Attack Of The Raccoons

I heard the noise again. I was slowly waking up in our tent. It was about 11PM and we were camping in Beach Side State Park. I heard the rustle of a plastic wrapper then a brief silence followed by a distinctive crunching sound. My ears tuned in and I realized as I became fully awake that someone was eating my lemon crème sandwich cookies. Had I left them on the picnic table? Had other campers found them and helped themselves? Surely not. But as I thought through it I remembered I had left them safe and secure in my handlebar bag. Then it hit me… the raccoons were back!

I quickly grabbed my headlamp and pulled the tent fly up to see four raccoons sitting atop both of our bikes. I grabbed a shoe and threw it at them. Two raccoons hit the ground running but two remained. The big one, the ringleader, the one holding my lemon crème sandwich cookie annoyingly looked up at me as if to say “Get lost buddy, these are mine now!”

As I sprang from our tent I ran toward them swinging my tire pump but narrowly missing them again. The ringleader jumped down and ran but only a few feet and then stopped and snarled at me. I swung my pump again and he finally backed away a few more feet. I turned to survey the damage. All my cookies were gone! Nothing but crumbs left. Then I looked more to see Mary’s trunk bag had been partially unzipped. They had pulled her arm warmers out and had begun eating her chocolate marshmallow cookies.

Mary and I gathered all our bags and stacked them underneath our tent fly. They’ll be safe there, or so we thought. A few hours later I was awaken again by another noise. It was the noise of Mary’s trunk bag being dragged through the dirt! I unzipped the tent fly and aimed my light out to see the raccoons had already drug out my trunk bag and both of our handlebar bags. Now they were dragging out another bag. They pulled them some 5 feet away from our tent had were going through them like kids tearing through Christmas wrappings. The contents of our bags were scattered over a large part of our camp. The first-aid kit, sewing kit, and spare inner tube had already been chewed on. Unable to unzip my trunk bag they had begun chewing through the side when I stopped them.

I swung my tire pump in a downward motion finally making contact with the skull of the bandit chewing on the spare brake pads. He dropped the brake pads and ran off into the brush. I looked up to see the ringleader walking away slowly into the brush. A final glance over his shoulder seemed to say, “This ain’t over yet. We have cousins in every campground.”

Yeah Mr. Raccoon, it ain’t over… We just added two new cans of dog spray to our arsenal. We’ll be a wait’n for ya!

The Sacajawea Factor

I've been doing bike tours since 2003. While I have done many tours by myself the experiences are always a lot more enjoyable when Mary tours with me. I won't go into all the obvious and usual reasons that traveling is funner when shared with someone else, especially someone special. However, there is one thing I have always noticed that is different when Mary travels with me… people are even more open, friendly, and trusting. While I have met countless kind, open, friendly, and trusting people on my solo adventures it just seems that when she's with me there are so many more. I call this The Sacajawea Factor.

I remember reading in history about how Sacajawea helped the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In a few places she greatly helped out by showing them the right route. And when she found her people and it just so happened that her brother was the chief, well that didn't hurt anything either. But the thing that has always stuck out in my mind about her was how she may have helped them just by being with them. I remember reading that some of the Indians they encountered figured that they weren't bad guys if an Indian woman was traveling with them.

Here is a quote from Clark's journal: “The Indian woman confirmed those people of our friendly intentions, as no woman ever accompanies a war party of Indians in this quarter,” and, “the wife of Shabono our interpeter we find reconsiles all the Indians, as to our friendly intentions a woman with a party of men is a token of peace.”

While on the road we've developed certain routines that make our lives easier. When we roll into camp I pitch the tent while Mary cooks dinner. I do all the bike maintenance, Mary does the laundry. I'm in charge of maps, route research, and planning as well as campsite scout, Mary does all of the online banking and electronic bill payment.

Any pair of friends traveling together could have a similar routine to make their lives more efficient. However, they lack one thing, Mary's beautiful smile. She's my token of peace… She's my Sacajawea!

 

 

When Mary and I rode through the Shashone Indian Reservation in Wyoming I couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit Sacajawea's grave.

 

Trapping Chipmunks

Dubois, WY. to Coulter Bay, Grand Teton National Park via. dirt and paved country roads.

