Bear Glacier Hill Road

It is often said that we have weird place names in the UK (Cold Christmas?). As we have got further West there seems to be a generic template for road names. Montana has got this totally sewn up. To create your own you just need the following… 1. A status adjective. Examples include: Lost, Tall, Dead, Hidden, Blue or Montana favourite, Big. 2. A relevant noun. E.g. Horse, Pine, Fir, Lake, Creek, Church, Bear, Market. 3. Place or geographical feature: Mountain, Hill, Forest, Pass, Valley, Ranch, anything unused from the list in 2. So you end up with something like: Lost Horse Creek Road. This makes directions very confusing. Imagine you are tired from the headwinds (yes, we still have those), probably hungry and definitely a bit sweaty. Someone is explaining that you take Tall Pine Ranch Road up to Hidden Creek Hill Trail then take the left fork at Big Fork or was it maybe Big Arm, or Big Sky?

Cattle Mountain Road. Probably. Just like Montana should look.

Despite these navigational challenges we had a wonderful two weeks in Montana. Like so much of the USA it is very good at being exactly like Montana should be. Our first day’s ride was alongside a lake formed after an earthquake (naming guidelines: geological incident + geographical feature = Quake Lake). The sky was blue, the trees and mountains tall and the rivers populated with fly fisherman. We kept a close eye out for Robert Redford. For the first time in ages, the wind was helpful. When we turned north it blew us to Ennis, where we camped in the backyard of a whiskey distillery and had a picnic dinner outside the public library. Living the dream.

Before the earthquake, these trees used to be a forest alongside a river.

The next day we had some really good apple pie. Even better, it was at a cool old bakery in a gold rush ghost town. These two days of tourist attractions and information signs were really welcome after all the emptiness we had ridden through. Sadly the helpful weather didn’t last. Despite assurances (/lies) from west-to-east cyclists that they had loads of headwinds it wasn’t at our backs again and there was the odd thunderstorm to hide from. This gave us plenty of chance for ice cream sampling while sheltering outside supermarkets. Huckleberry became the new fave. Who knew it was even a real fruit.

Welcome to the Wild West. Gold rush towns Virginia City and Nevada City.

We rode over a load of really big windy hills (Tall Windy Hill Road) and questioned our sanity and life choices. It was hot and the air really drying. Much like Wyoming. If you are a cycling keen bean and would like to recreate this sensation in the comfort of your own home you could try this. Ride your turbo trainer really hard on a high resistance next to a radiator whilst a few friends point their hair dryers at your face, set to high. Alternatively you can use your imagination… Say you were a grown up and drank a lot of dry white wine, maybe whilst at university when life was less sensible, then fell asleep without drinking any water, and then when you woke up the next morning you put your head in a fan oven, that would feel like cycling uphill into the wind in the western USA.

Chief Jo taking a break from the hills. Our final divide crossing.

We took a rest day in tiny Wisdom, watched Wimbledon and the Euro Final, and wondered if you had to live in Wisdom before you could move to nearby Wise. For a whole day we sat on a sofa, or a chair, looked outside and the rain, and ate. It was amazing. A few days later we made it to Missoula, home of the Adventure Cycling Association. We were excited about this because long distance cyclists get an ice cream and their bikes weighed. Jo was especially looking forward to it as she was convinced that her bike was heavier. In actual fact it turned out that we are packing geniuses, Jo 94lb, mine 96lb. As we had just been to the supermarket and food goes on my bike we are probably about even most days. This weight didn’t include any water, so for the metrically minded the bikes and kit total at least 45kg each. As I mentioned, questioning sanity and life choices.

Clockwise from bottom left: 1. Bike weighing, a delicate operation. 2. Carrying the essentials in the bar bag. Actually a bar. 3. Our mugshot at the ACA. 4. We met a man from Rothley, Leics outside who took this one. It’s a small world in cycling.

It was a few days ride to Glacier National Park. On the way we took in the Smoke Jumpers Visitor Centre and had an excellent tour. These firefighters wear kit that weighs about the same as our bikes and parachute into forest fire areas. Very impressive indeed. The awesome staff also rescued Jo’s tea flask and posted it to us in Republic, Washington. Amazing. We treated ourselves to some new gear cables and bike chains in Polson. Rock and roll. The route went along Flathead Lake where there was great swimming and even better in-season cherries for sale by the side of the road.

