July 22: Reflections on Stage 1

Hello everyone. It has been a LONG time since my last post, but I hope to get caught up in this post. I can summarize the ride from Colorado to Alaska in 3 words:

I didn’t die.

That was my main objective, and I accomplished it very well. Seriously, though, this was the most incredible journey I have ever taken. Just imagine the most beautiful, scenic drive of your life (like through the Rockies) and have that continue for 2,500 miles. That is what this journey was. Just a day or two outside of Calgary, the prairie gave way to evergreens, lakes, rivers, mountains and abundant wildlife, and this was all still going strong when I stopped in Fairbanks. If I had continued north, it would have begun to die down a bit as the arctic tundra took its place. Awesome!

I hope some of you get a chance to see this part of the world, especially the Alaskan Highway. But if you do, make certain that you treat the highway itself as a DESTINATION, and not just a road to get somewhere. I was passed by hundreds of people in RV’s everyday who just sped through it all, on their way to some other place… driving past lakes, rivers, incredible fishing and interesting people. I hope wherever they were going was worth what they were missing to get there. Whew!

I have been meaning to post a blog entry for so long now, and kept putting it off, I am now actually in Gibraltar getting ready to start the second stage as soon as the airline decides to send me my bike. Yep–I arrived here but my bike did not. This is not the sort of thing you want to happen on a world bicycle tour. Lets hope it is straightened out tomorrow. I am not sure what I would do if the bike were permanently lost. Probably have to pack it in. That bike and I have been together for so long, it would seem strange to tour without it.

I have a lot to get caught up on, so I am going to just write a short narrative about certain key things.

Stage 2
I mentioned that I am now in Gibraltar. My plan is to look south and to the west of Spain, then cycle up the east coast, through part of France, then Switzerland and Southern Germany. In the city of Freiburg, I will turn east and follow the Danube River all the way to Belgrade. Once there, I have three options: (1) continue along the Danube to the Black Sea, (2) turn north through Romania and the Western Ukraine, or (3) cycle through Bulgaria and into Istanbul, Turkey, wrapping up Stage 2 on about October 10th. My plans are to go to Istanbul, but I will keep an open mind about it.

I know that many of you may think heading to Turkey right now would be a bad idea. Apparently, there is some disagreement about who is running the country. But, you have to look at this from a cyclist’s perspective, not a politician’s. You see, once you get comfortable with the idea of semi trucks zipping past you at 70 mph, 2 feet from your head, 8 hours a day, anything you might hear on the evening news just doesn’t matter much. Political issues aren’t a big deal unless they lead to an increase in petty crime, worse drivers, or an inability to get food or other services.

As a completely hypothetical example, let me put it this way. Imagine that, next November, I were to cycle across the United States. And—now this is just hypothetical—suppose that the people in the US were to somehow elect as president a very charismatic, but otherwise irrational, narcissistic and unstable person. (I’m just saying…) Well, that would be really bad for the United States, right? But for me, cycling along our nation’s highways? It wouldn’t matter at all. Same thing with Turkey. In fact, yesterday in JFK, I passed a long line of people waiting to get on an airplane bound for Istanbul.

I never want to minimize the tribulations that ours or other countries are going through. But, as a cycle tourist, I am more concerned about finding a place to camp for the night and meeting interesting people, than I am about who is in charge of the government.

Speaking of cycling through the US, that is my plan. Assuming I can find my bike, on about October 15th, I will head SOUTH from Boulder to Florida and the Caribbean, and then finish up the tour with a ride across Australia. I really wanted to finish the tour in Boulder, but that would complicate a lot of things. So, I will have to make my grand return to Colorado via an airplane and not a bike.

Oh—one more thing about the ride across Europe. My flight to Gibraltar took me through Casablanca! I had several hours to kill, but did not want to leave the airport. I looked all over the airport, and could not find a single Gin Joint. How do you go to Casablanca and not walk into a Gin Joint?

I also had a long layover at JFK in New York and spent a few hours visiting the 911 memorial. A very moving experience; the memorial was done right in every way. I hope you get a chance to visit and pay your respects.

911 memorial

911 memorial

My heartfelt thanks
So many people helped me through the first stage of the ride, and have been so generous. Words will be inadequate to express my appreciation, so I will only use a few of them. But the feelings behind them are 100% genuine.

  • Thanks to my wife Heidi for her patience and support.
  • Thanks to all of the people who posted encouraging comments on my blog—these got me through the hard parts! Extra thanks to Rich Dixon, who hung in there with me throughout.
  • Thanks to all of the people who graciously hosted me in their homes, particularly those complete strangers that I met through WarmShowers.org
  • Thanks to my doctor, Eric Hernandez at Alpine Woods Medical.
  • And, of course, thanks to my two good friends, Allen Takahashi and Elizabeth Carlisle, who rode along with me through much of the Yukon. I am blessed to know you both.