July 12, 2012

Sometimes you set standards for yourself for practical reasons. Sometimes they only make sense to you and maybe a few others. We had heard from several eastbound cyclists that there was road construction on north side of Togwotee Pass and that they were forcing cyclists to put their bikes in a pickup and ride through it. I just didn’t feel like complying. When we reach Jasper, Alberta Canada I want to be able to say we pedaled there from home. Every mile of the way.

As we rode toward Togwotee Pass I began asking folks I met if they knew of any alternate roads we could take. Several locals suggested there might be a dirt road that would take us down the pass and around the construction. Nobody could tell me where to look and if we could get on it before getting into the construction. After talking to a handful of people I finally got a few leads on where the construction began and where I might find the dirt road, although nobody they knew had ever been on it.

The locals called it Turpin Road although no roads by that name appeared on my maps. A quick look at my ACA Great Divide mountain bike maps showed a series of dirt and country paved roads that could be connected to make up the route the locals were talking about. Their names were 30010, 30040, and 30050 and the route appeared to begin behind the Togwotee Mountain Lodge.

Mary and I made the 8 mile climb up Togwotee Pass and rolled into the Togwotee Mountain Lodge. We walked up to the desk and asked the clerk if she knew anything about the road we were looking for.

“Turpin Road? It’s closed! They’re trapping grizzlies! You don’t want to go down that road!” When I told the clerk I’d rather deal with grizzlies than the construction she looked at me like I was insane. She asked if we had bear spray and when I said yes she calmed down a little and pointed in the direction of where the road was behind the lodge.

I’ve learned when bike touring it’s best not to make any major decisions on an empty stomach. Since we had a major decision to make and since our stomachs had been growling for the last hour I suggested we eat some lunch and discuss our next move.

As Mary followed me to the grill she said “Did I just hear the lady say the road was closed due to trapping?…. And what were they trapping?” I quickly replied “chipmunks honey, they’re trapping chipmunks” I turned to see a rather concerned look on her face as she said “No, I heard the lady say grizzlies”.

We went next door to the grill and ordered a pizza. Luckily they had a WiFi signal and I was able to do a quick Google search using they key words “Togwotee Pass, Turpin Road, and grizzly trapping”. The very first hit was a blog post from a guy racing the Tour Divide race. It was from only 4 days before. He stated that when he reached the dirt road there were yellow signs posted stating “Road Closed Due to Grizzly Trapping”. He even posted a photo of the sign. He went on to say that one of his fellow racers had camped in the nearby campground. He’d seen the signs too so he slept in the restroom with his bike. He said he was awaken in the middle of the night by a bear scratching on the door trying to get in. http://triduffer.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/tour-divide-2012-part-4-wyoming/

When I read the news to Mary she asked why they would be trapping grizzlies. I explained that they usually do that when they’ve become a nuisance or pose a threat to people. She had a somewhat concerned look on her face so I told her. “We’ll be OK as long as we stay out of the bear traps”. Somehow I don’t think it gave her much reassurance.

I reasoned that if the people racing the Tour Divide had ridden the road then we should be able to also. As we left the restaurant a guy stopped us and asked us about our ride. After the usual explanation Mary blurted out that we were about to ride down a road where they were trapping grizzlies and then said “If you read about us in the news just remember you were the last person to talk to us before we were eaten by grizzlies.”

We found the unmarked road behind the lodge. There was only a sign stating we were entering grizzly country. The road was pretty rough with loose rocks and areas of deep sand but it was mostly downhill. Almost immediatly we were rewarded with spectacular views of the Grand Tetons. This was another motive we had for taking an alternate route down the mountain.

We passed Aspen, and pine trees, meadows, streams, and wildflowers as we decended. Nearly every round of a corner brought us new and pretty scenery. We stayed alert for bear and made sure we made noise when we went around blind corners but we never saw any evidence of them. Not a single bear track or bear poo. I really didn’t know whether I was glad or disappointed.

