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Dispatches from the Road:
August '03 Archive

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Monday - August 4, 2003

Hello there from Telkwa on the Yellowhead Highway, just east of Smithers. I am with the Neffs who were kind to take me in last night (Sunday). It is looking like I will be here at least another day due to a broken hub on my rear wheel. The rear wheel carries the two larger panniers with food in them, the trailer and provides the driving power. On the way up to Alaska, the rear rim had cracked on me which had required me to buy a new wheel in Whitehorse...

This time, the rear hub broke releasing two of the adjacent spoke ends from the center of the wheel. The wheel was slightly out of true due to the relaxing of tension on that side, but I managed to travel another 200 miles with it, "using kid gloves on it" as John Glidden put it when I asked him for his opinion over the phone. "You will not make it to Seattle, my friend," he said firmly. So, here I am...

Today was a Canadian national holiday, so finding the replacement hub was not possible. Tomorrow is Tuesday and I will be spending time making calls first to see who nearest has the part, then go to that shop to have the wheel rebuilt. This may be in Smithers or as far away as Prince George - we shall see... They will have to remove all the spokes, then replace the hub and lace all the spokes back in place. All of this has to be followed by proper tensioning of the spokes and truing of the wheel before I can use the wheel again.

The ride down the Cassiar Highway was very scenic and I thought a good alternative to the busy traffic of the Alaska Highway. In winter on the Alaska Hwy, there was a great deal of oil and gas related traffic with many wide loads. Added to that would have been the RV traffic during the summer, so the Cassiar option that I had not yet seen was very attractive. Since the area is not as populated, the services were much fewer in number and the road was a bit more primitive compared to the Alaska highway. There were "gravel" sections which had been packed down well enough that they did not pose a big problem in riding. Most of the problem had to do with the undulating road that had not been leveled as well as the other improved sections, and that slowed me down since I had to get off the bike to push the heavy rig up these often short and steep hills.

Brendan and Julian, my two Canadian companions increased the distance on me after Dease Lake when I was plagued by a few flat tires. That was the last time that I saw them... I have met other cyclists and many motorcyclists with heavy duty motorcycles that look like they are ready to take on the Paris-Dakkar Rally. Traveling the dirt highways like the Dempster that leads north in Yukon to Inuvik on the Arctic Ocean, or the Dalton that leads from Fairbanks to the Prudhoe Bay are popular destinations for these fast moving diehards.

With motorcyclists, there is always a left hand that waves when a distant spec roams up to me from either direction. If they are heading for me, the right hand keeps the engine whining and the left hand lifts just so as if to feel the wind against it. It they are heading in the same direction from behind me, the left hand comes up to about left ear so I can see while they keep an eye on their rear view mirror for my wave back. There is always a warm connection with these motorcyclists when we stop to chat. I tell them that I have a two cycle engine also, just like a Harley ;-)

I have met people riding from Prudhoe Bay to the tip of South America, and one couple Kevin and Julia Sanders were going to try to break the 47 day record by motorcycle still standing in the Guinness World Records. You can follow them at GlobeBusters.com. Their World Record Rides are dedicated to SOS Children's Villages, for whom they raise funds, which is a global charity providing family homes for over 40,000 orphaned and abandoned children in 122 countries around the world.

I liked the quote from a 1910 Theodore Roosevelt speech given at the Sorbonne in Paris that Kevin and Julia included on their web site:

    "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the triumph of a great achievement; and who at worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

Reading the above, I am inspired and I recall my own words to Karen Lynn Maher who is compiling my journals toward a book. When she asked whether I could fail in this venture, and what I would consider failure, I had answered her that I would only fail if I could not tell my story. There is an honest effort here that will get me as far as is humanly possible. I am applying few principles to the journey and trying to remain true to the human powered requirement.

Sometimes I have to make up the rules as I go. I am not going to kill my progress in the name of perfection, I may have to compromise. For example, had I gone up to Dawson City via the Top of the World Highway, I would have had to take the ferry to cross the Yukon, which is the only way - there is no bridge there. How would I have handled it? Should the rig go on the ferry, and I swim or row? How do I arrange all of this on my own without the help of a ground crew? Do I take the rig across, park it in a hotel room, then arrange for a boat to paddle across and back, perhaps? Or just take the darn ferry for the crossing, and forget about it?

