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A pick me up Pt. 1

Friday, October 1st, 2010

I have to say, once I got over missing Glacier, I’ve really been enjoying our trip a lot more.  Even the train ride wasn’t so bad.  We were treated to one of the most amazing sunsets right as we approached Glacier which we would never have seen had we decided to bike there.  After that, we mostly tried to sleep the rest of the way to Spokane.  Unlike New York where life outside is always visible from a train window, out in God’s country it’s pitch dark.  In a way, it was probably best this way so that we could forget all that we were missing and focus on what lay ahead.

Our train got in to Spokane at 2:30AM which left us with very few options for lodging.  We were downtown which meant all the hotels were expensive and I didn’t care to spend money on a 5 hour hotel stay before they kicked us out in the morning.  Nor did either of us relish the thought of finding a campsite at that forsaken hour.  So, a night in the train station was what we settled on.  For better or worse, it was not long before we were awoken by the security guard and sent off the discover what the city had in store for us.

As I would later acknowledge, Spokane was good for the soul.  The weather was excellent that morning as we searched out a nice place to grab some breakfast.  We quickly decided on Satellite Diner but were none pleased when they didn’t open till 8AM and it was only 6:30.  So, to burn time, we played on the giant Radio Flyer wagon in the park.  Good times.  Also, it gave Marissa time to look up an old friend who lives in Boston but grew up in the city and was able to make some great suggestions.  Better yet, he called up his parent’s Lisa and Steve on our behalf and arranged for a lovely home-cooked meal and a roof over our heads.  Thanks Blair!

After a great breakfast, we stopped by the local bicycle shop to pick up another rear tire for my bike.  The Continental Touring Plus tires have only lasted exactly 1300 miles each before going bald.  They haven’t given me a flat yet so I should be thankful but that seems awfully short lived for a touring tire.  I replaced the rear with a Continental Top Contact folding tire which was half off from $90 and was handmade in Germany, not Taiwan.  We even got Marissa’s bike tuned up for free as well as another offer for a place to stay, which we had to turn down.  Thanks to everyone at Two Wheel Transit!

With most of the day still ahead of us, we took Blair’s advice and headed up the hill to Manito Park for a nap in the sun and then a stroll through the Japanese and formal gardens. Before we knew it, we were off again to his parent’s house for a great dinner and a lot of good company.  It felt so good to have a nice, warm, home-cooked meal after all that time cooking in the cold through Montana.  We both felt incredibly refreshed and ready to hit the hills ahead of us.  It was such a huge turn around in a very short amount of time I think we were both a bit surprised.

Of course, we got a late start the next day after eating a massive breakfast and pulling all our gear back in from where we had scattered it about the house.  We only managed 60 miles the next day but it was an incredibly gorgeous ride through some back roads before linking up with RT 395 on our way to Colville.  I wanted to go further because the more we did that day the less we would have to do before our first major climb of the trip, Sherman’s Pass.

Hotcakes and cold rides

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Holed up in another motel in Glasgow, MT at the moment.  We had intended to take just one rest day yesterday here but the night before, after doing about 82 miles in a little over 7 hours of riding, we only made it to Nashua, about 15 miles short of Glasgow.  We ended the day riding for an hour after dark on Rt. 2 which was a little bit amazing and a little bit scary.  Figuring we could do the last little bit on our rest day and being very exhausted, we camped for the night with only some Triscuits and cranberries for dinner.

We woke to a very chilly, rainy morning that barely nearly kept us huddled in our sleeping bags for the day.  Starving and cold, we found ourselves in Bergie’s up the rode and with a menu that started with “Bike Trekker’s Breakfast.”  Pefrect!  2 jumbo pancakes, 3 eggs, 4 slices of bacon or sausage, and a pile of hasbrowns.  And best of all, it stated beneath it “If you finish, we pay for it”  Even better!  Of course, I quickly ordered this without even thinking while Marissa picked the Adventurer’s Breakfast just below it that didn’t come with hashbrowns.  I suppose we should have been clued in by that little offer to pay for the meal that something was amiss.  Turns out those 2 jumbo pancakes that we each got were a full 16″ hotcake, each.  Ugh.  We both managed to finish about half of each plus all our protein and my hashbrowns with lots of coffee, tea and milk.  So much for becoming competitive eating champions after this trip.

