Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Very Best Adventures

Will Shortz is a smart guy. In early 2005 when asked if he had a New Year's resolution he was working on, he replied:

"You know, I don't make New Year's resolutions. If I think of a way to improve myself during the year, I just do it immediately."

That struck me as good advice, advice worth taking to heart and acting on. Note that this is not a lack of resolve, but rather a resolution to act daily with resolution.

Looking back on 2011, I see the results of resolutions. Not big do or die resolutions but intentions that resulted in the actions that filled the days. Christine decided to buy a bike and ride the Oregon Coast. While that trip was wonderful and beautiful, the smile I see on Christine's face every day when she rides her bike is even more beautiful.

In April the idea of riding a bit, every day resulted in my looking more closely at the place I call home and finding the time for small adventures. Adventures are important and adventures happen day by day.

Or in the dark of night. One recent adventure involved riding all night through the longest night of the year with my friends Mark, David, Scott & Brad. Some folks may ask the question "Why?" as in why ride dark roads and trails on a cold night. I could answer with tales from a world made strange and beautiful by darkness, where a herd of elk is glimpsed in a headlight beam, where thoughts of deep philosophic import are shared among friends, where we find a Kelly Kettle can fuse itself to a plastic picnic table even in freezing weather, where true fine dining is found at 3:00 AM in a mini-mart in Fall City and where nothing tastes better than morning coffee after an all-night ride. Those are all answers with their own truth but the truest best answer is the one given by those friends who know the right answer is "Why the hell not?" and ride with you.

And so we ride.

We, who are on the road, must have a code that we can live by. In 2011 my friend Tarik wrote it down and it's good:



Words to live by.

I wish you the very best adventures in 2012.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Santa is Just As Real As Bigfoot

"See, I told you Santa's not real!"

Now I like to think I’m as cynical and jaded as the next guy, but I can’t let this bratty little eight-year-old's comment pass unchallenged as she points triumphantly to the MADE IN CHINA sticker that adorns the head tube of the tiny blue bicycle. Maybe it is the tears welling up in the eyes of her younger brother, eyes that had been filled with only wonder a second ago. Maybe it is the world-weary, lecturing, superior tone of this certain cynical little girl that makes me add her to my own mental NAUGHTY list. Maybe it is the horrified look on the face of the kid’s harried mother that moves me from being a bike mechanic turned bike salesman into something of a story-teller. Maybe it has been a slow Christmas season at the shop and I really don’t want to lose a sale.

Whatever the true story, what I do is open my big mouth. The mom is focused on the little boy, trying to undo the damage wrought by little miss know-it-all’s heartless words, so I direct my words at the small cynic herself.

“Congrats,” I say, “You’ve figured out most of the story.” I am taking a gamble, appealing to the girl's intellectual pride, but when I see a flicker of confusion cross her brow, replacing the wickedly gleeful certainty that was there a second before, I know I have her.

“Of course Santa’s not real,” she presses, “He’s just a lie adults tell to kids. Presents come from Mom and Dad. And stores like this. And China!”

“Yep,” I agree, carefully not contradicting her jaded world-view, “Adults do sometimes lie to kids and I make my living putting bikes together and fixing bikes and selling them to families like yours. That’s all true, but it’s not the whole story...”

The little girl’s BS meter is probably hovering around eight when I start talking, but I can tell a good story when I need to. The little brother stops crying and he and Mom as well as the girl listen as I continue. I have to make this good.

“The whole Santa, reindeer, chimneys, coal in the stocking thing, I mean, come on, who buys that?” Mom is starting to look real concerned at me and the boy is looking confused but the little girl is nodding. I press my advantage.

“But the truth, kid, it’s even wilder than you know. What’s your name?”

“Mary,” the girl replies, unsure where I am headed with this. Truth be known, I am kind of wondering that myself.

“Well, Mary,” I continue, “the Devil’s greatest lie is convincing the world that he doesn’t exist.” The Usual Suspects reference flies right over Mary’s head and Mom shoots me a world-class eye-roll, but I am on a roll of my own and continue. “And the only way Santa can possibly get everything done is with the help of guys like me and little girls like you who figure out that he’s not real.”

Mary is looking good and puzzled now. “But he’s not real...”

“Right,” I said, “He counts on you thinking that.”

“So you’re saying he is real?” There’s a flicker of something other than certainty in Mary’s question. Maybe it’s doubt. Maybe it’s hope.

“Look,” I say, switching conversational gears. Maybe I’m trying to distract her and maybe I’m stalling for time. Maybe I’m drawing on a trick I learned from an old philosopher. “Let’s forget about Santa for a minute, let’s talk about Bigfoot.”

“Bigfoot?” Mary, mom and the boy all ask at the same time.

“Yeah, Bigfoot? Real or not?”

“Totally fake.” Mary is back to being certain.

“Certainly,” I agree, “Made up to sell magazine and movies. And Espresso. There’s a Bigfoot-themed Espresso stand up north on Highway 2. But what does Bigfoot look like?”

“Duh, he’s big. Hairy, with big feet.”

“Yep,” I say, “that’s him. For a completely imaginary creature, you know a lot about him. Now how about a gorilla, real or fake?”

“Real,” Mary replies, “I saw one at the zoo.”

