Saturday, August 30, 2008
I woke up about 5 on Tuesday, took a shower, packed, and then stopped for breakfast at McDonald's about 7. I headed south through hilly roads, eventually turning off onto a side road toward the trailhead for Elbert. I stopped well short of the trail when the road got bad, took a picture and got back on the road. I wasn't completely sure the mountain I was looking at was actually Elbert, since it was curiously not marked anywhere that I saw, unlike many other mountains. I got in to Taos about 3 and got a room at the Best Western. I rode into town, its tiny roads jammed with traffic. I found it somewhat disorienting and it took me a little while to the brewpub I found on Google. The place was tiny and had a real hippy-type vibe. The beer and the food were pretty decent. The black clouds I'd been seeing since I got there seemed to be gathering and getting ready to soak the town, so I skipped the shops and went back to the motel, where I surfed the web and watched TV until I went to sleep.
Wednesday morning I took advantage of the surprisingly decent complimentary buffet breakfast and headed toward Taos Ski Valley. I went through the paved parking area for the easy route to the summit of Wheeler Peak and started up the gravel road to the parking area for the shorter distance, but more challenging route to the top. I paused when I saw a sign saying "Four Wheel Drive Vehicles Only," but then noticed it only applied during the winter months. There was quite a bit of construction going on, summer obviously being the off season in a ski resort. I took my time going up the gravel, but it was still pretty dicey. I contemplated stopping a couple times, but continued on to the next switchback. After one last ugly section I got spooked and parked in a switchback by another road going off somewhere else. I walked the half mile to the parking area for the Williams Lake trail. The sign said it was bear country, so I got out my bell since there was only one car in the parking lot at 8:30. I started on the trail but was feeling a bit lightheaded due to the altitude. I was thinking I'd get to the lake and have to turn around because of it, but was kind of surprised to get to Williams Lake, at 11,040 ft., ahead of my goal of 9:30. After some water and half a PBJ, I figured it was much too early in the day to turn back, so I headed up toward Wheeler. It started out kind of steep and I had to stop about every 100 feet of vertical gain to catch my breath, then it got a little steeper and the trail doubled as a stream bed. For a while, above what I estimated to be 12,000 ft., I was pausing every five steps for breath, but after a longer break I was back to pausing every 50-100 ft. At the end of the trail, 200-300 feet below the peak, it came to a steep scree slope. It was tough going, trying to find relatively solid places to step. I followed in the footsteps of a previous hiker for the most part. I figured the tracks must have been made that day since it rained the night before, but I never saw whoever made them. I finally made it up to the ridge, and it was awesome. The view was great and I felt good, like I still had energy. I set my pack down beside the trail and went up to what I was guessing was the peak. It was hard to tell since there was a peak to my left and one to my right, and they both looked about the same elevation from where I was standing. There was a sign on top of the one to my left, which turned out to be Mount Walter, but I went to the right first and after a small peak, the trail continued along the ridge to the actual peak. There was a small stone structure with a metal tube and a plaque, but not the usual ammo box for a summit register. It felt exhilarating having made the difficult trek. I took a bunch of pictures and went back to my pack for a proper rest and to eat. As I was sitting there a hiker, who had come up the easier route, came along the ridge. We chatted for a bit, then he went on to the peak and I headed back down the steep trail. It wasn't quite as bad going down as I thought it might be. I actually found it easier to go down the loose scree than the more packed sections. It was a lot quicker and less effort than going up, but it was murder on the shins. I had to stop a few times and sit down to give my legs a break. Once I got back down to Williams Lake there were several people there hiking around or sitting and enjoying the view. I hiked back down to my bike, stopping at a stream to wash up a bit. I was hoping to get a drink or something at The Bavarian restaurant, but despite its large "Restaurant Open" banner, it was not open. When I got to my bike, I changed shirts and socks and boots and took a minute to relax before braving the gravel road again. There were some black clouds in the mountains south of Taos. I pulled over to put on my rain gear, as much because I was cold as the threat of rain. Other than some wet roads I didn't hit any rain, but I kept the rain gear on because it was still cool. After dark I stopped for the night in Hereford, a little cow town. So much so that the whole place smelled like cows. It was after 10 but I was hungry, not having had dinner or much lunch, so I got a burger and vegged in my motel room.
