Tuesday, July 29, 2014

From "Typical Espanish" to "Typical 'Merica"

When I first arrived in Spain, I kept hearing the phrase, It’s "typical Espanish" over and over again! The word Spanish is pronounced like Espanish by a native (since all of their words starting with "s" sound like es).  “Melissa, you have to try a paella, it is typical Espanish!” “Here in Espain, the stores close during the day so we can go home to eat lunch and take an afternoon siesta”.... “We have a Bermuth before lunch, it’s typical Espanish.”....... After all those years of learning about what is typical in Espain, I was so excited to show my friends what is typical in ‘Merica.  In the first few days of our trip, Nuri and Viçens have had a lot of different “typical American” experiences and tasted a bunch of different American foods.  In fact, it is a good thing we are biking with all we are consuming, not to mention, we are thankful for having a tail wind.  After eating all the eclectic flavors, it makes for some unsettled stomachs and more strenuous digestion, which leads to a bit of gas, if you know what I mean!

Photo shoot at Adventure Cycling Association in Missoula, MT
Upon the arrival of Nuri and Viçens, we were welcomed like rock starts to The Adventure Cycling Association with a big photo shoot.  Every cyclist that visits normally has mug shot snapped that goes on their wall of visitors. As foreigners, we got the red carpet treatment.  It’s not every day that someone cycles through Missoula coming from Spain.  Their photographer wanted to document this for one of their issues and he was even more thrilled to hear that I was awaiting the arrival of two Spanish cyclists who would accompany me for two weeks.  They arrived and surprised me with “designer” t-shirts, for our trip together, designed by Viçens and his sister.  We got our photos taken together and separately, and then participated in their ritual weigh in.  We had to guess the weight of our bikes before they were weighed.  Being the optimists that we are, all of our guesses were 20 pounds under their actual weight.  Nuri’s bike is the lightest at 40 lbs. (25kg.), Next comes Viçens at 85lbs. (37kg.), then me, with the heaviest bike of all at 90lbs. (40kg.).  Pretty impressive to think we carry all that weight around on two wheels!

Before getting changed, Nuri and Viçens were preparing dinner (for 10 people total)

From Missoula we went to Ronan, just south of Flathead Lake, where ironically the husband of our host couple, Tom and Annemarie, was a Spanish teacher. It was the perfect situation because all of us could communicate and Tom got to practice his Spanish, something he doesn’t have the opportunity to do much in rural Montana.  The Leafty family was numerous, like my own family, and it just so happened that 7 or 8 of them were visiting with their kids (5 of them staying at their house, along with two church missionaries, which made for one big crowd.  Since all their rooms were full, we had the choice of putting our tents in the back yard or sleeping in their pop-up camper.  Need I say which we chose?  For Nuri and Viçens, it was their first time sleeping in such a vehicle, “pop-up” campers don’t exist over in Europe, so this was a typical American camping experience for them.  For me, motor homes are becoming my second home!  
We all slept in a pop-up camper, a typical American camping vehicle

On a fire pit, Nuri and Viçens picked up on the art of a lightly toasted marshmallow right away

We made dinner for the Leafty family, a typical Espanish meal of oven roasted chicken and vegetables and they provided us with a typical American desert experience called s’mores.  For my non-American followers, s’mores are a desert here in the states associated with camping and camp fires.  There is an art involved with this desert from finding the perfect roasting stick to how to go about roasting your marshmallow just right and preparing the actual cookies/treat.  They had a fire pit in the backyard and we all sat around making S’mores.  Nuri and Viçens got the hang of it right away without even explaining how to get the best roasted marshmallow. Ironically, it was little Ms. I haven’t lived in the states for 10 years to practice, who repeatedly burned hers!  For me, it was more of a patience issue and the excitement to eat a roasted marshmallow than the lack of practice!

The native burnt hers, while Viçens had more patince

From Ronan we headed up to Columbia Falls where Teri Ann and Ron awaited our arrival.  They are friends my 49er host back on the Pacific Coast Highway in California, Murdock.  Prior to our visit I was corresponding with Teri Ann via email and something told me we were going to hit it off.  Shortly after arriving, she had me painting my toe nails, sampling different body lotions, and even had her mom give me a hair cut!  These seem like petty little details, of little interest to Nuri and Viçens, but when you’ve been out on the road for 11 months, the smallest of treats such as this, makes a world of a difference!

The ladies had a blast getting dressed up for the rodeo

A rodeo was one of the events I wanted to make sure I hit up while in the Montana
You can’t visit the Wild West without going to a rodeo, typical ‘Merica.  None of us three had been to a rodeo before, and it is actually one of the three things left on my list of attractions and things to do while riding my bike around the world.  Luckily there happened to be a rodeo on Friday night in Columbia Falls.  Teri Ann, of course had cowgirl attire, so we dressed up, traded our two wheels for four, and hit the rodeo!  We had a grand time watching the different events.  One could equate it to running of the bulls or bull fighting, typical Espanish, but neither are customs in Catalonia.  Our favorite was the bareback riding and bull riding!  The announcer was so excited to welcome all the tourists visiting, I made sure they gave Viçens and Nuri a special welcome, as you can hear in the video below!

