Eastern Oregon

Entering Oregon was an exciting milestone, the last state between us and the Pacific Ocean. It was also one of the states we spent the longest time in, and the varied terrain we encountered there was incredible.

During the stretch from Hell’s Canyon to Halfway, the desert morphed into pine forests, a welcome break from the dusty heat. After a campground dinner of quesadillas, we once again decided to forego the sleeping pads to help with morning efficiency in packing up. This got easier the more we got used to sleeping on the ground, but definitely led to some repositioning to get away from rocks digging into our ribs at times! We still struggled to get up, leaving mid-morning after stopping at the grocery store for breakfast. We explored a strange metal silo/dome structure on the edge of town, startling about 7 deer who were hanging out inside it. We never did figure out what it was, so if you know, let us know!

View from Halfway, OR
Strange structures call for strange pictures

It was a 6 mile steep climb then a 6 mile fast descent to Richland, where we got an assortment of food from the sparse grocery/liquor store and sat on a bench in the shade for nearly an hour and a half, reluctant to head into the next stretch of 90+ degree temperatures and no services for 42 miles. It was hot and dusty and brown, but thankfully very gradual climbing for most of it. We kept a decent pace, stopping for water every 5 miles, trying to stay hydrated while also making our water last the whole stretch – we managed to make it last until about 4 miles outside of town. Our destination that night was Baker City, where we opted for the cheap hotel room with breakfast at the attached restaurant and walked over to the Main Street/historic downtown for burritos and beer at a recommended brewery. Everything nearby had closed by 8pm, so we trekked to Dairy Queen a mile away for Blizzards before sitting down with the map to plan our final days through Oregon. Anticipation of another hot day with minimal services made us both irritable so we didn’t make much progress.

Long, hot roads
SHADE!
We passed many references to the Oregon trail in these parts.
Sunset in Baker City

The next morning, after eating breakfast at the hotel diner, we tackled the 67-mile stretch of hills and no service that I was sort of dreading. To our happy surprise, though, our surroundings changed to pine forests covering the hills, a stream flowing alongside us, and three not terrible climbs followed by long meandering descents. Atop hill number 2 we stopped at a campground at Bates State Park for water and spent 15 minutes taking the best nap ever on a picnic table in the shade. Around 5pm we made it to Prairie City, stopped at a grocery store for chocolate milk and met three other cyclists heading our same direction, Robert, a teacher from Maryland, and two Canadians, Jamie and Nick, who all also bought chocolate milk. Only on a bike tour would there be a circle of five adults all standing around drinking milk together. In John Day, we set up camp in a field at the town RV park, found the showers, and ate dinner with our new acquaintance Robert at a brewery in town.

So much better than desert!

Cooling off at Bates State Park
So glad we’re not trekking through here on a covered wagon…

We snuck out early the next morning, found some breakfast, and then tackled the long slog through hot desert once again. We had 30 miles of downhill first, a deceiving start to the day, then began a long 24-mile climb, with temps in the 90s and no shade to be found. I was struggling – it’s almost a panicky feeling, when the going is hard but you know that you have to keep going to get anywhere that you can stop! It was a winding road in the hot sun, cars whizzing by not always giving us space, and on one turn I hit gravel and slid, falling over into the road and scraping up my elbow, and sending Robert into the ditch to avoid crashing into me. The fall shook me up a bit, and it was a miserable afternoon, but we finally made it over the pass and sailed down into the tiny town of Mitchell where we stayed at the most wonderful hostel at the local church, run by Pat and Jalet, the pastors of the tiny congregation there. They started Spoke’n Hostel when they realized so many TransAm cyclists were coming through this town that really has no where else for people to stay, and it is an incredible place of hospitality. They’ve transformed the sanctuary into a dorm with lovely bunks all set up with curtains, lights, power strips, cozy chairs everywhere, a full kitchen downstairs with coffee and breakfast, a shower building outside, and everything curated so beautifully and thoughtfully. They were a really nice couple who we so enjoyed chatting with. It was a full house with the 3 guys we’d met in John Day, Miles who we’d met in Wyoming, another couple who are librarians biking across the country visiting local libraries, and 3 archaeologists staying there while working in the nearby Painted Hills. We ate at Mitchell’s brewery/restaurant – even the tiniest of  tiny towns in Oregon have breweries! – before taking Pat up on his offer to drive all of us out to the Painted Hills National Monument in the church’s old school bus, where we watched the sun set over the colorful formations.

Tree full of shoes. Not sure what the story is here…
Winding up the canyons
so. hot.
So happy to finally see this sign!
Somebody must drive a Tesla through Mitchell…
Personalized welcome signs on each bunk at the hostel
Sanctuary-turned-hostel

Painted Hills National Monument

Pat, pastor and manager of the Spoke’n Hostel

We got up earlier to beat the heat the next day, with an 83 mile ride ahead of us, starting with coffee and oatmeal and chatting with Miles over breakfast. It was a cool morning and the big climb was in the first 16 miles – so much better than the day before! We had a long downhill through the forest to Prineville where we stopped for lunch. It got hot for the rest of the day as we detoured from the TransAm route in order to go to Bend for a rest day, and the rolling hills left us very tired by the time we arrived at our Warmshowers host’s place. We stayed with Alex and John, a couple about our age who happened to be from Minnesota. Bend was a great place to take a day off – we ate good food, tried breweries, went tubing down the river through town, went to REI, and enjoyed the nice bike paths. We both decided we could very happily live in Bend – such a beautiful location and everyone we met seemed incredibly happy, relaxed, and friendly. Multiple times throughout the day we were asked how we were and where we were from and had real conversations with genuinely interested strangers!

