Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Recap of Days 2 and 3 - 7/27 to 7/28/2011

We have been busy spending time with family, so I have not taken the time to update the blog until now.  We spent a star spangled Wyoming night sleeping in the car on the side of the road on our way out to Helena.  I had my sleeping bag and would have slept quite well but Brenton had locked his bag in the trunk, which was weighed down with bikes, and said that he was hot and didn't need more than the thin liner that he had with him.  He tossed and turned and kept me awake until I finally asked him what was the matter and he admitted that he was freezing cold.  The only option was for me to share my bag, and so I climbed into the passenger seat with him and we slept in an awkward heap until the restless Northern sun woke us a little too early and we hit the road.

We decided to drive through Yellowstone and utilize our annual National Parks pass that is good for another month or so.  We headed for Jackson Hole and were there for breakfast, where we ate scrumptious breakfast burritos from a restaurant called DOG.  We bummed around the tourist shops for a little while and then headed on through the comfortably familiar scenery of the Tetons and Yellowstone.  The drive was cathartic and uneventful, with an occasional buffalo or deer in the distance.

We arrived in Helena at Brenton's aunt and uncle's house in time to head to the local micro-brewery for dinner.  Gary and Jill and their two kids, Levi and Sidney, greeted us warmly with hugs and beers and set us up with a comfy room to sleep in, as well as insisting on buying our dinner.

The next day Levi, 15 years old and documenting driving hours with his learner's permit, drove us around town to complete our long list of errands.  Sidney, an 8th grader, sat in the back with the dogs and me and proclaimed "Bannanna!" every time that she spotted a yellow car.

Gary got off work early with the intention of getting the boat ready to go trout fishing, in the hopes that we could grill the dinner that we caught.  By then, the big sky of Montana was blackening with storm clouds.  This barely phased our crew and we decided to brave it.

The drive to Canyon Ferry Reservoir is stunning but the weather continued to worsen.  It started to sprinkle as we launched the boat, but Gary reassured Sid, "Don't worry, Punkin, we're headed to the sunny south," his optimism shining in the face of the dull gray storm front.    

I got to go trolling for the first time, which is when you cast a fishing line with a sinking lure out and drag it slowly behind the boat.  We had lots of bites but didn't pull anything in, and the weather worsened still.  We splashed through cold waves and I was glad to have my rain coat, especially with the fickle winds that blow off the mountains, creating warm strokes one moment and icy blows the next.

We left the lake empty handed and decided to go to a small town near buy for a burger.  The food was delicious and we all shoved it down gluttonously, only to nearly loose it again when we decided to race up the side of a nearby hill that was really more like the soft foothill of a mountain.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Day 1, Chasing the Sun - June 26th 2011

We intended to leave for Montana last night after Brenton’s show but the stars were aligned against us.  We got going later than planned and headed out of town towards highway 77, which was closed.  We rerouted to Highway 6, which would have been fitting with our Jack Karouac marathon, except that upon our arrival at the Highway 6 junction, we once again met an orange and white sign barring our path with the foreboding words “Road Closed” printed black on the shining reflective white square that bounced our high beams back at us in denial.  We had driven around for a half-hour and were no closer to our destination than when we began.  As firm believers that everything happens for a reason and vigilant observers of the resulting signs, we decided to heed the warnings and let lackadaisical ideology dictate our next move.  We went home to sleep in our bed for one last night.

We headed out this morning and made good time in my trusty Toyota, making a stop at Cabela’s in Sidney in the early afternoon.  Brenton bought two pairs of Exofficio undies to replace the five pairs of boxers that he brought, after I raved about how much I like mine, and the girls, (MJ and Zerbert), made friends in the outdoor courtesy kennels provided by the store. 

I drove on to Cheyenne, Wyoming where we stopped for dinner and gas.  We found a great Mexican joint called Hacienda Guadalajara.  As we filled up on chips and salsa  I squeezed a lime into a cold draw of Dos Equis and was shocked at the unimaginably foul flavor that washed across my expectant tongue and gulped into the abyss before my brain had time to register that something was clearly not right here.  Brenton took a tiny sip of his beer and we decided that the line to the tap had either never been cleaned or the particular keg of lager had been idling with no patrons for about a year to long.  We sent them back.  Fortunately, the food made up for the offensive beverages.  We split a dish called arroz con pollo, which is our favorite at home.  I was ready to be disappointed but was thrilled with the first bite.  Although it was very different from what I’m used to, it was definitely just as good, if not better!