Thursday morning I left with the sun low and it was still kind of chilly. I was a bit chilled just wearing a t-shirt, but knew it would warm up soon enough. It was up in the mid 90s by the afternoon as I was getting closer to Austin. I finally got to use my mister again for some relief. I got home at 4:30 and it was 91 degrees in my house. I turned the AC back on and laid down under the fan for a while before starting to unpack the bike and catch up on things.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Friday I woke up pretty early. My uncle cooked breakfast, I packed up and headed on. When I arrived at Wind Cave NP at 5 my fears of having trouble finding a campsite were allayed when I found about 8 of 50+ sites filled. I set up in the most secluded site of the vacant tent area and went to the visitors center. I had missed the last tour, so I rode 50ish miles into Rapid City for dinner at a brewpub a friend recommended. I rode back in the cold and dark on windy roads to find a group had set up camp near my parking spot. I made fast friends with the group of five high school friends on a two-week road trip from Michigan. It was a darned good thing nobody else was around because we raised Cain drinking and telling lies until 2am.
I woke up at 6:30 Saturday, but went back to sleep until 7:15, had breakfast, and rode through Custer State Park to the trailhead for Harney Peak. I started off behind a group of four, but didn't mind so much since one girl was quite cute. I passed them and several others along the 3 1/2 mile trail to the top. I got there about 11:15, an hour and a half after I left, took in the view, ate a sandwich, took some pictures and headed back. As I was leaving the girl I had been admiring was arriving and made a comment like "up and back already?" which was a plus. I didn't go down really quickly since my blisters were bad again. I got back on the bike about 1 and headed to Jewel Cave National Monument. Since I didn't know when I'd get there, I didn't have a reservation and the next tours I could go on were 3:20, 3:30 or 4:25. I opted for the 3:30 lantern tour and went back to Custer at a kitschy place where I had bison brisket swimming in sauce. I got to the tour meeting place about 3 and killed some time until it started. We each got a paraffin lantern and walked to the opening, much like early visitors did. We went toward the Dungeon Room, which required through the "trap door" and other narrow and low passages. We didn't really go far into the cave, but it took a while for everyone to get through certain points. At the farthest point we all blew out our lanterns for some total darkness before the ranger relit each one. The ranger was really good and it was a really fun, somewhat adventurous way to see a small portion of what is the second longest cave system in the world. Since it was 5:30 when we got out, I missed the Wind Cave tour again, so I got some gas and beer and went back to camp, where I had new neighbors. I started a fire, cooked some SPAM for dinner and then went to a ranger program on the Parks Service in general and Wind Cave in particular.
This morning my tent was wet with dew, but ultimately packed it before it dried. I went to the visitors center a little past 8, bought a ticket for the 9am natural entrance tour and sat down to read until the tour started. The tour was okay, on cement walkways, and passed countless other passages that make it number four in the world in length. The problem was that I was in the back, behind people taking flash photos every second, and in front of a couple with a whiny little girl. I got well ahead of them for the trip back. I was on the road a little past 10 and headed into Nebraska. I was kind of tired and the endless rolling plains didn't help. I went down to the corner of the state near WY and CO to go to its highest point. It was several miles down a gravel road, but it was the first time I've had my bike at the actual highest point. I went on through Wyoming and suddenly remembered that Cheyenne is the capital, so I went downtown to the capitol for a picture. I continued to Colorado, through flatlands before getting back into the Rockies. I went through Estes Park to a park info booth, but it was closed. I found some info in the store next door and decided that since there are no shower facilities in the park, I'd go back to town to the KOA. I set up, showered and had dinner at the local brewery, then came back here.