Big mountains coming into view!
Yay, good food!
Alex and John

We decided to take a shorter day after leaving Bend, first heading 24 miles to the town of Sisters, a gorgeous ride through a wide valley with views of snow-covered peaks. We checked out the farmer’s market, found lunch at the co-op, and sat at the library for a while to catch up on internet things. We finally headed out again around 3:30, and saw the ACA tour group again rolling into town. We weren’t sure how far we’d go, but Alex in Bend had suggested camping in the national forest past Sisters. The climb up to McKenzie Pass was gradual and shaded by pine forest, so we made it to a campground just a mile from the top. Much of the last 5 miles was all burned areas from the previous year’s wildfires, black trunks and dirt amidst mounds of sharp volcanic rock. It was otherworldly. We found a campground around dusk, filled with Pacific Crest Trail hikers, and ate a dinner of pancakes and jerky and went to bed with no rain fly on the tent as it was nice and clear.

The Three Sisters
Burn area from 2017

Our campsite

We woke pretty early as it got light, feeling gross with no shower after the dusty ride the day before – we’d been pretty spoiled by nearly always staying places we could shower on this trip. It was just a mile to the top of the pass, through the incredible landscape of jagged lava rock in piles everywhere, and visible flow patterns around islands of trees, and the peaks of the Three Sisters in the distance.  This was our final mountain pass of the trip, the last set of mountains between us and the coast. We stopped to walk up to the observatory at the top, and Robert flew his drone around for some video of the area. The descent on the other side of the pass was steep switchbacks, with the flora drastically changing to ferns and mossy pines, undergrowth, feeling like the Pacific Northwest all of a sudden with the shady forest of grand trees. It was a cool descent with fun curves to navigate, and we pretty much coasted the 25 miles to McKenzie Bridge, where we were flagged down by some guys on fat tire bikes yelling “we’re bike people too!”, so we stopped for some food and to chat with them. The rest of the ride was beautiful, riding Highway 126 along the river, but with a lot of cars and not much shoulder. We stopped a couple of times to cool off in the delightfully cold river, and there were lots of cabins and resorts all along the way – clearly a popular vacation spot.

Riding alongside walls of lava rock
Another view of the Sisters
Final pass of the trip! It’s basically all downhill to the coast from here…

Just happened to catch a road biker finishing his climb, bottom right corner
Now this is what I think of when I think of Oregon…
Moss!

Our surroundings suddenly changed to suburbs when we reached Springfield, just outside of Eugene, where our Warmshowers host for the night, 72-year-old George, met us on his bike and guided us back along a river bike path to their place in Eugene. This was pretty impressive when we learned he was still recovering from a broken femur from a bike crash in May! He and his wife live in a 1930s house in a historic neighborhood, and we camped in the backyard and enjoyed a BBQ dinner with them, listening to stories about George’s experience riding the TransAm in 1976, the first year of the route’s existence.  Without knowing it, we had actually seen his picture from that ride at the Adventure Cycling headquarters in Missoula. One thing we were interested in doing on our day off in Eugene was white-water rafting – and lo and behold, George was a retired river guide and when he heard of our interest, he called up a friend and got us two spots on a raft trip the next morning. We rafted down the same McKenzie River we’d biked along the day before, and it was a blast. Our day off ended with trips to the Co-Motion Cycles factory, a brewery, and dinner with George and his similarly-aged neighbor – who knew this trip would include hanging out with a couple of septuagenarian friends! The small world of bike touring presented itself again when we recognized Kyle, the cyclist from South Africa, having dinner with his Warmshowers host at the same pizza restaurant. We’ve never run into more people we knew than by criss-crossing paths with others on this trip!

Post-rafting
George and Alice in Eugene

Crossing Idaho

Our few days spent crossing Idaho, one of the states we were not at all familiar with, ended up being an unexpected favorite for both of us. Leaving Missoula, we had to backtrack about 14 miles to turn west and resume our route. We quickly entered the Lolo National Forest and started up Highway 12 to Lolo Pass, our final crossing of the continental divide.  It was a long 30 miles of gradual uphill surrounded by dense pine forests. We stopped at a gas station for ice cream around 15 miles in, then for an overpriced lunch at the Lolo Hot Springs grill – mostly because it was hot and we really wanted to sit inside for a bit! We crossed into Idaho and a new time zone at the top of the pass. For some reason, this climb was not nearly as fatiguing as some of our Wyoming and Montana descents – at Big Hole Pass the week before, I was really struggling so Robert ended up putting my front panniers on his bike to hopefully help me go a little faster – he often ends up having to wait for me when we’re going uphill. Lolo, however, was better, and at the top of the pass we found a nice visitor center with friendly rangers, wifi, water and tea and hot chocolate, and exhibits about the Lewis & Clark and Nez Perce trails which passed nearby. I thought they did a fairly good job of honoring the native stories and acknowledging the injustice perpetrated by the explorers.

Lolo National Forest
Lochsa River

It was an absolutely gorgeous 12 miles downhill along the river to that evening’s stop at Lochsa Lodge – truly wilderness feeling, and one of the prettiest places we’ve seen, with new steep walls of pine woods revealed around every curve of the river, and the water sparkling in the late afternoon sun. Lochsa Lodge, a campground and restaurant, lets cyclists camp for free on their lawn, so we set up camp and met our neighbors Houston and Heather, another cycling couple in the first weeks of their trip heading eastbound. We enjoyed a beer in the lodge restaurant and investigated the showers, but when we found that they cost $5/person we decided that wasn’t worth it and walked down to explore the river bank instead, where I ended up dunking my head in for a refreshing shower substitute! The evening light was breathtaking as the day cooled.  We cooked a dinner of quinoa, peas, and sardines, then attempted to work on planning our last few weeks’ route, but with the lack of working wifi or cell phone reception had to abandon that for the time being.