Brenton took the wheel and we pushed on.  I sat in the passenger seat with the window rolled down, taking pictures of the landscape morphing before my eyes as it only can from a motorist’s speedy perspective.   Brenton and I chattered about such inconsequential things as how fast the drive was going and he occasionally interjected with bursts like, “Look at that rock!  That’s Oceanic Crust.” 

It seemed that suddenly we had crossed the border into a distinctly different state.  I knew it for certain when I saw the first thick sprigs of sage huddled in the shorter grasses of the Wyoming plains.  The sage drew a content and knowing smile from me because I understood that she would be our hostess for the rest of the trip west, and she has continued to thicken and dominate the hillsides as they, in turn, have begun to roll with building majesty until blooming into bluffs, with the distant white caps of Rockies crowning the Western panorama.

We saw the first signs of all the flooding we have been hearing about when we crossed the Laramie River, and then witnessed countless farm acres completely underwater.  As the sage boldly bursts into bushes while we press on towards the Tetons, the air begins to crisp and we were aghast at the remains of graying drifts still frozen in the nooks between the hills.

“Look at that, we’ve got Continental Crust and Oceanic Crust,” I hear as I take note of how the clouds always look epic on a road trip, surreally painted across the azul dome with those classic beams of light shining their rays on someone’s long sought treasure somewhere behind the hills.  I wonder where we will sleep tonight and wonder how it came to be that someone owns the side of the road and the sage on it so that I have to decline her invitation to squat with her for the night.  “What would be so wrong with sleeping on the side of the road?”  she asks.  “You aren’t hurting anyone.”  But there are too many of us, and we are afraid of each other, and so we build fences, draw borders, and write laws in an attempt to calm our fears.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


We left for a family vacation and now we are stopping back through town for a show that Brenton's band is playing at the Bourbon Theater.  Tonight after the show its off to Montana to begin our pilgrimage towards the ever beckoning west; the perpetual site of the sunset begging for our participation in the prospect of discovery like every adventurer for ages who felt that he or she might find something worth stumbling upon from the promise that wildness so surely boasts, even as wild winks away in the modern sunset over an, at once, bloated and depleted west.

Now, the question is what underwear to bring!  Out of all of my dilemmas of what to bring on this trip, my poor abused backside is on the front of my mind.  Bike shorts with padding are meant to add comfort by wicking away moisture and keeping that very vulnerable and chaffable skin dry, but my experience with them has always been that they soak up sweat and hold it right on my buns where a rosy rash blooms.  Perhaps I need to invest in some higher quality shorts, or even some with minimal padding, but my cheeks seem to do better without.  I decided to invest in some backpacker's undies so that they would be super light, moisture wicking, odor resistant, and all in all anti-butt-rash.  I ordered one pair of Exoficcio underwear that are bragged to be wearable without washing for six days, (not that I intend to do so).  Today I stumbled upon a second pair that happened to be 50% off at Moose's Tooth, however, were not the specific cut, color, or size that I would usually go for but were close enough that I couldn't pass up the deal.  There is truly only one way to describe these knickers; GRANNY PANTIES.  You're welcome Brenton.  

One of the sexiest undergarments known to man, my bargain panties.  I put them next to the normal backpacking panties in this picture to put into perspective just how attractively large these whities are!
The other big quandary that we debated was about shoes.  We both have mountain biking shoes that clip into our pedals in order to maximize efficiency.  We will definitely bring those and a pair of water proof sandals, (I swear by old school Tevas, while Brenton is rocking a new pair of Chacos), but we have gone back and forth about whether to bring hiking boots.  We finally decided they may be necessary, after recalling last summer's frigid strolls on the beach of Olympic National Forrest in Washington.  Sandals would be too exposing, and I can't imagine that bike cleats work terribly well on sand.

All of my clothing for the whole trip, plus shoes and rain gear.

Brenton's clothing, shoes, and rain gear for the trip.