Clockwise from bottom left: 1. Jo got some cookies as big as her face as a gift at the farmers market in Big Fork. 2&3. Real smoke jumper training jump prep. 4. Fake smoke jumper Jo. 5. Still hilly around here.

Lakes instead of showers continued in the National Park, but we didn’t mind because it was probably the best place we have been in the USA. Incredible scenery, waterfalls, wildlife, lakes. We decided to have a few ‘rest days.’ The big attraction for cyclists at Glacier is the ‘Going to the Sun’ Road. To get up to Logan Pass at about 2000m the scenic road is hacked out of the side of the mountains. As it was a rest day, we left the bags at the campground and took the shuttle bus to the top with our bikes. We rode down the East side, turned around, rode back up to the top and then down the West side to the camp ground, stopping to walk around a lake on the way. We found the perfect sports recovery drink – a Huckleberry beer (of course). You didn’t think it was an actual rest day?

The next day we went for a hilly walk (hike in American) to loads of waterfalls. It was beautiful. On the third day we were tired, so we decided to do 2 shorter walks and a shorter bike ride. On the first walk we saw a grizzly bear and cub in the absolute best situation. We were at a safe distance, there were loads of people around and we could have outrun at least 75% of them. It was amazing. The cub gambolled around whilst mum sedately crossed the person-boardwalk. Glacier rocked.

Montana had more great scenery for us before we left, but no more showers. We camped at Dickie Lake, hung out with some other cool teachers and swum in the lake for our wash. The next day was hot, windy and very pretty alongside Koocanusa Lake. There wasn’t much drinking water or shade and it was hard keeping cool. We had an essential dip in the afternoon to de-sweat. A kind Canadian family saw our heat induced fatigue and gave us some ice pops.

Montana’s parting shot was our first puncture (‘flat’) of the US. After 4000 miles we weren’t too upset.

Thanks to: The friendly Utah family in West Yellowstone, the vendors of the Big Fork Farmers’ Market, Tim & Carrie, Rachel & Kurt, AnnaMarie & Tom, Mike the mechanic, Suzanne & Pam for introducing us to Skipbo.

Welcome to “Colourful Colorado” 

If there was one state we were looking forward to the most, it was Colorado. And not just because it was a long slog across Kansas to get there. It was at the end of the yellow brick road for us. Filled with dreams of mountains and canyons we pedalled towards the border, where we were greeted with a sign that described Colorado as ‘colourful’. As we stood and ate a banana and looked beyond the sign, it seemed to be the same colour as Kansas. And just as flat. At our feet were empty bullet shells. Welcome to the Wild West!

And buffalo…

We had been told that Colorado doesn’t get interesting until you are halfway across, so weren’t expecting an instant change, but wow, this place is empty. The farm buildings we had been seeing in Kansas dried up, and the landscape was now barely dotted with ranches. Only the entrances were visible from the road, so all we could see was lots and lots of nothing. More nothing than I had ever seen. And despite the promises at the border, it was even less colourful than Kansas as the green and yellow fields were replaced with lots and lots of greeny brown. I’m not sure brown counts as a colour. At least the sky was blue.

The only thing of note when towns (a loose term here, more a collection of buildings) approached was how the huge old grain stores dominated the view. From a distance they look like castles or cathedrals, reminiscent of the approach to European cities. Then you get closer and they are just huge concrete structures. We took to measuring things by the side of the road, and passed an old train on a disused line that was over 3 miles long. Things are big out here to match the landscape.

Approaching the historic castle / grain store
The three mile long train

The first night in Colorado we camped in a town park, a little fearful of the storm clouds gathering overhead. Just as we were about to go to sleep the lightening started, and I have never seen anything like it before. The sky was lighting up in all directions, it was like watching a firework show. When the rain started and the thunder sounded closer we abandoned the tent to get under a shelter at the front of a disused building. British wimps. Eventually it looked like the storms had moved away so we ventured back to the tent only for the wind to pick up. The wimps then felt the need to go and check that there were no tornado warnings. There weren’t. Finally we got to sleep about midnight. Not ideal for our 5am start routine.

