We had arrived at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri at 1 p.m. on July 17th. There were paralleled lines of well-wishers, a canopy of balloons, photographers, a band… friends, family, and our grandchildren.
It was a homecoming such as sailors returning from a long voyage at sea might have enjoyed in the days of the wooden tall-rigger ships.
We paused in Kansas City for 3 days. It wasn’t long enough to feel at home, but long enough to regenerate pangs of separation when we left on July 20th. Our grind continued as the next major destination was St. Louis, Missouri. We rode 70 miles to Clinton, Missouri where we spent the night and picked up the west terminus of the “KATY Trail”.
My nephew, Philip, continued with us until Jefferson City, Missouri.
The “KATY” is a rails to trails conservancy project that was initiated by the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway’s 1986 abandonment of a large segment of its right-of-way. Segments of the line were susceptible to periodic flooding that rendered portions along the Missouri River unusable.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources purchased the KATY right-of-way in 1990. By the time of our 2010 crossing 240 miles of the completed Trail continuously connected Clinton to St. Charles, Missouri, mostly following the Missouri River.
The KATY is officially a Missouri State Park. It is the longest developed rail-trail in the United States, featuring 4 restored train depots and 26 trailheads. The hard packed limestone “chat” is suitable for all types of bicycles.
The virtues of the KATY are that it is relatively flat, there are regularly spaced rest stops with toilet facilities, and it is devoid of motorized traffic. However, those virtues come at a price: the limestone “chat” is a coarse sand-like mixture that is like concrete when dry, but spongy when damp.
When wet, it sticks to the wheels of one’s bicycle only to be thrown back upon the rider’s legs and bicycle components. When dry, the dust generated by the bicycle’s passage seems to mimic the exhaust of a steam locomotive.
As luck would have it we had rain the first day and steam room like heat and humidity the rest of the passage. We were treated to the entire spectrum of the KATY Trail experience, swarms of insects included.
At a park in St. Charles, Missouri we were joined by scores of cyclists who rode with us into St. Louis.
We were housed at the Manresa Urban Retreat Center for two nights, enjoying a “rest day” that included cycling to some of the sights of St. Louis.
Special was Father Matt’s celebration of Mass at St. Matthew’s Church, an inner-city parish where he was once pastor.
The grind, now turning south, would continue along another storied river.
…at least Kansas is not flat from the seat of a bicycle.
On July 11, 2010, we entered Kansas embarking on a transit of nearly 500 miles that in 7 days would see us arriving in Kansas City, Missouri. Our route was almost exclusively on old US Highway 36. US-36 opened in 1921 was one of the original pre-Interstate thoroughfares that opening large swaths of the United States to automotive travel. It is not a true cross-continent highway as it begins it’s journey in Ohio and reaches its western terminus 1,400 miles later in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.
I-80 to the north and I-70 to the south have rendered US-36 a lightly travelled two lane country road that connects a string of small communities. In the west where we entered Kansas from Colorado the elevation was just under 4,000 feet above sea-level. By the time that we reached Kansas City, Missouri we had descended 3,000 feet. In the meantime the topography undulated across the plains and prairie land.
We frequently rated the difficulty of a day’s ride by the amount of vertical climb accomplished. In Colorado, Wyoming and the other western states climbs came in one long and very large effort. We found that in Kansas the total of vertical climb made good was equivalent to our experience in the mountain states, just in hundreds of small segments… “kind of a death by many cuts.”
Before the ride began, I had “predicted” to the team that at some point this would become labor. That transition occurred over the course of the 7 days that we crossed Kansas. Joes, Colorado gave us torrential rains.
Norton and Atwood in Kansas repelled us with relentless head winds. Smith Center, Kansas “treated” us to a heat index of 114 degrees. However, we would not be deterred as Kansas City drew us like a magnet. For most of us it represented home and a few days pause with family and friends. For all of us it was the completion of 2,500 miles of our 5,000 mile journey, the halfway point.