We kept all other clothing items to a minimum in order to save weight and room, with only enough to get us through around a week without needing desperately to find a laundromat or clean creek.  We are bringing castille soap with us, which is an all natural, (as in made from a plant and non-harmful to the environment), biodegradable, all-purpose soap.  By all purpose I literally mean that you can brush your teeth, wash your hair, wash your clothes and dishes, and anything else with this miracle product.

Brenton's sleeping gear.

All of our toiletries. 

Spare bike stuff.

Random necessities, with all the Jack Karouac we need to get pumped up for a cross country jaunt!

The living room is torn apart with gear at 3:00 in the morning as we exhaustedly try to make an organized mess.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Squinting through the slats of the blinds on my office window, I can make out the wildness of the patchy green rug silently and motionlessly defying my efforts to stunt its quest for the heavens.  My lawn reminds me of the awkward retro-green shag carpet my family promptly replaced in our first house in Lincoln.  The flagstone path Brenton built out of old patio pavers someone was going to throw away has little bursts of slightly florescent crab grass establishing a niche in the cracks.  Where the path meets the garden fence made of wood we salvaged from an old farm building, purple tufts of Creeping Charlie and some unidentified viney weed are taking over the faded and flakey planks of weathered wood.  I know what it looks like inside of that fence, and so I think I'll write more instead of getting to my yard work, though I know I should mow before it rains.

We have a push reel lawn mower that consists of a blade that spins to cut the grass as the wheels turn, fueled by the combustion of hamburgers and beer; that is, you just push it.  It has no motor.  It requires a little more exertion than a typical lawn mower, but is pretty easy as long as I don't let the lawn get too long, (in which case it is best to nearly run while mowing in order to keep the wheels from getting stuck; mowmentum!)  We do not have a weed eater and haven't really found a good solution for that one.  We haven't had good luck with the electrical types in the past.  

Although lawn mowers and weed whackers may seem like insignificant sources of pollution, according to Doreen Cubie in a 2007 article entitled How to Mow Down Pollution, these small engined lawn maintenance tools account for five percent of America's air pollution for the months they are in use.  These engines are apparently super-spewers of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and other equally scary sounding chemistry words that should be trapped in liquid or solid form underground and not inhaled in their invisible gaseous disguise.  Having done a little ebsco search of the primary literature, Ms. Cubie's claims seem to be supported.

Mowing the lawn with the manual mower is yet another thing that I do that earns me those odd looks.  Sometimes I feel like I am actually scaring people by making them so uncomfortably uncertain that they want to turn and run.  Though I appreciate the neighbor's offer to use his mower, I prefer to use the one I have.  Just as I have a car and a licence but choose to ride my bike, I could use a motorized mower but prefer the impact free and noiseless qualities of my push reel.  Also analogous to my bike commute, I am getting more exercise when I mow with the manual.

It is shocking to me the number of people that remain completely baffled that I choose to my ride my bike or mow with a push reel even after I explain my reasoning, or that it is simply my personal preference.  I have been told that my husband should give me a ride if I don't want to drive, as if he is less of a man by allowing me to brave the night streets with only the power of my two legs.  Though I am such a poor, fragile, feminine creature, I am relieved that it would never occur to Brenton to have a separate standard for my girlish existence than he does for his own.  On the other hand, as I glance out the window at my weed carpet, I'm thinking that a lady shouldn't have to scoop poop!   

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Trepidation of Training: Part 2

After the disappointing debacle of the night before, having to rely on a motor vehicle to save us from the elements, we decided to head the opposite direction out of town the next day and go southwest to Bluestem Lake.  Brenton and I repacked our gear and set out around 3:00 in the afternoon yet again.  The wind had subsided since the day before and we had hot and sunny, clear skies for the whole day.

We took a bike path on the outskirts of town that doesn't lead to anywhere that we would normally commute, and since we don't so much ride for recreation as for practicality, we had never had a reason to take this particular path before.  It is rail trail, an old railway where the tracks have been removed and crushed limestone has been put down, and it followed salt creek.  It turned out to be a beautiful and somewhat secluded ride through areas of town that I literally did not know existed.  We ditched the trail at Wilderness park, which is like a mini forest on the prairie.

The countryside and the weather was stunning once we got outside of town but we hit 5:00 traffic and decided that the shoulderless highway was too busy and that gravel roads were good for training anyway.  The gravel we found was very loose and we had some decently nasty hills to climb.  At one point I had to get off and push my bike up the hill because the gravel was so loose that my tires were just spinning in place.  Though I was considerably frustrated with that moment, it was such a serene day that I could hardly stay sour for long.

