Riding the TransAmerica in spring

Riding the TransAmerica in spring

Larry was behind the counter at the Zim’s Hotspring in the Meadows Valley in the northern state of Idaho in the United States. He had a soft and relaxed appearance and looked fairly in shape. His gray hair was tied in a ponytail. He beckoned me to come over behind the counter to show unique electric unicycle. A wheel that you just stand on and balance without a real handlebar or anything.

“That thing can go over 30 mph!”
He said.

“So fast? You really can get in an accident with that!”
Was my surprise respons. He didn’t seem to be the youngest to experiment such challenging device.

He nodded in agreement and proudly said that he rides the thing all wrapped up. Larry told me that he was overweight until his 50s and then he decided to change things radically. Now he felt healthy, ate less and above all he got rid of all that processed food and only drank the clear water from a well. I felt really bad for myself when he started to talk about processed food and all that. I agreed totally on everything he said but in recent months I couldn’t go on another diet, it was the only possible way to survive the severe frost.

Larry, aka Fly Guy Idaho, showed me a video on his channel where he calls himself, just your average 60-year-old guy who promotes exploration and adventure in the great outdoors. With a paramotor he flies over the Meadow valleys. He put on an amusing laughter when we watched him crashing around both on his electric unicycle and paramotor. We connected anyway. We found each other in that stubbornness, as an unwillingness to give up the adventure when there are plenty of reasons to do so, because yes, there won’t be too much discovery without any risk involved.

The landscapes changed magically since I left Taber in Canada. In Cardston I miraculously found a link for my broken chain project. Not the right size and I had to buy a whole chain for that link but it worked and I was able to cross the border after that.

I cycled through the beautiful Glacier National Park where I ended up in a snow storm.

Leaving Alberta and entering Montana

Leaving Alberta and entering Montana

I dared to pitch my tent in the valley but it was in the middle of that storm that became stronger and stronger. The merciless cold gusts of wind banged against my tent canvas was both exciting and scary at the same time.

I was four months too early, for the well-known going-to-the-sun road. A mountain pass that is higher than 2000 meters but so narrow and incredibly difficult to clear from snow that the pass only opens in July. They had just started clearing snow, someone told me in the East Glacier trading post.

“Some grizzly bears have already been spotted, do you have any bear spray with you?” He would warn me.

“I can’t imagine with all the snow and cold still around that they’re out of their hole already!” I replied as if I would know anything about bears.

“This area is one of the most grizzly bear-rich environments out there. I still have a bear spray for you, do you want it?”

And so I was fortunately prepared for a possible meeting with a bear. I also had to make sure I didn’t leave my food lying around in my tent, it could just be that a bear came to take a look, because they can smell food from miles away.

The lolo pass Montana-Idaho

Biking US

The lolo pass Montana-Idaho

I found the cultural differences between Canada and Montana in the US to be minimal. What I especially noticed is that everything is just a little more exuberant. I saw it in the ads, the roadside slogans, or something like a Ten Commandments park with big signs with the Christian commandments on it, I’ve never seen that before.

Here in the US, a lot seems to revolve around entertainment. For a cup of coffee, an ice cream or an ATM, I just drive through on of those drive-ins. Cafés often had three TV screens, depending on the amount of coffee I just had I could watch a rugby, golf or cooking show.

Everything is out there, quickly available and I didn’t have to make any real effort or wait long to get the stuff that I needed. For example, there’s a soft drink dispenser at most gas stations and the cups are huge. A normal cup of coffee is also quickly half a liter, if I drink three cups in a day, that is already one and a half liters. Of course I was bouncing around from all that sugar and caffeine and then needed some entertainment as a distraction from basically an unrestful mind.

The Easter service was a big surprise. I was in Kalispell to celebrate Easter with family from Taber who enjoyed a house a little up from the town. They invited me to go to the so called Canvas Church. I walked in there and felt that overwhelming feeling from going to a large concert. It kinda turned out to be a large concert. It was a spectacle of lights and a music band playing songs with the lyrics illuminated on three large digital screens. Behind the whole music act there was this Baptist bath where people were baptized, like head back into the water. The sermon that followed was intertwined with stand-up comedy. The pastor made joke after joke and the large illuminated screens displayed quotes from his story about disciple Peter. He did this service three times in the morning to reach as many people as possible, a service at 8:00am, 9:30am and 11:00am. I kind of got the feeling that this was the drive-in version of the Christian faith. Although I had to admit, this church was very successful in reaching young people.

While I stayed for some resting in the house I changed some bike and gear parts, such as the studded winter tires that I no longer needed. I was also less interested in the temperature and I exchanged that one for an odometer. I said goodbye to my sheep wool saddle cover, winter boots and snow shovel. At a post office I sent home my winter sleeping bag, expedition down jacket and the extreme winter balaclava.

