Jackson, WY

Day 41-47 down days in Jackson

Originally we had planned to spend about five days in Jackson, well five turned into seven pretty quickly. It was great to relax and enjoy one of my favorite places to visit in the U.S.  But it is also a tough place to visit as it’s where Kelly and I went on our first vacation with her family.

I wasn’t sure how the memories would come once we got to Jackson. Kelly and I came in the winter and spent much of our time on the slopes, but the town hasn’t changed and many of my friends we saw when we visited were there again.

I got to see my college roommate Nick and his lovely Fiancé.  Kelly and I got to spend time with Nick the last time I was in Jackson and it was great to get to spend so much time with him. 

We stayed with our good friend Mike Colby and his brother Steve for the whole week.  I’m not going to go into too much detail, but it was like a vacation within a vacation.  Our friends Chris and Jeff flew in from out of town for the first 4 days and we went hiking in Phelps Lake, jumped off a massive rock, camped and hung out with a bunch of Mikes friends, got to see the figure 8’s car racing, saw some bears, drank some beers, played a lot of ping pong, ate a lot of food, got some work done, played some soccer, and just kicked it for the whole week.  It was a memorable time and a great place to spend our longest amount of down time.  

It was good to be in a place too where memories of Kelly didn’t involve cancer.  We had been dating for a little over a year when we went to Jackson and we had such an awesome time when we were there that the memories I found to be enjoyable.  Yes, tough to have to remember, but being back seemed to have brought some extra vividness to the memories and I am happier for it.

Miss you Muppet

Matteo

Big days are great days.

Jackson, WY

Day 40

115 miles

When there is a will there is a way.   We got up and left probably the earliest we’ve had all trip.   We were 115 miles out from Jackson and our good buddies Chris and Jeff were getting into Jackson today.  If we made it, we would have made it from Seattle to Jackson in 13 days, ahead of schedule and allowing us to overlap with our friend’s trip exactly.

From Island Park, our first stop was Ashton.  I felt good for the most part of this early ride until the climb into Ashton, where Erik and Ryan definitely had more in the legs.  Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten an entire bag of Doritos, ramen, and multiple snack packs the night before.  So they got a good lead into Ashton, where I met them at a gas station to get some snacks and water. 

From Ashton, having 40 miles down already, our next way point was Driggs, ID, 39 miles through rolling potato fields, millions of grass hoppers with the mountains in the foreground.  I took off a head of Erik and Ryan, still not feeling great.  They caught me about 45 minutes into the ride and I eventually met them in Felts about 7 miles before Driggs.  Slightly before getting to Driggs, I was on the phone with my buddy Nick who lives in Jackson, letting him know our ETA, when what I believe were two Australian Shepherds ran out into the road, barking, growling and essentially hunting me down.  The one started to try and bite my foot while I was pedaling.  At one point I found myself in the middle of the road, doing about 20mph with this dog in tow, with cars coming in both directions, oh yeah and holding my phone up with one hand.  The lead dog eventually gave up.  I got to Driggs and waited at the gas station we had agreed upon.  When Ryan and Erik showed up the first thing Ryan asked was if I threw my sunscreen at those dogs.  I didn’t realize it, but it had fallen off my back rack and exploded over the road.  They had a similar encounter that resulted in Ryan having to decide how bad it would be if he kicked the dog to get him away, he didn’t have to though, but it was a definitely one of the more intense moments for us both on the bikes.

From Driggs it was another 8 miles to Victor from which we would start our climb to the top of Teton Pass and our highest point of the trip.  Victor is at 6,200 feet and the pass is just over 8,400.  It’s not the most elevation change we’ve encountered but much of the climb is at 10 degree grade and if you stop pedaling then you either fall over or start going backwards then fall over. 

It rained a little bit on the way up, but we were able to stop and get a good photo in front of the Welcome to Wyoming sign before continuing up to the top, where just after Erik and I’s arrival, our buddies Mike and Chris showed up with beers.  We got to cheer Ryan on for the last stretch of his trip, got some great photos in and got ready for an awesome descent into Jackson, averaging over 40mph the whole way down.  When we got to the base of the pass in Wilson, the skies decided to finally really open up and we did the last 6 miles in a down pour.  We could have cared less, 115 miles was my second biggest day and Erik and Ryan’s largest and we had beat our buddy Jeff into town.

We got settled at our good friends Mike and Steve Colby’s house, got dried off and got ready to enjoy a full down week in Jackson, WY.


Wind, the ultimate equalizer.