I wish that I could write in such a way to allow the reader to experience what it is like to struggle up the last hill of a gravel road and on the crest, with squinty eyes from the evening sun, see the pavement with a nice wide shoulder begin as you effortlessly pick up speed and feel the summer breeze run finger tips across your skin that is beginning to look a little pink from just a little too much sun and a little too much exercise.  I pressed my arms up into the air to stretch my back that had been hunched over in a posture of aggressive resolve and smiled at the horses pastured to my right who had stopped their grazing to pensively watch our foreign caravan roll by.  From the looks that we get from people and horses alike, we may as well be riding camels.      

We were right on schedule, riding on the nice smooth shoulder of the highway around 8:00, when I heard a loud pop from behind me.  Brenton's tire on his dog trailer had split down the middle.  We walked our bikes to a driveway to a strange old apartment complex situated about 10 miles from the closest small town, made a phone call, and cooked some pasta on the camp stove while we waited for a tire to be delivered.

A man in a golf cart, probably the maintenance guy for the apartments, came down to ask us if we needed any help, but he seemed as if his true intention was to gauge what our intentions were.  Our tire delivery was going to take some time so we settled in on the grass and threw a frisbee for the dogs.  The man came back down about an hour later and asked us if we were sure anyone was coming.  Brenton assured him that we were not gypsies and that we still did not need any help unless he found a 700c tire laying around since the last time we spoke.  A farmer from across the street also came and asked us if we needed help and he proceeded to tell us that the last guy who came through the area on a bicycle pulling a trailer was carrying everything that he owned and was asking for food and work.  We decided to walk the rest of the way to the lake and were nearly there by the time our tire arrived.  It was almost midnight by the time we were setting up camp and we went to bed without a beer or a fire.

Lesson learned; spare tire is necessary even when you are riding with kevlar tires.    

The Trepidation of Training: Part 1

In preparation for the big trip, we have been doing some mini-tours in which we load up everything that we are going to bring on the real thing and ride to a nearby lake to do some camping.  The many successes and failures along these mini-tours have us both excited and terrified.

Last week we tried to accomplish a mini-tour that could have gone a little more smoothly, but I suppose we learned some valuable lessons (you know, those lessons that life likes to smugly rub your nose in from time to time).  Brenton, our friend Brock, and I left on Memorial Day to ride about 50 miles to a campsite on the Platte River.  We didn't get going until about 3:00 and were a little bit wary of the absurd slap in the face with which the wind was relentlessly blasting us, but with the gusts coming from the south and our destination being northeast, we pushed on.

The first good stretch was pretty much flat and we were headed east on the shoulder of the highway.  Every so often the persistent blowing from my right had me struggling to stay on the straight and narrow, but I was feeling strong and was keeping up a pretty quick yet effortless pace.  The shoulder was sandy and littered with random items that made their way out of travelers' windows.  I am always amazed when touring along a highway, how many gloves, shoes, and dead birds are laying on the side of the road.  Really, a lot of gloves!  More importantly, I make an effort to notice and avoid all the broken glass and sharp looking metal objects.  As the day progressed we became slightly lost and decided that the best route required the tedious, yet scenic and tranquil use of gravel roads.

The dogs are trained, or in training, to jump out of their trailers and run along the right side of the road on command, and so they had a great time running in the ditch along the gravel road.  The three of us were also grateful to have relief from the nagging sound of traffic whizzing passed us on the highway.  After several miles on gravel, the hills began to roll under our wheels and the wind began to pick up to the point that we were nearly being knocked over.  We were all struggling with the extra effort of riding on gravel in general, and were ready to be at the campsite and dive face first into a pot of steaming pasta.  However, we were grimacingly aware that the last two miles into the campsite were back to the south, straight into the wind whose howling was quickly becoming less annoying and more foreboding with each stroke of the pedal.  

