6/16/17 – The Announcement

So – I’m biking across the country in 1 month & 12 days.

That’s the short version of the story. The longer version includes researching/planning/pondering/dragging my feet/keeping it on the DL since January, finally committing and buying a one-way ticket out West two weeks ago only to find out I didn’t have a bike to ride for the trip (😱), and eventually one epic, two month adventure as I attempt the wildest feat of a lifetime…

I can’t pinpoint the exact time when the seed was planted in my mind, but cycling across the country has been one of those “that would be seriously bonkers but awesome / I should do that at some point in my life”-type ideas over the last few years. And I definitely had a burning feeling in me that 2017 needed to be a big year as it approached. I started doing some light research and reading about bike touring in January. Looking back, I created the “cycle_usa” folder on my laptop on February 12th, the unofficial point when the crazy pipe dream started to become a real possibility. Over the next month or so, I let family and some close friends know that this may go down, and cleared the trip with my bosses at both jobs.

Fast forward from there to Saturday May 13th – after a long day of research, I’m having a couple beers in my apartment, blasting music, and psyching myself up to officially make this a reality (this is kind of a tradition now for committing to something crazy). Filled out the webpage for my one-way ticket to the West Coast on July 28th, clicked the “confirm” button, and stood up triumphantly (actually – the true story is that I got an error from the website cause I forgot to enter the security code on my credit card, and had to retry – talk about a buzzkill 👎) – I had finally committed to the trip that had been on my mind for months. I was full of crazy emotions and thoughts. I texted/called some close friends and family to tell them the news.

During the last month or so since then, there have been a ton of ups and downs, and plenty of contemplating about squashing the trip altogether, hence the delay in letting the word out for over a month after I booked my ticket. Some family drama, some surprise work commitments, some disapproving reactions – all of which I have either worked out or convinced myself are not the end of the world. The news I got after that, on the other hand, had me straight up searching for rental cars & plane tickets back to the East Coast….

So, two Saturdays ago after I had finally picked two sets of racks and bags to carry all my gear (totaling over $500 on their own 😯), I went to the local bike shop to learn more about mounting them to my bike. The guy at the counter says a-matter-of-factly: “not on that bike”. What?! 😵🔫…..My road bike (so I’ve learned) is built for racing – fast, lightweight, and not designed to carry heavy loads (like all the stuff I need to survive for two months), at least not safely. So let me break this down – I was the noob, with a one way ticket to the West coast, in 8 weeks, planning to ride a bike back, but with no bike to do it with. I left the store disappointed, demoralized, and, to be honest, pretty embarrassed.

I spent the next few days feeling pretty down, starting to accept the fact that this year just wasn’t my year. I let some of my friends know the news. By the end of the week though – after a bit of encouragement from those friends, plenty of soul searching, and some number-crunching to make sure I wouldn’t need to eat Ramen noodles until 2019 – shelling out for a brand new bike to salvage the trip felt like what I had to do.

Here I am – I’ve already got a plane ticket to the West coast, I’ve somehow managed to clear a two month leave of absence with both my jobs and still be welcomed back after, I’ve planned and researched for months, and I know that with each year that ticks by, doing something this crazy gets significantly less likely.

The fire was back. A goal is a mother-effin goal and I’m going to get it done regardless of the obstacles put in my way.

I went to the bike shop on Monday this week and ordered my brand new, powerhouse road bike that’s built to go the distance. Yes, I just dropped well over $1000 on it. Yes, it was jolting. And yeah – it scares me a bit to think about the long list of other gear I still need to purchase and the uncertain amount of money it’ll take to live on the road for two months. But you know what, it fired me up more about the trip. It made me feel like I’m unstoppable.

Wrapping this long story up – I’ve got six weeks left to figure out how to make it 3600 miles or so across the country on a bike, living off of whatever I can carry on it. Although I’m sure it will be challenging physically, the logistic/mental challenge feels more daunting to me. I know I can do it though. My life has been driven so far by the belief that I can do anything I put my mind to. Cliche, definitely, but true. And no, not unique to me, but to anyone who actually accepts & believes that cliche as truth.

I know that I will need all of the support I can get when I set off on this adventure. I’ll be narrowing down & sharing my route over the next month – any recommendations on friends of friends (of friends) to stay with (bonus points for middle-of-nowhere locations) would be greatly appreciated. I’m sure positive encouragement of any form will go a long way once I get going, especially when I’m in the middle of Nebraska wondering what the F I’m doing with my life. I’ve also decided to forego trying to raise any funds for myself personally to fund this trip, in hopes that it will inspire more people to donate to the TBD fundraiser that I will organize. More details to come on all of this.

