Day 0 – Movement from Bismarck, ND to Hillsboro, OR

Av – 13.1 mph
Dis – 12.65 miles
Tm – 00:58:07 hrs

I didn’t expect to ride today. I didn’t want to ride today. I wanted to be in Seaside by early evening, setting up camp and taking a leisurely ride around town.

As luck wouldn’t have it, the only things going to Seaside or Astoria were metered cabs at almost $2 a mile. That’s another $150-$200 if you’re doing the math. I did and it wasn’t worth the cost. Instead I hopped a commuter train for $1.60 to Beaverton, just outside the guts of Portland, assembled the whole mess at a transit center, and literally rode off into the sunset in a westward direction.

An hour later, and a mere twelve miles and change, it was too dark to safely ride so I found a tidy little cove behind a roadside billboard to lay my head. I ate my chow, sorted through my crap with little luck, and began to write.

But I need to back up a bit, let’s say to this morning. I had anticipated calling a cab for a pickup but a buddy’s wife called and offered me a ride to the airport. Eleven-thirty, she had said, and I graciously accepted despite the fact I had thirty more minutes to go and was nowhere near packed.

I had only just placed my bike in its box when she pulled into the driveway – seven minutes early. I tossed her my gear list to keep her occupied and frantically packed some more.

In no time we were out the door and on our way to the airport only eight minutes behind schedule. She dropped me off curbside with two sets of panniers, a bike box, my handlebar bag, and a cleverly bungeed roll consisting of my rain fly, sleeping bag, ground mat and fender set. I was all assholes and elbows with no cart to consolidate my gear, so I took it piece by piece into the ticketing area to keep a close eye on it while I checked in.

Things were running smoothly. I was an hour ahead of departure, I was charged my predicted amount of excess baggage, and I even got the woman at the counter to laugh when I offered to pay with food stamps. It wasn’t until after I transferred my baggage to the screening counter when I realized I wasn’t making this trip alone. Murphy was there too.

“Oh!” exclaimed the uniformed woman in the screening area. She squinted at here screen. “You’ve been selected for a detailed screening. I have to go through all your things.” My mouth went dry.

“How about if I asked you really nice not to?” I smiled and put on my best ‘sexy man’ face.

“I’m afraid not,” she replied utterly unaffected by my charm. She was a tough nut to crack, alright.

She grabbed the set of panniers with all the MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) first, zipped it open, and began swiping.

“They’re all MREs,” I said in answer to her inquisitive stare.

“Oh, are you military?” She raised an eyebrow. Yes! I thought. I had found the door to her softer side.

“Why yes, I am.” I leaned my right elbow on the counter. “I’m a Marine home on leave. First time in over a year in fact.” I glanced down at my fingernails and then the off in the distance. I was praying for another bite.

“Are you active duty? Do you have orders?”

“I am indeed. But I left my orders at home. No need for them on a cross country bike trip.”

“Oh.” Her shoulders dropped. “If you had your orders, you’d be exempt from the search. I still have to go through your things.” My seductive smirk vanished.

“Well how about if I show you this?” I asked with a glimmer of hope and flashed my military I.D.

“Nope. I’m afraid not.” She began humming like Grandma in the kitchen making cookies as she poked, prodded, and rifled her way through my stuff. I made vague attempts at flirty small talk, but it was useless. I hung my head, defeated, and she thankfully finished the job quicker than expected. I continued onward to security checkpoint slightly miffed but no worse for the wear.

My boarding pass had been stamped accordingly to let the people know at the security checkpoint that I warranted ‘special’ attention. As I approached the metal detector another woman intercepted me, lifted the black rope that kept weary travelers from straying too far off course, and shepherded me into a side alley for my personal, detailed screening.

A man with rubber gloves snatched the things from my grasp and scurried to the opposite side of the room while I removed my shoes and stood, feet spread, on a pair of yellow footprints.

“Wow,” I said over my shoulder. “I haven’t stood on yellow footprints since Marine Corps boot camp.” The man with the metal detecting wand made no comment. I’ll admit I was playing off the military tip but so far my luck had run short. Apparently not all North Dakotans were avid supporters of our troops.

“Just stand still sir,” my humorless prison guard uttered without emotion. I did and he continued to wand me. “You’re clear. Please move over to the opposite side of the room and do not touch your belongings.”

I shuffled across the floor, shoes in hand, and peered at my stuff sitting silently on a battered, wooden table in a roped off area. Another man, this one not much younger than myself, approached me.

“How are you doing today sir?” He was annoyingly happy, the kind of happy you’d get from a balloon making clown.

“I’d be much better if you guys would just leave me alone and let me get on my way.” I was losing my cheerful demeanor quickly.

“I can guarantee you I’ll go as fast as I can, but it’s a necessary precaution for your safety, sir.” He was still happy, a condition I could easily cure with a palm heel strike to the bridge of his nose.

