Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dreams, (Rather Nightmares), Do Come True!

I’m 99.9% sure that Susan the “spiritual healer” has jinxed me.  I believe in destiny, but my trip just keeps getting more and more bizzare with some of the most peculiar coincidences taking place, like today.  I left Bozeman this morning prepared for a century ride (160km) to Montana’s state capitol, Helena.  I had been off the bike for the last two days just hanging out in Bozeman and my legs were itching to pedal again.

John Faunce's garage, the best bike shop in Bozeman

John, my host and patient mechanic, in Bozeman, had helped me fine-tune my breaks and true my back wheel so that I was all prepared. I wanted to pump up my tires with a real foot pump, but unfortunately his was out of commission.  I went to use mine, which is when I noticed, that the little nozzle that attaches to the tire was missing!  That would explain the funny noise I heard earlier in the week, I had disregarded it as a little rock hitting the frame. Darn, I would have to get a new pump, or find a replacement tip, but it would have to wait until Helena or Missoula.  He offered to give me a gas station air adapter, but I refused, knowing I had one in my bag of spare parts, somewhere. I’d be fine until I made it to a bike store, after all, what were the chances of getting a flat tire in the next 100 miles anyway?
That night, I went to bed, but I also slept really badly.  I actually haven’t been sleeping well lately, anxiously awaiting the arrival of a few friends from Barcelona.  In the middle of the night, I woke rather irritable in the middle of a nightmare.  The bike pump must have been on the back of my mind because I had a nightmare about a flat tire on the road and searching high and low for a bike pump.  I was distraught and it took awhile to calm myself down.  Melissa, it is only a nightmare, I thought.  A few hours later, I woke up again, this time to the sensation of wet droplets on my face.  I had been camping in John’s backyard for the last few nights and wasn’t using my rain fly.  The nights were warm without a cloud in the sky, perfect sleeping weather for a tent. Obviously the weather had changed, because I it was sprinkling on my face.  Thankfully, I have a freestanding tent, so I got out, picked it up, and carried it over to the carport where his truck was parked and tucked it under cover. 

Stategic tent placement when the rain came

When my alarm rang at 6am, I was far from feeling well rested, but got up regardless, packed up my things and prepared my bags for my route.  John’s dad, who was visiting, saw me off and I set out for Helena.  I was expecting a gradual uphill but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was cruising continuously at a 1% downhill.  Images of Barcelona infiltrated my mind while I listened to Carlos Ruiz Zafron’s novel Angel’s Game on my ipod, helping me forget about my nightmare and my poor night sleep.  With Zafron’s imagery and Montana’s blue mountains and vast sky in front of me, I was in heaven.  In fact, I pedaled 50 miles effortlessly without stopping.  Townsend was approaching,15 miles away, a perfect lunch stop. 

The Montana countryside, it keeps me entrained while pedaling

All of a sudden a few miles out of town, I noticed that my bike starting to feel heavy.  I looked down at the tires, still full of air.  Was it just my imagination?  I could see a gas station less than half a mile away and the heavy sluggish sensation was still there while I pedaled.  This time when I looked down at my back wheel, I could tell the air was getting lower and lower with each revolution. No way!  I had a flat tire! It had been ages since I had a flat tire.  In fact, I had just made that same comment out loud to John yesterday while talking about the bike pump, hoping I wouldn’t jinx myself! I had!  My dream had foreshadowed the events, however, I considered myself lucky because without a working bike pump, I needed a gas station air hose.  Here I was 100 ft. from a gas station, it’s like fainting right in front of an ambulance; who does that anyway?

I found a comfy place to work on my bike.  The double fuel tanker in the background.

All I had to do was find my gas station adapter, change the tube, and I’d rolling again in no time.  Besidies, I was in need of a stop anyway to eat and by the looks of the sky ahead, a storm was about to roll through.  I found a bench outside the gas station and supply store, got comfortable, and started searching for my adapter.  I searched all through my bag of tools and parts and couldn’t find the little sucker.  Where was it? I was beginning to regret not having taken John up on his offer.  There was a truck driver filling a double fuel industrial size tank truck at the pump across the way.  I asked him for a hardware store in town and he gave me the name.  Townsend was not big enough to have a bike shop.  I called the hardware store and the guy who answered told me they sold an adapter.  I decided to change my tire, get the new tube in just using my mouth to fill it with air and then I could walk my bike down. 

It was a good plan, or so I thought, until I couldn’t get enough air into the tube to get the tire to stay on the rim.  I was going to have to go down to the store.  The truck driver across the way offered to watch my bike and another truck driver who had overheard our conversation, also at the pump, offered to take me down.  I hoped in and we went down to the store, bought the adapter, and the same pick-up actually took me back to my bike! The same truck driver was still there and so was my bike with the tire waiting for air. The adapter I bought looked different than the one I had owned, but I thought I could screw it on to the air compressor.  I slowly unscrewed the valve they had on at the gas station, when a huge powerful stream of air erupted from the compressor making a horrible noise!  It looked like one of the hoses in a cartoon that has a mind of it’s own spraying water, wiggling and moving in every direction possible like a snake, only this hose had air coming out.  Luckily the same truck driver knew where the emergency stop botton was on the compressor, pushed it.  My adapter wasn’t going to fit. 