Monday morning I rode to Lake Louise, checked on trails, and bought a sandwich to take with. The pastrami with lettuce and tomato wasn't the most packable lunch, but their to go was utterly worthless to pack, so I took it out of its styrofoam and put it into pastry bags. I rode up to the lake parking area and started off around the perimeter, booking around the throngs of tourists to the trail leading to Six Glacier Point. The trail wasn't too strenuous in general, but there were a few uphill slogs. After about 5 and a half kilometers I made it to the tea house, where I sat down and had a lemonade and half of my sandwich. I contemplated not continuing on for a closer view of the glaciers, but did and the trail was pretty flat until it got to a vantage point and then went up a ways and then got really steep and loose to a little waterfall. I didn't go all the way, but it was a really impressive view nonetheless. I stopped and had the other half of my sandwich back at the tea house and sat and read for a while by the stream. I diverged form the way I came on the way back, intending to see other things, but at a fork I headed back to the main trail since it was downhill. Once I realized the error I was kind of upset with myself for not consulting the map, but didn't want to go back uphill. I thought the whole thing was a complete waste until I heard a noise and witnessed a huge chunk of ice falling off one of the high glaciers. I rode back to Banff and hit a patch of rain near the campground, but it was just an isolated cloud. I went into town back to the laundromat to wash my clothes. I ate a Subway sandwich and read my book while waiting. Some of my clothes weren't completely dry, but I folded them and headed back to camp after a beer and some internet usage off of an unsecured router.
Tuesday I packed up and headed back to the states. I got to Glacier NP about 2, set up camp and got lunch just before a storm came in from the pass. I was hoping it would be isolated and pass quickly, but it persisted for a while so I started drinking beer on the porch of the store. Around 4 the weather cleared and I set out on the Going-to-the-Sun road. I got to Apgar, studied trail maps and headed back east. The return was amazing with the light at my back and for my money, I'd say Glacier's glacial valley rivals Yosemite's. At least in Glacier there isn't a village in the valley. The main problem was that the road was under construction, so in addition to one-lane sections, there was a big stretch of gravel as well as a few short sections.
Wednesday started gray but it wasn't raining in the campground in the morning, so I decided to stick with my hiking plan. It started raining just before Logan Pass, but I stuck with it and took the shuttle to the Loop to start my hike. It was a mildly strenuous 4 miles up to the chalet and was relatively dry most of the way until near the top and then really picking up right at the chalet. I passed several people doing the much easier and more popular reverse of what I was doing. I spent an hour in the chalet, eating two PBJs and reading a chapter of my book. The weather never let up and I never got any view, plus my clothes didn't really dry at all, wet mostly from sweating. I set out on the 7.5 mile hike back to Logan thinking it was flattish, but after an initial quick downhill, the trail leveled off and then started uphill, getting a bit steep in places. It was raining fairly lightly at that point, but the temperature was in the 40s. With the strain of hiking I wasn't doing too badly. After crossing some snow where the trail was kind of ambiguous, I ran into some Bighorn Sheep in the trail. I tried anything I could think of, my bear bell, clapping, yelling, but one in particular had found something good to eat and wasn't moving. I was trapped there 20-30 minutes waiting as weather rolled in. When the bighorns finally moved visibility was down to ten or so yards. I slogged on, kind of cold and miserable but really not too bad, until roughly 3 miles from Logan when the rain picked up and soaked me to the skin. It was such a miserable grind the rest of the way, all my clothes wet. When I got to the visitors center I was so glad to see a wood fire. I stood there shivering for a while until one of the rangers noticed and started to help get me warm and dry. I wound up staying there in front of that fire for two hours getting dry and warm with the help of the two rangers at the desk and another two, one of whom gave me his soup. I was dreading it, but the 12 miles back to camp wasn't too bad, and I took a long hot shower before getting dinner and going to sleep.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Friday got off riding just before 8 headed toward Olympic NP. The waypoint I had in my GPS turned out to be terrible. After heading down a small road a ways I saw the most dreaded of all road signs: Pavement Ends. I continued down the gravel road for about 3 miles before I actually saw a sign for the park just as the road went from bad to worse: the aggregate was larger and the road less packed. I stopped and checked out that area for a little while before turning around and going back to US 101. Originally I was thinking of going clockwise around the Olympic peninsula but from that point it made more sense to go counter-clockwise. There was way more traffic than I would have liked. I was stuck behind a semi that wouldn't pull aside. I eventually managed to pass him. Traffic got even heavier close to Port Angeles. After a gas stop and getting away from town, traffic was much less on the western side. The road took me through two sections of Olympic NP. On the coast it got pretty chilly and foggy. I stopped and put on my jacket and gloves. Back inland it warmed up significantly and I had to take them back off. The real pain was the road work, with several sections one lane. Eventually it cleared up and I was following a Hummer with the license plate GAMBLR, which could have been because he was going 70 in a 60 and his plate was almost impossible to read. I got back to camp around 8, much later than I had expected. I had dinner and started another fire and read for a while, then just sat transfixed staring at the fire.