Bike maintenance, getting her spring ready

Bike maintenance, getting her spring ready

The magical changes in the landscapes kept coming. It was great to cycle through deep narrow valleys with steep rock formations formed by the strong river currents. I followed the Lolo Pass from Montana into Idaho. The environment finally began to form without the vast whiteness of snow. Finally after four months of cold and snow all over, that felt like a very joyful outcome.

The wilderness that changed from forests to prairie hills and then back to forests. It looked all mystical. The rocks were insanely large and meltwater poured down from every angle. That spring I so longed for I could finally witness.

Cycling through Idaho, US

Cycling through Idaho, US

Cycling through Idaho, US

From my journal on April 17, on the Lolo Pass in Idaho

The evenings with a crackling campfire are often the best. Tonight I have the energy to collect wood along the river. I walk around with some music playing from Moby. Tonight I have few thoughts running around my head and that feels freeing. It happens to me from time to time. Do I actually influence that unconsciously? Is it because of my choices I made today? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter right now.
I enjoy it when I feel really good, as also I often am fighting and then I have to embrace the more negative feelings as well. I want to read by the fire but can’t get past how the flames draw my attention to them. I stare for an hour into the flames. Tears show on my face when I think of the challenging months behind me. That cold was actually too bizarre for words and how it feels now that spring is evolving feels so wonderful.

I’m so thankful for all those people who have been out there helping me, who have taken me in and given me food and drinks. How can I give something back? Or should I not ask myself this question and just let the experience be there to enjoy the wonderful memories they have given me now.

The beautiful surroundings in Idaho bring one thing that is not so beautiful and that’s a lot of thorns. One clouded morning I was repairing another flat tire at a gas station in Cambridge.

“Is that your morning coffee?”
I asked a little surprised, without really showing it.

To my right stood a bearded man with a thermos of about a liter. It looked like a tall beer glass with a huge handle attached to it, only with a lid on it.

“Yes, that’s 32 ounces in there!”
He said proudly and then he looked satisfied at the big orange cup in his left hand.

“Enjoy it!” I wished for him while raising me thumb.

He nodded his head as if he didn’t need me for that enjoyment and then looked with a deep philosophically stare over to the other side of the street. I continued pumping to harden yet another patched tire and removed yet another thorn from the tire as I took a sip of my pint cup of coffee.

Idaho and Oregon scenery

Idaho and Oregon scenery

Idaho and Oregon scenery

That night, while falling half asleep watching the series ‘The Last of Us’ downloaded on my phone, I suddenly saw two large headlights aimed at my tent. I was a bit shocked. A deep voice called through the lights:

“Is everything okay in there!?”

I wondered how he had found me here hiding behind some trees. Luckily he didn’t get any closer. It had already been for almost three weeks in a row that I slept in a tent. I was starting to notice how I dealt with being alone by making happenings like this a big thing in my head all like in those good old hard winter days. It was time to take some rest.

Idaho and Oregon scenery

In the morning I woke up and stared at the green grass noticing that spring has finally arrived. This view I needed to still get used to after that white snowy ground I’ve been staring at for four months by now. If I’m doing something long enough it becomes normal but if that normal changes then the whole experience becomes different and in this case a lot more comfortable. I could now enjoy the surroundings a bit more instead of just focusing on surviving the cold.

I sat there in the morning cross-legged in my tent and opened the book Infinite Jest. With my bookmark as a reminder of that winter survival. A cardboard cut out of an MRE (a military meal package) that says that high performance goes hand in hand with good nutrition. If I don’t eat enough, I suffer from a lack of strength, decreasing endurance, loss of motivation and decreased mental alertness. Outside the tent it started to rain a bit and I didn’t care much now that I finally didn’t have to face that extreme cold mornings anymore.

I was tired when I arrived in Baker City in Oregon. The non-stop cycling without a day of rest started to take its toll. I was also worrying about the end date of my visa. Already on June 7th I have to be out of the country. That seems far away, but if I also want to follow the scenic route, is that enough time to go all the way to Mexico? It’s the things I can worry about a little more when I’m tired of the routine of cycling and camping for 20 days in a row.

Idaho and Oregon scenery

I prefer by now to stop proving to myself that I’m capable of doing something. I don’t want to do the biking anymore to be tougher or harder, but I really hope to soften in this part of the journey. It is and remains the paradoxical world of bicycle travel or should I say, of making choices when there are so many options but there is also an important deadline. I can’t take every route or see everything. I don’t have unlimited time to see everything, but hopefully enough time to cycle down and enjoy the natural sceneries in Oregon and then California.

It’s spring, the sun is mostly up in the sky, I’m in Oregon now and not far from the big red trees and the impressive west-coast scenery of the US. Will I manage to meet that visa deadline and be able to get the parts of the route through the less traveled roads?

Time will tell.