Montana to California

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Bob
cruising
past
the Tetons
Lothar
near the
summit of
Tioga
In 1978 Robert Terry and I decided to take a bicycle trip. We planned our trip by looking for the green areas on our maps. Wanting to see Yellowstone Park we decided that Billings, Montana would be a good place to start. We flew into Billings on the evening of June 11, 1978. The following excerpts are from my journal and memory. It's been twenty two years since we took this journey but I can picture everything in my mind like it was yesterday. It was a glorious experience and I recomend a bicycle tour to anyone who has the time and inclination to travel self-propelled.

Montana Wyoming Idaho Oregon California

June 11, 9:30pm, Billings Montana
Billings is surrounded by sandstone bluffs and the airport is on a plateau overlooking the town. It's brisk out tonight but I expect it will get even cooler. At least there's no rain in the forecast. It's still light out so maybe I'll take a walk to the river (Yellowstone river).

June 12, 7:00pm, Red Lodge
We arrived at camp a half hour ago. After 72 miles of wind and climbs everything hurts, but the last twelve miles into Beartooth Pass made up for that with sheer beauty. We are camped next to a stream which we have been following most of the day. Overlooking this spot is a huge lip of snow between two peaks maybe 2000 feet up. On the other side are rock cliffs covered with fir trees. The sun just dipped behind the mountain and it's getting cold fast. (I'm writing with gloves)
Today was a physically demanding day, but the scenery was majestic. I know now what they mean by big sky country. Tomorrow we cross Beartooth Pass (10,000+ft) and two others over 8,000 ft. to get to the next campground. My knee began aching during the last 15 miles so I'm a little worried. Plus there's a chance of showers which might mean snow for us.
A good night's sleep and I'll be ready to go.

June 13, Beartooth Pass
65 miles today...Beartooth Pass was heavy duty!
It took us five and a half hours to get to the summit. Breathing was difficult and the food situation was worse; two peanut butter sandwiches and no restaurant for 50 miles. Met two Germans on top of the mountain...I'm still constipated...Park ranger at Yellowstone entrance told us a lady was mauled by a bear a quarter mile from camp. Needles to say our food is hanging in a tree far away from our tent.
On the descent from Beartooth a man in an RV overheard me wishing for a beer..."Old Milwaukee" never tasted so good. I have to start eating more often because I almost got sick during dinner which was long overdue. [I had never heard of bonking back then] As for the scenery..there are no words.

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June 14, Yellowstone National Park
Today I woke up to a flat tire. We met two ladies hitching from Canyon to Lake Lodge and made a bet we'd beat them there. At Roosevelt Lodge our waitress had gone to school in Boone, North Carolina [we used to play in the coffeehouse at Appalachian State U., located in Boone in the Blue Ridge Mountains]. On to Dunraven Pass. It wasn't too rough. The falls were awesome. After the falls we hit a headwind that almost killed me. We stopped at some sulphur springs. When I tried to get back on the bike my knee seized so badly that I thought I was going to cry. I thought my trip was over but somehow we made it to Bridgebay where we saw our first moose.
I hope Deep Heating rub works.

June 15, Bridgebay to Jackson Hole
Today we left Bridgebay at a nice mellow pace and brisk tempurature. We reached the Tetons much sooner than we had anticipated so we actually made it to Jackson (95 miles). We passed one of the guys we camped with and twice we ran into a guy we've been seeing since Roosevelt Lodge. We saw three cyclists coming up toward the continental divide and ran into one guy who really didn't seem to know where he was going. He rode with us for a few miles and suddenly took a left turn and vanished. Most of our day was spent looking at the Tetons which were quite an eyeful. I'm going to take my first shower now!

June 16, Teton Pass
Today we did a meager 55 miles. My knee needs the rest. I got a knee brace in Jackson. It helped but even so it wasn't much protection against Teton Pass which is the longest, steepest upgrade I've ever done. It went from 6100 feet to 8800 feet in five and a half miles. When we reached the top it actually snowed.
We made it to South Fork Lodge three miles west of Swan Valley, Idaho, population 200+. A couple of locals beat us at Fusball. Sat on the porch with Rufus, who makes wallets, drinks beer, and throws sticks to Jake, who is a great stick dog.