When I chose to fly out of the Kahiltna Base Camp having run out of time, with a promise to return in 2009 to do the walk out, I had in my mind that my priorities had to be straight. My wedding, and Nancy's arrival a week later were more important than my idea of a strictly human powered journey around the world. I do not believe that I erred on that decision.

Sometimes I have to be creative in the problem solving. When the flagger at the Bear Creek Summit wanted to put me on a pilot truck to ferry me past the construction over the two kilometer section, would I have erred had I accepted the ride? That time I was lucky to think fast on my feet, asking her what time they would quit, and telling her that I would be willing to wait.

How about last night when John Neff showed up with his truck to pick me up? As I was riding toward the Neffs' in Telkwa with still another 25 miles to go at seven o'clock in the evening, they had been worried about me. Here I was taking my time with pictures of scenery of hay being harvested, with natives picking salmon out of the falls at Moricetown, or with riders wanting to talk to me at the farmers' market in New Hazelton. To boot, I spent time feeding on wild saskatoons and wild rasberries in the road side bushes every chance that I got.

The Neffs knew from Nancy that I had a broken hub that could fail completely at any time. One of their sons had seen me pushing my rig up yet another hill. When he passed that information to John, John thought that perhaps I was no longer able to ride the bike due to a failed wheel. He figured that would be a long ways to walk, so he showed up with his truck at marker 339km. We agreed that all was cool as long as I returned to marker 339km to continue my ride, so I loaded up on his truck to join his family at the barbecue to which they had been expecting me. As a result, we had a wonderful time at their home on a small hill overlooking the Buckley River in which one can fish for salmon, and with views of the mountains beyond Smithers. All of their children were there with their families, a chance to meet everyone.

I have encountered bears on the road, fortunately with plenty of distance to spare. As I would pedal leaning in and the helmet visor hanging down, typically the distance would be about 200 meters when they came into my field of vision. I would notice the movement, or their presence, then stop to investigate calling out "hey you - you won't chase me now, will you?" A bear would lift its head out of the clovers or the flower bed in which it would be grazing as if to say "huh?" Then it would either get on the road to take a look at me, before crossing over to the other side, or from among the vegetation, it would get up on its hind legs to take a better look at me, at this animal that sounded like a human but that had that strange colorful trunk to its body, kinda like a centaur. Then it would mosey on into the bushes on the same side, avoiding the road altogether...

Once, I came across two black bear cubs on the left side of the road. I immediately hit the brakes. I had to know where the mama bear was. If the mama was on the right hand side, then if I proceeded, I would have entered between the mama and the cubs which was a big no-no, never to be done if one wanted to live to tell about it. I called out to the cubs: "where is your mama hiding?" They got nervous, circled around each other once, hesitating between moving across the road or going back down into the bushes. I had to get their picture. I fumbled for my digital camera, had to turn it on, then turn on the digital zoom to get a better close up. By the time that I had the camera configured, the cubs were gone, and the mama bear was in the middle of the road looking at me. She had a beautiful shiny new black summer coat on. She had a good healthy size. "It's OK, mama, go for the cubs," I said to her. She smelled the air a bit, decided that I was not a threat, then followed the cubs into the bushes on the right.

The dogs have been more of a problem lately than the bears. The farms that I encounter down further south have multiple dogs, none of which are on a leash which encourages pack behavior. When one dog gets excited and puts on a chase, others want to out-do that one; before long, we have a marauding pack snipping at my heels. The way to deal with these AKA "man's best friend" packs is to stop the bike immediately before they get close, then to confront them face on with a loud order letting them know who the boss is. Dogs know, they will get in my face but will keep their distance as well. Then it is a matter of easing away from them. I cannot turn away from them immediately and move, which only encourages the chasing instinct. I have to keep an eye on them and yell back if they even think about chasing again. A few iterations of this and they stay put, just barking from a distance... something that I learned early on as a jogger. Of course, having the bear spray handy is a good thing with dogs as well.