Island Park, ID

Day 39

80.53 miles

We climbed out of Virginia City, it was steep and a good climb to get the legs pumping, and with all climbs, there was a real nice downhill into Ennis, MT afterwards.  From Ennis we went south down 287 along the Madison River.  I have to say it was a pretty ride, but this turned into the toughest ride of the trip.  We faced headwinds of plus 20 mph without break for the rest of the ride on 287 and it took us over 5 hours to go the 40 miles to where we would pick up route 87 south for the final 20 miles into our destination in Island Park, ID.  We would be staying at a gentleman’s get away house/ man barn.  It ended up being such a long day, pedaling for over 8 hours, that when we finally arrived it was dark out. 

I have to say wind is the ultimate equalizer.  As great of bike shape as we are now in, it just beats you up no mater what.  It can be completely flat, even down hill, and you'll be in a low gear peddling hard just to maintain 6 or 7 mph.  It beats you up mentally and really doesn't provide nearly the rewarding feeling you get from a big climb.

In short, we hate the wind and it seems like we've had so many more head winds than tail winds, maybe that will change once we head east, but im not planning on it.  When we went north up the coast they were in our face, and now heading south through Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, they are into us again.

 This is Ryan's "are you kidding me with this wind?" face.  Entering hour 6 of riding into it, the sun was starting to set, it was cold and we were beat.

This is Ryan's "are you kidding me with this wind?" face.  Entering hour 6 of riding into it, the sun was starting to set, it was cold and we were beat.

When we arrived at our destination, the owner’s son was there with a few friends celebrating a bachelor party for one of their buddies.  They were a younger group and when I got there I could tell they were nervous, so I broke the ICE.  “Listen guys, it’s clear you are all intoxicated and you’re hoping your one friend is going to handle all the talking, it’s ok though, we don’t care”.   They all immediately relaxed, I was confused as to why they were so nervous until they explained they were all under 21.   Ahh to be young.

We explained to them that we were exhausted from the ride and probably would just shower, eat and call it.  Well half of them passed out drunk before us any ways.  It was a very nice place to stay, we all had our own beds and got a good sleep before getting up early to tackle a big next day.

It's a small world after all.

Virginia City

Day 38

109 miles

We left Jackson, MT fairly early from what I can remember given the big day we were planning.  Originally we thought we would make it to Alder, MT, instead we pushed on to Virginia City.

The trip out of Jackson, MT took us up through Big Hole Pass (7,055 ft) and then Badger Pass (6,755 ft), on our way to Dillon.  We passed a group of bike tourers headed the other way and chatted for a while.  It was nice to hear about someone else’s adventure.  The climbs on the way up to both passes weren’t terrible, I would go as far to say they were enjoyable.  I growing to love climbing, which I know sounds nuts, but it’s the most rewarding when you get to the top of a pass, have exerted all that energy, and know you are going to get to cruise downhill.  On our way down from Badger Pass we all set speed records on our bikes with Ryan topping out 54.6 MPH. 

When we left Dillon we picked up what was most certainly our most heady tailwind of the trip.  We’ve had so many days with the wind in our face, our thoughts were maybe we were finally going to have the shoe on the other foot. 

From Dillon to our next city, Twin Bridges, was 28 miles.  We headed out at well over 20mph but quickly got nervous as we could see two very nasty storms on both our left and right seemingly moving to converge right over us.  We peddled hard, essentially attempting to shoot the gap on our way to Twin Bridges and covered the 28 miles in just over an hour and ten minutes.  We got to town and waited for the storm, but it never came, seemingly just passing us by.

So we headed out to our final destination of Virginia City, which involved a headwind and climbing. We passed through a sort of ghost town on the way, which was very cool.  It was a long day, but we finally made it. 

 Just at the end of Nevada City, MT.  This place is a ghost town in its truest since.

Just at the end of Nevada City, MT.  This place is a ghost town in its truest since.

Virginia City is a very “Western” looking town and we swung into the local restaurant to grab dinner where our bartender/ server, Matt, turned out to be a warm showers host!  We had some steaks and beer and hung out until he was off his shift.  It rained that night so it was great to have a roof over our heads. 

After Matt’s shift we headed to the local watering hole to grab a quick night cap, where Ryan ran into a girl he went to high school with in Wellsville, NY.  Probably our most “what a small world” encounter of the trip.

Miss you Muppet

Matteo

I crashed my bike into a ditch, but I don't care! I love it!

