WE BIKE, etc. 2019 Bicycle Adventure – Too Many Minimums
By Peter Flucke
Greetings from our home here in Ashwaubenon (Green Bay), Wisconsin where we are recovering from our latest bicycle adventure in the Sierra and Cascade Mountains. We have taken some medium-length day trips on the tandem and are enjoying the fall, between rain storms that is. We are getting stronger physically and mentally every day.
We didn’t expect to be home right now. We thought we would be finishing our longest unsupported tandem bicycle trip yet, approximately 7,000 miles in 21 states, and reveling in the accomplishment of having bicycled in all the lower forty-eight states. But this was not to be, at least for now.
What we do for fun, bicycle long distances, isn’t easy. But, over the years we have gotten pretty good at it, and it is a big part of who we are, as individuals, and as a couple. “We can’t dance together, but we sure can ride that bike.” Thousands and thousands of miles ridden, three cross-country trips and our book, “Coast to Coast on a Tandem,” stand as testament. I wouldn’t say we have gotten cocky, but we have become accustomed to accomplishing whatever we’ve put our minds to. But not this time.
Sierra Cascade Trip Highlights
-We began our trip in Bellingham, Washington June 1, 2019, a beautiful sunny day, and headed south.
-In Port Townsend, WA we found a bike shop to tighten some loose front wheel spokes, reconnected with an old friend from Madison, WI, Stacey, who now lives in California but was vacationing in the area, and had our first Warm Showers stay. Busy day, wonderful little city.
-The Olympic Peninsula, Pacific Ocean, Olympic National Park and Forest were quiet and beautiful. We even missed the rain.
-In Alma, WA we met up with our friends Greg (formerly from Green Bay) and Annette who live in Tucson, AZ and were also vacationing in the area.
-A stop for lunch in Montesano, WA scored us a free Click-Stand for our bike from a friend of the maker. We don’t leave home without it now.
-Along the road to Centralia, WA we reunited with fellow bicycle tourist Richard Dorsett from Tacoma, WA who we met at Itasca State Park in Minnesota in 2015 while bicycling the Mississippi River.
-To “save time” we crossed the Columbia River from Washington to Oregon on the Lewis & Clarke Bridge near Rainier, Oregon. This was one of our most terrifying bridge crossings ever! Think, steep climb, minimal shoulder, logging trucks and large chunks of Ponderosa Pine bark. We survived!
-Our Warm Showers host in Columbia City, Oregon was a former Santana Cycles employee. Our bike is a Santana. Small world.
-In Portland, Oregon we stayed with Peter’s Cousin Becky Wehrli for a couple of days and met up with Rob Sadowski, a former colleague from Chicago, and Kyle Fordham who we met and rode with in Montana in 2014 while doing our first coast-to-coast bicycle trip.
-Bicycling the Historic Columbia River Highway through the Columbia River Gorge was stunning.
-Mt. Hood presented us with incredible mountain views and two flat tires in one day, our first.
-At Bennett Pass (4,675 ft.) and Blue Box Pass (4,024ft.) we crossed the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) for the first time.
-Suffered a complete failure of our disk drag brake on a 2,200 ft. descent into the tiny town of Detroit, OR. Cooked a set of rim brake pads and cracked a brake lever/shifter housing trying to keep our 425-pound mass under control. This at the end of a 90 mile stretch with no services and minimal water. Again, we survived!
-Shuttled ourselves and the bike to Bend, OR by truck (78 mi.) for bike repairs and to recover mentally.
-Spent three days in Bend, OR with wonderful Warm Showers hosts while we repaired the bike and treated Tracy’s unexpected infection. One more day than expected.
-Took the beautiful, and well-constructed, Cascade Lakes Highway from Bend, OR up to Mt. Bachelor (9,052’) and our first snow. Dropped like a stone to Rock Creek Campground on Crane Prairie Reservoir for the night. No electricity or showers, but again, beautiful!
-Biked through lava fields on the Cascade Lakes Highway.
-From Chemult, OR, climbed to Crater Lake (4,900 ft. – 7,500 ft.). Tracy’s knee was suffering.
-Shared a campsite with wonderful complete strangers at the FULL campground at Mazama Village, in Crater Lake National Park.