These were our wheels for the night.  What fun it was to drive!

Never knew there were so many events at a rodeo........

The stands were full at The Blue Moon Rodeo in Columbia Falls

The following day, we made the most of our Saturday before hitting the road.  We took Teri Ann and Ron’s platoon to Hungry Horse reservoir and spent the day tubing, soaking up the sun, and had a BBQ on the lake. My family grew up water skiing in the summer, so it felt very familiar to be back on the water.  With five kids, water skiing was always great entertainment with lots of laughing.  Nothing had changed since I last went, except perhaps the shape of the inner tube, which could fit all three of us.  We had Viçens strategically placed in the middle and a lady in each side.  Like the white water rafting, which I discovered was just slightly out of my comfort zone for thrills, tubing is a lot scarier as an adult than an adolescent. 

We fit so snuggly on the tube, thank goodness, because with more weight, the less likely you are to fall off!
While Nuri smiled and laughed almost the entire time letting out a few shrieks, Viçens held on to the middle handles grips with a giant grin on his face, completely silent with his legs bouncing everywhere.  I on the other hand held on to the tube for my dear life, shrieking at the top of my lungs, making some of my typical, ridiculous faces.  We all had hoarse voices that night and sore biceps from using all our strength to hold on to the tube trying not to tip over.  We laughed so hard during those two five minute sessions of tubing our stomachs hurt so badly we felt like we’d done a major abdominal workout!  In fact, we were still laughing the next day thinking about our experience!  What a riot, definitely a typical American experience none of us will forget!

The facial expressions are back!

1, 2, 3, jump! We do everything together and coordinated, we even have the same tan lines, imagine that!

Ron hooked us up with delicious burgers on the boat
That evening we pedaled 20 miles up the road to Glacier Park, where our hosts Jamie and Brad, who work seasonally in Glacier National Park, lived.   They invited us to go huckleberry picking with them, a hard offer to turn down.  Spaniards typically do a lot of picking of wild vegetables such as garlic and mushrooms, but berries are hard to come by there, the tradition just doesn’t exist like it does in the States.  My Oregon summers for me were filled with picking wild berries along the bike path in Eugene.  My mom also had at least 3 or 4 loyal strawberry pickers during the summer and we would fill up flats after flats so she could make jams we could enjoy all year long with peanut butter for our sack lunches at school.  In West Glacier, the five of us set out to pick huckleberries, each with our own container.  It was reminiscent of my childhood, yet Jamie brought bear spray with her just in case, although I think our chatting that deterred them.  For this harvest, it was a win-win situation! We could eat the huckleberries as we picked and the ones we collected were eaten when we got home, immediately, with milk and sugar, a typical Pritchard dessert!

Tubers by day, an afternoon bike ride, and hucleberry pickers by night!

As for typical American food, well, Nuri and Viçens are trying it all!  I don’t think they’ve refused one things so far, although peanut butter isn't a particular favorite.  They love the snack items from chips and dips to the crackers varieties and have tried a new cereal almost every morning.  Beef jerky, of course, was a total hit, and so are the different pastries at the local supermarket bakeries.  There was a care package waiting for me TeriAnn from Murdock filled with lots of candies among other items, which was also a big hit!  TeriAnn had a create-your-own pizza party for us, and Viçens got to try his first American hamburger on the boat that Ron barbequed for us.  On our second day in Glacier National Park, our hosts in East Glacier made us a an enormous dinner including potato salad and corn on the cob, typical American summer foods. Breakfast the next morning included blueberry waffles with fresh fruit and syrup, along with turkey sausage.  We stuffed ourselves so full of waffles that we hardly made it up the 10 mile hill first thing that morning! 

Teri Ann prepared one heck of a pizza party for us!

Best "Make-Your-Own Pizza" party I've ever been to!

That was a typical American breakfast

Thankfully we have about 10 days left on the road and are soon to hit another country, Canada, so now we will go from typical American culture to discover the Canadian culture.  We are all excited to see what sort of fun and unique experiences and flavors in store for us!  

Friday, July 25, 2014

Reflections After Eleven Months on the Road

Just a few weeks ago you saw me in a picture with a birthday cake with the candles 1-5-6-8-1 all nicely placed on the confetti white frosting.  Now, there's another reason to celebrate, or should I say another excuse to indulge in a sweet treat......What’s the occasion? Another big milestone on The Loong Way Home!

