Wednesday, July 3, 2013

July 2, 2013: MIM Day 17, Yelm to Mercer Island / Seattle WA

The Grand Tour, Fred and Seth's Most Excellent Adventure, is complete. Both of us made it up the final hill and rolled into Larry and Marcia's driveway on Mercer Island at around 3 PM this afternoon.

This last day was 73 miles, with 2,000 feet of climbing including a 14% half-mile climb as soon as we got onto Mercer Island and just two miles from our destination! Larry, with whom Kathy and I plan to visit for a few days, met us as we came off the I-90 bike path that crosses Lake Washington on the East side of Mercer Island. After greetings, he warned us about the "little hill" and led us on a circuitous path to his house. We pulled up to the driveway where Kathy and Larry's wife, Marcia, waited for us, surrounded by American Flags and signs celebrating our accomplishment.

Everyone has been asking, "What's next?" For now, the only serious plan as far as I am concerned is to do whatever Kathy would like next summer. She has been talking about a bike-free trip to Italy and if that's what she wants, that is what I will happily do. I can't begin to express my appreciation of her support of this endeavor over the past five years. The least I can do is to help her to fulfill one of her own travel dreams.

Below is our track across the U.S. Each year's portion is a different color. The first stage was Little Rock, AR to Gainesville, FL, in 2008, shown in red. In 2009, we continued down to mile marker 0 in Key West, shown in white. Fred and I skipped 2010, spending a week cycling in Provence with our wives and our friends Steve and Debi. In 2011 we rode from Colorado Springs to West Yellowstone (light blue). The following year, 2012, we took on the plains, starting again in Colorado Springs and finishing in Little Rock (yellow). For the finale this year, we cycled from West Yellowstone to Mercer Island, in the shadow of Seattle (purple).

Monday, July 1, 2013

July 1, 2013: MIM Day 16, Longview to Yelm, WA

The penultimate day of the final stage of Fred and Seth's Great Adventure. Our final night on the road is being spent in an unexpectedly exquisite Prairie Hotel in Yelm, WA, roughly 65 miles south of our destination on Mercer Island (just outside of Seattle). I guess everything is location. In a more touristy town, this room would go for at least twice the $90 we are paying here in Yelm.

Today's 78 mile ride was pretty uneventful, other than the time we spent in the enchanted forest. 

The Enchanted Forest
We rode through some pretty farm land, and went up lots of little hills, some of them rather steep. None was very long, but together they added up to about 2600 feet of climbing, mostly in the first half of the ride. The hills slowed us down, of course, so we were out there pedaling for six full hours. We got our first glimpses of Mt. Ranier but no photos... Oops, Fred just looked up through the large window in my room and noted that the mountain is right there! We immediately embarked on an impromptu expedition in a vain attempt to get some pictures without power lines or some other distraction in the foreground. No luck. We'll try to get some shots once we leave the immediate area of town in the morning. It is quite impressive.

Frustrated with our failure to capture Mt. Ranier, Fred noticed a volcano that looks about to erupt on the side of my nose, apparently the result of massive doses of sunblock during the day, and BreathRight strips at night. No worries, though. The seismologists have been alerted, haz-mat teams are standing by, and there should be no danger to anyone outside a 50 mile radius of my hotel room. That's a good thing, as there is no way that the national media will be covering anything other than the Zimmerman trial in the foreseeable future. Events like forest fires, typhoons, and nasal volcanoes will just have to take care of themselves in the meantime.

OK, now where was I? Did I mention World's Largest Egg? No? Well, you can see a picture of same below. I asked the young woman in the town of Winlock when the egg is supposed to hatch. She responded that they have been waiting 65 years, so far. In the meantime, she will keep watering it. All I could think of is that I would hate to run into the chicken that laid the damn thing.

The World's Largest Egg is in safe hands in Winlock, WA.

The historic jailhouse of Vader, WA, the ancestral family home of Darth Vader, Lord of Darkness.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

June 30, 2013: MIM Day 15, Portland OR to Longview WA

Talking to Kathy last night, I commented that in some ways it feels like the tour is already over. I have long anticipated visiting the Columbia Gorge and Portland (if half a day in Portland really counts as a visit), but I really have no expectations for these last three days making our way up to Seattle. Particularly with the current heat wave in the Northwest, I have no hope of wonderful riding conditions, and, right or wrong, I don't expect any beautiful vistas to rival those of Montana, Idaho, or the Columbia Gorge along the way.

