee to Spokane was much easier, but I suspect our bodies would appreciate more time to recover than we are giving them. Not surprisingly it’s taking time for us to adjust to this regimen. We go to bed pretty sore and wake up ready to go. But despite our thorough training, our butts still get sore by mid-morning. We’ve being pretty good about stretching and using The Stick at the end of the day on sore leg muscles. But they still hurt, especially when we hit the hills.

We slept well in our tent last night, but the borrowed mattress is losing air every evening. We decided to call our number one outfitter, REI, and order a new one. We’ll gift it to the owners of the failing mattress when we return. The new one will be in Missoula when we arrive at our motel Saturday.

Truck on cheese signWe had to ride 3 miles straight UP to get to breakfast today. Again, it was bountiful and the owners slipped across the street to pick up some soy milk for our oatmeal! Very accommodating. After breakfast our ride turned mostly uphill through Coulee City and Electric City. Then turned wicked with a 3 mile long 6% climb. Not as big a challenge as yesterday’s but still significant, especially at the start of the ride. Which reminds me, some of you didn’t understand the reference to the “Truck on Cheese” sign. They always delight us when we see them. Here is a picture and now you know why they delight us!

long straight roadsJust like yesterday, most of the roads today were straight. The engineers for these highways must have had a motto like: If there’s a hill, cut it out and if there’s a hole, fill it up. We’re not winding anywhere.” We tried to capture the enormity of the roads, but while the road was straight as far as the eye can see, it is actually straight far longer than the camera can see.

Out here on the Palouse we didn’t have major hills, except the horizontal hill: headwinds. It was payback for all the tailwinds yesterday. Tandems actually do quite well in a headwind because we have the same aerodynamic resistance as a single, but two motors. What this means is we were passing lots of single bikes. We spent lots of time giving singles pulls. If they tuck in behind us as we go by, they enter our “slip stream” and can pedal about half as hard and still go faster than they were. We pulled David, Robin, Christiana, and perhaps a few others at different times throughout the day. It doesn’t take any extra energy from us and really helps them get a rest from the brutal winds. Alex said it’s like stepping on the moving sidewalk at the airport.

worn out gloveWe had a blast flying down to the Centennial River Trail where we found Alex and William puzzling over the route. Since the tandem rally had been there just last year we were able to guide them into town. Then we split off to visit REI because Sheila’s gloves had become absolutely useless. She’s thrilled to have the new ones.

Spokane River from the bike trailPeople on the route are starting to ask us where we are going. It is incredibly fun to see their faces when we say “Boston”. I imagine this will continue through the first five weeks. Then the delight will be in answering the question, “Where did you come from?”

Tonight we’re staying at a dorm in Gonzaga University. It is a Ritz Carlton of dorms. Clean towels are provided and sheets and pillows on the beds, free laundry available, cushy chairs for our tushies, and free wifi. Life is good.

Jun 21, 2012

One state down

  • Spokane to Kellogg
  • 96 miles
  • 1592′ elevation gain
  • mid to high 80s

Today was billed as an easier day. And it was, except for the fact that we still rode nearly 100 miles and much of it was into headwinds again. But the scenery and wildlife were gorgeous so you just had to appreciate what you had. And we DID!

While the accommodations at Gonzaga were A-1, the food was really pathetic. We got no protein at all from the central dining hall. They did have peanut butter. But it was not up to the standards we’d come to expect. Lots of carbs, lots of calories, little nutrition. Oh well. Mama said there’d be days like this.

Idaho border crossingOur ride to Kellogg was largely on bike trails. We had a short stretch of city streets getting out of Spokane, then small backroads that surprisingly turned into US 95, a divided 4 lane highway. after 3 miles that dwindled to backroad status, then we took even smaller roads to Lake Coeur d’Alene. Today was the day we crossed from Washington state to Idaho.

We discovered early on that our butts still are complaining by 10 AM. It’s getting harder and harder to stay on the saddle. The only things we can do are take standing breaks, stop and take longer standing breaks, or just try to enjoy the countryside. We got to stop and help Jim and Fran again today. They needed a tandem-specific tool that I happen to carry with me. He was stunned and pleased. I was happy to be of service. We took off quickly because it was time to get to the lake, the most beautiful portion of the ride.