Just shy of 11 months, I celebrated 15,000+ miles on the road in Gillette, WY

I left Barcelona on August 23, 2013 with absolutely no idea if what lied ahead of me, from Barcelona to Eugene, Oregon except for 30,000 kilometers (20,000 miles) of tarmac.  I was accompanied by a few of the members of my local bike club, Club Cicliste Gracia, for the first 50 km, after that, Viçens continued on with me for the first week, also a CC Gracia companion. I had one flat tire that week, the first in my cycling career.  We stayed with one host, treated ourselves to hostels and luxurious campgrounds, and didn’t dare to camp in the wild!  I said good-bye to Viçens in Nice, France and went off on my own to explore the world on bike.  Now, eleven months later, I’ve spent more than 150 nights with hosts, changed 6 more flat tires, and refuse to pay for a campsite!  I’ve made it 27,000 km (16,800km) around the world through 4 continents and 25 countries.

The morning I left, several CC Gracia members ride with me up the coast

Viçens joined me to Nice, France, not a bad destination!
A few days ago in Bozeman, after telling one of my host’s friends about my trip he said, “Cycling around the world for a year would be the last thing on my bucket list! In fact, it would go on the list of things I NEVER want to do in my life!”  It made me laugh, and of course I didn’t take it personally, but the funny thing is, it has been the most fulfilling experience of my life!  As I’ve stated many times throughout the year, I can’t imagine a better way to spend a year (or more) of my life.

A lot of people ask me why I’m riding; what inspired me to set off on my bike around the world.  Time and time again I get ask if I’m raising money for a charity.  When I tell them I’m not, they follow up in a sympathetic tone and say, “Oh, I see, you are doing some soul searching and trying to figure out your life!”  Nope, not doing that either. I figured that out long ago, which is exactly why I decided to quit my job and leave my life in Barcelona and set out to cycle around the world.  I know precisely what makes me happy, what I like to see, eat, and experience.  I can identify my preferred scenery, know the “must see” locations along the route, and still manage to keep an open mind for all the unexpected encounters and experiences in between.  I thought I knew myself well 11 months ago before I set off, but now, let’s just say that I am exponentially happier pursuing my interests and discovering new places after all this time on the bike!  My day-to-day life on the bike keep me motivated to continue pedaling, thankfully, as I still have approximately 5,000km (3,500 miles) to go over the next 3 months.

What’s next? I know a lot of you want to know.  Maybe a visit to Susan “The Spiritual Consultant” is in order, but I don’t really care to know, I’m too busy enjoying today!  I used to be a real planner and have all my future calculated down to exact dates.  You could probably saw I was somewhat of a control freak, and not to say that it doesn’t still permeate my personality, but I can confidently say that I now truly understand what it means to live in the moment.  There is a big picture out there for me, but my priority at the moment is my trip, whether it be organizing my stay with upcoming hosts or my specific route over the next couple of days.  Other times it’s an even more immediate focus like the climb that is 5 miles in front of me, or the 12% gradient slope that I am foolishly trying to conquer with an extra 90 pounds of weight.  I’ve got a short-term vision right now and that is what I cherish the most about my life at the moment.  I am living in the present and soaking up all of that is around me and comes my way. 

I waited and waited and waited for their arrival at Adventure Cycling.....

Adventure Cycling rarely sees cyclists going around the world, it was a big deal and a BIG photo shoot

Ironically, today, July 23rd, is also the day that I have met up again with a few of my fellow CC Gracia companions.  Exactly 11 months after we departed from our usually  club meeting point in Gracia, I met Nuri and Viçens in the tour cycling hub of The United States, Missoula, Montana.  Missoula is home of The Adventure Cycling Association, America’s experts in bicycle travel.  It was an emotional day for me.  For the past week, I’d been envisioning this moment, when they would find me on the streets of Missoula or the road leading into town.  I get excited to see a lot of people on my trip and enjoy the company of others.  It is a unique experience to have my Barcelona world collide with my transient world on a bike in my native country! 

CC Gracia Club, group photo 2013 

My entire cycling career has been in Barcelona; it is where I started road cycling. For four years, the Gracia Cycling Club took me, “the permanent tourist” as I like to call myself, under their wings.  They showed me the best of the Catalonia region on the smallest and most picturesque rural roads.  We spent countless hours climbing Catalan mountain passes, riding winding coastal cliffs, farm roads, and competing in epic Gran Fondo races all over Catalonia, the Basque region, and France.  When I joined the club, I practically doubled the club’s women membership.  However, four years later, there are a good handful of us, although many are also foreigners, like myself.  I started out in the “B Group,” the first season, but lasted little time there.  I quickly wanted to ride just a little bit further at a faster pace (sound familiar)?  I joined the “A group”, the first woman to do so in the club, and found I could keep up with the slower riders in that group, who called themselves the “A2 Group,” without any problem. We differentiated ourselves from the “Super A” group, the guys who ride with their tongues out lucky to hold on to the wheel in front of them.  For me, there is no enjoyment in riding that fast, it is beyond what I consider a good workout!