River near the lodge


We had a slow start the next day, as Robert had come down with an upset stomach and hadn’t felt well all night. We let the dew-covered tent dry in the sun, chatted more with Houston and Heather, and finally got going. This was one of the most remote stretches we’d had so far, 65 miles with no services other than a few forest service campgrounds, and  88 miles to the first real town. The entire day, though, was downhill along Highway 12 along the Lochsa River. It was a hot day, and we made frequent stops for snacks and water and a dunk in the river to cool down. We’d been warned about a 5 mile stretch where they were re-paving half the road and shuttling bikers through the narrow area, but when we met the flagger she motioned us to go down the road a bit further for the shuttle pickup but we never saw anyone so just kept going, and soon made it all the way through the construction zone. We heard about some other TransAm-ers a day ahead of us who, determined not to skip riding any miles of the route, had to either make a dash for it ignoring the construction crew’s instructions, or wait  until the end of the workday, so we felt rather fortunate to have somehow snuck through!

65 miles of this!


65 miles in we hit the town of Lowell, a tiny diner surrounded by a few scattered houses, and gratefully stopped for burgers and huckleberry shakes. Never have I had so many huckleberry flavored things as in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, and I’m a fan. Why don’t they sell huckleberries other places? Along the river here, there were many houses on the far bank with gondolas on wires suspended across the river as their only access, something we’d never seen before for access to a private house. We pushed through the final 23 miles to the town of Kooskia, where we camped under the picnic pavilion in the city park along the river. Both very tired, and with Robert still not feeling great, our dinner grocery outing ended up with us getting to the register and realizing we’d grabbed juice, chocolate milk, kefir, and electrolyte drinks and no solid food! The kiddie fountain worked for a quick rinse and we collapsed into the tent, only to be startled into alertness around 11pm when the sprinkler system roared into activity in the grass all around us, but thankfully missing us in the pavilion.

Who needs real showers when you have splash pads?
Our refuge from the sprinklers

During our routine donut stop at the grocery store the next morning, we saw Megan, one of the leaders of the ACA group, and learned they had stayed in the last town and quickly caught up to us due to their much earlier start. We ended up riding with several of them, including meeting the executive director of Adventure Cycling, Jim Sayer. We enjoyed chatting with him about bike touring experiences and how the organization is promoting younger people getting involved. We hardly even noticed the climb up Lamb’s Grade, a switchbacking road with our steepest climb since the Appalachians! (Just kidding. I definitely noticed.) After cresting the hill, our view changed drastically as we meandered through rolling farm fields for a while, hit the town of Grangeville for lunch, and then descended a crazy highway perched on the side of the hill, with a 7% downhill grade and a strong crosswind, into the Salmon River valley. Partway down Robert’s chain also came off, necessitating a stop on the shoulder to get it back in place. We’d opted for the more direct new highway 95 rather than the switchbacking older 95 that the route advised, and after that white-knuckle descent could see why the other road may have been a better choice! We started seeing blackberries and crab apples along the road, and also encountered a few snakes. The rest of the day followed the river as the canyon grew narrower and narrower. We’d been ambitious with our mileage, aiming for the town of Riggins, and due to forgetting about the time change back to mountain time we got there not long before dark. It took some searching and phone calls to track down the RV park owner to figure out where we could set up a tent, but she finally showed up. Her husband asked about our trip and kept telling us “that’s so badass, you guys are badass!” Our campsite at the RV park sat on the bluff looking right down at the roaring Salmon River, so we did some exploring before walking into town for dinner at a local brewpub, one of the only places still open, where we chatted with the friendly bartender and tried to figure out the next day’s ride.

Up Lamb’s Grade chatting with Jim Sayer from Adventure Cycling
Did we go back to Kansas?

Giant downhill near White Bird
Starting to see blackberries!
Giant cherries? Small plums? We’re not sure
Salmon River Valley
Campsite view in Riggins was pretty perfect

It was another 80 mile day to our Warmshower host’s home for our final night in Idaho, so we tried to start early. After so many hot days, the shady canyon was surprisingly cool for the first few hours! The variety of terrain we passed through in one day again surprised me – the narrow canyon, a stretch of gorgeous mountain meadows surrounded by national forest, then finally open high desert with rolling hills for the last 20 miles. We met another eastbound cyclist, neither of us can remember his name but we definitely remember him, as he was riding in only a speedo bathing suit and unbuttoned dress shirt – not the typical bike tourist attire! Our hosts that night, Bob and Leslie, lived outside the tiny town of Cambridge. A high school teacher and retired professional cyclist, they welcomed us to their pleasant home and offered us some of Bob’s home-brewed beer, and we spent a delightful evening chatting with them about travel, politics, and life in Idaho. I feel so fortunate to have had so many encounters on this trip with such interesting people in random places who we otherwise never would have run into – this is definitely one of my favorite parts of traveling this way.