The morning after the night before. And thats only a third across on our crazy long route

After 100 miles of Colorado emptiness (that felt like 1000), mountains started to appear on the horizon. Finally! The road started to roll a bit. It was still another day before we reached a town of any size. Pueblo felt like a big city to us. There were fast food restaurants and everything. Unsurprising given the name, this was the place with the most Hispanic influence we have seen so far. Many Mexican restaurants, and public health signs in Spanish (drink less juice, more water – our Spanish is really coming on). It seemed like a pretty nice town to explore, and we arrived around 3pm, but we were so tired that the only thing we wanted to do with our spare few hours was sleep. So we did. Maybe next time, Pueblo.

Mountains! And a dirt road. Adventure begins here

Since we left St Louis we have been focussing on reaching Evergreen, a town just West of Denver and the home of two people we had never met before but were expecting us to pay a visit. As we got closer to this magical, mythical place where we could take a day off, the tiredness became overwhelming. The penultimate day took us to Colorado Springs, a town full of cyclists where no less than 5 people came up to us to ask if we had a place to stay that night (and a sixth offered to buy some margheritas). It pained us to turn down all offers. The friendliness of folk is quite overwhelming sometimes. It is also home to Garden of the Gods, a huge area of giant red rock formations that you can drive or ride a loop around. Despite almost falling asleep whilst having a late lunch in an air-conditioned taco place we wanted to pay the rocks a visit so reluctantly got back on the bikes and rode uphill for 6 miles into a strong wind to get there. Grey clouds loomed ahead and we hoped to get to the visitor centre before they decided to empty themselves. We made it with minutes to spare and sat undercover enjoying a tuna sandwich and the view of the rocks knowing there was no chance of us being able to ride around. But at least they looked nice, especially with the 14000ft Pikes Peak behind. During a break in the rain we pedalled madly back to town whilst lightening cracked all around us. The storms out here are crazy. And scary from a bike seat.

Garden of the Gods, through the rain


Day 15 of riding in a row was the most testing. I thought if I closed my eyes I could actually fall asleep while cycling. Luckily, riding with mountains all around was exciting enough to keep my eyes open. But it got us to Evergreen and our vacation destination with people we had never met before but in traditional American style treated us like long lost friends. Three days off in an amazing house up in the mountains was just what we needed. Even if we got up at 6am on the first of these to go white water rafting. This was incredible, rafting through a beautiful canyon with snowy mountains all around. The Arkansas river is pretty high right now so some of the rapids were a little sketchy and the 5 degrees Celsius water was refreshing to say the least. Colorado is beautiful. We also got driven through a stretch of the state that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise – including South Park (yes where the tv show is set).

Driving through South Park (cowboy hat on dashboard not optional)
Rafting in Browns canyon
Birthday eve breakfast for Debs in the mountains

From here things are going to get interesting. We are into bear territory. There is a huge mountain range to cross. The plan is to ride through Rocky Mountain National Park on the highest paved through road in the USA. I’m sure weeks of flat riding through Kansas (actually I don’t think we have ridden up a hill since Vermont) is perfect preparation for this….

Not scary at all…

Big thanks to Gillian in Ordway; Martha in Colorado Springs (and everyone else who offered help); and of course Sue and Lesli (and the Austin crew) for an amazing break at the high altitude mountain getaway.

Doesn’t cycling get boring..?!

I love cycling. The repetitive pedal turning is very soothing and it’s great to see different scenery. There are times when the scenery doesn’t change as quickly or as often as you would like. Particularly on bike trails or quiet roads where traffic doesn’t require lots of attention, this gives plenty of opportunity to play some on the road games. Please note that these high paced dynamic activities are not suitable for your daily commute (unless you live in Eastern Colorado) or any trafficked route. We accept no responsibility if you choose to play these in an inappropriate environment. Unless you are a touring cyclist, it might be best to view them as hiking not biking games. This list is not comprehensive, it includes some newer inventions and some old favourites.