-Averaged 30 mph, all downhill, to Prospect, OR in 30-degree temperatures.
-Approaching Ashland, Oregon, climbed Dead Indian Pass (2,800-5,200). The descent into Ashland was highly technical, hairpin turns, crosswinds, cattle grates, and steep slopes. We Survived.
-Had a Warm Showers stay in Ashland, OR with an expresso machine. Stayed for two days to recover and caffeinate.
-Entered California on the I-5 freeway, six miles downhill at up to 40 mph.
-Hit the 1,000-mile mark near Mt. Shasta, CA.
-Tracy found a wallet along the side of a mountain road near McCloud, CA and returned it.
-Biked approximately 300 mostly terrifying miles on California Highway 89 (two lanes, narrow, no shoulder, twisting, mountainous, lots of logging trucks).
-While climbing to Lassen Volcanic National Park, on a particularly difficult day, received a text from our oldest daughter that one of our cats, “Mio,” had cancer and needed to be put down. Sad day!
-Topped out at 8,500 ft. (our highest elevation ever on the tandem) in Lassen Volcanic National Park and encountered big snow, 30 ft. deep. Warmed up at sulfur pots on descent, warm but stinky.
-Blew out the electricity in our room at the Antlers Motel in Chester, CA when an alarm clock shorted out. Bang! Dark.
-Descended from Canyon Dam, CA – Greenville, CA, 11 miles, at 30-40 mph.
-Took two days off and explored Truckee, CA with our Warm Showers host.
-Biked around the south end of Lake Tahoe and entered Nevada at South Lake Tahoe.
-Ended our trip on July 4, 2019 in Fallon, NV after bicycling 1,456 miles. The bike had a loose rear hub which required a bike shop to fix and there wasn’t one in town. There were also too many other minimums.
-Shuttled ourselves and the bike to Reno, NV where we spent several days with extended family. Explored the area in a Porsche Boxster, rested and recovered for the drive home.
-Arrived home in Green Bay, WI on July 12, 2019 after exploring more of the country we hadn’t seen before, particularly parts of the Oregon Trail which some of my ancestors traveled in the mid-1800s.
Why We Abandoned
As our friend Diane Jenks from the Outspoken Cyclist Podcast says, “In bicycle racing and bicycle touring, there is no shame in abandoning, it is simply part of the sport.” (Diane interviewed us several times during our trip.)
On July 1, 2018 Tracy was hit by a car! She was riding her city bike only three miles from our home when a motorist failed to stop for a stop sign and did not yield the right of way to Tracy. The motorist received citations for both violations. Tracy’s bicycle was damaged, and her helmet cracked. She suffered soft tissue damage, whiplash, a concussion, and a complex tear of the medial meniscus of her left knee. She had surgery to repair her knee on August 13, 2018. Tracy spent the next nine months rehabilitating her knee and was cleared by her orthopedic surgeon to do the trip.
During the trip it became obvious that Tracy’s knee was not the same as it had been on previous trips. She had less power, an issue in the mountains, and the knee was becoming progressively sorer.
Too Many Mountains
We love bicycling in the mountains and have successfully ridden them on many occasions. However, this trip was different. In our quest to bicycle our final 21 states, we had chosen a route that took us along the length of two mountain ranges instead of directly up and over them. The repeated climbs and technical descents were taking their toll on us both physically and mentally.
California Highway 89 was one of the scariest roads we have ever ridden from a traffic standpoint. And, we were on it for roughly 300 miles. Days and days. It was beautiful, but we didn’t see much of it. We were too busy watching for traffic. The road was two lanes wide, narrow, with no shoulder most of the time, twisting, mountainous, and there were lots of logging trucks traveling in both directions.
At one point an oncoming logging truck pulled into our lane to pass a line of slower moving vehicles. Our lane, at approximately 11 ft. wide, was too narrow for us to share with the 8.5 ft. wide truck. (Our handlebars are about 2 ft. wide. You do the math!) With no shoulder on the road, my only choice to avoid a head-on collision was to dive the bike into the 10 ft. deep ditch and take our chances. Miraculously, just before the point of no return, a slow-moving vehicle pull out appeared and we were able to avoid almost certain catastrophe. It took us several minutes stopped in the pullout to regain enough composure to continue the ride. We really didn’t have much choice.