When I got to the Meziadin Junction, I had a choice of taking the 41 mile side trip into Hyder, Alaska, which is adjacent to Stewart, British Columbia. In Hyder, only six miles from the border is Fish Creek where salmon spawn every year at the end of July and into August. This is also the time when the grizzlies and the black bears descend into the same creek to feed on the spawning salmon. It is not uncommon to see bald eagles there, feeding on the left overs. I had to see this creek. I mentioned the extra load of the trailer to Al who was the tourism information source at the junction, and he offered to take in my trailer to lock it up for a day. Same evening that I arrived at the junction with the trailer, I detached it and continued on into Stewart with just the front end, feeling much lighter.

On the way into Stewart, I passed through a beautiful valley that eventually becomes the fjord of the Portland Inlet that leads out to the Pacific. Seracs were hanging above the highway, glaciers descending to the road side. Particularly the Bear Glacier was nice to see from across a small pond formed at its terminus. I stayed in Stewart that evening, woke up at 04:30 the next morning and by 06:00 I was at the Fish Creek viewing platform built just for gawking tourists like me. It was cold from the glaciers around us, and humid from the creek below.

The viewing platform was about ten feet above the ground, and a short distance back from the edge of the creek. The bears were hunting in plain view, catching the fish sometimes in one snap. Most of the time, it was a lot of splashing through the water, running at full tilt after a salmon that would escape with its life. As the bear started its hunt for the salmon at one end, the tourists with cameras would migrate with it along the walkway. The stampede of the cameramen had to be a sight to see from across the creek... Once the bear caught the salmon, it was eery to hear the crunch of its bite and the sounds of the salmon being skinned on the riverside. The skin is where all the fat is. The bears ate the first few salmon completely. Then they got picky, preferring to eat just the bellies of the female fish with all the eggs, and the brains of the fish leaving the rest. There were a lot of dead fish laying around...

On the way back, one of the grizzlies that had just fed on the salmon was on the road about 200 meters ahead of me that kept getting up on its hind legs to get a better view of me. He wanted to come back in my direction, and we were both hesitating on what to do. Then an RV came from behind me, also returning from the platform, the passenger of which asked me if I would be all right. "He has to get off the road," I said. They offered to shadow me just in case, and we inched forward together, me on my bike backed by an RV, kinda like the infantry with tank support ;-) The bear got the message, and was soon in the bushes, and I booked past the same bushes while keeping an eye to the side... I was back at the hotel after breakfast, ready to check out by 11:00 am. I rode back up to the junction, claimed my trailer from Al and decided to spend the night at the Meziadin Lake Campground, a beautiful spot by the lake.

The next morning, I had a run in with an RV driver just south of the Meziadin Junction whom I reported to the RCMP. I was pushing the rig up a short steep step with no shoulder, really leaning into it. My left foot was extended in the lane, the bike was on the white line. There was a double yellow line in the middle meaning no passing. Normally when I hear vehicles approach in such situations with no shoulder, I put on the breaks and straighten up to let them pass. 18-wheelers especially appreciate that gesture.

So this huge RV trailer pulled by a truck snuck up on me and sped past me so fast that I had no time to adjust. I felt the wheel of the trailer nudge my left pinkie toe, with the side of the trailer coming within inches of my flesh and bone. These trailers are of obscene sizes, as wide as 18-wheelers, certainly wider than the trucks that pull them, typically a Dodge RAM with a diesel engine. I screamed after him giving him the finger in his rear view mirror, cursing in the open because they always got away with it...

This time, there was justice. When I topped the hill, on the other side I saw construction on a small bridge and a flagger had stopped the traffic. There it was, a giant prey, ensnared in the sticky web of construction and I was going to swoop on his tail - "I got me one!" I thought to myself and sped down the other side for the kill. I parked my bike next to the driver and let him have it. I called him the a-word, the one the first syllable of which is synonymous with donkey, yelling: "you almost ran me over back there, a-word!" He was incredulous. "You were supposed to be on the white line," he said. He knew exactly what he had done, he had done it on purpose, and by God, he was not going to change lanes and he was going to drive just the same at the risk of running me over, because in his mind, I was supposed to be on the white line and I was not, and I did not belong on the same road with him.