In places the road was nothing but a big sand pit with a few basketball sized rocks thrown in. Our legs burned as we mashed our way through the deep sand. I knew Mary hated sand more than any other off road challenge but she was a real trooper and kept pedaling. Maybe her determination to get through the sand had something to do with her aversion of grizzly bears

When we reached pavement the road turned toward the familier peaks of the Tetons. We passed ranch after ranch and we were treated to views of the river with the Tetons in the distance. At one point we saw three Trumpeter Swans on a small lake. I told Mary what a rare treat it is to see them in the wild.

It didn’t seem like it took us much longer to reach Coulter Bay in Grand Teton National Park. We got a hiker/biker discount in the campground, had a mediocre overpriced meal in the lodge restaurant, and then settled in to a good nights rest in our tent.

Sometimes riding the road less traveled isn’t the easiest. Sometimes it’s isn’t even the safest and some would argue not even the smartest. Today the reward was certainly worth the effort though.

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Bullets and Arrows, but no Soda Pop

I’m sitting in our tent in the city park in Lander Wyoming listening to the rain. For the last few days the scenery has been beautiful. I love the wide open spaces in this area. It seems like every time we crest a hill we can look both ahead as well as behind to see the road disappear into the horizon.

We’ve encountered two live rattlesnakes. One yesterday and one today. Yesterday’s rattler was on the shoulder of the road and although we couldn’t see any obvious wounds it acted like it may have been hit by a car. Today’s rattler was only a few feet to the side of the road and very well camouflaged. It was very much alive and very agitated at our presence. Mary was riding ahead of me and it rattled as she rode by. When we went back to investigate it immediately curled into a defensive position ready to strike.

We are happy to report that our winter sleeping bags arrived General Delivery here at Lander. The last few nights have been a little chilly and they most likely will be much colder when we get into the Grand Tetons in a few days.

Last night we camped at the Mormon Hand Cart Memorial near the Sweetwater River. It was a significant landmark and river crossing on the Mormon Trail. Apparently the settlers got snowed in there and about 60 of them died. The rest survived on about a cup of flour each day until the weather improved enough for them to press on.

The Mormons allow cyclists to camp for free there. Although we did have to sign a two page waiver stating that we wouldn’t sue if any number of things just happened to befall us including acts of God, falling rocks, and I kid you not, being struck by an errant bullet or arrow. When I asked the lady who checked us in if they had a soda machine she became somewhat indignant. About as indignant as one would expect if I had just asked asked for a margarita in a Baptist church. Having just signed the waiver I chose to not press my luck by asking any further questions.

Cyanide Avenue is a Dead End Road.

Yesterday we got hit hard by more headwinds. We were riding straight into 30 mph winds when Mary bonked. We stopped at a hardware store just off the highway to drink some soda pops. Not 10 minutes after we stopped the wind got even worse. Motorcyclists were even stopping there to get off the road. It was later confirmed by Intellicast that the gusts hit 46 mph.

So when we detoured into Florence CO for the evening the first thing we did was look for a place to eat. When we reached Main Street we saw the 2 Sisters Cafe and went straight to it. I’d like to say the meal was wonderful but it wasn’t. Although the staff were nice the food was actually very mediocre. We were too tired to be picky so we ate it anyway. At least the iced tea was good and the air conditioning was cool.

While sitting there I used my iPhone apps to look for nearby campgrounds. Not finding any we began discussing whether we had the energy to fight more headwinds and ride to Canon City. The waitress overheard us and asked if we were looking for a place to stay. She then told us about the RV park where she lives. She said they might allow tents and that we should check it out. She told us it was at the edge of town near the river on Cyanide Avenue and we couldn’t miss it.

Mary and I rode the short distance across town following the waitress’s directions. When we turned down Cyanide Avenue the first thing we saw was the Dead End sign. Mary said “This can’t be good!” and we laughed.

Well, we didn’t laugh for long. At the end of the dirt road we found the RV park. My first impression was that it was an RV graveyard. However, a closer look indicated that people were living in the ramshackle RVs. It was obvious the RVs hadn’t been moved in years as many of them had their own personal junk collections in their yards.

As we rode down the main dirt road we could hear a man screaming at someone through the open door of his RV. I figured he was probably unhappy with the maid service but just to be safe I sped up to get out of firing range. Looking back I noticed Mary already heading back to the entrance.