The final day ride, 60 miles from Atchison Kansas to the campus of Rockhurst in Kansas City was also special. In Atchison and Leavenworth we were joined by over 100 cyclists. Among those riders was my nephew, Phil Schloss, and members of the “Gravy Train”, cyclists with whom I regularly rode then and still ride to this day.
Smith Center, Kansas had a Dollar Store that I visited for some now forgotten need. As I approached the cashier my eyes were drawn to the impulse purchase rack. For only a dollar I became the proud owner of a bag of 100 huge, life-like, rubber roaches. Think Florida Palmetto Bugs, as seen here in comparison to the last of the plastic imitations that I still possess.
The rubber roaches each came to be known as “Henry”. For the 2,500 mile remainder of the C4C ride they bemused, befuddled, and generally terrorized the riders and occasional non-rider victims. Henry would show up in water bottles, clothing, bags of potato chips… and any other place that I could creatively (and anonymously) deploy him.
Early on I was considered a suspect, but one of the Henrys was overlooked only to be found on a day that I could not have been the perpetrator. My role in these pranks thus remained unknown until I confessed my guilt in Key West, Florida.
One morning in Clewiston, Florida I found a real Palmetto resting on the seat of my bicycle. I took the opportunity to carefully photograph the Palmetto alongside a “Henry”. Removing the fake bug I left the real one in place. Soon one of the riders saw “Henry”. In disgust the rider grabbed him with a mind to show everyone that yet another “bug” had been found. Unfortunately, it was not “Henry” that was held closed in the palm of the rider’s hand, but the real Palmetto Bug. I wish that I could have recorded the yell that pierced the air as the huge insect struggled to escape the rider’s grasp.
At the end of this post is a reflection on a memorable personal experience that also occurred in Smith Center, Kansas.
Next: Missouri’s KATY Trail
Peace Everyone. Pete
July 13, 2010. The Nine Dollar Haircut
Today was hot. Not just hot, but HOT!
“How hot was it, Pete?”
So hot that the roll of my bicycle wheels gave the continuous sound of separating Velcro as the sun-beaten asphalt reluctantly released its grip, revolution after revolution.
So hot that colors appeared bleached into the dull grey of sepia photos by the arc-welder brightness of the midday sun.
So hot that…
Prudently, we awoke early and had the vans packed with our luggage by 6 a.m.. Arrangements had been made with a local diner in Norton, Kansas to accommodate the 17 of us for an early breakfast. The goal was to eat and then be on the road via US 36 to the town of Smith Center by 7 a.m.. 61 miles separated these towns and the prediction was for the temperature to break the century mark. Mercifully, the headwinds of the prior day had moderated into tolerable side winds that had the intermittent character of gusts from the mouth of a blast furnace.
We arrived in Smith Center shortly after noon. Our motel, The Buckshot Inn, was cast in the mold of countless motels that sprang up in the heyday of the old US Highway system. As with its more famous sibling, “Route 66”, US 36 was once a primary link for commerce and travel across the United States. These roads, wonders of the first half of the 20th Century, have long been eclipsed by President Eisenhower’s visionary network of Interstate Highways. US 36 is now mostly frequented by local travelers, huge lumbering farm combines, and today by our bicycles. Most of the motels are gone, but the ramshackle remains of some are still visible as ghostly reminders of an earlier era. The Buckshot Inn survives and thrives thanks to the attention, care, and maintenance of its owners. To our delight, the line of rooms faced a small yard and a blue turquoise concrete swimming pool. The crystal clear water invited us to make its depths our first non-cycling activity of the day.
Refreshed, our focus shifted to finding a late lunch. The urgency of the mornings ride had caused us to skip our usual meal break. Christine and I went into the old downtown area to seek a diner.
Downtown Smith Center is not dead, but like many historic central business districts it is not well. The two and three story brick and stone structures harken to a time when a building’s name and year of “birth” were prominently displayed at the top and on the cornerstone. One such building in Smith Center is the Shite Building, 1888. Another, The First National Bank building, displayed “Founded 1886, Erected 1930”. That was a tough year to build a bank, but clearly The First National Bank had successfully weathered the adversity of the Depression. Faded paint indicated the character of some of the long gone businesses. Much of the former commerce has been replaced by antique and secondhand stores. A modern addition to the bank facade informed us of the time, 2 p.m., and the temperature, 101.