Typical breakfast
Gotta stop to admire the geological features
45th parallel – we’re even with Minneapolis now!
In ranching country now
Bob and Leslie
We also had an impromptu photo shoot with their friendly dogs

Leslie made us eggs, bacon, toast and coffee in the morning before we headed out. We stocked up on Gatorade at the gas station in town (and were chased by the first dog since Kentucky) before beginning a very slow slog up the winding road towards Hell’s Canyon against a strong headwind. The hills there were so brown, all brown grass and scrub grass, and for a while the road was covered with giant black crickets, many dead and others that would frantically scatter with inefficient hops as we passed, often running into our bikes or our shins. We met an eastbound cyclist named Bob from Alabama – our encounters are more rare now as the summer progresses and the majority of eastbounders would have already crossed our path at this point. The road in Hell’s Canyon winds up and over a ridge and down into the canyon along the reservoir, and the dusty hills rising steeply from the reservoir, crisscrossed with dirk trails, were stark and desolate, but beautiful in a way, with the contrast against the vivid blue sky. It was very hot. We stopped for shakes and an extended rest in the AC at the lone cafe at the bottom of the initial descent into the canyon, then meandered along the reservoir, taking frequent picture stops to record the unique landscape. To our surprise, we found plentiful cherries and blackberries growing along the road. At the end of the reservoir we crossed the state line into Oregon – the last state between us and the coast! The last 15 miles was a long, hot climb out of the canyon, with a stop at the one other store along the way where the friendly cashier filled our water bottles. We ended the day in Halfway, OR, where we camped at the RV park, thankful for showers and food. On to the second-to-last state!

WiFi in the wilderness, thanks to Idaho Power
Entering Hell’s Canyon

So many beautiful stretches of road in this part of the country
Another gourmet campground dinner where we bought way too much food

Big Sky Country

We apologize for taking over two months to get this next post up – it’s been a little crazy figuring our life post-bike tour!

Our time off in Yellowstone came to an end on July 11th and it was time to get back on the road. We made a quick stop by the Welcome to Montana sign, which we completely missed the first time we pulled into town, then headed north out of town. A sign warned motorists that 12 bison had already been hit by a vehicle this year along this stretch of road. I scanned the forests to either side of us moving my head like an oscillating fan, but no wildlife was seen. Our progress was slow as Nicole was not feeling well and needed frequent stops to recoup from her nausea. One of our stops was at the Earthquake Lake visitor center, where we watched a short documentary in the style of what you might see on the History Channel about the lake created by a landslide that occurred during an earthquake in the 1950s. They were very repetitive about the number of people that died (a campground was in the path of the slide) and barely gave any details about the geology at play so my interest was never piqued and Nicole wasn’t feeling any better. We decided to cut the day short and stop at one of the next two RV Parks. The first was staffed by a teenager at the front desk and when Nicole asked how much it would cost for us to pitch a tent, she was quoted $50, so we pushed another 5 miles to the next where we were charged closer to $10. Nicole took a much needed nap on the couch in the rec room until people showed up who had reserved the room. Two guys were chatting about going to grab dinner 20 miles back from where we came and invited us along. The first guy, Brand, was biking the TransAm eastbound for the second time, first completed in 1976. He was a private investigator for Nike back in the day and now owns a hot air balloon company in Chico, California. The second guy introduced himself promptly followed by, “don’t Google me.” He ran a shuttle company servicing the many flyfishers who travel to the area and camping at the RV park while renting out his cabin nearby. We were surprised at the restaurant when we were joined by one of the ladies from the Adventure Cycling Association tour group we met on day 1 of our tour and one of her old college roommates that now lives in Montana. As it turns out, they had used the shuttle service earlier that day and must not have been scared off by the driver that they were willing to join him for dinner. We were about 30 years younger than everyone and they were one of the most lively and hilarious combination of personalities to witness.

Hebgen Lake
Recuperating

We decided to make the next day short as well, ending in our original destination for the prior day. This gave Nicole a chance to sleep in and me time to work on my last blog post. Honestly, after reaching the mountains, finding time to blog has become much more difficult as we have little-to-no down time. Much of the day we continued to follow the river – according to our very talkative acquaintance from the day before, this area has some of the best fly fishing in the world. During the ride, the ACA tour group caught up with us. One of them bought us lunch at a restaurant in Cameron which turned out to have amazing food. We arrived in Ennis where a distillery lets cyclists camp in back for free, but we decided to join the ACA group at the RV park so we could catch up with all of them. Our schedule was closely synced with theirs for the next week so we got to hang out with them often in the evenings. I enjoyed talking with the tour leaders about bike advocacy and opportunities for the ACA to pull in more young folks.

Sitting in on the ACA group’s route review meeting

We started the next day with a large climb, followed by a fun descent. Halfway down we passed through Virginia City, an old gold mining town which had a posted speed limit less than what we were going. We stopped at a cafe for second breakfast where all the others in the tour group were just finishing up, then caught a tailwind to Twin Bridges. Our route then turned 270 degrees and we fought a headwind over rolling hills as we progressively slowed through the afternoon to Dillon. We passed a geologic point of interest and stopped to learn about our surroundings. The plaque stated that one of the rock masses was named Beaverhead Rock, because some settler thought it looked like a beaver. I imagine the settler spent a considerable amount of time staring at the rock, as an insomniac might stare at the popcorn ceiling texture above his or her bed because it was not obvious. If you really wanted to see the beaver, you would have to squint your eyes while cocking your head at a slight angle and hyperventilate while someone next to you puffed weed. No one was around so I was missing a critical component to allow me to see the beaver. However, Nicole said that she could see it and apparently other people who were in charge of naming things could see it too, because EVERYTHING was named after it including Beaverhead County, Beaverhead River, the Beaverhead Mountains, and Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest… the list goes on. Unfortunately we forgot to take a picture of it. Montana has surprised us in many places by the high speed limits on narrow roads – often 70mph on two-lane highways with little or no shoulder (or with a rumble strip placed right in the middle of the otherwise adequate shoulder), and this was one of the days where we experienced this. Definitely improvements that could be made for biking infrastructure! Dillon was on the larger end of small towns, with 2 full-sized grocery stores, a Patagonia Apparel Outlet, a brewery, and a memorial to a circus elephant that was killed by lightning. We camped at the KOA which is particularly friendly to bike tourists and were charged only $3.50 per person. A few other TransAm cyclists were staying the night including Kyle Hughes from South Africa, and Sam and Steph from England.