“But a few hundred years ago, nobody had a gorilla in zoo, everybody thought they were fake. Did the gorilla become real when it was captured, or was it real all along?”

“Real all along.”

“Yep and if we never captured one, never saw one, would it still be real?”

“Yes?” Mary doesn’t sound quite so certain.

“Yes,” I reassure her, “and if Bigfoots are very careful, very cautious creatures that are smart enough to mostly stay very far away from men, then maybe those magazines and movies and Espresso stands aren’t entirely fake. A thousand fake Bigfoots doesn’t mean Bigfoot doesn’t exist. Those thousand fake Bigfoots were probably inspired by something, don’t you think?

“I don’t know,” Mary says.

“Neither do I, Mary. Neither do I. But let’s get back to Santa.” I don’t have all afternoon to make this sale.

“If there is a Santa, he can do magic stuff, like fly all around the world in one night and deliver toys everywhere spreading joy. That’s an amazing power. And with great power comes great responsibility.”

“That’s what Spiderman says,” Mary comments, catching my reference this time.

“That’s what Spidey says and Spidey is right.” I agree. “Santa won’t use his amazing toy-making and delivering powers to put hardworking guys like me out of business. I’ve got to eat. And folks in factories making stuff, that’s how they make a living. So Santa helps us out. Santa helps us sell stuff.

“So it’s all marketing...”

“Not quite,” I explain. “Marketing only works if people have money to buy stuff. And a lot of people have a lot less than you do or I do. Maybe they don’t have any money. But if they have something to believe in, somebody who believes in them, then somehow Santa brings them Christmas.”

“Money is tight this year, I’m hoping to sell a few more bikes but if folks can’t afford our new bikes I tell them to try Bike Works where some of my buddies are working like elves to refurbish a bunch of used bikes for Christmas. And just last week a nice old couple were in here buying a couple of bikes for some kids in their church who they knew didn’t have much money. They said Santa told them to buy those bikes. They seemed like really nice people, I don’t think they were lying to me.”

“I still don’t think Santa is real,” Mary insists.

“Good!” I laugh, “He’s counting on you thinking that. There is no way his elves can build all the bikes for all the kids in the world. All the fake Santas in all the malls and all the fake elves in all the bike shops don’t make Santa any less real. Your brother can ask for a bike from Santa, you can ask your mom for a bike from me. Do you think I’m real?”

“I think you’re a very strange man, “ Mary says.

“Yeah, I hear that a lot.”

Mary’s mom comes back later without the kids and buys three bikes.

“OK,” I say as I’m ringing up the sale, “I know the blue one is for the boy and the bigger bike is for Mary, but whose the third one for?”

“Santa,” the woman tells me, “He’ll make sure it gets to someone who really needs it. Merry Christmas.”

Friday, December 16, 2011

RIDE: Short fiction about bicycles

If you are reading this blog the odds are pretty good you're a fan of bicycles and if you're a fan of bicycles, I think the odds are good that you'll find something in Ride: Short fiction about bicycles that you'll like better than the money you'll spend to buy it. Please DON'T buy it just to get a story from me, I give stories away for free all the time here and my little bit of fiction included in Ride will be familiar to my readers. Buy Ride for all the other stuff in there.

The stories in this collection span the world in terms of settings and scenes. Moods range from the darkest nights to the sunniest of days. Some characters are folks you'd want as friends, some you'll hope to never meet. Each story is a ride down an interesting road and every reader will find his or her own favorite. The book opens with a sucker punch to the gut with Paul Guyot's dark masterpiece "I'm Bob Deerman" and many clicks later I read the final screen of Barbara Jay Wilson's "Red Dot" with a big, dumb smile on my face. And Taliah Lempert's illustrations show that books don't have to be printed on paper to be beautiful.

Currently Ride is available on the Kindle or the Nook for $3.99. Kindle software is available for free on wide range of devices and phones, so even if you don't have an e-reader, you can buy and read Ride. And for those of you who want a real paper book with pages, it's available in paperback for $7.99.

To date I haven't written much fiction but I'm proud to have my story included in Ride. Keith Snyder did a great job putting this collection together and reading these stories has set some more wheels turning in my head. Thanks Keith, for taking us along on this Ride.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Opting Out of the Auto Arms Race

Decades ago I made the decision to basically opt out of the automotive world. I still live on the same planet as my car-owning, car-driving friends, but I decided that I could manage to move around on this planet without owning or driving an automobile. This has worked out better than fine for me and I encourage people to enrich their lives by getting out and about under their own power whenever possible.

I recognize that there are certainly times and circumstances where the walking shoe or the bicycle is not the optimal solution to a transport problem and in my own life some of my best adventures have involved the bus or the train, a ferry boat, an airplane or a private automobile. But that last one, the automobile, is the one I'm most wary of. I mostly don't fear the bus, the truck, the train or the plane. They are piloted by professionals, men and women who make their living by motion. But the private cars and SUVs that fill every road we build (because if you build it, they will come), those big boxes of momentum are driven by and large by folks whose job is something other than driving. We have taken fragile, error-prone, very human human beings and put them in charge of a lot of mass.

