This story recounts a journey on an ICE Qnt recumbent tricycle, from the central Oregon coast to Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park in southeastern California. This was the first cross-country trike trek that I have ever experienced. You may read about my complete preparatory phase HERE. The Badwater or Bust blog, written mostly by three correspondents, detailing the trip as it occurred, can be accessed HERE. What follows below is the tale of how this unique expedition unfolded, with things both expected and unexpected.
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The Death Valley Tricycle Expedition
Once Upon A Time, in a warm land of sun, there lived a wee lad in a brown corduroy jacket who pedaled a tiny red and white tricycle. He did not go far, nor did he go fast, yet each day would find him on an ardent quest of adventure in his driveway. So proud were his mother and father of his personal explorations that they chronicled the miniature travels of their three year old on an ancient Bell & Howell 8 mm movie camera.
The lad’s father told him that nothing was impossible, and encouraged him to pursue his interests and dreams. The tiny triker’s feral realm of discovery was the wide open spaces around their small home, and when his parents took him to visit distant landscapes without the tricycle, he would always take off on foot to discover what was around the next curve in the canyon. This was a lad determined to ever remain active while living with the natural world around him. As the years rolled on, these modest beginnings coalesced into a solid, but for a time forgotten, life foundation.
He also grew up in another world of automobiles and motorcycles. Everyone had at least one of them, and all the kids on the block dreamed of the day they could have their own set of petroleum-powered wheels to impress their friends. Kids had bicycles and tricycles to ride around the neighborhood, but they were only temporary two-wheeled steel toys to hold them over until the day a coveted driver’s license made its way into their pockets and purses.
Human powered pedal transport became only a memory in the minds of most, destined to remain but a brief and transient part of a life with other dreams of grandeur. Now, with the newly obtained power to operate fast and lethal cars bestowed upon them by their regional kings, the still maturing adults rocketed gleefully into the world of gasoline, insurance, and repair bills … heady with notions of true adulthood, and intoxicated with their newfound authority.
The once small and innocent lad of tricycledom outgrew his brown corduroy jacket, left his humble and pure beginnings, and followed the ways that were persistently taught to him as essential markers of human success and prestige. Somewhere along the way, his little red and white tricycle found a new home, perhaps a place where yet another new person could pretend until the time when youth forever evaporated.
He was now a teenager, and this is his tale of returning to the three-wheeled realm from whence he came. These are his chronicles of coming full circle, how he acquired his second tricycle, and how he set off alone on his most intrepid life adventure … once again pedaling.
Now, in his words:
Once I obtained my “learner’s permit” at 15.5 years of age (way too young to responsibly drive a car, by the way), I fell head over heels into the motorized model of human transport. My old man published and edited automotive and motorcycle magazines for a living, so my story followed his ambitions. I would always have a car … usually something custom and very cool. There was no doubt about it.
Well, as things go for humans, the mind changes over time. It took me 43 years of driving two and three-ton steel boxes with internal combustion engines at their core before I took drastic measures. Unlike my father, who unfortunately chose to initiate a deadly nicotine dependence during the second world war, I traveled the path of health and fitness crusader. If I couldn’t live forever, I was surely going to do my best and give it the old college try! Automobile exhaust and the air I breathe continually could not harmoniously coexist for one who is intent on maximum longevity.
It took a while to come to grips though.
As a result of this ever-increasing psychological battle in my brain, I realized I had to do something if I wanted to escape being labeled as hypocritical. More importantly, I wanted to do my part for my air, and although I am only one guy in an exceptionally small minority, it was one more step by one more person in the name of fresh air. The time had come!
December 22, 2008, a date I shall never forget, I sold my final vehicle that was powered by the ubiquitous infernal combustion engine. In my late fifties, it was like teaching an old dog new tricks. My motivation powered me through the sale, and as I watched a like-new, ultra low mileage Nissan Xterra drive away from the house at half the price I paid for it, I wondered if I had lost my mind. After all, every human needs a car! How else would we go fast, make appointments on time, and travel in the rain? The automobile model of life was so utterly entrenched in my society that no one could really believe what I had just done.
I walked everywhere for the next five months. My fitness level increased noticeably, and I was wearing out shoe soles instead of tires. I paid no more expensive insurance premiums, oil change fees, or costly automotive repair bills. I no longer spewed deadly toxins into my air as 4500 pounds of steel, rubber, plastic, and glass moved my diminutive 160 pound body around the small town in which I lived. Although I still retain a driver’s license to occasionally drive for family members now and again, my personal ownership is a thing of the past.
Then, as providence prevailed, in May 2009, I was invited to be a guest speaker about one of my Death Valley National Park books. My author’s presentation was scheduled to be approximately 900 miles distant. It was to occur in November 2009. I had no car. This was a test. Could I remain true to my ideals and dreams, or would I fold? Clearly, I needed a car, or so I was being told by those who knew me. As a budding author, I shouldn’t pass up a speaking engagement that could potentially boost book sales as part of my retirement package, so I faced a dilemma.
Still buried deep within my distant awareness, were images of a simpler time, thoughts of a brown corduroy jacket, and a small human powered vehicle I once rode in my driveway. As I was growing up, my father had always asserted that nothing was impossible. He left this world when I was only 26, and could not advise me now on the best course of action, so, based on memories, emotions, and an inner need to craft what I perceived as the most advantageous choices, an old personal paradigm of transportation again surfaced in my mind.
Fifty-four years ago, I had the right idea. I was now one year older than my dad had ever been.
My dear old mom, an 82-year veteran of human survival, offered to front the money necessary to rent a car to make the trip south from my Oregon coastal town. This would allow me to be present for her November birthday commemoration, and also celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with her and my sister. Surprisingly, when she told me this on the telephone in May 2009, I had no trouble saying that an automobile was not a solution I wished to embrace for this trip. And when I informed her of my tentative plans, she truly thought I was joking.
I wanted to ride a tricycle to Death Valley.
For about a year prior to our conversation, I had my eye on the acquisition of a human-powered quadcycle or tricycle. I studied them intently online, attempting to figure out which would best serve my needs. Now, with a standing invitation to speak at a well-attended national park event only 16 weeks away, I had to make a decision … and fast!
With little thought about whether I could even successfully make such a trip, I committed to it fully, and purchased a recumbent tricycle. I moved so fast in my preparations that fear of failure or change of heart factors had virtually no room to shackle my progress. This I was going to do, or die trying, as the saying goes. I was finally going to take a meaningful stand for something I believed in, something that others thought foolish, and thereby transport myself into a world full of unknowns and questions.
My resolve surprised even me. Often I dream. Yet to abandon something so near and dear to millions of humans on this planet, was almost unthinkable. Sure, I had stopped watching television many years prior, but that is different. You can live without TV. You can’t live without a car. Well, I was going to give it my best shot.
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May 24th I prepared to purchase a Catrike Expedition recumbent tricycle from Hostel Shoppe Recumbents in Stevens Point, Wisconsin (along with about $1,000 of additional gear). Since it was almost closing time that far east, I told Jessie that I would call tomorrow and place the order, having obtained all the necessary information from her. I even had my credit card sitting ready next to the phone.
May 25th I received an email from Matt Jensen, a local Catrike 700 rider, stating that his friend Norm Nieberlein had just listed his recumbent trike for sale today on a recumbent forum, and that perhaps it was worth a look. I looked. I liked. I emailed Norm.
May 26th Norm drove up into the driveway in his minivan just after breakfast, with a rarely-used trike in the back, a red and silver low-slung racing beauty built in England by a company called Inspired Cycle Engineering, or ICE for short. It was a Q model with a narrow track, and a mesh seat reclined to 37 degrees off the horizontal. Low mileage, excellent condition, and an unbeatable price sealed the deal after a short neighborhood test ride. He left the trike with me and drove off.
May 27th I presented a bank check to Norm. I had my trike. Now, I had to prepare for the journey of my life.