We ate at the Second Cup Café, where $6 can still buy you a large tenderloin sandwich with all the trimmings, and a piece of homemade pie (Apple, with Maple flavored crust, fantastic!). A patron asked if we were with “the cycling group”. After a pleasant discussion with her and the café owner, she smiled and gave us a $5 donation and a “God Bless You”. We left the café and were again assaulted by the wall of heat. Across the street I saw a small, faded barber’s pole mounted next to the door of an old and timeworn storefront. “Paul’s Barbershop”. It had been over 6 weeks since my last haircut, and curiosity got the best of me. I crossed the street to peer into the window. Over the years the glass had lost its clarity, etched by countless dust storms. I shaded my eyes against the glass in order to better see within. I beheld not just a barbershop, but a living “barbershop museum” with one of our riders, Jeremy, in the barber’s chair.
We entered the shop. It was a “three chair” store, each of which was a creature of cast iron, nickel, porcelain and leather nearly 100 years old. Jeremy was in the center chair, but what immediately drew my eye was that the chair to the left was a fully functional chair in miniature… the perfect size for a 5 year old and elevated to the perfect height for Paul the Barber. This tonsorial “throne”, fit for any young prince, differed from its larger brothers only in the absence of the long leather razor strops which hung from the full size chairs.
“Atmosphere” was provided by a mahogany encased, single dial radio which still used vacuum tubes to amplify the broadcast signal. An older console version stood near the back of the store. The service counter displayed bottles of men’s grooming products such as Vitalis Hair Tonic, Krew-Kut, Hask Hair Tonic, and a few other brands that I had thought long extinct. Behind the counter was a very old ornate white and chrome cash register… the kind that shoots little metal “tombstones” up at the sound of a bell to announce the amount of the transaction. I would soon learn that the register remained in use. Then there was Paul, the shops sole proprietor.
I suspect that in Paul’s younger days he had been at least 6 feet tall, but 7 decades and bending over countless heads of hair had taken their toll. As he focused his attention on cutting Jeremy’s hair I noticed a tremor in Paul’s hand that seemed to stop just at the moment the clippers reached their destination. Barbers are observant of people and human nature, and Paul was no exception. He seemed to read my mind and commented in a matter of fact manner that he had suffered a stroke but was able to pursue his calling after only 6 months of recuperation. Paul was confident of his skills to the point that he made jokes, “If I make a mistake, the hair will just grow back”… “If you want something fixed, you can always ride your bikes back here”… Paul and I were amused. Jeremy’s half-smile gave just a hint of reserved nervousness. I sensed that my wife, Christine, preferred that I leave my hair to other hands.
Paul put the finishing touches on Jeremy’s hair-cut, and with practiced mastery removed the barber’s cape, shaking the clinging hair to the floor. “That will be nine dollars”, Paul announced. Jeremy and I both must have displayed a micro reaction, as Paul then followed up with, “I could do it cheaper, but only if you fellows pay my bills.” Now, it has probably been over 30 years since I had a $9.00 haircut, and here Paul had assumed we were suffering sticker shock.
I took my turn in the chair. Paul went to work as a craftsman should, with calm practiced confidence. We talked as he cut.
“So you fellows are Catholic. Well, I’m Lutheran, which is kind of watered down Catholic.” He stopped and chuckled.
“Was a time there weren’t many Catholics in this area, but there are sure a lot of them now”. He was making a matter of fact observation. There was no animus in the statement.
I asked Paul for a recommendation for a dinner restaurant. “Well, I prefer to eat with Mom (his wife) at home, but I suppose if I had to eat somewhere else it would be Putches or Duffy’s downtown here.” We ate at Duffy’s, and Paul’s recommendation was spot on.