This is the equation that frightens me:

It's Newton's Second Law and it's the law that matters. It's not the speed that kills you, it's the energy of the system. Mass times acceleration as the physicists say. And we, by an large, keep adding more and more massive missiles to our system. We think we'll make our kids safe by wrapping them in a two-ton SUVs loaded with car seats and airbags. But one bus with 40 kids and a trained driver is a hell of lot safer than 40 distracted soccer moms in 40 Escalades. Making streets where kids can safely walk or bike to school? I think that's better still.

Given Newton's Second Law, am I not endangering myself by not choosing the big SUV as I go out on the mean streets of the city? I'm just bringing a knife to a gun fight. Car vs Bike, hell you can do the math, right?

Maybe not.

Here's an interesting stat:

The majority of fatal crashes involve only one vehicle (61 percent).

Think about that.

I did.

I could say that I'm a better than average driver but the odds are I'm not. By the way, a vast majority of drivers think that they are better than average but, of course, on average, they are average. And half of them are worse than average. That's the way math works.

So I'm my own worst enemy. And adding thousands of pounds to my daily motion? I'm better off if I can avoid it. And then there is all that health, well-being and exercise stuff. I like to walk and bike. I don't like to drive. So I don't.

I'm not bringing a knife to gunfight, I've given up my gun because there's a good chance I'll shoot myself with it. Or I might shoot you. Either way, this shooting people, or running them down if we want to get away from metaphor, it's not a great idea. As the computer noted at the end of War Games, "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."

Yes, I'm just one guy. But I'm one guy not in a car. One less car on the road. And actually, I don't think I was a better than average driver back when I drove. There's at least a 50% chance I was worse. I do know this: I'm better off not driving and I think you're better off with me not driving. So I'm just one guy, but that's something.

I'm happier, healthier and safer since I stopped driving. It's not my place to tell you not to drive, I don't know you or your circumstance. But if you want to drive less, I posted some advice on that subject here.

Gandhi gave the better advice than I ever have when he said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

I'm not doing battle on the mean streets of the city, I'm making my way in the world at the speed that makes sense to me. I've opted out of the auto arms race, but I still keep on rolling.

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Pounced With Fire on Flaming Roads

One of the virtues of age, if we age well, is that we recognize our own past errors and use that information to live better lives in the present. We comfort our failing bodies and look with fondness at our scars with the certain knowledge that we are "older, but wiser" and that "experience is the greatest teacher." But I think (but I may be wrong on this) that often the real lesson we gain from past mistakes is not the simple "don't do that" of the mistake itself, but the knowledge that we were and still are capable of error. The best lesson is not that we were wrong then and are right now, it is the knowledge that we may be wrong now as well. Experience, in my experience, is best used to keep the certainty of ego in check.

But I may be wrong on this.

A young Robert Zimmerman emerged from the frozen chrysalis of northern Minnesota to pen the words that still ring true in my head decades later. On my best days I'm still wary of "lies that life is black and white" and I fear that I'll "become my enemy in the instant that I preach."

And so I'm cautious to write these words. Yet I write them because I think they're important.

I preach the gospel of bicycling. There are folks called to far greater service, who speak more passionately about their passions, who are called to greater missions in this great world and whatever worlds may exist beyond this one, but their missions are not mine. We don't always get to choose our missions and of all the things I'm unclear about, I'm the most unclear as to why bicycles seem to shape and fit the core of my being, but they do. As Stephen King said about why he writes horror, "what makes you think I have a choice?"

So I advocate for bicycles and preach, not of salvation in the next world, but of finding a way in this one. I write of trails and traffic, of gears and gradients, of wheels and wonder. I speak of two wheels and balance.

It is balance that I am thinking of today, balancing what I've been certain of with what I'm still learning. Balancing what I've learned so far with what I'll learn tomorrow.

I stop at stop signs. Always. Full stop, foot down.

Except when I don't.

Let me explain.

Here, in the Seattle metro area and Issaquah where I live, stop signs pretty much mean stop. You stop, you wait your turn, you look, you go when it's your turn to go. If you blow a stop sign, you're breaking the social pact, you're putting yourself and others at risk. So I stop, for my good and what I think is the good of all.

But we don't have stop signs at every intersection. But I have also ridden in Portland, in neighborhoods where there are stop signs at every intersection. EVERY INTERSECTION. Most bicyclists don't come to a full stop at these. Most car drivers don't come to a full stop at these. Like the folks at Campagnolo are alleged to have once said of their beautiful but less than effective Delta brakes, "they are not for stopping, they are for modulating your velocity." These stop signs really don't mean stop, they mean slow down. Pretty much everyone in Portland gets that the norm, the social contract is "slow down and don't proceed like a nut." Here in the Seattle area the stop signs along the road through Marymoor Park in Redmond serve basically the same function. Drivers and cyclists both seem to treat those signs as something I remember from my youth, the Yield sign.

If I'm rabidly foaming at the mouth at my fellow road users and berating them for not coming to a full stop at every intersection, for setting a bad example, I should probably calm down and look at the example I'm setting. I should not pounce with fire on flaming roads. I should ride a few miles on their roads and judge not their actions, but my own.

Or consider sidewalk riding. Those of you in the UK call this riding on the pavement and people in places like New York City get livid when cyclists ride on the sidewalk. It is against the law and it is evil, unsafe and wrong.

Except when it isn't.