October 1st was my scheduled launch date. It had been October 12th, but I got to thinking the better of leaving so late when I had to be in Stovepipe Wells, California by November 6th at 8:00 AM at the Author’s Breakfast. I moved it up to October 7th, yet still my mind questioned how long it would take. Everyone said that 50 mile days were doable. Perhaps even more daily mileage if the terrain cooperated. I wasn’t taking any chances. I moved departure to the first day of October at 7 in the morning.
That was only 16 weeks away, but I cloaked the urgency of it by stating it as four months, which fooled my mind into thinking I had all the time in the world to acquire all the needed expedition gear, gather all the knowledge necessary to actually pull off a trip of this magnitude, and train my body to ride a recumbent 8-10 hours per day everyday for weeks. Tall order. Good thing that ignorance is bliss!
Since I had paid only $1800 for this $3100 trike, as opposed to the $2500 I was figuring on spending for the Catrike from Hostel Shoppe (not to mention $280 in shipping), more money was available now for trike expedition gear … needed things like panniers, tent, rain clothes, shoes, food, and a seemingly endless list of incidental items related to cross-country cycling journeys according to those in the know. Truly, it was becoming mind boggling trying to decide what I really needed and what I didn’t, based only on what others were telling me, and my perceived notions of what this would be like to live on a trike and on the ground in a tent for many days and weeks.
Never had I ridden a human-powered cycle any distance greater than around a few blocks when I was a kid. That was it. Now, I hoped to ride one through three states, give a talk, and ride it back home again, a total distance in excess of 2,000 miles. And since the presentation date was set in stone, my plan included returning over high mountain ranges at the end of November, which could mean snow, ice, and bitter cold if an early storm hit. I was told I was not thinking clearly. I responded that I would just hunker down in the tent if snow stopped my passage.
There’s nothing quite like a good monumental challenge every now and then to really make a person feel alive. The gravity of what I was about to attempt was so well hidden beneath my groundwork that fortunately I was able to watch the weeks go by with little thought of bailing out. Besides equipment purchases from Hostel Shoppe, my training rides kept me so busy physically that I felt fine. As my body adapted to the strange world of recumbent pedaling, so my confidence soared, and I found myself eager to get on the road.
Aches and pains associated with first time triking came and went. Bizarre numbness in my posterior, humorously referred to as “recumbent butt” by seasoned riders, passed quickly. Hot spots in my feet, areas of uncomfortable aching from many miles of pushing on the pedals, also came and went, but I was confident that they too would not stop me. A few hip and knee twinges along the way got my attention, but as they faded, so did my concern. My cardiovascular fitness was top notch. I never got winded or felt like I couldn’t go on. Each week I became stronger, and more familiar with my new trike. We were becoming a fine-tuned machine that would function as one for this journey to North America’s lowest walkable land, at 282 feet below sea level.
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Badwater Basin in Death Valley was my prize, an otherworldly and feared locale that I had visited many times during the past 55 years … but always in a car. Practically anybody can do it in a car. Where’s the challenge in that? I was going to ride a tricycle there, a Herculean task perhaps equivalent, in my mind at least, of cleaning the Aegean Stables or defeating the Cretan Bull. Boy, do I ever love a challenge!
A fanatical preacher of the early twentieth century once adamantly proclaimed that he could literally hear the wails of the damned emanating from beneath the barren and arid salt playa, a place he called the literal roof of religious hell. With summer temperatures sometimes reaching 136 degrees Fahrenheit, it was clear why folks might believe his tirade. The Bailey Geological Survey party of 1900 placed a sign in front of their camp while studying this apparent wasteland, which stated: “20 miles from wood. 20 miles from water. 40 feet from hell.”
Interesting place. Think I’ll take my chances on a trike.
I had grown up in and around Death Valley. My parents first brought me here when I was only four years old. They first came eight years before that, on my dad’s 1947 Harley-Davidson motorcycle. As a kid, visiting this remote and lonely landscape on a regular basis was normal fare, so what the public thought was an inhospitable and deadly badland, was to me a wonderful expanse of exciting natural world to explore. I thought nothing of spending days out there in the desert and surrounding mountains in my 4wd Jeep, camping primitively as I bonded with nature.
When I told people I was going to ride a tricycle to Death Valley, they thought I was crazy on two noteworthy psychological levels. First, they questioned my sanity for even wanting to visit Death Valley at all, having heard all the sensationalized horror stories from 1849 to the present. Second, they questioned my sanity for wanting to pedal myself only 9 inches from the asphalt to get there. What?!? No car? Are you nuts?
Maybe, but life’s more interesting that way! My credo is: If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space. I’m a minimalist and naturalist. I don’t believe in taking up more room or resources to exist than I have to. I would rather be an integral part of my natural surroundings than one who is isolated deep within the confines of a consumptive metropolis. I refuse to be a prisoner in the middle of normalcy. I like the edge … there are less people here!
Still, it took all I could muster to forge ahead and pull this off. Two local friends kept me primed with enthusiasm whenever they noticed me in second-guess mode. Matt Jensen, trike guru of the Oregon coast, taught me all I needed to know to keep the three-wheeled steed viable over the miles. Without his help, my learning curve would have been seemingly insurmountable. He also embraces a unique ideology of life that helped calm my inner spirit when thoughts of speeding cars or wayward thugs crept into my gray matter. Terry Butler, a retired university professor, worked with me in defining success, so I would realize when and if I attained my goals. We identified the objectives –benchmarks that were necessary in my mind– never mind what the minds of other people thought. I wasn’t out to prove anything to anyone. I had real goals and plans to accomplish them.
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Norm’s Q, now my new vehicle, was geared for one thing: going fast. It was a rig with real quick potential, thus the nomenclature of Q for quick. Quick is nice, but I had several high and steep mountain ranges that must be crossed on this journey, and just getting over them was going to be an ordeal. The primary reason for this challenge was because I was convinced I had to pull a trailer with a serious food supply inside so that I could be self-sufficient for at least two weeks no matter what developed during the ride. Well, this adds weight. Weight slows a cyclist down. A lot of weight slows a cyclist down a lot. I had a lot of weight!
The trailer weighed in at 16 pounds of aluminum, plastic, and rubber. The cargo trunk atop the trailer weighed in at 20 pounds of plastic. That’s 36 pounds of weight just to pull even more weight … my food and water. In the trunk I placed a gear bag with 50 pounds of food that would last two weeks, and five extra liters of water (in case the four liters I had onboard the trike ran out). Also in the trunk were my tent, sleeping bag, and any other incidentals that didn’t fit elsewhere. I was prepared for anything all right, but all that preparation also led to considerably less daily mileage as I was to find out (and a more massive daily caloric expenditure).
The total weight of my entire ten-foot long rig, including my bodyweight, exceeded 350 pounds. I learned this both through pre-trip calculations, and also by weighing a few times at truck scales. Keep in mind that the trike by itself is only a 35 pound vehicle! My legs and feet were required to turn pedals that moved all this weight forward, no matter how long or steep the mountains. A lesson was in the making, one that was to be hard learned.
On the rear of the trike, the gearing was changed to a mountain bike cassette, with an 11 to 34 range, which would allow me to gear way down for the steep long grades that would be many. The chain rings on the front were changed from a road setup (30-42-52) to numbers more friendly on endless uphills (24-36-50). Between these two power transmission alterations, my new trike could nearly climb trees. The difference was very obvious. I still had a decent top-end speed at 50 teeth on the large ring, but that 24 tooth small ring would save me from coming to a grinding halt on daunting mountain passes. To perform a transmission upgrade like this in a car would have cost a month’s salary, but on the trike, it was just the price of the materials, as work was done at home in the garage. Can’t beat that!
I had a welder fabricate a light bar that originates vertically from my left seat tube, where I placed my headlight and taillight for easy access while I was underway. Turns out this was a great idea, as I did end up riding for more than 20 hours in darkness over the course of the entire trip. When no cars were coming, I did enjoy shutting off my headlight to ride by the light of the moon. I had wanted to fabricate a shade cover also, which would keep the sun off my head in the desert, but with a tight budget, something had to give, and so it never materialized.