Time for plan B.  I went in search of another hardware store after asking some locals.  The truck driver whose tanks were yet to be filled continued to watch my bike.  I went to a tire store, no luck.  Another gas station, rejected again.  I was turning the corner to go to the last hardware store in town when I saw a yard full of bikes.  Surely a household like this was filled with kids and would have a bike pump, I thought.  The door was open so I went in saying Hello, asking if anyone was home?  A man in a wheel chair rolled out, I was caught off guard.  I was even more surprised to see that he didn’t have any pants on in the chair and only a little gauze strip covering his you know what!  I tried my hardest to look only at his eyes. In fact I was actually probably looking at the ceiling, overcompensating for the fact I didn’t want my eyes to wander down.  If I weren’t so frantic and adamant about finding a bike pump, I probably would have stopped to wondered what on earth had happened to this man and why was he hanging out in his garage without pants or underwear in his wheelchair.  Of course the man didn’t have a single pump, just a collection of a half dozen of bikes outside! 

Back to plan B, finding a store that had a bike pump or adapter.  I was right in front of the town’s trading post when I saw a women get into a mini SUV. For some reason, something told me this lady had a husband who might cycle.  I had made a correct assumption.  Kathy lived a few blocks down and her husband and daughter had just gotten back for a cycling trip in Italy.  I knew this meant they had road bikes, and therefore a pump that would serve me well!  BINGO!  I got in her car and we went to her house, walking straight to the garage where she handed me a sparkling brand new bike pump.

How lucky was I to meet Kathy, probably one of the only road cycling families in all of Townsend

We made it back to my bike, which was still there, although the truck driver had lost patience with me.  Just as I started to work on my tire, the skies opened up and it began to pore! I brought all my gear into the gas station garage, while Kathy took refuge in the car.  I didn’t want her to wait while I fixed my bike, but she insisted andused a phrase that is becoming rather familiar. “Melissa, I was suppose to go to Helena today, but my appointment got canceled.  I had just pulled up to the hardware store when I saw you…..I don’t really know why I was going there…..I think this was just meant to be!”  She assured me she didn’t have anything else to do so I could take my time.  But by then, I was out of energy, frazzled, and wanted to get my tire changed once and for all!  It went smoothly until I tried to get the brakes back on and I couldn’t.  What on earth was wrong?  I had gotten them off, but couldn’t seem to get them back in their clip.

My bike stayed dry in the supply shop garage
I asked a strong looking man in the shop for help, but he couldn’t get enough leverage either.  I went out to give Kathy back her pump so she didn’t have to wait any longer.  I could tell she was worried about me, not for the mechanical part, but for the weather and the simple fact of being a solo young lady out on the road.  She had a daughter who was a teacher, probably around the same age as me and I’m sure it made her take my situation more to heart.  She had written her phone number on a piece of paper and told me I was welcome to stay at her house to wait out the storm, or even stay the night.  She also offered to help me out on the road in case I had any other further problems on my way to Helena.  Kathy was so nice.  She asked if I had money for lunch.  When I assured her that I did, she wanted to know if I had enough money for my trip!  Kathy had already been a huge help, probably the only resident of Townsend to the bike pump.

Erik played a key in helping with the final touches of getting my bike back out on the road!

I went back to my bike and by then Erik, the strong guy, had managed to get the brake cable back in, using a wrench, no less!  He also had a little tiny adapter in his fingers, he’d found it rummaging though his tool box while I was talking with Kathy.  It looked different than the one I thought I had packed away, but wouldn’t you know it fit perfectly? We made a fair trade; I gave him the adapter I had bought and in return he gave me the small adapter.  It was a done deal!  An hour and a half after I rolled up to the gas station, my wheels were changed, brakes on and adjusted, and I was ready to pedal again…..except for the fact that buckets of water were still pouring down. I decided to enter the supply store attached to the gas station and wait out the storm a little while longer. 

Hey, I'm happy hanging out anywhere, even next to the ammo and guns!

This one is for me, the "Muddy Girl" model.....
What is a supply store anyway you might ask? I had no idea!  It has everything from livestock feed to Coca Cola, groceries, coffee, women’s clothing and hunting apparel, postcards and tourist knit knacks to guns and ammunition, and ham and cheese sandwiches, which, YES, I avoided!  I got a coffee and ate some of the food I already had, hanging out by the only empty counter in the whole store, the gun cabinet no less!  I’ve been in bait and tackle stores before for pit stops and sat next to crickets used for bait, so chilling by the guns locked away didn’t even phase me.  In fact I was intrigued to read the names of the different models while I waited for the rain to let up.

There's my mountain supply store and it aftermath of the rain storm left a lake in front of the place

After another 30 minutes the storm dissipated and I could see sunshine in the direction of Helena.  I got back on my bike and started pedaling, engrossed once again by my audio book.  I had anticipated a 30-minute pit stop to change my tire and eat, but now, almost 2 hours.  What an ordeal!!! If I only would have taken John up on his offer to keep his gas station adapter! 

The rest of the afternoon was gorgeous with peaceful farms dotting the countryside
By the time I arrived to the capital, I was hot!

Three hours later I arrived at my warmshowers host, another John.  He listened to my story about the bike pump, tires, and brakes and then commented, “Gee, that is funny, my bike has a brake release you pop out by the handle bar!”  My head dropped slightly along with my bottom jaw.  I starred at him in disbelief.  That was it!  I had forgotten to open the brake release on the handle bars.  How could I have forgotten?  I was so preoccupied with the tires and bike pump, I had forgotten all about the brake release……. I shook my head laughing, thinking, only you Melissa!  My day had unfolded exactly as my dream had foreshadowed, or rather nightmare I should say. 