The city where I live, Issaquah Washington, is east of Seattle located in a valley at the base of the Cascade mountains. We have wide sidewalks in many places, sidewalks that are part of our multi-use path network. Bicycle riders share these routes with folks who walk, skateboard or roller blade. The rule, the social pact again is the one that I think is good: "don't go too fast and watch out for others." If I was putting up road signs, that is what they'd say.

In some cities, the sidewalks are really not made for bikes. In some bad places, the sidewalks are not made for bikes and the roads are made only with thoughts of cars. In those places perhaps the best thing a rider can do is get off the road and walk with their bike on the sidewalk. And then work to make those places better.

I ride my bike as best I can and I try to offer advice to others that will help them in their riding. I'm pretty sure that I don't have all the answers. I used to think I did but I was so much older then.

I'm younger than that now.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Return of the Mountain Turtle

I feel I can best explain the decrease in blog output here by quoting a fellow who recently explained a long, awkward pause by saying "I've got a lot of things twirling around in my head..."

Actually, I've got a several of projects cooking, things that will most likely see the light of day as ebooks. The project that is the furthest along is an expanded version of the saga I first recounted in The Way of the Mountain Turtle. The expanded version will include more detail of my 2005 Great Divide Race and more training thoughts and philosophy. Also included will be the full story of my 2010 Tour Divide effort.

Many of you reading this followed the 2010 Tour via this blog and read the posts as the race unfolded. I also wrote a magazine-length version which, due to a change in editors at the magazine and the vagaries of print publication schedules, never saw print. (BTW I could do an long, colorful venting screed on working in the print world and why I, for one, welcome the digital age where I can sit at my netbook, say "screw it," hit the publish button and reach readers instantly.

In that spirit, I present the article-length version of the story that is going to get reworked and combined and folding into something bigger, something you may be reading on your Kindle sometime soon. But I'm fond of this version and I want to thank all of you who have stuck with my blog for all these years and who help make my adventures possible. I hope your like this story, I call it:

The Return of the Mountain Turtle


Wednesday June 16, 2010

“Slow down,” the waitress at The Stray Bullet advises, “they weren’t here that long ago.” It’s just after 9:00 AM and I’m shoveling in my second breakfast of the day. Cold Spam and chocolate espresso beans were enough to get me out of the bivy, onto the bike at dawn and 26 miles down a rainy, muddy forest road to this cafe in the tiny town of Ovando, Montana. Now I’m inhaling bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, juice and coffee. It’s what they call a “gunslinger breakfast” here, but I’m no gunslinger, I’m a bike racer.

The race I’m in is called the Tour Divide, a 2745 mile sprint from Banff, Alberta to the Mexican border at Antelope Wells, New Mexico. Forty-six of us rolled into the Canadian wilderness last Thursday on bicycles laden for the journey. We don’t have team cars or support crews, each of us is carrying what we think we need for the journey: clothes, camping gear and enough food to get to the next mini-mart. The race follows Adventure Cycling’s Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, hugging the spine of the Rockies and avoiding pavement as much as possible.

Mike Gibney and I rode together for a bit yesterday and again this morning, talking about the race and telling each other lies that we truly believed at the time. We both talked of pushing on past Seeley Lake last night and I’d vowed I wouldn’t burn up time at the cafe in Ovando. Yet we’d both stopped near Seeley Lake and now I’m here having breakfast. The mountains don’t care what I say or what I’ve planned. In the end, the trail tells me what I need to do and I ignore it at my peril.

Mike and I are veterans of the course, most of the course anyway. This is Mike’s third attempt at the Divide and I’d raced the “short” version (2,500 miles from the Canadian Border to the Mexican Border) back in 2005. In ‘05 I’d been the first person to race the Divide on a single-speed bike. Seven racers started that year and four finished. I came in dead last, but first in my unique division.

As long as my record stood I could tell myself that I had been there and done that on the Great Divide, but last year Chris Plesko rode his single-speed much faster than I ever did over these rugged miles. The course is longer now, including several hundred miles of Canadian wilderness that Matthew Lee has raved about for years. Matthew has won this race more than anyone so I took his “you gotta ride the Canada stuff” seriously. Chris gave me the excuse to race, Matthew gave me the encouragement, but it’s the mountains that gave me the real reason I’m back here riding again. I’m convinced the beauty of these places is best seen from the seat of a bicycle.

I’d told myself that if everything went perfectly, if the weather was wonderful and I was feeling strong, I could beat Plesko’s record. A few days on the trail has knocked that thought pretty far out of my head. I’ve already pushed through more snow and mud then I’d seen in all of ‘05. In Canada, the route descending Flathead Pass was at least as much a stream as a trail and the climb up from the Wigwam River involved dragging the bike up a quarter-mile mud cliff. Galton Pass featured about a mile and half of hike-a-bike through the snow. It was all so wonderful and beautiful but not terrain I could speed through. At least 20 times a day, I’d be stopped by some jaw-dropping vista and I’d dig out my camera, trying to pack this amazing world onto a tiny screen.

I’ve managed to return here thanks to dozens of folks and hundreds of acts of kindness. The story of my first time here, something I wrote down and called “The Way of the Mountain Turtle”, inspired amazing generosity in people. Checks for food, bike parts, time to train and all the rest of what is needed to race came not with a bill but with a common message, “Don’t pay this back in cash. Ride. Take pictures. Tell us what it’s like out there.”