So now onto the first & most important orders of business: who is going to babysit my plants when I leave, and what is my emergency plan when I run out of peanut butter on the road and can’t find any?? 🤔countdownpic

7/30/17: Day 1 – It Begins

Oceanside, OR -> Portland, OR
97.5 miles
7000+ feet of elevation gain (😲)
126 F-bombs dropped (estimate)

So – I knew this day was going to be tough. I debated for a while whether or not I’d split it up into two days, but ultimately decided to try to blast through all 90 miles in one shot.

I got a relatively late start after walking down to the beach to get some pics(knowing I already wouldn’t be finishing until around 7pm), I made a left out of the beach and jumped straight into a steep 3 mile climb… only to find that the road was closed at the top 😱 (dammit Google maps!). So I tacked on an extra 6 miles right off the bat (new ETA: 8pm). A wrong turn later added another couple miles to the trip.

I eventually got into a solid rhythm after the early mishap, managing to conquer a pretty steep 1500ft climb through Tillman State Forest. Turns out steep climbs on a bike that weighs ~100lbs with gear is pretty tough😅 (hence the F bombs dropped).

The great scenery through that forest and along the Oregon coast made up for pain of the climbs though. Got a few nice pics early on but was a bit rushed towards the end making sure I’d be done before dark. I also saw an Alpaca(?) and found a wallet on the ground with a license and $25 that I’m going to mail tomorrow to try to redeem some good karma for my trip 🙌.

Although I’m worn out after the longest/hilliest ride I’ve done in years, I’m definitely relieved to have day 1 in the books after anticipating it for months. Thanks so much for the encouragement! I needed it today a lot more than I expected, and know it’ll be more important in the future. I got so pumped seeing all the texts, comments, videos, pics whenever I took a short break.

Looking forward to a much easier ~60 mile, flat ride to Salem tomorrow!

7/31/17: Day 2 – “Let’s Get Weird”

Portland, OR -> Salem, OR
65 miles
162 total miles for the trip

One of the reasons this trip will be interesting and memorable is the weird and awkward situations I get myself into along the way. You know the kind of times that might be really uncomfortable while they’re going down, but make the best stories later on.

Well tonight I’m getting a warm up – I’m camping in a stranger’s front yard in Salem, OR. This is my first use of the couchsurfing app. She said she didn’t have space inside but offered a secure spot for my gear while I went out and a space in the yard. She also mentioned that I could use the hose in the front yard for drinking water 😅. But hey, it’s free. I also chose this spot because I’ll need to camp in a state forest in two days, so this will be a good trial run in a more controlled environment.

When her husband mentioned he was heading to the library to see if a local bar had open mic night (they don’t have internet access), I offered to look it up for him and in exchange he gave me a lift out so I could get some food. It ended up being a pretty interesting night..

Anyway, today’s ride was a relief compared to yesterday’s – 60 relatively flat miles with a couple fun pit stops along the way. Hit a brewery for lunch and stopped at a swimming hole to jump in quick to cool off during the ride. Rode through tons of farm land along the way too. I was pretty sore from yesterday, but the easier ride treated me well. Tomorrow I’ve got a 75 mile ride to Eugene that I’m looking to knock out early to beat the heat.

The key to the success on this trip for me will be to “learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable” – weird situations, unusual accommodations, being dirty, being physically sore, etc. Today I started working on that.

8/1/17: Day 3 – Dust Bowl

Salem, OR -> Springfield, OR
77 miles
240 total miles for the trip

It was wishful thinking to set an alarm for 6:30am when I was sleeping in a tent – woke up shortly after 5am to some squawking birds outside 😴. It wasn’t the end of the world though, it let me get a jump start on finishing my 77 miles before it hit the high of 102 degrees for the day. I looked forward to the cooler Oregon temps before I flew out for the trip, only to show up for some record high temperatures! To be honest, 100+ on the west coast isn’t as bad as 90 or so in VA where I’ve been cycling.

The ride was relatively flat today and it really didn’t feel too hot til the end, but riding through the farmlands had the challenge of a lack of shade and lots of dust in the air from tractors tilling the dry soil. Thankfully I picked up a bandana at the end of the day yesterday that I wore to filter out some of the dust. I felt good til the very end of the ride, then spent about 30 minutes laying on the floor of my Airbnb recovering & rehydrating 😅. At this point, my butt/back/hands/feet/quads are pretty sore. Capped the day off with a stop at Falling Sky Brewery (#2 for the trip) for some beer to numb the pain & food to replenish 🙌.