Stick or Snake’

This recent addition to our standard selection was inspired by the snake running over incident on the Katy trail. ‘Stick or Snake’ is pretty self explanatory, as you approach the ‘Stick or Snake’ call out which you think it is. This is really an individual game, but feel free to discuss your selections with your riding buddy if you have one. Admittedly this game is not so good for UK hikes and bike rides unless you have a very overactive imagination. Some of the offshoot games might be more appropriate to a wider international audience. These included, but were not limited, to ‘foliage or frog’, ‘shadow or squirrel’, and the alliteration failures ‘rock or turtle’ and ‘leaf or butterfly’. Jo performed particularly poorly in ‘deer or dog’. Feel free to come up with your own variations. We are not looking forward to ‘bear or boulder’.

Kansas

Kansas cycling brought out Jo’s creative side. As you begin a new whole km or mile on your bike computer, change the display away from a distance setting. In Jo’s qualitative world, you don’t use your clock/speedo, just try to guess when you have completed that km or mile. Change it back and see how you did. Don’t be tempted (as I am to try to work out distance between telegraph poles and calculate. Just go on feeling. Again, more of an individual game, but you can see who is closest percentage wise. We were usually between 10-20% off. You will have time to work this out. Classic.



Kansas 2′

Who says academics have no imagination. Another Jo invention. Try to cycle along the white line for as long as you can without either tyre leaving it. Current record 0.37 miles. This did not hold our attention for very long and should not be played in wet conditions.

‘As many as you can…’

As previously covered in our Portugal post, this is where one person chooses a category and you take it turns to name something from it until someone runs out.

We favour songs, eg. Beatles songs (Jo won), Take That songs (I won), songs with a colour/day/name in, etc. Feel free to share your own categories below to help entertain us. Pretty sure we are now onto repeats.

How far is…..?

Particularly good in open spaces, this multi-player game requires each competitor to guess how far away a landmark is. Examples include grain stores. In our recent experience that is all.

Horse

A true classic never dies. If you have ever been on a car/minibus/bus journey with me you have probably played this already (unlucky sports teams of Loughborough and Birstall). I learned this game in Canada from an inspirational teacher. I have since discovered that this is a North America wide game, though not everyone knows the extension tasks. Here’s the game.

If you see one horse, say ‘horse’. Whoever says it first gets one on their total.

If you see two horses, say ‘horse, horse’. Whoever says it first gets two on their total.

If you see three horses, same thing.

For four or more, the game changes. You say ‘horse ranch.’ If you say it first you get all the horses in that group. Should you be in the area, the 105 from Colorado Springs towards Denver is the best road I have been on for this.

Winner is the person with the most at the end of the journey.

*Phil’s extension activity: if you see a church with graveyard or cemetery say ‘Bury your horses!’ If you are first to say this, you keep all your horses and everyone else goes back to zero, unlucky!*

horse, horse

The Number Plate Game

Our current ‘licence plate’ game is to try to see one from every state. We have three to go. As we like to live on the edge, we have made this more competitive by trying to name the ‘last seen’ states and awarding points for this. In case you are interested, if we see Delware next, I win, if we see North Dakota next, we tie. Jo wins in the unlikely event that we see both North Dakota and Hawaii before Delaware. Got it?!

Please share your own road games below. Note that due to the high paced nature of our journey, eye spy is not a go.

If all else fails to entertain us, we do enjoy a good monkey bars/slide stop…

We caught the Katy

Along the route of an old train line, the Katy Trail is the longest rails-to-trails bike route in the USA. It was a big change from riding Route 66. Less cars, burgers and neon, more trees and wildlife. I had an important internal radio change, Chuck Berry to the Blues Brothers. Both great songs that became a little annoying after a couple of days. 

Having visited the Lewis and Clark Centre on the banks of the Mississippi we would now be following the intrepid duo as their Corps of Discovery journeyed up the Missouri River. Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, Lewis was selected to lead the expedition to find navigable trade routes through the West. He in turn recruited William Clark and the two led a band of merry men on a testing two year trip to the Pacific and back. 

Old railway bridgeon the Katy Trail

Similarly intrepid, on the first afternoon on our well-surfaced and fit-for-purpose bike path, I scared myself by riding over a snake assuming it to be a stick. It was black and over a metre long. We would meet a lot of wildlife on the trail, especially where it was sandwiched between bluffs and the huge Missouri River. It was mostly scenic, mostly flat and has plenty of accommodation options so makes a great trip should you be in the area with a bike. We camped at a ball park and watched some intensely supported softball, and loved the Turner Shelter in Tebbetts. The snake incident inspired the invention of a new on-the-road game and there were information boards every 10-15 miles, so the Katy Trail kept our interest for it’s 240 mile length. 

