13th March 2017

Cycling the Trans America Trail with Martin: Part 3

Martin is a Bicycle Co-op fan and intrepid cyclist who cycled over 3,100 miles from the west coast of America to the east using the Trans America Trail and his trusty bicycle named ‘Lewis & Clark’. He shares the second part of his 70-day journey here. Check out the other parts here.

Day 21

Breakfast in the wilderness

Syringa – Powell

Cycled 72 miles

Syringa Cafe (Forest Holidays) 41

A great meal in the Syrynga cafe finished off with huckleberry pie, an Idaho speciality apparently, they don’t just grow potatoes. I was woken by the sound of birds and a joiner sawing at 5ish in the morning, rebuilding one of the forest lodges next to my campground, I can imagine the complaints Teresa would throw at me if we started work on the cabins at Keldy or Deerpark at that time!

I was on the road at 7ish, stopped for a great breakfast at the Wilderness Inn; there wouldn’t be any services for 66 miles, just the river, the road and dense pine forest on either side. I was trying to keep cool by paddling in the river from time to time but was getting a bit exhausted when another Trans Am racer pulled up beside me and chatted for a bit, Brian McIntyre had tried the race last year but had to pull out, he was giving it another go but complained about problems in his nether region! Hope he makes it, he was a nice guy. It got me pondering the big question ‘why do you do it’. Like Mark the adventurer I met at White Bird, on his trip he had experienced frost bite, was blown off his bike by the wind and for the first time ever had to get off his bike and walk before he had a heart attack climbing in the heat. I should have asked him the question, and Mark Beaumont when I had the chance a few months ago, although they probably don’t have an answer!

I got to Powell eventually, a bit exhausted but was well watered and fed and despite the thunderstorms at night had a good sleep. There were a few other racers who came in including Jenny, one of the women doing the race.

Day 22

Lola LA LA LA LA

Powell – Missoula Cycled 59 Miles Powell Lodge 4

They let us camp for free at the Powell lodge, showers $5 and the food and beer were great. A young couple gave me a ton of spare ribs that they’d just BBQ but I passed them onto one of the Trans Am racers who looked like he needed them more after his 300+ mile cycle. We seen a few racers come through, some sleeping, some just eating and moving on.

The sound of the birds and the thunderstorm woke me at 5ish and after some coffee from Ian I was out by 7ish to climb Lolo pass, 13 miles up to over 5000 feet but quite enjoyable in the cool air and with a breeze helping from behind. Lola, the Kinks song entered my head and stayed with me to Missoula, reminding me of the transvestite who came into the Silver Dollar bar at White Bird and looked even more out of place than 3 smelly cyclists! I also wondered whether $1.25 is the cheapest pint of draft beer in the world, and what their happy hour price is? Most beers have been from $4-$6.

After summiting Lolo Pass it was mainly downhill to the Adventure Cycling office in Missoula to get my pic taken for their wall and a b&w pic taken by one of their founders. My bike and panniers weighed 75lbs, I’d guessed 40! It’s a great place with lots of memorabilia and old bikes on the walls, a fab place to work!

After the tour I met up with a few of the people I’d met along the way and we headed out for a pizza before going our separate ways, me to another Warm Showers with Erica and her boyfriend, nice people with a cool dog and friendly cat.

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 Day 23

A River Runs Through It

Missoula – Missoula
Cycled 10 miles
Warm Shower (Erica Missoula) 4

I woke to the sound of birds singing and Erica’s cat purring in my ear! After thanking Erica and her boyfriend for being such great hosts I popped into the fab Burns Street Bistro for a healthy breakfast of roasted veggies, hash browns, melted cheese and a fried egg on top, with dam fine coffee obviously. I then headed over the Clark Fork river to my next host, Ethel, a living legend to cyclists, runners and a true inspiration to anyone who meets her or hears her stories. As well as marathon running she has cycled round most of Europe (incl the Camino). She’s a real force of nature, helping everyone and organising everything, from new cyclists arriving to peace conferences!

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I went into town later and had a great day going round the galleries, some shopping and popped down to the river to watch the surfers while I had lunch, yes surfers on the river, never seen Brad but he was probably off fishing the Blackfoot! I picked up my bike after a service and met a couple of other Trans Amers. Ian, Mike and I went down to see some square dancing while grabbing some dinner, I then went back to hear some more great stories from Ethel.