This morning I wasn't in a real rush, so I cooked some oatmeal and then packed up, getting off just past 8. I stopped at a Harley shop I happened past and bought my first t-shirt of the trip. I went to downtown Seattle and using Google found a brewpub for lunch. I texted a friend who recommended a brewpub in the area. Since I wasn't in a rush, I took a detour to check it out and it was definitely the best bar I've been in so far this trip. I rode on up the interstate, getting off on a road leading through North Cascades NP. It was picturesque, but reading The Monkey Wrench Gang made me less than appreciative of the hydroelectric dams. I passed through a little tourist trap of a town on to my intended destination for the night, Omak. It was kind of weird because there was a little town, then I crossed onto an Indian reservation and there was almost nothing other than a bingo casino. I found the new Best Western and a no-name place on the US highway were already booked up, so I came into town, tiny as it is, and found a room at the Rodeway. After a much needed shower, I strolled through town only to find the only decent-looking restaurant had just closed. I got a six-pack and a terrible pizza and vegged out watching the Olympics.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Sunday morning my feet were still rather sore from the hiking, and I still had big blisters near my big toes, the left one being worse. I headed back up the interstate, stopped for a McGriddle since I didn't want to pay Holiday Inn any more, and went through Walsenburg again. I went on to Great Sand Dunes NP, where I waded across the shallow river and climbed up the dune a little bit. A combination of sore feet and wanting to get to Durango kept me from climbing up to the top. When I went through Alamosa I really wished I had stayed there instead, it had way more going on than Walsenburg and would have given me more time in the park. I got to Durango HD about 2 hoping to get an oil change I was slightly overdue for after the rebuild only to find that their service department is closed on Sundays. I was kind of secretly hoping that would be the case so I'd be forced to spend the night in Durango. I started something of a random search for a place to stay when I saw an information place. The woman there gave me some info and suggestions, I checked with a place that was reasonably priced, and booked a room. I had planned to drop my stuff and visit Mesa Verde NP but the information woman suggested morning would be a better time, so I decided I would spend the afternoon drinking beer by the pool instead. I checked into the motel which was older and not anything great, but it was comfortable and clean. It was a really beautiful 80-something degree day and I enjoyed spending some time by the pool. I changed and walked downtown to a brewpub for dinner. I drank a beer made with habaneros, which was quite spicy, and ate a tasty calzone. I went to another brewpub nearby which was almost empty but I actually enjoyed myself chatting with some locals while watching the Olympics.
Monday morning I left the motel at 6:45, before the office was even open and had breakfast at Denny's since the Harley shop didn't open until 8. After they checked me in, right at 8, I started writing but didn't get very far (what with the tiny keyboard and all) before they had it ready at 8:30. I rode to Mesa Verde and found a pretty good line of people waiting to buy tour tickets. Since all the tours before noon were sold out already, I just decided to do the self-guided sites. I checked out about as much as I could, taking a bunch of pictures, and I did climb inside the demonstration kiva at one site. I headed on a bit past noon and got to Moab at 4. When I got to the entrance to Arches, the woman told me the campground filled at 9 am and to get info on other sites in the visitors center. I got the info and checked and a place nearby with a pool had tent sites available. It was 99 degrees at that point so I opted for the private campground over the National Forest sites. I picked a shady spot with a leanto, set up my tent and changed into my bathing suit, and went back to the front to pay for my stay and get some beer to drink by the pool. The pool felt so excellent and I hung out there for a while, alternating between the pool and the hot tub. I had a freeze-dried dinner at camp and then went back to the hot tub until after dark.