Wildlife on the trail. Yes I know there are rabbits everywhere but everything else moved too quick for a photo!
Cycling alongside the Missouri river – bit easier than Lewis and Clarke found it

A fun day off in Columbia meant that one of our days in Missouri coincided with the eclectic Pedaller’s Jamboree, a cycling and music festival that moves along a thirty mile stretch of the trail. Invited to join some locals for the day, we shared the path with 3000 cyclists, including any number of tandems, papier maîche animal-ed bikes and inventive ways to carry beer. 

Margheritas, bikes, music and good company at pedjam

As the cycling got more wayward and the falls more frequent we left the revellers and continued west, arriving to camp in a small and seemingly deserted town. At the park we met English cyclist Nigel, and found out why the town was empty. Everyone was at either a 60th wedding anniversary or a birthday party, or it might have been a 60th birthday and a wedding party, both of which were in earshot of the park. The birthday wrapped up early, but the wedding celebrations carried on into the car park courtesy of car radios, and eventually (worryingly) drove away. So Jo and Nigel told me. I was asleep.

Sunday was the least scenic and most hilly trail day, but the turtles, frogs and snakes still kept us on our toes. They were also some great stories on the info boards, including some underhand tactics by the the Katy builders to win the race to Indian territory against a rival railroad. They employed spies and disrupted the others progress by a number of methods. The best of these was sending an ‘official’ stocked with drink supplies to tell the rivals crews their construction was complete and it was time to party. The aftermath of the celebrations cost several days work time and the Katy company took the lead and the right to build the railroad through the territory.


We didn’t have a party, but we did eat a lot of pasta at the end of the trail in Clinton. Our final day in Missouri was the seemingly mythical Memorial Day. Since we have been in the USA people have kept telling us that things (attractions/campsites/shops/roads) will be open after Memorial Day. It was finally here and everything was closed for it. Alanis would see the irony I’m sure. It was a beautiful day of rolling hills, swamps, rivers and only two scary storms to hide from. We enjoyed some great company and pork chops in the evening. From the Museum that wasn’t to a bike party day via a wildlife-d trail Missouri was a lot of fun. A sign told us that we had entered Tornado Alley and we hoped to avoid a trip to Oz as we continued West and into Kansas.

Trying to out-ride the storms

Thanks to: The Turner Shelter, Adrienne, Adam, Loki & everyone, Ian, Ellen and the Jamboree crew, Kelly and Delora.

Not going out

It’s Saturday night, April 30th and we are not going out. Our hosts for the evening have departed for drinks and it is with relief and tiredness bordering on exhaustion that we sit down to eat several hundred grams of pasta and tuna. Our day started almost 100km, a country and 14 hours ago…
Waking up in the tent the air was colder than we thought. Despite minimal camping recently we packed up very efficiently and rolled the bikes along the canal to Main Street, pleased to see the diner we spotted yesterday was open. It was 7.45am. We spread the tent out over the bikes to dry in the sun and ordered breakfast. There was a dizzying array of options, but we order a special #1 from the blackboard for me, Mac n cheese pancake for Jo. The diner was everything you would imagine/hope for in a small town diner. The waitress was friendly and knew all the other customers by name. When an old guy parked his truck up and came in she actually said “hey there Snuffy, I’ll get your coffee.”

When my breakfast arrived, it was 2 full plates of food. The first had 2 blueberry pancakes the size of my face on. The other had eggs (scrambled), bacon and home fries (without onions). I did share. Jo first had to negotiate an appropriate sauce for her Mac n cheese pancake. She went for ketchup, despite the server’s assurances that most people prefer syrup. It was quite the carb hit, but she soldiered on through a blueberry one with maple syrup. 

A few cups of coffee, use of a bathroom, refilled water bottles and a dry tent later, we hit the canal trail at about 8:30am. There were a few people out walking dogs and jogging, but saw no other cyclists. The path got busier as we approached the impressive flight of locks that climb the Niagara escarpment. It was short but steep, and signalled the end of our canal following. The wind followed us as we continued west and we picked up speed towards Niagara Falls. After a sun cream stop we noticed a few cyclists on road bikes around. Specifically, they were passing us. A rider with less ‘full kit’ slowed to explain that there was a 50 mile charity ride going on. He said that following their signs would bring us right to downtown Niagara Falls.