One significant pre-trip assessment led to major modifications to my tire setup, which proved to be one of the best decisions that I made. I removed Norm’s thin light-duty road tires and standard inner tubes, and replaced all three with expensive extra thick tires designed to eliminate punctures (Schwalbe Marathon-Plus). Lining each tire, I placed tube protectors, yet another layer of thick plastic with the sole purpose of stopping intruding sharp things from reaching the tube (EarthGuards). And for the tubes, I used a special extra heavy duty rubber that was more like a hose than a tube. It was thick and highly puncture resistant (Kenda Q-Tubes).
Everyone, including seasoned cyclists, said it was overkill, but that was okay. The last thing I wanted to be doing was constantly changing flat tires like so many cyclists are always having to do! What if a tire had gone flat during one portion of the trip where my life was actually in genuine danger from hypothermia? Changing tires is no picnic anyway, let alone doing it when the hands are going numb from deep cold, and the body is shaking every time I stopped for a food infusion or bathroom break. My intuition paid off, as no tire on the trike ever went flat, even after riding through hundreds of goatheads, huge hideous thorns that are the cyclist’s curse. By way of comparison, the tires on the trailer were not so equipped, and one did finally succumb.
This trike tire system was heavy and expensive, with each tire/liner/tube combo lessening my financial load by approximately $75. It was the best money I spent. Even now, long after the end of this trip, the tires are still holding air. Spend money up front and do it right, or spend it later to rectify things out on the road. The choice was an easy one for me.
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One choice was not so easy. In fact, right up to the final week before departure, I was still pondering and testing solutions for my feet and connecting to the pedals. I would be doing quite a bit of hiking on this overland trek, so I preferred to wear my Merrill Moab Ventilator hiking boots, strapped to the pedals with a device called a Power Grip. This, as it came to pass, was a very poor decision, and it led to foot issues that radically altered the journey.
I did not engage in sufficient pre-trip study of footwear and recumbent trike foot considerations because so many other things had my attention during those 16 weeks. After the trip, and much online gathering of known cycling knowledge, I now realize that a hard sole cycling shoe that uses a cleat binding system of attachment would have been necessary to avoid the foot gremlins that plagued me, and shortened my total riding time considerably. My choices led to severely inflamed Achilles tendons on both legs from over arching the foot around the pedal on millions of rotations, and two numb toes on each foot from extensive over compression of central mid-foot nerves and arteries.
The Power Grip straps work well for traditional bicyclists, where their feet are on top of the pedals, and the straps prevent them from sliding forward off the pedal. However, on a recumbent trike, the rider’s feet are behind the pedals instead, so I had to adjust the straps to keep my feet from falling backwards on to the ground. To accomplish this, the straps had to be opened up to allow my foot to insert past the ball, which was a primary mistake that led to the problems. Further, these straps keep the feet secure by restrictive tension on a recumbent trike. You put your foot in at an angle, and then rotate it straight to bring the tension into play, further reducing blood flow. The flexible soles of my Merrill boots were the final ingredient that brought this odd dynamic to a head.
On my 50 mile training rides through the coastal mountains, I had hints that these issues were afoot, but my inexperience did not recognize them for what they were. I developed “hot spots” mid forefoot on some rides where I wore really lightweight walking shoes, areas that became painful, but would disappear simply by twisting my foot towards the outside for a few minutes, or getting off the trike. The toe numbness also crept into the mix, but I incorrectly figured that it was just my body getting used to the new riding position. Now, I know better, and have since been implementing a new system that I will use in all future travels.
One mistake that I was able to avoid by testing options during the 16 weeks prior to departure was that of headgear. Initially, I tried wearing a full-face motorcycle helmet, thinking that it would offer the most protection if I inadvertently pedaled off the side of the road on a high mountain pass, or if a car struck me. Well, let me ask you this: What do you think it would be like to take an aerobics class for 8 hours straight with something like this on your head? Yes! The immense heat buildup has no place to go, and muscular functions in the body eventually begin to fail due to extreme overheating, leading to debilitating cramping and acute exhaustion. Once I switched to a traditional bicycling helmet with 17 vents, all was well. Matt told me that I would be leaving that helmet on the side of the road eventually. He was partially correct. I left it behind before I ever started. Nothing like actual experience to answer one’s questions!
By the end of September 2009, I felt ready. I had been pulling my trailer around on some of my rides, filled with dumbbell plates to simulate an extra heavy load, and I still made it … tough, but doable. The training rides with Matt, Terry, and Dave Beck had paid huge dividends. I finally reached the point that I was eager to leave. Have you ever trained for something to the point that you were just dying to get started on the actual experience? I felt I was as ready as I’d ever be. Just in time too … the first of October was now only hours away!
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DAY ONE – THURSDAY, OCTOBER 01, 2009
At 6:30 AM on Thursday, October 1st, a reporter from central Oregon’s largest newspaper parked his car in front of my abode. I had eaten a granola breakfast, rechecked all my gear that I had packed the night before, and was now nervously chatting with my friend Matt in the garage. Departure was looming its head as a dragon would stare down a knight. There was no turning back on this journey I had crafted for myself, my first cross country trek on a tricycle … alone, except for the first 20 miles.
The reporter had already taken a few notes, and was now snapping some photos with his large digital camera. First light had fallen upon the landscape outside the garage, air was cool, the time was 7:00 AM to the minute, and there was no further reason not to start pedaling. As I strapped my feet onto the pedals, and pushed the right one forward to begin the journey, an intense wave of panic washed through me as reality truly made itself apparent, like a sledge hammer to the face. There was no more talking of this trip in the future … it was now! I was leaving for a long solo ride laced with countless unknowns.
It all seemed so surreal to me. I was aware of pedaling out of the driveway, yet it was almost as though it really wasn’t happening. My senses barely captured anything around me, so intent was I on reconciling the impact of what I was in fact beginning to do. The reporter ceased to exist in my mind. Even though I had planned this to the nth degree, and wanted to do it, a voice within yelled that I should stop, albeit only for the briefest of seconds. I was now pedaling a tricycle to Death Valley’s Badwater Basin, a destination only thought possible via automobile by nearly all rational people.
A well-wisher sent her final verbal thoughts of safe travel to my ears as Matt and I crested the hill to begin the slight descent to the coast highway. I did not look back. Not only is it difficult to do on a low-slung recumbent trike, but to have done so would only extend the emotion-laden transition.
In an instant, the comforts of home were gone. In an instant, my world was now the open road and nature. Just like that! Everything changed in a few heartbeats! My survival now depended on me and what I had brought along. The sting of this conversion was lessened with a few blocks through chatting with Matt as we pedaled our tricycles south. He is a seasoned cross-country solo cyclist, so his reassurance and calm voice played heavily on soothing my spirit … a spirit that had just been traumatically torn from its daily routines.
Mental survival automatically kicked in. My mind focused intently on bringing to reality what had heretofore been only thought as the city blocks rolled by. With each passing street corner, I slipped into the “now” of my actions, seeing the brightening eastern sky, hearing the birds, feeling the cool air against my face, and deciding how to route my trike out of town. I was happy to have Matt riding along to the next coastal town with me. While the first miles are the easiest physically, they are by far the most demanding mentally, so his presence kept me together throughout the morning.
Within minutes after leaving, we crossed the first river on an old bridge built in the 1930s. It had deteriorated with the years, so a state work crew had recently begun a year-long refurbishing project. Traffic was nearly nonexistent this early, so Matt and I rode leisurely across in the center of our lane. As we passed two Oregon Department Of Transportation (ODOT) workmen, I happily waved and spoke a cordial greeting to them with a smile. The second man, overweight with a cigarette in his mouth, replied: “You guys are fuckin’ idiots!”
Well, that was not exactly the type of reception I had expected, and certainly not the best way of starting off my trip. Hopefully, this was not a harbinger of things to come. It was an odd feeling to think that a fellow human being could be so blunt and nasty, especially considering that he was a state worker and had been greeted appropriately by me. It was even more intimidating because he was walking on an elevated sidewalk, and I was sitting in a recumbent trike cockpit only nine inches from the pavement. He was an insulting man, his face looming several feet above mine. He was also not worth spending an instant of my life force worrying about, because I refuse to let toxic people erode my spirit. The problem was his, so I left it on the bridge!