What should I dream about next?.......I’m afraid to even ask.

Ice cream at the end of the day makes for a happy ending to any story!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Being Resourceful Is My Middle Name

Yes, it is the more scenic route, but without many, or any Warmshowers hosts, one had to be creative for sleeping options!

As I continue to pedal on my loong way home and accumulate miles, I think I’m actually getting wiser! Although my friend Rob back in Tasmania, might just say I’ve become an even more professional “Freddie the Freeloader”.  But I’d like to think that I’ve become more resourceful as my trip continues.  At the start of my trip I stayed only in “official campsites” mostly, private, as Europe doesn’t really have public or government run campgrounds.  I also did my fair share of hostels, after all, for about 18 or 20 euros a night I could get a room, hot shower, and sometimes even breakfast.  Now I imagine paying 20 dollars for a room and I consider it highway robbery.  In fact, most of you would be shocked to know, that since I started pedaling in the states, I’ve only spent $20 on accommodation, $18,50 to be precise.  You might think I’m cheap, go ahead, say it, but to tell you the truth, I can’t be bothered with paying for a place to put my tent and take shelter.  You see, I’d rather spend my money on food.  For the same amount or less than a campsite I could buy a delicious steak or fresh fruit and veggies and have a high class meal.  So now, on my journey, it has become a fun challenge to find places to take shelter every night that are free!  It makes me be more creative, think a bit harder, and be even more resourceful than I have been in the past.

This week has been a great example of just how resourceful I have become.  I left Gillette without any hosts lined up on the way to Yellowstone.  I wanted to take the most scenic route possible, but this was also the route that had no Warmshowers hosts.  While I was with Mary and Steve in Gillette, they mentioned that a past guest was a mayor and he was hitting up a lot of the mayor offices on his cross country tour, since almost all towns have a mayor’s office.  That felt a bit out of my comfort zone, but it did bring to mind the fact that almost all towns have Rotary Clubs, and since I was an Ambassadorial Rotary Scholar recipient back in 2002/03, I thought I contact local clubs and asked the president if any of the member’s would let me camp in their yard.  I sent a few emails out before leaving Gillette contacting clubs on the road to Yellowstone. 

Just to change things up, I had a strong head wind heading into Buffalo, WY
My first night on the road, I hadn’t heard anything when I rolled into Buffalo, Wyoming, so I went to the local information office and got a town map and saw they had a public swimming pool that was labeled “FREE”.  Perfect, that would be my shower, now I just needed to find the fire station or elementary school for camping.  The nice elderly man working there could tell what I was onto and so he told me, “If I were going to put my tent somewhere in town, I’d go here!” and he pointed to a field on the map that was close to the running path, but tucked out of the way.   On the way to the swim pool, I stopped at the Subway to see if they had Wifi, which is when my message from Brian Cotant, a local Buffalo Rotarian, hit my inbox.  He told me that if I still needed a place to stay, I could come to his house.  I called him and was delighted to hear they had a spare bedroom and that dinner was already in the oven! 

Brian and Becky were a delightful young energetic couple who had a dentist practice in town and two small children.  Becky reminded me of my sister, multi-tasking galore to prepare dinner for now 5 people, she was making cookies, washing laundry, and taking care of the kids.  I’m always so impressed with parents who seem about my age because our lives are so dramatically different! I have a hard time taking care of myself at times and getting my basic needs and here Brian and Becky are constantly on the go taking care of their kids both under the age of 6!

The Cotant family in Buffalo, Wyoming, exception hosts are Brian and Becky active, active parents!

The view from their backyard at sunset, the mountains awaited me.  I couldn't have been happier with this evening view
They had some neat food contraptions including the Nutribullet smoothie maker and a neat tea maker that steeps different teas at their appropriate temperature and time.  I can attest both are ingenious inventions, I couldn’t resist in trying both. The Cotant’s hosue overlooked the mountains I was going to be climbing the next day.  They asked me my route and offered to set me up with friends in a few towns.  They knew dentists in 3 other towns along my route, giving me some flexibility depending on where I made it each day. Who would have thought the world of Rotary would open the door for so many hosting opportunities in central Wyoming?

A road has officially been named after me (it's just missing the word stubborn in there)

By far my longest pass of the trip, but not the highest

I left Buffalo rather early knowing I had a massive climb ahead of me.  It was 35 miles, almost 8,500 ft. of climbing and took me just over 5,5 hours.  Luckily Becky sent me some of her freshly made “energy bites” and waiting for me on the other side of the pass were Carl and Kamme Jeffries, dentists in Worland and sports enthusiasts.  They had 3 kids who I also met, older than Brian and Becky’s kids, and all pretty independent during the summer months.  Their daughter was applying for a Rotary youth exchange, so I talked to her about my experience abroad.  They were able to give me a few pointers on my route for the following day and I hung around a bit longer that morning, knowing I didn’t have such a difficult day now that I was on the other side of the mountain. 