I learned that Paul and his wife had celebrated 50 years of marriage in June. They had two daughters, a son, and one grandson. This was Paul’s second barber shop and he had been cutting hair in his “new” shop since 1962. He confirmed that the chairs, register, and fixtures predated his arrival. It was at this point that Paul became serious. “There have been many people over the years who have offered to buy my chairs, cash register, and other items.” He and “Mom” had talked about it, but it just didn’t seem right. The shop was his business and his life. He just couldn’t see parting with it piecemeal. With sadness he remarked that in front of the shop there once stood a tall barber’s pole that was as old as the shop itself. About 8 years ago some fellows passing through town wanted to buy it. Paul politely declined to sell. “I was in the shop Saturday, and by Monday the pole was gone. Someone stole my barber pole”. Paul declined to blame “those fellows”, or anyone else. He just remarked, with a hint of sadness that maybe someone needed it more than he did.
“What do you think?” asked Paul. “About the barber pole?” I replied. “No, the haircut! Is it ok?” I smiled and looked in the cracked and time worn wall mirror at the white skinned border that now separated my bicycle tan from my shortened hairline. “Paul, it looks great!” Paul beamed and said, “That will be nine dollars.” I gave him a ten… “Please keep the change”. His smile broadened, broken only by the word, “Thanks!”
As I left the shop I considered that my ten dollars had purchased a haircut and a moment in the life of a good and extraordinary man. Smith Center had the fortune of Paul’s good will for over 50 years. “Mom” had enjoyed his love and company for over 50 years. How rich the community and how rich his family. My 15 minutes in his chair were priceless. I wish I could take my grandchildren there just once. You know that tonsorial “throne”, fit for any young prince (or princess). I wonder if children’s haircuts are also nine dollars. Let’s see, that would be $90.00 plus the tip… What a bargain.
There are three States whose borders are comprised solely of straight lines, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. Of these only Colorado and Wyoming are enclosed on just four sides.
On July 3, 2010, C4C crossed from Wyoming into Colorado. We would spend the next 9 days in Colorado, covering nearly 560 miles over 8 riding days, an average of 70 bicycle miles a day.
In spite of those numbers we found time to connect with friends and family who came out to cheer us on.
Claudia York, a gifted Kansas City trial attorney and friend of the Whittakers and us , had turned in her lawbooks for a career in Colorado as an EMT in Colorado’s backcountry and ski slopes.
The Whittakers were met by two of their daughters, Mary Pat and Sarah.
We were joined by our daughter Renee’ and her three surviving quadruplets, Simon, Britton, and Delaney (Delaney is seen in the arms of C4C rider Sarah Terhune…
and finally Christine and I were met by Greg and Rebecca Tempel, a friendship shared over decades. Much to my (feigned) surprise Greg made an impulse donation to our efforts.
The ride into and through Colorado represented a fundamental change in our experience. Over the preceding 1,700 miles we had climbed from sub-tropical coastal rainforest through a massive river gorge into mountain high country where in spite of being on the cusp of Summer we endured near freezing and freezing temperatures. We had crossed nearly ten mountain passes and crisscrossed the continental divide perhaps as many times. We were strong and our bodies had long grown accustomed to work at higher elevations.
Southern Wyoming and north central Colorado were high plains country. Arid, flat, and empty.
Roads seemed to extend endlessly into the horizon. The crossing into Colorado was marked by one of those iconic “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” signs that beckon travelers to stop and make it a photo opportunity.
Quite a contrast from the more pedestrian Wyoming sign on the other side of the road.
Between Walden and Fort Collins Colorado lay our last crossing of the Continental Divide and the highest elevation of the journey, 10,276 foot Cameron Pass. It was literally all downhill from there.
Our already full riding calendar included a number of events, many of which were courtesy of the connections of our fellow C4C rider, Jason Christiansen. Jason hailed from Colorado Springs where he was CEO of Catholic Charities.
We celebrated Independence Day in Fort Collins and enjoyed a private tour of the New Belgium Brewery which was closed for the holiday.