Day 24

Mountains to the left mountains to the right!
Missoula – Darby
Cycled 67 miles

Warm Shower Missoula (Ethel) 5+

My kind of town, Missoula, it was smallish had a lot of charm, was chilled and had great art, bars and nice people. Nancy, one of the gallery owners moved there 20 years ago with her family, the kids have moved on but she says she’s staying, it’s now her place, home.

After saying a huge thanks to the legendary Ethel I hit the road, avoiding the sprinklers and the squirrels sitting in the middle of the road. Following the Bitterroot Trail, a paved cycle path from Missoula to Hamilton, flat as a pancake and with a tailwind, perfect apart from being next to the highway.4

My ‘Ban all Cars Campaign’ should see an end to that, funded by my Light Warm Dry (LWD) mat invention, a foil sheet you put under your sleeping mat to prevent damp and cold, it really works, except when it’s hot! Maybe just to be sold in cold countries where the foil sheets aren’t given away free to runners! I’ll get my marketing director, Anna to work on that!

I was surrounded by mountains as I cycled along the flat path, a heron gliding along the river, horses running free and some cyclists whizzing past, one comment of ‘hey big load’ reminded me that I still need to lose more weight, down to 156lbs but I don’t think it’s fair that I’m more than double the weight of my bike, more porridge (oatmeal) and less pancakes possibly.5

Stopped at a small market where Heather MacDonald was selling tasty home made produce including delicious Western Chai shortbread, she did confirm that she had Scottish heritage, not the first but I was expecting more, the guy at the Silver Dollar who said he was a descendant of King James and related to Robert the Bruce is the most impressive, so far.

Met a great group of women cyclists out for a Saturday cycle and had a good laugh about my accent etc.

Made it to Hamilton in good time to catch the farmers market and Bitterroot Day celebrations, their flower that just blooms for a short time. I spoke to Lou’s daughter about the huckleberry business and how people go into the mountains to collect them but have to take guns as it gets rough, they seem as valuable as truffles and can’t be cultivated.

I still had plenty time so popped into the Bitterroot Brewery for a great Ginger Weizen beer and the inevitable Huckleberry Honey, the nicest beers and bar I’ve been to, the Montana law only allows 48oz per person per day up to 8pm!

Stopping at another Warm Shower but know I have some big mountains to climb tomorrow as I head to Yellowstone.

Day 25

They eat bears don’t they?

Darby – Wisdom
Cycled 55 miles
Warm Shower Darby (Patrick) 3

Before I headed to my Warm Shower host last night I popped into the smallest brewery in Montana, Bandit Brewing, I tried L&C outside like a proper cowboy and sampled a few beers before having a coconut flavoured stout, delicious and such a friendly and cool place, my new fav!

I didn’t really want to leave but Patrick and Ashley were expecting me so I dragged myself away. I found the house and was welcomed by their 4 year old daughter who introduced me to everyone including her rabbits. We were having Elk burgers for dinner, killed by Patrick’s bow & arrow. After dinner Patrick was cooking something else in a big pot, what’s that I ask, ‘that’s the bear head I shot the other day, just trying to get the fat off’!

6This was the first bear he’d ever shot or seen and it seemed like a v proud moment. He explained that he was brought up
hunting and killed to feed the family, although Ashley said she wouldn’t be eating bear meat. He was using the skull
as a trophy, the fur as a throw and would share the meat around his friends and family. I understand the living off the land thing and respect it but eating bear? I wouldn’t but then I don’t eat horse in France and wouldn’t eat cat or dog in China! Maybe I’m not in a position to criticise but shooting a bear seems more a trophy killing that I do object to.

We also had a talk about guns generally and Patrick is in the ‘leave us alone’ camp, he thinks the government set laws based on gun crime in the cities which impacts on the rural way of life. Patrick’s family run a Mead making business so he gave me some tasters before I headed to bed early.

I was off sharp in the morning before Patrick thought I was fair game! Had to wrap up in the cold, spotted a couple of small deer and told them to run for their lives.

Stopped for breakfast in Dual before the big climb up to List Trail Pass (7014ft) and then Chief Joseph pass (7242ft), I hope Jimmy and Mark let me count these for our Munro bagging comp! Conveniently forgot the health plan so pancakes bacon and maple syrup it was with some not so fine but hot coffee to warm me up.

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I had a tailwind and it was cool so the 13 mile climb was OK. Met Brian at the top, a proper experienced racer, we compared bike weights; his super cool carbon bike appeared to float when he removed the water bottles. Brian is now added to my list of nice people as he said I was inspirational, thanks Brian I was touched.