With every good climb comes a nice reward

No one told me just how amazing Wind River Canyon was going to be, what a pleasant surprise

I didn’t factor in the heat, and when temperatures got up to 108F I had to take shelter at the best air-conditioned place I could find, McDonald’s no less.  When ice cream cones are a dollar and there are unlimited refills on soda and temperatures are scorching outside, the golden arches are paradise!   A Warmshowers hosts had gotten back to me in Riverton, my destination for the day, but I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make it in the heat.  I had to make a second long stop in a gas station 20 miles away and downed two milkshakes back-to-back.  Gas stations in this area, I’m finding, have these totally artificial and processed freezes.  You insert them into a special machine and they thaw a bit to the thickness you desire.   A brilliant invention on days like these!  I called Dan, my host, in Riverton to let him know I was going to make it, but would arrive on the later side.  He offered to come rescue me, but of course I declined.  Before leaving the gas station I drank a drank a 5-hour energy shot, which I had never tried before.  I don’t know if it was that shot or the two milkshakes, but I made it to Riverton in pretty good time.  Without even taking a shower, Dan took me out to dinner at a local Italian restaurant, which hit the spot after a long day’s ride.  Dan admitted that he rarely hosts cyclists now because of his odd work hours, but when my email came through and he saw my website, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet me.  I had a good chuckle when he told me, “Melissa, I have never met anyone who comes even remotely close to you and what you are doing.  The last guy I hosted had a really difficult time just going over Towghatee Pass! You’ll make that no problem”  I find it really funny that people are so impressed by my trip where as I’m just so thankful for their hospitality and genuine interest to take care of me!

I actually spent the following day at Dan’s resting and making a birthday gift for my niece. Riverton isn’t a touristy place, which for me is ideal, because I basically was a hermit all day in Dan’s apartment. Talk about resourceful, I put together a homemade photo album of my niece’s first five years and personalized it with stickers and captions, all in one afternoon.  Thank goodness for Walgreens, Snapfish, and the US Postal service!

Free food BABY!! I had to be choosy about what I took, but it all looked good, but that would have been like 25 extra lbs.

I left Dan’s and made my way to Dubois, the base of the Towgotee Pass that would take me into the Tetons and Yellowstone.  He told me there was a church in town there that lets cyclists stay the night.  It sounded perfect, since there was no Rotary Club, nor a dentist friend to host me.  I arrived on the early side and sure enough saw the St. Thomas Episcopal Church on the right had side of the road just as I entered town.  Just as I found the office and was knocking at the door, Mary Ellen in her minivan pulled up and honked at me.  She indeed confirmed the fact that the church opens their doors to cyclists, individual cyclists, couples, and big groups.  That isn’t the only thing they open…..They have a huge selection of warm drinks, a fully equipped kitchen, and a fridge full of food leftover from different church events.  It was my lucky day because the church had just had an ice cream sale the past weekend and guess what was leftover in the freezer?  At this point in my trip, I have absolutely no self-control and will eat anything that seems remotely appetizing that crosses my path…...Sorry! 

Did you really have to leave that 3 gallon bucket of ice cream in the freezer?

Mary Ellen with the church dog.  She was the nicest older women at the Episcopal church

Mary Ellen told me another cycling couple had called ahead and would be coming to spend the night as well.  Sure enough Claire and Andy showed up about an hour after me.  They were cycling across the country from North Carolina to San Fransisco, but making a detour to hit Yellowstone and Glacier.  This couple was a lot of fun and we ended up making dinner, eating on the kitchen floor and talking for a good three or four hours sharing stories.  Like me, they also prefer to camp in places where they don’t have to pay and shared with me a few pointers that hadn’t crossed my mind yet.  The church house was so big, I gave them the big family room and went and slept on the living room floor. 
Imagine, all that stuff is on their bikes.  They carried just a little more weight than me
The three cyclists at St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Notice someone else has beautiful sandal tan lines....

I saw the sign advertising "Take your picture with the largest jackalobe" and I just couldn't resist!  

The next morning we helped ourselves to the bacon in the freezer, and made ourselves a good hearty breakfast before starting out.  The pass wasn’t actually as long as I expected, nor as difficult.  The Powder River Pass had toughened me up, and to date, it is the longest pass I’ve been over except maybe some of those crazy mountain passes in Northern Vietnam and Laos that were never ending and intensely steep!  Once over Towgotee, it was pretty much all downhill with spectacular view of The Tetons, plus I just managed to bypass the thunderstorms.  I had plans to meet my friend Newt the following night, but needed a campsite for that night.  I headed to the little village in Tetons that had shower facilities.  I needed to charge some of my electronics, so I plopped myself down at a table where there were plenty of outlets. What a set-up we had!  Talk about being resourceful with making the most of our outlets.  Wouldn’t you know by the time everything was all charged I had made friends with the guys hanging around the table?  Visitors at National Parks are always nice.  How can you be in a bad mood when you are surrounded by such natural beauty? 
I did it! A piece of cake compared to Powder River Pass
It rained everywhere except over my head that day
Ok, this picture makes it obvious.  Can you pick the out odd ball? I admit, sometimes I'm just too trusting!
Kenny was born and raised in Oregon.  He and his wife had bought a new car in Oregon to get the no sales tax perk, and were driving it across country to their home in Memphis, Tennessee with their high school son Reeves.  To me, Reeves seemed much more mature than high school.  He was looking into Reed College, so we had a nice talk about the Portland area, which he loved.  Tom the other gentleman was on a cross-country trip from Gainesville, Florida, a part of Florida that he described as “the blue in a sea of red”.  He was visiting different places and family members along the way.  I probably should have asked the fellow Oregonians if I could setup camp with them, but since they had rented a cabin, I didn’t think that was appropriate, so I chose to ask Tom. I think I caught him off guard, because at first he hesitated, but then said it was no problem.  Now that I look back, he was probably wondering, “Really, this nice young lady wants to set up her tent at my site?”  I say that because Tom was probably my only really bad judge of character I’ve had on my trip.  Not that he seemed dangerous or anything, but he was just a bit “different”.  I later realized he didn’t really have a verbal censor and some of the comments he made were a bit awkward.  Thankfully I slept in my tent, he stayed in his, and I got a good night sleep.  I went for a hike the next morning and said good-bye.  When I got back he’d left me a long detailed note with a few inappropriate comments.  Yes, I was resourceful in finding a place to stay that night, but I didn’t have the best judge of character.  But one sketchy host out of 150, those aren’t bad odds!