Well, a volcano erupted in me. I now know the meaning of "being hopping mad." I was shaking with the adrenaline, yelling in this man's face from about three feet away, with a finger pointed right at his forehead, like the Hollywood stereotype of a drill sergeant. Every sentence was punctuated with the a-word coming out with such an emphasis that it almost sounded like a sneeze. The abbreviated version of my monologue with this numnut was: "It is not where I was supposed to be, it is where I was that matters. You have no right to run me off the road. I had the lane. You had to either stop or to change lanes." Then when he had had enough of the a-word, this fool brandished a knife on me, a curved rusty looking item about 4 inches in length, undoing his seat buckle at the same time in a bluff. I don't know whether he thought that he would stab me, or maybe that he would slice my throat or something...

This man was 65 years old, certainly not in shape, he had no business with a knife. Instead of defusing my anger with a "back off, sorry, I did not realize that I was that close, I should be more careful," he was taking the wrong approach. "Is that a knife you are pulling on me, a-word," I yelled and pulled out my bear spray and yelled at him that I would spray him if he stepped out of the vehicle - he did not. I waved the flagger over telling him that he had pulled a knife on me. The flagger invited me to the head of the line of vehicles, and told me to talk to the construction site supervisor. My parting shot at the driver was a wish that he had an accident on the way home, "curse on you," I yelled padded with the f-word.

The supervisor asked me if I wanted to report this incident to the RCMP. I went back to note the license plate number of this truck and the number off the trailer. My cell phone did not work, so I accepted to use the supervisor's phone mounted in the truck. I was told to wait for the two RCMP members to arrive from Stewart and when they did an hour later, I told the story complete with the foul language that I had used on the man. I told them that RV's coming close and not changing lanes happened routinely on the road.

A majority of the RV's did not change lanes, almost testing their driving expertise to see how close they could get to me. These guys speeded through gravel kicking up rocks that clinked in their wheel wells, the same clinking off my sunglasses, my helmet and my knuckles leaving me sore. An uncomfortable number of them were driving past me pulling trailers whose step ladders under the side door would be left unfolded, aiming to slice me in two like a blade attached to the axle of a Roman war chariot. They drove their trucks in the center of the lane, but the trailers hanged wider on the sides. Some of them had these mirrors that extended even further to see around the trailers to the back. All of these were in the hands of amateur drivers with no special additional training to pull a trailer that size. The professional 18-wheeler drivers knew what they were pulling, and they gave me all the room that I needed. The RV's did not... An unregulated industry (???) tolerated for the sake of the dollars that they pump into the tourism industry that seems to be the only action around here besides "resource extraction..."

Of course, there were also RV's that changed lanes, that slowed down on dusty or gravel sections, that slowed down to my pace to talk to me while I pedaled, and that shared their stories with me as well. In the grand scheme of things, it takes one to ruin my day, and this numnut almost ruined my trip, if not my life.

The RCMP officer told me that he had a friend who was a sheriff in the same town where this truck was registered, and that he would be able to get the story on this driver. He said: "we get all kinds on these roads, there are cyclists, there are skateboarders, and the drivers need to slow down and remember that they are on a vacation." He added that the surrounding detachments were notified, and that if they did not get this driver before Prince George, they would get him at the border into US. When the officers left heading in the same direction as that RV, I continued talking with the flagger who said: "These guys think that they can get away with anything, this is Canada..." I smiled. I had not been able to use my cell phone, nor had seen any RCMP patrols on the roads. Speeding was routine with no enforcement. All vehicles were dirty in the rear with illegible license plates that sped away too fast. They all DID get away with it. But now that they were called in, the RCMP was going to tend to this particular case and that is what mattered at this time.

I continued on south later that day, my riding time being shortened by the delay to report the incident. I tented with a group of mushroom pickers on the roadside in their Mushroom Camp, also known as the "Zoo." They made me feel welcome amongst them, circling the bonfire in the middle. They told me their stories of picking the matsutaki mushrooms for sale in Japanese, Korean and Hong Kong markets. What they picked in a two and a half month long season each year would be in these markets within two days via Smithers and Vancouver airports. These guys would get 5 cents on the dollar for the mushrooms sold to these markets. Each one of them had their secret patch that they would guard and pick, then sell to buyers that came by with cash payments to each. It was a cash economy in which they lived, a different dimension in our time. The buyers then would pass the mushrooms on to other middlemen who would see to the delivery by air to the markets that believed in the aphrodisiac powers of these mushrooms with unique shapes.