One example of Montana’s ridiculous speed limits

The following day we started with a quick breakfast of donuts from the grocery store (this has quickly become our staple breakfast for this trip), then moved towards the next series of mountains and valleys. The mountain ranges in this part of Montana are long ridges requiring going up over a pass to get to the next valley, and this day we had several of those before descending into a broad valley with incredible views of the Bitterroot mountains. We passed through our only town along the route today, the tiny, western-feeling town of Jackson, before ending in just-as-small Wisdom, MT, where the RV park campground bordered a mosquito-filled drainage pond covered in sludge. There were showers and WiFi, however, and we opted for pizza at one of the 2 restaurants in town instead of eating dinner outside with the mosquitos. It was a Saturday and the only “grocery” store, a small convenience store, had already closed, so our options were limited unless we wanted to keep eating PB&J tortillas! We were once again at the same campground as the ACA group, and saw Kyle, Sam, and Steph when we ate dinner in town, so there seemed to be nearly as many TransAm cyclists in town as there were locals! When we returned to the campground everyone was hiding from the mosquitos in their tents, we did the same despite the heat (high 80s), lying as still as possible waiting for things to cool down. In the morning we faced the same food dilemma when we realized the store didn’t open until 10am on Sundays, so we went to the one open restaurant for a surprisingly good breakfast of pancakes and eggs. As we were leaving, a motorcyclist in his 50s came up and asked us a bunch of questions about bike touring and wanting to do his own trip – encounters like that where we can encourage others to try it are always highlights!

Bitterroot Mountains

Camping next to the mosquito bog

The next day we climbed Chief Joseph Pass, just reaching the Continental Divide again and briefly dipping into Idaho at the top before turning north back into Montana. The descent was miles of steep curving roads overlooking unending pine-covered ridges, which was beautiful and exhilarating trying to stay focused on the switchbacks and cars while admiring the views! Once we descended to the valley again, the curves became slightly more treacherous as they were surrounded by narrow canyon walls and blind curves. With 17 miles to go for the day, Nicole got a punctured tire from rolling over a large nail lying on the shoulder which ended up meaning an hour of an unsuccessful patch job and then replacing a tube. That night we stayed in Darby, where we visited Bandit Brewing Company, the 2nd smallest brewery in Montana and what turned out to be a hidden gem tucked away in a neighborhood. It ended up being one of our favorite breweries of the trip, with a wonderful local feel – the bartender knew nearly everyone who walked in and would grab them their personalized mug off a rack as people gathered in the tiny space to hear a local 2-man band. We’ve been really impressed with small-town Montana, where compared to some other states we’ve gone through, these tiny towns feel alive and have so much personality and interesting things going on. Back at the RV park, we chatted for quite a while with Ryan, a photographer and bikepacker who was completing an incredible trip from Arizona up to Montana, including having hiked the Grand Canyon with his bike and gear strapped to his back, and repairing his tires by sewing them back up. (You can check out his incredible photos and stories at @ryankodakbrown on Instagram.) Hearing stories like his makes us realize how really unremarkable our trip is compared to the crazy accomplishments of so many people we’ve met along the way.

Slowly getting better at this
Ryan’s setup – a very different way to bike tour!

We had a late start leaving Darby as Nicole had a Skype job interview scheduled so did that sitting at a picnic table in the RV park, then we headed to Missoula. The last 40 miles or so had a bike path along the highway, which was great except that the path kept moving from one side of the road to the other without warning which meant for some annoying delays crossing the highway! Missoula was one of the destinations we were looking forward to a lot on this trip. It’s the headquarters of the Adventure Cycling Association, the source of our maps for the TransAm, and in the middle of a pretty conservative mostly rural state is full of bikes, hipsters, outdoorsy millennials and a large university. We’d tried to find a Warmshowers host, but despite the many hosts listed, everyone we contacted was busy/out of town/not able to host for various reasons. Our backup, then, was the Bike House, a huge old house near the university owned by Bruce Anderson, a local who has opened up this house for years as a hostel/free place to camp out for cyclists and others coming through town. He wasn’t even home when we messaged him, but wrote back saying “come on over, it’s unlocked and instructions are on the door”! We had to wonder what the neighbors in this very nice neighborhood of historic old homes think about all the bikers and hikers coming and going from their neighbor’s house! There were several other cyclists there when we arrived, including Claude, a Swiss guy cycling the continental divide route, and Kyle from South Africa and Sam and Steph from England showed up later that night. As usual we spent our day off on laundry, finding good food, saw a movie, and spent quite a bit of time at Adventure Cycling’s headquarters chatting with people since we unknowingly showed up as they were having a BBQ for the ACA tour group. We took the traditional picture for their wall and weighed our fully loaded bikes, which came in at 75 (Robert’s) and 74 (Nicole’s) pounds each! This is not light, but at least we weren’t quite as bad as some of the others who weighed after us at over 100lbs. For sure one of our biggest takeaways of this trip, though, is how much less stuff we would bring if we did it again! For our second night, we took advantage of Nicole’s mom generously gifting us a hotel room over staying in the non-air-conditioned Bike House for another night.