It’s good to know that when I’m in more remote areas, I can use my creativity, resources, (and charm) to get by, and in luxury, by my standards, of course!  My resourcefulness is about to be put to the test as I head north.  I have decided to travel up the Alaska Highway through Alberta, British Columbia, and The Yukon to Alaska.  I still have time, the weather should hold out, and the Alaska wilderness has sparked my curiosity!  I can’t help myself.  It will probably one of the most remote and difficult areas I’ve cycled because of the weather and the wilderness, but I’m ready for the challenge!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Adventures (I Mean Random Moments) Continue......

I had another blog post ready to publish, but after an exciting afternoon and a bit of a scare in The Tetons, I decided this post should take priority! After this, I can only imagine what is left to happen on my trip.  With every day comes a new adventure and random moments that make for entertaining stores and lots of laughs, thank goodness!

Welcome to The Tetons!

So this is how it went.  I had just arrived in the Tetons, on the road to Yellowstone.  I was looking forward to my time in this National Park.  How can you go wrong with rugged jagged mountains in the backdrop shooting straight out of a glacial lake? Plus, I was meeting my friend Newt with his fifth wheel who I met back in Arches. I was going to take some time off the bike so we could explore The Tetons and Yellowstone together.  I arrived a day earlier and found a place to camp, which is a whole other story in itself….Let’s just say that I didn’t do the best judge of character that night.  I shared a campsite with a sketchy man who didn’t really have any sort of verbal censor.  I was happy to leave the next morning and cycle over to meet Newt.  That morning I had a little breakfast, went for a nice hike by Jackson lake and picked up a ham and cheese sandwich at the grocery store before I pedaled back to Moran Junction. 

The wonderful view I had on my morning hike, Jackson Lake

I got to Newt’s RV site just about lunch time, had some cherries, caught up with him, showered, and we headed out to go explore The Tetons.  I felt a little lightheaded right before we left, but I didn’t think much of it.  Well, we didn’t make it very far in his truck, 200 feet to the RV office to be precise, when I asked if he could pull over.  I could tell I was going to be sick.  I hate the feeling.  I got really hot, dizzy, lightheaded and nauseas.  I tried to make it to the bathroom but didn’t.  Luckily I managed to vomit over the back of the balcony outside the RV office.  There was a lady right there cleaning up the back patio already, so really, considering the circumstances, I picked a pretty good spot to get sick. I apologized profusely to her as she handed me a few paper towels. I felt really bad, being sick is not fun, but hearing someone else get sick is repulsive!  She seemed so pleasant and not bothered by it at all.  I cleaned up and did actually feel better having vomited. 

I hopped back in Newt’s truck and I started going through everything I ate that morning, wondering what could have made me sick.  I pinpointed the half & half the sketchy guy gave me for my coffee that morning.  It didn’t taste bad, but if there was anything that could have been spoiled, it was that, especially out of his cooler!  We continued with the plan that afternoon and drove down to Jenny Lake and got out to take some pictures.  All of a sudden I felt lightheaded again, so I laid down on a bench.  I was frustrated with myself.  I hate being sick, especially around other people.  I’d been looking forward to my time off in the Tetons and wanted to explore, and here I was lying on a bench!  I asked Newt if I could lie down in the back of his truck for an hour or so while he went on a walk around the lake.  He was very understanding.  I got comfy on the back seat of his truck and passed out for about an hour and a half.  When I woke up, he showed up and at that moment, I did feel better.  I thought I had slept whatever it was, off!

I got out of his truck to go see the lake.  We had walked about 20 feet when all of a sudden everything went black and all the voices muffled.  I fainted, right there, went down cold turkey on the parking lot at Jenny Lake.  I could hear people around me asking if I was ok.  Newt was there, concerned, and asking how I was.  He got me up, and we were walking to a bench when I felt it come over me again.  I remember him asking me if I was going to faint on him again, in a joking matter, but I couldn't help it, there I went again.  I think I actually got the “yes” out right before I went down a second time.  This time I could hear a woman’s voice starting to ask me a few questions about how I felt.  I just kept repeating, “I’m a really healthy person, I’m biking around the world, I’m never sick…..!”  And really that is the truth.  I hate being sick and when I’m sick I get so frustrated with myself.  I’m the type of person who goes to work with a fever because I don’t want to let my students down.  I have a hard time giving in and taking care of myself.

I must say, it was pretty interesting seeing all they do in a back of an ambulance

It just so happened that this lady was a park ranger paramedic and she and her partner had rolled up in the ambulance a few moments back as part of their afternoon shift.  What are the chances of fainting in a parking lot right in front of a paramedic (my chances are obviously pretty high)?  I’m sure I would have been fine had they not been there and gone to lay down on a bench again, but they wanted to put me in the back of the ambulance and monitor me for awhile to make sure I was okay.  Newt and her assistant peeled me off the pavement.  I was sweating so profusely, I left a sweat imprint on the pavement.  I was beyond embarrassment at this point as they opened the back of the ambulance and pulled out the stretcher.  This was a first for me,…..I've never been in an ambulance before, nor had a heart rate monitor hooked up with the little sticky things. 