Passing through the historic town of Gitonyow to see the totem poles was a unique experience. The area is dotted with native artifacts, and totems are certainly indicative of that. The ride to Kitwanga, then east on the Yellowhead Highway has been spectacular. This area is certainly worth a visit. One can see the towns of Hazelton, and New Hazelton, then Moricetown, and I have not yet seen beyond Smithers and Telkwa to the east. The surrounding hills are full of trails, lakes and winter activity potential. A ski resort is above the town of Smithers, visible from the Neffs'.

Once I hit the road again, hopefully in the next day or two, I will meet with Vince Prince, the gentleman who had provided me with the "moose jerkey to last me all the way to Alaska." I wanted to visit Nu-Yiz, his ancestral lands along the Stuart Lake by Fort St. James but I am running out of time before the arrival of my parents to Seattle. So perhaps I will meet with him on the main highway to Prince George for lunch, yet to be decided.

I plan to connect with Nancy for some climbing in Skaha in preparation for Vantage. Between the Okanagan Valley where the Skaha Lake and the town of Penticton are, and where I am, serious wild fires are currently raging that led to road closures. So that is going to be a concern in trying to determine how I will come south. The hope of everyone is that in the week or two that it will take for me to get there, the fires will have been suppressed, if not controlled.

Best wishes from Telkwa, in beautiful British Columbia.


Tuesday - August 5, 2003

Today was a good day!

John Neff took me to Smithers in the morning to the local bike shop called McBike. Yesterday we had found out that they did not have the 36 spoke hub that I was looking for in that shop, so today we had to place the order from their sister shop in Prince George which had better access to parts suppliers. Instead of the original Shimano Deore hub that broke on me, we ordered a Shimano XT hub which is a grade better in quality. It would have taken the hub a few days to arrive, then at least a few hours to lace the wheel again.

Hearing to my desire continue on with the least delay, the shop owner Peter offered us a creative solution: He would provide me with a loaner wheel with which I could continue riding on to Prince George. He would ship my original wheel ahead of me to Prince George for the hub replacement, and by the time I got to their sister shop, they would have received the new hub and rebuilt the wheel for me. I would swap the wheels, and on I would go. We sealed the deal right there, and I paid for the service.

I left my wheel at the shop so that they could take the tire, the cassette and the quick release from it to mount on the loaner wheel. John and I then went back to Telkwa to pick up the bike, the trailer and the panniers. We came back through Smithers to pick up the loaner wheel that now had my parts on it. Another fine gesture was that since they did not have a compatible 36 spoke wheel, one of McBike employees had loaned the wheel from his own personal bike to me!!! I was grateful and thankful.

With the loaner wheel, John took me to km marker 339, leaving me at the same spot where he had picked me up on Sunday evening. I started cycling east the remaining 20 mile distance to the Neffs' in Telkwa such that I would start from their place in the morning to continue toward Prince George.

I stopped in Smithers briefly to buy flowers for Karen Neff who had been so kind to take me in and to introduce me to her family. She was at the Toyota dealer where she works when I presented her the flowers. I did not want them to get abused for another 10 miles on my bike in the wind...

In two hours I had covered the distance from marker 339 to Telkwa. I am now ready to keep riding tomorrow morning - it feels good to have some control over the difficulty with the wheel. For a while there I did not know how long it would have taken to get the part and to restore the bike. Now I can continue toward meeting Nancy and later my parents on the dates that we had fixed ahead of time...

Cheers from Telkwa, meaning "the meeting place of two rivers" in the local native tongue.


Sunday - August 17, 2003

Quick update:

I have been in Penticton, BC for two days with Nancy, enjoying the electricity in the air about the upcoming Ironman Triathlon next weekend. Many of the athletes are already here, lean and fit. Maybe after 2009, I should train for one of these races: 2.4 miles swim, 112 miles bike and a full 26.2 mile marathon to finish... Yikes!

Nancy found me on the road 14 miles short of Merritt on Thursday, we built a small cairn on the roadside to mark where she had picked me up to return there later. We spent time visiting the wineries along the Okanagon Lake on Friday, then climbed at the bluffs above the Skaha Lake yesterday. This is a wonderful spot to spend time, definitely worth a visit.

