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Jul 1, 2012

Montana to Wyoming

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-2 overview summaryWe’ve now completed 2 weeks of our 9 week journey, covering more than 1,000 miles and more than 33,000 feet of climbing. This week we battled 3 days of headwinds, one bad enough to force us to sag at 55 miles, crossed the Continental Divide and climbed Teton Pass with 10-14% grades in searing heat. Today is our rest day. While Spencer does our laundry I get to share some thoughts with you.

This week’s op-ed from Sheila

no kvetching

Dear Morning you come with so many angels of mercy, so wondrously disguised in feathers, in leaves, in the tongues of stones, in the restless waters, in the creep and the click and the rustle that greet me wherever I go with their joyful cry: I’m still here, alive! (excerpt from “Then Bluebird Sang” by Mary Oliver)

Our dear friends Bill & Sooz gave us a sweet and thoughtful departing gift…a small package of homemade messages with tiny reminders and inspirations for each week. The first one was “Let the adventure begin” and week 2’s was “No Kvetching” and included this lovely excerpt from Mary Oliver.

We feel really good about keeping to our intentions to be present, not wishing things to be other than they are and not complaining (ie: kvetching). When I shared this goal with another rider he pointed out that sometimes kvetching helps you find a solution to an issue. That’s different because it’s problem solving not complaining about the same thing over and over in a whining voice. It’s one thing to “note” what you’re experiencing in the moment and another to dwell on it and wish it to be different. Spencer and I have helped each other with this rolling practice. I might say my butt hurts and he’ll say time to stand. We might say all the food tonight held such promise but it was all undercooked then remember they’re the yearbook kids and not the kitchen staff. It is what it is and dwelling on the unpleasant doesn’t change it or help at all.

unusual cowboy roadsignWe’ve been inspired by several of our fellow tour members. Denny from Mukilteo, WA is a 5 year lung cancer survivor riding cross country missing half of one lung. Every day is hard for him but he persists.  Ric from Monroe, WA has kept a smile on his face and a great attitude despite being one of the last in every day. All the saddle time finally caught up with him and he ended up in writhing pain, doubled over and nearly in tears. But he sought treatment, missed a few days of riding and is back in the saddle with some bike adjustments. Another rider arrived for only this one week. The mechanics found her carbon-fiber bike had a hairline crack in it and it would be dangerous to ride. She could’ve just gone home but instead she used a loner bike, heavy and ill-fitting, and successfully completed the week with a smile on her face. Go Dorothy! It seems attitude IS everything.

Thanks to all the other riders for inspiring and motivating us. And thanks to all our readers for letting us know you’re there with your encouraging and thoughtful comments. They mean a lot to us.

Jun 25, 2012

Week 2 begins

  • Missoula to Lincoln, MT
  • 79.4 miles
  • 39.2 top speed
  • Headwinds and HOT – 89 degrees

early morning along riverToday we started our journey anew. About 17 new riders have joined us and a half dozen have left. We number about 80 this week.  Our first stage of week two takes us further east in Montana. We got a leisurely start because the course went right by our motel. The early morning was lovely with great scenery and gentle roads. Greg from the UK tagged onto our tail and followed us for almost 10 miles. That was fun.

Alex & WilliamSpencer & Sheila in the river

We were rolling along the Blackfoot River most of the morning. Small scrub forests traded places with tall stands of pines. The river meandered alongside whispering its stories of exploration. When we got to our lunch stop, we were able to walk down and wade in a ways. Alex and William actually brought their swim suits and floated along in the current. Lots of rafts were putting in for the fisherfolk to do their thing. It was quite idyllic.

After we left lunch (about 11 AM) the day turned more challenging. The landscape opened up which meant the winds had more room to blow. And they blew right in our faces most of the time. So even when we were on the flat, we were no longer speeding along.

panoramaTo make matters more difficult, the sun was beating on us. We stopped twice to reapply sunscreen. Even though we were in our sandals and sleeveless tops, we were roasting. At one point Sheila tried to be nice and spray water on my feet. Unfortunately, she didn’t warn me and I was scared to death. After that, she always asked first before applying water.