Tomorrow, I’ll be heading to Belknap Springs in Williamette National Forest where I’ll be legitimately camping for the first time. Should be a solid test. I’ll likely be off the grid til Thursday.

Question of the night – is my time better spent sleeping in an extra hour to try to recover or waking up extra early to beat the expected high temperature of 107? 🤔

8/2/17: Day 4 – Into the Wild 

Springfield, OR -> Belknap Springs, OR
57 (+12) miles
297 total miles for the trip

Each day of this trip is its own separate puzzle. The goal is simple: make it a little bit closer to home and find a place to sleep. It gets a bit tricky though when you get farther from civilization where there’s no service and a lack of accommodations and places to buy food & water.

While today was an easy ride physically (a relatively flat 55mi), it was the hardest logistics puzzle so far because I’m camping in Williamette National Forest with no service or running water. The closest store is 6 miles back in the direction I came from, and tomorrow my ride starts with a serious climb through Mt. Washington and 35 miles before I’ll hit another store. This is all complicated by the fact that I’m in the middle of a heat wave (105 tomorrow) so I need a lot more water than usual.

So to make sure I’m fully stocked with water for the morning climb and also have some for tonight, I had to head 6 miles back down to the store after I had set up my campsite and waited for the heat to die down (where I’m posting from now). I took only my more expensive/important gear with me so I had some extra room for water & food. This was the last thing my legs wanted to do after resting for a few hours, but I guess what’s another 12 miles on top of 4000? 🤷‍♂️

Anyway – today was super hot again but not too bad of a ride. I got to sleep in a real bed at an Airbnb last night and they even cooked me breakfast (I’m learning to appreciate a free home cooked meal more and more each day) so I felt pretty good this morning. I’m heading into the forest & mountains so the scenery is awesome and my campground is really nice.

I think I’m in good shape to solve the ride/survive/sleep puzzle today. Taking it one day at a time, it doesn’t seem too difficult. It’s just that failing to plan properly can leave me in a serious pickle – like stranded somewhere with no service, water, and/or place to stay. Now I’m off to transport a ton of water back to the campground, take a baby wipe shower, and go off the grid til tomorrow afternoon 😬. Got a big climb in the morning, but it it’s goes smoothly I’ll have gained a lot of confidence for roughing it in the wild for the first time this trip 💪.

8/3/17: Day 5 – King of the Mountain

Belknap Springs, OR -> Bend, OR
60.5 miles
369 total miles for the trip

I survived one of the harder combos I’ll do on this trip: spending the night camping in the forest then waking up to a hard morning ride pretty far from civilization 🙌. The main story of the day was a long morning climb up through Mckenzie’s Pass (5325ft summit) with some epic views at the top!

Notes:
*There’s something about brewing/drinking a cup of coffee in the woods that I discovered I love. So peaceful. Had to get jacked up on some Brotational Force coffee by Bangarang Coffee Roasters this morning to prepare for the climb 💪!
*Made my first biker friend, Mark. A teacher from a small town outside of Salem who was on a “man weekend” camping/biking with his wife and kids out of town. We had a couple beers at the campsite last night and he rode the first 8 or so miles with me this morning 👊.
*369 miles in, my legs are pretty wrecked. But I think I’ve reached a plateau in the soreness. Trying to do the best I can to massage/stretch my muscles after riding and I’m eyeing my first rest day for Saturday or Sunday.
*No one told me Oregon was basically a desert away from the coast! 🤔The scenery totally changed after I crossed the mountain today. The heat has been pretty brutal, especially in the afternoon hours – hoping for some cooler temps soon! 🙏
*Went almost 48 hours without a shower, felt pretty terrible but I suppose I better get used to it 😐. Did scrub myself down pretty well with baby wipes last night before bed to try to prolong the cleanliness/non-smelliness of my tent and sleeping bag 😝.

Tonight I’m staying with a friend of a friend (thanks Rob! & Caroline for the hookup), so shower & bed 🙌. Tomorrow I head to Mitchell, OR (waiting on confirmation from an Airbnb 🤞), about an 80 mile ride. Planning to get an early start to beat the heat wave that won’t seem to go away.

8/4/17: Day 6 – Sorry Legs, I Lied. 

Bend, OR -> Mitchell, OR
85.5 miles
454 total miles for the trip

Although the ride was pretty long today (85 miles), it wasn’t all that tough. But I think that had a lot to do with the fact that I was banking on my first rest day tomorrow and telling my sore legs that as I powered up a couple of the climbs along the route.