Zoom Zoom from Andrew Frasz on Vimeo.

the most perfect stretch of road

It was still raining and cold when we decided it was finally time to finish those 15 miles to our hotel (there were none in Nashua).  Thinking we were properly fueled up and bundled up as best we could, we set out for what should have been a 1 hr 15min ride.  What we didn’t take into account was that this was Montana and the weather is anything but predictable.  So, instead of a wet, sluggish ride, we got a snowing, freezing, windy ride from hell.  The snow was actually hitting us in the eyes!  Plus, no shoulders on the road meant it was anything but playful as the trucks and semis went whizzing by.  Needless to say, I got a lot of angry looks from Marissa.  By the time we rolled up to our little motel, neither of us could feel our feet or open our mouths for fear of saying something we might regret later.

So, having spoiled what was supposed to be our rest day, we are now on day two in the La Casa Motel.  It’s not such a bad place though and with all the extra time, we were able to go out and get some good waterproof gloves and do some really good meals.  And update this here blog, so lucky you.

The rest of our time in Montana, and North Dakota for that matter, has been pretty nice.  The mornings are chilly but within an hour of riding, we are quickly shedding layers.  It’s a lot of flat, endless roads with a lot of oil trucks and pick-em up trucks.  Oh, and an update from the end of the last post.  Feelilng pretty down about all the wind we were getting in Rugby, we started asking around the motel for a ride to Minot.  We ended up piling our bikes into the back of another pick-up owned by a man named Rory who worked as an oil pipe-line inspector.  What would have taken us all day to ride took us all of 60 minutes to drive.  Feeling more than thankful, we excitedly shared all the great stories so far with our new friend.  I don’t know what exactly stuck with Rory but, as we pulled into town, he suddenly announced that he was taking us straight to a nearby hotel and putting us up for the night.  That’s right, he payed for a $100/night stay in the local Holiday Inn before he headed straight back to Rugby.  Thanks Rory!  And best of all (well, not really but it was a treat), I got to watch the Browns game the next morning in restaurant next day.

Hitching a ride from Andrew Frasz on Vimeo.

One other nice little highlight worth sharing was two nights ago.  We were rolling through Culberston on our first day in Montana and stopped for groceries before trying to make it to Bainville for the night.  Outside though, we met Mary Lou who stopped to chat about our trip.  Upon hearing our final destination was inside the Indian reservation, she quickly steered us to her daughter’s house just shy of town where we could camp out behind their barn.  What could have been a sketchy experience turned out great.  Laurie and her husband Buzz were very welcoming as was my new best friend Monte, their German shepherd.  We slept great as Monte prowled the farm, barking at all the coyotes and then sharing our breakfast in the morning.


Monday, August 23rd, 2010

I can’t really ever remember being this exhausted day in and day out.  It’s kinda crazy.  I used to be a pretty intense swimmer back in the day and I can remember numerous practices where we were swimming more miles than a typical track training run.  I could do that everyday for 4 months straight.  Maybe I’m just getting older now because I can barely even get my legs out of bed.  We finished biking to Madison, WI last night from Milwaukee all in one day and are planning on taking a rest day to explore the city.  It’s almost one of our last decent metropolitan destinations other than Minneapolis before we really find ourselves out in the middle of nowhere.  Anyhow, I still owe you all a recap of our Chicago visit so here goes.

As I said before, we had put out some feelers looking for a place to stay that wouldn’t cost us much money.  I asked around on Facebook and contacted a few people who I thought might have some friends in the city.  We got next to nothing at first but over the next 24 hours, the options started piling up.  First, I tried a friend of a friend who I knew was following us on the blog.  She said yes but I knew I was pushing the last minute notice and that was before we decided on the rest day in Valparaiso so we ended up passing on that (thanks Sarah!).  Then, I found a place in Oak Park where my old boss’s last assistant now lives (thanks Dustin for offering to help us out on such short notice).  My brother Evan then hooked us up with a good friend of his in Oak Park as well who was available and definitely willing to help (thanks Brian!).   My friend Jen back in NYC even took it upon herself to contact everyone she knew in Chicago on our behalf to find something that might work.  All of these options would have worked for us and we would have considered ourselves very fortunate.  What we finally ended up with was beyond anything we could have possibly imagined.

