Wrapping Up

I’ve planned to write some form of wrap up post summarizing my tour across the Northern US since Rory and I reached Bar Harbor on October 10th.  The nearly two weeks that have passed since we dipped our wheels in the Atlantic feel as though they span several lifetimes (and they do separate two distinct ways of living), but better late than never.

In many ways, the final four days of our tour after leaving my parents’ house in Randolph were no more unique than any other four days taken from the past 3 months.  The terrain along the Maine coast was grueling–especially after Rory broke his rear shift lever two days from the end–and my legs could feel the ever present creep of fatigue.  We camped in Oxford (at $40 our most expensive lodging of the whole trip, but we did score a free can of beans), stayed with a warm showers host in Bath, and crashed with family friends in Belfast.  It poured throughout our third-to-last and penultimate days.

While the limited shelter and route options throughout the western portion of the Northern Tier funnels touring cyclists through the same roads and campsites, the eastern portion imposes fewer constraints.  Due to both impending colder weather and our non-conventional route through New York and New England, we didn’t cross paths with many touring cyclists during the post-Chicago portion of our trip.  

The night before we finished, after 70 miles of riding through pouring rain and less than a mile from our homestay, Rory and I ran into two touring cyclists on a foggy pedestrian bridge in Belfast, ME.  Mackenzie and Carson also started their trip in Seattle, though they had taken a more circuitous route which added 1000 miles to their trip.  They planned to finish the following day with another couple, Katie and Jeff, who they met in early Washington but had only recently re-joined along the route.

On the final day the six of us finished within an hour of each other; we ceremoniously dipped our wheels, drank beers on the beach as the sun set over the water, and swapped stories about our best and worst moments throughout our respective trips.  Here are a few of those memories…

Most memorable moments: Riding up the Going to the Sun Road as the sun rose over Glacier and rolling into my parents’ house in Randolph come immediately to mind, though I can also think of a hundred small moments throughout the trip that could qualify.  For instance, waking up in the dark to make coffee and watch the sun rise over lake Koocanusa, riding mountain bikes in Medora, first seeing the western edge of Lake Superior as we descended into Duluth, and meeting my parents in Ironwood.

Worst moments: Realizing that my tendonitis had progressed to the point that I could no longer ride and both emergency room visits were definite low points in the trip.  Any day that we had to pack up camp in the rain also probably qualifies, though we were pretty lucky when it came to weather.  Rory and I also ran out of water and food taking a 100 mile back-route between Nashua and Circle, MT, which included 70 miles of completely uninhabited road.

Worst meal: Once I ate 2 hard boiled eggs so fast I didn’t realize they were rotten until I had already swallowed.

Most memorable meal: Any time we stopped for a 2nd breakfast at a greasy diner, but probably the Hitching Post in Malta, MT.  Also avocado on toast and espresso in Fargo after weeks of riding through the Great Plains and eating mostly peanut butter and cookies.

Favorite campsite: We stayed at a walk-in campsite situated on some cliffs that overlooked Lake Koocanusa in northwestern Montana.

Things I would change: There are a hundred small gear decisions to be made on a tour (both short and long), which are ultimately too boring to talk about at length here.  Not only are there choices to be made concerning which bike to ride, but also the bags attached to the bike.  On this trip I had the opportunity to correct many of my early mistakes when we arrived in Chicago, but realistically most gear configurations work fine.  That said, I would not recommend bringing a bivy sack on a 3 month trip, and high-quality, durable bike parts are probably worth the investment.

Things we (unintentionally) did well: Using warm showers early undoubtedly changed our trip for the better.  Before leaving Seattle we debated whether to buy ACA maps, and they were worth every cent of the $160 we spent.

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