Well, it turns out I’ll be aborting on the rest day after all (sorry quads, one more day 😕). Mitchell, OR (population 130) and my AirBNB in particular are just not cutting it as far as a place I’d want to be spending extra time in (no offense on the 0.001% chance one of you has relatives here 😇). It’s not so much that Mitchell looks like a town straight out of a country western, it’s more the fact that I discovered I needed to climb a ridiculous 1/2 mile hill to get to the Airbnb from town. The type of hill I couldn’t ride my bike up, and that I struggled to even hike up with my bike after my 85 mile ride today. This hill has me contemplating whether or not it’s worth it to walk back down to town for dinner (I’m starving), or just sit here and eat energy gummies until I fall asleep 😭. I just figured anywhere in a town with a population of 130 would be easily walkable! Maybe I’m just being a baby, but besides that – there’s no AC in the house, my bed isn’t comfy, and the lady freaks me out a little bit. So I’m calling an audible!

Tomorrow I’ll head to John Day, OR (70 mile ride) and splurge on a hotel for two nights. I just wanna max out on comfiness if I’ll be taking a day off, and be walking distance to sources of food/entertainment/wifi (I’m really kicking myself for not planning a rest day in Bend, which seemed like a super cool town). The one complication is that there may not be anywhere along the route to restock water, and this place is like an Effin desert! So, I’ll need to stockpile some extra water and leave super early. Another good early test.

Anyway – today’s ride was solid and once again, pretty scenic. Some route highlights:

*Riding along Ochoco Lake & through Ochoco National Forest.
*A 7 mile downhill with only 10 miles left in the ride!
*A bike shop that catered to bike tourers like me! The road I took today is a popular route. They filled my water bottles for me and had lots of energy bars/gummies for sale.
*There was only one town along my 85 mile route! It was a good test though, and nice to know that I can make it that far without a stocking up on water and food.
*Having a Google Hangout with my NASA work squad while I had lunch at the Dawg House in Prineville 😎.
*Picking up a fresh bag of #jimbikesamerica Brotational Force coffee at the Mitchell Post Office. Thanks to Bangarang Coffee Roasters & Travisfor making it happen, we passed our first drop off test!

Now apparently, there is a place called “Tiger Town Brewing Co.” here in Mitchell, which is the kind of thing I need to see to believe for such a small town. I think the intrigue is just enough to stop me from eating energy snacks for dinner and walk down/up this hill to check it out….

8/5/17: Day 7 – TGIF! 

Mitchell, OR -> John Day, OR
70 miles
525 total miles for the trip

Yeah, yeah I know it’s not Friday for you. But in this new version of my life where I’m out in the wild with just a bike and a few bags of gear, I’m declaring any day where I’m not biking tomorrow a Friday. No other days have names, they’re just bike days. There have already been several mornings this week where I wasn’t sure for a moment what day it was. This is completely 100% upside-down from my previous life, where I’m sometimes referred to as a robot due to how regimented my days are and my knack for cramming something into every single minute of each day. But you know what, it’s been kinda refreshing already…

So now that that’s straight – TGIF!!!🍻 I’m so F’n pumped! Managed seven straight days of biking with over 500 miles with no major setbacks. I’ve never had a workout week anywhere near this intense. I’m infinitely more experienced as a bike tourer (okay, I started at 0 experience…) and I’ve gained a lot of confidence that I can finish this thing. I’ve already seen so much scenery and met a bunch of awesome people, it’s really shaping up to be the epic adventure I thought it might be. I cannot wait to sleep in tomorrow and rest my aching body. I’ve got about 36 hours now to try to rejuvenate my legs and get ready for another week.

I was a man on a mission today on the ride. I knew I had a hotel waiting for me in John Day and a rest day coming up, so I pushed the pace more than any of the previous days. After a 6 mile climb to start the ride out of Mitchell, it was relatively flat afterwards. The road winded through a bunch of really cool canyons, gorges, and mountains. Towards the end of the ride, the scenery changed from mostly desert-like to a lot more greenery, it’s been awesome to watch the terrain evolve as I go.

I also met an older couple who were headed in the opposite direction and had started in Yorktown, VA near where I live! They had done a few 1-week tours, but this was their first cross country tour, and they were almost there. Inspiring! I met another guy who was basically just living on his bike and traveling around in the Northwest, pretty wild. I had a great second breakfast in a small town called Dayville about half way that fueled me to crush the rest of the ride into John Day.

Anyway, happy Jim’s Friday to you all! And thanks for the encouragement! 🙏