“Hmmm,” I looked pensive for a moment. “For my safety?”

“Yes sir.”

“So I guess all the training I’ve received in the Marine Corps over the last seven years won’t mean a damn thing if some old lady slips a fingernail clippers by you guys, huh?” He was unimpressed. “I’ve traveled all over the stinking world and I always get the worst hassle in the United States. You want to explain that one?” I was at the point were ‘fuming’ would have been an understatement. My little buddy could tell because he stepped back from the table, placed a call on the cellular phone attached to his black duty belt, and another man showed up a minute later. These guys weren’t taking any chances with a disgruntled jarhead.

Man #2 was older, perhaps in his early forties, and had a twitchy, gray mustache. They played his sudden appearance off.

“I’m here to help you get through this screening faster, sir,” he said and twitched his upper lip. “I can understand your urgency.” The man wasn’t a complete oaf. I sized him up and decided I could take him if the need arose, as long as he couldn’t get to his six gun before I got to him.

What the hell was going on in my head? I took a few deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Again. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Again. I was infinitely calmer than before. I could feel warm serenity creeping through my very core into my bones. Good. The last thing I needed was my trip to be ruined because I spilled the blood of airport security. I refocused.

“Thanks for the help,” Mr. Twitchy Mustache Guy, I thought. He donned the latex gloves and went to work on my tent and sleeping bag while the young kid opened up my handlebar bag like he was diffusing a bomb.

A gross amount of candy and Nutri-Grain bars stared him in the face, packed together with Lego-like precision.

“Wow, you sure know how to pack,” he said. “I wish I could pack this well. I’ll try to be careful and put it all back like I found it.” He chuckled.

“I seriously doubt that will happen,” I retorted. “Just leave it out when you’re done and I’ll put it all back.”

He peeled back a few layers of Skittles and M&Ms and gasped when he saw my mace. “What’s this?”

“It’s dog repellent. The last thing I need on a cross country bike trip is some rabid hound chewing my leg like a milk bone.”

“Are you aware it’s illegal to bring this on the plane?” He wrinkled his brow and frowned at me.

“No, I wasn’t. I didn’t even know I packed it in my handlebar bag. I just threw everything together in a hurry this morning.” I crossed my fingers in hopes he wouldn’t call the fuzz.

“Oh no. This is serious. We’re going to have to do paperwork on this. I need your boarding pass and I.D. please.” Dammit dammit dammit.

Young Guy called Twitchy Mustache Guy over and handed him the pepper spray. “Look what he had in here. He says he didn’t know he packed it.” He looked over his shoulder at me as I did my best appear law abiding and God fearing. Twitchy Mustache Guy gave me the greasy eyeball as Young Guy read the active ingredients.

“This stuff is 10% oleoresin capsicum!”

“Yeah, that’s the strong stuff only police and military use.” Twitchy never took his eyes off me. “Finish checking his other gear and I’ll do up the paperwork.”

The woman from the x-ray machine stepped up behind him and whispered in his ear, pointing at the front pocket of my handlebar bag. Young Guy snugged up his latex gloves, opened the zipper, and peered inside.

“Oh boy! Look what else we’ve got!” He reached in with his thumb and forefinger and pulled out my Leatherman Wave like a rod of plutonium.

“And I suppose you didn’t know you packed that too?” Twitchy piped up.

“Nope. I forgot that too.” I plunged my hands in my pockets and rocked back and forth on my heels, looking boyish and innocent. It worked.

“Well we can’t allow the pepper spray at all, but I should be able to transfer your Leatherman to your checked baggage before they load it on the plane. I still have to do the paperwork though, so standby while I get some information from you.”

I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I was going to be able to keep my treasured Leatherman and stay out of jail today.

I endured a small series of questions while Twitchy made another call to more phantom voices on his cell phone.

Young Guy walked up carrying a small blue pouch in his hand. I recognized it immediately as my tent stakes.

“I found these too. They’re tent stakes. They could be used as weapons. I think we should confiscate them.” Oh Christ!

“Just give them to me and I’ll take care of them.” Twitchy held out his hand and continued to fill out the remainder of the paperwork. Young Guy looked more than a little deflated, turned around, and began packing up my things.

“I’ll try to get these under there too. Have a good flight.” He walked away with paperwork, Leatherman, and tent stakes in hand and I couldn’t help but grin at Young Guy, obviously feeling dejected.

I collected up my things and walked into the waiting area with fifteen minutes to spare until boarding time. I was minus one canister of pepper spray but handcuff free, a trade off I was more than happy to have made.

So that was then and this is now. I’m a day behind before I’ve even started. I’m a whopping twelve miles and change into a trip scheduled to take over three weeks and 1500 miles.

I feel good.