Spencer putting up the tentWe still had to take regular breaks for taking in and getting rid of water. That allowed us to rest our weary butt muscles. They are doing better, though. And my quads, at least, are also much less sore. Maybe it’s our careful eating, but I think we are probably adjusting to the routines of breaking camp, riding, eating, riding, drinking, riding, setting up camp, sleep, repeat. It sounds boring that way, but we’re enjoying it tremendously. People we talk to are universally thrilled and excited for us. And the support we feel from all of you helps a lot too. See you tomorrow in Townsend, Montana.

Jun 26, 2012

Wind wins

  • Lincoln to Townsend
  • Sagged at 55 miles
  • Crossed Continental Divide
  • Max speed 42.9
  • Elevation gain 2443
  • 738 total miles

What a day! The big news is that for only the third time in our cycling career, we took the sag wagon. (That would be the truck that picks up riders who can’t finish for one reason or the other.) The good news is that we are both well, there were no injuries involved, and the bike is fine. But let’s start the story at the beginning, last night in Lincoln.

We were well-fed by the Lincoln High staff and retired to our tent, knowing that thunderstorms loomed as a possibility. And at 1 AM we were awakened by a tremendous BOOM! And another! And another! It seemed to be the loudest thunder we’d ever heard. It was strange that there was no rain to speak of. The thunder continued on and off most of the night. At breakfast this morning, we learned it wasn’t thunder, but explosive charges set off to scare the grizzly bears away from nearby campgrounds. The scare part worked very well.

Continental DivideAfter breakfast we started our 90 mile journey to Townsend. The headwinds were fierce. On the flat we could only manage 12 mph, about 5 mph slower than our usual pace. We turned toward Flesher Pass and could pedal easily again. The grade increased gently, but steadily, but was never so much we couldn’t keep pedaling. The road had lovely switchbacks to ease the climb. in seemingly no time we were at the top. This was finally the Continental Divide, 6,150′ up.

After the requisite pictures, we began our descent. It was great. We were able to get up to 42 mph even though we had to slow way down for a couple hairpin turns. It was a twisty, technical descent which kept me on my toes to keep us safe. We flew past everyone in front of us on the 12 mile drop. After that it continued to be mostly downhill to Helena. Even with a bit of wind, it was wonderful.

We rolled into the picnic about 11:30. While we were eating, the wind came back up. Bikes were being blown over from the bike rack. It was seeming kind of dicey. A radio report said that the winds were quite bad at the end of the course. We opted to start out to see if we could negotiate the conditions.

windWe rolled the quarter mile to the park entrance without pedaling, with the tailwind. Then we turned and it became more of a quartering wind which was challenging. We turned again and it was a straight cross wind which almost blew us over. It knocked us off the shoulder into the traffic lane before I could regain control. We stopped the bike and opted to return to the picnic spot to wait it out. The return was even worse. Now sand and grit was being driven into our skin at high velocity. Clouds of dust obscured my vision and we could barely manage 6 mph. It was brutal. Click on the photo to the right to open a video showing you how strongly it was blowing or view the same view embedded below.

smoke from fireOther riders on singles were venturing out, but we decided the only safe thing for us was to take the sag if the wind didn’t die down. And it didn’t die down. According to a local meteorologist winds have been gusting at more than 50 miles per hour. It took quite some time before those of us who were sagging got off the course. Our friend Ric from Monroe had to walk 5 miles to the lunch stop because he couldn’t stay on his bike. It was miserable. While we waited we learned that there was a major fire nearby which was being blown into a sub-division of Helena. People were being evacuated. We could see the fire from the picnic lunch spot on the lake while we awaited our sag ride.

Of course, when we got our lift in, we discovered the winds had shifted and all the riders were reporting super strong tailwinds all the way from Helena to Lincoln, about 30 miles. People were going miles with virtually no pedaling. But one tandem got knocked down an embankment by shifting winds, so we don’t feel bad about having made our decision. We missed a great ride, but we stayed safe. Not a bad swap.