More donuts! Don’t worry, we shared a few of these with our neighbors.

Bike paths!
The Bike House in Missoula

Weighing bikes

 

We’re on the wall!
So much appreciation for a real bed

Western Wyoming!

Leaving Jeffrey City, we stopped at the cafe again as we were leaving to try the fabled giant pancakes we’d read about on other cyclists’ blogs. Although the place opened at 7am, I’m not sure how it was worth it for business as we were the only ones there and had to wait for a few minutes until a man wandered out of the kitchen area to take our orders. We recognised him as one of the guys at the bar when we’d stopped in the afternoon before, and I’m pretty sure he was either hungover or still drunk! Anyway, we finally received our not-quite-as-epic-as-hoped-for pancakes and headed on our way.

Apparently it was a day for misadventures, because a few miles into the 59-mile stretch of empty Wyoming desert that stood between us and Lander, I suddenly heard a snap and realized that my rear shifter lever was no longer doing anything when I moved it. We stopped to investigate and found the cable had snapped. There’s not much you can do to repair that without more tools and parts than we had, so we had no choice but to push on, making do with 3 gears instead of 27! With the bike stuck in a higher gear I had to stand up to pedal up the bigger hills, which was exhausting, but in general I think it made us go faster than we otherwise would have! The terrain changed drastically as we left the high desert plateau and descended into the valley to Lander – from dry and brown to rolling foothills with bigger mountains in the distance.

Descending into Lander

Of all days to have this happen, though, the timing couldn’t have been better – we’ve had so many stretches of this trip with no bike shops for weeks, and we were headed into a town with several. In Lander we headed straight to Gannett Peak Sports, which caters specifically to TransAm cyclists with on-the-spot service, comfortable couches, WiFi, and free ice cream bars and beer on tap. Both our bikes needed new chains and cassettes (the rear gears) so we got that taken care of while we waited. While small, Lander’s Main Street has a quite an outdoorsy hipster feel, and we spent the rest of the afternoon at a coffee shop and an outdoor store until it was time to head to our Warmshowers host’s house. Our hosts in Lander were Aven and Josh, a couple about our age who moved to Lander from South Carolina so she could take a nurse practitioner job on the nearby reservation. They had just recently moved into a beautiful 100-year-old home a few blocks off Lander’s Main Street, and despite already having friends staying with them for the 4th of July (we’d just missed Lander’s big celebration), they graciously invited us to join them for dinner.

Gannett Peak Sports

Catching up on journaling in the Lander Bake Shop

I think every person we have stayed with on this trip has had a dog.

Our hosts in Lander

We left early the next day for a long trek to Dubois riding through the Wind River Reservation, home to members of the Shoshone and Arapahoe tribes, following a beautiful valley of lush ranch land and then climbing to some high plateaus. The river grew bigger and more tumbling as we followed it upstream, and closer to Dubois we entered a canyon with striking red rock cliff faces, where we saw a bighorn sheep grazing by the river.

Encountering some eastbounders on the road!

In Dubois – a small and very western-looking town full of log buildings, a giant skull framing the entrance to the laundromat, a bighorn sheep museum, and the “world’s largest jackalope” – we were welcomed by the Episcopal church, which hosts cyclists in their community room. We were joined by Miles, who we already knew, and Randy, another cyclist who was moving by bike from Denver to Bend, OR. We were able to shower at the laundromat’s coin-operated showers, which is a genius idea that I think more towns should adopt! We’d noticed posters earlier in the day advertising the Dubois Rodeo happening that night and couldn’t pass up the chance to attend a small town Wyoming rodeo, so we spent our evening at the rodeo grounds set against the canyon wall as the sun set. By the time we went to bed another 5 guys had arrived at the church, three eastbound TransAm-ers and two brothers following a different route around the US, so it was a crowded little room with everyone camped out on the floor! Thankfully there was only one snorer.

They let us secure our bikes in the old town jail – now known as the bike jail!

Entrance to the laundromat in Dubois!

The next day did not start out great. We knew we had to spend the first 30 miles climbing Togwotee Pass, the 2nd highest pass of our trip, and go through a long stretch with no services, and I awoke dreading the climb. Then we tried to pump up our tires with the pump installed in the church parking lot, which wasn’t working and ended up deflating my front tire completely and put us both in a bad mood. Some days, I feel excited about exploring the next stretch, but there are moments where I just don’t feel like gettin back on the bike and feel a strong longing to be settled again somewhere and back to normal life, and this was one of those days – I felt on the verge of tears for the first few miles. As we started up the gradually climbing road through the foothills, the sky ahead was filled with a row of foreboding dark grey storm clouds, and a few raindrops fell. We were lucky, though, that the storm was heading a different direction and we soon were back to sun and hot weather. When we reached the top of the pass, looking forward to the long descent, we were met by a strong headwind that slowed us down so much that we had to pedal hard even going downhill – one more frustration on a difficult day. As we came around a curve, though, all of a sudden we could see the jagged peaks of the Tetons come into sight across the valley, giving us extra motivation for the last windy miles across the valley to Grand Teton National Park.

Storm clouds before Togwotee Pass

Finally over the pass!