What it’s like out here is wonderful. At 6,000 feet and higher, away from the lights of the city, the stars gleam pure and cold. Snow clings to the high peaks and the shaded places on the trail. Bear tracks mark the same mud as my tires. Elk and deer move silent as fog through the trees and watch me pass with wary, wide-eyed wonder. The mountains are doing their best to remind me that racing does not come naturally to me. I’m the Mountain Turtle. I plod. I take pictures. I’m having the time of my life. I summarized my race strategy a few days ago in a call-in to MTBCast where Joe Polk is doing his annual podcast coverage of the Tour. “I start out slow,” I explained, “and then I back off. I think I’ve lulled Matthew Lee into a total sense of security.”

Matthew is hundreds of miles ahead of me, ahead of everyone. Erik Lobeck is damn near as fast as Matthew, blasting out something like a 150 mile per day pace. My average is closer to 100 miles per day, positively pedestrian by Tour Divide standards.

We’re less than a week into the race and already a dozen racers have dropped out. A team from Great Britain, with great plans and great hopes of a record setting ride, were eliminated by bad navigation and a bad knee. Bob Moczynski crashed on the steep Galton Pass descent and broke his collarbone. The air was too cold and thin for Bob Marr’s lungs, the climbs were too steep for Suzanne Marco’s knees. A torn quad here, a twisted ankle there and two more are gone.

But it’s wrong and impossible to dwell only on the hardness of the land. We all knew this would be hard and we’ve been drawn here to test ourselves, to take some of the toughness of the land and make it part of us. Perhaps it takes a wild trail and some damp nights in a bivy to make me really appreciate the wonder of a gunslinger breakfast.

I finish my breakfast and go up to the counter to pay the bill. After confirming for the waitress that the breakfast was the most wonderful thing I’ve eaten in days, she asks me about the race.

"What do you win?"

Time is short and the miles are long, so I give the easy answer, the short one, the lie.

"Nothing," I say, "we do this for the fun." And I head back out into the rain, on down the trail.


Friday June 18, 2010

I’m just turning back onto the route, ready to roll out of Butte when I hear a voice call out “Hey, Kent!” It’s Rob Leipheimer, flagging me down from the doorway of his bikeshop, The Outdoorsman. “We were tracking your SPOT,” Rob explains, “and saw that you’d gone to get a pork chop sandwich.” I first heard about the pork chop sandwich when I saw the Ride the Divide movie on the eve of the race back in Banff and I knew then that I’d be stopping in Butte for a sandwich. Divide racers run on heavy fuel and the pork chop sandwich is every bit as good as it sounds.

Rob and his crew are giving the NASCAR treatment to all the Tour Divide racers, popping bikes in the repair stand and as quickly as possible undoing the damage the miles have wrought. I almost feel guilty that my simple single-speed has so little for them to work on, but Rob pronounces my Monocog Flight as being “smart”. While I munch on some grapes, Rob fills me in on how the others are doing. There’s horrible mud ahead, mud that ripped the derailleurs right off Erik Lobeck’s bike. “His bike was running perfectly when he left here,” Rob explains.

When I’d raced five years ago, the only updates on the race status were via pay-phone call-ins to Joe Polk. I’d call home when I’d get the chance and talk to my wife and she’d give me a few updates as well, but most of the time I had no idea where the other racers were. Back then, very few people along the course had any notion that a few bicyclists were racing towards the Mexican border. Now, things are different. All the racers have SPOT trackers, small battery-powered devices that relay our coordinates to the internet in real time. People follow the race on the web and talk about it on Twitter, Facebook and other online forums. Although cell coverage is sparse in the back country, in towns smartphones and other pocket-sized devices like my Peek Pronto buzz to life with news, weather and other updates. Folks working in bike shops and cafes along the route all know about the race and recognize us from our haggard looks and high-calorie purchases.


Sunday June 20, 2010

The mud up on the Sheep Creek Divide has been the consistency of Play-Doh but the sign proclaiming the area to be “Impassable When Wet” isn’t strictly true. When my wheels won’t turn, I carry the bike. Walking slow is better than stopping. The rain finally stops and the sun finally shines. I roll again.

The skies south of Lima are blue and this tiny farm road is dry. There are cows everywhere and dozens of cattle guards -- bars across the road surface, with gaps too wide for tiny hooves. A speeding bicycle, hitting the bars at a right angle, can cross a cattle guard without incident.

Apparently, very young cows lack mature caution and may tiptoe across cattle guards. A rancher may string barbed wire across a guard now and then, to keep the youngsters with their moms. I discover this fact very suddenly.

The guard is like the dozens of others I’ve buzzed over, but this one also has a vertical pole and a couple of strands of barbed wire. My brain processes this information a fraction of a second after my front wheel hits the wire, in the moments when I am airborne.

The Monocog does a perfect somersault, sticking the landing on the south side of the fence. My own Superman impersonation ends less elegantly as I slam to the ground six feet beyond the bike.

“I’m alive!” That’s my first thought. Adrenaline and amazement pick me up and a very brief survey of my major bones tells me I’m good enough to ride on. Some will call me lucky and some will call me blessed, I count myself in both camps at this moment.

I should be racing on, as a true racer would, but I stop to photograph amazing things. Right now, the most amazing thing is a bicycle, still balanced, perfectly inverted on this dusty Montana road.