Miles of forested coastal landscape rolled by while Matt and I talked about trikes and touring. His rig was unfettered by the weight of touring gear, so it required conscious effort on his part to adjust his speed closer to my slower pace, especially when the uphills came along. Downhills were a different story however!
As we neared our separation point, a long and steep downhill portion of coast highway presented itself, perhaps a mile at least. Our speeds quickly passed the 40 MPH mark, a well deserved break of exhilarating and adrenaline-pumping excitement. Matt closed in behind my trailer, saying that he could feel my draft of air causing his trike to accelerate. He shot out beside me, and then pulled away at a speed far too fast to pedal. Yet, as he was now back in the full force of air resistance, it was only about five seconds before my trike again took the lead, due to the extra weight of my rig. The fascinating thing about this little fun exchange was that it was only dependent on the laws of physics for how it played out, and had nothing to do with either of us pedaling our trikes.
We rolled into Matt’s turn-back point with huge grins on our faces. The sun was now fully upon us, as the Coastal Range forests were cleared by the little harbor town. Matt treated me to an early lunch of a vegetarian burrito and chips. The waitresses were curious about our odd modes of transport, and even came outside to see them close-up since the lunch crowd had not poured into their Mexican restaurant yet.
After lunch, I faced my second little traumatic test. Matt pointed his Catrike 700 north, and rode back home. I continued east towards the summit of the coastal mountains, along the beautiful Umpqua River. I had enjoyed his company, but now was truly on my own. He had delayed this final feeling of oneness at least for the majority of the morning, perhaps easing me into this journey in a kinder and gentler way … two steps instead of one giant one. He and I had fun riding together. Now, the authenticity of the trip came to the forefront of my mind.
Where would I sleep tonight? No bed awaited me. Would it rain? No house would shelter me. Would I be safe? No locked door would protect me. Could I find a place to camp legally? Governments do not design roadways for cyclists’ convenience. Questions filled my mind, and answers, in one form or another, were only hours away.
A flock of geese flew along the surface of the Umpqua for a period, and my road was just alongside. What a treat to see and hear the magnificent birds so close. Up ahead, a flagman stopped me. The highway was being refinished. Soon, a long line of automobiles was stacked up behind my diminutive tricycle. Amazingly, my nervousness had diminished enough that I realized the road also belonged to me, and happily, the State of Oregon agrees with their “share the road” law. Not only that, but motorists had been very respectful thus far on the trip, so fear of cars was, as Matt had predicted, lessening in my mind.
After some chatter on the walkie-talkies, the flagman motioned me on ahead to give me a long lead on the metal monsters that would follow. He told me to ride on the newly refinished pavement because my rig was so light. I did not have to wait for the oncoming traffic to clear like everyone else did. About half way through the construction zone, some workmen said I had better get out on the old pavement, as the newly surfaced asphalt was about to get too hot for my tires. I had to pass the oncoming line of motorists in only one lane, but because I was so small, my rig easily fit by.
Finally I came out the other side of the construction zone, and still no cars behind me! How refreshing. It was as though I had the forest road to myself. A lady driving a Toyota Prius the other way slowed as she passed and said “Hello fellow cyclist”, which put a smile on my face. Perhaps I was not truly alone after all.
I stopped wearing a timepiece about twenty years ago … didn’t need one … clocks everywhere I went. So, my only clue about when it was getting near to the time I needed to stop and set my camp was that which the natural world provided me, most notably, the sun. This road was very much in deep forests however, so I could not be precise in the sun’s location, but I had been pedaling now for about 51 miles and felt like calling it a day.
Living on wilderness time is my preferred way. Go to sleep when the world gets dark. Awaken when it gets light. Simple. Less stress. This journey was to be experienced wholly on wilderness time. I was now in an alternative realm far from those folks speeding by in automobiles … suited me just fine!
Up ahead a huge turnout right on the river became visible, called Bunch Bar. It had a portion that was hidden from the highway, which would provide an excellent place to pitch my small tent. A nice concrete block toilet facility was there, but, as motorists and myself would learn, had locked doors. Go figure! The sky was cloudy now. I erected my tent on an area of cedar chips, ate my first meal from the trailer, brushed my teeth, used the bushes, and then climbed into my sleeping bag, content with a solid day behind me. After a short journal entry to record the day in words, off to sleep I went.
DAY TWO – FRIDAY, OCTOBER 02, 2009
Last night it rained lightly on and off. I did not completely stake out the tent’s fly, so it contacted the tent material in places, allowing moisture through. Where my sleeping bag touched the tent at my feet, it became damp. The tent was an REI Arête ASL (all season light), a two-person tent that provided ample space to keep my panniers inside at night, on one side, while I slept on the other. It is not a big tent, and if two people really used it, quarters would be very cramped. I would more realistically classify it as a one-person structure, where you can actually sit up, dress, write in a journal, and stow gear (with absolutely no room left over).
The morning was mostly cloudy and damp, but the temperature was comfortable with a jacket. From my trailer’s 50 pound supply of food, I pulled out some Crunchy Nuggets, a generic brand of Grape-Nuts. Into the bowl with the nuggets went a handful of raisins, some high fiber cereal, and water (since to carry soy milk would make the load even heavier). It was a tasty mix, not my favorite, but the easiest for me to bring in bulk. This was to be my breakfast for nearly every day of the trip, along with a couple of dried plums as a treat.
After the panniers were placed back on the trike, and the tent and sleeping bag stashed in the trailer, I hit the road at about 8:40 AM. Around an hour later, as the sky was clearing, I passed through the tiny mountain town of Elkton. After a quick use of the restroom at the local library, I eagerly resumed my pedaling through the coastal range.
South of this town, there are some steep and long uphill grades, which have no affect on people being propelled along the asphalt by gasoline engines, but really slow down cyclists … especially those laden with over a hundred pounds of additional cargo. It was a low gear affair to the top of each hill, with a top speed of about 3-4 miles per hour. Fortunately, the scenery is top notch, passing rolling hills with farms, pastures, and quaint old barns mixed amidst the evergreen forests.
On an Oregon bicycle map, this road is shown as lightly traveled and bicycle-friendly. For the most part, this is true. The apprehension came occasionally at curves in the steep road that had absolutely no shoulder, thereby forcing me into the automobile lane. Normally, this is not an issue when the road is open, as cars can see a cyclist ahead of time. However, when a cyclist enters into what I term a “blind right” curve on a shoulderless road, he is in danger if a car does not see him enter.
A blind right hand curve is anxiety producing when one is cycling at 3 miles per hour on a steep hill because a car can come speeding around without knowledge of the cyclist’s presence. Well, on this stretch of road, precisely this happened to me with a huge motorhome, and was to be the only incident on this entire trip where anger was clearly demonstrated towards me. Due to my slow speed, I was necessarily in the curve for what seemed like eternity, and I heard the behemoth vehicle’s engine heavily straining to maintain speed as it labored up the long curvy mountain hill, soon to overtake my diminutive trike and trailer. In fact, I knew this noisy box was coming long before I could see it, hearing its engine get louder and louder, becoming an ever swelling blight on the serenity of my silent passage.
This road is one lane in each direction, and it is narrow. This particular blind-right was in a section that was cut out of the mountain on both sides, meaning no leeway beyond the lane whatsoever. As soon as I saw the motorhome in my rearview mirror, the driver saw me, with only feet to spare. Obviously, he was not expecting a ten-foot long trike and trailer to be here. The driver adeptly slowed and moved over the center line, and there was no honking of horn or anything to indicate he was upset. His wife, on the other hand, had different ideas.
It all happened so fast that I did not understand a word she said, but my experience as a human told me that she was clearly not a happy passenger. For the briefest of split second, her hateful and obnoxious voice showered down upon me like poison-tipped arrows from the sky (good thing I had a helmet), but since hubby didn’t want to slow his trip, they were gone in mere seconds around the next left-hand curve. My trike was so close to the rock cliff face on my right that I was darn near scraping it at this point. I guess she was unaware of Oregon’s “Share the Road” law. Some good the law does though, when governments pay little regard for the life of people who use human-powered vehicles.