Kristi Williams left our company having completed her role as a segment rider. We had added two new riders, Bob Russell and Richard Tadlock, both from St. Louis. In Denver and Castle Rock there were significant events held in our honor…
… Castle Rock’s being a pancake breakfast for us and over 400 homeless citizens…
and the next day a picnic where we became a feature in the advertising of a sunglass manufacturer, each of us receiving a pair as compensation.
Between Denver and the Springs we had the opportunity to ride a shortcut through the private lands of the Jellystone Park Resort. The price… another photo-op, this time with the resort’s owner.
Cyclists joined us as we rode into Colorado Springs, a rainstorm hot on our heels.
Alan Beauchamp, another Coloradoan who had provided assistance to us since Oregon, was a well-known rider and organizer of cycling events along the front range. Alan had arranged for a large group of “adaptive” cyclists to join us riding from Castle Rock into the Springs.
Sadly we were beset by a monsoon like deluge that washed out the event in mid-course. These guest riders were forced to shelter under highway overpasses.
On the evening of July 8th Jason had arranged for a private concert and photo-op with Grammy nominated top 40 recording artist Shawn Mullins.
As we left Colorado’s front range for the plains of eastern Colorado and beyond, we found that our highway “adversaries” had changed from logging trucks to the huge implements of America’s farm belt.
We also found that there were other hazards looming on the horizon.
As we rode south from Grand Teton National Park the vastness of Wyoming opened to us. In total, our passage through the state covered over 450 miles.
From elevations so high that ice still covered the lakes…
To near endless rolling steppes where the summer grasses bent to the winds in wave upon wave.
One afternoon we did battle with a thunderstorm that hammered us with lightning and gusting side-winds exceeding 50 mph. Sorry, no pictures as it was everything I could do just to keep my bicycle vertical and on the road.
We prided ourselves on riding our bikes every single mile, however there was one location of mountain road construction where non-motorized traffic was prohibited. Kindly, the construction crew accommodated us.
The variety of geology that surrounded us was an ever changing treat.
One morning we encountered a group of young cyclists on the road. They were “Push America”, another charity ride crossing the United States, west to east. Strong riders every one of them. Having “eaten her Wheaties” that morning our petite Lissa, aged well into her 50’s, decided to join their pace line. For miles she rode with them achieving for the day her fastest average speed of the entire Summer, nearly 20 mph.
We crossed through the Wind River Indian Reservation where we were hosted at Mass at St. Stephens Mission Church. It was striking to see how familiar Christian images of worship had been ethnocentrically translated.
Upon reflection that is precisely what our European ancestors had done for millennia in creating images of a central European Christ, and blue eyed Mother Mary, and a Latin liturgy.
On July 1st (2010) we were hosted for Mass and dinner by St. Joseph parish in Rawlins, Wyoming. Near the church we had encountered another cross-country cyclist who we called “Milwaukee Tom”.
Tom (of course from Milwaukee) had recently completed his service commitment in the US Navy. He had mustered out in San Diego California. Tom decided that he was not yet ready to return to the conventions and restraints of civilian life, so he took his discharge pay and bought a bicycle. Tom outfitted his bike for long distance touring and embarked upon a journey of no particular duration to no particular destination. At our invitation Tom enthusiastically joined us at St. Joseph parish for companionship and dinner.
On the evening of July 1st we were joined by a new segment rider, Tom Dillon from Kansas City. Tom’s first riding day with us was on the 2nd, a tough 66 miles to Riverside Wyoming (pop. 52), on the banks of the Encampment River. Our accommodations in Riverside were rustic log cottages that dated to the early 20th Century. The cabins bore such names as, “Sodbuster”, “Wildcatter”, “Mountainman”, and “Muleskinner”.
A welcome sight was the Bear Trap Saloon, situated across the street.
Needless to say…
Next: Into Colorado High Country.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS: It occurred to me how difficult it must have been for Tom Dillon to join our group of cross-country cyclists, having long solidified into a “family”. Tom’s answer to this challenge was masterfully presented on the morning of July 3rd:
“The Coffee Pot”
I have pondered the inevitable times that we would be called upon to bring “others” into our fold. The “segment riders”… people who wholeheartedly embrace our undertaking, but because of work, family, or other considerations, are unable to assume the obligations of our entire coast to coast journey. What a challenge to suddenly appear, bags and bicycle in hand, among 16 people who have evolved their common experiences into understandings that need no words. We read the shrug of a shoulder, the furl of a brow, the shuffle of a step, as a melody in another member’s day. Sometimes our emotions sing the same song, sometimes another… but almost always with harmony… we are a chorus. Enter the “stranger”, the unknown voice.