Blair Witch in Hillsboro

Lessons learned – Ontario, Canada

Total Trip Statistics:
Distance: 371.18 kilometers / 231.99 miles
Ride time: 24:00:00
Saddle time: 19:01:16
Average speed: 20.43 kmph / 12.77 mph

…being lost is worth the coming home.

Wear a long sleeve synthetic shirt under rain gear vice a short sleeve or tank top. In waterproof rain gear (i.e. rain gear that does not breathe), you will sweat like a pig even if the weather is cool/cold. As the wind pulls the rain gear away from your body when it flaps, the air cools the sweat on the inside and rain on the outside. When the raingear hits your bare skin again as it flaps it is cold as a bastard. A long sleeve shirt eliminates that.

When riding in the rain, things will get wet. I know this is a no-brainer statement, but items that claim to be waterproof may not be. Case in point: My Topeak Tour Guide handlebar bag’s bright yellow rain cover was not even remotely waterproof. You’d think with a name like “rain cover,” it would at least have some water repellent characteristics. It did, for about the first 20 minutes of riding in the rain. It is plain nylon, like a tent wall, and when there’s pressure on the inside of the fabric, water seeps through like there’s nothing at all. Luckily, I individually wrapped my camera and cell phone in sandwich bags and they remained bone dry. There are some good after market spray-on or wash-in waterproofing systems out there like Nikwax (which I personally used on my 8-year-old Eureka Prism dome tent and other odds and ends, and it breathed new life into the fabric’s waterproof ness and repellency), but in this case I kept it simple. I swiped a couple of shower caps (one for backup) from my hotel and used them. They’re 100% waterproof and I can still read my map case!

And speaking of my map case, my map got wet from my crappy rain cover and the ink ran everywhere. I had printed my map off the internet in color and parts were completely unreadable when the ink started to run. Nikwax also has something called Map Proof if that’s your thing, but buying waterproof maps or even laminating your maps prior to departure will eliminate the problem I experienced. I don’t think normal road maps’ printing will run if you get them wet. It’s worth checking out.

Listen closely to your drive train. Under normal riding conditions I lube my chain every few rides. The rain and water were so intense on this tour that, in over six hours of wet riding, I lubed my chain three times. I use White Lightning chain lube. It’s a wax based lube that repels water very well and sheds dirt and road grime even better. The small, 4oz. size makes it easy to keep handy for a dry spell between showers when you hear your chain starting to chirp or squeak. I’ve used this stuff since the beginning, through ice, snow, slush, mud, muck, and plain old dirt and it performs flawlessly. An oilier lube will stick to your drive train much longer in the rain, but it also picks up road grime horribly and is harder to clean off when reapplying more lube. Stay away from White Lightning Race Day as it’s a thinner, oilier version that doesn’t perform well under extended use.

I thought of a way to eliminate presta valve stem failure after mine tore less than 1/3 of the way into the ride (and I used my only spare). I identified the cause of the failure as being he rubber portion of the bottom of the valve stem (just below the threaded part itself) rubbing against the metal of the valve hole in the rim. After over 3 hours of riding with a full load it finally wore through. And what caused that? Well, I like to pull the valve stem as far out as it will go when I seat the tire on the rim so I’ve got plenty of valve stem to work with when I pump the tube up. It also locks the valve stem in nice and tightly against the rim, but that was causing the uncompromising proximity wear. I decided next time I would only expose enough valve stem to give my pump a solid bite. That way there a bit of cushion for unexpected stress or movement and the metal, threaded portion of the valve stem should be the only thing against the metal rim of the valve hole. Another solution would be a valve stem nut on the inside of the rim (on the valve stem) to ensure the valve stem only protrudes a predetermined distance. That, combined with a valve stem nut on the outside as normal, will lock the valve stem into place and allow only metal on metal contact. Keep in mind I haven’t tried this yet, so I hope it works. Let me know if you pull this off.

I need a wider variety of music on my MP3 player. The selection I had on the tour was my gym tunes collection. Yes, it is heavy hitting, motivating music, but I’m not the kind of person who will cycle any faster when listening to AC/DC vice Dido. Not after a few hours already in the saddle, that is. I’ve gotta mix it up better.

Refill your water supply at every opportunity. As it was I only had two water bottles (not the brightest move). I passed up a hole in the wall gas station thinking I could fill up in a town a few miles down the road. When I got there, it turned out the town was a bigger hole in the wall than the gas station. In a worst case scenario I could have stopped by a house and asked to fill them up, but I ran on under one bottle of water for about three hours. I felt like I was licking a sand popsicle by the time I got to Kingston. Also, a brief stop to fill up is good excuse to rest and stretch your legs as well as take a few photos if need be. Everybody wins. The problem with carrying 70 to 100 oz of water in a hydration backpack is weight. Water is probably the heaviest thing on your gear list. After hours of pedaling in the saddle, even the smallest amount of extra weight on your back or waist is transferred many times over to your crotch. I’m going to stow extra water on my gear instead of my back. IDEA: A 100 oz bladder with an extended hose mounted to the shelf of a front rack is a great compromise. I’m looking into some designs.