They say the winds are going to be high again tomorrow. We’ll just have to see what happens.

Jun 27, 2012

Earth, wind and fire

  • Townsend to Ennis
  • 77 miles
  • Strong head and side winds all day
  • Another flat!
  • 812.2 total miles

In Townsend we were fed at the Wood Family Grill. The folks there did a bang up job. But they underestimated how much a pack of hungry cyclists can eat. The owner came out to apologize and a said, “We’ve served a group of 55 Army Rangers, and we thought those guys could really eat. But you ate much more!” Well fed, we pushed off toward Ennis. We would be on Montana Hwy 278 all day.

The headwinds were so strong we could only manage 11-12 mph on the flats. Everyone was struggling with it. The group was getting payback for those 25 miles of super strong tailwinds the day before. The wind was to be our constant companion today, so we did our best to make peace with its presence. Just as you can’t push the river, you definitely can’t push the wind. We enjoyed the rippling of the grasses along the road. But not being pushed toward traffic so much. Fortunately we knew the wind was not all powerful because off to right we could see the Tobacco Root Mountains standing steadfastly.
bakerySpencer & Sheila enjoy a cinnamon roll

One great break came at mile 30 when we arrived at the Montana Wheat Bakery. They had fabulous cinnamon rolls. Giant and well-risen, not slathered in sugary frosting, we split one and could only eat half. We saved the rest for later. Leaving that stop (which attracted just about every cyclist in the group)we picked up Denny from Mukilteo WA. He trailed us for 12 miles until we started up a 4 mile climb. We were half way up when our rear tire flatted again. The replacement wasn’t quick, but it got us up the hill and to the was lunch stop.

Lunch was wonderful, but just delayed our return to the battle with the winds. The problem with the winds from the side is that they require lots of concentration to keep the bike moving in a straight line. With car and truck traffic moving by at 70 mph, you don’t want to be suddenly veering into the traffic lane! When the winds are in your face, you just go slowly.

river view while pulling Denny

long winding road

Off to the east all day we could see smoke from raging fires in the distance. The winds are not helping the fire fighters either. We rolled past a huge encampment that we first took for a rodeo or a circus. It turned out to be support vehicles and tents for the fire fighters.

The toughest part of the ride came at mile 60 when we started a 5 mile climb with bits at 7%. It seemed to go on and on. And on. One of those curvy climbs that teases you with the idea you might be getting to the top, just to trash your dreams as you go around a corner and see miles more of up coming.

A small group of us (6) made it to the top around the same time then flew down 3 miles to Madison Valley. Just 7 more miles straight into the wind got us here to Ennis. In case you didn’t figure it out, the Earth from the title was the big piles of it which we had to climb today.

Jun 28, 2012

Headwinds again!

  • Ennis to West Yellowstone
  • 73.8 miles
  • 886 total miles
  • 29,000′ total elevation gain

After writing last night’s blog, we went to dinner at the Ennis High School. It was pasta and veggies, but no protein. As I sat at the table, all the energy in my body drained away. I realized that the fight against the wind all day had taken a huge toll. We were in bed by 9:15.

Madison RiverWe were up and ready to go by 7 the next morning, fed, packed and dressed for the cold temperatures. It was around 40 degrees when we started. It warmed quickly and by 10 miles we were stripping off layers. What wasn’t going our way was the wind. Instead of the side winds that plagued us yesterday, we had full-on headwinds all morning. They were so strong that we could only manage 9 mph on the flats. Contrast that with our normal 15-17 mph and you have an idea of what we were up against. We pedaled as hard as we could down a 2% grade and still only got up to 14. It was discouraging.

climbing by Madison RiverBut the scenery remained beautiful. We were traveling up the Madison River valley. It was less open than the previous scenery. Rocky crags rose up on either side of the delicate valley. But we basically had to stop every 10 miles to give ourselves a break, both for our bodies and for our brains. It really is just a matter of putting behind us what we expected to be able to do and just doing what we can in this moment. Every pedal stroke brought us closer to lunch.