It was then pretty much downhill to Wisdom a small town, free camping and 2 bars!

Day 26

I can see for miles and miles

Wisdom – Twin Bridges Cycled 93
Wisdom Volunteer Park 3

We had a good night in the 2 bars in Wisdom; I was joined by Ethan, Mike, John and Don (who I hadn’t met before, a fit triathlete who pulls a mini trailer). We stayed in the bar as long as possible keeping away from the ferocious mosquitos.

I was woken at 3 by John’s alarm, he’s a night photographer and wanted to get up to photograph the stars. The stars were out but John didn’t get up, just woke everyone from 3-4! I was then woken at 5ish by the sunrise and the screeching birds, a small black bird with a yellow head. I’d need eagle eyed Rob to identify it for me! It was a freezing morning and I hit the road while Mike and Don waited for their tents to thaw.8

We’ve normally been cycling into the sunrise (good book title) going east but the last few days we’ve been heading south so it takes a while to warm up. I stopped for coffee in Jackson at the only place open, a bar, free coffee (declined a whisky shot) and mountain dew water bottle refill and met Fink and his partner who offered to put me up if I passed their way, nice people.

I climbed up to Big Hole pass (7360ft) and could see for miles, 400 apparently. This was the spot where Lewis (the botanist and writer of the two) contemplated the meaning of life and concluded ‘in the future I’ll live for mankind as I have heretofore lived for myself’ a lesson for us all methinks! He was being a bit hard on himself, he had explored America, identified many of the native American plants and was the first great travel writer, sadly dying only 5 years later.

I tackled the next climb at Badger Pass (6760ft) and then down into Dillon for lunch. I was going to stay but the wind was with me so I carried onto Twin Bridges and a glorious wee camp for cyclists only by the pretty river, the best shower yet and all free! Met a new Trans Amer called Christian and headed into the small town for a cold beer.

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Day 27

Praying for a tailwind

Twin Bridges – Ennis Cycled 43 Miles
Twin Bridges Camp 5

I liked Twin Bridges, small but perfectly formed, unfortunately the place to go for beer and food, the Shack, was closed on a Monday but I sat on their porch and with the owners inside cleaning they let me use their WIFI, listen to their music and even brought me a beer on the house, nice people.10

Tried not to wake Christian who was sleeping on the couch next to mine in the camp shack, packed up, had coffee out a can, a quick salute to the sun and I was off up the road through Sheridan and into Alder for a great breakfast, not oatmeal obviously.

A much cloudier and darker day and with the wind against me it was a slow pace. A Trans Am racer had bivied in the campground last night and I thought about the great cycle book by Tim Krabbe called the Rider where he describes the pain and misery of being a domestique on the pro circuit, someone called it a meditation on pain!

In comparison my own pain has been small but it has been. The first week or so was just stretching my legs and having
good pain (?) while building muscle and endurance. The next week or so I started getting bad pain, chronic injuries mainly caused by 10 years of running, each side of my back, most of my right side including my calf and not forgetting my sacroiliac joint, which has effectively stopped me running. I tried to manage these as they were happening by rubbing ibuleve on the affected area and to date it seems to be working. Cycling doesn’t cause as many injuries as running but it does attack any weaknesses. And then there’s the cycling specific ‘pain in the nether regions’ as Brian the Trans Am racer called it, inevitable when you’re sitting in a saddle for so long and can become a real pain! Mine has been OK and Ethel the legend advised on some dry skin cream that really works. The fun of cycling!

11After breakfast I took in the touristy towns of Nevada and Virginia and a cool photographer who had just started a new business. Tourism seems to be the only way some of these small towns will survive.

I then headed straight up the pass, the wind had really got up and was gusting all over the place. I had hoped for a
tailwind to take me up but that wasn’t happening. Half way up I met an English guy doing the Trans Am the other way, he said I looked great coming up the pass, ‘like a real young thing’, I must have had a sudden gusty tailwind! From the top of the pass I was literally blown down to Ennis, struggling to keep on my bike with some side winds but the drivers are more considerate in this part, even going to the other side of the road to pass. So I got to Ennis and a free camping spot behind the whisky distillery

Day 28

Thunderbolt & lightning, pretty frightening

Ennis – West Yellowstone Cycled 72 miles
Willies Distillery Ennis 2

Woke up by the sound of rain on the tent at 4ish, managed to stay until 6 but then headed out for a nice breakfast hoping the rain would stop. I don’t normally post pics of food but having porridge was quite momentous especially as eggs and sausages were on offer!