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June 17, American Falls, Idaho
I'm sitting in the city park in American Falls, Idaho waiting for Bob. This morning when we awoke everything was covered with frost. Our ride was long and flat, We rode 120 miles today but Bob got a flat three miles out of town. I went ahead to get a tent space. It turns out we're the only campers here in the middle of the town square, where I'm told, last week someone was stabbed to death. Pleasant dreams?

June 18, Buhl, Idaho
Idaho is definately the bummer of the trip. We tried so hard to make Buhl today. We hit an incredible wind storm that actually stopped us in first gear. It rained off and on but that was nothing compared to the news that our friends whom we were trying to visit in Buhl had been in an accident and Sonya is in a coma with a slim chance to live. [We had routed our trip through southern Idaho just to visit our friends]

June 19, more Idaho
More wind, more wind, more wind, too much wind. I got real irritated today. There was the wind and then getting on the freeway was even more tense. I bought toe clips and a leather saddle in Buhl. Rule number one; never, never change the thing you're sitting on during a trip. After todays ride with my new saddle my butt has two bruises the size of baseballs. I spent half of the day riding out of the saddle. When we finally got off the freeway the high pitched noise of the crickets was deafening. I need a good night's rest.

June 20, Boise
The irony of a "beautiful day". I'm sitting in front of a stream with a wonderful sunset. The birds and the trees are full of life. Les than three miles from this place Sonja lay sleeping. We wonder if she'll ever wake.[Sonja never woke...she passed away ten years later]

June 21
Last night in Boise we met two cyclists, Randy and Kevin, brothers on their way from Eugene, Oregon to Yellowstone. We talked shop and crashed out.
We did 66 miles today but I'm real tired. My kee was sore yesterday so we "toured" today. We encountered another windstorm but were smart enough to stop until it passed. I've noticed that the sun is still very intense here in the evening. It's seven o'clock and the sun is still scorching my face. Tomorrow we head for the forrest..Thank God.

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June 22, Oregon
We did 77 miles today. My knees are heavily bandaged but they seem to be making an effort to survive this trip. We made two passes and are close to the summit of Blue Mountain Pass. There must have been a caterpillar reunion because on one of the climbs I think I ran over at least a hundred of them. They were everywhere and impossible to miss.On the road we met a lady wearing a sun visor, sun glasses, scarf, rolled up long pants, on a "no-name" bicycle with only a sleeping bag heading for the east coast. She said she just slept wherever she would stop and seemed to be having a great time.
I'm sitting next to our campfire. We are the only people here. We have left the flatlands and I am thankful to be back in the lush green forrests and the mountains. There is a thunderstorm passing just east of us. Thunder is frightening at this altitude.

June 23, Picture Gorge
The Blue Mountains were as pretty and mellow as the name implies. We left camp at 6:30 am and climbed to the summit. This was one time we had hoped to have a longer climb because a downhill at dawn can make your teeth chatter (which they did). At the bottom of the downhill we met a man from Holland in his late sixties. He was taking pictures of flowers while his friends were still sleeping, which seemed to annoy him. We said goodbye and rode on. Five miles up the road we ran into the rest of the group. They were all in their sixties, from Holland and standing there in front of us in nothing but shorts while we were wearing every piece of clothing we could carry to stay warm. We were inspired and uplifted by the enthusiasm and vigour of these men.
Dixie Pass was wonderful. On the way to John Day we came across Albert, who I think was the Dutch version of the jolly green giant. He told us that he had been travelling alone for five days and hoped to catch up to the first group. Judging from his build I'm sure he has.
Throughout the day we crossed paths with the rest of the Dutch group heading east. That afternoon we went through Picture Gorge which looked like something out of "Jason and the Argonouts", ready to close on us if the gods willed it. From there it was 25 miles of upgrade. On the way up we encountered three ladies. Two of the group were teenagers and continued riding at our pace but the third one left us in the dust. The downhill into Mitchell was great. In Mitchell we stayed at a youth hostell. $2.50 for a bunk! We shared a room with three other bikers and exchanged stories all night with sixteen fellow cyclists.