Today, I will start riding south again from the cairn. My intermediate destination is Frenchman Coulee near Vantage in eastern Washington to climb Air Guitar where we lost Göran. From there, I plan to ride into Seattle with Nancy and friends that will join me. I will post more once I pull into Seattle, if not earlier.



Sunday - August 17, 2003

Hello family and friends!

I want to give you a brief update of my most recent visit with Erden and inform you of his projected arrival back to Seattle.

I caught up with him on the road on Thursday, early evening just outside of Merritt, BC. I was so relieved to find him, as he had not traveled as far as he had projected, due to the unforgiving sun and heat of close to 100 degrees F. At one point, about 8 miles before I found him, I pulled over to give myself a pep talk and consider a "plan B." I had begun to worry that something had happened to him. I was prepared to drive all the way to Spences Bridge, where he had called me about 5 hours earlier that day, and ask anyone I saw if they had seen this guy on a bike pulling a big rig on the back! I was also preparing for worse. Fortunately, when I found him I was overjoyed! He was safe, but completely wiped out. (I don't know which of us was more happy to see the other at this point!!)

He said he had not estimated the timing very well, and fell short of his projections. Plus, the up and down of the hills were terribly difficult given the heat index, so he could not make the time he thought originally he could.

He decided he would take the ride into town that I offered him. We were able to fit the bike on top of my car and the rig in the back seat....with all of his gear, everything fit perfectly! Thank goodness for my Camry!! The trunk was already fairly full with camping and climbing gear.

We were just 14 miles shy of Merritt and by the time we got there, he had consumed 4 beverages that I had in my cooler for him!!!

We had dinner and then proceeded into Penticton. He rested thru another hot day on Friday, and we took it easy. Saturday we climbed at the Skaha Lake Bluffs and found a wonderful breeze and overcast skies that made for perfect climbing weather! Then we spent last eve. listening to a live Blues band in the city park under cool skies....a lovely evening.

We drove back to the spot today where I had found him Thursday evening next to the cairn that we had built, and after a long hug, and a prolonged good-bye, he pedaled on. (That rig he is pulling, plus the food and stuff in the panniers, weighs a ton!!!! It is even hard for me to imagine that he can maneuver everything! He is one iron man...that's for sure!)

Erden is projected to arrive in Vantage, WA (where he plans to lead Air Guitar) on Friday this week. I will know for sure on Wednesday, and will update those who will be joining him there. We are now projecting a return to Seattle on Monday, Aug. 25th. I will join him after coordinating plans with his parents and Gerard Kropp, (Göran's father) who will be here for his arrival. I will bike back with him at least from North Bend to Seattle. Any of you wishing to join him, please let me know, and I will give you the details of his whereabouts as they unfold.

Right before I said good bye, he looked me in the eyes and said, "I will finish this." There was such strength and clarity in his words, that I knew he would.

What he has accomplished is amazing to me, yet to him, he sees himself as an ordinary person doing something out of the ordinary....not extraordinary. But after 7 long and grueling months on the road, and all he has been through, he deserves to be honored.

I am so ready to have him home!!!! There is much to celebrate indeed!

Thanks to all of you for your ongoing support!

Regards, Nancy

Sunday - August 24, 2003

After 7 long months on a bike..... from the dead of winter in the Yukon... to the month spent on the mountain... and through the hot dog days of summer...

Erden has put nearly 6000 miles into this round trip and has almost completed the first phase of the Six summits Project.

Come join us for his return to Seattle!


    Monday, August 25
    5:30pm - 7:00pm
    REI Flagship store
    Outside terrace, store entrance level 222 Yale Ave. North
    Seattle, WA

No need to RSVP....just show up and join in on the celebration!!! Tell everyone who would want to know, and come join in on the fun.

We will see you then!

Nancy and the Around-n-Over Team

Sunday - August 31, 2003

I rolled up my driveway as the sun set on August 24th, 2003 after covering 5,546.0 miles with my rig. I had carried all of my climbing gear that I needed on Denali along with food and gear to survive the challenges of the highways between Seattle and the mountain. I had spent the previous week with great anticipation much like a horse galloping for the barn. I was on familiar territory, I knew the way home, it was around the corner and just over the next hill ;-)

After Nancy left me by the cairn near Merritt, BC a week earlier, I weaved my way southeast toward the beautiful Okanagan Valley with its numerous orchards and vineyards. Along the way, I met Andre Patry, originally from Quebec, at his AP Guest Ranch just north of Princeton whose family offered me a complimentary campsite and breakfast to support my journey. Andre had dreamed of the western ranching lifestyle and was living his dream ever since he had found his way west. Now he raises horses and offers the surrounding areas to his customers from the city… In Princeton, BC, I visited the Fire Department chatting with Jeff, the volunteer fireman who had recommended the AP Ranch to me the night before. He told me that the ground was so dry that just the rocks rolling off the hillsides could start fires, not to mention lightning strikes. They had been very busy this season with the wild fires.

