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Thereís Always Another Hill

Cross Country Tour Report - Northern Tier Route
Summer 2000

by Philip Gerding


What follows is a daily tour report of my ride across America in the summer of 2000. I had no agenda, no mid-life crisis to shake off. I just always thought it would be a neat thing to do. I used a little hand held device called a PocketMail to send out an email each day to folks that said they wanted to ride with me, at least vicariously . This little device is limited in length of message so you arenít going to get 10,000 words on the wonders of 17 inch touring gear versus internal hub mechanisms for touring. I like bicycles. I LOVE to ride.  By the end of the ride about 75 people, many of whom I have never met were following my tour. If they enjoyed it half as much as I then we are even, for their interest and support was the power that often got me over a mountain, sometimes literally.  When I had the chance to act on my dreams I took it. I did want this to be an adventure, full of marvelous places and interesting things. It was, yet in ways I did not expect. I met riders on the road, local folks who saved my life, saw every thing from Eagles to Buffaloes and ate more bacon cheeseburgers than anyone should. After the saddle sores and the sunburn are gone, the weight gained back and the world of work re-entered, I can still  say if you have a dream of your own,      


As for the technical details of getting from point A to point B, I got an el cheapo ticket off the internet, boxed up the bike and shipped it FedEx  to a bike shop in Seattle and took off. I was to join with another rider in Chicago that I met over the net. He was planning to make the ride too and we were intending to ride together. It didnít quite work out that way, but then thatís why they call it an adventure.  

After two days in Seattle, playing tourist and meeting some friends of the fellow I was to ride with, we started out on a wet 60 degree May morning from downtown Seattle. We had decent maps, extra bagels and peanut butter and absolutely no concept of what lay ahead. I did months of research with other tour reports and bought, studied and followed the maps from Adventure Cycling to prepare for the trip,  but the best advice I can give anyone planning a trek like this is:  there really is always another hill. How you get up it, go around it, get down it, these are the things that count.

Date: Friday, May 26, 2000   Day 1

Hello to all. We just finished our first day of riding. We left Seattle at 7:00 AM and begin heading North in the pouring, cold rain. It was not nearly as much fun as the time I fell in the poison sumac!

At any rate we spent the next five hours essentially riding uphill, interspersed with the occasional stroll while pushing the bikes uphill. This is often followed by long periods of leaning on the bike and cursing.  Dick is having major problem with his bike trailer. He hurt his hip just before the trip and can just mount his bike while the trailer is attached. I remain very unimpressed with bicycle trailers. On the steep hills that I must walk up he cannot get off safely and walk. He looks very tired.  We arrived at Whidby Island off the coast of Washington at five o'clock. The main reason this took so long is that the road we were to take from Highway 99 to Anacortes Island wasnít marked. We ended up going farther North, then taking what greatly resembled a divided , controlled access freeway over to the ferry entrance. Every few miles you had to cross the exit ramp and avoid hundreds of folks going to work at the huge Boeing plants. They are not used to seeing bike riders on this road. Finally made it to the Whidby Island State Park. Set up the tents for the first of many nights and set about preparing some hot food. Dinner was Kielbasa and tortillas, followed by excessive helpings of Ramen noodle. Yum, Yum. Here's the numbers for the day:

Time 5:51, Miles 49.5,Ave. speed 8.5 (damn hills), top speed 35.5 (bless those hills). That's about it. I am going to forward this to Helen and let her forward it to you. Too many folks on the list now, takes to long to send with the PocketMail. Have a great Holiday weekend and I will write again soon.

