The Rockies

I’m writing this post from a computer at the Lander, WY public library. We’re now well into Wyoming, with yellowstone happening in a few days. I’ve ridden a bit more than 2700 miles, with 2000 ish to go to the coast (I think?).

Colorado was a blast. The scenery was magnificent, and Meredith and I were able to catch up with some good friends along the front range. From Pueblo, CO, we took a red-gravel road to Colorado Springs, with the Rocky Mountains looming in the distance. In Colorado Springs, we stayed with an excellent warmshowers host, Martha, who gave us tips on which roads to ride to get to Denver safely (highway 105 was great). I was able to meet up with my college buddies Chris and Eli (in Denver and Boulder, respectively). We also met Eli’s second child Fia in Boulder. The last stop on our front range vacation was Fort Collins, where we stayed with Meredith’s friend Marie. We’d been using Marie’s address to ship packages to for a few weeks, and we took advantage of our rest there to do some bike tune-ups before tackling the Rocky Mountains.

After Fort Collins, our goal was to reconnect with the TransAmerica trail route. Most of the cyclists we met suggested that we take the infamous “trail ridge road” up and over Rocky Mountain National Park, saying it was, “always something they wanted to do.” At 12,200 feet elevation, this is the highest continuous paved road in the USA. Riding a 75 pound loaded touring bikes up it would be no easy task.

From Fort Collins, we rode to Estes Park, a beautiful and steep ride on Devil’s Gulch Road. Estes was teeming with tourists, but served as a necessary staging point for the big climb. We set out the next day around 7 AM, knowing that we should make it to the top before noon, as storms were supposed to roll in “like clockwork.” It was a breathtaking ride, and our legs and gearing seemed appropriate for the grades. However, as we got higher in elevation, the winds picked up speed. Around 11,000 feet up (above the treeline, with steep drop-offs on either side of the road), the wind made riding conditions unsafe. We were walking our bikes at this point, just trying not to get blown off the road. We found a pull-off for cars, and decided to try our luck hitch-hiking to the visitors center, knowing that almost all of the traffic on this road was going there. A nice couple from Wichita took pity on us, and shuttled us and our bikes to the top in their pickup truck. We had a nice (and expensive) lunch, then bombed down the other side of the mountain.

We’d planned to stay that night in Granby, CO (back on route), but found a nice campsite (timber creek) in the park, so we called it a day there. We didn’t have much food in the panniers at this point, so dinner was peanut butter and tuna on tortillas. A neighboring camper shared some burritos with us, which was huge! The following nights were spent in Granby, CO and Walden, CO. Big shout out to the Rand, CO store, which was closed when we arrived, but had drinking water stashed under their sign. This wasn’t literally a “life-saver” for us, but it sure was refreshing.

We crossed the border into Wyoming on Monday, June 19, finding a nice campsite in Riverside, WY. I’ve got a lot to say about Wyoming so far, but that will have to wait for another post (the timer on the library computer is at 5.5 minutes, and I still need to add photos to this post).

We’re not in Kansas anymore…

I had to wait til Colorado to write this post, just so I could use that Wizard of Oz line. Too funny right? Anyway, we crossed the border to Colorado (and mountain time) yesterday, and I crossed the 2000 mile mark for the trip from Philly.

Last night, we stayed at Sheridan Lake Bible Church in Sheridan Lake, CO (which is still hosting cyclists, just walk right in). They had AC, a great kitchen, and a comfy floor to sleep on. Be night before, we slept on the floor at a gymnastics gym in Scott City, KS. We’re always happy when we find cheap or free accommodations that don’t involve camping. I’m starting to get into the sink laundry routine, alternating my two pairs of bib shorts between drying on the bike or being worn.

Today we got a late start and only rode 27 miles to the $40 (tax included) Traveller’s Inn motel in Eads, CO (we had originally planned about 88 miles to Ordway, CO). There really isn’t much civilization between the two towns, and some locals had warned us of impending bad weather. On top of that, we knew that a group of about 6 other TransAm cyclists would be in Eads tonight, so we decided to join the party. We ate some dinner, bought some groceries, and then the skies opened up with rain, hail, and lightening. Right now, we feel good about the decision, but it also means we have to knock out a 110 mile day tomorrow to make it to Pueblo (and be on track to meet friends in Denver this Friday). I guess we’ll actually have to start riding before 11 am for once.