Picnic at topOf course lunch was at the top of a 0.7 mile climb. Not a big climb and it let us off at the information center at Earthquake Lake. But the actual lunch site was UP the big hill behind the center all the way up to the scenic overview. It was a gorgeous viewpoint, but it seemed a little perverse to make us all climb the extra half mile to the top.

Earthquake Lake was formed in 1959 when a magnitude 7.3 earthquake caused a landslide which choked the Madison River and formed the lake. After lunch the winds seemed easier, but the climb remained steady. Did I mention that there were precious few flat sections today and even fewer downhills? We skirted Lake Hebgen for what seemed like 15 miles. It was beautiful.

Spencer helping Christian with a flatAbout 12 miles from  today’s destination, we came upon fellow cross-country rider, Christian. He’s a high school teacher from NYC and is raising money for an anti bullying program. He had a flat and was struggling to get his bike back together. We helped him figure it out, then flagged down a passing sag wagon to use their floor pump to finish off his tires. It all worked out well because the winds were manageable for the last 10 miles. HOORAY!

Dinner tonight was at a “wild West” style place that had nothing to offer us, so we dined at a burrito bus just down the street. We even scored some soy ice cream for dessert. Boo-yah!

Jun 29, 2012


  • West Yellowstone, MT to Ashton, ID
  • 63.7 miles
  • 16.8 average speed (fastest this YEAR)
  • Crossed Continental Divide
  • 950 miles to date

What a difference a day makes. Today Mariah was working in our favor all day. (They call the wind Mariah) It makes riding a bike long distances so much easier to take. We are ever so grateful for days like today. And to top it off, it was a short, mostly downhill ride. A perfect combination.


Click tophoto to enlarge  you may be able to see our first glimpse of the Tetons. We’ll cross Tetons Pass tomorrow.

The day started out particularly auspiciously when pancakes were being served for breakfast. I’ve been hankering for pancakes since this show started. That plus our protein drink and some oatmeal set us up well for the day. (Can you believe we regularly eat that large a breakfast? Calories count on the bike.) We knew the day would be short so we didn’t rush right out. That and we also knew the day was starting cold – 40 degrees. Why rush out into that?

At 8 miles we started the short 1.5 mile climb to the Continental Divide at 7,072′ elevation. It wasn’t too bad a climb and we had pretty well stripped off all our long tights, etc, by the time we summited. Then we enjoyed a ride down at breakneck speeds. Well, they’d be breakneck if I crashed the bike, but I didn’t. We only hit 42.8. In no time at all we were down and onto a long, long, long, slight downhill run.

pacelining with another tandemComing out of a water stop we chased down one of the other tandem teams, Dave and Michelle from Tucson. They were cruising at 22 and we took advantage of a short climb to catch them. Then the four of us took turns pulling from the front. We cruised up and down hills and along the flats blowing past all the singles we could find. After 9 miles of running with them we stopped for a pee break and said goodbye. It was splendid to team up with another tandem.

Today was a day for games. the route was easy. The winds were light or following winds. There was nothing to stop us from playing. We left the second water stop just ahead of some high performance types. We told them we’d be their rabbits if they gave us a 30 second head start. They came out quickly after us. We pushed to crest a small hill and burned all but one of them off. Then we all took a side road to Mesa Falls.

Erin at AshtonAs we cruised up that road, we saw Erin pushing hard to catch us. We waited until he was almost to us, then hit the jets. Sheila stood up and we both applied maximum effort for about 90 seconds. We could hear him exclaim, “Awww, come on!” as we dropped him in the dust. But we were exhausted by the effort of jumping from 16 to 21 and he soon caught us and went by.

Lower Mesa FallsWe dropped down to the lunch stop at Mesa Falls by 11 AM. We were 50 miles into a 64 mile day and it was still morning. We took a long break. We meditated in the woods. We visited. We swapped stories. We ate. We only had 13 miles to ride. and quite a bit of that was downhill.We’d been here in 2008 on Ride Idaho.