Date: Saturday, May 27, 2000 7:31 PM  Day 2

Hello to all. We met some new friends at the Velocity Bike Shop in Bay View, Whidbey Island. Dick needed a minor tune up and these gracious folks fixed us up, found a much better route for todayís ride and even found me new water bottle with the local address on it for free! Today we got up in the rain, ate in the rain and packed in the rain and then we rode in the rain for about two hours. Charming. Rode over Deception Pass. Breathtaking views (Iím terrified of heights). We finished the day at Anacortes, WA. where we will put the rear wheels in the Pacific Ocean and start the ride across America. Too cool!. Hard to cook in the motel so we dined out at a local cafť. Nothing special but I didnít have to the dishes.  PG and Dick

Date: Monday, May 29, 2000 9:29 AM  Day 3

Good morning to all. We made it to the lovely town of Concrete, WA. yesterday. About 60 miles. Still having to start out in the rain and cold but did have some nice afternoon sun. While we were taking our lunch break-chocolate milk and Cheetos being the least stale thing they had-we met another rider named Don who was riding the same route. He was on a brand new bike, new bags and clothes, finally admitted that while he had ridden a lot locally,  he bought all new the day before the trip and had never ridden more than 50 miles in is life! Made Dick and I feel like "old timers".  Anyway all is well and we will start up the first major mountain of 4500 feet on Tuesday. We are settling into a routine, ride, sleep-eat-ride. Sounds like a plan. Have a good Monday. PG

Date: Wednesday, May 31, 2000 12:00 AM  Day 4

Hello from Diablo Creek. Today was our first test of the mountains, if only in a small way. We spent the night in Concrete, WA and started out at eight this AM. Wonder of wonders, it wasn't RAINING! Colder than the proverbial well diggers rear but clear. First thirty miles were simply beautiful, fast running river on one side with shear cliffs rising on the other. Only two small towns encountered during the whole day, but both of them had drive thru Espresso stands set up at THE gas station. They were out of bread and peanut butter but stocked to the gills with double vanilla latte. Oh well...The last 11 miles of the day took about two and a half hours as it was essentially straight up. About 1500 feet of total vertical climb in ten miles. The killer was that we climbed the same 1500 feet more than once! Then there were the tunnels. Did I tell you about the tunnels? You ride up and there is this BUTTON that says BICYCLES PUSH THIS BEFORE ENTERING TUNNEL.

Ignoring the impossibility of my bicycle pushing any buttons,  I did and immediately yellow lights started to flash and I had the feeling that if I did not get thru the tunnel NOW I was going to be a target. Well of course it is dark as sin inside and the damn thing ran straight uphill, so now I am walking the bike at the less than stately pace of 3.3 mph and the little red blinky light on the back of the bike is blinking and I'm thinking to my self "I'm gonna die here ". Anyway I got through and walked and rode and walked and crawled and rode and begged for divine intervention. Of course the last three miles or so were all down hill and beautiful so I guess it was worth it. Tomorrow, Rainy Pass and Washington Pass, net of about 4600 feet up. If we survive I will write. If not I will haunt you. PG and the crew.

Camp at Diablo Lake, just below the first mountain pass. About one hour after we set up the camp and cooked dinner, it started to rain. It never really quit. This was where I found out that the ground cloth I had made was not defective, the tent just plain leaks. Being the eternal optimist I kept trying to stay dry for the next 3500 miles. I was very dry on days it did not rain.

Date: Wednesday, May 31, 2000 12:00 AM  Day 5

Well, Hot Damn! I rode over a mountain! Actually I rode around several of them and then rode (and walked) to Rainy Pass, 4,850 feet up in the air. That was a distance of only 27 miles but it took me five and a half hours. Cold and raining most of the way. Are we having fun? I had just flat run out of carbos, lungs and legs. Thirty five years of smoking have taken a toll on me. But, I still did what I started out to do. I grossly misjudged the amount of energy and fuel I would need to climb this mountain so by the time I cleared Rainy Pass I had eaten every Power Bar, jar of peanut butter and some not real fresh hot dogs and tortillas. I even took some of the very cold water in my bottles and made instant Gatorade  After I made it over Rainy Pass I decided I didnít have enough left to clear Washington Pass and then ride down the mountain in the dark. Especially as I know am soaking wet and very cold.  I had decided to just camp  up on the mountain and finish in the morning but couldn't find anywhere to stop as the mountain was on one side and absolutely nothing on the other. So there I am, standing on the shoulder, wet bedraggled and miserable and pushing a wet and muddy touring bike with 60 pounds of wet, muddy stuff, trying to look like someone you would pick up. Bingo! Superwoman, in the guise of a lady named Karo Thom-Edwards, pulled over with her full sized truck, hopped out and said, "need some help?" Five minutes later I'm loaded and we are rolling down the road. She turns out to be a fellow RVer and bicycle rider!! Anyway she brought me to the motel where Dick had already booked a room. Don, the young man from Boston we met on the trail finished both of the  passes and is totally wired right now. Anyway, all is good and we are all warm and dry and will hit the road again tomorrow. PG