CC Gracia members after a gran fondo race in France

Without a real family overseas, CC Gracia adopted me.  Perhaps you could call CC Gracia a religion, comparable to a church community for those who attend Sunday morning mass, we had our own devote rituals on the bike every Saturday and Sunday morning.  We’d meet at the crack of dawn and ride anywhere from 100 to 200 km at a pretty fast pace all around the Barcelona, Girona, Tarragona, and Lleida counties.  Some of the guys in the club nicknamed me The Radio because I like to talk while riding.  The guys do converse, from time-to-time, but their conversation revolves around power meters, heart rates, wheel profile, all the boring stuff!  I liked to talk about other stuff like their family, friends, travel.  To keep things clear, let me just add that I never let my talking slow me down. In fact there was nothing that would upset the guys more than passing them on a climb while chatting with another member!  What can I say, I liked to form a relationship with the people I rode with.  I wanted to learn all that I can about the Catalan culture and it helped me feel grounded in Barcelona.  It didn’t take long before I would have dinner parties with the guys, their partners, and friends.  I made big Thanksgiving feast, celebratory meals after a few races, and would meet them up for beers on occasion.  For me, CC Gracia was a lot more than a bike club; it was my family overseas! 

Wearing our CC Gracia Barcelona jerseys with pride!

Exposing them to all the good American customs, including S'mores

Which explains why I’m so ecstatic to be reunited with two of my CC Companion as we cycle from Missoula, Montana, USA to Jasper, British Columbia, Canada during the next two weeks.  I can’t wait to show them where I’m from, see their reaction as they cycle through picturesque places over here, try out some of our typical meals, experience North American hospitality, and get a glimpse of this culture.  Nuri is also an elementary teacher and an outdoor enthusiast, like myself, who has traveled the world.  She is one of the most carefree and happiest people I know!  Viçens, has one of the biggest hearts I know, always there for his friends.  For the past year he has dedicated a lot of time and energy to my trip, compiling videos and updating certain parts of my website.  Without him, I wouldn’t have been able to document my trip in near as much detail nor in such an entertaining format!

Nuri, Viçens, and myself have an established history, a common bond, many in fact, and I have no doubt that we will have the most wonderful time pedaling together for the next two weeks.  Today, eleven months after I left the gardens of Gracia, I’m excited to set off on a different stage of my trip with my fellow Catalan cycling companions!  It is a memorable milestone indeed!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dreams, (Rather Nightmares), Do Come True!

I’m 99.9% sure that Susan the “spiritual healer” has jinxed me.  I believe in destiny, but my trip just keeps getting more and more bizzare with some of the most peculiar coincidences taking place, like today.  I left Bozeman this morning prepared for a century ride (160km) to Montana’s state capitol, Helena.  I had been off the bike for the last two days just hanging out in Bozeman and my legs were itching to pedal again.

John Faunce's garage, the best bike shop in Bozeman

John, my host and patient mechanic, in Bozeman, had helped me fine-tune my breaks and true my back wheel so that I was all prepared. I wanted to pump up my tires with a real foot pump, but unfortunately his was out of commission.  I went to use mine, which is when I noticed, that the little nozzle that attaches to the tire was missing!  That would explain the funny noise I heard earlier in the week, I had disregarded it as a little rock hitting the frame. Darn, I would have to get a new pump, or find a replacement tip, but it would have to wait until Helena or Missoula.  He offered to give me a gas station air adapter, but I refused, knowing I had one in my bag of spare parts, somewhere. I’d be fine until I made it to a bike store, after all, what were the chances of getting a flat tire in the next 100 miles anyway?
That night, I went to bed, but I also slept really badly.  I actually haven’t been sleeping well lately, anxiously awaiting the arrival of a few friends from Barcelona.  In the middle of the night, I woke rather irritable in the middle of a nightmare.  The bike pump must have been on the back of my mind because I had a nightmare about a flat tire on the road and searching high and low for a bike pump.  I was distraught and it took awhile to calm myself down.  Melissa, it is only a nightmare, I thought.  A few hours later, I woke up again, this time to the sensation of wet droplets on my face.  I had been camping in John’s backyard for the last few nights and wasn’t using my rain fly.  The nights were warm without a cloud in the sky, perfect sleeping weather for a tent. Obviously the weather had changed, because I it was sprinkling on my face.  Thankfully, I have a freestanding tent, so I got out, picked it up, and carried it over to the carport where his truck was parked and tucked it under cover. 

Stategic tent placement when the rain came

When my alarm rang at 6am, I was far from feeling well rested, but got up regardless, packed up my things and prepared my bags for my route.  John’s dad, who was visiting, saw me off and I set out for Helena.  I was expecting a gradual uphill but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was cruising continuously at a 1% downhill.  Images of Barcelona infiltrated my mind while I listened to Carlos Ruiz Zafron’s novel Angel’s Game on my ipod, helping me forget about my nightmare and my poor night sleep.  With Zafron’s imagery and Montana’s blue mountains and vast sky in front of me, I was in heaven.  In fact, I pedaled 50 miles effortlessly without stopping.  Townsend was approaching,15 miles away, a perfect lunch stop. 