Tom Dillon had not bicycled with any of us. He is from Kansas City, but he is a member of another parish. Tom faced the challenge I had pondered… how a “stranger” best enters the ecology of our emotional and physical environment.
Tom arrived in time to join us for the long and challenging ride from Rawlins to Riverside, Wyoming. That day’s ride on July 2nd had seen us persevere over rough narrow roads, through thunderstorms and hail, with headwinds and crosswinds gusting to over 50 miles per hours. There was no time for small talk, and no polite social graces were exchanged. At the end of the day no one was in the mood to “welcome” anyone or anything other than a cold beer, a hot shower, and a warm bed.
At 5:30 a.m. on July 3rd I reluctantly stuck my head out the warped doorway of my cabin and looked through the open and shredded screen. Like “Punxsutawney Phil” of Groundhog Day fame, I was looking to see if there were signs of another day of hell-weather. The sky was ambiguous but the scent was not. My nostrils were assailed by the rich pungent aroma of fresh roasted coffee. There was real caffeine in the air. Not the thin hint of the tepid dark imitation that is served up by most drip machines, but coffee with the raven darkness of abused motor oil. Tom, like the Pied Piper, was calling all of us coffee loving “rats” out of our lairs with the melody of his brew. He stood upon the dew sodden grass, illuminated by the early hint of dawn, with a large old style pewter espresso coffee pot in hand. I and the other “customers” lined up at his bidding, cups in hand. The tribulations of the prior day were forgotten and Tom was instantly “one of us”.
The next few days gave me pause to consider the genius of Tom’s foresight. It occurred to me that anyone entering into an established social order has a limited number of options. One may ignore the group and remain a non-person. One may choose to identify oneself to the group by emphasizing one’s distinctions and differences. And then there is the “coffee pot”. The foresight to think of the others, to strive to embrace what we have in common, what we share, what we understand.
In our cycling group, we are not lawyers, clergy, doctors, social workers, retirees… we are people and we are family. We strive to be “we”, “us”, “our” and never “them” or “they”. As it should be with the human family. It makes it so much easier to help and be helped, to accept and be accepted.
As mentioned in the previous post, in the lower 48 States there is none so sparsely populated as the state of Wyoming. The entire state has a population (580,000) that is approximately the same as Milwaukee, Wisconsin (585,000). There are 31 US cities whose populations are greater than the state of Wyoming. The largest city in Wyoming, Cheyenne its capital, has a population of only 64,000. Over half the state’s population reside in its 16 largest communities, the smallest of which has only 6,000 residents.
What Wyoming lacks in humanity it more than makes up in stark wilderness beauty. Nearly half of the state is owned by the federal government, most of which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service. The “crown jewels” of these public lands are the famed Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
Founded in 1872 by an act of Congress, Yellowstone is the first national park in the world. The Park is nearly as large as the combined area of the states of Rhode Island and Delaware. Yellowstone sits atop the largest caldera (super-volcano) in North America. Half of the world’s geysers and hydro-thermal features are found in Yellowstone, the most famous of which is “Old Faithful”.
10 miles south of Yellowstone is Grand Teton National Park (est. 1929).
The two parks and the surrounding National Forests comprise one of the largest intact mid-latitude ecosystems in the world, home to thousands of species of flora and fauna, many of which are endangered or threatened.
It is little wonder that our four days spent bicycling through Yellowstone and Grand Teton (June 24-27, 2010) are among our fondest moments and memories.
In Yellowstone our Cycling for Change group cycled (cautiously!) past herds of Bison…
We hiked among the parks multi-colored thermal features…
Beheld amazing vistas…
And unashamedly embraced the role of tourists.