Now let’s rewind a bit for the Kansas recap. It took us 8 days to cover the 500 or so miles from Pittsburg, KS to Sheridan Lake, CO. And it was a blast. The people here really are generally the nicest along the trail. Most of the riders who make it this far (from either direction) have some pretty good stories to tell, too. Aside from a rogue hail or rain storm, I think we picked a great time of year for the weather (it’s generally been in the 80s and dry). We’ve even had about 50% tailwinds! On top of all of that, the wheat harvest is supposed to start in less than two weeks, which means lots of truck traffic (which we got to do without). And the last cool thing about Kansas – we had a support group for 3 days! Meredith’s mom and two of her friends joined up with us in Chanute, Kansas, and took turns biking and/or driving the “shag” wagon all the way to Sterling, KS. Check Meredith’s blog for their guest post. It was nice to have their company, and to ride unloaded for a few days.

Other highlight’s of Kansas include the Quivira wildlife refuge, and some new joke facial hair. We saw a sign for some audio tours of Quivira and other notable parts of Kansas, but stopped listening after hearing the hosts say, “Most people think of Kansas as flat, but that’s not true,” like eight times. Because honestly, after all of the other parts of America I’ve seen, I can confidently say that Kansas really is quite flat.

Illinois + Missouri

After Nashville, we did some pleasant riding in Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area, then connected back up with the TransAm route in Cave-In-Rock, IL. Being on route is a relief – although most people on route still think we’re crazy, they’re a bit more used to seeing touring cyclists, so the conversations are a bit more relaxed. It’s also nice to just follow the signs and maps, rather than trying to decide which roads are best to ride on.

Meredith’s dad split off from Cave-In-Rock, but not before preparing us some brats with roasted potatoes and onions. No one really enjoyed camping that night – there were few moments we didn’t have mosquitoes or other critters crawling on us: 

That night, I started feeling really drained of energy, and felt my sore throat worsening. I was sweating pretty bad, so obviously I assumed I was contracting rabies from the dog bite that happened the prior week. The irrational fear of rabies kind of put a damper on the next couple of days. Thankfully, four days and 250 miles later, we received a call from the Guernsey County, OH Sherriff’s office letting us know that the dog that bit me was healthy and up to date on shots (I had called the Sherrif earlier with the address of the bite, asking if there was anything they could do). This phone call was way more of a relief than it should have been. Fast forward to today (May 28), and I’m finally starting to feel more energized again.

Despite the illness, I really enjoyed riding through Illinois and Missouri. The terrain was moderately hilly, but interesting. Southwestern Missouri (near Farmington) was a gem – I had no idea there were so many vineyards and wineries (although we only stopped at the breweries). 

We stayed with a warmshowers host (Nathan) in Farmington. He’s the high school principal in town, and had just wrapped up graduation, so there was a small gathering going when we got to his house. We felt welcomed right away, and had a blast sharing food and beers with his friends and family. We also met Brian there, who has both toured and raced the TranAm. He took us to breakfast the next morning, and gave us some great tips and enthusiasm.

The rest of Missouri was swell. We made it through the Ozarks, and rolled into Springfield, MO for a rest day, again staying with warmshowers hosts. Our hosts Doug and Rae completed the TransAm in 2005. They remembered it like it was yesterday, and gave some good tips and enthusiasm. The food they prepared for us was also the best I’ve have on this trip.

Springfield, MO was not the most bicycle-friendly city, but the residents were still incredibly generous and welcoming. Special shout out to the folks at Sunshine bikes, who did some pro-bono bike fit work for Meredith (bringing the bars up closer and higher for a more comfy riding position). We got lunch that day with our philly friend Megan’s grandparents, who informed us that Springfield was the “cashew chicken capital of the world.” I feel like I’m learning so many things on this trip that I never knew I needed to know.

Earlier in the week, we were warned of some baseball sized hail from cattle farmers at the store in Bendavis, MO (fact: hail is always measured in sports ball sizes). It was to start around noon on Saturday. This was useful knowledge, as we were able to roll out early Saturday to get settled into the Ash Grove, MO bike hostel before the weather hit. A lot of towns on he TransAm route are very accommodating to cyclists, offering free places to camp and/or bathrooms. Some of them even have houses open as bike hostels (Ash Grove, for example, which even gives free access to the city swimming pool). As we were eating nachos by the pool, the storm rolled in, reminding me of the awe I used to feel during big storms in Iowa as a kid (sorry Philly, your thunder is lame). Sure enough, the power went out, and we spent much of the rest of the day navigating the house with headlamps.