The Montana countryside, it keeps me entrained while pedaling

All of a sudden a few miles out of town, I noticed that my bike starting to feel heavy.  I looked down at the tires, still full of air.  Was it just my imagination?  I could see a gas station less than half a mile away and the heavy sluggish sensation was still there while I pedaled.  This time when I looked down at my back wheel, I could tell the air was getting lower and lower with each revolution. No way!  I had a flat tire! It had been ages since I had a flat tire.  In fact, I had just made that same comment out loud to John yesterday while talking about the bike pump, hoping I wouldn’t jinx myself! I had!  My dream had foreshadowed the events, however, I considered myself lucky because without a working bike pump, I needed a gas station air hose.  Here I was 100 ft. from a gas station, it’s like fainting right in front of an ambulance; who does that anyway?

I found a comfy place to work on my bike.  The double fuel tanker in the background.

All I had to do was find my gas station adapter, change the tube, and I’d rolling again in no time.  Besidies, I was in need of a stop anyway to eat and by the looks of the sky ahead, a storm was about to roll through.  I found a bench outside the gas station and supply store, got comfortable, and started searching for my adapter.  I searched all through my bag of tools and parts and couldn’t find the little sucker.  Where was it? I was beginning to regret not having taken John up on his offer.  There was a truck driver filling a double fuel industrial size tank truck at the pump across the way.  I asked him for a hardware store in town and he gave me the name.  Townsend was not big enough to have a bike shop.  I called the hardware store and the guy who answered told me they sold an adapter.  I decided to change my tire, get the new tube in just using my mouth to fill it with air and then I could walk my bike down. 

It was a good plan, or so I thought, until I couldn’t get enough air into the tube to get the tire to stay on the rim.  I was going to have to go down to the store.  The truck driver across the way offered to watch my bike and another truck driver who had overheard our conversation, also at the pump, offered to take me down.  I hoped in and we went down to the store, bought the adapter, and the same pick-up actually took me back to my bike! The same truck driver was still there and so was my bike with the tire waiting for air. The adapter I bought looked different than the one I had owned, but I thought I could screw it on to the air compressor.  I slowly unscrewed the valve they had on at the gas station, when a huge powerful stream of air erupted from the compressor making a horrible noise!  It looked like one of the hoses in a cartoon that has a mind of it’s own spraying water, wiggling and moving in every direction possible like a snake, only this hose had air coming out.  Luckily the same truck driver knew where the emergency stop botton was on the compressor, pushed it.  My adapter wasn’t going to fit. 

Time for plan B.  I went in search of another hardware store after asking some locals.  The truck driver whose tanks were yet to be filled continued to watch my bike.  I went to a tire store, no luck.  Another gas station, rejected again.  I was turning the corner to go to the last hardware store in town when I saw a yard full of bikes.  Surely a household like this was filled with kids and would have a bike pump, I thought.  The door was open so I went in saying Hello, asking if anyone was home?  A man in a wheel chair rolled out, I was caught off guard.  I was even more surprised to see that he didn’t have any pants on in the chair and only a little gauze strip covering his you know what!  I tried my hardest to look only at his eyes. In fact I was actually probably looking at the ceiling, overcompensating for the fact I didn’t want my eyes to wander down.  If I weren’t so frantic and adamant about finding a bike pump, I probably would have stopped to wondered what on earth had happened to this man and why was he hanging out in his garage without pants or underwear in his wheelchair.  Of course the man didn’t have a single pump, just a collection of a half dozen of bikes outside! 

Back to plan B, finding a store that had a bike pump or adapter.  I was right in front of the town’s trading post when I saw a women get into a mini SUV. For some reason, something told me this lady had a husband who might cycle.  I had made a correct assumption.  Kathy lived a few blocks down and her husband and daughter had just gotten back for a cycling trip in Italy.  I knew this meant they had road bikes, and therefore a pump that would serve me well!  BINGO!  I got in her car and we went to her house, walking straight to the garage where she handed me a sparkling brand new bike pump.

How lucky was I to meet Kathy, probably one of the only road cycling families in all of Townsend

We made it back to my bike, which was still there, although the truck driver had lost patience with me.  Just as I started to work on my tire, the skies opened up and it began to pore! I brought all my gear into the gas station garage, while Kathy took refuge in the car.  I didn’t want her to wait while I fixed my bike, but she insisted andused a phrase that is becoming rather familiar. “Melissa, I was suppose to go to Helena today, but my appointment got canceled.  I had just pulled up to the hardware store when I saw you…..I don’t really know why I was going there…..I think this was just meant to be!”  She assured me she didn’t have anything else to do so I could take my time.  But by then, I was out of energy, frazzled, and wanted to get my tire changed once and for all!  It went smoothly until I tried to get the brakes back on and I couldn’t.  What on earth was wrong?  I had gotten them off, but couldn’t seem to get them back in their clip.