On the 26th, 50 miles of roads and a dedicated bicycle path transported us from Yellowstone to Grand Teton National Park. The Tetons are breathtaking. The Park’s majesty is only slightly diminished by being situated in the figurative shadow of more famous Yellowstone.
Over the course of the four days we had only one “event”, Mass at the 1937 log-built Chapel of the Sacred Heart on the shores of Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park.
Following Mass we were hosted by local Catholic groups at an outdoor pot-luck supper.
Under the influence of the blue sky, the panorama, full bellies, and maybe a beer or two, our spirits soared!
Montana is big, very big. At 147,000 square miles it is the fourth largest US State behind Alaska, Texas, and California. Yet it is the third least densely populated of the States, with only 7 residents per square mile. Only Wyoming (6 per sq. mile) and Alaska (1 per sq. mile) are more sparsely populated. Montana was the largest of the 15 States that C4C crossed. (I and a segment rider, Ben Harring, made an afternoon bicycle detour into Arkansas, thus making 16 States for the two of us.) Over the course of 7 days we rode from Missoula to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, covering nearly 350 miles. Remarkably, our transit of Florida was by far the longest at over just over 1,000 miles… a fifth of our entire journey. But I am getting ahead of myself.
On the morning of June 18th (2010) we assembled for our departure from Missoula. Father Matt offered his customary prayer which always included, “Let’s ride with peaceful minds and strong hearts…” and concluded with “God Bless C4C… Buns Up Everyone!” Another customary bell weather for the start of a day was Christine’s instructions to the group which included a summary of the route, lunch arrangements and special instructions. Her departing hug and kiss for me became a symbol of wishes for the safety of all of us.
Along our 51 mile route to Hamilton, Montana, we stopped at the National Historic site of the Flathead Indian Mission of St. Mary’s along the Bitterroot River.
The Mission, founded by Jesuit missionaries in 1841, was the first permanent settlement made by Europeans in what was to become Montana. The grave of Father Antonio Ravalli SJ (1812-1884) is prominent in the Mission’s cemetery.
Ravalli was posted to the Mission from 1845 to 1850 (when it was closed due to incursions by hostile Blackfoot Indians) and he returned in 1866 to head the Mission until his death in 1884. A native of Italy, Ravalli spent 40 of his 50 years as a Jesuit tending to the needs of Native Americans, never to return to his homeland. In addition to Ravalli’s grave monument there is one titled “Salish Kootenai” which honors tribal members whose homeland was the Bitterroot Valley.
The day’s ride featured good roads, some bicycle dedicated paths, and remarkable weather.
I had learned a “trick” that was to serve me throughout the ride: While riding, I could shoot pictures over my shoulder of the cyclists behind me.
A marquis greeting at the motel where we would spend the night was our welcome into Hamilton.
Hamilton’s St. Francis of Assisi Parish hosted us at Mass and dinner. A well-attended presentation about our mission and dialogue with the audience followed.
Except for making miles across an incredibly scenic land there were no public events for us to participate in. Matt had been scheduled on the 19th to make a phone address to a group gathering at Kansas City’s Browne’s Irish Market, but technical difficulties derailed those plans. There was, however, a private celebration that evening; We joined to honor not only the 33 years of marriage that Christine and I had enjoyed, but Lissa Whittaker’s ??th birthday.
The days that followed presented us with a variety of accommodations….
…and remarkable vistas.
There were also some iconic sights that harkened back to earlier times.
The remoteness meant that we traveled many miles without towns or mid-day meal options. The goodness of local volunteers who met us along the route provided us with food, beverages, and welcome rest.
On the 20th we rode under threatening skies. A snowstorm struck Chief Joseph Pass less than an hour after we had crossed…
It was sub-freezing on the morning of the 21st as we departed from Jackson Hot Springs, known to be one of the coldest places in the lower 48 states.
We were told that on average there are fewer than 35 days a year that the thermometer does not at least dip below freezing.
We crossed a number of mountain passes, ascending thousands of feet only to descend just as many into the river valleys below.