We planned to camp at Jenny Lake, and were a little worried when signs at the park entrance said all the campgrounds were full. The benefit of traveling by bike though – when we arrived, we found the hiker-biker campsites nearly empty, tucked back in the woods close to the lake! Jenny Lake was beyond beautiful – set right up against the face of giant mountains, surrounded by pine trees and meadows full of wildflowers. As we were setting up our tent I heard a rustling in the trees about 100 feet away, and a black bear came walking down a log and ambled away. We were reluctant to leave the next morning, and took a long walk on the trail along the lake to take about a million more pictures of the mountains in the morning light. This place definitely made our list of spots to come back and explore in the future.

The next day’s biking, after a late start due to a flat tire, was entirely in national parks – from Grand Teton NP, then entering Yellowstone in the afternoon. Yellowstone is notorious among cycle tourists for its crowded, narrow roads with no shoulder, filled with distracted RV-driving tourists, so we were a little apprehensive. Thankfully, though, we entered in the afternoon on a Sunday, so most of the traffic was headed the other direction out of the park. Once again we found easy hiker-biker camping at Grant Village, one of the main park centers. This is definitely the way to see crowded national parks without having to make a reservation a year out!

We tried to get an early start the next day to beat some of the traffic, following the road from Grant Village to Madison, making stops at sights along the way and crossing the continental divide for the 7th and 8th times of the trip! We dutifully made a stop at Old Faithful, where we watched the eruption from the lodge balcony while eating a disappointingly small overpriced lunch. We went to the visitor center store in search of more food and were totally overwhelmed by the crowds and the prices, which felt a bit like Disneyland, but ended up sharing a quart of ice cream which was the best deal in the place! For the rest of the day we stopped at the multiple geysers and hot springs located along the route, happily zipping in and out of the parking lots on our bikes bypassing the cars waiting in line for parking – we kept seeing the same people over and over again so I think we were progressing just as fast as the cars! This was my first time in Yellowstone and the uniqueness of the geologic features of the park was pretty incredible.

Old Faithful

Steaming hot springs water flowing into the Firehole River

Best parking spot in the place!

We ended in West Yellowstone, the town just outside the west entrance of the park, where we met longtime local residents Carol and Drew – Carol is the sister of one of Robert’s former coworkers, and they were amazing hosts, welcoming us with food and beer and a comfortable bed. Carol was going to take us hiking the next day in the park, but unfortunately they both were not feeling well the next morning but she insisted we take her car to go explore on our own! It was amazing how fast we could retrace what we’d biked the day before, and driving allowed us to see much more of the park than we could have otherwise. We stopped at more geysers and hot springs, saw some bison, and took a hike along the south rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (realizing how tired we were when our 2 mile hike completely wore us out!). We finished out the afternoon with trips to the bike shop, the grocery store, and a coffee shop, having made the most of our day off the bikes before setting off the next day into Montana.

Carol and Drew

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

We saw a bison! Thankfully from the car, not on bikes.

Steamboat Geyser, the largest in the world when it goes off (which has been happening more recently)

Carol and Drew’s friendly lab Dillon, who was reluctant to give up his bed for us!

High Desert

We took 2 and a half days of rest in Estes Park and it was marvelous. Aside from an increased amount of down time, we were treated to 2-hour massages (Thanks, David and Alix!), and we went on a multi-hour hike. It was so nice to be able to cook in a real kitchen, drink good coffee, spend an evening watching Netflix, sleep in, and not have to worry about if it was going to rain. But as all things good, you can’t rest forever, as fun as that would be (?), although Estes will be less than a 2 hour drive for us come this fall!

Estes Sunset

Big dogs need big walking sticks
Us with Alix and David
At the top of Trail Ridge Road

David drove us back over Trail Ridge Road to Granby on July 1st, where we rejoined our route. It was a cold morning and we were conflicted about what we wanted to wear because we knew we would be starting a long climb to Willow Creek Pass shortly after leaving town. We went for windbreakers and bike gloves, even though we were still freezing, and sure enough 3 miles out of town we had to lose the jackets. We stopped on the two lane road, with no shoulders, where cars had good visibility, to pack up our jackets and put on the cold, thick sunscreen. In the middle of this process, Nicole heard a rustling in the trees on the hillside across the road. A moment later a moose and her calf came walking out of the trees, approximately 200 yards away from us, then re-entered at another point to exit again near the top of the hill, and finally disappear over to the other side. Neither of us got a picture of it though, so kids these days would say it never happened.

As we climbed to the pass we encountered some interesting geologic features that resembled straight-line walls cutting through hills across the landscape. Geologists call them dikes; I likened them to a mohawk hairstyle. From the top of the pass, the terrain looked to be downhill for the remainder of the day, however, the scale on the graph did a good job at hiding all the climbing we would encounter, nor did it forewarn us about the wind on the other side. Several times I was thrown across the lane by a gust, but the traffic was light so we took the amount of space we needed. As we ventured further north from the pass, the landscape dried out and flattened out rather quickly as we entered a large plain. Snow-capped mountains lined the horizon on 3 sides of us, all except where we were headed.

Dikes, or Mohawks
Top of CD pass #2

That wind…

We arrived in Walden, the self-proclaimed “Moose Viewing Capital of Colorado,” however, we only saw seagulls – lots and lots of seagulls. We checked in with the sheriff through a basement window of the large and elegant courthouse then went to the park to set up camp. The city pool, where we planned to take a shower, was closed for the weekend. We then walked down the main strip looking for dinner only to find restaurant after restaurant closed an hour to two before their posted closing time. We settled for the dollar store and made dinner back in the park. As we crawled into our tent, a lady came up to inform us that 65 firefighters would also be camping in the park that night and that they would arrive in an hour or two. It was hard to believe, but shortly after dusk group after group of firefighters came marching across the grass, opened their pop-up tents and went to bed. By the time we woke up the next morning they had already packed up and left for their shift of managing a wildfire.