My ride returned to the silence of a primitive forested world once again, thus one of the reasons for the title of this tale. A notable upside of trike travel is passing through the natural countryside in silence, as no engine or tire whine spoils the sounds of nature. It is indeed a silent passage. At nine inches from the roadway and slow speed the norm, a trike pilot’s realm allows for true appreciation of all that unfolds in this mystical forested world. Happily, automobile traffic is indeed light and scattered, so nine out of every ten minutes are enjoyable.
Another aspect that is readily appreciated when triking in mountainous terrain is this: For every long and taxing uphill, there is often an equally long downhill. What may have taken well over half an hour to climb, can easily require only a few short minutes to descend … and the descent is clearly an all-out adrenaline pumping delight.
Tadpole tricycles (the two wheels in front) inherently make for a very stable and safe platform for quick curvy downgrades. Serious speed can quickly be attained on steep grades, speeds easily passing the 40 miles per hour mark. If the hill lasts long enough and is steep enough, another ten can be realized. There have been enough downhills so far on this trip, and in my training rides, for me to know that I find them a thing to be coveted. Of course, from a health and longevity standpoint, it is the slow pedaling up the hill that delivers the goods, and strengthens my physical body, whereas the downhills essentially strengthen only my happy and playful spirit.
Once over the crest of the Coast Range, there is one ultra-long downgrade into the town of Sutherlin, which straddles Interstate 5. By the time I reached the town, I was well rested, but weary of sitting so long. The town’s visitor center lawn made a nice place to spread out my tent fly so it could dry in the sun. I met Bernie Sigmond, the happy elder volunteer, who was surprised to see my mode of transport, and amazed by where I was headed. Outside at picnic table, I ate my second night’s dinner, a convenient one-pound pouch of rice and veggies, happy to be relaxing in the pleasant afternoon light. A fair amount of traffic motored by on the road behind me, but I paid little heed to it, tired as I was. Recumbent trikes are very comfortable, but like car, it feels good to stop and stretch.
After this half-hour interlude, I figured I best get packing on south and east, for the sun was sinking lower towards the mountains, which were now to my west. I had no desire to locate a camp area here in a town environment, because to do so would mean a fee-based campground, which I prefer to minimize whenever possible. My way is most often what is termed “stealth camping”, where I find a nice piece of public, but concealed, earth where I can be at one with the natural world. So, off I pedal on a side road to the interstate for five miles until I reach the tiny village of Wilbur.
The sun is still up when I arrive. I locate the North Fork Road in mid-Wilbur that cuts east, and I make the turn. This road will take me up and over many miles of rolling hills dotted with stately oak trees, on the way to Glide, Oregon, at the western base of the mighty Cascade Range, a volcanic wonderland of tall trees and cascading waterfalls.
From past experience on this road with a car, I know the hills are steep, and if tomorrow is sunny, it will be a very warm experience, as there are no large forests to shade me like I had been riding through so far. I also know that the property alongside this country road consists of huge privately-owned ranches, and there is only one large turnout midway where I could probably pitch a tent, but even then, I would be readily visible to any passing motorists. My mind seeks solutions, and seeing the Wilbur United Methodist Church up ahead, I pull into the paved lot, park under some shade trees, and decide to do an early dinner.
I chose not to set my tent here, so as not to draw attention and possibly be asked to leave, so after dinner and a short walk, I decided to sleep on the trike. This is relatively easy to do, with the low and reclined seat. I just straightened my legs out in front of me. The night was working up to be a nippy one, so I donned some warm coats and a polar fleece hat to settle in. It had been a 35 mile day, not as many as yesterday, but considering the numerous steep grades, it was all right with me.
Sleep is intermittent and interrupted due to the close proximity of train tracks and the interstate … not to mention the barking dog 15 feet behind me in a neighbor’s yard, which led to him wondering if I were some unsavory transient. Once he felt secure that I was an educated traveler with a legitimate agenda, I was left to myself. Of course, here in a town, there are bright street lights to keep the evil spirits away, so it never really got dark enough to sleep soundly.
Finally, around what must have been about midnight, it dawns upon my restless mind that the sky is perfectly clear and the moon is perfectly full … and very bright!
DAY THREE – SATURDAY, OCTOBER 03, 2009
I am cold. Having been sitting on the trike seat for the past several hours attempting to sleep, the lack of movement has led to a chilling of my bones, even though not a wisp of wind was present. My down vest, polar fleece jacket, all-weather rain jacket, and polar fleece skull cap, have done an admirable job retaining my body heat considering the chilly night air, but they don’t take the place of a toasty mummy bag in a tent.
Gazing towards the full moon, I started to debate the wisdom of just leaving this little berg of Wilbur right now, in the middle of the night. Even though I was under a large tree, the nearby streetlights kept it bright enough that sleeping was a challenge. And when a freight train would slowly rumble by, it made me wonder how long it took the neighbors to get used to it. I figured that remaining here would probably not get me much more in the way of restful sleep, so I might as well be pedaling, especially since it was so bright out that a headlight would not be necessary.
All things considered, I decided to resume my journey. Since I was already dressed and not in the tent, it was a simple matter of putting my feet on the pedals and heading out, and since the trike is noiseless, no one would even be aware of my departure. The road out of town is straight and uphill, so warming up came quickly. It was cold enough though, that I wore my water and windproof motorcycle gloves instead of my lightweight cycling gloves.
Within a few minutes, I felt confident that traveling this stretch at night was a good idea. The moonlit sky was so bright that I kept my headlight turned off unless a rare car motored by. I did keep the flashing red tail light operating however, as well as my marine rescue strobe on the back of my trailer. With this setup, I was as visible at night as in the day. My tail and head lights were manufactured by a company called Cateye, and the products were doing a fine job.
Road 200 climbs in elevation as it proceeds east towards the Cascade Range, yet there are many downhill portions that make for rapid progress. Night travel required less water intake, but I still stopped atop one summit hill for a couple of energy bars. It was incredible … the moon was so illuminating that I accessed my food supply in the trailer with no other lighting necessary.
I learned about an aspect of trike travel this early Saturday morning that I found interesting. Thermal regulation is something that must be constantly monitored and adjusted. When I was sitting idle on the trike at the church, I was barely able to keep warm with my clothing. After pedaling the weight of my heavily loaded rig up a few hills, my body temperature rose rapidly, and I had to remove a layer or two, even though it was the middle of the night. But then, on the downhills of the North Bank Road, with wind whipping me at 20 to 40 miles per hour due to my trike’s speed, I quickly chilled once again. This led to the big question of whether to endure the cold on the downhill grades until the next uphill, or stop and put back on the warmer layers of clothing. I chose to endure the cool air, knowing that it wouldn’t be long enough to become totally miserable.
Fortunately, being the first week of October, temperatures were still bearable at night. The still night air helped. Of course, the Cascades were yet ahead, where I figured it would be much colder. But then again, neither would I be riding at night up there – I’m not that crazy! I’d be all cozy in my tent by the time the sun left my sky. I prefer staying warm, and my mummy bag does a top notch job of seeing to it.
The plan for Saturday night is to camp at Susan Creek Campground, on the western slope of the Cascade mountains. It is a nice campground on the river, with amenities like warm showers. I have stayed there before, and the huge forested canopy makes it a pleasant temperature in the warmer summer months. It sits just off Highway 138, which I will again intersect once I reach the small town of Glide. I have a pass to camp one night at Susan Creek gratis, courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management, which opted to contribute this small memento towards my epic expedition to Death Valley. I am happy for their generosity.
Up ahead, I spy what looks like a large black cat in my lane, but this one has a wide white stripe spanning its length, telling my sleep-deprived brain to take the oncoming lane and give the skunk a wide berth. Along the 17 mile route from Wilbur to Glide, I encounter a number of animals, most of which I either hear or see a glimmer from pairs of eyes off to the side of the road. None chose to examine my trike or me up close. A small part of my mind wondered about mountain lions, so I did keep my knife in the jacket pocket, but these beasts did not appear.