Tuesday morning I went back into the park with my backpack full of water and headed straight for Delicate Arch, the most famous in the park. It turned out to be a good time to get there because other than a tour bus there weren't many cars. I did pass the tour group heading back when I was almost to the arch. The arch is pretty spectacular and probably moreso in dramatic light. There is kind of a bowl-shaped area around it that was kind of hard to sit on. I very nearly lost my sunglasses. I took a bunch of pictures and headed back. Again the timing seemed good as a steady stream of people were headed the other direction. From there I went to Landscape Arch, which is pretty amazing at 300+ feet long, however it looks quite fragile, especially considering the nearby Wall Arch just collapsed and the main path to Double O Arch was closed. I would have liked to see the other arches in that area but the extra 3 miles was less than appealing at that point. I stopped along the path back to the parking lot and ate a PBJ in the shade. I then went to the Windows area, where they have the unusual Turret Arch, of course North and South Window, and on the other side of the parking lot was probably my favorite, Double Arch. I sat in its shadow for a while, but that was also because it was getting hot at that point. I headed out of the park from there, stopping for a quick picture at Balanced Rock. I got gas before going into Canyonlands NP's 'Island in the Sky' unit, basically a large mesa connected to the rest of the area by a narrow 'neck.' I rode through there, stopping to take some pictures, but it was real hot and my feet were bothering me enough I was limping a little. I went back to camp, showered, jumped in the pool and had dinner before doing a bunch of repacking.
I packed the rest of my gear this morning after waking up at 4:30 and not being able to get back to sleep. I only had a granola bar for breakfast since I had packed my stuff to make my usual oatmeal. I was off at sunrise, 6:30. I had more of a real breakfast at my first stop. I was chilled early on and almost put on my jacket, but figured it would warm up soon enough. And boy did it. I first felt like it was going to be a scorcher about 11, and it did not disappoint. I was hot and tired and decided to stop for a little while in Boise. I took a picture at the capitol and stopped into the tiny t-shirt store of the local Harley shop on my way to a brewpub for some dinner. The food and the beer were pretty good. I headed out of town at 6 headed right into the late afternoon sun and ran into construction. It wasn't pleasant, but it could have been worse. I continued on to Baker City, Oregon and got here about 7 Pacific time, and this is what I've been doing since.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
I left from my office at 4 pm Friday, with the temperature somewhere around 100 (I don't really care to know what it was exactly). Other than the heat everything was fine. I picked up a couple new counties. I had planned on spending the night in Lubbock, but my route skirted me around town and I didn't pass any motels. Rather than deviate from my route, I went up I27 to Plainview, getting there about 11:30. I was pretty tired and my lower back was killing me. I brought far too much crap with me, so much that I have to wear my backpack, which is stuffed to the brim, and because I have a bunch of camping gear on the back seat, it pushes me forward on the seat, which makes it hard to sit comfortably.
I woke up pretty early Saturday even though I didn't get to sleep until 1. I went through Amarillo and into Oklahoma and turned off the highway onto a small back road with a few families of prairie dogs. When I got to Kenton, a few miles from the OK high point, I was very glad to see they had a gas pump since I was getting low. When I went inside the clerk informed me that they haven't had gas for a while since an inspector shut it down. She told me the nearest places that did have gas, I bought a drink and headed to the HP. In the gravel parking area I changed into shorts, a short sleeved t-shirt, and my hiking boots. It was a 4 mile hike one way, but not particularly strenuous. I did wind up drinking every drop of my 1-liter Nalgene bottle. There was a fairly flat section, then a switchback up to the top of Black Mesa, then pretty flat across the mesa to the high point, marked by a stone obelisk. It honestly wasn't especially impressive, there was a decent view but certainly not the best view I've had on an 8-mile hike. I took some pictures and headed back to the parking area. I changed back and headed to New Mexico to get gas and then went up I25 into Colorado. I was planning on staying in Walsenburg, but it's a small town and didn't have many lodging options. I pretty much had my mind set on drinking beer in a hot tub, so I decided instead to backtrack and stay in Trinidad. I stayed in a Holiday Inn, which was far too expensive, ate in their restaurant, which was decent but not great, and sat in the hot tub for a while. They didn't allow outside alcohol since they have a liquor license but I wasn't as intent on a beer at that point. The problem with the pool area, though, was that there were six unsupervised children running around. I chatted for a bit with a retired guy, then retired to my attractive, comfortable room.
Monday, August 4, 2008
Sunday I slept until 8 then putzed until about 11:30, then got on the bicycle and rode to a sandwich shop about 4 miles away for lunch. I went from there to the Wildflower Center and read the paper on a bench in the shade for a little while. I went for a lap on the Veloway before starting home. When I stopped at a drug store for a drink and an ice cream bar, my phone said it was 100 degrees out at 2pm. Fortunately I was already home in the AC before it topped out at 105. I didn't do a whole lot for the rest of the day other than read the paper and watch TV, except to do some gathering and packing for my crazy road trip.