After Ash Grove, we had a few (23) more miles of rolling hills before being dumped onto the flats of the Great Plains, which we’ll ride through Kansas and into Colorado. This morning, we’re about to leave Pittsburg, KS for Chanute, KS. I don’t have a whole lot to say about Pittsburg, except that they still have a family video store, and the sonic drive-in does not have any options for people who aren’t in cars. And, for those of you keeping track, it’s been 30 days since I left Philadelphia on April 29. 22 of those days were riding days, and 8 were rest/exploration days. Since leaving Philly, I’ve pedaled 1478 miles.

Cincinnati, Madison, Louisville, and Nashville

Q. If a person goes on a bike tour, and doesn’t blog about it every day, did they really go on a bike tour?

A. Yes! I just haven’t had a solid couple of hours of downtime concurrent with good cell phone service for a while. This is a catch-up post covering Cincinnati to Nashville-ish.

The doctors visit for the dog bite went OK – I was told: “we haven’t had a case of rabies from a dog bite in Ohio in over 25 years.” The doc gave me a tetanus shot and a prescription for antibiotics, but not rabies PEP shots (a 14 day process). Looking back on the ordeal, I really should have hung around a bit longer after the dog bite, and asked a few more questions (e.g. owner’s name, phone number, and whether the dogs were vaccinated). Still, I did make a note of the owner’s address, which later proved useful. Since this encounter, I’ve probably been chased by 10 more dogs, and my evasive routine is now more refined (it involves having pepper spray at arms reach, yelling “down! no!” at the attack dog(s), and pedaling as fast as I can).

That same Friday, I rolled out of the doc’s office around 10 am with 94 miles planned to get to a warmshowers host in Madison, IN. I stupidly followed google bike directions to get there. These took me through downtown Cincinnati, which was fine. I met Grant P on the trail, who is planning to do the TransAm in about a month.

Things went “downhill” when I crossed the bridge into Kentucky. I planned to take route 42 most of the way to Madison (generally following the ACA Underground Railroad route). Entering Kentucky, I was met with about 10 miles of strip malls and deadlocked traffic (consisting of approx 80% pickup trucks). I plugged away at it, riding the sidewalk when I had to. The traffic eased when I got out into the country, but then the riding got downright scary. Two-lane, twisting asphalt with no shoulder through the hills of rural Kentucky during rush-hour on a Friday = really awful. I got buzzed by way too many trucks and chased by way too many dogs. If there would have been an option to bail out on that road, I would have taken it. Instead, I went into survival mode and just pedaled as fast as I could to just get it over with. I finally made it back down to the Ohio river, where I called my warmshowers host Bob. He suggested that I cross over the bridge to Indiana and ride the last 2 hours on that side of the river.

I followed Bob’s advice, the clouds opened up, the sun started shining, and drivers suddenly started moving all the way over to the other lane to pass me. It was magical. I rolled up to Bob’s house that night, feeling incredibly relieved, and vowing to never ride a bicycle in rural Kentucky again.

Bob is a semi-retired dentist who has ridden a bicycle across the USA three times. His hospitality was wonderful, and we bonded over bikes, music, and the massive bridge across the Ohio river which is visible from his house. After my vow to never ride a bicycle in rural Kentucky again, I decided to take a rest day in Madison, ride one more day through Indiana to Lousiville, and cheat the next bit with a rental car from Lousiville to Nashville. The whole point of the trip is to have fun, and I don’t want to take any more unnecessary risks.

This proved to be a great decision, as the rest day in Madison was the first truly fun day I’d had since Pittsburgh. Unlike many of the towns I passed through in PA, OH, and KY, Madison was bustling. Tons of perfectly-preserved buildings, a glorious riverfront, great restaurants, and a sweet guitar store (crawdaddy music). Here are a few photos from that day:

Sunday, I rode a pleasant 60 miles through Indiana to the Louisville airport, where I rented a minivan and drove it to Nashville, meeting up with Meredith and her Dad Brad. We spent a few days resting in Nashville, eating and drinking well, and seeing some country music at the honky tonks and the grand ole opry.