We pulled into the campsite well after dark, and payed for a campsite after a brief and pleasant conversation with the park ranger on duty.  As we were setting up camp and throwing a can of chili into the pan of pasta, (we neglected to bring pasta sauce and the closest thing that we found at the gas station was some Hormel's), Brock was on the phone with a friend who promptly briefed him on the circumstances surrounding the lightning that we could see in the distance.  Grapefruit sized hail, 100 mile an hour winds, and tornadoes touching down; headed our way!  After a thoughtful pause in which we each envisioned what a grapefruit sized piece of hail would do to our tents, and then to our heads, we tore our campsite down and headed for cover until Brock's friend could get there to pick us up.  We pulled away from the campsite just as the torrential raining began.

We slept at home, safe in our beds that night with a new plan and destination for the next day.  By the way, chili in lieu of pasta sauce is even worse than it sounds.      

Sweating Through Summer, too Stubborn for A/C

This spring was a long and cool one, with a lot of those typically non-typical Nebraskan mood swings blowing in off the Rockies, forcing us to bundle up one day and pull out the swim suit the next.  Summer, however, has finally arrived!  I was reminded of this on my commute to work on Monday in 100 degree weather when I think I nearly heat stroked.  Note to self; bring water bottle!

Spoiled by the chilly spring, we are on to the next task we resolved to undertake; we are aspiring to be an a/c free household.  This challenge originated from a debate during a drive through the snow caps of the Rockies on a snowboarding trip, and resulted with a bet that I could hold out longer than Brenton with no air conditioning for the summer.  It is easy to concoct such schemes when it is 10 degrees out, but we were both a little apprehensive of the first 100 degree day looming ahead.

Surprisingly, Monday came and went without much notice of the heat at home.  The only time I was really aware of how hot 100 degrees is, was while riding my bike on the black top of a paved road and when stepping into the awkward and disconcerting feeling of an air conditioned building, which turns the dampness of the back of my neck into an instant chill that runs down my spine and makes my flushed face seem strikingly out of place.  Brenton had a similarly strange reaction to being in an unnaturally cool room, having acclimated to the heat of a Nebraska summer. I'm not sure who wins the bet if neither of us gives in, which seems likely since we haven't really been bothered by the heat so far.  In fact, we are actually enjoying discovering how the human body is designed to deal with extreme temperatures.

When I was in Belize this winter sweating along a gravel road with a rice field on one side and the jungle to the other, my professor and I were conversing about modern day amenities that the citizens of Blue Creek Village, Belize do without that most Americans could not imagine parting with.  Dr. Bricker told me that human bodies are not meant to be constantly comfortable, that we are meant to be cold or hungry from time to time.  

As endothermic animals, human bodies have the ability to self-regulate their own temperature without having to regulate behaviorally, such as a snake sunning itself on a rock in the morning.  I believe that I can actually feel my body self-regulating as I sweat through these hot days.  My moist skin is sensitive to any slight breeze and before I know it, I feel as if the a/c has been turned on and I am comfortable again.  

So we have been embracing the sweat and letting it do its job, but embracing perspiration makes embracing each other just a little bit less pleasant, and our hippy deodorant wasn't cutting it!  We had been using a mineral rock type deodorant.  It still came in plastic packaging but lasts drastically longer than a regular stick of deodorant because it is literally a rock that you wet and then rub in your pits, (which feels cold and bizarre).  It is supposed to kill odor causing bacteria, but I don't feel that it was doing the job adequately so we switched back to the typical style of deodorant stick.  Although this "Queene Helene Mint Julep" deodorant is still aluminum and paraben free, I neglected to check the container for recycle-ability before I bought it.  Oops. 

In an attempt to keep our house reasonably cool, we are keeping all of the windows open to allow air circulation, but keeping the blinds shut during the day to keep the sunlight from turning our abode into a greenhouse.  It feels pretty livable in the mornings, but drives us outside during the day, (which would probably happen anyways), and warms up as the day progresses.  By the evening, it is hotter inside than out.  As a light and finicky sleeper, I was dreading the prospect of tossing and turning all night long while laying on top of sweat soaked sheets, but I have been shockingly comfortable and have slept well even on the hotter nights.  I think I sweat more in the winter when I sleep with a thick comforter than I have been lately with the cool breeze from the window breathing across my bedroom, a ceiling fan, and an oscillating fan that creates a comforting hum throughout the evening.  I think that this hum, along with the sounds of diverse insects conversing in their native tongues and the occasional car that rushes passed with a climatic gasp and then hushes itself with a sigh, remind me of the simplicity of just laying still, listening, and breathing.