There are always parts of a bicycle tour which are less than ideal and thus anxiety producing. Narrow roads with high-speed traffic are usually the culprit. Fortunately, we are well-trained cyclists with an abundance of experience, and we know that, even under the most difficult of circumstances, the chances of us being involved in a crash are very small. Also, the bad stretches usually don’t last long which allows us to regain our wits and nerve and continue riding.
In the past, no matter how difficult the previous day’s journey, we have always woken up in the morning excited to get back on the bike. On this trip, particularly for Tracy, the mornings often brought the dread of more extreme climbing, descents, and dangerous roads. For me, the dread had more to do with how unfair it was that Tracy should have to relive her crash every time a car passed us too closely.
Our tandem is a 2000 Santana Arriva with over 60,000 miles of loaded touring on it, not to mention day and training rides. The bike is in great shape, but I often joke that the only thing original on it at this point is the frame.
The bike took a beating on this trip:
-A couple of the teeth on the large chainring were damaged when we shipped the bike from Green Bay, Wisconsin to Bellingham, Washington, but we were able to fix them, and the bike was in ship shape before we left.
-Loose spokes on our new wheels plagued us early in the trip, but we eventually got them tensioned appropriately for the load we were carrying.
-Flat tires are a normal part of bicycling but having two rear flats in the same day was unusual. Never happened again.
-I dropped the chain during a long steady climb and it jammed between the bike frame and the small chain ring. I had to remove the chain rings to fix that one. Glad I knew how and had the tools.
-The disk drag brake failure in the mountains outside of Detroit, Oregon was epic and terrifying. Ultimately, we discovered that the brake pads were worn out. Coming from very flat country, I had never needed to replace the pads in the past, so I never thought to do it before this trip, or to carry an extra set of pads with us. I do now.
-While trying to control the bike with just the rim brakes when the drum brake went out, I cracked off part of the housing of our right shifter/brake lever. The part literally fell into my hand during the descent. Since I couldn’t think of any extra parts in a that piece of the bike, I held onto the small piece of plastic. Turned out the bike works just fine with out the small plastic part that covers the spring in the shifter. We still ride it that way. Who knew.
-On a long steep climb Tracy kept hearing a rubbing noise coming from the back of the bike. Upon inspection, we discovered that the sidewall of our rear tire had failed, after 1,300 miles, and the tube was bulging out and rubbing on the frame. Usually when this happens the next sound you hear is, BANG! But we managed to fix it with a spare tire before that happened.
-Finally, as we rode to Fallon, NV on our last day, the rear end of the bike started to feel loose, a very strange feeling on a fully loaded tandem. It’s an even stranger feeling for Tracy who sits almost directly over the rear wheel. I ultimately decided that the rear hub was loose but decided not to fix it, if I could, because we had decided to abandon the trip, for now.
None of these mechanical issues were deal breakers in and of themselves. We had survived Highway 89 and would never have to bicycle it again. The bike could always be fixed. We would eventually get out of the mountains but, Tracy’ knee and our individual and collective anxieties were still issues. It was time to head home.
I like to tell people, “We had 7,000 miles of adventure in 1,456 miles, and that was enough.”
We are not done bicycle touring; in fact, we miss it already. We plan to use the winter to regroup, rebuild our bodies and minds and plan for the future. We will keep you posted.
What We learned
Go when you can, it could be taken away from you in an instant.
Our Next Presentation
We will be doing a free public presentation about this trip on November 21, 2019 at the Ashwaubenon Community Center, 900 Anderson Dr, Ashwaubenon, WI 54304. The event will begin at 5:30 pm with book signing and sales, followed by the presentation at 6:00 p.m. Please join us if you can!
Our Book – “Coast to Coast on a Tandem”
If you enjoyed following us on this adventure you will love reading about our first unsupported cross-country ride along the Northern Tier of the USA as chronicled in our book, “Coast to Coast on a Tandem.” The book is available on our website (www.webike.org), Amazon and at several local retailers and makes a great Christmas gift. Enjoy the ride!