Two weeks in (part two)

While in Pittsburgh, I was feeling pretty good about the distances I was covering each day. I decided to alter my plan a little, and try to meet up with Meredith in Nashville on Tuesday, May 16 by putting in some really long days. To make this happen, I’d need to make it to Columbus from Pittsburgh in three days. My first stop (Wheeling, WV) was 77 miles from Pittsburgh – much of it on the panhandle trail.

The next day was brutal, one of the worst for a couple of reasons. First, I greatly underestimated the hills of eastern Ohio (super steep and seemingly never ending). Second, my rear tire (schwalbe marathon) suffered a cut on some gravel. Fortunately I had a spare tire so I didnt need to try booting it. Third, I got chased by a lot of dogs (and not friendly ones).

I made the mistake of taking some gravel roads, where the dogs see very little action. Although I was able to sprint away from most of them, there was a moment near Cambridge, OH where I crested a hill, only to be blocked by a guy unloading his pickup truck and his two dogs. They were small but vicious, and one of them bit me in the leg. He asked which one bit me, and didn’t know. His response: “I guess I’ll get the gun out and shoot me both.” I left after that, not thinking much of it, as I wasn’t really bleeding and it didn’t hurt much, and proceeded to set up camp at AEP recreation lands (a 60,000 acre parcel of formerly strip-mined land, now converted to a weird but free recreation area).

The ride to Columbus was long (almost 100 miles) but pleasant. I did another 100 miles down to Cincinnati the next day, 100% on asphalt bike path (it was great). Stil, the more googling I did, the more I thought I should see a doctor for the dog bite. Thus, I’m presently sitting outside an urgent care facility in Cincinnati, waiting for it to open. We’ll see what happens from here.

PS – big thanks to Jordan K in Columbus for hosting me, and my Dad’s friend Darin M in Cincinnati. You’ve both been incredibly welcoming, and I can’t thank you enough.

Two weeks in (part one)

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost two weeks. I left philly Saturday afternoon, April 29. Since then, I’ve ridden 774 over 10 riding days and 3 rest days. Once I left Chambersburg, it was smooth and scenic riding down to the GAP trail and on into Pittsburgh (aside from a few trees down from a storm). My friends were planning a tailgate for a pirates game at 5 pm Friday, so that gave me extra motivation to get there quickly. I spent 2 days resting and hanging out with friends in PGH – thanks to Mike Bailey for providing a couch to sleep on. Here are a few photos from that leg of the trip (in reverse chronological order, because that’s how they uploaded from my phone):

Carpenter Bees, Gear Tweaks, and Golf

I left York, PA at about 9 AM Monday, and I arrived in Chambersburg, PA at around 3:30 PM. My route Monday followed Pennsylvania Bicycle Route S. It was actually pretty terrifying – I don’t recommend that anyone attempt to ride a bicycle on route 234 between East Berlin, PA and Arendtsville, PA. I get the feeling that PennDOT designated these routes only to help their rankings as a “bicycle-friendly state,” without putting much thought into what it would be like to actually ride them. The shoulders were non-existent, and the semi-trucks were often unfriendly. Still, this was hopefully the worst set of roads of the trip. Tomorrow (Wednesday) I’ll hook up with the C&O Canal trail, followed by the GAP trail to Pittsburgh. Once I reach Ohio, I have a hunch that I’ll be able to find some mellow Midwestern back-roads to take me to the TransAmerica trail, which I’ll pick up in Cave-in-Rock, IL.

Anyway – how about a quick summary of my wonderful rest day in Chambersburg? My folks relocated here from Iowa City, IA almost 3 years ago. It’s been nice to have them so close to Philly, and I often stop by when driving back and forth from Pittsburgh. I took the day off of riding to play a round of golf with my Dad at Penn National golf course (I lost about one ball per hole, which is par by my rules). I also stocked up on several pounds of snack foods, tweaked my front rack and rear pannier mounts, washed some clothes, balanced my bags, weighed the whole bike loaded up (74 lbs!), modified my Tevas, slept a lot, ate some delicious meals, and got rid of a carpenter bee problem. It was great.