My bike stayed dry in the supply shop garage
I asked a strong looking man in the shop for help, but he couldn’t get enough leverage either.  I went out to give Kathy back her pump so she didn’t have to wait any longer.  I could tell she was worried about me, not for the mechanical part, but for the weather and the simple fact of being a solo young lady out on the road.  She had a daughter who was a teacher, probably around the same age as me and I’m sure it made her take my situation more to heart.  She had written her phone number on a piece of paper and told me I was welcome to stay at her house to wait out the storm, or even stay the night.  She also offered to help me out on the road in case I had any other further problems on my way to Helena.  Kathy was so nice.  She asked if I had money for lunch.  When I assured her that I did, she wanted to know if I had enough money for my trip!  Kathy had already been a huge help, probably the only resident of Townsend to the bike pump.

Erik played a key in helping with the final touches of getting my bike back out on the road!

I went back to my bike and by then Erik, the strong guy, had managed to get the brake cable back in, using a wrench, no less!  He also had a little tiny adapter in his fingers, he’d found it rummaging though his tool box while I was talking with Kathy.  It looked different than the one I thought I had packed away, but wouldn’t you know it fit perfectly? We made a fair trade; I gave him the adapter I had bought and in return he gave me the small adapter.  It was a done deal!  An hour and a half after I rolled up to the gas station, my wheels were changed, brakes on and adjusted, and I was ready to pedal again…..except for the fact that buckets of water were still pouring down. I decided to enter the supply store attached to the gas station and wait out the storm a little while longer. 

Hey, I'm happy hanging out anywhere, even next to the ammo and guns!

This one is for me, the "Muddy Girl" model.....
What is a supply store anyway you might ask? I had no idea!  It has everything from livestock feed to Coca Cola, groceries, coffee, women’s clothing and hunting apparel, postcards and tourist knit knacks to guns and ammunition, and ham and cheese sandwiches, which, YES, I avoided!  I got a coffee and ate some of the food I already had, hanging out by the only empty counter in the whole store, the gun cabinet no less!  I’ve been in bait and tackle stores before for pit stops and sat next to crickets used for bait, so chilling by the guns locked away didn’t even phase me.  In fact I was intrigued to read the names of the different models while I waited for the rain to let up.

There's my mountain supply store and it aftermath of the rain storm left a lake in front of the place

After another 30 minutes the storm dissipated and I could see sunshine in the direction of Helena.  I got back on my bike and started pedaling, engrossed once again by my audio book.  I had anticipated a 30-minute pit stop to change my tire and eat, but now, almost 2 hours.  What an ordeal!!! If I only would have taken John up on his offer to keep his gas station adapter! 

The rest of the afternoon was gorgeous with peaceful farms dotting the countryside
By the time I arrived to the capital, I was hot!

Three hours later I arrived at my warmshowers host, another John.  He listened to my story about the bike pump, tires, and brakes and then commented, “Gee, that is funny, my bike has a brake release you pop out by the handle bar!”  My head dropped slightly along with my bottom jaw.  I starred at him in disbelief.  That was it!  I had forgotten to open the brake release on the handle bars.  How could I have forgotten?  I was so preoccupied with the tires and bike pump, I had forgotten all about the brake release……. I shook my head laughing, thinking, only you Melissa!  My day had unfolded exactly as my dream had foreshadowed, or rather nightmare I should say. 

What should I dream about next?.......I’m afraid to even ask.

Ice cream at the end of the day makes for a happy ending to any story!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Being Resourceful Is My Middle Name

Yes, it is the more scenic route, but without many, or any Warmshowers hosts, one had to be creative for sleeping options!

As I continue to pedal on my loong way home and accumulate miles, I think I’m actually getting wiser! Although my friend Rob back in Tasmania, might just say I’ve become an even more professional “Freddie the Freeloader”.  But I’d like to think that I’ve become more resourceful as my trip continues.  At the start of my trip I stayed only in “official campsites” mostly, private, as Europe doesn’t really have public or government run campgrounds.  I also did my fair share of hostels, after all, for about 18 or 20 euros a night I could get a room, hot shower, and sometimes even breakfast.  Now I imagine paying 20 dollars for a room and I consider it highway robbery.  In fact, most of you would be shocked to know, that since I started pedaling in the states, I’ve only spent $20 on accommodation, $18,50 to be precise.  You might think I’m cheap, go ahead, say it, but to tell you the truth, I can’t be bothered with paying for a place to put my tent and take shelter.  You see, I’d rather spend my money on food.  For the same amount or less than a campsite I could buy a delicious steak or fresh fruit and veggies and have a high class meal.  So now, on my journey, it has become a fun challenge to find places to take shelter every night that are free!  It makes me be more creative, think a bit harder, and be even more resourceful than I have been in the past.

This week has been a great example of just how resourceful I have become.  I left Gillette without any hosts lined up on the way to Yellowstone.  I wanted to take the most scenic route possible, but this was also the route that had no Warmshowers hosts.  While I was with Mary and Steve in Gillette, they mentioned that a past guest was a mayor and he was hitting up a lot of the mayor offices on his cross country tour, since almost all towns have a mayor’s office.  That felt a bit out of my comfort zone, but it did bring to mind the fact that almost all towns have Rotary Clubs, and since I was an Ambassadorial Rotary Scholar recipient back in 2002/03, I thought I contact local clubs and asked the president if any of the member’s would let me camp in their yard.  I sent a few emails out before leaving Gillette contacting clubs on the road to Yellowstone. 