This seemed like an easy navigation option. It also meant that at the event’s next refuelling stop we were waved into a car park by many enthusiastic volunteers. They weren’t at all disappointed to discover that we were not on their ride and were very excited by the idea of our trip. There were several conversations going on at the same time, about cycling, food supplies, my sunscreen (“Girl, you so dehydrated your lips are white!” – “It’s sunblock.”), our British flags (“You girls from Australia right?” – “No England” – “Ah I knew you some accent”), the charity, the fact that there were two Deborahs, it all got a bit confusing and Jo started taking her jumper off. Not from panic or confusion but because somehow in the midst of being made a peanut butter and jam sandwich and explaining that we had cycled from Boston, she had been stung by something.


Fully packed up with bags of orange quarters, bagels and sports drinks we left the cheery volunteers and immediately lost the bike ride signs. Needing a stop to investigate the sting situation, (suspect wasp, moderate swelling) we also re-routed ourselves on a straighter road to make back some time. Somewhere along this stretch we realised w had missed our 9000th trip kilometre and opted for photos of the landmark 9019th instead.

The outskirts of Niagara Falls, NY were not so pretty. Long stretches of shops, gas stations, intersections, fast food places. At least there were plenty of options for a bathroom stop. (Gas station, alcohol sales only between 8:30am-2am). At a red light an SUV blared rap music and a car full of tattooed young people pulled up next to us. The passenger leaned out the window and in an apologetic tone said “Excuse me, Ma’am, I just wanted to let y’all know that not all Americans are ignorant like that. Some of us like real music. I hope you enjoy your visit.” The light went green and our unlikely trio (gangstas, hipsters, cyclists) went our separate ways. There were lots of empty lots and for sale buildings but as we got closer to downtown the road became less busy and there were many more houses and nice residential areas. 

The US side of the falls is a State Park, and as international tourist attractions go it is fairly moderately done. There is a cinema experience, a walk behind the falls, a walk somewhere else, a boat trip and plenty of ice cream available, but you can also just walk (or cycle) around the various look out points and be amazed at the volume of water pouring over the edge which is exactly what we did. At times the people watching was as engaging as the falls.


Riding across the Rainbow Bridge cost us the princely sum of 50 cents each. Last time we crossed this way on bikes there was a very long queue to get into Canada. Today it seemed like the universe was smiling, the sun was still out and we rode right up to the border control board. The world may have been full of the joys of spring but our border guard was not. We were not expecting this from Canadian staff. It is very hard not to sound facetious/know-all when standing astride a heavily loaded bike and answering the question “what is the reason for your visit?” with “Cycling?!”

The view is best on the Canadian side so we had a choice of primo picnic stops to eat our packed lunch from the charity bike ride folk. The falls are very impressive if you are ever in the area, the horseshoe one is over 400m long. Travelling North, the gorge downstream is also pretty, with plenty of scenic viewpoints along the bike path. We met some other cycle tourists at a few of the stops, three boys from Illinois who we had heard about from another guy the day before. Even in a country as big as this the road can be small. More surprising was that we had caught them up. It has never happened that when we know of someone going the same way in front of us we actually meet them. We are too busy riding slowly, snacking and stopping for Jo to take photos. The boys must do the same.

The last 20km was relatively flat and fast past vineyards and well kept houses. Jo’s sting swelling was still growing in size. We crossed the Welland Canal and passed an impressive war cemetery with many tiny Canadian flags blowing in the wind. Our lovely hosts are keen cyclists and direct us to bike storage and food. They have been in a running race today and are celebrating with dinner out. We wash, eat and sit. We are too tired to go out. As we are cycling on a day like this we often have a conversation about something that has happened, and because of all that goes on in between it seems like it couldn’t still be the same day. Did I really have a pancake the size of my face THIS morning? Did we really ride our bikes to Niagara Falls? What lucky little people we are.


Thanks to: the charity riders and volunteers, Dan & Emily in St Catharines – hope the red bull race went well!