Had I been traveling this road tonight in an automobile, I would have missed many sensory delights. I would not have heard the rushing Umpqua River down below the embankment, nor would I have noticed the moon’s distorted reflection on its churning waters. I would not have listened to the crickets’ melodic notes for mile after mile, nor would I have even been aware of animals at all. I would have missed the owl’s hoot, and as I neared Glide, the rooster’s early morning call would have deflected right over the top of the speeding car. Seated only nine inches from the roadbed, out in the open air, many new experiences awaited me, things that could only be possible from a trike.
First light had not yet appeared when I rolled into the outskirts of Glide, a landscape dotted with nice homes on acreage. I crossed the river and came to Highway 138, where cars were already active even this early. My appetite was again calling, so I sought somewhere to dine … primitive style.
Mister moon was beginning to play hide and seek with me behind increasing cloud cover. I found a truck scale station with a street lamp above it, so chose to pull in to the unmanned area to get well off the highway, behind a three-foot high concrete wall, partially hidden from the road. Down the thorny embankment to the north was a property littered with many junk cars. I ravenously chewed through two more high-calorie energy bars, and could have easily eaten a third, but realized the value of modest rationing.
Matt had told me a few weeks ago that during my trip, I would be expending between 5,000 to 7,000 calories per day. I was beginning to believe it. By my calculations, my planned daily allowance of food would supply about 2,000 calories at most, which indicated that I would be in at least a 3,000 calorie deficit each day at the current rate. Since the human body requires a shortfall of 3500 calories to lose a pound of bodyfat, I wondered what the future had in store. One thing I already knew was that the number of bars I was now consuming exceeded what I had planned … and my morning bowl of Nutty Nuggets was destined to overflow with those tasty barley crunchies. Well, I had a lot of nuggets in my trailer … and a lot of food bars … and a lot of rice and veggie packets … the big reason for my slow progress.
More than once, I started to wonder if the over stuffed 50-pound Cordura bag of caloric fuel I was pulling in my trailer was self defeating. In other words, would I require the extra calories due to my extra labor each day in pulling them along behind me? Or, put another way, if I had not brought along all that food, would I easily make it to the occasional country store or market quicker, thereby negating the need for the bag? When you’re riding a trike up long hills, you have considerable time to ponder these really important questions of the world.
Standing still, I had to put back on my down vest under my jackets. The bright orange-tinted street lamp above me lit my panniers so I could locate the vest. As the rotation of Earth continued towards first light, I just hung out for a while, as I didn’t wish to start riding Highway 138 in the dark, due to the increasing number of cars speeding by. I would wait until daybreak, taking a stroll down some side streets in the meantime. It felt good to walk.
Finally enough light painted my world to proceed. Back into the recessed cockpit of the trike I lowered myself and pedaled on eastward, towards the imposing mountains that stood between me and the dryer hinterlands of desert country, all the while slowly gaining altitude.
As I rode out of Glide, one of those places where if you blink, you miss it, I was glad to see the sun poking through the misty shroud at long last, but I was concerned about the large mass of blackened clouds that seemed poised to swallow the bright orb. How long would my heat source and lighting last at a comfortable level? Would it warm up as the morning progressed? Or would the specter of precipitate-laden moisture command the day? I was heading right into an increasingly darkened world.
My answer soon grew clearer, as I was eventually under a sky with no visible star and no visible blue. It was only October third, I reminded myself, and was convinced that things would clear up for my summit push, making for a gorgeous ride over the top of this volcanic range of peaks. Wet and cold weather typically doesn’t inundate the region this early in the season. Sure, I would expect such on my return trip five weeks from now, but not today.
This highway is a beautiful drive regardless of weather. Long straight stretches slowly prepare travelers for the mountains, as the trees become gargantuan sentinels on either side of the asphalt, making it clear that the forest of all forests is being entered. Highway 138 is called Oregon’s waterfall road because there are numerous waterfalls along its Cascade length that draw thousands of tourists yearly to see rivers plummeting down through the air great distances. Some of the falls are visible from the road, while others require a hike to reach. I am hopeful to be able to pull in and see a couple on my way. Even though I have hiked to most of them, they still hold a magic grip about my memories.
Susan Creek Campground seemed ever elusive today, perhaps because I was comparing my arrival to the last time I drove here in a car. It was taking forever, yet the ride was magnificent, so I did not mind, especially knowing a hot shower, riverside campsites, and a pleasant rest awaited me. A few sprinkles kept appearing, not enough to really dampen my gear, but sufficient to make me wonder what was ahead on this portion of my young journey.
When I at last saw a sign for the campground, I was tired. The mileage to the camp was not much since my short stay in Wilbur, but it involved considerable climbing the whole way. Of course, that was miniscule compared to the Cascade Range, the lower slopes of which I was now ascending. Thirty-one miles is a short day by any cyclist’s standards. Gee, I rode 50 mile training rides in 5 hours, so I had a realistic idea of my snail’s pace so far. Of course, those rides were often unencumbered by an additional 100 pounds or more of cargo.
It had been raining at Susan Creek. The campground road was full of puddles and all the campsites looked very waterlogged, a far cry from my summer visits that led to an immediate appreciation of the high dense forest, and a natural desire to go sit by the rushing river. Today, with water dripping from all the branches high above me, I just wanted to pitch a tent before the rain restarted, and get myself a hot shower before completely relaxing.
No sooner was the tent pitched and the rain fly on, then the rain commenced. I looked across the way at the campground hosts, all cozy in their huge motorhome, watching television while the wife began preparing a snack. I quickly placed my four panniers (saddlebags) in the tent, gathered the needed clean clothes and supplies, and walked to the shower facility. The showers are all private little rooms, with your own lockable door, so once inside, I was sheltered from the elements.
Into the slots I placed my quarters, and the warm water began to cover me in needed bliss. Before my departure on this trip, I buzzed my hair so that washing of it would take mere seconds. Turns out that was a good thing, because less that 60 seconds into my pleasurable cleansing, the unthinkable happened … my nice warm water was quickly loosing its warmth. I had figured that showering this early in the afternoon would get me plenty of hot water, but alas, there must have been a run on long hot showers today within the last half hour, and I was the chosen one to either take a cold shower or get out. I slapped water as quickly as I could to clean up, yet I wasn’t fast enough. No soap, little water, minimally cleaner, and definitely cold once again.
Well, life doesn’t always go as one would wish. After drying off and getting into a couple of jackets and raingear, I warmed back up and headed out to the tent … in the drizzles.
While the rain fell, I just lounged atop my sleeping bag, waiting to hear it stop. When it finally did, I ventured out, opened my trailer’s food supply, and had a pouch full of rice and veggies. To make up for all the abuse I had suffered today and at the campground so far, I even indulged in a Cliff Bar for dessert, along with a few dried plums. There has to be some justice in this world!
Soon, John and Brian Massey, from Salem and Coos Bay respectively, came back to their camp next to mine. They saw me eating cold food, and invited me over to their roaring fire to spend some time before hitting the sack. It felt good as the heat penetrated my clothing. I was offered a beer, but declined. John and Brian are father and son, who came here for a few days of camping. Once it got dark, I excused myself, climbed into the tent, and wrote about the day’s events in my journal. One thing about the rain that fell all night – the sound of it hitting the tent put me right to sleep!
DAY FOUR – SUNDAY, OCTOBER 04, 2009
Sleepily, I open my eyes enough to determine whether it is still night. The mummy bag is so cozy and warm, that once I realize the day is beginning its earliest stages of dawn, I hesitate to crawl out. Water drops continue to hit the tent’s fly, but not from a constant rain, rather only from lingering drips falling off the evergreen branches and needles above, for the rain has stopped at long last. After getting dressed, I peak out the tent door to discover everything is still very wet and soggy. Fortunately, the ground beneath the tent is not muddy.
Having a complete bathroom only a 20 second walk from the tent is a nice convenience. On this trip, I am not shaving, for I have found that doing so can be uncomfortable in cold weather with only cold water. Besides, it takes time, and I prefer to concentrate on being out in the wild instead of maintaining a cultural expectation. Out here on wilderness time, the beard seems apropos. A warm shower would be nice to make up for last afternoon’s failed attempt, but I know the Cascade traverse occurs today, so I best not linger any more than necessary.