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The rain was due to go off at 10ish so I just hung around the cafe and Mike and Ethan came in. Ethan is a model from NY so I’ve posted a pic for my FB girlfriends. They headed off while I packed and eventually headed out at 1130ish.

The first 30 miles were a bit of a slog against the wind, going nowhere fast. I then bumped into Mike & Ethan again, repairing a puncture. Another pass to climb and the wind was still a problem, it could only be worse if it rained, so it did, it could only be worse with thunder & lightning, so it did. A bit scary, I did a quick risk assessment as the lightning was getting close to L&C’s steel frame! I decided to put the waterproofs on and carry on, there was nowhere else to go and I didn’t want to leave L&C after all we’ve been through, it would be a good way to go as well!

The storm blew over quite quickly and I made my way to West Yellowstone, a very busy and commercial wee town, not my type of place, the hostel I found is nice though and I have a bed and will be dry and warm.

Day 29

The mountains are calling and I must go!

West Yellowstone – Madison Yellowstone Park Cycled 14 Miles
Madison Hostel 5

Wow 4 weeks already, one third in and around 1500 miles cycled. The Madison Hostel was great, timber clad room, only 3 in the room and soft white towels, luxury, I even got the price reduced to $30 when Mike and Ethan arrived and did some tough negotiating. I talked a bit to the owner, Garrett, who bought the place from his grandparents and did some great improvements but still tried to keep the spirit of the place and a warm welcome. It seems rare in West Yellowstone in what’s become an Orlando style theme park town, with prices to match.

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Had a great breakfast in the bakery round the corner with Ohio Mike and said goodbye as I headed into the park. $20 for YP and Grand Teton, I tried to get a discount using my John Muir connections, I’m Scottish, he lived near me, I know a girl (Donna) who went to school in Dunbar with him, but no discount was forthcoming. Apparently John wasn’t really involved in the start up of YP, the first NP, however he went on to encourage and support others.

I wasn’t travelling far today, just to get into the park and enjoy it a bit. I met a cool guy called Bryan (common American name) who looked like a basketball player and was, he also had the longest tent I’ve ever seen. Bryan was doing the route east to west so was two thirds into it, he’s enjoying it but had a bad day climbing the mountain I’m doing soon and we talked about the importance of enjoying the trip and if not just go home, a bit more difficult for me!

I made a fire and a few more cyclists came in and a homeless couple hitching through, I shared my warmth with them on what was a cold night

Day 30

Man those hills are killing me!

Madison YP – Lewis Lake YP Cycled 52 Miles
Madison Campground 3

It was freezing last night, kept on adding layers and adapted my new invention by putting the foil blanket over me! I was woken on numerous occasions by a snoring cyclist about 50m away, he was at it all night, must have kept half the campground awake! At 5ish the sound of the homeless couple coughing woke me up and I was on the road by 7, even then it was starting to get busy with traffic.

I soon realized that YP isn’t cycle friendly, little or no shoulder and the tourists (lots of Chinese) were too busy doing the stop and tick off the sights to bother. Some of the sights are awesome, mainly geyser related, but I concluded that cyclists shouldn’t be allowed in YP, it’s just too dangerous. Even the short cycle only path was closed for the season. Bryan had said last night that cyclists shouldn’t be charged for coming through the park and he only came through because it’s part of the Trans Am. I think Adventure Cycling should give an alternative route and warn people more that cycling in YP isn’t safe. I spoke to a Ranger about it and after I finished talking she asked if I wanted to make a $35 donation!

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Met a nice Dutch couple doing a tour in a rented RV, they suggested I should do the same and I must say it was very tempting!

I also got another wake up call to the dangers of doing this trip and how vulnerable we are. I met Laura Scott (a Londoner with Scottish grandparents), she started the Trans Am race on 4 June but was hit by a car and got stitches to her right arm, as per the race rules she had to go back to where the accident happened and recommence there. She’s done that but is now at least a week behind the others, so she’s now just trying to finish and taking it easier. She also said that one of the other girl racers got her bike stolen and had to pull out! I was inspired by Laura’s determination to continue but also despaired that such things should happen. I’m sure it’s not just America but I can’t see Bradley getting his bike stolen while riding the Tour de France!

I had another few passes to climb (yes Mike) at 8261ft, 8391ft and finally 7988ft before I got to my Lewis Lake campground. These hills are taking it out of me! The brochure had said ‘America is flat, no traffic, manicured campgrounds, cheap food, free beer and friendly people’…well that’s what I signed up for!

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