June 24, Mitchell, Oregon
This morning we met a family going east. The husband was a music teacher and was excited to hear that we were musicians. It was wet and cold and what we thought would be a seven mile climb to Ochoco Divide turned out to be eleven miles. As we were approaching the summit my freewheel seized and almost knocked me down. At the summit we ate lunch in a steady downpour as the temperature just kept dropping. The next bike shop was in Bend so we had to push ahead. The rain had turned to hail and I was so cold that I had to alternate between walking and riding downhill because I was shaking so much. Eventually we made it to Ochoco Lake. Later that evening, to our surprize, the ladies we had met the night before showed up with four more people. It turns out that these four kids and three adults were part of a group home and the adults were counselors who were leading these at risk youth on a bike trip. That night we all sat around the campfire with Jerry, who was travelling in a Saab with an old iron stove tied to the roof from Empire, Colorado, and took turns reading poetry. It was a pleasant evening.

June 25 Tumalo State Park
Today we shared a brisk ride with our new found friends to Tumalo State Park outside of Bend. We played some frisbee, drank some beer, and exchanged some more stories. A good time was had by all.

June 26 Bend and beyond
We said goodbye to our new companions and headed into Bend for repairs. At the bike shop we were reunited and said goodbye again. Bob and I headed to Denny's for lunch and guess who showed up. Sometimes saying goodbye can get tedious. On the road out of Bend we had a wonderful view of South Sisters and the rest of the way was all forrest. After 70 miles we walked two miles down a gravel road [we had road bikes] to a campground. We were the only campers and it was real quiet and peaceful except for the bloodsucking mosquitos. For dinner; Chung King Chicken Chow Mein.

June 27, Crater Lake
After a forty minute walk down our two mile gravel road we made it to Crater Lake junction in no time. The climb was very straight and gradual and almost broke my legs. It's all psychological because I prefer switchbacks where I can look down and see my progress. A left turn and nine more gruelling miles to the rim. It's an unbelievable sight. The deep blue water was almost surrealistic. A little boy standing near us asked his father, "Daddy, do they put something in the water to make it so blue?" Not such a dumb question from where I'm standing. The downhill from the rim was really enjoyable for its length and its scenery.

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June 28, California
The day started out with a real smooth seven mile ride to a small cafe where we met a man who flies helicopters for the forrest firefighters. He used to ride a lot when he was in the navy and now owns a Pugeout bike. He was very curious about our trip and equipment. After breakfast he offered the use of his shower. Maybe that was a hint.
A good portion of the day was spent riding past Lake Klammath and eyeing the storm clouds rolling in behind us. Our comfortably wide shoulder dissapeard and we found ourselves on an uncomfortably narrow two-lane dodging the cracks on the edge of the road while feeling the heat from the huge trucks flying by our left shoulders. This coupled with too much coffee makes for a harrowing ride. Finally, the California border and lunch in a town called Dorris. As we ate our chicken spread sandwhiches we couldn't help but notice the billowing dark, and ominous clouds spilling over the ridge. We still had fifty miles to our next planned camp and my knees were hurting. Lucky for us I stalled because we witnessed one of the most incredible hail storms I've ever seen. We finally made camp at a rest stop, soaked to the bone. Welcome to California?

June 29, Mount Shasta
This morning for some unknown reason everything was dry. We got started at 8:00 am on our way to Weed. On our steady descent Mount Shasta was a constant presence shrouded in clouds. It made all the other mountains look like hills. Weed looked like a neat little town but Shasta was enticing. We stopped at a little organic fruit shop that beckoned as we were passing by. The proprietors, who were Los Angeles transplants, helped me pick out two good peaches and then volunteered that they could think of no reason why they would ever miss Los Angeles. We met a few more interesting characters, stopped at the bike shop and a cosmic little book store and were on our way to Burney Falls. Rolling hills with the sound of huge lumber trucks down shifting as they approached from behind is how we spent the afternoon. Unfortunately the campground was full and the ranger wouldn't allow us to look for a spot to share.