My mind ponders the diverse landscapes I am and will be crossing on the journey. My senses experience the towering evergreens, large leafy ferns, misty fog, churning river, and heavy dampness. It all seems a world away from my arid and warm destination 282 feet below sea level. Here, I struggle to keep dry and warm. There, I will yearn to be wet and cool.
The reality of the trip is still sinking in, as I am only three days and about 119 miles from home. Other than rain, the ride has been mostly uneventful from a commonly-perceived negative standpoint. My perception of this grand spectacle of nature varies somewhat from the masses though, who traditionally call rain “bad weather” or some other downbeat label. In many ways, I enjoy witnessing and experiencing all that nature offers. It has been told that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad preparation. This rings truer in my mind. Today I have donned raingear in response to the moisture-laden heavens. Fortunately, my body is waterproof anyway, so I don’t have to worry one way or the other.
The plan is to camp at Diamond Lake tonight, a picturesque body of water that is around 50 miles distant. This certainly seems doable, even with the steep grades ahead. The Cascade Mountains are large and wide. Getting over them will take slightly more than one day, I reckon, as Diamond Lake is still shy of the highest road summit by a few miles.
The tent has to be packed wet this morning … no way around it. I’ll dry it out later, or hopefully pitch it next in dryer weather and it will dry naturally. After attaching the fly, which is the wettest piece, to the top of my trailer so that it can get air flow as I ride, and pulling the rain covers over my Arkel panniers, off I pedal eastward on the long straight section of highway. Sprinkles come and go the first several miles, and then …
Once the road starts climbing more, the sun pokes through to greet me for the first time this Sunday. I am ravenously hungry because I did not partake of my normal bowl of cereal this morning, choosing instead a quick bar because the campground table was soaked and I had hoped the sun would come out for a later breakfast. Well, now was the time! A nice outcrop of rocks up ahead allowed for full sun exposure as I ate a couple more bars. Yeah, I guess I prefer sun like everyone else. It just feels so nice to get warm from the air.
When I park the trike on a hill like this, I engage the two parking brakes, one on each brake lever. They consist of two metal tabs that push in and keep the handles secure. They are not foolproof however, especially considering how heavy my overall rig is, so usually I face the trike sideways if I can, or, since that’s not possible here on this narrow dirt parkway, a rock behind a tire works well. With the trailer extending the trike’s length from 6 to 10 feet, parking choices are not always very many. It would be nice not to have this trailer, but then again, when it comes time to eat to my heart’s delight, it sure is nice to know that I have a never-ending source of calories (or so it seems when I gaze down at the gear bag containing my 50 pounds of food).
Continuing on, my coats are mostly unzipped to allow the heat buildup to escape … amazing how much the sun can affect this so quickly. Just as quickly though, after a few more miles, away goes the sun, the clouds once again thicken, and the rain begins anew. The jackets get zipped. Good thing I kept my rain hood on under the helmet. I had left my rain pants on, kind of figuring this might happen.
It rained lightly all the way to a place called Steamboat, where a cozy lodge with rooms and restaurant awaited mountain tourists. By the time I rolled in, my world was wet and dark. After finding a parking place in the tight lot, I walked in, trying not to look too conspicuous, but knowing that dressed as I was, I stood out like a sore thumb to all the dry patrons and workers. The heated bathroom was a welcome relief, and I stood in the lobby for a while to warm up and see if the sun would return.
A Steamboat worker strolled up to my pathetic dripping body and asked where I was going. I told her my story, and after her surprise and admiration for my intrepid plan (or crazy idea perhaps), she offered me a weather update, having just driven from the eastern side of these mountains in her car:
“You know, a heavy snowstorm rolled in last night at the higher elevations. The plows are out in full force up there clearing the roadways right now. You might want to think twice before trying to go over the top with your trike. I had trouble in my car. They’re calling it a winter storm warning, and it’s only the first week of October!”
Okay, this was serious news here. Snow? Sure, I figured that it was a possibility on my return trip a month and a half from now, but not this early. Of all years for an freak storm to slam into these mountains, it had to be today! Just my luck, of course. Normally, ski resorts pray for snow in November, and often don’t get it, but this year just had to be the exception. I wondered how one-wheel drive trikes pulling a heavy trailer do in snow, although I could imagine well enough the scenario. I keep trying to remember that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad preparation.
I thank the kind woman for providing a few moments of warm conversation, bid her farewell, and walk hesitantly back out to my trike. The sky is not clearing at all, and with this news, I decide to proceed with all due haste, hopefully to reach my destination before conditions make forward travel not possible. The open mesh seat of my trike is wet, but no big deal with my rain clothes.
Rested from my Steamboat interlude, I pedal with renewed determination up the increasingly steep grade. Then, wonder of all wonders, out comes Mr. Sun once again! Mentally transformed, I launch into a grand appreciation of all that surrounds me, speaking audibly to the trees, rocks, birds, and the marvels of nature, thanking them all for providing me this unsurpassed paradise through which I may pedal. I speak loudly and grandly in formal tones, in a manner that could be construed as consistent with the way the first primitive Americans may have beheld their surroundings during past centuries. Out here on an open tricycle, unprotected from the elements, I could only be closer to the natural world if I were backpacking on a dirt trail. Never in a car would I have felt like performing this unique spiritual ritual of communication.
There is no traffic. Only the ears of animals hear me. I receive pleasure from this bonding.
There is no odometer on my trike. There used to be when I bought it, but I gave the $50 marvel away because I chose not to get boxed into a technical world of human electronics that keep me posted about everything I do, including average speed traveled. I am here for the sheer enjoyment of the ride … mileage is not important. Thus, in this telling of my story, precise figures are not generally a part. The method I use to have a rough idea of my progress is by roadside mileage markers, which keeps my mind active always performing the math.
Around 15 miles from Susan Creek Campground, having just climbed a very steep grade, the Dry Creek Store appears on the left, an old log building. It has a gas station, restroom, and small market. A number of pickup trucks are parked around, mostly from area hunters, judging by the clothing many of the men are wearing. I needed some bananas, and buy three for $1.80 (the first money spent on this trip so far), which I ate on the front log bench. A fellow sees me taking a picture of my trike, and offers to take my photo standing in front. I take him up on the offer, smiling and waving for the camera, even though the sky is again getting very dark, and the ladies inside the store have readily confirmed the hazardous weather into which I was currently heading.
The guy who took my picture, who had just come down from higher elevations, advised me to turn around. I thanked him, and then proceed east. Who knows what those hunters all thought of me. Must have a screw loose somewhere!
One thing I did notice while walking around at the store was an issue developing with my feet. This morning, I had put on a second pair of shoes, all leather waterproof Hi-Tec low-top hiking boots (that’s a mouthful). This is my first time wearing them for any lengthy time, having only broken them in slightly by walking pre-trip. The back of each Achilles tendon is getting rubbed by the stiff rear of the shoe, causing a tender area. I tried to adjust my foot angle enough to mitigate the situation after leaving the store, but it didn’t help much. I would rather have on my Merrill Moab Ventilators, which I have worn up until today, as they are super comfortable, but they are not waterproof, so I endure the Hi-Tec shoes.
So preoccupied was I with the shoe tendon thought that I failed to realize that I rode the first three miles from the store with my left parking brake engaged. Well, I wondered why the trike seemed to be handling a little odd! At least I figured it out fairly soon.
At the Dry Creek Store, I was told that during the next 35 miles east, I would experience a 4,000-foot elevation gain, up past the 5100 foot mark. This continually rising road kept my progress very slow. There was already increasingly deeper snow appearing in the woods around me, and by mid afternoon, it was right up to the road, where the plows had pushed it off the asphalt. The road was wet, but not icy. Into a winter wonderland I proceeded, with the evergreen branches feeling the weight of accumulated white stuff. Like a man with a mission, I pushed the pedals as powerfully as I could, hoping to reach Diamond Lake by dinner. The thought of pitching my tent and crashing into a deep slumber was inviting.