Baby powder works wonders on a chafed “undercarriage” when off the bike. After two days of riding, I noticed my saddle was a few degrees off from center and it was rubbing the bejesus out of my port side. When I rolled in to Merrickville on day two, I was well past uncomfortable and way into excruciating. The baby powder was a godsend while I milled around town seeing the sights. I fixed the saddle, finished the last three hours of the ride the next day (as planned, but very painful none the less), and was completely healed up in about two days. This was, hands down, the worst case of “bike ass” (a term affectingly coined by me in the mid 90s) I have ever experienced. With the knowledge gained, I now know that it’s better (given enough time) to take 1-2 days off the bike, heal up, and continue as planned rather than push through the pain. Bringing a small, travel-sized bottle of baby powder will make your life a lot easier.

Pay very close attention to your chow intake. I ate a Nutri-Grain granola bar (often two) at least every hour. I kept them in my handlebar bag along with snickers and Twinkies. A couple Twinkies or a candy bar go a long ways for keeping your energy levels up on the ride. Junk food like that is fine as your cranking the pedals hour after hour, but ensure you get a damn good, well balanced meal when time permits. Supper should always be pasta/high carbs to give you the long, slow burning energy you need for the next day’s ride. Get a good breakfast too, but don’t ever get so full you feel uncomfortable when leaning over your handlebars.

Listen to your body. A five minute break from riding does wonders. Simply get off the bike, walk around a bit or lie on the grass, and veg out. You’ll feel 100% better when you climb back on.

You can’t count on a 10mph average to get you 70 miles in seven hours. Sure, if you do the math it all adds up, but factor in things like chow, breaks, and sightseeing. Count on about 15-20 minutes an hour that you won’t be pedaling. I noticed that I could pedal a couple hours without taking a break on my first day, but on day three I was stopping every 30-45 minutes for a 5 minutes break.

Don’t push your daylight limits. I got caught in three hours of darkness due to a late morning start. Luckily I had a reflective vest so vehicles could see me, but no light. Riding in the dark isn’t worth the risk of getting run over just to cover a few more miles before rack time.

The mounting bracket of my Topeak Tour Guide handlebar bag was constantly rotating downward from the weight of the bag. It was to the point where I couldn’t read the map because it was angled down too far. This was because the stock mounting system didn’t come with rubber inserts to put between the handlebar and plastic clamps to prevent it from slipping. I scrounged up a couple of rubber strips from old cyclometers and plan on using them to secure the mounting bracket better.

My bar ends sucked. They were too small and too narrow. They didn’t fit my hands properly and hurt like a bastard. I’m going to stick with my Bontrager bar ends that are on my Specialized M4 and save myself some numbness.

I configured my tour bike with an adjustable stem so I could have the option of a more upright riding position if I wanted. This, indeed, was more comfortable on my hands, arms, and shoulders, but it put more weight on my butt and quickly became a pain in the ass, literally. It also shortened the cockpit and I often felt cramped with the urge to stretch way out over my handlebars. I recommend you stick with your existing riding position for your own tour. It’s what you’re used to. On top of that, the joint of the stem where it adjusted would squeak with every shift of weight on the handlebars. It was maddening. If I can’t find a way to dampen that infernal racket, I may have to forgo the adjustable stem and go back to a standard rise and length.

Keep your clothes on. On a nice day it’s tempting to strip down to your cycling shorts and soak up some rays, but your asking to get your back badly sunburned by day’s end. Six to ten hours in the sunlight, and any weather, will give you a good burn, so apply sunscreen on your ears, nose, cheekbones, and back of your neck. Ride shirtless sparingly. In addition, you will stay cooler by allowing yourself to sweat under your shirt while remaining shaded.

After hours and hours of riding into a headwind with my tank top flapping madly in the breeze, my nipple was actually rubbed raw! This is something I never had considered. It may explain why road jerseys are so tight. For future tours I plan on using the little circular Band-Aids and taping my nips up. You laugh now, but this really hurt! On Day 3 it was bad enough that I couldn’t wear my shirt anymore, but my back was really sunburned so I couldn’t take my shirt off, so I had to pull the front of my shirt over my head and behind my neck to ward off more pain than I absolutely had to endure. Yeah, I looked retarded, but it worked.

Most importantly: Have fun. Take your time. Enjoy the sites. There is a whole other world waiting to be experienced as soon as you climb on a bike. Don’t get caught up in the numbers so much that it prevents you from taking photos, grabbing chow, or relaxing at a scenic view.