June 30, Lassen
The private campground wasn't as nice as the one near the falls but at least they didn't turn us away at the entrance. We rode most of the day until we started the climb up Lassen. The climb was long but enjoyable and we were surprised to find so much snow at the top of this volcanic peak. The downhill was mighty fine but riding between ten foot walls of snow does get a bit chilly. We found a nice campground near Fire Mountain Lodge and got to listen to a Giant's baseball game with the couple in the RV next to us.

June 31, Lake Almanor
Today was a day of rolling hills, forrest and railroad tunnels in the mountains, one of my favorites. Lake Almanor was real nice. We passed a lot of mailboxes with German sounding names and shared a campfire and birthday cake with a couple. One of them told us he was in Ripley's as the youngest motorcyclist to go 62 miles per hour.

July 1-3rd, Tahoe to Topaz
Riding into Tahoe this close to July 4th is like hitting rush hour in Los Angeles. Too many tourists who have no patience for a couple of slow cyclists. We made a mad dash for south shore and an exit from the madness. Once out of Tahoe we caught our breath just in time to climb Luther Pass which was very pretty. The downhill out of Hope Valley was very, very fast and scenic. We had hoped to lunch in Markleeville but to our chagrin everything including the grocery store was closed. It wasn't until 4:30 pm that we attacked Moniter Pass. It has been the toughest climb on the trip, but the view from 8300 feet was well worth the effort. In Topaz we camped with a Japanese student who was about to cycle through Death Valley on his way to New Orleans to hear Dixieland Jazz.

July 4, Bridgeport
Leaving Topaz we had anticipated a tough day of climbing but as it turned out the climbs were long, easy, and enjoyable. In Bridgeport we ran smack dab into July 4th. That town was partying! Marines, bikers, crackers...everyone was getting plastered. We enjoyed a lunch in the midst of the celebration but hit the road before we got too caught up in the excitement. One more pass named Conway and there was Mono Lake. It looked like something on the moon. To the left lay the White Mountains which harbor some of the world's oldest living things. In the center were 21 extinct volcanos and to the right was Tioga Pass. We camped at the base of the climb up Tioga.

July 5, Tioga Pass
We had read stories about how Tioga was the mother of all climbs. I can tell you that with a good night's sleep and an early start it was easy compared to how I felt climbing Moniter Pass. Coming into Tuolomne Meadows we were taken by it's tranquility but I was totally unprepared for the rush of excitement I felt when I got my first glimpse of Yosemite valley. After so many miles we didn't think that anything could impress us quite like Yosemite did. It has to be one of the most awesomely beautiful places on the planet.

July 6, Yosemite
I was awake a good portion of the night listening to the distant thunder of Yosemite Falls. The sound modulates like a wave and is both majestic and mesmerizing. We found it hard to leave Yosemite and only rode 50 miles to Bass Lake.

July 7, heat stroke
We got up at 5:00am to beat the heat. After a couple of miles we had a few extremely steep but thankfully short climbs. Then we hit a rough and fast seven mile downhill as the sun came over the ridge which led right into a five mile steep and windy uphill. Meanwhile, the sun was already frying eggs under our helmets. All this before our 9:00am breakfast which consisted of two of everything. It was hot and desolate and for the first time on our trip we weren't even certain we were on the right road. Every store we passed promted a stop for Cokes and candy bars [this was long before we discovered sport drinks and power bars]. At 3:30pm we reached a spot 33 miles from King's Canyon Park. A man informed us that we would have 6000 feet of climbing before we reached the park. This was really discouraging but we forged ahead. We found a stream and jumped in for a break from the heat but Bob got very ill on the climb. We limped up to a lodge where miraculously Bob recoverred after he had a beer. We found a place to pitch our tent in the dark.

July 8, Sequoia
This morning we struggled up the last 11 miles to the park entrance and then another 14 miles to a restaurant. The accumulative miles are starting to make us weary. Giant Forrest Village was nice and so was the downhill out of the park. Back down out of the mountains the heat was stifling and we dreamed of being back in the mountains. We had hoped to come over the grapevine into Los Angeles but when a cyclist warned that this might be prohibited we hitched a ride from Ducor to Palmdale and skipped the agony of that last climb. We had conquered the mountains but the thought of climbing up to Gorman in this heat was too much. We were back in Los Angeles that night.

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