Lake Coeur d'Alene ADA accessible bridgeThe Coeur d’Alene Trail is another Rail-to-Trail creation that was built when mining trains ran up and down this valley. It is absolutely level from the lake to Kellogg. I think we only gained about 50′ in 50 miles. And along the way we saw a great marshy valley. Sheila made the first sighting, a turtle sunning itself on a log.

moose in the waterOn two occasions we watched moose contentedly munching alongside the trail. We saw deer. We saw large heron-like birds. They might even have been herons though Sheila is sure they were egrets. We saw osprey roosting feet from the trail. While taking one of our many butt-breaks, we looked out over the water and saw a skinny critter swimming along. At first we thought: “snake?” but then decided it was a muskrat. It is humbling to be in the presence of so much wildlife.

We were far more tired than the day before. Frequently one of us would stand to take some pressure off our bums while continuing to move forward. I found myself checking the odometer often, a sure sign of suffering. I’ve learned that looking at the odometer doesn’t get you anywhere faster. We had been so proud to have gotten ourselves to an average speed of over 15 mph. But the headwinds and the tail pains made that drop. Oh well. It’s not a race. We took our breaks. We enjoyed our breaks. We stretched a good bit. And tonight at dinner a fellow who rode this 2 years ago assured us that our rears would be toughened and ready to go sometime soon. We can’t wait.

Jun 22, 2012

Lions and moose and bikes in a tree, oh my!

  • Kellogg to Thompson Falls
  • 69.2 miles
  • 3575’ gain
  • 498.5 total miles
  • cloudy and spitting then sunny at the pass and beyond

Today we rode to Montana from Kellogg, Idaho. It was a relatively short ride, only 69 miles. But it included crossing into the Mountain Time Zone at Thompson Pass, 4,852’ high. Since we started around 1900’, we had some work to do!

Bike in tree on trailIt all started simply enough with a return trip down the Coeur d’Alene Trail. As we rode swiftly along, Sheila yelled, “Bike in a tree! Stop!” I did. Sure enough, someone had mounted a bike in a tree. Most of the cyclists missed it, being too focused on riding. This is another great advantage of having a stoker. She can look around and make sure I don’t miss stuff.

Then we turned into the beautiful Coeur d’Alene River Valley. It was gorgeous. High rocky cliffs, swift water, and lots of beautiful trees. Quite idyllic, actually. We tend to ride on our own a lot on this trip, even after the group bunches together at stops. Others just don’t ride the same way we do. Today that worked to our advantage.

Moose up close on the roadWe were cruising along the road, quietly admiring the view and how little our butts hurt. We rolled over a rise and I yelled, “Take a picture! Take a picture!” There was a moose standing in the middle of the road not 100’ away. It stared at us. We stared at it. It must have stood 7’ tall at the shoulder, maybe 9’ tall in all. It was huge! It finally decided we were benign, so it moseyed off to the side of the road. We rode by as he clambered into the forest. Later we learned that Alex and William and their dad Robin actually saw a mountain lion! WOW!

We continued up the valley. After 25 miles, the road kicked up to 1 or 2%. Not bad at all. After 30 miles it went up to 4-5%. At 35 miles it jumped to 7%. At 41 miles, it hit 10% and higher. Through it all we fought wildly varying winds, sometimes really intense headwinds, occasionally shifting to tailwinds. The clouds were dark and threatening in one direction and light and sunny the other. The winds were sometimes freezing, sometimes warm. We couldn’t figure out the right combination of clothes to wear. Eventually we were working so hard we got down to jerseys and shorts for the final climb.

Crossing from Idaho to Montana with time change and 2 other tandemsWhen we crested the pass we were thrilled to see our picnic lunch stop. Our food was wonderful. We were disappointed there was not a “Welcome to Montana” sign. William quickly drew one up on a whiteboard from the lunch stop and we posed for a picture with the two other tandem couples on the trip.

