Friday, August 2, 2013

Where's the Sun?

We left Wyoming through their state zoo, Yellowstone National Park.  It is quite the park with half the earth’s geothermal features.  As I have alluded to before I like volcanic activity provided it doesn’t have a super eruption when I am there.  Although if it were to, it probably would reach Vancouver as the amount of thermal activity going on around Yellowstone is crazy.  If it ever does, or I should say, when it does have another cataclysmic eruption, a lot of North America would be toast.  And from what I understand, it is due for another.

The sun, oh glorious sun, makes a huge difference in moods and overall happiness when cycling.  When it is out and we can see blue sky, there are smiles on our faces and our spirits are up.  When it is not, and we see above us grey clouds, we are sad and miserable.  And if it starts to rain that just adds insult to injury.  I can see why people in places that don’t get much sun are depressed; the sun really does make a difference.  Cycling through Montana we usually had a good day with sun, then a bad day with gloomy overcast, and so on.  Unfortunately the last bit of Montana, where I really wanted the sun to come out and say hello, did not.  As such, we gave Glacier National Park a miss and cycled around it.  It was the right thing to do but I was disappointed.  That said, I always look at the positives and never the negatives.  As should you.  Positives are it saved us money as we would have had to pay the $12 entrance fee and $5 for camping.  It also saved us time, because there are restrictions as to when cyclists can cycle certain parts of the road.  From 11am to 4pm cyclists cannot cycle two sections of the road so we would have been waiting around quite some time.  Finally, if we did go, I would have had to put up with Trevor bickering about the cold and wetness and what a stupid idea it was to cycle the road when it is packed with vehicles.  Not going also gives me reason to return to the area since it isn’t actually that far away from Vancouver.  And I could also check out Waterton Lakes Park in Canada.  So there are many positives to be had here.     

Now that we are about done the United States of America, here is a list of my top 5 states:

1. Colorado – Surrounded by the Rockies provided great scenery every day.  Plus it is a very bike friendly state with many bicycle paths.  A statement we got a lot en route was that we must be super fit to be cycling all this way and I have always said not quite since I did fatten up a lot in places like Asia with all the food I ate.  That said, I noticed a huge change when cycling through Colorado with all the mountains and passes we had to climb.  I strongly believe if you are looking to whip yourself into shape, to ride through the Colorado Rockies for a week.  You’ll be thin as a whistle after it.  But remember, exercise is only half the battle if not less.  What you eat I think is most important to combat weight and become healthier.    

2. Arizona - Lots of cool scenery with the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley.  I also enjoyed cycling through Flagstaff as it had a lot of forest and mountains around it. 

3. Utah – Even though it was scorching hot, it was a continuation of the Wild West and Monument Valley.  All the interesting rock formations were pretty neat to see.

4. New Mexico – It was the start of the Rockies for us and a pleasant terrain change.  It was also warm like the South but nowhere as humid. 

5. Florida – Didn’t enjoy the daily storms but they had smooth, wide shoulders.  Also, this state had the most interesting characters we met in all of the United States.  There never was a dull day because of that.  And they had Aldi.    

As for my last place state, I will have to say Louisiana.  New Orleans was fine but outside the city the roads weren’t all that smooth for the most part.  Plus I was way too hot with temperatures approaching 50°C and the humidity was just unbearable.  Every morning I hesitated putting on my shirt because it was just so uncomfortable.  And all the mosquitoes and other insects about trying to eat us didn’t help matters.  

Trevor’s top 5 go as follows:

1. Colorado – He really liked that it is a bicycle friendly state with many bike paths around.  It certainly has a really solid infrastructure for cycling with towns that are connected by bike paths for many miles.

2. Arizona – It was warm and he enjoyed the Grand Canyon.  Definitely his favourite National Park.

3. New Mexico – It was warm and there was a noticeable terrain change.

4. Alabama – He really enjoyed our stop at the McDonalds in Mobile where we chatted with the staff and patrons who kept thinking we cycled from Mexico.  Just because of this McDonalds hit, he really liked Alabama. 

5. Florida – It was very warm and there were plenty of characters to speak with to keep us entertained.

As for his last place state, the honour goes to Montana.  One of his main factors is warmth and he was cold a lot of the time.  The infrastructure wasn’t great with little to no hard shoulders.  With a population of just under 1 million, there was a lot of traffic on the road.  We would constantly get passed by vehicles.  It seemed like the whole state was driving on the road we were cycling on.  Finally, he didn’t like the many large, loud diesel trucks that were on the road.  But even more so when people would stop and get out of their diesel trucks to run an errand but continue to let their truck idle.  That was really annoying.   