Some high points of Stage 1
Relative to much of my life experience, every day of this ride was a high point. But some events stand out from the rest, and I will try to describe them here.

1. Reaching my physical limits in the cold Wyoming headwinds. Granted, it did not seem like a high point when it first happened, but upon reflection, I think I will list it as one. I have always believed that we hold inside of us a deep well of reserve—a reserve that will allow you to go way beyond where you imagine your limits to be. This applies to physical endurance, but also to mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of your being. Believing this, I have pushed past my imagined limits on a number of occasions, and have always managed to keep going. Not this time! I found where that actual wall was and I biked straight into it. Exhaustion and hypothermia brought me literally to my knees.

2. Seeing the Northern Lights. One night, I got up briefly and looked into the northern sky—to see this beautiful display of lights and dancing curtains of fire. I didn’t linger, because I assumed that I would see these nearly every night. In fact, I never saw them again. Until this ride, I seriously didn’t realize that this is not a summer event—because it never gets dark enough to see them after about mid-May. But I got to see them this once and it was wonderful.

3. Breaking 40 mph on a steep downhill section. This was scary and very dangerous. But, I had to try it once. I say it is dangerous because you never know what hidden resonance may exist in your loaded bike, and you don’t want to discover it for the first time speeding down a hill. But now that I know it works… 50?

4. In Whitehorse, after giving a lecture, I met a First Nations man sitting on bench. With a quiet voice, he humbly asked me for a dollar. The reason he gave was that he was trying to get $2.50 to buy a cup of green tea. I have to say that I have been in the position of needing a cup of green tea countless times in my life, and more than a few times on this bike ride. So, I have him 5 bucks, Canadian, which made him quite happy. He might have been homeless; I don’t know for certain. I know for certain that I was, and was not even sure where I would be camping that evening. There we were—two completely different people. But in that moment, we had more in common and the differences seemed trivial. As we talked and made eye contact, this man did something amazing. He blessed me. It was a lengthy spiritual blessing in his native language. I have no idea what he said, but I know that he spoke of great things… concepts that would probably be beyond most words anyway. I could feel the power in his blessing as I received it. The power of the spoken word. I will never forget this.

5. Before I gave a public lecture in Riverton, Wyoming a familiar looking man came up to me and said hello. It was my band director from high school who I had not seen since graduation. I confess to shedding tears as I embraced him; it was a wonderful reunion.

I am, of course, leaving out so many experiences but these are the few that come to mind in this moment. I need to get to sleep, so these are the ones that I will list.

The bike and other gear
I did a really good job of packing my bike for the flight home from Alaska. But it was still quite damaged when it arrived on Alaskan Airlines. (Hey, but at least they didn’t lose it). My bike survived 28 years of use and travel by me, but one careless airline managed to break a shifter lever and knock the front bearings out of the hub.

As long as I am ranting on Alaskan Airlines, I need to point out that they booked me on a flight to Denver that required a 13 hour layover. Well, it turns out that they cannot hang on to luggage more than 12 hours (Other airlines don’t seem to have this limit). So, I had to claim all of my gear—including the boxed bike—in Seattle. I figured, no problem—I would just wait an hour and then recheck everything (most likely having to pay a second time). Nope—you can’t check bags more than 4 hours prior to your flight. I wanted to sleep somewhere. What was I supposed to do with my stuff for 8 hours? In the end, I found a storage place that kept my stuff, but charged me about 30 bucks. And, I had to rent those carts 3 different times, for 5 bucks each.

I took my bike to the Boulder BikeSmith, with the instructions to “make it awesome again.” He did not disappoint me; it is now in flawless condition. I got him to replace the stem on my handle bars too, so I will be able to raise them a bit to take some pressure off of my hands.

Speaking of my hands, what’s that about, anyway? They both started hurting in the middle of the same night, just outside of Fort Nelson, BC, and have not quit since. Each morning, when I get up they are quite stiff. I’ve talked to my doctor about it, who arranged a nerve conduction study through a neurologist; I’ve seen a rheumatologist, and two physical therapists. I sleep with braces on my hands to protect the wrists, take anti-inflammatory drugs, and will do daily exercises to keep them loose. But this is still quite a mystery to me.

I made me a little hand massager out of a wooden ball and a chunk of 1/4-20 all-thread. The idea is to attach it between the boards of a picnic table, and roll your hand over it, with a lubricant. I’ll show a picture of it sometime.

Speaking of new hardware, I bought a new tent. Actually, my cousin’s husband was able to repair the zipper on my old tent, but once I got the idea of a new tent in my head, I couldn’t get rid of it. I bought one of the Big Agnes ultralight models. Even with a ground cloth, it weighs about two pounds!

I also bought a new set of collapsable bowls. The pot, REI replaced since the old one broke. I figured I’d go ahead and get the tea pot, a cup and—of course—a shot glass! These all compact neatly into the size of a large pancake.