C2C4K

Jackson, MT

Day 37

76 miles

1,704.6 total miles

We got up and said goodbye to our gracious host and headed out for the day.  I don’t recall the winds being terrible to start, but once we got to Conner, MT it was time to mentally prep for some climbs.  Today had us going through two passes on our way to Jackson, both of which would put us at our highest points for the trip.  We started with Lost Trail Pass.  When we left Darby we were right around 3,900 feet above sea level, Lost Trail pass would put us just over 7,000 feet.  I did the climb which was probably about 2000 feet of elevation change from when the grade kicked in, in 1 hour and 15 minutes.  There were some switchbacks where the wind would pick up and slow you to a crawl, only to propel you when you made the turn back.  The legs are improving immensely as the previous climbs all seemed harder and to take longer but weren’t nearly as long or nearly as much elevation.  Unfortunately while we are the highest we’ve been elevation wise there really wasn’t much of a view. 

 Continental Divide crossing numero uno!

Continental Divide crossing numero uno!

We pressed onward on a much shorter climb to take us to the top of Chief Joseph Pass.    This brought us up to 7,241 feet.  We stopped and grabbed some photos and then got pumped to head downhill.

I had no idea what awaited us and also what awaited me.  A few minutes later, in a much misguided attempt to turn Erik’s light off while descending at about 20 mph, I crashed my bike hard into a ravine/ large ditch.  According to Ryan I performed a complete barrel role and while upside down manage to throw my bike away from me, paniers, camera, shoe, flying every which direction, I managed some small road rash, a dent to the pride, but got up and continued on.

Chief Joseph’s Pass took us into Big Hole Montana and I now understand why the gentleman at adventure cycling loved riding through this area.  The sky is big and the views are spectacular.

We stopped for pizza, as recommended, in Wisdom, MT before finishing the ride into Jackson, MT.  The pizza was not good and the service was blunt.

Jackson however was great.  We stayed outside of an old hotel that is currently being renovated.  The owners were super nice and we had a great sunset.

Miss you Muppet,

Matteo

MEAD!!

C2C4K

Darby, MT

Day 36

75 miles

1628.6 total miles

We got up early, got packed and headed south back into Missoula to run a quick errand at the post office.  We then made our way around the block to the home of Adventure Cycling Association. Adventure Cycling is the organization that made the maps we used for our travels up the coast, and whose maps we will be using for other sections of our trip.  They are in many ways the leaders in all thing bike touring, not just for their great maps, but for campaigning for better biking facilities and routes.  It was great to stop by their headquarters, get our picture added to the wall, get some free drink and snacks, and chat with one of their main map builders about our own route and ideas.

From Missoula we headed south along Adventure Cycling’s Trans America route.  75 miles is no longer a long day, until you realize it’s into the wind and uphill.  The prevailing winds in this part of the country are unfortunately going to be headwinds, luckily we’ve been training. 

As we headed south from Missoula the landscape in many ways was meh.  We were told the ride through the Bitterroot valley would be pretty, maybe we’ve just seen too much of spectacular that it takes more than some trees, hills and water to put me in awe.  The gentlemen at ACA however said it was his favorite part of the Trans Am route.  Maybe there is more to see as we get further south. 

We finished the day in Darby, a very nice little town, where we were staying with our host for this night Patrick, Haley and their daughter, Aubrin.  When we got to their house we were greeted by Patrick cooking fresh venison burgers on the grill and Aubrin, just shy of four years of spit fire, running around and showing us how she can ride her bike without training wheels.  We got settled and I was asked to go to the garden and grab some lettuce for dinner.  I agreed immediately and confidently, but secretly as I headed into the relatively large garden just kept thinking, “ok Matt you can do this, lettuce”.  “Nope those are definitely tomatoes, not sure what that is, ok this looks like it could be lettuce, here gores nothing”.  I indeed picked the lettuce!

We sat down and had a great dinner including a large shandy (stella and lemonade) which was delicious.  After words we got ready for bed and Haley put Aubrin to sleep.  At this point the three of us got to sit down and chat with Patrick more about Hidden Legend Meadery, where he and his family make award winning mead.  Below are my cliff notes from that moment.  But to start, mead is alcohol made from honey and its amazing.

Logo is Torbo the dwarf

Bee’s make different honey based on the plants they use to make honey (light, Dark, etc)

Light Mead (pure honey Mead, only honey but has complexities, like white wine), Dark Mead, Spicy Mead. These are contemporary meads, composed of knapweed, hearty and bitey, 2-4% sugar. Subtly of honey, marketed toward wine drinkers.

Not necessary to swirl

We tried in order, Elder berry mead, Huckleberry mead, Chokecherry mead, Maple Mead, Peach Mead all tailored to be like drinking wine.

Don’t need to clean glass.

Honey is its own stabilizer

Traditional Mead next

Kings Mead - honey, clover honey, 7% sugar.  Gives the nectar flavor.  This is amazing!!

Cyser - Honey and apples

Pyment – Kings mead blended with Merlot and Cab red wines

Melomel – Cherries right behind mead distillery.