Just to change things up, I had a strong head wind heading into Buffalo, WY
My first night on the road, I hadn’t heard anything when I rolled into Buffalo, Wyoming, so I went to the local information office and got a town map and saw they had a public swimming pool that was labeled “FREE”.  Perfect, that would be my shower, now I just needed to find the fire station or elementary school for camping.  The nice elderly man working there could tell what I was onto and so he told me, “If I were going to put my tent somewhere in town, I’d go here!” and he pointed to a field on the map that was close to the running path, but tucked out of the way.   On the way to the swim pool, I stopped at the Subway to see if they had Wifi, which is when my message from Brian Cotant, a local Buffalo Rotarian, hit my inbox.  He told me that if I still needed a place to stay, I could come to his house.  I called him and was delighted to hear they had a spare bedroom and that dinner was already in the oven! 

Brian and Becky were a delightful young energetic couple who had a dentist practice in town and two small children.  Becky reminded me of my sister, multi-tasking galore to prepare dinner for now 5 people, she was making cookies, washing laundry, and taking care of the kids.  I’m always so impressed with parents who seem about my age because our lives are so dramatically different! I have a hard time taking care of myself at times and getting my basic needs and here Brian and Becky are constantly on the go taking care of their kids both under the age of 6!

The Cotant family in Buffalo, Wyoming, exception hosts are Brian and Becky active, active parents!

The view from their backyard at sunset, the mountains awaited me.  I couldn't have been happier with this evening view
They had some neat food contraptions including the Nutribullet smoothie maker and a neat tea maker that steeps different teas at their appropriate temperature and time.  I can attest both are ingenious inventions, I couldn’t resist in trying both. The Cotant’s hosue overlooked the mountains I was going to be climbing the next day.  They asked me my route and offered to set me up with friends in a few towns.  They knew dentists in 3 other towns along my route, giving me some flexibility depending on where I made it each day. Who would have thought the world of Rotary would open the door for so many hosting opportunities in central Wyoming?

A road has officially been named after me (it's just missing the word stubborn in there)

By far my longest pass of the trip, but not the highest

I left Buffalo rather early knowing I had a massive climb ahead of me.  It was 35 miles, almost 8,500 ft. of climbing and took me just over 5,5 hours.  Luckily Becky sent me some of her freshly made “energy bites” and waiting for me on the other side of the pass were Carl and Kamme Jeffries, dentists in Worland and sports enthusiasts.  They had 3 kids who I also met, older than Brian and Becky’s kids, and all pretty independent during the summer months.  Their daughter was applying for a Rotary youth exchange, so I talked to her about my experience abroad.  They were able to give me a few pointers on my route for the following day and I hung around a bit longer that morning, knowing I didn’t have such a difficult day now that I was on the other side of the mountain. 

With every good climb comes a nice reward

No one told me just how amazing Wind River Canyon was going to be, what a pleasant surprise

I didn’t factor in the heat, and when temperatures got up to 108F I had to take shelter at the best air-conditioned place I could find, McDonald’s no less.  When ice cream cones are a dollar and there are unlimited refills on soda and temperatures are scorching outside, the golden arches are paradise!   A Warmshowers hosts had gotten back to me in Riverton, my destination for the day, but I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make it in the heat.  I had to make a second long stop in a gas station 20 miles away and downed two milkshakes back-to-back.  Gas stations in this area, I’m finding, have these totally artificial and processed freezes.  You insert them into a special machine and they thaw a bit to the thickness you desire.   A brilliant invention on days like these!  I called Dan, my host, in Riverton to let him know I was going to make it, but would arrive on the later side.  He offered to come rescue me, but of course I declined.  Before leaving the gas station I drank a drank a 5-hour energy shot, which I had never tried before.  I don’t know if it was that shot or the two milkshakes, but I made it to Riverton in pretty good time.  Without even taking a shower, Dan took me out to dinner at a local Italian restaurant, which hit the spot after a long day’s ride.  Dan admitted that he rarely hosts cyclists now because of his odd work hours, but when my email came through and he saw my website, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet me.  I had a good chuckle when he told me, “Melissa, I have never met anyone who comes even remotely close to you and what you are doing.  The last guy I hosted had a really difficult time just going over Towghatee Pass! You’ll make that no problem”  I find it really funny that people are so impressed by my trip where as I’m just so thankful for their hospitality and genuine interest to take care of me!

I actually spent the following day at Dan’s resting and making a birthday gift for my niece. Riverton isn’t a touristy place, which for me is ideal, because I basically was a hermit all day in Dan’s apartment. Talk about resourceful, I put together a homemade photo album of my niece’s first five years and personalized it with stickers and captions, all in one afternoon.  Thank goodness for Walgreens, Snapfish, and the US Postal service!

Free food BABY!! I had to be choosy about what I took, but it all looked good, but that would have been like 25 extra lbs.