The Mascot Gold Mine that was perched 850 meters (almost 3,000 feet) above the valley floor was a marvel to see from Hedley where the miners lived. There had been an aerial tram that carried the ore, equipment and miners down from the sheer cliff side while the rich mine operated. There are plans to restore and to build a casino at the same airy spot and to activate an aerial gondola for access.

Further down the road I saw the covered Red Bridge of Keremeos, where I spent the night, where RV owner Elf who was over 80, and his wife Bettie offered me breakfast. They were heading to Alaska and back in a month long whirlwind trip from their home on Vancouver Island. They asked me about road conditions… It was fun to give them the scoop on the stretches with construction!

The border crossing near Nighthawk, WA was uneventful. After verifying my country of residence and citizenship, the US border guard asked me the simple question of when I had left the U.S. I took a deep breath and started telling him that I had left Seattle in February to ride up to Alaska to climb Denali... The guard interrupted me to remind me that Alaska was U.S. territory as well!!! "Oh, of course," I said sheepishly, then answered that it was the beginning of July... He was gazing back and forth over my loaded rig, then up and down my sweaty suntanned looks. The whole situation probably was so silly for him that he had no reason to doubt my responses. He let me pass with a "welcome home..."

Riding along the small lakes gave me the chance to observe ospreys while hunting over the water's surface, while in flight and in gathering giant sticks for nesting. They were majestic birds, as impressive in ways as the bald eagle, yet a lot more skittish. A few of my attempts failed in trying to get near these birds perched upon trees, so I had to be content with images taken from afar.

When I arrived at Tonasket, WA, around 2:00 pm, I was hungry. On the main drag just before getting on Rt. 97, I found a quiet deli shop with numerous healthy options for a late lunch. Next to it was this pizza joint that had two rows of fancy looking road bicycles stacked ten deep leaning against its front window.

A quick comparison of the clientele and the potential for new friends drew me to the pizza joint away from the healthy food! I parked my rig in front, walking in to face the gauntlet. Just as I expected, the bicyclists soon associated the rig with me, peppering me with questions. I found out that they were members of the Cascade Bicycle Club, on their annual Ride Around Washington (RAW). An hour later, having eaten a great deal, I was not disappointed to receive an invitation to their gathering place, the city park of Tonasket where about 200 cyclists had set up their tents.

I was introduced to their tour leader who promptly offered me a pass for dinner to join their crowd that evening, and also for breakfast. They were a supported bunch, with a giant kitchen trailer, and a giant shower unit that followed them between each campsite. They often had speakers invited to present various topics - that night we heard about the unique legacy of the latest Ice Age in the surrounding flora. It was amazing to hear that way back then the ice thickness would have been about 6,500 feet on top of us, now an arid land except for the irrigation systems of the Columbia River Basin. The glaciers had scrubbed the plants at lower elevations, leaving unique ecosystems on the few summits that remained above the ice. These summit ecosystems now provided clues to the plants of that ancient era. Given the speed with which other plants were invading these summits with the global warming trend, the researchers had to hurry to inventory the legacy ones.

A fine surprise was to find my REI colleague Erik in the same cycling crowd with his wife Val and their two adopted greyhounds. Val had been the one to interview me on 710KIRO radio on two earlier occasions about my journey. We were all amazed at this opportunity to see each other when our paths crossed so randomly. The next day we bicycled together for a few hours until their path took them west on Rt. 20. I was heading for Vantage for a final duty - I was going to climb Air Guitar...

I made it to the fully occupied Beebe Bridge Campground near Chelan that evening in smog that irritated my eyes and my lungs. The entire Okanagan Valley had been smothered by smoke from wildfires in the surrounding areas. A gracious RV owner, also a cyclist, John Shear and his wife offered me the tent space within their site, then backed that up with an offer of spaghetti dinner and a glass of wine.