Sea to Summit

Nesting pots

Nesting pots collapsed

Nesting pots collapsed

Heidi sewed some fabric on the bottom of my shoe covers, which had worn through. This is diaper cover fabric!

Repaired shoe covers

Repaired shoe covers

Finally, I built a set of locks for all of my bike gear. One of the unfortunate downsides of touring by yourself is that there is no one to watch your gear when you go into a store. My local hardware store built me a series of cable locks to loop through the openings of all 4 bike bags, and to also attach those bags to the bike. Simple travel locks with a single key then open them all. It would not stop a determined thief, nor anyone with a good pair of wire cutters. But it does eliminate the grab and run type of thief which is what I hoped to accomplish.

Bike bag locks

Bike bag locks

 

An interlude
One of the reasons I needed to get home the first week in July was to attend a family reunion in Montanna. It was really great to see everyone. The event was held at the Lewis and Clark campground, near Lewis and Clark caverns. This was a place I have been to before: 22 years ago, a friend and I were on a long bicycle tour and stopped for a day at the exact same campground. This being a time before I developed claustrophobia, I decided that a visit to the caves was in order. The entrance is at the top of a 3 mile 9% climb which, according to the park ranger, left most people pushing their bikes rather than riding them. But, after removing all of my bags from my bike, and being in great shape from my daily bike riding, I found the climb to be little more than a bump in the road.

I took a bike with me this time around, and decided that another ride to the top was in order. Well–I made it, but it was actually quite hard. I can only blame it on those 22 years! The view from the top is great!

Looking back down on the campground

Looking back down on the campground

I rode to the top a couple more times during that week. One of the reasons that I love cycle touring is that I get to see things on the road that you would miss while driving in a car. But, sometimes, you miss things on a bike that you can appreciate only on foot. I drove over this stone bridge multiple times–but on the hiking trail, you can see just what a wonder its constuction is. It was built back when people cared about craftsmanship.

keystone construction

keystone construction

 

There is one other story worth telling from this reunion (to an unfamiliar audience, that is). One afternoon, we all took canoes down the Jefferson River. Towards the end, the canoe with my two cousins in it hit a rock and they went over sideways. They managed to get their canoe righted, but it was now filled with water–and a small trout. Probably the only fish I saw the entire day!

In closing, I have to say that I have very mixed and indeterminate feelings about this next stage; that is probably just my head shutting off my heart until I know what the fate of my bicycle is. But I will be sure to keep you posted. This update is being posted using my iPhone and T-Mobile phone plan–the internet connection at the Holiday Inn Express here is almost non-existent, as it was in much of the Yukon.

Scott

8 Responses to “July 22: Reflections on Stage 1

  • Doug Richards
    1 year ago

    Scott, sounds like you are on the adventure of your life! Sorry we couldn’t meet up when you were back in Colorado. Contact me if you end up needing a bike…!

    • Scott Acton
      1 year ago

      Hi Doug, it sounds like you and Carolyn had an awesome tandem ride! Thanks for the bike offer. Actually, I started a local mechanic on building a new bike today. I will have to compromise a bunch on specs, but it is doable. You should come ride through Europe with me!

  • First, writing a post this long on an iPhone…amazing!

    So happy you’re back on the road. Each stage will bring its own challenges, but I’m so encouraged by the lessons you’ve shared so far. Interesting how many of the “highlights” are things that couldn’t be captured in photos because they’re heart experiences.

    Looking forward to the next step. Via con dios, my friend!

    • Scott Acton
      1 year ago

      Thanks, Rich! Actually, I meant to say that I am using the **internet** connection via my iPhone. The computer sees it as a wifi, so I can type normally on my computer. It is amazing just how fast the internet connection is via my phone. It is supposed to be only 128K per second.

  • Craig E Blumenshine
    1 year ago

    Good luck Scott! We’re excited to follow this part of your journey!

  • Kurt Leikvold
    1 year ago

    Scott, it is great to hear from you and to read about your adventures. Thanks for sharing. It has been wonderful to watch your progress on your journey. We’ll continue to pray for you push forward in your journey.

  • Scott Smith
    1 year ago

    Great to hear your update, and thank you for helping us to be a part of your journey.

    Be safe going into the next area of the world. I heard from a friend that is being deployed in Turkey that things are less stable then they have been in the past. This is their second time in Turkey in a few years. On prior deployments, she was allowed to go off the base on her days off. For this deployment, the updated standard is to stay on base 100%. In all ways possible, be smart and be careful.

  • Paul J.Caldwell
    1 year ago

    Scott,
    Renee Gracey told me about your biking trip and just sent me the link to this website. My wife and I will be biking the Danube River Route from Passau, Germany to Vienna, Austria between Sept 16th and the 22nd. We’ll keep an eye out for you if our schedules happen to coincide! If we see you, we’ll be sure to invite you for a meal and a beer. Good luck!

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