I bet most of their patients aren't in such good spirits.....
Janna, the paramedic continued to ask me some questions and I told her what I had done that day, eaten and drank.  I told her about the half & half, laughed about the sketchy guy, and laughed at that fact that I was in the back of an ambulance!  I had recently acknowledged to myself that there were a few things on this trip I still wanted to do, including going to a rodeo and riding on the back of a Harley.  They didn’t have anything to do with passing out in a national park parking lot or sitting in the back of an ambulance!  This wasn’t in the plan, but then again, what is on my trip?

These guys took good care of me....lucky for me I fainted in front of paramedics

Janna took my blood pressure, tension, and heart rate, all which were obviously very low, but nothing that she thought needed serious medical attention.  Thankfully, just sitting in the back of an ambulance is free in The United States.  She told me if they start rolling, then you have to pay, but since I didn’t want to go to the hospital and she didn’t see a need either, I just hung out there for about an hour ( O do have a private health insurance for my travels, just in case you are wondering).  Newt was outside this whole time and I finally asked if they would let him come in the back.  I don’t think they really understood our relationship.  People probably think he’s my dad. I should just say that he is because explaining to people that he picked me up hitching in Arches Park about 3 weeks ago and  meeting up 3 times since then on the road does sound a bit sketchy! We couldn’t stop laughing in the back of the ambulance, which was also probably unusual for paramedics to see and hear.  We kept on joking about my crazy, random, but ever so entertaining life on a bike.  Newt warned the paramedics they'd make my blog, and if they are reading, I'm sure they are having a good laugh!

About 4 hours later, we made it to the lake like we planned.....

And the views were worth it.  Crystal Clear water!
After about an hour, I left the ambulance.  They cleaned up my knee, which had gotten scraped up from the fall. As Janna suggested, we went to the gift shop to get some Gatorade and sugar.  At that point I did feel remarkably better, it was hard to believe that I had fainted or vomited a few hours back.  Therefore, we continued on with our original plan of going down to Jackson to have dinner and explore the town.  We ended up at the Snake River Brewery, no surprise!  Breweries usually have the best food and beer in town and this brewery just so happened to have all the good looking young men in town, which made people watching entertaining! I passed on the beer, but since I hadn’t eaten much all day, everything on the menu looked good!  We split a pizza and some bratwurst and again laughed about the events that had taken place that afternoon. 

A short walking tour around Jackson, Wyoming

I did feel good when I entered the brewery

It wasn’t until the end of the meal when the food on my plate seemed to be so unappetizing.  I started to feel nauseas and went to the bathroom, but it was a false alarm, or so I thought.  Ten minutes later I had the same feeling and this time went rushing back to the bathroom, but I didn’t make it!  I felt so bad for the group of people at the table right next to the restroom.  They heard and witnessed the whole event, while trying to eat their dinner!  I was too embarrassed to look at them, but I could hear them saying to each other, “No, way……Did you hear that?”  Another one said, “Grosse, did you see that girl?”  I was humiliated, so incredibly embarrassed that I tried to make it inside the bathroom because I wasn’t done being sick.  Wouldn’t you know by the time I actually got to the toilet, I had nothing left inside me?  My intentions were good, but my plan of action failed!  I could hear another lady in the bathroom and again apologized to her and asked her if she could go get my friend Newt at the bar and described what he was wearing. 

Poor Newt, what a good sport he was waiting for me outside the bathroom on the bench while I got cleaned up.  I didn’t make eye contact with anyone as we left the brewpub, I was so embarrassed!  It’s the worst feeling in the world to get sick, but on top of that, to do so in public and around people who you don’t know very well.  Actually now, after this situation, I think Newt and I have bonded even more!  I didn’t want to put a damper on our plans that day and felt a little awkward getting sick in front of him, but then again, he did raise four kids and has grandkids and knows what being sick is all about!  I am very thankful I had someone there for me when I got sick rather than being on my own.  I don’t know what I would have done on my own camping out for a night like that or been stuck in the middle of nowhere.  Considering the circumstances, I was pretty fortunate! 

By the time we got back to the RV, I was exhausted, to say the least. I had just enough energy to spread my sleeping bag out on the couch and get in.  Newt put the garbage can next to me, a trained Dad for sure!  Thankfully I didn’t need it.  I slept the whole night through until morning.  I didn’t feel 100% when I first woke up.  That day the plan was to make it to West Yellowstone, riding without any of my weight.  Newt was going to bring my bags along with his fifth wheel to the next RV park.  The night before, however, we talked about several “Plan Bs” in case I didn’t feel good.  Knowing me, I wanted to ride, so Newt just followed me along the first part of the way and stopped in several places to make sure I was ok!  Despite getting poured on for a while, I felt pretty good!    I wasn’t going to get in the car and he respected my desire to ride, so I pedaled the 90 miles to West Yellowstone. 

You can't get a better sag van than a fifth wheel!

I made it to Yellowstone, 90 miles of hilly terrain, but no weight, what a treat!
What was it that hit me? I have no idea! I think I ate something that didn’t quite sit right with me and then I stubbornly tried ignore the signals that I should rest.   Maybe the sketchy guy put something in my coffee? I doubt it, but I really do hate being sick and so far on this trip, I had only had the one afternoon of bathroom problems after being with the spiritual leader in Hot Springs, SD.  She did say I was going to get “hit hard” by something, so maybe this was it?  I don’t know!  Out of all my world travels and eating off food carts in SE Asia, I never got sick.  Now I’m up to 2 bad stomach experiences here in the states, hopefully they are the last! Like I said, it’s just another day in my “normal” life these days on a bike.  There is always an adventure!