Coasting downhill my speed approached and occasionally exceeded 50 mph. At those speeds the utility of a bicycle helmet is likely limited to preserving an open casket option.
62 year old rider John Stigers is a very big man. One might have questioned his ability to sustain those climbs. However, his career as a US Postal Service mail carrier had provided him with the legs of Atlas.
John was not fast, but he was remarkably strong… stronger certainly than the mere mortal tires affixed to our bikes. All of us suffered flat tires over the course of 5,000 miles, I experienced only one. For John they seemed a near daily occurrence. The group stopped counting John’s flats at 20.
June 23rd was especially memorable for Christine and me. On that day, while we were all attending to the maintenance of our bicycles, grandson Peter Nikolaus Schloss was born to our son Peter William Schloss and daughter-in-law Nikola Smith. Little Peter is at least the 6th of my lineage to carry the name Peter since the start of the 19th Century.
Throughout our passage under Montana’s Big Sky we remained mindful that ahead of us lay a tour of famed Yellowstone National Park, experienced from the seats of our bicycles.
The 61 miles that we covered on June 16th (2010) from Lochsa Lodge to Missoula was memorable for the thrill of ascending and topping 5,225 Lolo Pass, famed as the westbound crossing point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805.
This pass through the Bitterroot Mountains was also used in 1877 as an escape route by Chief Joseph during the Nez Perce Indian War. A tribute to the ruggedness of the area, Route 12 upon which we crossed the pass was not completed until 1962.
We enjoyed a brief celebration and hot coffee at the Lolo Pass Visitor’s Center and then what followed was our descent into the Bitterroot Valley of Montana.
This was memorable for the stabbing chill of the miles that followed on the eastern side. It was the kind of damp bone freezing cold that worked its way through every piece of equipment that we wore. The long downhill coast deprived us of the muscle effort that might have generated body heat. Down, and down… fingers and feet lost feeling. Cheeks felt as if they were blistering. Tears streamed from the corners of our eyes and then added insult to injury as struck by the rushing wind they super cooled temples and hairline.
Our arrival in Missoula could not have come too soon, and first stop was the headquarters of the appropriately named Adventure Cycling Association.
Founded in 1973, its mission has been to inspire, empower, and connect the community of bicycle travelers. Adventure Cycling produces and promotes resources for bicycle travel, including maps, tours, gear, and how-to-guides. The Association’s membership numbers over 50,000 cyclists. It has led in the development of the 50,000 mile U.S. Bicycle Route System. We were honored to be given a tour of Adventure Cycling by one of its four founders, Greg Siple.
The details of our cross-country ride, along with a photograph in which Greg joined us, were recorded in the archives of the Association.
Departing Adventure Cycling we proceeded to the University of Montana where we were greeted with hot showers and warm beds for the night, courtesy of the Knowles Hall Dormitory.
As we crossed the United States we were joined now and then by bicyclists who had pre-arranged to ride segments of the journey. The first of these to join us was Dr. Kristi Williams who arrived on the 16th in Missoula. Kristi was well known to all of us for her kind manner and bicycling prowess. She regularly joined the SFX “Flying Fish” riders and had ridden with us on the MS rides and the 2009 Colorado training ride.
The following day, a bicycle “rest day”, presented us with a full schedule of non-bicycle events, including:
A tour and lunch at the Poverello Center. Since 1974 the Poverello Center has provided food, shelter, and outreach services to Missoula’s homeless and hungry.
We also visited Poverello’s Valor House. This modern facility provides housing and support services for up to 17 former armed services members seeking to transition from homelessness into a stable and healthy future. The Valor House program is a 2 year commitment that includes counseling and health care.
Early evening there was Mass at Missoula’s St. Francis Parish and a BBQ dinner hosted at the home of parishioners Don and Mary Gillespie.
Later, a few of us adjourned to a local brew pub. Mindful of the ride that would resume in the morning, our mascot Curtis wisely held to drinking coffee.
Missoula had embraced us with welcoming hospitality. Not surprising given its impressive community efforts to remember those that other communities often forget.