PS: The carpenter bees found a home in some treated wood supporting my parents’ heat pump. We think they chose this spot due to temperature. I replaced the wood with composite decking. I emerged un-stung from the endeavor.

Good Friends

I’m thankful to have some incredible friends in Philly. For day 1 of the trip, Dan rode with me from fishtown to his parents’ house in Malvern, where we crashed for the night (but not before meeting up with John at the flying pig). Jono met us (on his birthday) just to ride for a bit to the conshy brewery for a couple of celebratory send-off beers. He heads back to Cuba tomorrow.

These are some of the kindest, funniest, and most thoughtful people I’ve met. I’m gonna miss them (fortunately, we’ll be reunited at Oh7 fest in August).

On Charity

It’s not my style to hustle people for money. It’s also not my style to pass up an opportunity to stand up for things I believe in.

Many folks have asked if the purpose of this trip is to raise money for a cause. The short answer is no. The long answer is a bit more complicated.

Mostly, I just love riding my bicycle and seeing new places, so the opportunity to ride from coast to coast is a dream come true. I’ve spent a good bit of money optimizing my gear, and I’ll probably spend a good bit more over the summer on food, fun, beer, and who-knows-what-else. With that in mind, if the goal was to raise money for an altruistic cause, it would be more efficient to skip the bike trip and keep working over the summer. But where’s the fun in that?

Still, I appreciate how fortunate I am to take this summer off without much to worry about other than where to sleep each night. So it feels wrong to forgo any kind of idealistic soap-boxing. Thus, I’ve made small donations to each of the charities listed below. Feel free to use these links to make donations of your own, or choose something else you care about to donate money or time to. Join a protest, clean up a park, sign a petition, put a sign in your yard, have a conversation. Just don’t do nothing. is a wide-reaching environmental advocacy group working to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels to below 350 parts per million.

American Civil Liberties Union

The ACLU works to “stop the erosion of civil liberties before it’s too late.”

Common Cathedral

Shout out to my big sister Laura – a pastor at Boston’s Common Cathedral, “an outdoor congregation, housed and un-housed, sharing God’s love through community, pastoral care, creative expression, and worship on Boston Common. We are non-proselytizing and ecumenical. We welcome and support all people.” Last Christmas, I attended an outdoor service led by my sister at the Boston Common. I was moved by how something as simple as asking about someone’s day can mean so much to the right person.

Girls Rock Pittsburgh

Girls Rock is an empowerment program for female youths of all definitions, abilities and backgrounds. Girls Rock! Pittsburgh utilizes the process of making music to instill tools for amplifying self-confidence, creative expression, independent thinking, mutual respect, and cooperation while cultivating a supportive and inclusive community of peers and mentors. Girls Rock! Pittsburgh is committed to community awareness, social agency, and fostering a network of role models for the endeavors of girls and women that promote social change amongst its diverse participants.”

Howdy, World.

2017 will be an interesting year. I’ve been chipping away at some big life goals for a long time, and a few of them are suddenly becoming reality:

  • I’ve been writing folk songs since college. In February, I had the opportunity to record some of them at my friend Ted’s recording studio. The album will be released digitally in a few weeks, and a small batch of vinyl records will be pressed over the summer.
  • On April 21, I’ll sit for the PE exam (the culmination of 9 years of college coursework and civil engineering practice).
  • And the big one… I’m taking the summer off to ride my bicycle across the USA! I technically started the trip in February by riding out to Long Beach Island, NJ, but the real trip starts from Philly on April 29, 2017. This trip has been a dream of mine for years, and I’m incredibly excited to finally have the chance to make it happen. I’m also super grateful to have found someone crazy enough to ride with me for most of the trip (check out Meredith’s blog for slightly funnier posts than mine). Prior to even meeting each other, we were both independently planning on taking the PE in April, then moving out of Philly and riding our bicycles across the USA. What are the odds of that?!

A few friends have asked if I’ll keep a blog during the trip, so here we are. I’ll post some photos to instagram (@frontiersunrise), but this page should be a good medium for more detailed updates and higher-resolution photos.

The title of the blog refers to “The Long Cut,” a song written by Jeff Tweedy during his Uncle Tupelo days. I think the lyrics do a good job describing my mindset for this trip:

Come on, let’s take the long cut
I think that’s what we need

Finally, here are a few photos from the first leg of the trip (Philly to the NJ shore, then back the next day):