The wind was at our backs that morning swiftly carrying us away from the mountains and further into the arid high desert. As we crossed into Wyoming, we stopped to take a picture with the sign and noticed in the distance a road zigzag over a large hill. We learned that road was our road, and it was 12 miles away. For the next 12 miles the hill was the only thing to look at. It never appeared to get closer and the cars driving up never appeared to get bigger, even as we came to the base of the climb. The wind was no longer at our backs and by the time we crossed over the top it was in full gale at our sides. This combined with the heat may have put me in a rotten mood and you would have found me yelling profanities at the wind. I was briefly distracted by gunshots coming from an SUV parked in the middle of a field, with a rifle sticking out of the window towards an antelope and its fawn across the field. I assume they were just trying to scare them away, and when it didn’t work, they drove closer and shot again, and again, until the antelope calmly bounced away and looking back as if to say, “what’s his deal?” It wasn’t until we arrived in Riverside where I ate a pint of ice cream and drank a 20 oz fountain drink scrunched in the 14-inch band of shade that wrapped the south side of the store that I started to feel back at ease. Nicole got a cup of yogurt and a small milk.

This is the Welcome to Wyoming sign

The rest of the day was calm which allowed us to look around a little more and realize there were more sun-bleached skeletons on the shoulder than roadkill. I was ready to hang a skull and antlers on the front of my bike, but I was only able to find one antler. Eventually we made it to Saratoga and went straight to the grocery store. We bought a half gallon of orange juice for immediate consumption, a half gallon of pineapple-mango juice to have with dinner, a Gatorade for the next day, and a few other items not juice related. We then found the city pool, behind which was a hot sulfur spring free to the public. It smelled, the stairs were slimy, it was crazy hot, and it was great. We showered, made dinner in the park, bought a pint of ice cream to share, then went to the city campground, which turned out to be swarming with mosquitos. But we had a lovely view from inside our tent of the bright red sunset over the calm adjacent lake.

Pretty nice hot spring for free!
Wildfire haze made the sun bright red
Pretty sunset, safe from mosquitos

In an effort to minimize mosquito contact the next morning we packed up like a NASCAR pit crew and cruised north 20 miles before taking a rest to eat breakfast. This brought us to Walcott, also known as the Shell gas station at exit 235 on I-80. During our breakfast break we met several other cycle tourists, including Stuart, who is biking the continental divide one to two weeks at a time each year, as work allows, and Miles, a recent graduate of vet school also westbound on the TransAm. From “Walcott” our route put us on the shoulder of I-80 for 13 miles. While many people were nervous about this, we were actually rather glad because this meant we would actually have a wide shoulder for cars and trucks driving equally as fast as on smaller roads. With half the highway closed for construction, everyone was squeezed onto one side for 7 miles thus slowing the traffic a little more for us. We exited at Sinclair and followed frontage roads to Rawlins, where we found a Subway and split a $5 footlong for lunch. We assessed our options for the rest of the day: the next place to stay was in 70 miles (we had already gone 40 miles), and there were 20 mph westerly winds throughout the afternoon, with gusts of 50 – 55 mph. We decided to call it a day and stay in Rawlins. We found the public library, air-conditioned, furnished with comfy armchairs, had ample free WiFi, bathrooms, water, outlets, and books to browse. It was pretty great. For dinner, we ate baked chicken on the demo patio furniture in front of the grocery store. The chairs were chained to the center post of the small table so we really had to squeeze in – we are getting oddly comfortable eating in places most convenient to us with little regard to its social acceptability. That night, the free camping option was the lawn on the side of Wal-Mart, and while it was not pretty great, it wasn’t horrible either. Actually now that I think about it, it was bad. On the west side of us was Wal-Mart with a parking lot full of RVs and flood lights, on the south side of us was a train yard that was active through the night, and on the east side of us was I-80. The only thing giving us privacy was a dozen pallets of fertilizer.

I-80 has the best shoulders!
Not a bad way to spend an afternoon
Eating by the front door of the grocery store
Wal-Mart camping

We started July 4th, biking north from the dusty cowboy town of Rawlins into the wide open scrub land. We crossed the continental divide twice each after a long steady climb, followed by a dramatic drop. Lots of antelope could be seen in the fields and ditches. We came across Split Rock, a natural landmark for the Oregon Trail and a Pony Express station turned US Post Office, which remained in operation until the 1940s. The mountains looked so bare and isolated across the landscape, like drops of biscuit dough on a cookie sheet.

Continental Divide crossing #3
Downhill to the next valley
Continental Divide crossing #4
Starting to see tourists headed to Yellowstone

We made it to Jeffrey City, a uranium mining town that collapsed in the 1980s when the mine shut down. The town had a church open for cyclists to stay, and by the looks of the walls, nearly every passing cyclist has stayed there. There were showers, which were much needed and appreciated, a full kitchen, and private rooms with mattresses. We were lucky to have the company of 5 other cyclists that night, and have a viewing of another gorgeous sunset.

Locals at the Split Rock Cafe in Jeffrey City – 5 dogs and 2 people in a fourwheeler!
Jeffrey City
Jeffrey City Community Church/Cyclist Hostel
Postcards from previous cycle tourists
Kitchen wall in the cyclist hostel
The group at the hostel – Bob and Donna from South Carolina, Jay and Stan from London, and Miles from Georgia