I biked 89 miles to get to Vantage the next day, on Thursday August 21st. Russ, "russman" as he was known on RockClimbing.com was on the lookout for me and he stopped in Wenatchee on the roadside to introduce himself. We had been in touch by email and he had confirmed my approximate location from Nancy. Later his father found me on the roadside fixing a flat tire near Quincy. I was delayed with multiple flats, all in the rear, requiring me to spend time loading and unloading the entire load. Russ eventually met me at the Frenchman Coulee near Vantage where Air Guitar is located.

We spent time together watching the sun set in a wonderful fiery glow to the west. We waited for Nancy and David Argento to arrive. Later Eddie Espinosa as well joined us. They would be my climbing partners for Air Guitar. I had been hoping that Marcus Hysert, my friend from REI would also join us, but the next morning we missed him when we left Coulee for a short while for breakfast. Marcus was with me on the day of the accident - it was him who had rushed out to call for help that day. It was important to me to have him at the Coulee as well while I climbed Air Guitar... that was not meant to be.

The day of the climb presented us with dark clouds. Nancy was telling me that there was rain forecast for the area. We joked about the irony of receiving the entire full inch of rain that day which was the annual total rainfall for that arid location. We walked over to Air Guitar and I attempted the climb after a short period of introspection. I felt strong enough and I thought that I could even hang on the protection pieces to rest if I had to. I had not led any climbs since Göran's accident a year ago, so mentally I was not prepared to go too far above my protection.

I took the necessary protection pieces of various sizes only to find out a short way up the route that I was missing a particular size protection gear. I would have had to go higher in the ever widening crack to have my smallest piece fit properly, which would have exposed me to a potential ground fall. My mind was not ready to take on that level of risk - "another time, another day," I said to Nancy who was belaying me, then climbed back down.

David who had been on an adjacent route to take pictures and to film my climb, descended to the platform from which Nancy was belaying. He tentatively offered to lead the route saying, "I don't know if this would accomplish what you came here to achieve." David had known Göran and he was supposed to be at the Coulee on the day of the accident as well, only to be held back at the last moment by other commitments, which is why Göran had arrived by himself that day. I was perfectly comfortable with David's offer and I felt that it was fitting that he would lead, and I would belay just the same, later cleaning the route. David finished his lead in a downpour of rain that was unusual for the area. Soon we too had climbed it. By late morning, I was ready to start bicycling west toward Seattle...

I took the John Wayne Trail west through the Yakima Training Center, a military reservation, which proved to be very difficult. It was a railroad grade converted to a trail, however the surface was sandy, akin to riding on a beach in places. I had to work hard to move at five miles an hour, falling often. I ended up walking most of the remaining 17 miles through the reservation, exiting to pavement at the first opportunity.

I spent a night in a hotel in Cle Elum arriving by dark. My parents arrived that night to Seattle from Turkey. Nancy would bring them to find me near the Pass the next day. It was an emotional moment to see them get out of the car... We had lunch together and they paced me for a while then left to wait for me at home.

I stayed on the shoulder of the main highway I-90 all the way until Bellevue, beyond which I knew the trails to downtown Seattle from my earlier rides. My friend Dave Engle had been eyeing my arrival, so he surprised me on the trail going through Mercer Island, only about a half hour of riding from downtown Seattle. After big hugs, we called Nancy on the cell phone to tell her that we would meet at the Benaroya Hall downtown. Dave joined her and the three of us continued home, arriving by dark on Sunday evening. It had been a record-breaking ride, my longest in a day with the load on this trip, a total of 92.34 miles with a fast descent from the Pass down to North Bend.

The next day we all went to the Seattle's REI Flagship Store to meet my managers and my coworkers who were waiting to celebrate my arrival. Gerard Kropp, Göran's father was also available having just arrived to Seattle the night before, which made the homecoming all the more meaningful. Around the corner from the store, we tied a string of aluminum soda cans to the trailer and a sign that said: "just married!" It was a moment of laughter and fun as I rolled on to the patio of the store with the noisy contraption.

The first phase was now officially complete. North America was finally done; I had five more continents to go...

Archive of Dispatches:

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