Wednesday June 23, 2010

It’s late afternoon and I’m still many miles north of Pinedale, WY when my Peek vibrates to life indicating it has a signal and I have email. My delight at getting a note from my wife vanishes as I read the news -- Dave Blumenthal collided with a truck this morning in Colorado. Initially taken by ambulance to Steamboat, his head injuries are severe enough that he’s been transferred to the hospital Denver. His wife and four-year-old daughter are flying in from Vermont.

I stare stupidly at the screen, the pixels blurring as my eyes fill with tears. I blink, hoping that the words will change, that the words are wrong. Dave is one of us, racing through the high country on the adventure of a lifetime. How could he collide with a truck? There are hardly any trucks out here. There are hardly any people out here. We worry about bears. We worry about the weather. We worry about running out of food or water a hundred miles from anywhere. But a truck? Damn.

Of course it could happen. Things happen. Hell, I’d slammed into a barbed wire fence that was right in front of me.

I can’t stop thinking about Dave but I have to stop thinking about Dave. I have to ride and I have to get to the next town. I have to be here now so I can be there then. I get on my bike. I dodge the ruts in the road, trying to find the smooth line, the line that makes sense.


Thursday June 24, 2010

After enjoying a nice tailwind and a pleasant day of riding, I arrive in South Pass City at 5:25 PM. I grab a cold lemonade from the vending machine, change over to the next map and set out for Atlantic City and the Great Divide Basin.

At an old mine, I stop to take pictures and read the sign. That's where I miss the key words that tell me to turn right at the mine. I just keep going.

Off course.

By the time I figure out that I've gone wrong, I've taken too many turns to trust my backtracking. I find a biggish dirt road and follow it for quite a few miles before a signpost, my map and compass give me back my bearings in the world. The beautiful country with lots of trees and streams confirms the fact that I am far off course. I should be in the dry, sparse lands of the Basin. But I know which way to go now.

Four hours after I’d left South Pass City, I’m back in South Pass City. I grab another cold lemonade from the vending machine that is the only thing active in this dark and tiny ghost town. Remarkably my Peek has a signal here and I’ve got mail. Another note from Christine and the subject line is ominous, “Sad News”. I click and read:

Hey Sweetie,

I am so sorry to pass on that Dave died this morning at the hospital in Denver. He's survived by his wife Lexi and their 4 year old daughter Linnaea. I didn't know him, but I feel so sad.

Love you always,


I knew Dave, not well, but I knew him from the internet, from his blog and from a brief conversation we had on the first morning of the race. Dave knew what he was doing, he was prepared, at least as well prepared as any of us can be.

Can it ever make sense when a good man dies for what seems like no good reason? I know Dave was a loving, adventurous and generous man. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and loved ones.

The world is a poorer place because of Dave's tragic death. Death always comes too soon, except for those whose lives are overcome with boredom or suffering. The world is a richer because Dave chose a life of adventure and wonder. We all, too briefly, got to share in the wonder of his life.

I suddenly feel very, very far from home. Until now I’ve felt at home on the trail. The SPOT tells my loved ones where I am and that I’m OK. My Peek sends signals back to civilization. And I’ve known that I have what I need to continue, to get further on down the trail, to get back to my civilized home, where I have more than two pairs of socks, more than a bivy sack for a bed.

The last words Dave posted on his blog before he left were these: “Lexi and Linnaea, I love you both.” Dave knew how to live, knew what was important. I send Christine email, thanking her for passing on the bad news and telling her of my latest wanderings. The last few words are the most important, a lesson Dave knew so well. I sign off for the night with “I love you so.”


Friday June 25, 2010

I’m up at dawn and I’m careful to take the right turn at the old mine. A few miles past Atlantic City, another Wyoming ghost town, a horned lizard scoots across the dry and dusty road and I chase him down to make sure I have a picture.

This is the Great Divide Basin, high, flat country so dry that what little rain that falls here flows neither to the Atlantic nor the Pacific but rather evaporates back to the sky. Once I’m past the Sweetwater River and the Diagnus Well, the next reliable water source is 55 miles away. The next town is Rawlins and it’s a hundred miles away. There is little here but sand, sagebrush, antelope and some very thirsty-looking cows.

Just past 10:00 AM the freehub on my Monocog begin to slip. The freehub is the mechanism that allows a bike to coast. Tiny pawls inside the hub retract when the wheel is spinning faster than the cog, but when power is applied (via the pedals, crank and chain) the pawls engage and the force of my legs drive the wheel.

Normally, freehubs just work. This particular freehub has worked fine for thousands and thousands of miles. But this hot, dusty, washboarded section of road is hard on freehubs. Last year, Jill Homer had freehub problems on this section of road. Fortunately for her, the problems worked themselves out. Commenters on her blog suggested dribbling lube into the freehub body. Not a bad idea. I stop my bike and dribble lube.

It helps, a bit, for a while. But the pawls keep refusing to engage. My legs spin wildly against zero friction. I bounce the wheel, trying to get the pawls to catch. Sometimes they catch and I can pedal for a bit but then they slip again. With each slip, I picture part of the tiny pawl being worn down. When coasting, the hub makes an ominous sound.

There is a final, sickening snap and a thunk and now the pawls refuse to engage at all. I no longer have a bike under me, I have a 29-inch wheeled push scooter.