The stomach is better if this was my breakfast two days later!  Had to replenish what I lost!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Celebrating 150 Nights With Hosts

Where do I stay most often?  The hotels sky rocketed in SE Asia where rooms on average were 5 dollars a night
I’ve been on the road for about 320 days now, it’s hard to believe. What’s more incredible is that of those 320 days, I've spent 150 nights at the house of amazing hosts all around the world!  I’ve religiously used the Warmshowers tour cycling network in all the continents I’ve pedaled, but I’ve also stayed with friends, family, friend-of-friend, teachers, friends-of-teachers, and completely random strangers! I’ve been taken in by Muslim families in Turkey and Southeast Asia, Buddhists, hosted by firefighters and paramedics, retired couples, young students, and young families. My lists of hosts is as ecletic and random as there is, but they all have one thing in common; they've given me unconditional support gone out of their way to take care of me while being on the road.  I thought I’d be doing a lot more camping, but the reality is, I am a social young lady and love being around the company of others, especially locals because it allows me to learn and gain insight to the community around me. I also have to admit, a warmshower at the end of the day is my #1 motivation at the end of a long day of riding!

Mary and Steve Layman enjoying elk burgers plus goodies in Gillette, Wyoming

I celebrated staying at the house of my 150th host last week in Gillette, Wyoming and there was something oddly familiar about the Layman’s.  Steve and Mary are on the list of Warmshowers hosts in Wyoming, a state with few hosts!  The Layman’s aren’t always labeled as available due to summer plans and work schedules, but I got lucky to catch them while they were home.  In the three years they have been on Warmshowers, they’ve hosted almost 50 cyclists and have created the neatest guestbook to document all their tour cyclist visitors. For residents of a small town in Wyoming, Warmshowers exposes them to the world with some neat encounters with people from all over the world. 

This is their guestbook which is always fun to read.  Many hosts have one to record their visitors.

I always wonder how people hear about Warmshowers, especially a family like this in the northeast corner of a state where there isn’t a huge cycling community.  It turns out their youngest son went to school in Missoula, Montana and he turned his dad onto "The Crazyguy on a Bike" blog. It is here that while researching tour cycling with hopes of doing a trip some day in the future, Steve discovered Warmshowers and signed up.  He came home one day and casually told Mary and his son Aaron, who also lives at home, that he had signed up for this site called Warmshowers  to host cyclists on the road.  Steve’s famous last words were, “Don’t worry, Mary, no one will contact us, no one would come through this part of Wyoming!”  Wouldn’t you know they had the first guest two days later and the rest is history!  The Layman’s have some great stories from all their guests. My favorite was a solo Polish cyclist who arrived and never had brownies before.  Well, Mary is a phenomenal cook and baker and made a tray of brownies that vanished in the matter of minutes!  With every bite, the Polish cyclist with his Polish accent said, “This chocolate cake is really good!”

There is the camper van where cyclists usually stay, quite cozy with all your basic needs

Usually their cyclists stay in a camper van they have parked in the backyard  that they use during hunting season (I LOVE my camper vans as you know), but since temperatures were close to a 100F, they put me up in the basement.  I knew I was going to get along great with the Layman’s. In email correspondence leading up to my visit, Mary asked me what sort of food I wanted.  I never know how to answer this question, but I hadn’t eaten fish in a long time and always like my fresh fruits and vegetables.  As it turns out, Mary is a superb cook and Steve and their sons fish and hunt, so their freezer was full of all fresh fish and meat! I lucked out!  They had an all-you-can eat salad buffet waiting for me when I arrived and I chowed down while sharing stories from my trip.  

The first night we hit it off so well and couldn’t stop laughing and telling stories.  We had a lot in common that kept making me feel like I was right at home, from the setup of their house to their kids and all their activities.  Their oldest son Cole is living in Prague, teaching English.  Although he wasn’t home, they filled me in on his international living and working experience.  It was refreshing to hear of another young adventurous soul in their early thirties with a strong desire to explore the world.  Like me, it seems like Cole is also hooked on living overseas. It was hard for Mary at first, but since they went over and visited him, they are a lot more comfortable.  Plus Cole calls all the time.  In fact while I was there he called looking for a small piece of paper hidden in one of his desk drawers.  He wanted his mom to go down and look for it in his room while they were on the phone.  You might think this is a crazy request, but I could totally relate to Cole’s request and Mary's determination to find what he was looking for.  I have called my parents countless times to have them look in this drawer or that cupboard trying to find a paper, document, or clothing item that I need.  What would children abroad do without the endless efforts of their parents back at home?

After the salad buffet came round two: pasta, fish, chips and guacamole, more salad, you name it!  

S'mores, desert #1, I was actually craving them the other day, wouldn't you know?

I was only going to stay one night, but I was just too comfortable and I needed a day off from the bike.  I had been pedaling for 9 consecutive days with some severe weather conditions and long distances and the Layman's house was like heaven on earth to me at that point.  Steve had prepared a map for me to help plan the next stages of my route.  The map was color-coded with elevation and mileage for each stage and the days he thought it would take me to get to each destination.  I could make it to the Tetons and Yellowstone faster than I had expected, which meant I would definitely take the following day off!