My friend, Scott Frances, who is also a very talented photographer I work with frequently in the city stepped up to the plate when he heard we were looking for a place to stay in the windy city.  His wife happens to be great friends with a fella named Joe King, a very successful restaurateur in Chicago.  Turns out, Joe lives right downtown in the restaurant district and has a 3 bedroom, 3 bath condo that just happens to be completely empty during the time we were planning on coming in.  Joe was off to Iowa to take his some to college for the first time but we were more than welcome to shack up for as long we liked.  I think he was trying to outdo all of Ohio by spoiling us beyond belief without even knowing it.

So we set off from Valparaiso in good spirits knowing that we finally had something good lined up for us.  I was a bit nervous about riding in to the city since I knew almost nothing about the surrounding geography of Chicago.  What we found was one of the most bike friendly cities I have ever ridden in.  Chicago apparently has one of the most extensive systems of parks and bike paths in the country that are all interconnected and very well signed.  It was almost impossible to get lost once you found your way in.  Our ride was to be about 60 miles and I think about 80% was on dedicated bike paths.  They were not always in the best condition but they were safe and very easy to follow.  Most it was fairly nondescript until we actually spotted the city on the edge of the lake.  From there, we passed by the UC campus and Jackson Park.  I was extremely excited about this bit since I immediately recognized it as the site for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  I have been a bit obsessed with this since reading Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City.  Marissa was probably a bit scared by the way my smile stretched past my ears and my eyes practically fell out they were open so wide.  I think she was impressed though once I filled her in and she actually saw what I had been chatting about incessantly since we crossed the city limits.  Plus, we got to see the Museum of Science and Industry from the outside, which was one of the few remaining buildings from the fair.

The rest of the ride in was fairly sublime as the sun began to set and the skyline grew out of the horizon.  After so many miles of long, empty roads, it was weird seeing so many cyclists cruising the pathways.  I kept nodding and waving to each as we passed but quickly remembered that we were no longer an anomaly except for our crazy, over-stuffed tank-bikes.  Now, we were just a bigger nuisance for the triathletes to get around.  60 miles of stop and go city riding has us beat by the time we showed up at Joe’s door but all that passed as soon as he swept us in to his fantastic condo.  He really was in the middle of downtown, just block up from Michigan Ave. with a space to match the locale.  He was heading out to help his son pack but first he gave us the quick tour with explicit instructions to go through all cabinets to find and use whatever we needed.  There was also a number of good wines and bubbly to choose from, not to mention the liquor and choice selects he had set out already for us.  Oh, and he made reservations for us at his restaurant, Le Colonial, just a block down the street.

The next day Joe took off to Iowa while we toured the city for a few days.  I took Marissa to see Millennium Park with the all the architecture and sculptures, including the Bean, of course.  We toured the waterfront, enjoying walking around the city and leaving the bikes at home.  A visit to the planetarium was a little lackluster but ice-cream quickly pushed that away.  For dinner, we ended up in Greek Town gobbling up taziki and gyros before shuffling home along the river marveling at all the great architecture.  The next day was time for errands and we set off to find some bike shops where we could find Marissa a new saddle.  We were both so glad to spend the extra day to bike around on our stripped down rides.  Our quest took us out of downtown and into the surrounding area that we would never likely have visited otherwise. After bouncing around to a few different shops, we finally found her a lovely Brooks B17 S in honey.  We rolled around quite a bit more, taking in as much of the city as possible before our extended stay was over.  I think we were both pretty impressed by how much Chicago had to offer and quickly agreed we could easily live here (the standard question we apply to every new town we roll through).