The descent was thrilling as usual. We sailed along sliding past singles all the way, until we caught up with Greg, Robin, and Alex. We swooped past them at 28. I slowed a bit to see if any of them wanted to catch on. When she looked back, Sheila saw Alex with a giant grin on his face. He had turned on the afterburners and caught up. Then the three of us picked it up and continued to fly down the mountain. Alex basically didn’t have to pedal. After about 15 miles he left us as we slowed down.

turtleJust as we were getting ready to turn into where our overnight high school accommodations Sheila spotted a whole row of turtles sunning themselves. This one was all by itself.

After setting up the tent and blogging we were shuttled to the Elks Club for a very elaborate catered dinner. A step up from eating at the Middle Schools.



Jun 23, 2012

Made it to Missoula

  • Thompson Falls to Missoula
  • 102.9 miles
  • 1999’ gain
  • 601.4 total miles
  • Cloudy and warm then sunny and hot with thunderclouds at end

We finished our first full week of riding with our 4th century of the week. We were so worried about the weather last night that we took down our tent and instead slept in a hallway at the high school. The forecast for the day was scattered thundershowers with possible hail. We packed all our storm gear and hoped for the best.

Clark Fork RiverWe got an early start after breakfast at the Elks Club. They brought in a blender so we had soy milk protein drinks with breakfast. Turns out that having that hit of protein in the morning is making me feel stronger during the ride. We’re learning, bit by bit, what makes a body go forever.

Bighorn Sheep signThe first half of the ride was mostly along the Clark Fork. It is the largest river in western Montana and drains into the Columbia Basin. It’s bigger than any river in the Northwest except the Columbia and maybe the Snake. It’s size impressed us greatly. The valley it rolls through is wide with spectacular rocky cliffs. Sheila kept watching for the “advertised” big horn sheep but we never spotted any.

Old Parma StoreAbout 40 miles into the ride we got to the Old Parma Store which was run by an old gentleman living next door. The store doesn’t sell much, but I think he mostly keeps it open so people will stop and talk with him. We chatted for 20 minutes before I could get him to give me a price for the chips I had picked up. He was interesting, though. He’d walked from North Carolina to Seattle as a youth. And he thought WE were crazy for riding to Boston.

The day grew warmer and warmer and we were down to shorts and sleeveless tops by the time we got to lunch. We figured out that the course today was going to go right past the Garden of 1000 Buddhas in Arlee. We told a few other riders about it, then headed out.

Garden of 1000 BuddahsWe were now past 63 miles and experiencing the butt-weariness that has plagued our trip. It is gradually getting better, thankfully. Having the goal of the garden kept us occupied and before you knew it we were there. The garden is looking more and more beautiful. It was more like a construction site when we were here last year. Now all the spokes of the Dharma wheel are done, the perimeter wall is done and almost entirely adorned with stupas (pagoda-like shrines that are 3′ tall), many of the Buddhas are sitting on the spoke walls, and some areas are landscaped. We sat in the shade of the central plaza and meditated. You can read more about the garden plans on their website. When we finished we looked up and there was our friend Alex. We gave him a mini-tour, then the three of us headed out.

We had about 30 miles to go starting with about 5 miles of climbing. It was the hot of the afternoon and our legs were getting very tired. Alex was long gone, but others from our group joined us for the climb while we rested in the only shade along Highway 93. At the top we sucked down a huckleberry lemonade, then started a 7 mile descent.

That was a great ride. We got our speed up to 30 before we saw the truck on cheese indicating a 6% downgrade! There was no traffic at all so we got in the lane and went as fast as we could hitting 52.4. Nothing like a good downhill to send you home!

Friend and weaver Bonnie TarsesAll the while there were ominous clouds behind and in front of us. We heard some rumbles of thunder in the distance. But we were in a pocket of sunshine and light. It stayed that way all the way to our hotel in Missoula. Yes hotel! We get tomorrow off so we’ll be here 2 nights. We showered then walked to have dinner with our good friend Bonnie, a local weaver. On the way back from the restaurant big drops of rain started falling. Within 10 minutes it was hailing like crazy and the sky was completely clouded over. That storm has blown by in the time it took to write this post. The weather is quite changeable here in the Rockies! And now for a good night’s rest followed by a day with no riding. YAY!