Turning the corner I spotted a group of rather rough looking fellows with motorcycles. I wasn’t close enough to read their patches but I’m pretty sure they didn’t represent the Honda Gold Wing Club. Not really wanting to know what else I’d discover on the next street I did a quick U-Turn and went back the way I came.

Back where we entered the park I found Mary looking at the entrance sign. Holding the weeds to one side Mary could see the phone number but the name for the RV park was missing. One could only imagine what they named the scary RV park on the dead end road named Cyanide.

For an inexpensive motel the Rivera was very clean and well kept. It was also a short walk away from the Mainstreet Grille and Bakery where we had one of the best meals of our trip. To top it off the berry cobbler was absolutely wonderful. Patricia, our hostess was really nice and was quite interested in our trip. As we were about to leave she brought us a bag containing some breakfast pastries so we’d have something to eat before riding the next day. Not only did she not charge for them but she gave us the cobbler also.

“It’s all coming together for a reason. I just don’t know what that is yet”

“What is it you do here?” I asked. “Do you farm or ranch?” Mary and I were sitting in Gillian’s living room cooling off after enduring a long day of high heat and headwinds. We had ridden our bikes through the desert from Eads to Ordway Colorado running dangerously low on water twice. Gillian was gracious enough to give us a place to stay on her farm as she often does for other cyclist on the TransAmerica route.

Gillian paused thoughtfully and said “That’s a really good question, I’m still trying to figure that out myself” Originally from New Zealand, Gillian had spent some years traveling the world on a sailboat while homeschooling her two sons. She had also worked as a prison guard for about 20 years, first in New Zealand and then later in Colorado.

She began telling us about the things that led up to her leaving her job. She said it wasn’t the prisoners that got to her but rather the callous attitude of people she worked for. She said the boiling point was when she went to a meeting and it was announced that her coworker and friend had died of a heart attack over the weekend. She said the announcement of his death was given the same short time and consideration given a regular business announcement. She said after the meeting she went straight to the office and gave her resignation.

Since leaving her job she has devoted all her time to working with other people while working on her place. Not only does she give a place to stay for bike tourist but she also hosts young people in the work exchange program as well as others willing to learn and work.

Five years ago her place was leveled by a fire that swept through the area. Every building on her land was reduced to ash and melted metal. Not a single tree survived the blaze. She survived with only the clothes she was wearing and a pair of flip flops. She was able to save most of her animals by herding them to a safe corner of her land.

As she led us around her land she told us about all the work that had gone into rebuilding her place. Instead of a story about her loss and suffering Gillian talked about how things were coming together to allow her to help other people through the work exchange program. She talked a lot about watching a transformation in other people’s lives as she taught them skills and as they accomplished things they had never done before. Gillian’s face lit up as she described teaching a group of young women how to build a barn. They had never touched a hand tool before staying at Gillian’s place. As the barn went up so did their self confidence. By the time the barn was finished they were eager to build another. Other stories were about men learning new work skills and actually making career changes.

To see her place now one would never think there had been a fire there. Many buildings had been built and many trees had since been planted. Her geese, chickens, goats, dogs, and horses all appear to be thriving. There is a beauty and a peacefulness to her place. As I watched her corral the geese and chickens into their pens for the evening I could see the harmony she enjoyed with her animals.

Gillian has a compassion for helping others to learn skills to help themselves. She wants to expand from the work exchange program to also working with wounded soldiers. She said of leaving her job, the fire, the rebuilding of her place and helping others: “It’s all coming together for a reason. I just don’t know what that is yet”

After the sun went down Mary and I lay on the porch in the open air ready to go to sleep. The fresh air was cool, the stars were brilliant, and the sound of the geese and chickens had a calming effect. Spending time with Gillian had made me forget about how hard the last few day’s ride had been. It’s meeting wonderful people off the beaten path such as Gillian that makes this sort of travel worth while. It’s the opposite of watching cable news. It’s the antidote for cynicism.

Smile Anyway

The waitress at the place I ate last night didn’t have a tooth in her head. However, it didn’t stop her from smiling. When I told her the food was good and that she was doing a good job she just beamed. I’ve never seen a toothless woman smile so big.

We could all take a lesson from her I think. Well, I mean besides the obvious, like the importance of a good dental plan. I was thinking more along the lines of “No matter what your circumstances smile anyway.”