Rainy Pass. The first and worst. Because of the very long lead time in getting here I had to give up and take a ride over the next Pass and then down. I am very grateful for this ride as I didnít have much left after too many hours on the mountain.

Date: Wednesday, May 31, 2000 9:24 PM  Day 6

Hello to all. I am sending this note out so that we can compare the addresses I have here against the ones in the main list. That said,  we had great day today! Short ride and decent weather with the rain stopping by the time we got to Twisp, WA, pop. 484. We are motelling it again so that we can be in position for tomorrows climb over Loup Loup Pass 4,200 feet up a mountain. Having fun (for lack of a better word) and making miles. Y'all don't forget that you can write back every now and then, OK? All for now. Here are the latest numbers; total miles since Seattle, 256. Days on the road, five. number of blisters, 0. More to come. PG

Date: Thursday, June 01, 2000 7:05 PM  Day 7

Hello to all from the "dry" part of Washington. Which means that it only rained for a little while this AM, just enough to make everyone smell like a wet cat when the sun came out. We began in the mountain town of Twisp (no I didn't misspell that) and set out for Loup Loup Pass. With three different persons reading, checking, and then rechecking the maps we were of course off by four miles the first leg. The importance here is that the quicker you get to the hard part the more stamina you have for it. Anyway it was a ride/walk/crawl but not as bad as the Rainy Pass episode. Made it to the top of the pass by 10:00 and WHEEEEE! what a downhill ride. 17 miles of downhill at 20-25 mph is great fun.

Dick must have decided not to even try the Pass as he passed me at eight  o'clock in the back of a pickup and I never saw Don after the first hour. I think he either had mechanical trouble or took an alternate route after climbing the Pass. So far all is holding up well, even this aging and recalcitrant body of mine. Numbers for today:Max-33.9;Time-7hrs;Ave-11.2 mph;Distnce-59.6. Total for the trip so far is 314.7 Miles. About 53 miles a day. Not too shabby for the mountains. Later, PG

I found out later that Don did in fact ride the same route as I. He was only a few miles behind me but at the speeds we travel nobody really ďcatchesĒ anyone. I was riding at 4-5 miles per hour for much of the ascent and walking at 3.3 mph for the rest of it. Don is a die hard who will ride at 4 mph to avoid walking at 3.3. I just donít have the legs/lungs for it and need the break. But the differential is not enough that he can catch up to me if I am in the lead unless I stop altogether. And that may be the secret to riding up a mountain. Just donít stop, no matter how slow. The mountain isnít going anywhere so you will eventually get over the top. That and hiding a Hershey bar in the handlebar bag. PG

Date: Friday, June 02, 2000 7:58 PM  Day 8

Hello y'all. We had a good day, started early and were over the Pass at Wauconda-4,310 feet-by 11:00 and the rode the rest of the way on into Republic, WA. Neat little town very busily repainting everything that isn't sparkling already, next week is Prospector Days! I had needed to mail some film back so I stopped in the town of Wauconda on advice of the folks in Tanasket. What a hoot! I'm about 18 miles into the ride, need to eat big time and as I come over this hill I see the sign for Wauconda. Then I realize that almost immediately past it is the OTHER sign for Wauconda, you know,  the one that says 'hurry back!' Well, shoot, I haven't even been there and I'm about to leave. The entire town consists of one building. It is a combination of grocery store, US Post Office, Chinese restaurant, and old west lunch counter. I walked in and was met by a lovely Asian lady who stood behind the counter, full long gown-with slit-who said, "Hello Joe, Whadda ya know?' Well I just fell out laughing and the very nice lady finally gave in and joined me. Her name was Ruby, born and raised in the town. She moved back a few years ago and has great fun trying to teach the local ranchers how to use chopsticks. Anyway I ate a fabulous hamburger on homemade bun with about a pound of bacon and cheddar cheese, washed down with a milkshake. Yum! Tonight will be early, getting ready for Sherman Pass. This is the highest elevation Pass in the state, 5,575 feet. I plan to hit it early and the enjoy another long down hill ride. That is about it from here.