We are currently camped out around many cows freely roaming around taking dumps wherever they please just before the town of St. Mary and will return to our homeland tomorrow morning.  The U.S. was an exciting country to cycle through and I recommend it if you can tolerate freak weather.  But hey, that freak weather adds to the adventure provided you make it out alive.  As you can probably infer, my favourite section was cycling through the Rockies and I would even say this stretch has had some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen on this whole trip.  If you are strapped for vacation ideas, let me give you one (preferably on a bicycle, but if you must, a vehicle will do): start at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, then hit up Monument Valley, then cruise on into Colorado and go up and down the mountains, then keep heading north to the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and then Glacier.  But don’t stop there, cross the border into Canada and check out the Canadian Rockies!  We have some sweet scenery as well.  Can you guess where we are headed next? 


The Grand Teton range, a spot I’d like to return to and do some trekking around.


Yellowstone is packed with tourists as evidenced here at Old Faithful.  And yes, it went off as predicted every 90 minutes or so.  Vehicle after vehicle kept passing us along the narrow roads.  With all the revenue they get couldn’t they spend a bit to widen the roads and ensure there is a hard shoulder all throughout the park? 


Look at all the pretty colours!  The Grand Prismatic Spring was a must see for me.  Probably would have been cooler to see it from an aerial view though.


It has been a long time since we have had to pay for a campsite given we do the stealth camping thing.  But in Yellowstone one cannot officially stealth camp.  Plus there are many bears about so we forked over the $6.80 and camped in the park.  It had to be done.  It was a nice campground and I could sleep in peace knowing that I wouldn’t likely be disturbed by a bear since my food was stored away in the bear lockers.  It also allowed Trevor to get in touch with his feminine side and continue reading Summer Sisters by Judy Blume.  He found this book in Wyoming somewhere on the roadside and cannot put it down. 

Our second day in Yellowstone Trevor and I had a fight going up a steep hill early in the morning.  I wasn’t aware there would be one and I needed to rant and rave about it as it helps me.  This annoyed Trevor so much he booked it after a couple of warnings and said he has had enough of me and Yellowstone and he’ll meet me in Gardiner, Montana, just outside the park.  I said fine, piss off, cursed his name a couple of times and we parted ways.  He bee-lined it out of the park and I went to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  Again, I say he missed out, quite the view in my opinion.  He did see a bear on his way out so that is pretty cool.  Though it was in the distance but managed to cause a bear jam as everyone passing by would stop and obstruct traffic.  This happens a lot in Yellowstone.

I also went to Hayden Valley and watched bison roam around.  Pretty neat but you definitely have to watch you don’t get too close because they can do some serious damage if they wanted at over 2,000lbs and being able to run up to 35mph. 

I met this disgruntled bison all by his lonesome self on the opposite side of the road.  He looked like he needed some cheering up so I had a chat.  He was bored with life and needed a change.  He said to me: “Every day is same old same old; people drive up and take photos of me and my fellow bison as we graze the valley floor.  Some even do those silly optical illusion photos where they put their hand out making it look like they are holding us in the palm of their hand.  How silly is that?”  “That is quite silly, I agree.  Especially because you are a beast and could squash them like a bug.”  He then continued: “I think I need a change of some sort because I am not happy here and believe there must be more to life than just this?”  “I hear you.  You shouldn’t live your life in misery, life is too short for that.  Even more so for you since your average life span is 15 years!  I think a change for the better would be good for you.  Do you have any dreams and aspirations?”  He thought for a second and then replied: “Well, yeah.  I have always wanted to go to Bangkok in Thailand and improve my fighting skills.  You see I am eager to enter this Street Fighter tournament they have on an annual basis where competitors from around the world fight on the street.  They had the inaugural tournament just this year and will hold the second one sometime next year.  I believe I have a couple of moves that could do some damage like my running bison rush which I find electrifying and my strong double kick.”  “Well if that is what you want to do, then just go out and do it.  What’s stopping you?  Besides, you only live once, right?  By the way, I have been chatting to you for all this time and don’t even know your name?”  He said: “You’re right.  I should do it!  And my name is Manuel, but please, call me M for short.”  “Good stuff M. Bison.  Well I hope you make it to Bangkok and wish you all the best in your dream of entering and competing in this Street Fighter 2 tournament.” 