I left Dan’s and made my way to Dubois, the base of the Towgotee Pass that would take me into the Tetons and Yellowstone.  He told me there was a church in town there that lets cyclists stay the night.  It sounded perfect, since there was no Rotary Club, nor a dentist friend to host me.  I arrived on the early side and sure enough saw the St. Thomas Episcopal Church on the right had side of the road just as I entered town.  Just as I found the office and was knocking at the door, Mary Ellen in her minivan pulled up and honked at me.  She indeed confirmed the fact that the church opens their doors to cyclists, individual cyclists, couples, and big groups.  That isn’t the only thing they open…..They have a huge selection of warm drinks, a fully equipped kitchen, and a fridge full of food leftover from different church events.  It was my lucky day because the church had just had an ice cream sale the past weekend and guess what was leftover in the freezer?  At this point in my trip, I have absolutely no self-control and will eat anything that seems remotely appetizing that crosses my path…...Sorry! 

Did you really have to leave that 3 gallon bucket of ice cream in the freezer?

Mary Ellen with the church dog.  She was the nicest older women at the Episcopal church

Mary Ellen told me another cycling couple had called ahead and would be coming to spend the night as well.  Sure enough Claire and Andy showed up about an hour after me.  They were cycling across the country from North Carolina to San Fransisco, but making a detour to hit Yellowstone and Glacier.  This couple was a lot of fun and we ended up making dinner, eating on the kitchen floor and talking for a good three or four hours sharing stories.  Like me, they also prefer to camp in places where they don’t have to pay and shared with me a few pointers that hadn’t crossed my mind yet.  The church house was so big, I gave them the big family room and went and slept on the living room floor. 
Imagine, all that stuff is on their bikes.  They carried just a little more weight than me
The three cyclists at St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Notice someone else has beautiful sandal tan lines....

I saw the sign advertising "Take your picture with the largest jackalobe" and I just couldn't resist!  

The next morning we helped ourselves to the bacon in the freezer, and made ourselves a good hearty breakfast before starting out.  The pass wasn’t actually as long as I expected, nor as difficult.  The Powder River Pass had toughened me up, and to date, it is the longest pass I’ve been over except maybe some of those crazy mountain passes in Northern Vietnam and Laos that were never ending and intensely steep!  Once over Towgotee, it was pretty much all downhill with spectacular view of The Tetons, plus I just managed to bypass the thunderstorms.  I had plans to meet my friend Newt the following night, but needed a campsite for that night.  I headed to the little village in Tetons that had shower facilities.  I needed to charge some of my electronics, so I plopped myself down at a table where there were plenty of outlets. What a set-up we had!  Talk about being resourceful with making the most of our outlets.  Wouldn’t you know by the time everything was all charged I had made friends with the guys hanging around the table?  Visitors at National Parks are always nice.  How can you be in a bad mood when you are surrounded by such natural beauty? 
I did it! A piece of cake compared to Powder River Pass
It rained everywhere except over my head that day
Ok, this picture makes it obvious.  Can you pick the out odd ball? I admit, sometimes I'm just too trusting!
Kenny was born and raised in Oregon.  He and his wife had bought a new car in Oregon to get the no sales tax perk, and were driving it across country to their home in Memphis, Tennessee with their high school son Reeves.  To me, Reeves seemed much more mature than high school.  He was looking into Reed College, so we had a nice talk about the Portland area, which he loved.  Tom the other gentleman was on a cross-country trip from Gainesville, Florida, a part of Florida that he described as “the blue in a sea of red”.  He was visiting different places and family members along the way.  I probably should have asked the fellow Oregonians if I could setup camp with them, but since they had rented a cabin, I didn’t think that was appropriate, so I chose to ask Tom. I think I caught him off guard, because at first he hesitated, but then said it was no problem.  Now that I look back, he was probably wondering, “Really, this nice young lady wants to set up her tent at my site?”  I say that because Tom was probably my only really bad judge of character I’ve had on my trip.  Not that he seemed dangerous or anything, but he was just a bit “different”.  I later realized he didn’t really have a verbal censor and some of the comments he made were a bit awkward.  Thankfully I slept in my tent, he stayed in his, and I got a good night sleep.  I went for a hike the next morning and said good-bye.  When I got back he’d left me a long detailed note with a few inappropriate comments.  Yes, I was resourceful in finding a place to stay that night, but I didn’t have the best judge of character.  But one sketchy host out of 150, those aren’t bad odds!

It’s good to know that when I’m in more remote areas, I can use my creativity, resources, (and charm) to get by, and in luxury, by my standards, of course!  My resourcefulness is about to be put to the test as I head north.  I have decided to travel up the Alaska Highway through Alberta, British Columbia, and The Yukon to Alaska.  I still have time, the weather should hold out, and the Alaska wilderness has sparked my curiosity!  I can’t help myself.  It will probably one of the most remote and difficult areas I’ve cycled because of the weather and the wilderness, but I’m ready for the challenge!