Indiana, the Boring State

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

We’re a day out of Chicago and just had likely the worst day, or at least night, of the trip so far. So, I figured it’s probably a good time and mood to fill you all in on Indiana. That’s mostly because there’s not much to say. It’s flat and it all looks the same. There you go.

We rode Route 6 most of the way across from Ohio. One of the highlights of the state came on our first meal though. We stopped in the town of Butler and found this little mom ‘n pop restaurant called the Eatin’ Haus. It seemed like an odd choice but the town was mostly empty, this place was open, and it looked like the old folks were digging it. As a quick side note, it seems like that’s pretty much the only people left in most of these towns we pass through. Or maybe we’re just old souls ourselves and are naturally drawn to such locales. Anyhow, in went starving and out we came stuffed to gills and only $24 lighter. That included two trips to the salad bar, two Arnold Palmers (our drink of choice), two hearty broasted dark chicken meals, and two slices of pie. Amazing. Marissa had a smile stretched from ear to ear.
Since it was getting late, we decided to stop early in Waterloo and found a little roach motel, roaches included free of charge! Squeaky bed, lots of fly swatting, sandals in the shower of course, and a quick getaway the next morning. Well, by quick I mean 11am, which is about average it seems. Somehow though, we managed to put in our longest day after that. Maybe we were just so anxious to put that all behind us. Either way, we found ourselves looking for another treat of a motel 72 miles later and were easily drawn in to the Bel-Air Motel outsider Walkerton. This was much better. I mean, way more class through and through. They had HD converter boxes on the 70′s TV and porcelain ash tray as opposed to that plastic thing in the last spot. So, in celebration we cooked up our favorite/default meal of the trip. It’s pretty simple and tasty. We start with some small, spork friendly pasta (pinwheels in this case), then fry up some chopped onions and peppers with olive oil and some spices. Dump that on the pasta, then pile on some tuna fish for protein, diced green apple, and some avocado. Salt and pepper to hell and then drown the whole mess in more olive oil. Delicious. Of course, it barely fits in our bowls but we that’s okay.
We were pretty beat after that long ride so we took our time the following day and barely pushed ourselves into Valparaiso. We had spent the morning putting out feelers for a potential place to stay on our way into Chicago and started getting some hits by that night. We’d been spoiled by our recent motel stays and decided to push our budget and find another, a Super 8 on the edge of town in a real suburban nightmare.
While we were stocking up at the Target across the street though, we had our best experience of the state. Having met so many good people on our trip and becoming accustomed to small towns, we didn’t think anything of just leaning our steeds up against the wall and walking in. When we came back though, we met Jacquie, who was much more concerned about Bernie and Patrek and had decided it was in our best interest to watch over them until we got back. As we got to talking, the question of lodging eventually came up and we mentioned the Super 8. Jacquie was unimpressed. Wouldn’t we rather crash at her house that she isn’t even staying at? Well, yeah, that would be pretty great but we already signed in at the motel. We pondered this conundrum quite a bit when we got back to our room and eventually decided that it would be against the best interests of our trip to turn down such hospitality. So after an easy night of resting and swimming, we decided to spend an extra day in Valparaiso recouping and planning our Chicago attack.
This was definitely a good idea. We were puckered, sore, and chaffed and a rest day was definitely needed. I can’t say we did a whole lot but that was just fine seeing as there’s not a whole lot to do in Valpo anyhow. Mostly, we sat around in a coffee shop sucking up free internet, finishing the last post, and eventually a nice Mexican dinner. It was a bit surreal though coming back to an empty house, doing laundry, hanging around, listening to music. Could this be our lives someday? No more tents or campstoves, endless pedaling, constant movement. I don’t think I’m ready for that just yet.
Many thanks to Jacquie and her friend Andy for their generosity and trust. It might have been nothing for you but a roof over our heads, a shower, a kitchen to cook in, and a washer for our stinky clothes is everything to us. Good luck in the new house.
The next day saw use pedaling due north for Chicago and a new adventure and another new state for Marissa. Lots to say on that bit of the trip. For now, we’re just leaving Milwaukee on our way to Madison, WI and hopefully another rest day if we can manage it.