The Mammoth Hot Springs, just another cool geothermal feature of Yellowstone.

I think they should rephrase the word ‘camping’.  Because this is what camping is nowadays, people in their RV’s parking it at a site with electricity so they can watch TV or check their gadgets.  Either that or call what we do ‘tenting’ because it certainly isn’t camping anymore.          

We followed some of the Lewis and Clark expedition in Montana.  When we read this plaque, we both likened ourselves to the dynamic duo.  For one, they were both in their early 30s when they went on their adventure.  Also, they had opposite temperaments; Trevor is calm, cool and collect whereas I spaz out at times, maybe more often than not.  We also agreed that I was more like Lewis and Trevor was like Clark.  Lewis was commissioned by Thomas Jefferson to explore their new Louisiana territory and find a route to the Pacific Ocean.  With Jefferson’s permission, Lewis called upon Clark to join him in this expedition.  When sitting at my desk at work in London back in August 2010, I decided to embark on this around-the-world bicycle adventure and so I pinged Trevor an email asking if he would like to join me the following year.  Also, if you look at the respective routes Lewis and Clark took when they split up for part of the expedition, Clark seemed to have a direct, logical route whereas Lewis seemed to have gotten lost and did some backtracking.  To note, this may have not been the case but we came up with that assumption just looking at the map shown.  Plus it gives us a stronger case that I was more like Lewis as I am the one who is way more likely to get lost.  Finally, Lewis accidentally got shot prior to rejoining Clark.  With me and my big mouth, and not knowing how to handle a firearm, accidentally getting shot is also something I would be much more prone to.    

I am pretty annoyed at the Specialized Armadillo tire.  Leaving Yellowstone it tore apart as you can see.  I rode on it for another day but it kept getting worse so I had no choice but to toss it.  What a piece of $%!@.  It wasn’t cheap at $45 and it didn’t last very long.  It was put on in Flagstaff, AZ and tossed in Bozeman, MT.  No name tires we bought in China and Malaysia for a couple of bucks a pop lasted way longer than that.  I have a feeling perhaps the sales guy in Flagstaff gets a better commission selling the Armadillo because he stated it was better than the Schwalbe Marathon.  Well, I have news for him, it isn’t.  Schwalbe Marathon is the best of the best in my view.  But probably the best bang for your buck are those no name tires we picked up in China and Malaysia.  They may not last as long as the Schwalbe Marathon but you get more mileage out of them per every dollar spent.  


Before leaving Chris and Emma’s place in Frisco, CO, they gave us contact details of Emma’s parents in Bozeman since we would be passing through.  So we gave them a call when we arrived and sure enough we spent the night at Jim and Annie’s.  As always, it is great meeting new people and once again I am wowed at the generosity of strangers.  Big thanks go to them for their hospitality and the delicious dinner and breakfast.  This is just another testament to the generosity of Americans.       

Spring water!!!  Last time we had this was in Turkey.  Have to give credit to the former Yugoslav region and Turkey for having many spots to fill up on spring water.  Probably some of the best water we have had was from those regions. 

Montana had the potential of being a great cycling state with all its mountains but unfortunately its infrastructure let it down.  At times we felt like we were back in Argentina with no hard shoulder.  Plus some drivers would zoom by us or not create space when passing us.  Seriously how hard is it to move over a bit when you have no oncoming traffic?!  If there is oncoming traffic then please slow down a bit when passing.  Anyway, they have these crosses marked to remind people to drive safely, buckle up and not drink and drive.  Sadly we saw many of these crosses cycling through the state.  Most of them were noticeably at places where there wasn’t much of a hard shoulder.  Again, this is not rocket science: widen the road and build a hard shoulder to reduce traffic fatalities. 


A dejected me at the gateway to Glacier National Park.  I really wanted to cycle the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  But how can one cycle the road that supposedly goes to the sun when there is no sun to be seen?!  Explain that one to me. 


Two Medicine Lake and some cloud covered mountains.  Believe me, this was probably the clearest it got today.   

2 comments:

  1. Wow so close to home! Sorry to see your journey is almost finished, but it has been such a wonderful ride, I've enjoyed all the pictures. Do you plan to finish off at that zero mile marker on the Canadian highway to bring it full circle? Sean

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  2. Yup! We are on Vancouver Island at the moment and the plan is to head back to Victoria to the Mile 0 marker and then from there cruise on into Vancouver. The end is so near now. And thanks again for the support! Can't believe it is almost over. Yikes!

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