We got in earlier than ever. It was the shortest ride of the tour in terms of time in saddle. We’ve had showers and probably will have this blog posted by 3:30. It’s amazing what a difference the wind makes.

Jun 30, 2012

1000 miles down, 3200 to go

hot air balloon
  • Ashton ID to Jackson WY
  • 72 miles/1022 total
  • 3340′ gain
  • 56.1 top speed
  • 2.5 bottom speed
  • 48 degrees at start, 91 degrees at finish

Our training continues to pay off. Not only are our bodies in shape for this epic journey, but our attitudes and capabilities are up to snuff as well. We rode very hard today and still came in with smiles on our faces.

Our trip today was divided into thirds. The first third was rolling farmland. The second third was straight, flat and mostly on newly oiled roads. The last third was the climb over Teton Pass, 8,456′ tall. We knew it was going to be a hot day by the end so we tried to get out on an early start.

Changing Ric Hart's flat tireIt didn’t work out that way. Our friend Ric from Monroe had sagged the last couple of days with severe neck pains, but he was ready to try again today. You should have seen the disgust on his face when he discovered his rear tire wasn’t holding air. Then he deflated, too. So I helped him swap out his tube and get going. Then we took off, one of the last to leave the campground.

Tetons in the distanceIt’s kind of fun being at the very back of the pack because we got to pass a lot of people and see how they were doing. Then we’d stop to pee and they’d pass us and it started again. There’s quite the camaraderie among the riders. When we congregate at the water stops it is a joy to share our road stories and encourage each other. Particularly today when we all knew that giant mountain pass was coming. Most of the day we could see the three big peaks, Grand Teton, Middle Teton and South Teton looming over us. Getting up and around them was going to be a challenge.

hot air balloonOn the middle third of the day we rolled into Driggs, ID to discover they were having an Independence Celebration which included hot air balloon rides and an air show. Three Korean War-era jets, 2 Sabres and one MIG, were practicing over the valley. Loop-de-loops, screaming descents to within 30′ off the ground, etc. One time a jet seemed to disappear behind a row of houses. It was crazy. We had a nice picnic lunch there. Shuli had made a black bean, rice, and fried banana dish which was wonderful. Before long, we trundled out to head for the pass.

corssing into WyomingIt was about 8 miles of climbing to get over the pass which began at the Wyoming border. If you look at this image enlarged you may see the yellow warning sign in the distance that says “Steep Mountain Pass Ahead, 10% Grades”.  The first couple miles were relatively easy. Then it kicked up to 4% for a couple more miles. Then it went up again and again and again. We stopped a couple of times to cool off and catch our breath. Kathy and Christian were also climbing close enough that we kept in touch. The sun beat down on us and we had to reapply sunscreen because we both felt like we were being broiled.

climbing Teton pass and looking back to see other riders way belowThe last sections of the road were around 14%. That’s where we set our slow speed record. It’s amazing how slow you can go and still keep moving. We would have to work to get up to 4 mph so I could take a drink of water. Slower than that and I lose control of the bike if I take one hand off to drink. Finally we rounded the last corner and could see our fellow riders waiting to cheer us in at the top.

Teton PassWe cheered in some more riders and marveled at the 4 guys who had already ridden down the pass, then decided to go up and do it again! We snapped a shot of the valley below and started our descent. It was 10% much of the way, but with curves and switchbacks which made it impossible to completely let the tandem go. Better to be safe than sorry, we didn’t break our 59 mph record. But we did spend a considerable time going higher than 50. Needless to say, we were down in no time at all.

Jackson Hole (the valley here) was blisteringly hot, 91 by one measure, 102 by another. it was virtually all downhill to our hotel. We got in, cleaned up, blogged out, then ate at the natural foods store a couple blocks away. When the Coconut Bliss warms enough,we’ll have dessert! Then we’ll sleep like babies.