I’ve seen no humans since I'd left Atlantic City and Rawlins is more than 100 miles away. I have enough food for the trip and enough water to get me to each of the few streams in the Basin, assuming a biking pace. I now have a walking pace with a few bits where I can coast on the descents. The thermometer on my bike computer, which may be overly dramatic, reads 92 degrees. My map describes this area as being “spectacularly desolate” and promises that I’ll “undoubtedly see more antelope and wild horses than fellow human beings.” The grim cartographic commentary continues on to tell me that this is part of the historic Oregon-Mormon Trail and has been described as the “longest graveyard in America.”

I have something of a problem. I walk and push and coast my bike for miles. About 40 miles. The map lists "Emergency bail outs" at miles 47 and 66. The mile 47 bailout involves a 15 mile walk north to a spot of nothing labeled Sweetwater Station. I opt to press on to mile 66 and the turn off to Jeffrey City. From the turn off, it will be another 14 miles of walking, pushing and coasting to get to town.

I’m almost out of water when I’m thrilled to find the trickle that is Arapaho Creek flowing at mile 62. It’s a bit past 3:00 PM. As America sings in that "Horse With No Name" song, "the heat was hot." But I have water now and I know I can make it to Jeffrey City. It will be hours, but I'll make it.

A cowboy named Travis with a big truck and a scruffy dog save me about 15 miles of walking. He is out here checking on some cows and I flag him down and he gives me a ride into town. He looks and acts and walks just like you’d think a cowboy would. He’s got the hat and the boots and the drawl and as we bounce down the road to town he says “don’t blink or you’ll miss it.”

I don’t blink but it’s beginning to dawn on me that if a town in Wyoming has “City” attached to it’s name, it’s a good bet that the “city” is a ghost town. I buy Travis a couple of beers at Jeffrey City’s only bar. The bar pretty much is Jeffrey City, unless you count a fossilized Texaco with no gas pumps and no X in the sign and a motel with no cars in the parking lot and no signs of life. Travis explains that Jeffrey City was a uranium mining town, but the mine shut down thirty years ago. Only a few dozen people and a few dogs still call Jeffrey City home.

Remarkably, Travis tells me I can get a room at the motel. I hike over to the motel and follow the instructions on the office door that tells me to ask at the “shop”. I figure the shop must be the busted down Texaco, so I roll my bike over there.

A guy named John and his buddy are at the shop. Yes I can get a room. It turns out the only reason the motel is still here is that it was part of the package deal when John bought the shop. “I never got around to tearing it down and every few weeks I wind up renting a room to some busted down biker!” I tell him I’m happy to contribute to the local economy. “Hell,” he grins, “today you are the local economy.”

I see John has a welder and I briefly explain a way to fix my bike, “We could weld the hub solid, it wouldn’t coast, but it’d go.” John looks at me and passes judgement. “That’s a totally dumb plan,” he declares in a voice that’s solid and sensible. “Sometimes, it’s just time to stop. This is one of those times.”

I could have argued, I would have argued, if I’d thought John was wrong, but I knew he was right. When you walk, push and coast for forty miles you have a lot of time to think.

In the end, the trail tells me what I need to do and I ignore it at my peril. I’ve pushed on through snow and mud. I’ve crashed into a barbed wire fence. I’ve frozen in the mountains and baked in the Basin. The trail has worked to slow me, the waitress said slow down and now my bike has clearly said it’s done.

I’m done for now.

I’ve been thinking for a few weeks about why I ride and why I’m here.

The waitress asked a simple question, “What do you win?” and I think I have an answer now, but it isn’t short or simple. The long, true answer is the one that reveals itself, bit by bit, pedal stroke by pedal stroke, mountain vista by mountain vista. It is the truth found in the distance and at the center of this bit of flesh I call myself. On a tiny trail in a vast world, with my possessions pared down to the minimum needed to maintain forward motion, with thoughts in my head of every kindness shown me, each step that leads me onward, I can answer to the wind, "Everything. I've won all this. I'm the luckiest man alive."

My race didn't end when I hit a barbed wire gate at speed, although with one bit of bad luck, one slightly different landing, my fate could have been the same as Dave’s. Dave Blumenthal had the sudden, brutal, tragic, fatal bad luck. It is his life and joy I remember and his final gift to the world is the haunting reminder that we should love our best in every moment.

My race didn't end when my bike's freehub mechanism gave up and I was reduced to walking and coasting. My race ended in hundreds of moments, moments when a racer would roll on but a tourist would stop and wonder. I knew my race was over when the horned lizard crossed my path and I stopped to chase him down, to get a picture.

I am the Mountain Turtle and in the end, I guess this turtle doesn't race, he tours. And that's OK. For me, it's even better than OK.

The fast folks race to push themselves a bit faster than they know they can go. They find truth and beauty in speed. That’s beautiful for them, but I find my truth rolls slower.

It’s time for me to wander off the course, to rebuild my bike at home.

I’ll be back, but I’ll be slower next time.

I’ll take more pictures.

I won’t be racing, I’ll be touring.

I’ll explore side roads.

It’ll take a long time but that’s OK. I’ll do it in stages. I’ve got the time.