Steve prepared a great map to help plan my travels through Wyoming choosing the most scenic route

I made myself at home at the table, a delightful break from the bike

The next morning I slept in as long as possible and spent the morning talking with Mary and getting some work done on my website.  They have a back patio setup similar to that at my parent’s house so I plopped myself down on the table outside in the shade of the umbrella and worked away. I could hear the Aspen leaves blowing on the trees and the sound of birds chirping, both relaxing and familiar sounds to my ears.  At lunchtime, when I came in, I discovered Mary had been busy baking up a storm and preparing lunch for me.  She pulled everything out of the fridge and again, I went through a buffet line of options and was absolutely delighted.  Selection is perfect for a cyclist’s cravings.  I can’t explain how I can stomach a combination such as cottage cheese with sandwich meat, pickles, salad, cheese, crackers, fresh fruit, and brownies, but I do!  I sat inside to avoid the afternoon sun while Mary was out in the garden working, covered from head to toe, just like my mom, to protect herself from the sun.  Their backyard was beautiful and looked a lot like my parent’s with a variety of flowers, plants, and a small vegetable garden.

Don't leave food out or unattended, I WILL eat it! I can't help myself.....

Steve came home that afternoon from work and stated enthusiastically, “Mary, it looks like we got a squirrel!”   I could tell Mary was a bit embarrassed because she replied, “Steve, I wasn’t going to say anything about that in front of Melissa!”  I had to laugh and out loud! Trapping squirrels probably isn't a topic of conversation you boast about with guests around your house, if fact most people might think you are crazy if you mention that you trap squirrels in your backyard, but it just so happens that my mom is also an avid squirrel trapper, so I could relate to Steve's enthusiasm to see his trap occupied.  In Eugene, our old neighbors used to have squirrel feeders, so they frequently visited our yard eating all the nuts on our front walnut tree, leaving the shell debris all over the driveway, which meant for more sweeping and raking.  My mom was up against a loosing battle, but it seemed like Steve and Mary only had a few squirrels who were attacking their tomato plants.  However, three days after I left, Mary told me the squirrel count was up to 6!

Squirrel cages don't harm the squirrel in any way and it is easy to release them.

This was actually the first time Steve and Mary had captured a squirrel and Steve didn’t know exactly where to let it go.  He disappeared with the cage for at least 45 minutes and when he came back we all had a good laugh.  Paranoid the squirrel would find his way home, he had let it go 15 miles away at a cemetery over a mountain pass.  My mom releases them about 4 miles from our house and they don’t seem to come back, so Steve was being overly cautious!

I never have a running companion, what a treat!

That evening Steve and I went for a run.  I’m still trying to increase my running mileage so that the New York City Marathon isn’t painful come November.  Steve is also a distance runner and led me on a great route through the city and countryside all along a path.  When we were out of the run, Steve found some coins on the ground.  He told me he collects them from his run and sure enough at home, he had a jar full of change that he had found while out running.  To date, for this year, he is up to almost 30 dollars in change found on runs in the town.  Now he's got me looking on the ground for money when I run and cycle!

It was 10pm by the time we sat down for dinner the second night.  In Oregon the Pritchard's are notorious for late dinners, but with my Spanish influence, I'm used to it!  We had elk burgers, a first for me!  I was delighted because I had never tried elk meat before, and what a great place to do so since the Layman’s hunt, process, and package their own meat.  I couldn’t have asked for fresher, leaner, or more flavorful meat. YUM!

It was a big celebration for 15, 681 miles

I've never blown out so many candles on a cake before!

For desert they surprised me with a cake with candles to celebrate my new milestone on my trip.  That afternoon I had calculated my distance pedaled thus far in the ten and a half month on the road and I was up to 15,681 miles (25,236km).  They never had a cyclist at their house that had cycled so many miles.  I joked with Mary and asked her what the people at the grocery store said when she went to check out with such an eclectic mix of candles.  Mary was so proud to host me, she told all the people in the grocery store about my trip.  Most people don’t get the whole bike touring thing unless they see the fully loaded bike or have a good sense of geography, and the clerks at this store were no different.  The clerk seemed confused and appalled and couldn't get over the fact that Mary takes in strangers to her house.  The clerk clarified,..... “You mean you let total strangers stay at your house?”

Yes! That is what Warmshowers is all about and any type of hosting that I do on my trip.  People open their doors to me and share experiences about our lives, including cycling, work, travel, you name it.  It usually happens that there are more stories and experiences to share than time permits when I stay with hosts.  The bike is such a great topic of conversation and provides endless hours of entertainment.  My trip has been so much more fulfilling thanks to the local people who have hosted me when I roll up to their area. Whether they be Warmshowers or not, I appreciate the company of the people who take me in.  I learn a lot from them during my stay and it's refreshing to meet such diverse people in our world.  Lately, it has become harder and harder for me to get on the road in the morning as was the case with the Layman’s.  Mary and Steve wanted me to stay, they even asked if they could adopt me!  I was especially fond of the Layman's and it just so happens that my 150th night of hosts coincided with staying at their house in Gillette.

Like I said, I’ve been on the road for almost a year now, a nomad and homeless for 320 days.  This is the longest period of time in my life that I’ve not had a home base and I’ve never been more comfortable around total strangers in my entire life! I’ve spent 150 nights at other people’s homes and I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality, support, and love!  You’ve all taken great care of me around the world and made my experience on the road incredibly memorable and enjoyable as a result! 

Thank you! Gracias!  Merci!