During today's short (51 miles) ride, we caught a few glimpses of Mt. St. Helens in the hazy distance, but somehow it did not measure up to Mt. Hood or the breath-taking mountain-scapes of Montana. It was a bit of a novelty to ride through the town of St. Helen, but my sample of one teenage cashier in a Walgreens store suggests that the eruption is a long forgotten, dusty memory. She had "no idea" of the year of the eruption (1980)!

  In spite of new tire and tube, Fred had another flat about an hour out of Portland. The tire still looks pristine, and there are no detectable anomalies in the rim that might explain his four flats. The hole in the new tube is a perfectly round, 2 mm hole. Our best guess is that it was a manufacturing defect. We replaced the bad tube with another new one we picked up yesterday at Performance Bike and it appears to be holding. Fred did ask me to switch the tubes for him, on the chance that he did something wrong when he changed the tire and tube last night. Anyway, we have our fingers crossed.

Right at the scene of the flat, there was a clean, perfectly usable sombrero, which brought back some fond memories of one of our first meals during the first stage of our trip (the Tour de Fred in 2008). We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant, and the waiter took our photo with each of us wearing a sombrero.

2008, Tour de Fred
2013, MIM Tour
The only excitement on the road today was crossing the Columbia for the last time from Oregon to Washington. As usual, the shoulders on the bridge were rather narrow, and there was plenty of traffic. One new thing was that the shoulder was peppered with debris from the logging trucks that often use the bridge -- big hunks of bark, primarily. Our recent spate of flats have made us hypersensitive to road debris, so getting across the bridge was like an exceptionally narrow slalom course between the guard rail and the passing cars. I am very grateful that there were very few trucks while we were on the bridge, and no logging trucks at all.

We will be returning to normal mileage days for the final two: 77 miles tomorrow and 66 for the final ride into the Seattle area. It will still be hot tomorrow, so we are going to try to get going very early to miss the worst of the heat and the possibility of increased wind in the afternoon.

June 29, 2013: MIM Day 14, Cascade Locks to Portland

Within minutes of getting on the bike today, my legs are saying stuff like, "What? Are you kidding? We're not done yet? No, no, no! Ain't gonna happen. You can't make us do this again." I take a breath and think, "OK. Don't panic. This kind of thing happens from time to time, I'll just take it easy and in five miles or so, they'll loosen up and all will be well..."

The first eight miles were on the interstate again. We usually cook along pretty well on the shoulder, but for me today, it was an effort. We finally made it to the exit at which the scenic Columbia Highway parts with the interstate. We got off the freeway and started looking for the famous waterfalls of Columbia Gorge. The road was beautiful, winding through dense forest. Suddenly Horse Tail falls appeared. Beautiful. 

We stopped for a while to take it in, then continued on and arrived at the big attraction, Multnomah Falls. 

While there we spoke to several local cyclists, including a couple who assured us that if we continue on the scenic route we will find the climb to be pretty similar to the one we did yesterday. With that in mind, I bought and consumed a coffee and large chocolate muffin. Apparently, that's all my legs were waiting for, because back on the road everything was back to normal. We did the climb up to the overlook and after that, an unintentional detour that included a little 12% climb without any problem.

Navigating into Portland was a challenge, though. We enlisted the help of some locals at a convenience store in Troutdale. They were kind enough to allow us to draft for the next five miles or so, and then put us on the bike path that would take us into town. When the GPS started to show that we were about to go too far south, we got some more advice from another cyclist and finally got our bearings and chugged away right up to our hotel.

We have taken to answering the question "Where did you start?" with "Key West." That almost always results in, "Excuse me?" or something of the sort. At that point we fill in the details like "About 1,000 miles each summer." The clerk here at the hotel was funny, playing along with stuff like, "Well, where's the news crew?"

Oh, Fred rolled up to the front of the hotel with another flat tire. It happens that there is a Performance Bike store 4 short blocks away, so we picked up a fresh tire, a couple of new tubes, and some fresh patch kits. That should pretty much guarantee no more flats during the remaining three riding days.

Stats: 58 miles, 2800 feet climbing, 5 hours saddle time.