Because the day had been heavily overcast so far, with occasional light snowfall, I could never get an accurate read on the sun’s location, which is the means I use to tell time when I’m in the wild places. As the hours passed, it all looked the same, seeming like it was always some time in the mid afternoon. My slow speed led to an almost trance-like monotonous state, that pulled me into a dream world. At one point however, reality hit me.
I was overly warm on the grades, and very hungry. I needed a couple of high calorie energy bars soon. At a place where the road actually took a slight dip downward for a short distance, I pulled over to remove a jacket layer and access my food. I always kept a few bars handy in a side pannier that hung on the seat so I could get to them without the agony of opening the trailer, which involved keying the lock, removing the hold-down straps, opening the lid, and getting to the food bag. And agony it would have been now because it became abundantly clear to me that I had a situation developing.
Within seconds after stopping and unzipping my jacket to vent my body heat, the cold hit me in a most dramatic way … I began to shiver and shake slightly. Having removed my bulky warm gloves so that I could eat, my fingers felt bitter cold all of a sudden. It was bad enough that I knew I could not take the time without gloves to even try to access my food in the trailer, but I had to so that I could replenish my handy food supply for quick eating along the way. It was not a choice. Now, I was truly starting to feel the cold sink in, which brought my thoughts to the time of day.
My mind had missed how dark it was getting. With clouds my companion for so long today, my thoughts subconsciously processed the darkness simply as heavier clouds, with little thought about the time. So deceived was I that just moments prior to this stop, I was still hoping to take a short hike to one of the many beautiful waterfalls along this Oregon waterfall scenic route. One was only a couple of miles ahead, the tallest of all, and I wanted to see it again. Yet, this was not going to happen. My mind focused clearly upon my state of affairs.
Thermal regulation, energy maintenance, approaching darkness, and more miles than I wished to contemplate filled my immediate thoughts. I had to put on my goose-down vest now, because later it would prove even more challenging, having to remove my rain jacket and polar fleece coat first before I could slip in on. Just the time it took to take off the jackets to get the vest underneath resulted in increased shivering. If I overheated while pedaling, I would manage the temperature by how high I kept it all zipped. On my head I placed a cotton balaclava under the polar fleece skull cap and the rain jacket hood, both of which were under my bicycle helmet.
By my best mental reasoning, it was probably after 8 PM, having been snapped back into a more lucid state and roughly calculating mileage, speed, vague shadows, and such. How could I have possibly missed this gradual, but dramatic, change of setting? Still, I was feeling strong and felt that sooner or later I would reach a crest and then coast downhill to the lake, thereby making up for lost time. However, at the time, I had also forgotten that this Cascade crossing did not peak until after the lake, meaning that I had constant elevation rise ahead of me this evening.
Once it started getting dark, it happened so fast that I was in disbelief. Seems like it was just afternoon! I stopped again to actuate my marine emergency beacon strobe that I had attached to the rear of my trailer. Out here on this open mountain highway at night, I am the last thing a motorist would expect to see … especially under these adverse weather conditions. Cyclists just don’t do this sort of thing. I also turned on my ten-LED flashing tail light, and the super bright headlight, which allowed me to see mileage markers. Progress was so slow that I had plenty of time to head the trike at an angle so the light would fall upon the mileage marker posts … keeping track of them would give me something to keep my mind active. It got to the point that I would rejoice with each number that would confirm my progress.
Seeing waterfalls and hiking faded into oblivion.
A couple of times, an Oregon Department Of Transportation’s gigantic orange snow plow would pass going the opposite direction. I have no doubt that the driver must have been shaking his head … that is, once he figured out what exactly he was seeing. Traffic was very light, even though this was a major pass road, most likely due to the winter storm warnings that had apparently gone public. Now and then, a motorist would slow to see if I wanted to signal for help, but then would continue on in his comfortably-heated metal box.
Around midnight, or so I figured, the clouds would part every once and a while, allowing Mr. Moon’s full bright light to illuminate my wintry white kingdom. When I would realize this was happening, I would switch off my headlight because the snow-laden world around me was so incredible to behold in its naturally lit state. I may have been ever entering deeper levels of distress, yet my mind marveled nonetheless in the beauty of this magical realm, seeing scenes in such a way that few would ever experience themselves. Here I was, pedaling a tricycle over the Cascade Range, in the middle of the night, while writing a chapter of my life that will always remain indelibly etched in my psyche.
DAY FIVE – MONDAY, OCTOBER 05, 2009
Panic is not an option in my personal toolkit of life solutions. My logical mind searches for alternatives that provide me a reasonable chance at success. Although, as the hours progress into the early morning of Monday, and the temperature continues to fall, if a person were so inclined to enter such a mentally unstable state, this set of circumstances would quickly bring it on. I feel the fear, and realize that I have allowed myself to enter a potentially life-threatening condition.
I define a state of panic as fear out of control. We all experience fear, for it is an inborn trait that helps us define moments when action must be taken for self-preservation. It is akin to a red flag signaling our brain that something is amiss. The ironic aspect of this is that precisely when panic sets in for most folks is the time when rational and calm thinking is critical, for a panic response often does not contain a fair probability of a favorable outcome.
Around 2 AM or thereabouts, based on the position of the moon from last night’s ride, and the amount of time I perceive I’ve been pedaling since nightfall, it becomes clearly apparent to me that I am truly out here alone on the high slopes of the Cascades … and I am in real danger. Virtually no cars are out any longer. The snow level up this high is about two feet just off the sides of the highway. It is getting colder, and the rare sign indicating the mileage to Diamond Lake Lodge tells me I have at least a couple hours of pedaling ahead of me.
I wonder if I can sustain the climb. I am becoming weaker and colder … that much is certain. I consider the possibility of creating a crisis bivouac camp, one where I would simply park the trike right on the road’s shoulder, unfurl my emergency bivouac bag, slide my sleeping bag inside, rough out a little snow trench, and hunker down until daylight. My body heat is still sufficient enough that such a scenario would result in a controlled retention of warmth, or so I believe. Once settled in, I could at least be relatively comfortable. Such action would have to be undertaken prior to any serious hypothermic condition to be successful. My challenge is to determine how close to that point I am.
The decision against such an option is reached after roughly three very slow miles of solemn thought. Unbelievably, during the time I am attempting to decide, I find myself dozing off, just like a auto driver might do having had insufficient sleep. This amazes me when I pull myself back to full awareness, because I am pedaling! How can I be going to sleep during active movement like this? And, just like a motorist who weaves from his lane, my trike heads over the center line since I am riding in the middle of my lane and not the shoulder.
An emergency bivouac is not totally out of contention, but for now I will go on. I believe I can make it. The road seems flat, but the fact that I am still in lower gears, and can’t hold an upshift but for a fleeting moment, tells me that indeed I am still climbing. The coldest time of any 24-hour period is immediately before the sun actually shines on an area, so if I did bivouac, I would have to remain in it well into mid-morning; to leave at first light would gain me little, unless I had really warmed up a lot, and had consumed quite a few calories in the process. My hands are very cold even in my heavy winter gloves, and to attempt to use them without gloves to set camp and get to my food supply would seem unwise.
When the clouds cover the moon, I must switch on my headlight to see where I’m going. Since it sits just to the left of my head at eye level, the beam also illuminates the front of the trike. On my ride from Wilbur 24 hours ago, I found this allowed me to see my gear shift indicators on the handgrips, which was useful because after a long stretch in the same gear, one can forget where the chain is on the sprockets and rings. It also illuminates the front spokes, which in low gear, turn ever so slowly, a constant visual reminder that tonight’s epic haul is going to be a long one.
I have rarely felt so alone, and yet, there is a certain indescribable peace in it all. Noise does not exist in these woods at this hour, and any infrequent vibrations that do hit my ears, do so after being muffled and absorbed by the thick snow everywhere. This period of the trip is clearly an exceptionally silent passage. Only rhythmical mechanical sounds emanating from the trike keep me company. This trike is called an ICE Q, mockingly apropos for the conditions where even if I could speed up significantly, it would be unwise due to intermittent road ice.
ALL FURTHER TELLING OF THIS TALE WILL BE FOUND AT:
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