Hope all is well with every one. Total mileage to date is 356.1 PG

Wauconda Pass. didnít seem as tough as the first one but I donít know if I am tougher or still numb. I did however put TWO Hersheyís bars in the bag for this one.

Date: Saturday, June 03, 2000 7:53 PM  Day 9

Good evening. Today is the ninth day of the tour, June the 3rd. Today I saw an Eagle! Soaring way up and then down into the forest we were riding thru. Looked like one of those bad nature shows, you know, no music and some guy with a drawl narrating. Anyway, it really was an Eagle and he/she was probably looking at me thinking I might be lunch! I also got to play tag with a raven. Now you might say this was a crow but to me this was a Raven. It sat on the fence by the road and watched me pedal up then flew down the road a bit and sat again. Really odd sounds they make too. I can see where Mr. Poe was attracted to the mysteriousness of the bird. Anyway, great day for bicycling, rode a smidgen over 60 miles and over the highest Pass in Washington state, Sherman Pass, 5,575 feet up. The day was perfect, starting out cool and getting warmer so that even though I was climbing it never got miserable cold like the first one. For tomorrow I don't think it is a pass so much as getting out of the mountains. The highest elevation shown for tomorrow is about 3200 feet and the climb is not too long. So, maybe another good day. After cresting whatever the highpoint is tomorrow I am just going to ride till it gets dark and make a few miles. So, If there is no mail tomorrow it is because I don't find a phone. Here's the numbers for today: 7 hrs 35 min; Max speed 34.9 ; Ave. Speed 8.9; Distance 63.41; Total distance, 413.3 miles. That is it for now, Happy Saturday. PG

As I was standing here at the top of Sherman Pass, eating a can of peaches and resting, some folks in a 40í long RV drove up and just stared at me like I was from the moon. They just didnít seem to understand how/why I was up there. After they left I had no company for thirty minutes before resuming the ride. Too good for most folks, up there on the top of the hill. PG

Date: Monday, June 05, 2000 12:00 AM  Day 10

Hello All, this has been a great day. we had the last part of the mountains to get through  and then a supposedly downhill for the rest of the day. WRONG! We were over the hump by 10:00 and then had to decide whether to shoot for the town of Newport, next to the Idaho border or stop early in the day. Well of course good sense has nothing to do with this ride so we settled on Newport. This resulted in an 85 mile ride, longest ever for me fully loaded! Left Colville at 7:15 AM and got to Newport at 6:00PM. Outside of a small bit of stiffness I feel remarkably good. I saw Don come about 15 minutes after I got in so I guess he is at the motel down the street. He is going to take a "rest day" in Sandpoint and get some bike work done so I think we will meet up later. I still have not heard from the fellow I started riding with. We got out of sync when he started hitching rides  over the mountains. I will just have to wait and see if he shows up now that we are in the "flats". One of the strangest things about this ride has been the silence. Out on the road, except for the moment of passage by a motor driven vehicle, there is nothing/everything to hear. If you have ever driven in the mountains you know how cool those roadside waterfalls look. Well, let me tell you they are loud! The water seems to be so grateful to be free of the mountain it just leaps into the air, screaming down to the ground, anxious to find the sea. I seem to stop at every one and listen. The mountains have been good. Soon it will be the plains and their beauty. Gotta get me some sleep. PG

Section One complete - continue on to Section Two and  Section Three

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