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!

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