Home Made

Buckwheat honey

Needless to say we tried a lot of mead that night and I was definitely feeling it the next morning.  It was wonderful to share the experience with Patrick though.  His passion for his work is evident in a way that makes you realize it’s the best way to live.  My favorite was the Kings Mead, it’s remarkable how smooth it is and most certainly will be added to the bar when I get home.

Check them out at hiddenlegendwinery.com and do yourself a favor and order a bottle.

Miss you Muppet,

Matteo

Missoula

C2C4K

Missoula

Day 35

33.6

1553.6 total miles

I got up first, got packed up and went into the café we were camping behind for breakfast and ordered what has become a staple for me.  Two eggs over easy, bacon, sausage, hash browns, wheat toast with grape jelly and either a stack of pancakes, French toast, or a waffle.  It’s a biggie and is usually good for fuel for the first 30 – 40 miles.  When you ride as much as we do, it’s almost impossible to eat enough, yet somehow I’ve yet to lose weight.  Ryan on the other hand has slimmed down, and I believe will be a full 15 pounds lighter by the time we get to Jackson, WY.  While today’s ride was only 33.6 miles, it sucked.  We biked into a heavy headwind and uphill for the first 20 to 25 miles at a pace of about 7 to 8 mph.  It was slow and not the “light” day we were hoping for.  We are also heading south now and were under the impression that we would worse case have a side wind, best case a tail wind, after having dealt with northern winds all the way up the coast.  Unfortunately in this part of the country southern winds dominate and can get fairly heavy at times.  Luckily the last 10 miles or so where downhill, with one section having enough grade were my computer said I got up to over 48 mph. 

We grabbed a hotel for the day/night.  Showered, did laundry and grabbed a cab to head out for some food and beers.  Missoula is a college town as far as I understand, so a Sunday in the summer is a pretty slow time, but it’s a nice town and we hopped around a bit before deciding to call it a night, the only problem is a cab wasn’t available for an hour and a half.  Ryan tried convincing the Pita Pit delivery guys to give us a ride while I attempted to hitch hike numerous times.  We were both unsuccessful so we went back to the bar we started at, grabbed some cookie pie deserts and beers and waited it out for a cab. 

Bison Inn Cafe

C2C4K

Ravalli

Day 34

92.5 miles

1520

I woke up, tried Erik and Ryan again with no luck and came to the conclusion that they had to be in Murray, and I just missed them.  So after some quick laundry at Bryan and Kevin’s and huckleberry sour dough waffles, they put my stuff back in their truck and we headed back to Thompson Falls.  No Erik and Ryan, so they graciously agreed to keep driving back up the 20 miles to the top of the pass.  No Erik and Ryan, no Erik and Ryan and then, 200 yards or so from the top, there they were, just having started their decent.  We stopped the truck, I got out, and we started our journey to Ravalli for the day, which would put us 35 miles north of Missoula, the home of Adventure Cycling.

I was most certainly exhausted this day, the 128 miles the day before and not getting much sleep, wondering about where those two were and how it really was my fault I was in the position I was, I wasn’t sure how another big day would go.  But the first 20 miles were essentially all downhill and while the next 72.5 had some small climbs in them, we made good time.  It also helps that the ride followed the Clark Fork River, which joins with the Columbia River.  The Valley offers beautiful views, with the road taking you through reservation before hitting Ravalli.

The Clark Fork River provided views like this all day.

We got in just as the sun had set and set up camp in the dark behind Bison Inn Café.  The owner is a warm showers host, but was out of town for a powwow.  He said to make ourselves at home behind the café though and we could use the spigot in the back for water. We made pork chops and veggies before calling it a night.

My attitude these last two days has been rough. This trip has been instrumental in my day to day mentality, my ability to miss Kelly but without breaking down or feeling completely hindered and sad about it. But these last two days have been significantly tougher than any of the others of our trip.  I am as physically healthy as I have been all trip, but I guess it still comes in waves.  I did my best to not take it out on Ryan and Erik and they did a great job of not over reacting to my shortness on things I normally wouldn’t be and my desire to be alone, but it’s not a fun place to be and it’s not a fair place to be.  It was good to be back together and camp with them for the night.  To get back to a routine I very much enjoy.  Erik and Ryan have been close friends, best friends, for a long time and have been such great friends to me and have been the reason I can go on this adventure, a trip of a lifetime many would say.  It’s tough when I think about what it would have been to have my best friend on this ride, but I know she is with me in spirit and I hope she is enjoying the ride.

 Our home for the night.  Apparently they have had some issues with Rattle Snakes!

Our home for the night.  Apparently they have had some issues with Rattle Snakes!

Miss you Muppet

Matteo