It's a beautiful world. And I've won it all.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Helping a friend in need (by Joe Bartoe)

Joe Bartoe posted this on the Synaptic Cycles website. With his permission, I'm reposting it here to help spread the word. If you're looking for a lovely gift for the cyclist on your list, consider one of Jon's prints. -- Kent


Helping a friend in need….

Jon Grant is someone that I met through his work as a graphic illustrator. Someone who I have never met personally, but who I count as a friend nonetheless. He’s one of those rare people that makes you feel like a lifelong friend after a few short conversations. Since I started this business, I have spoken to Jon many times, seeking his input on certain matters and bouncing ideas off him, and he has always taken the time to think about what I’m saying and give me well thought-out answers with a no nonsense attitude. He’s one of the few people that I do business with that I truly care about and I often ask about his family and his kids and how they are all doing, which is why I feel the need to be posting here.

I was working with Jon, trying to get some prints of his original ink drawings onto my online store when I learned that Jon’s young son has been diagnosed with leukemia and is hospitalized. He called me asking me for help to get some sold and to make it happen quick. Jon is a freelance illustrator, and as such, he doesn’t make money unless he’s working. And it’s going to be difficult to attend to work when his son is sick and hospitalized.

It’s for this reason that I have decided to sell his prints and give all the proceeds directly back to him rather than take a share of the profits. I don’t think Jon would want a handout. This allows him to make some cash quickly using his own work.

Jon has worked as an illustrator, designer, and printer all of his professional life. You can see some of his work on this site. He designed my logo and he designed the graphics for the jerseys and windshells that we sell. If you’re familiar with the bikes from Rivendell Bicycle Works, you can find his fine work on a number of their models, as well. He is fascinated with riding and the mechanical aspects of classic bicycles, so naturally, he can’t resist drawing them. We offer prints of his original ink drawings here, a few of which are shown on this page. These prints are offset printed in dense, black ink on white, acid-free, Bristol cover. Printed in USA. These are beautiful drawings and the prints are suitable for framing.

Most of the prints are seven inches square and when archival-matted, they are eight inches square. For the crankset prints, the unmounted prints are nine inches square with archival-matted prints twelve inches square. Costs vary from $25-40, depending on the print size and mounting. We are offering free shipping on all of these orders.

As I mentioned, all proceeds from the sales of these prints goes directly to Jon to help his family while they deal with the illness of their child. If these prints appeal to you, please buy some. The money will go directly to the artist and give him some much needed cash at a time when his family needs it most.

You can view more of Jon’s drawings and purchase prints in our online store.

YouBar: Energy Bars Made Your Way

While I have long claimed that I am not a nutritional role model and once compiled a list of the various odd things long distance cyclists actually eat, I don't claim that tasty junk food is better than tasty good food. I will, however, argue that the way to get people to eat better food is to make it tasty and appealing. Those of us who travel extensively by bicycle know the value of tasty, well-packaged food that can be eaten while rolling. Over the years I've eaten more than my share of Power and Clif Bars and I've found some I like, some I can't stand and some that I've liked initially and then gotten sick of.

I recently took a gamble on something that intrigued me: a box of custom energy bars from a company called YouBar. YouBar lets you pick and choose what goes into your bar and what stays out. Like peanuts and chocolate? Put them in there. Hate raisins? Leave them out. An interactive web page lets you build the bar and as you go a nutrition label updates showing you calories, fat, protein, vitamins, etc. The page also gives guidance as to how the various ingredients effect the bar's taste or texture.

I say that I gambled on YouBar because you can't make just a single bar. I had to order a box of the things and there are 13 bars in a box. Just as a custom suit costs more than something off the rack, custom energy bars are bit more than your average ClifBar, but I figured I'd take a chance. Of course, I wasn't just gambling on YouBar making a good bar, I was betting on my ability to pick the ingredients I like that would combine to make a good bar. I figured as long as I was ordering, I'd also get a variety pack to see what some of the bars other people had designed as well.

The ordering process was easy and in less than a week I had two boxes of bars. My bar, which I'd decided to call the "Nutty Turtle Bar", actually turned out great. Hey, it's hard to go wrong with nuts and chocolate. The bars taste very good and have a good texture. They come with a good wrapper that is actually fairly easy to open(!) and each bar comes with its own nutrition label.

The custom bars also come with their own reorder code so reordering your perfect bar is simple. I'm working my way through the sample pack of bars designed by other folks and have found some great ones, some that almost work and so far, one dud. I got a little postcard with my order telling me that if I wasn't 100% satisfied with my bars for any reason, the YouBar staff would make me a free order at no charge. I'm not at all dissatisfied with the sample pack, it is worthwhile to me to learn what does & doesn't work.

I'm very impressed with YouBar as a food and as a company. The ordering and shipping was fast and the company communication (email, FedEx tracking, etc) is all top notch.

I don't do a lot of advertising on this blog but when somebody is doing something right, I'm happy to spread the word. I put YouBar in the "good people doing good stuff" category so there is now a YouBar link on the right side of the blog. If I didn't like their stuff, I wouldn't say good things about them, but I do like their bars so I am recommending them. If you go to their site and order anything, enter the coupon code "kentsbike" and you'll get 10% off your purchase. If you do that in addition to your savings, I'll get a 5% commission. I don't think I'll get rich doing this, I'll probably just spend the money on YouBars.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA