Idaho Hot Spring Route – 2017

At first glance our recent Idaho trip is pretty straightforward – just over 2 weeks total with 11 days on the Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Biking Route, a few days visiting Emma’s big sis in northern Idaho, and a couple transition days throughout.  But for whatever reason, upon returning home, both Emma and I struggled to form a cohesive narrative of the trip.  We were certainly able to talk about the trip, about the things we saw, the people we met and our experiences, but sitting down and beginning the usual post-trip write-up was hard.  Emma tackled this by just writing a series of 11 vignettes about sections of the trip – not necessarily in chronological order and clearly not covering all aspects of the trip, but I think doing a good job evoking the feeling of the journey.  You can read her write-up here.

As for me, I’m committed to writing the full tour journal, so hopefully as I write this, almost 2 weeks since the end of our trip, some clarity has descended upon me and the story will unfold.

June 23 – Travel Day
35820561596_6192e26988_zNormally I am a pretty patient person, but air travel makes me a bit anxious.  Not so much afraid of the flying as the general logistics of getting to airports, hoping flights don’t get delayed, etc.  So scheduling a 5:45pm flight out of Pittsburgh was probably not the best idea as I fidgeted my way through most of the day.  Dirty Jones picked us up and drove us to the airport in some heavy rains.  Pittsburgh flight left on time and we had a layover in Phoenix.  Earlier in the week they had been delaying flights out of Phoenix due to the temperatures being too high, so we were hoping all would go well.  Our connecting flight was actually on the same plane, so we de-boarded, got some passable airport burritos, then almost immediately re-boarded onto the same plane.  A couple of weird delays once we were boarded (not due to weather), had us leaving about 45 minutes late, which meant we landed in Boise around midnight.  Got to the hotel and checked in by around 1am where our bikes were waiting for us in their boxes.  We weren’t going to put them together that night, but decided to open the boxes to check for damage and see how they shipped. Everything was fine…and then we just got to work and put them together cuz why not?  Everything was re-built and we were in bed by 2am.  

June 24 – Prep Day
We planned this as a day to collect final provisions, recover from air travel and hopefully get to check out a bit of Boise.  Our friend Shane had connected us with his friend Rae, a Pennsylvania ex-pat who has lived in Idaho for a while now.  Met up with her at a cafe called Big City where we got caffeinated beverages and huge (and I mean huge) baked goods.  Rae, who has been an outdoor guide in Idaho in the past and who has lived and explored many of the points on the route we were heading out on, eagerly listened to us talk about the planned trip and offered some advice.  A nice way to start our time in Idaho and it’s always nice to make a new friend.

From there we rode back across town via Boise’s 35163139463_7bfba3e411_zwonderful network of bike lanes to a Home Depot to get some denatured alcohol for our stove fuel.  Then back into town to hit up the Food Co-op for trip provisions.  Also checked out the local farmers market, checked out a local adventure shop and got some other provisions (sunblock, bugspray, etc).  Then back to the hotel to take a nap, shower, sex, then another shower.

With all our provisions purchased, we did a final test pack to make sure everything fit.  All looked good so we headed back to the food co-op for dinner and used their bike maintenance station in the parking lot to do some final bike checks.  We had brought a bottle of tubeless sealant along to fill up our tires before heading out.  Neither of us had ever done this before so it was a new experience.  With a full bottle, I was able to add some to Emma’s front tire, having a little trouble I think due to the bottle still being full and having no air in it.  Then Emma tried it on her back tire and had a much easier time, almost dispensing the entire bottle into her rear tire.  I was left with just a little bit to add to my tires, but luckily my tires had really recently been set up as tubeless, so they were probably fine to begin with.  

Back to the hotel and in bed by 10pm to get a good sleep before the real trip began.

June 25 – Trail Day 1
Up at 6am, hotel breakfast (snagged some sugar and jelly packets for our trip), dropped off our bike boxes at the hotel office for them to hold for our return, and then we hopped on the Greenbelt, a bike path literally connected right to our hotel’s parking lot.  The Greenbelt would be our first 12 miles of the trip.

Despite riding on a fairly level, paved bike path, I think both of us were struggling during the early miles out of town.  Looking down at Emma’s tires and noticing how they squishy they looked, I made the connection that perhaps we had our air pressure just a bit too low (the co-op bike pump did not have a pressure gauge), so we stopped and topped up our tires with the hand pump.  Due to the excessive sealant in Emma’s rear tire, it sprayed juice everywhere and made a tiny mess but we were able to get some air in there.  After that, we both felt much better.

35729394481_4e00dd2a12_zOnce the Greenbelt ended we had our first big climb of about 1000ft in altitude over several miles.  It was paved and it hadn’t warmed up too much yet, so we did the climb quickly and felt strong.  After the descent on the other side, we turned off onto Middle Fork Road, which would be our only road for the rest of the day.  Following along the edge of Arrowrock reservoir, the road was a mix of loose gravel, dirt and dust, and was mainly a rolling and gentle climb with a few tougher climbs thrown in.  The proximity to the reservoir and being a hot, beautiful summer day meant a good bit of traffic – trucks, trucks with boats, RV’s, ATV’s, etc.  Not excessive, but just enough to keep you on edge.  

The road did not offer much in the way of shade, so we took shelter when we can.  Most notably we stopped at the Twin Springs “Resort”, a beat up old building that doubled as a bar/general store that was surrounded by cabins they rented out and somewhere in the vicinity there was a hot spring.  We got some Gatorades and a small bag of chips and hunkered down for a good break on their front porch in the shade.  It was at this time 35861159135_9ef05acd64_zthat Jacob, a young boy of about 7-8 years old, came up to the porch and started hanging around us.  He apparently belonged to one of the women who worked there.  He kept saying “iiii’m soooo huunnngry” as he played with various pieces of scrap metal and also told us how he hates bats.  We assured him we weren’t giving him any of our food and instructed him to ask him mom, but he persisted.  Finally the Twin Springs staff closed the store so they could go prep one of the cabins and took him with us.  We just continued to hang out on their porch and avoid the mid-day sun.

Eventually we left and rode a few miles up the road to the Sheep Creek Bridge Spring, our first hot spring.  It was one where they actually divert the hot spring water into a circular tub (I think it was a cattle feed trough) mounted on a platform away from the river.  There was a tiny corner of it with some shade but mostly it was exposed in the hot sun, so we only stayed in briefly and then were on our way.

We arrived at Neinmeyer campground in the late afternoon.  The site was no longer maintained; I believe it suffered either fire or flood damage and has been somewhat abandoned.  But there was a nice flat spot to put our tent and easy access to the river for water, so we had all we needed.  We set up camp and took a quick nap in the tent, which at one point was buzzed by a hummingbird.  We then got up and made tacos for dinner and successfully hung our first ever Pacific Crest Trail-method bear bag (after many attempts).  Slept well that night.

June 26 – Trail Day 2
Up at 6am again but slowed down a bit by a guy on a dual-sport motorcycle who swung by our camp hoping we had an airpump that would work on his bike.  No dice but it was fun to talk with each other about our adventures.  Our first 9 miles of the morning were quick and then we opted to stop for a morning hot spring soak at Dutch Frank Hot Spring.  This spring was just a pool created along the river out of rocks.  Due to the river being high (record snowfalls this last winter!), the river water was lapping over the edges of the pool cooling off the hot spring considerably.  However, we were able to find some spots in the water where the temps mixed nicely and we enjoyed ourselves a lazy morning soak.

After a few miles of relatively flat road, we turned onto the side road which would become our first big 2500+ climb on a dirt road.  We started off strong and in the beginning there was ample shade, but then the road ventured into mostly burn zones as the day got increasingly hotter.  Most of this hill would become a brutal hike-a-bike punctuated with frequent stops in whatever shade we could find.  Luckily water continued to be abundant as we needed to re-supply partway up the climb.  We reached what we thought was the peak, but oh no, there definitely is a false peak on this stretch, so after enjoying a brief downhill, we struggled with a couple more miles of uphill.

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Eventually a true uninterrupted descent.  We had been somewhat perplexed why this road was so loose and dusty until on our downhill we saw a guy in a pickup truck pulling a rake behind it, coming up the hill raking the road clean. He looked at us, gave us a “sorry” shrug and it all became clear.  

Before making it to Featherville there was one more fairly small climb, but by this time Emma and I were fairly spent.  The mixture of the huge climb, dealing with breathing at these higher elevations, the heat, etc. must have made us look pretty rough.  I know I looked over at Emma a few times and she had that glazed over look.  I’m fairly certain I had it too.  So you can imagine how happy we were to roll into Featherville and find some cold beverages and some food.

A lot happened in Featherville that night, so i’m just going to bullet point these:

  • Got dinner at Cyndie’s Restaurant.  They had Gardenburgers.  And Dr. Pepper.  I was stoked
  • Pickup up some generic Pop Tarts at the combination grocery/baitshop/gem store.
  • Sat on the porch of the bar, letting dinner settle, talking with some random folks and eventually watching a storm roll in and wondering how we should proceed with our night.
  • Eventually it starts raining, which we watch from the porch, until Cyndie’s partner Pat comes to the restaurant, sees us and our bikes and tells us “You’re not getting to Sun Valley that way” (pointing in the direction we need to go).
  • We go back into Cyndie’s where Pat proceeds to show us photos another bicyclist took of the many washouts along Dollarhide Summit (which would have been the next day’s ride) and then via Mapquest shows us a potential detour.
  • Back out onto the porch to continue watching the rain and then the electric in town is knocked out.  The local drunks exit the bar and come out on the porch too
  • Emma suggests that we ask the drunks if any of them are available to drive us to Ketchum the next day instead of taking the longer detour around.  One of them, Jake, says he has to work until noon but could do it after that.  Surprisingly we all agree to this plan.
  • After the rain stops, we set up camp right in town along the stream, in what feels essentially like a little hobo encampment.  We are literally like 30’ from the street but nobody can see us and it is quite comfy and beautiful.

June 27 – Trail Day 3
35583945670_18a9d3e872_zIn the morning we rolled out of our tent and waked right up to Cyndie’s to get breakfast.  I ordered the “pancake as big as a plate”.  It didn’t specify what size plate;  it was a big plate and it was also like 1” think.  I did not eat all of it.  Pat was working the restaurant in the morning and he got to talking to us about this, that and the other thing.  There was mostly Seahawks gear in the restaurant but a couple Bears things, and I made the mistake of asking him who was what fan and he just went off talking about the NFL for way too long.  It was during this run that he made a few off color comments I didn’t care for (i.e. referring to Tony Romo as Tony Homo), but then redeemed himself by later saying (in a different conversation), “We got rid of those idiots like the Aryan Nation and the skinheads”.  Then we went and tour down camp and worked on some writing while Jake finished up working (which was happening just outside the bar next door, so we were able to check in with him to make sure that he remembered our conversation from the night before and was still into driving us.)

35473423750_906688f19f_zAt a little before noon he was ready to go, so we tossed the bikes in the back of his truck and hit the road.  Emma sat up front because she’s better at being talkative.  I hung out in the back with Jake’s dog.  The ride was actually really nice.  Contrary to my fears, Jake was actually a really good driver.  He did drink several beers over the course of the drive, which wasn’t ideal, but I guess that’s not such a big deal if you drink all the time, right?  Along the way we filled up his tank with $56 worth of diesel in exchange for the ride and he dropped us off right in downtown Ketchum.

We had an AirBnB reserved just outside town for the night but it wasn’t check-in time yet, so we took a little time to checkout Ketchum.  We strolled through town, including rolling through their farmers market, located the supermarket for later reference and then sought out a place to get lunch.  The first place we looked for was closed but there was a burrito place on the corner, so we went there, sitting outside in some shade and had an extremely talkative old guy seat us and talk with us about our bikes and trip.  Big burrito was consumed and then we went to the local adventure shop where we got some electrolyte drink powders and conferred with the guy in the bike shop about the status of local trails.  He told us part of the Harriman Trail might be closed but said most of our stretch for the next day should be good.  Emma then bought some sunglasses big enough to fit over her regular glasses as the bright sun was really getting to her out on these exposed roads.

We rode the bike trails out of town to our AirBnB, a weird A-frame building with a huge carved sign out front that read “Another day in paradise”.  We took showers, did some laundry and lounged around for a few hours before heading back into town to do some grocery shopping for dinner that night and food for the next leg of the trip.  

Back at the BnB we made up some gnocchi and broccoli with tomato sauce for dinner.  I had picked up a local-ish root beer called “Buck Snort” that was delicious but seemed a bit flat. We debated whether that was by design or if I just had a bad can.  After dinner we wrote up a first batch of postcards to send out and then prepared for bed.  Right before we were ready to go to bed, the other guest at the BnB showed up (it was a shared space with 2 separate bedroom areas).  He was a 20-ish professional downhill mountain bike racer.  We chatted with him for a bit and since we all had to get up early in the morning, we called it a night relatively early.

June 28 – Trail Day 4
Right before going to bed the previous night I had checked the weather and it looked like35729374181_886f6e9a57_z the rain they had been calling for in the morning was no longer being predicted.  So in the morning we just ate our breakfast and headed out, not bothering to re-check the weather or think anything of the overcast skies.  Of course, no two miles away from the dry comfort of the BnB, the raindrops began to slowly fall.  We put on our rain jackets and continued on as we began to hear thunder and see dark dark skies ahead of us, hoping we might come upon some type of shelter to hide under.  Then the rain picked up and we ducked into a grove of trees just as some light BB sized hail began to fall.  We waited out the rain for about 10 minutes until it nearly stopped and then headed on our way.  We made our way out to the main highway 75 that we would need to take for several miles when the rain began to fall again and we found another grove of trees to hide under for another 5-10 minutes.  Then the rain stopped. The skies were still dark and there was still bits of thunder but we pedaled forth and slowly the skies cleared up and the sun began to come out.

We found the Harriman Trail and hopped on that, a fun rolling trail that went through some bits of forest and some open fields.  There was a section that had suffered some flood damage and was closed, so we did have to hop back on 75 for a stretch.  Before we knew it, we had reached the end of the trail and were just a short ride to the Galena Lodge, which had a cafe/restaurant and a bike shop. We stopped in at the bike shop to ask about the status of the trails leading over the Galena Summit.  They dude working was super friendly and helpful (he actually had been in the Ketchum the day prior and had seen us rolling through the farmers market) and said he couldn’t guarantee the status of the old toll road that we were supposed to take as nobody he knew had been all the way through it this season.  He did say that at the junction of several other main trails in that area that there were 5-6’ of snow still standing.  This information cemented our decision to take the paved highway over the summit instead of the dirt.

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Emma got a soy latte from the cafe and then we ate a quick lunch of hummus and tortillas.  As we sat there, various people were heading out on some of the mountain bike trails and we got a bit envious of their ability to just rip around at that time.  And there was a trail called the “Rip and Tear” that we really wanted to ride.  We considered taking all our bags off our bikes and doing a quick run on some trails but we still had a pretty good stretch of road to ride before Stanley.

The Galena Summit is at 8701’.  Taking the highway meant adding maybe a couple miles to the day’s total but meant doing so on some nice smooth payment and a consistent grade.  We killed it. This was a huge emotional and psychological victory for us – being able to deal with the altitude, the heat and the long climb after the struggle of 2 days prior.  Sure it was easier on pavement but we were doing it.  About ¾ of the way up, we stopped at a pulloff to admire the view and almost immediately the winds started whipping up, really intensely and we heard a clap of thunder.  We feared a storm was coming but there didn’t seem to be anything indicative in the immediate surroundings.  Nonetheless, we hopped back on our bikes and pushed forth to the summit.

35022194644_0b7984d692_zAt the top we were supposed to get off onto some dirt again but we were really enjoying the pavement at that time, so we decided we would take the pavement down 75 until the Smiley Creek Lodge and then get back on the main route.   Shortly after the summit there was an official overlook area that we stopped at and received much praise from other folks who thought we were crazy for climbing these hills.  The remainder of the descent was fast and intense and kinda cold and the wind continued to push us around.  When we made it to Smiley Creek Lodge, I was cold enough to want a cup of hot tea.  Emma tried conferring with the old dudes at the next booth over and the waitstaff about the condition of the next section of roads/trails but nobody really knew, so we hoped for the best.

We backtracked a mile to hop back on the route, connecting with Valley Road, which was just a long mostly completely straight stretch of road, gravelly with great views in all directions, including our first good views of the Sawtooth Mountains.  This then connected with our final section of trail on Decker Road, a road that according to the elevation profile in the official route map would be downhill all of the way.  Of course, elevation maps often miss out on some of the detailed contours of a road and this one was a lot of a little bit up and then a little bit down.  Not really rolling though, rough road and really washed out in many spots.  The going got pretty tough.  At one point we passed another biker walking his bike on the trail and he asked “Does this meet up with the road?”  My best response – “It better.”  

Finally made it to Sunny Gulch Campground just south of Stanley.  We had a reservation and found our spot.  I set up camp while Emma prepped a dinner of split pea soup and kale.  Lots of various chipmunks and squirrels were curious about our food and kept jumping up on the picnic table.  Despite the warnings directly on the table about bears, it was clear rodents were our bigger concern for the night.

35692731452_b31885db13_zWhen the camp host came by we asked 2 questions – 1) Were they still calling for temperatures to drop into the 30’s? And 2) what should we do about bear-proofing our site since we were on bikes?  His response – 1) Possibly.  Maybe even below freezing, and 2) “We haven’t had any bears yet, so don’t worry about it.”  Not being sure how to take his nonchalance about the bearbag situation, we put all of our foodstuffs in one stuff sack and hogtied it to the underside of the picnic table – safe from the many rodents and somewhat inconvenient for any bear.  Emma was really stoked to get to use her newly learned knot-tying skills to do this.

Even before the sun was down it was cooling off considerably.  I was a bit concerned that I didn’t pack enough layers to stay warm.  Despite the cold, we slept cozily through the night.  At one point Emma got up to pee and declared the stars amazing.  I kinda didn’t want to leave my cozy cocoon of a sleeping bag but I knew she was probably right, so I hopped out of the tent and sure enough “HOLY SHIT LOOK AT ALL THOSE STARS THIS IS AMAZING!”  We worked a bit on doing some constellation finding (poorly, but we tried) and then went back to bed.

June 29 – Trail Day 5
Since we knew it was going to be potentially freezing in the morning and because we had planned for a short day, we decided to let ourselves sleep in a bit.  Despite sleeping in there was still some frost on our tent and our bike bags.  We packed up quickly and headed into Stanley to get breakfast at the Stanley Bakery.

The place was bumping when we got there and there were 2 fully loaded cyclists leaving as we rolled up.  We started talking to them and learned they were doing the same route.  They offered some intel they had received from another cyclist who was doing the route clockwise (all summits were passable and the stream crossing scheduled for that day was around knee high but passable).  They had done the route the previous year and said they had learned so much and it had allowed them to pack much lighter.  Emma and I looked at their fully loaded bikes and wondered to ourselves “How much did you bring last year?”  Turns out their target campsite for the day was the same as ours, so we bid farewell to them and said that we would hopefully see them again later that day.  

Ate breakfast and got a cinnamon roll to go.  Then stopped at one of the adventure outposts in town to get more sunblock (we used so much sunblock!) and also to just do another check with someone else about the passability of the upcoming summits.  The dude working at the place was dubious about several of the summits, saying he had recently seen photos from one showing lots of standing snow.  He recommended calling the Forest Service, which we did, but they weren’t much help.  They suggested calling the North Lodge, located smack dab between several of the summits; they would know.  And they did.  North Lodge dude said that they had just finished clearing all the roads and all summits should be passable.  Feeling reassured, we decided to hit one of the hot springs in town for a soak.

tumblr_inline_ot7qx3kzmo1rd331d_500The Snakepit Hot Spring is about a mile outside of town, right before the Stanley Museum.  Down a short dirt road and over a bridge and you’re there.  Another guy was leaving just as we got there and we had the place to ourselves.  Just a little pool a short stretch from the river with an amazing view of the Sawtooth Mountains in the distance.  Probably our best hot spring experience of the trip, since the morning air was still pretty cool and the water temperature wasn’t too hot.  After that we stopped in at the Stanley Museum and checked out their exhibits on the history of the Forest Service in the area and took a little time to write up some postcards.  Rolling back through town we stopped at the post office to drop off our postcards, filled up our water at the bakery and then were on our way.  Slow poke morning meant we weren’t hitting the road until about noon.

Emma and I had discussed it over breakfast.  The idea of a knee high stream crossing in these freezing, fast waters wasn’t that appealing, so we opted again for the paved option. We headed out of Stanley on Route 21.  It wasn’t the best stretch of road, but not the worst.  Still had beautiful views of the surrounding Sawtooths but we were fairly exposed again and dealt with a consistent if not particularly strong headwind along the whole stretch.  Emma struggled a bit with this stretch, worried we fucked around too long in the morning and feeling like we weren’t really making good time because of the headwind.  But checking out the milemarkers versus the clock, we were actually doing really well.  

We re-connected with the route and turned onto 579, the stretch of dirt road that would take us almost all the way to North Lodge.  And as we turned onto the road there was a sign listing all of the upcoming summits and their current status.  All of them listed as: CLOSED.  As we stood there wondering who to trust – the sign or the various people who assured us the summits were passable, an older couple in a mini van pulled up and looked at the sign also.  They then turned around but stopped and asked us where we were going.  After telling them, they assured us that we should be fine, saying “You can always carry your bikes over the snow.”  Buoyed by their confidence, we pushed forth.

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The climb up to Cape Horn Summit was our first big climb up a dirt road since day two.  Unlike that climb, we had a real strong showing here.  Emma’s doubt and feelings of sluggishness were gone and we reached the top triumphant.  From there we had some nice invigorating downhills and rolled through some beautiful fields of wildflowers.  After a bit, the ride began to drag but we eventually made it to camp and discovered that indeed our fellow bicyclists were camping there.  

We took the opportunity to talk with our fellow campers a bit and find out what all they were carrying on their bikes.  Tent and hammock?  Yep.  Multiple sets of clothes, both riding and camping?  Check.  All the camp food they would need for the entire trip?  Sure thing.  Not our way of traveling but they seemed to be enjoying themselves, so who are we to judge?

Dinner was ramen with veggie jerky and fresh snap peas we had been traveling with since Ketchum.  After dinner we made some tea and took a walk around the camp and down the road a bit but the mosquitos were so bad, that once back at camp we retired to the tent around 9pm just to get away from them.  We spent some time catching up on our journal writing and then fell asleep early.

June 30 – Trail Day 6
Big day with several climbs today, so we were up early at 6am again.  First stretch of the day was mostly flat with some downhills.  At one point we came down a hill and around a corner and there was a straight section ahead.  As we came around the bend I slowed down and said “OOOOHHHH SHHIIIT!” as I could clearly see what was a pack of some sort of large mammals ahead of us on the road.  Were they moose?  A couple adults and clearly some babies.  Then more emerged from the trees.  After looking a bit closer, we determined they were elk and not moose, so less dangerous, but we still weren’t eager to charge forth in them, so we were gonna take a seat and hope they moved on on their own.  But then as we shifted our bike tires in the gravel, they heard us and all took off into the woods.  Problem solved!   So we pedaled onward with Emma singing loudly and me yelling “Coming through!” to ensure they didn’t return to the road.  

35840433711_b83fd67788_zThe next big climb up to Deadwood Summit would be the real test: would it be open?  The climb up was pretty steep and was marked as an avalanche zone.  The climb was hard but we pushed forth pretty quickly since it was an avalanche zone and we didn’t think it was wise to linger.  As we got towards the top we did see some snow on the hillsides but nothing on the road until we were near the very top and then there were two sections with 8’+ snow drifts right along the road.  They were plowed through so we were able to proceed without issue.  Summit one for the day was a success!

The road for our second summit of the day leading to Warm Lake (and the North Lodge) became fresh pavement right as the climb began.  It was just before noon and the sun was out in full force, combined with the fresh black pavement, it made for a hot, sweaty climb.  But once again, the magic of flat, smooth pavement allows you to push through these conditions so much easier.  At the top we stopped and talked with a couple other cyclists riding the route in the opposite direction.  Then we had a seven mile descent down to Warm Lake on a wonderfully twisty and turny section that was also freshly paved (but also, had some evidence of recent rock slides, so nice easy riding as long as you watched out for the random rocks/gravel).  Luckily we encountered no traffic on this stretch and bombed down this.  Frightening but invigorating.

We got to North Lodge where we broke vegan edge and had grilled cheese sandwiches, fresh-cut fries and sodas.  On the TV there was a youtube playlist of amazing videos playing – AC/DC, Guns N Roses, Kid Rock.  When the John Denver song came on, the dude working the bar told us about how he won tickets to see John Denver and how almost every concert he’s gone to he’s won tickets to and how he met Chuck Norris and on and on.  He also told us about how many dumptrucks full of boulders they removed from Deadwood Summit and it for the first time became clear to me that “clearing the summit” at that point had less to do with the snow itself and more to do with what the snow may have pulled down onto the road over the winter.  Crazy.

We chilled on the patio for a bit after lunch and then pushed for.  We found our next road right outside of town.  Being there was no signs there, we inquired with some Forest Service staff sitting at the intersection who asked us where we were going.  They confirmed we were on the right path, warned that the road was “skinny and real curvy”, but couldn’t confirm if the next day’s summit would be clear or not.  

It was indeed skinny and real curvy until we reached our final summit for the day at Poverty Summit. From there things straightened out a bit.  After accidentally blowing by it, we retraced our steps and found the Mile 16 Hot Spring.  It was right off the road, along the river, down a dangerously steep walkway.  There were two pools – one that was waaaay too hot and another that was a mix of hot/cold water, both totally in direct sun.  We tried enjoying ourselves but when another crew of folks came along asking how long we would be, we gladly told them we were getting out and moving along.

We cruised a bit down the road and found the next hot spring at Teapot Hot Springs.  Also right along the road.  This was also directly in the sun and had several pools, one of which was also way too hot, but the other had a nice mix of hot water and cold river water that made for some nice soaking.  We had a nice short soak and then made our way to Buckhorn Barr Campground for the night.  Surprisingly for a Friday night, we were the only campers there.  A generally uneventful night in camp and called it an early night in order to get up early the following morning for the biggest climb of our trip.

July 1 – Trail Day 7
Got up early and broke out the first seven miles quickly as they were all downhill.  Then we turned onto the road that would begin our 16 mile climb.  Emma was having a psychological issue with this climb all day the previous day.  She was sure it was going to take us all day.  I, on the other hand, tried my hand at staying positive.  Looking at the elevation charts and doing the math, I had hypothesized that it might only take us a few hours.   Emma wasn’t buying it.

The first few miles were a slight upgrade and we were feeling good.  Still I was surprised by the time we stopped to take off our legwarmers at how far along we had already gone.  We had probably already put in 4 miles.  It got hotter and hotter as the day went on and there was less and less shade as we got closer to the top, but still we never walked one section of this hill.  We rode the entire way.  And we ended up doing it in just a little over 3.5 hours.  Hellz yeah!

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At the top we were gonna stop and eat some snacks, including some garbage cookies we picked up at North Lodge.  There was a dude sitting in his pickup truck right in front of the big rocks that constituted the overlook.  I started to walk away from him towards some other rocks, but Emma walked the other way towards him and gave him a quick “Hey – how’s it going?” on the way to sit down.  Of course that was all the opening this guy needed to begin talking and talk he did.  He asked us how much nice mountain bikes like ours cost, like a couple hundred bucks?  And then proceeded to tell us about every possible bike path in a 3 state radius and the places he has lived and explored and how this has changed, etc, etc.  Nice enough guy but I just wasn’t feeling the interaction at that moment.  I had hoped for a bit more solemn summit moment after the big climb.

35021963574_7fbd0770a7_zThe descent down was fast, loose and dusty.  And as we got closer to McCall there was more traffic than we had seen since day one of the trip.  Trucks, RV’s, ATV’s, almost all exclusively coming towards us as they left the “city” in search of wilderness.  Lots of dust was kicked up and it was not the most pleasant riding.  Eventually the road did become paved and while that helped us move quicker, we were running low on water and energy, so the final miles into McCall with all the traffic were a bit stressful.  

Arriving in McCall we followed some well marked signs to “Downtown” only to arrive at a marina/beach area overrun with tourists.  Slightly disoriented after days in the wilderness, we tried to get on our phones to check in with Emma’s sister and her partner who were picking us up and look for possible places to eat, etc.  Strange thing – our phones showed there was signal – 4 bars, 4G, all that but nothing seemed to work.  Frustrated, we found our way to the main drag and found a cafe where we got iced soy chai’s and were able to check in on the wi-fi.  

Cooled down and relaxed, we hunted down the supermarket and got food for a picnic lunch, then returned to the lakeside to eat.  Our phones continued to only work on the actual cellular network sporadically, so we became slightly worried about our plans to meet up with Maggie and Rajal, but we hung out observing the local teenagers, eating our picnic lunch and generally relaxing on the shady hillside.  Eventually Emma was able to get a message through to Maggie and Maggie was able to text back an “Ok”, so we waited patiently for them to arrive.  Once they arrived, we loaded up the bikes and they swept us northward to Moscow where they live.

July 2-5 – Interim Daze
We spent 3 full days chillin’ in Moscow with Maggie and Rajal.  A nice few days to shower, do some laundry and relax.  Ate a few great Moscow Food Co-op breakfasts; visited a local reservoir where we did some hiking, found some huckleberries and got in the lake; picked some flowers at a pick-your-own flower farm; took a bike ride around town to see some graffiti, public art and interesting houses; and went to a Fourth of July party.  

35692290482_fc25817f01_zOn the 5th, we loaded up all our gear again and headed south again towards McCall.  One our way we stopped at the Nez Perce National Forest visitors center, visited the Dog Bark Park dog-shaped BnB and craft shop (where the proprietor – an old woodcarving dude talked with us for a long time), and saw the Mammoth skeleton in Grangeville.  We also stopped for cold drinks.  That night we camped at Ponderosa Park right on the edge of McCall.  We had the opportunity to take a dip in the lake right at sunset, then made dinner and played some cards before calling it a night.

July 6 – Trail Day 8
Up early, said our goodbyes and then back to the main route.  It was cool enough that we started out with our puffy jackets on and gloves but by the time we reached Farm To Market Road on the other side of town, we were taking them off.  We were on that road for awhile which felt very Pennsylvania like –  a rolling hills sections through fields of cattle grazing.  Stopped in Roseberry, a few houses at an intersection, to sit in the shade, grab a snack and use their convenient bathrooms.

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On FR-400 the road became a single lane, fairly even grade and the shrubbery was growing in on either side creating a very tunnel-like path for much of our climb.  It was definitely not a very frequently used road.  While stopped for lunch, another bicyclist came around the bend and we talked with him a bit.  He was currently solo but only because his wife had to drop out due to developing some bad saddle sores.  She was now driving along and meeting up with him every night with most of their gear, so he was able to ride a largely unloaded bike.  It sounded like they were making the best of things. 

The descent down off that hill was crazy – skinny road, dusty, loose, rutted with washboarded sections.  One of those ‘one wrong move’ type roads where you could really fuck yourself up.  And it just seemed to go on forever, even though it wasn’t that long in reality.  It was amazing but we were happy to see the next road was another stretch of fairly fresh pavement leading us the last few miles into Cascade.

35021583894_006ba4cdd8_zIn Cascade we stopped at the first gas station we saw and got Gatorade and trash pies, then sat outside and consumed them right in front of the firewood for sale.  By this point the sun was once again very high and the temps were no doubt in the 90’s by now.  After running a couple more errands in “town”, we rode over to Cascade Lake where we chilled in the shade for awhile and then did some swimming in the lake.  

We only had another 10 miles to go to get to our destination for the day but it was hot and we put it off for awhile.  But we knew it wasn’t likely to cool off much until the sun went down, so we eventually headed off.  The 10 miles were relatively flat but the road was very loose gravel and sand, heavily washboarded.  Emma was fading and was definitely getting crabby.  I looked over at her a couple points and she was definitely almost in tears (She had promised me that she was likely to cry at some point on this trip.  Was today the day?)  Then we had a nice section that was in the shade and I think that re-invigorated her a bit and we hammered out the final couple miles to camp.

Our campsite for the night was the Clear Creek RV Campground which has a restaurant attached to it, so obviously before setting up camp we went inside to get some drinks and a big order of tater tots.  They brought us the tallest cups of soda i’ve ever been given in a restaurant before and we drank them all.  

True to its name, the camp was all RV campers; there wasn’t a single other tent when we setup.  Around dusk, another bicyclist rolled in.  He was also doing the hot springs route but clockwise.  Since we had set up by the only picnic bench in the tent area, we offered to share it with him.  His name was Kirk.  He came over and we shared stories from the trail so far and past adventure stories.  Based on the heat of the day and knowing tomorrow was only likely to be worse, we were planning on getting up at 5am to help avoid the heat, so we said our goodbyes and were in bed by 10.

July 7 – Trail Day 9
35021587974_519e64bf6e_zUp at 5am, on the road by 6am after a breakfast of some runny oatmeal.  First climb was similar to the previous days climb.  Skinny, tunnel like road with another epic downhill.  At the bottom of that descent, we sat at the crossroads above the river and ate lunch.  At this point a Prius with a mountain bike on the back rolled up.  The driver stopped and it turned out to be Heidi, the wife of the guy we had met the day before (yeh, the one with the saddle sores).  Despite the change in plans she seemed to be having a good time and enjoying her time in Idaho.  It was nice to chat with her a bit, but it was getting hot, so it was time to press on.

The next climb was rough in the heat, especially for me.  We came to the very clear determination that he or she that is wearing the Camelbak is the one who gets crankier in the heat.  Having something on your back just makes you hotter; not rocket science but there was definitely a clear pattern developing here.  

35473588830_5937f5d3a9_zWe had been intending to stop in at Silver Creek Plunge Hotsprings, less for the hot springs than because the map told us there was some type of store there.  If only cold drinks, that was enough.  Unfortunately we misunderstood the location of the hot springs (we thought they were past the SCP campground but they are right at the campground), so we missed our opportunity.  We thought about turning around but then noticed a nice access point to the creek right along the road.  We were able to access the icy creek in a nice shady cove.  We got our feet wet.  Purified some ice cold stream water and made some electrolyte drink and just escaped from the heat for awhile.  It was perfect.  The stream was also full of lots of flakes of mica, no doubt the reason it was called Silver Creek.  

Once again realizing that it wasn’t going to cool off until after dark, we left our cozy cove and hit the road for one last short climb and then a number of miles before hitting our target campground for the night.  As we pulled out on the road, a woman on an ATV pulling off the road said “You’re brave!”. It was hot but we felt revived and made quick work of the last climb and then were treated to another fairly epic downhill.  

Being that it was as Friday afternoon, we were getting relatively close to Boise (for car traffice anyway) and because there were numerous campsites along this road, the traffic started getting pretty busy again.  The road was super dusty and we were getting passed by lots of RV’s so we travelled in a near constant haze of dust.  

When we rolled into Tie Creek Campground, it looked like all sites were occupied except for a double site.  We were ready to just accept having to pay for a double site when I suggested we do another lap just to make sure.  Luckily I noticed that one of the sites didn’t have a tag on the post.  After asking around, we learned that it was just some dudes who were down along the river for the day.  They had no intention of camping there, so the site was ours for the night!

Being that it was still like 100 degrees outside, we held off on putting up the tent and instead opted to just get in the river.  After cooling off in the river, we came back up to came to still find only a small corner of shade, so we hung out in that corner and prepared our ramen and jerky dinner.  The camp was right near the road so every time a vehicle passed, another huge cloud of dust would rain down upon us.  Finally the sun went down below the treeline and we were able to set up our tent.  

We were pretty spent and ready to go to sleep by 8:30 but the rest of the campsite was still pretty bumping and the sky was still bright so it seemed unlikely that we would get any sleep just yet.  We decided to take a walk around the camp and ended up talking a bit with one of the camp maintenance guys who came through.  Then we ran into the woman from the one other campsite who had a kayak and mountain bike on her car and chatted her up.  She was in Idaho for a kayak school.  It was fun to hear her talk about her kayak school experience and she was interested in learning more our trip.  After talking for a half hour or so we were able to head off to bed.  

July 8 – Trail Day 10
We had planned to wake up at 5:30.  I woke up at around 5:25 to Emma vigorously slapping the side of our tent.  I said something along the lines of “What the hell are you doing?”, to which she replied “Skunk!”  Sure enough there was a skunk under our rainfly trying to dig around in the Camelbak.  I quickly reminded Emma that scaring a skunk was a bad strategy.  We wanted to disperse the skunk but we didn’t want to make it feel under attack.  So we continued a strategy of gently shaking the side of the tent until it got annoyed and wandered off into the weeds.

35820683236_f71c632813_zDespite the early wakeup call, we didn’t hit the road until 7am.  We rode the first 8+ miles into Crouch and arrived a bit too early for any of the stores to be open.  We decided to push on to Garden Valley where there would be a store.  Right outside the instructions were to get on a bike trail that was kinda lumpy and rocky and Emma got needlessly pissy about the trail;  I reminded her that she had just been complaining about sharing the road with cars and RV’s.  You guessed it, she was the one wearing the Camelbak this morning.  We dubbed it the “crybaby bag”.  

In Garden Valley we stopped at the convenience store, loaded up on some provisions for the day ahead and got a second breakfast – some trash pies and Vitamin Water.  As we sat outside eating, another kid on a road bike rolled up and we talked with him for a bit.  He had started in Missouri and had been planning on going all the way to the coast but was running low on cash.  He was going to have to take a bus home.  He then told us fucked up stories of riding Greyhound; always a good time.  

The road from Garden Valley to Placerville was mostly one big climb.  We were already feeling pretty beat but we did well.  Another climb with no walking of the bikes.  In Placerville we got more cold drinks and a bag of potato chips and sat on the porch and watched traffic go by.  A strange trio of folks rolled up – a guy wearing a bike helmet riding a dirtbike, another guy on a Vespa and an older woman on a four-wheeler.  A local told us about a cold spring about a 1/4 mile back on the road, so we re-traced our steps and filled up our bottles there.

Riding out of Placerville, another guy on a motorcycle stopped us to confirm he was going in the right direction.  We confirmed it for him.  He replied “I’m doing it.”, then looked at us and said “You’re doing it too.  Harder.”   We nodded and were on our way.  

We made it within 5-6 miles of Idaho City when the combination of heat and climbing got to us.  We knew we only had a couple miles of climbing but the dirt was so loose, our legs were so tired, the air was so hot.  At this point we were pretty much doing 80% hike-a-bike with occasional sections of riding when it seemed doable.  It was under these conditions that a pickup truck pulled over and a retired couple offered/insisted that they give us a ride into Idaho City.  It was just too hot they said.  After a moment of reflection, we took them up on their offer.

After loading our bikes in the back of the truck, they pulled out two ice cold Powerade’s from their cooler and handed each of us one.  We then hopped in the back seat of their truck and they gave us a ride over the mountain.  As with most of the other Idahoans we had met, they spent a good portion of our time together telling us everything about the state of Idaho that they loved.  They dropped us outside Idaho City, instructed us where to get ice cream, pointed out a weird house we should look at, gave us hugs and sent us on our way.

Despite being called Idaho City, it is not much of a city.  In about 4 minutes we had ridden from where we had been dropped off to the other side of town and found the Idaho City Visitors Center.  They had bathrooms and a porch with shade. This was all we required. Then we found they had free wifi, so we parked ourselves on the porch and made that our afternoon home for several hours.  We only left to go next door to the market to buy some chips, salsa and bean dip for our lunch.  

35861348745_103c7b1009_zOur original camping plan for the night was Grayback Gulch campground about 3 miles south of town.  We had found out while in Moscow that the bridge leading to this campground had washed out and the campsite was technically closed but we thought we might be able to cross the creek and camp there anyway.  So late afternoon we headed out to test this hypothesis.  Upon arriving at the turnoff it became clear this was not an option.  The dropoff at the bridge was a good 8-10’ drop and the section of stream was not something that would be easy to cross.  Luckily we had a backup plan, a commercial campground another few miles down the road.

So south we went, stopping at a pulloff and taking another opportunity to get in some water.  I was content to just soak my feet/legs but Emma stripped down and laid down in the water.  We relaxed here awhile, drank some cold electrolyte water and then got back on our bikes.  Arriving at Creekside Campground we noticed the wedding sign and all the people dressed fancy and immediately got a bad vibe.  No clear “office” seemed available and we poked around with people ignoring us.  Finally we asked some dudes if somebody who worked there was available and they just told us “We rented this place out for the whole weekend.  You can’t camp here.  There are plenty of other places to camp around here.”  Of course, we knew, there were not.  Another guy unhelpfully stated – “Well, we’ll all be getting really drunk so you could probably sneak back in later on and nobody would notice.”  No thanks.

So back to the highway and we continued heading south, hoping that we might find a place to do some stealth camping along the way.  But since we were getting closer to closer to Boise and further and further from the land of everything being Forest Service, there weren’t many options.  At one point we stopped to take a break and Emma noticed some folks enjoying themselves down by a swimming hole so she went to ask them if they knew of anywhere we could camp.  Apparently they took great interest in our trip and telling her about their motorcycle trips, etc, as she was gone for awhile.  I just stayed up by the road and occasionally waved down.  They made several suggestions, none of which were particularly good.

At this point we knew there was a real good chance we would just have to push on and get back to Boise that night.  We were about 20 miles away at this point.  Twenty miles isn’t that long except when you’ve already rode almost 60.  There was one other option we knew of – we could turn off when he returned to Arrowrock Reservoir and go 4-5 miles up to the first campsite that we passed back on day 1.  Of course there was no guarantee there would be any open spaces when we got there.  

When we hit Arrowrock, Emma just kept going straight so I assumed she decided that we were just pushing on.  However, about a 1/2 mile later she said “Back there is where we should have turned off if we were gonna do that, huh?”  Yep. So the choice was made…we’ll push forth to Boise.  One last climb back up to Highland Valley Summit with the promise of cold drinks (oh god do I love cold drinks!) at the top if the store was still open. Legs so tired but we pushed on, stopping frequently to catch our breath and wipe the sweat from our eyes.  Got to the summit and the store was still open.  Hallelujah!  Tallboys of Arizona Iced Tea were procured and we sat on the bench outside and guzzled those down.  

One final descent down on the road and we’d be back to the Boise Greenbelt.  At the bottom of the hill we stopped to try to get some cell service but no luck.  We were hoping to call ahead to Boise to see if we could either, 1) stay with our new friend Rae, or 2) get a room at our hotel.  Those calls would have to wait until we got closer to town.

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We stopped at the restrooms at the park there and as we were preparing to mount up again, we saw a fully-loaded bike rolling out of town towards us.  “Wonder where that guy’s going at this hour?” as dusk was starting to fall.  The guy stopped as he approached and talked to us. He called himself Peaceful Valley Walker and began telling us about his travels.  He then revealed he had recently come from this year’s Rainbow Gathering and some things began to make sense.  He then told us about how this year’s prayer circle was the best he ever experienced and how he looked over the crowd with his third eye and saw a bright white light (“but not like the color white”) and I thought to myself “Hellz yeah, ya did!”  Sweet, super stoked dude who has been travelling around by bike for thousands of miles.  Safe travels buddy.  

We parted ways and got back on the Greenbelt.  Up a little climb back towards the main road and then BAM!, perhaps one of the best sunsets we experienced the entire time as we rode back towards town.  We stopped at the Diversion Dam to take it all in and Emma was able to get a cell signal.  She texted Rae about us crashing at her house and Rae replied immediately saying we could.  About 10 more miles and we’d be done!

We clicked on our dynamo lights and rode into town.  The Greenbelt has a bunch of offshoots along the way, so figuring out if we were doing it right in the dark was a small challenge, but we eventually made our way back into Boise proper.  While stopped to check on directions to Rae’s apartment a couple bikes approached and one of the people yelled “Bikepackers!”.  Two dudes stopped and asked us about our journey.  They were locals who had done parts of the route, so it was fun to hear their take on things.  They wished us luck finding our friend’s house and then were on their way.

35729399841_351596bf1c_zWe eventually ended up back right by our hotel and I was like “Should we have already turned off?”  So we checked the maps together and figured out where we needed to go.  Just a couple miles of zigzagging through the neighborhood and we’d be at Rae’s.  Rolling up to her house after 10pm, we found her and her dog sitting outside waiting for us.  

Showers were had.  We made some food.  And she had half a house recently vacated by the resident, so we just slept on a bare floor in an empty room.  As we fell asleep a storm rolled through town.  We rode approximately 80 miles over the course of the day.  It was a crazy ending to our trip.

July 9 – Boise Rest Day
Rae had to go to work early in the morning but let us sleep in.  In the morning we packed up and headed to the co-op for breakfast.  I wanted to find an Idaho shaped sticker to put on my bike as a commemorative stamp of the trip, so I looked up and we found a gift shop just up the street called Mixed Greens.  So after breakfast we rode up there where I found an appropriately sized Idaho sticker for my bike (put it on the top tube to cover up the ding I put in the paint) and Emma scored a little Idaho shaped necklace.  Also got our last round of postcards and sat outside the store and wrote those up.  

35473589410_ffd5ef5e7f_zBy this time it was late enough that we could head to the hotel and check in.  Arriving there we reclaimed our bike boxes and set about disassembling everything and re-packing them up.  It went a little quicker this time now that we had a system down but still had its challenges. Once that was complete, we took advantage of the hotel pool to get one last swimming excursion in.  Not quite the same as the various rivers, streams and lakes we had spent our time in in recent weeks but it felt good.  Then back to the room for showers and some relaxing (watching Office Space on the TV) until later when Rae was going to pick us up for dinner.  Being late on a Sunday night in Boise made choices rather slim but we found a chain pizza place that had vegan options, so we hit that up.  Pizza, good conversation, catching up on the details of our trip.  It was good. Then Rae dropped us off and we called it an early-ish night since we had a long day of travel ahead of us.

July 10 – Travel Home
35729389481_4751346d64_zTravel day back home was largely uneventful.  Spent some time at the Denver airport reacquainting myself with the conspiracies about that place.  Landed back in Pittsburgh around 11:30. Our friend Sara picked us up and ran us home but was on auto-pilot mode so totally drove past the 40th Street Bridge exit off 28 and so we took a detour through Highland Park to get home. Back home around 12:30 and into bed by 1pm.  Back to work the following morning.

 

Conclusion
Sometimes you go on a trip just to go on a trip.  Other times you go on a trip and hope to walk away from it with some great awakening.  The last couple years I’ve done some struggling to figure out where I am in my life and what i’m doing it with it.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope to find some greater clarity by getting away from Pittsburgh for a couple weeks.  Did I?  I’m not quite sure yet.

What I do know is that this trip was amazing.  Idaho is a special place and the Hot Springs Route is a great route.  Kudos to Adventure Cycling for the work that went into putting the route together.  As we discovered, the challenge of finding that sweet spot where the snow was gone but the weather wasn’t too hot and the wildfire season hadn’t begun yet is perhaps an impossibility.  The trail is going it give you some adversity and that’s part of the challenge, right?  Each bike trip we do we keep pushing ourselves and each other just a little bit more to see what we can do.  So far we’ve come out the other side successful and our relationship stronger than ever.  

I think one thing we definitely learned this time around is that the adventure isn’t always in the plan, but sometimes how you react to changes in the plan.  A bike trip isn’t always about your time on the bike.  Our two excursions in pickup trucks on this trip were as defining towards the essence of this trip as much as the time we spent cranking those pedals or careening wildly down a dusty descent.  Plans change.  If you’re on the Hot Springs Route and the hot springs are too hot, put your feet in the cold river instead.

For my full set of photos, go here.  For Emma’s full set of photos, go here.

 

Coffeeneuring 2016

Another year of Coffeeneuring under our belts and Emma and I (and seemingly many others) took it down to the wire completing out last trip on the last possible day.  Here’s my writeup.  For those needing a recap on what exactly Coffeeneuring is, read here.

TRIP ONE – 10/9/16
Coffee Shop Without Walls, Frick Park, approximately 12 miles

After the success of last year’s rainy and cold Coffeeneuring kickoff event, we thought we’d try it again and hope for better weather…and we got it!  While Coffeeneuring actually began on a Friday this year, we weren’t able to do the kickoff until Sunday morning because Emma was doing the Fineview Steps Challenge the day before.  But that worked out great because we had much better weather on Sunday.

I made a batch of vegan donuts and Emma made blueberry muffins.  We filled up our panniers full of baked goods and then headed towards Frick Park.  We met up with Chris, who we had met at the Swift Campout earlier in the summer, along the way, working our way through Shadyside, around the Google complex and into Frick Park.  We swung back out onto the roads and to the 61B cafe on Braddock Ave to grab an airpot of coffee.

Rolling back down into the holler, we commandeered the Falls Ravine shelter, where we hung up the Coffeeneuring banner Emma made.  About 20 people showed up, kicking the airpot of coffee relatively quickly and necessitating the making of additional coffee on camp stoves.  Not being a coffee drinker, I boiled up some water on the campstove and had some breakfast tea.  Regrettably, I cannot recall if it was English or Irish.

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Good hangouts were had.  Many funny named dogs were met.  Baked goods were consumed and then we were on our way, weaving our  way back up the Tranquil Trail and back towards Bloomfield.

TRIP TWO – 10/16/16
Standing Stone Coffee Company, Huntingdon, PA, roughly 4-5 miles

Originally this weekend was supposed to be Bicycle Time’s Adventure Fest, but the fest got cancelled this year.  The crew from last year’s Adventure Fest decided we still wanted to have an adventure, so we decided an Alligrippis weekend would be the thing to do.  We rented out the 2 “adventure suites” at Rothrock Outfitters and had ourselves a weekend of trail riding, hiking, paddling and perhaps one “scary” story.

On Sunday morning we got up and rode across town to Standing Stone Coffee to get in a Coffeeneuring trip.  We locked up all our bikes outside and hung up Emma’s banner across all the bikes.  A couple of older women asked us what Coffeeneuring was and we explained it and they seemed stoked but acknowledged the small town was not an ideal place to complete such a challenge due to the few number of cafes there.  However, it worked out great for us to get in a qualifying trip.

Inside we got some breakfast and drinks.  Bagel with peanut butter and soy chai for me.  There was a stack of old boardgames and obviously I zoomed in on the game called “Fact or Crap”.  I spent the rest of our time there reading cards from the game.

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Since the cafe was less than a mile away from our suites, we extended our trip after breakfast out to a local park and explored a trail that Kelli and Shane had checked out on Friday.  Compared with the fast-paced, roller coaster ride of the Alligrippis trails, this little creekside trail was  the perfect place for a laidback Sunday morning group ride in the woods.

TRIP THREE – 11/5/16
B52, Lawrenceville – approx 3.5 miles

A mid-day run on a beautiful sunny day.  We rode down Main Street from Bloomfield down to Lawrenceville.  I had to hit up a few establishments on Butler Street to pick up raffle prizes for an event I was doing, so we slowly made our way down until we reached B52.

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The original plan was just drinks but then they had some incredibly decadent looking chocolate cake, so we had to get a slice.  I got the Chica Roja – a beverage that I can’t remember exactly what it was.  Rooibos, almond milk…a couple other flavors.  It was weird, but good.  The chocolate cake destroyed.  We both were pretty wired and felt good. After leaving B52, we rolled up through the Allegheny Cemetery back home.

TRIP FOUR – 11/12/16
Big Dog Coffee, Southside, approx 10 miles

In the morning Emma got up early and went to do a hike with her dad.  I ran to the library and ran some other errands, including a trip to Lili Cafe, which I could have counted as my Coffeeneuring trip for the day, but I knew Emma wanted to get another trip in later, so I didn’t bother documenting that one.

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First we swung by our buds at Thick Bikes where I picked up more raffle prize goodies and then we swung back over to Big Dog, one of our favorite spots that we don’t hit up too often.  I opted to get a green tea, something that I’ve largely been avoiding recently.  The Emerald Spring was a pretty standard fair for green tea.  Enjoyable but it reminded me that my interest in green tea has waned.  Give me a black tea or a good oolong and i’m real happy.  If i’m doing a green, i’m interested in something like a Hojicha or Gunpowder.

TRIP FIVE – 11/13/16
Biddle’s Escape, Wilkinsburg, approx 10 miles

There’s some backstory to Biddle’s Escape that always makes me not want to like this place, but it’s got a funky vibe and a good selection of tea that makes it hard not to like.  Plus its name makes it sound like some ride in Old Kennywood.

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I got a black tea called Golden Monkey that was quite good.  Emma got some crazy swamp water looking Matcha tea.  We both got some biscotti.  The place was packed so we got a corner table between the pinball machines and next to a group of women deconstructing the election results.  Not ideal, but we made the most of it.

TRIP SIX – 11/18/16
Zeke’s Coffee, East Liberty, approx 3 smiles

It was a beautiful day.  November, less than a week before Thanksgiving and I could be outside in a t-shirt?  I’ll take it.  I had much to do to prepare for the Roboto 17th Anniversary events I had planned for the next day, but we needed to get this Coffeeneuring trip in and goddamn it was so nice

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So a nice post-work trip over to Zeke’s to get drinks and meet up with some friends, new and old. We met up with Jerry and his two kids, Coffeeneuring rookies who got introduced to the concept by Emma and I posted about it on the local messageboard , and Martha and Ellery swung by as well, celebrating good report card results.  We sat outside and watched Jerry’s kids run around and Ellery climbed all over Emma.  I got a cup of Pinhead Gunpowder and a soft pretzel.

TRIP SEVEN – 11/20/16
Bookshelf Cafe, Morningside, approx 6 miles

This day could not have been much different from Friday.  A high just above freezing, winds blowing at 20-25 miles/hour and SNOW!  A seemingly fitting way to end the Coffeeneuring season.

I dug through the closet and found our winter biking gloves and my scarf.  We layered up and rode the few miles over to Bookshelf Cafe.  I got a cup of Assam and relaxed in the warmness of the cafe.  A couple tables over there was several people speaking Spanish and Emma and I did our best to see if we could understand what they were saying.

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Some other friends stopped in to get coffees on their way to an estate sale, so we talked with them a bit about what estate sales were like and how you found out about them.  Then Emma got a text from another friend who was feeling down, so she went to hang out with her and I pedaled home to pack my drums up and prepare to play a matinee show that afternoon.

All around Coffeeneuring was a bit more of a challenge this year.  The loosening of the Coffeeneuring rules (no longer limited to just the weekend) made it seem like we had so much more time, but the little bit of craziness in our lives (along with the general craziness of the world this year) meant that we actual had a bit less opportunities…but we got it done.

 

A Shenandoah Weekend

Wanting to get in another out-of-state adventure in 2016, Emma and I took off last Friday from work and planned a 3-day, 2-night camping adventure in the Shenandoah Valley based off this route.  The planned route is a 2 day, single overnight loop, but we were going to take the extra leg off the loop to visit the fire tower on day 2.  But of course, leave it to late-September/early-October weather to throw a wrench into the works.

The plan was to leave Pittsburgh Thursday evening after work and drive halfway there and spend the night in Berkeley Springs, WV.  It rained most of the way there and the weather was just calling for more rain on Friday, but clearing up by Saturday.  We went to bed hoping for the best but mostly having already made the decision to cut out one day of camping and planning for a 2nd night in a hotel.

In the morning it wasn’t raining when we packed up to head south, but it ended up raining on and off throughout the morning.  We fully committed instead to a city day in Harrisonburg.  We rolled into town and traffic was crazy around James Madison University and we would later find out it was Parents’ Weekend and perhaps Homecoming?  Due to this, all hotels within Harrisonburg were booked up, so I tried working AirBnB, Warmshowers and other angles to find another close and affordable place to stay the night.  No luck, so we ended up having to stay another half hour south of the city.

Regardless, we had a good day hanging out in the city, spending some time at a nice cafe, checking out the Quilt Museum, seeing a matinee of ‘The Magnificent Seven’, and eating some Chipotle while it continued to rain on and off throughout the day.

In the morning we drove to our start point at the Stokesville Lodge, a lodge/campsite, where we could park and leave the car.  We got to meet some VA folks who were camping there, met a couple DC dudes who were doing the same loop as us and met the lodge’s owner’s dog who was named SRAM.  The DC dudes said it was their first bikepacking trip and seemed a bit hesitant, but they headed out before us and we never saw them again (tho’ we would see their tire tracks in the mud ahead of us the rest of the day), so we assume things went ok for them.

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Getting started…about a mile in and entering the national forest

By the time we headed out at 11:30am, the rain had quit but the air was still quite heavy with moisture and the skies were cloudy.  The first 20 miles were rolling country roads and some well packed gravel forest roads.  Nothing too challenging.  But then we hit the hill.  A mixture of mud, rocks, aggressive elevation gain, moist heavy air and warming temperatures caused us to slow down.  Emma was having trouble breathing and was struggling so we started what would become mostly a hike-a-bike section.

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Getting mucky

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The road got to such a shape that we thought to ourselves, “There’s just no way that any normal vehicle could use this road, right?”  About 3 miles up the hill we suddenly hear what sounds like a vehicle and sure enough, a minute later a pickup pulling a trailer with a pile of 2×4’s and a generator came up.  We pulled off to the side and let him pass.  The guy stopped and said “You guys sure are roughing it”, chuckled and was on his way.  About another mile up we heard another vehicle and this big SUV, maybe a Toyota 4Runner, comes up and its these 2 dudes who said they rode the route earlier on their motorcycles and wanted to see if they could take their truck on it too.  We watched as they climbed over some impossible rocks and vanished ahead of us.  Crazy.

As we approached what we thought was the top of the ride, we saw a bunch of young dudes in Jeeps hanging out and asked “Is this Meadow Knob?” (our destination) and they said “Nope.  You got another couple miles.  You’ll know it when you get there.”  We groaned knowing we had that much more mileage to do but were appreciative for the clear information on our destination.  It was beginning to feel like we would never get there.

After 6+ hours of riding and pushing we arrived at our destination and it was totally worth it.  The sun had burned through the clouds and Meadow Knob was sunny and bright and you could see the many ridges in the distance.  We found a perfect, somewhat secluded spot to set up our camp, ditched our bikes for a bit and went to introduce ourselves to the other folks camping up there.  There were 3 dudes and their various children who all were car camping, having climbed up the other side of the mountain in their big SUV’s.

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We then setup camp and Emma prepared us some miso soup with noodles, mushrooms and seaweed for dinner.  As we cleaned up from dinner and made our evening tea, the fog began to overtake the hills again.  The sun was getting blocked out again. You could still see it but it was so pale it looked like the moon.  We took our tea up to the roaring fire the other campers made and hung out with them all until well after the sun went down.  When Emma and I decided to head back to the tent, we could hardly see more than 4 feet in front of us due to the fog being so thick.  We successfully avoided falling into the mud bog pit or tumbling down the hill to get back to our tent.

At one point in the night I was awoken by a sound and got a bit freaked out because it sounded like footsteps.  Thhpt.  Thhpt.  Thhpt.  But then I realized it was just a light breeze blowing the rainfly on our tent against our tent.  No bears.  A few hours later I would wake up and get out to piss and in my blurry vision I could see stars above us.  The fog had cleared out again.  I grabbed my glasses so I could get a better look and Emma also got out of the tent and we had a shivery moment standing outside in the dark staring at the sky.  Beautiful.

In the morning the sun shone bright, like a sharp blazing orange pinpoint through the trees and the horizon.  We did our best to pack up and get out quickly, but cool mornings and wet tents make for a slower start.

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We said our goodbyes to our fellow campers and rolled out a little before 9am.  After a short descent from Meadow Knob we almost immediately encountered another washed out rocky and muddy climb up towards the Flagpole Knob.  About a mile and half out we heard the telltale rumblings of some dirtbikes — many of them and soon saw them ahead of us, turning onto the next service road leading off the side of the road we would be taking. We let that group of motorcycles go by and continued on our way only to be greeted by more a minute later.  Soon enough, there was an almost constant stream of bikes coming up the hill, so we took to a safe spot next to the road and waited out as probably 100+ bikes passed us by.  After about a half-hour we finally had an opening and began making our way down the road again and got out to a more wide open section of the road.

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It’s too early for this shit.

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At this point one rider stopped to talk to us.  An older guy, he told us it wasn’t a race but just an organized ride (later we would find out it was the Shenandoah 500, a ride that always happens the first weekend in October).  He told us he was really stoked to see us up on top of the hill and congratulated us on being hardasses.  He talked about having been a mountain biker back in the day.  A nice quick conversation as other bikers passed him by and then he was on his way.

Back on our bikes we had a great dirt road descent.  The road was a little tore up from all of the motorcycles running over it but it felt good to be moving at a nice speed again.  We got to the bottom of the hill and ran into a guy named Wolfgang who was doing marshaling for the Shenandoah 500.  When he learned we had climbed up over the other side of the hill he said “Haven’t been on that section of road in years.  I remember it being pretty boney.”  We agreed.

From there we got on some pavement climbing up to Reddish Knob where there was a nice little scenic overlook lot.  We made peanut butter and apple slice sandwiches and relaxed for a bit.  After our rest, we rode down from the knob to where we would have camped on night two had our original plan happened.  It was a lovely campsite overall though there was a ton of garbage laying around which was pretty sad.  And there was a firepit that was built up out of rocks at least 18″ tall that just seemed a bit excessive.

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The view from Reddish Knob.  Look at that ocean of clouds in the distance!!

Back on some nice well-packed gravel forest roads we began making good time again only to jump back on another few miles of dirt roads for a bit.  We rolled back to Stokesville Lodge right around 2:00pm as the VA folks we had met the previous day were all packing up their camp to leave.

Off with our muddy clothes, we packed everything up and got ready to head back home.  Of course we couldn’t get a cell signal and weren’t 100% sure how to get back to the interstate, but did our best retracing of the previous days steps and made it back to the “scenic highway” and found our way back to the interstate.  Not too long after getting onto the interstate, the rains would come back, some pretty heavy, though short, downpours that I was glad to be inside the car for. Unfortunately not long or hard enough to really wash all the filth off our bikes.

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A trunkload full of filthy bike bags, bottles and whatnot.

Overall a pretty solid getaway.  Not quite the adventure we had initially planned for but that’s really the thing — plans will get f’d up and you need to be adaptive.  Do or do not.  Ride in the rain and do it if you want.  Or say screw that and watch a movie inside.  Just enjoy yourself and keep the adventure alive.

For the full set of photos from the trip, go here.

For Emma’s write-up of this trip, go here.

A Keystone Divided

Emma and I just spent the last week riding our bikes across the state of Pennsylvania, this time from the northern border with New York to the southern border with Maryland pretty much right down the middle of the state.  You may remember that a few years back we crossed the state the other way from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia following the Crush the Commonwealth route.

For the past five years we have been doing at least one large bike tour each year. Twice we’ve done the GAP/C&O route between Pittsburgh and DC, the aforementioned Crush the Commonwealth route, the length of the Spanish Pyrenees, a week in the Adirondacks as well as many other short trips.  These previously trips were mostly more traditional biketouring trips that were on public roads, rail trails or other mostly maintained trails.  For these trips we took our road bikes and packed our gear on rear racks with side panniers.

In the last couple years after picking up mountain biking, I got more interested in the concept of bikepacking.  While bikepacking often incorporates some of the elements of a traditional tour – regular roads, rail trails, etc – the idea is to also get off the beaten path, get off road, tackle tougher terrain, etc.  I especially had interest in riding some portion of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route that goes from Banff, Canada to the US-Mexico border.

In September 2015 I bought a new bike, a Salsa Fargo.  Part of the reasoning behind this purchase was the hope of beginning to do some bikepacking.  The Great Divide seemed like a big logistical step to start with, so I began researching more local routes that might work for backpacking.  In mid-October I stumbled upon this route through Pennsylvania that was laid out by a group of folks trying to put together an “Eastern Divide” route that would mimic the Great Divide on the East Coast. By mid-November Emma and I would commit to trying to ride it in 2016 and would begin buying the necessary gear to make it happen.

Emma’s written some about us testing out our various gear on her blog here, but this is a recap of the actual journey.  I may write more about the actual preparation for the trip later on, but for now this is just about the experience of the trip.

Travel Day
Logistics for trips like this can always be a pain – if you are starting in one city and ending in another, how do you handle that?  We realized our starting point, Wellsville, NY, was very close to our friend Deanna’s hometown of Olean, NY, so we asked her if she would be willing to drive up there with us and drive our car back to Pittsburgh for us.  She was down.

So on May 20th we picked Deanna up and headed off to NY.  Of course not before having to run back across town to our house because I forgot to pack my multi-tool, which while not 100% necessary, is one of those things that is nice to have on such a trip.  We picked up her partner Dino on the way and had a fun time catching up with them on the 4-ish hours to our destination.  After dropping us off, they headed to Olean to visit Deanna’s family.

There’s not too much to do in Wellsville, so we hit up the grocery store to get some last bits of food supplies, made some sandwiches for dinner and then prepared our bikes in the hotel room.  Got off to sleep at a decent hour and prepared for day one of the journey.

DAY ONE
Woke up early, had hotel breakfast and were on the road by 9am.  Light drizzle when we started.  First 8 or so miles were just getting out of NY – lots of sheep, horses, cows and an alarming number of Trump signs and Confederate flags.  Got to the border and took pics near the “Welcome to Pennsylvania” sign.  Lots of broken glass around that sign. Figure it must be a target for the drunks of NY.  Managed to get back on the road without a flat.

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After successfully riding 9 miles!

Stopped in Ulysses to get second breakfast at the Corner Cafe.  Barely anyone in there so figured we could get in and get going real fast.  No dice.  Took an hour to get a waffle, some toast and some homefries. Was nice to warm up but while we were in there the rain picked up.  Paper placemats had great ads on them for local companies including one for a dog training company that used the email address “narcdog1@gmail”.

Shortly thereafter we would take some wrong roads adding some bonus miles on our day.  Luckily Emma had the foresight to download a GPS app for her phone and the route file for our trip and we were able to easily determine where we made our errors and get back on track.

Then we were off on the first of our dirt roads.  Davis Hill Road was only about .6 miles long but it was gutted out and steep.  We were rewarded with a fabulous descent down Snay Road afterwards though.  Came upon a Rest Area on Route 6 during a lull in the rain and took the opportunity to make sandwiches and rest.

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Our first tastes of dirt!

After that the rain picked up again and got heavier as we proceeded down our last 10-15 miles.  This mixed with some rougher surfaces – dirt roads and fresh crushed gravel really began to wear us down.  We got to cruise down some muddy mountain roads in the rain which was really fun but we got filthy.

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Dirt McGirt & sidekick

Finding a place to do some primitive camping in Tioga State Forest turned out to be tough.  Not too much flat surfaces to set up a tent.  We crawled up off the side of the road and found a decent spot, set up our tent in the rain and then made a pasta dinner in the rain.  Towards the end of the day I had started to experience some hiccups, a condition I sometimes get in cooler weather when I ride long distances.  While eating my dinner I started hiccuping again and almost vomited up my dinner.  I took a moment, felt better and finished my dinner.  We then climbed into the tent for the night around 6:30pm.

DAY TWO
Had a few deliriously good hours of sleep and woke up shortly after midnight having to piss.  It was barely raining at that time so I got out and took care of business.  It was actually quite lovely at that time.  From there on out woke up every couple hours to the sound of it still raining.  In the morning we kept waiting for a break in the rain but it never happened.  After about 14 straight hours in the tent, we opted for a Clif bar breakfast and then packed up in the rain and hit the road.

Since it seemed like it was bound to rain all day again, we made two decisions 1) we were not going to follow the day’s planned route which took us up a 6 mile, 1300 ft in elevation gain trail, and 2) we were going to get ourselves all the way to the town of Jersey Shore and get a hotel.

Early in our day we were confronted with a “bridge out” sign, but we took the gamble and rode down the road.  Luckily the bridge was far enough along in construction that it was passable by foot, so we ambled across and continued down West Rim Road.  This road was an absolute pleasure – lots of one lane bridges and twists and turns.

From here we hopped on the Pine Creek Rail Trail (which we had some trouble finding and put on another handful of bonus miles) but once on there the riding was easy.  This trail would take us all the way to Jersey Shore.  We were hoping to find a shelter along the way to make some second breakfast but apparently the stewards of this trail only believe in benches – no picnic benches, no shelters of any kind along most of the trail.

We arrived in Slate Run (where we would have originally crossed over the creek to follow up the 1300′ climb) and made ourselves oatmeal under the eave of an informational kiosk.  Not the most spacious quarters but it got the job done.  We were helped by the fact that the rain had pretty much stopped at this point.

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The biggest shelter we could find

We then walked up to the General Store where the sweet women who worked there cleaned and filled our water bottles, recommended and got us in contact with the hotel in Jersey Shore and sold us a couple donuts.  After that the sun started trying to come out and we actually almost dried out by the time we reached Waterville.  Of course the last 10 miles from Waterville to Jersey Shore the rain picked up again and we were soaked and filthy by the time we reached our accommodations for the evening.

The Gamble Farm Inn looked like a pretty fancy place when we rolled up.  A big old house, but once I stepped inside it was obvious that that building was just the restaurant and bar.  I walked in and poked my head around looking for someone to help us out and finally a lady appeared out of nowhere saying “I thought I heard someone come in.”  I gave her my name and she basically handed me a key and pointed me in the direction of the rooms.  No ID, no credit card, no paperwork.  Nice.

Got into our room and spread out EVERYTHING around the room to dry it out.  Cranked the heat and took showers, glorious showers.  Emma then used the microwave to make us our mac n cheese dinner.  After dinner took the time to do a little bike maintenance down in the game room where we were able to store our bikes.

DAY THREE
In the morning discovered I had a flat front tire.  Tried finding the leak to no avail so swapped out for a new tube.  Stashed the questionable tube in case I would need it down the road.  Backtracked a couple miles and stopped at the Weis to stock up on some groceries.  No rain so far.

Several miles out of town I realized that the cycle computer I bought for the trip stopped working.  Not a major deal but we were relying on being able to track distances since we knew there was going to be a lack of signage and often all we knew was “we need to go on this road for 2.7 miles and then turn right”.  Knowing when 2.7 miles happened is useful information.  The computer would sporadically start working and then stop working again.  Whatever.  We did fine without it.

Got back to forest roads and we couldn’t find the trail that we were supposed to take off Krape Road, so we just continued along Krape which eventually would connect us with where we needed to go.  Krape was a hell hill that kept going on.  I think the trail that we were supposed to be on would have gone over the same hill, so maybe just evens?  The hill almost broke us but the descent and the ensuing roads were so great that we got reinvigorated.

We stopped atop Pipeline Road, ate lunch and got visited by a guy in a DCNR truck.  He assured us that we shouldn’t see any rain.  After that we hit up our first real trail – Duncan Trail – a “drivable trail” that was really rocky doubletrack that rattled the bones.

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Flatbread, peanut butter, sliced apples

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Slow & steady makes it over the mountain.

Got to Raymond B. Winter State Park where we had an overly complicated conversation with the ranger and campsite host about registering for a site and which site to camp on, etc.  After getting to our campsite we felt a difference in the air and it seemed like a storm was in fact going to come through.  We ducked down to the bathhouse with our gear and waited out a quickly passing storm.

Afterwards we set up camp.  While Emma started prepping dinner I rode back over to the beach area where there was a vending machine and got us a couple ice cold sodas.  Such a treat after a hard day of pedaling.  Ate a dinner of carrot-lentil curry and took advantage of having showers again.

DAY FOUR
Woke up in the morning to discover that one of the water bottles we left on the campsite’s picnic table had been attacked by some animal.  Three small tooth punctures on the bottle.  Seemingly smaller than I would expect from a bear but larger than most other things I can think of.  Not sure what it was but it was a good reminder to be careful with packing our stuff up at camp.

The initial ride out of camp was lovely but then we would approach our nemesis for this trip – Fallen Timber Trail (FTT).  FTT is a 5 mile connector trail.  The comment on mtbproject.com says “A fairly miserable trail, but it makes a good connector, so what are you going to do?”  The initial section had been freshly bulldozed at 10-15′ intervals, so you would have a section of soft, recently plowed dirt followed up by hard, rocky trail.  We came to a clearing and thought “maybe it’ll get better on the other side”, but no, worse.  It just became one big rocky mess.  Then the wild rose showed up on the trail.  So we’re walking this trail (cuz its mostly too rough to actually ride), bumbling over rocks, looking out for Timber Rattlers, and getting scratched up by thorns.  And then Emma got a flat.

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The evil that was Fallen Timber Trail

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Smilin’ & Patchin’

We’re not sure if she got multiple flats at once or if one of the thorns was still stuck in her tire and kept re-puncturing her tube, but we tried 3-4 times to get the tire fixed without luck.  I then pulled out her backup tube to realize that somehow we had brought an incorrect size tube.  1.5″ tube for a 2.1″ tire.  We opted to put it in and see how it would work.  Between the trail condition and the tube issues we ended up spending almost 3 hours on this shitty section of trail.  We got to the end and took a rest and gave FTT a big middle finger.

We rolled down the hill and started up the next hill when the 1.5″ tube blew out along the seam.  So we tried patching the already severely patched tube that we had again.  It was still leaking but it was holding air enough that we could walk with the bike.  We decided to walk over the next mountain down to Route 45 where we figured we might be able to flag someone down who could either get us to a bike shop or assist us in some other way.

It was a long walk but we did it.  At 45 we were able to flag down a woman who couldn’t offer much help, but then another man came along who was walking his dog.  Together they remembered that there was a “adventure summer camp” down the road in Woodward and they thought they might have what we need (or at least be able to point us where we could get it).  The man had a van so he let us load up our bikes and drove us the 4-5 miles to this camp.

Woodward Camp is a sprawling horse-ranch sized complex that houses a summer camp for gymnastics, cheerleading, BMX, skateboarding and more.  It is apparently an internationally known place.  We rolled up and I asked a guy “You work here?”  Sure enough he did.  They didn’t have any innertubes at the camp but he thought he might have one at his house and he lived just up the hill.  He hopped in his car and came back 5 minutes later with the right tube and a floorpump.  After fixing the tire, he gave us a tour of the premises and let us fill up our water bottles.

After looking at the maps we realized we were just a couple miles off our intended route and decided to get back on track and make it to Poe Paddy State Park for the night.  Woodward Gap Road was a pretty tough climb but it felt good to be pedaling again and then it brought us to Cherry Run Road which was an incredibly refreshing 4 mile continual descent that brought us to the Penns Creek Path.  That trail took us through the Poe Paddy tunnel (newly reopened, but not particularly impressive.  really short, but nice enough) and to the state park.

At the state park we saw that they expected you to go to the “nearby” Poe Valley State Park to register for a campsite.  We said screw that and settled into an unused site.  Starving as we were, food was our first course of action.  While sitting there post dinner we were approached by an older woman named Ann who upon hearing our situation offered to let us set up on the tent pad on her site.  Ann and her friend talked with us a long while about what we were doing and about their history with Poe Paddy. Ann had been coming there for decades since she was first brought there by her husband on their first date.

They would later invite us to spend time around the campfire at another couple’s site, more old friends who had been coming to the park for decades.  We stayed up late (past 11!), ate candy and talked about adventures.  Ann had offered to drive us to State College to a bike shop but during the campfire hangout time a plan was hatched for Ann to drive and pick up innertubes for us and then drive them to the next state park we were staying at.  We had had such a shitty start to the day but had met so many wonderfully helpful people that day.  We went to bed feeling pretty good.

DAY FIVE
The day started with some ATV trails – Little Poe Road and Panther Run Road.  These road/trails were just what I had imagined this trip would be like – rocky and difficult but not excruciatingly so.  We enjoyed these trails.  After that, in order to make up some time from the previous day, we skipped out on some of the single track and stuck to the roads.

When we got to Stillhouse Road, the connector road between Bald Eagle and Rothrock State Forests, we saw another “bridge out” sign.  Once again we decided to push forward.  We found a gated bridge that was totally passable about a 1/4 mile down the road and thought nothing of it but then another short bit later we came to a true “bridge out”.  It was just a series of a half-dozen steel I-beams.  It was maybe 8-10′ to the stream below.  The beams were wide enough that we were able to tagteam our bikes and walk them over with one of us steadying the handles and another holding on to the backend.  The next section of the trail was a wonderful Rhododendron hallway followed by a rough and tumble descent that TWICE! ejected waterbottles from the cages on my bike.

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Examining the situation.  This was not to be a one-man job.

We did intend to take some singletrack once we got to Rothrock State Forest but never found our entry point.  Once again it was hard to tell if this was a blessing or a curse as the climb over Kettel Road was relentless, but were pretty sure the single track was going to be a series of tough climbs and rocky trails.  We walked our bikes a bit but we eventually made it over Kettel Road and then had a wild descent down Rag Hollow Road to the Greenwood Furnace State Park ranger station where we found our innertubes from Ann waiting for us.

While at the ranger station a park employee came rolling up on a Surly and talked with us a bit about our bikes and our trip.  He told us they had a Surly Ogre built up as their park bike for employees to use.  Pretty cool.

After 2 nights of staying in crowded state parks we were surprised that Greenwood Furnace was mostly a ghost town.  Only like 3 other campsites were in use.  It was another camp with showers, so we took advantage of that again, got our phones charged up in the bathrooms and then Emma made her best meal of the trip – peanut noodles that were really so damn good and I wish I would have had a second serving of.  Got to bed early in anticipation of a big crusher the next day – trying to make up the 27 miles we were still behind on our initial schedule.

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Extremely delicious (and beautiful!) peanut noodles

DAY SIX
This day would end up being a bit of blur.  We would spend almost 10 hours on the road that day, leaving camp around 7:30am and not getting into our next camp until shortly after 5pm.  We would climb over 4 mountains.  We made up our mileage, but at what cost?  We would find out.

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Guess who got another mysterious overnight flat?

The first two mountains of the day went surprisingly easy.  Well, easy may not be the right term, but we conquered them and felt really strong and good.  Rolling down off of Jack’s Mountain we rolled into farmland and Amish country.  After so many days of being in foresting country it felt great to roll by some fields and to have some paved roads again.  Also saw an establishment that advertised itself as “Angel’s Therapeutic Massage” and had a confederate flag with an AK-47 printed overtop of it on the window.  Interesting.

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Atop Jack’s Mountain.  The graffiti said “Brave Mountain Club”.  Indeed!

Stopped in McVeytown at the first convenience store that we had seen in days.  Stocked up on Clif bars and got some Gatorade, potato chips and a tiny apple pie to eat.  Spent some time sitting outside the convenience store like juvenile delinquents crushing a bag of chips and catching up with the outside world (first cell signal in several days).

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Meal of champs

Our 3rd mountain climb of the day still went well but things went downhill a bit after that. We skipped stopping in East Waterford because I was under the false belief that there was another convenience store a bit down the road.  I think I had marked it wrong on my cue sheet.  Thus when we had failed to get another round of cold drinks and extra calories, our spirits (and bodies) began to flounder.  Our final climb over Tuscarora mountain was a tough one and we were spent; we ended up walking much of it.  We got another short burst  of energy once we were over the mountain but once again ran out of steam as we needed to do another small climb to get to Fowlers Hollow State Park.  After one last hike-a-bike, we got to camp, feeling completely spent.

It was another oddly empty campsite.  Despite feeling completely spent, we were both in really great spirits and really proud of ourselves for tackling all of those mountains on the same day.  We’re figuring we probably did over 6000′ in elevation gain that day over about 54 miles.  We’re pretty tough.

DAY SEVEN
We expected to wake up feeling like shit after yesterday’s epic ride, but we woke up at 6am with both of us feeling pretty great.  Strong like ox!  We had no more oats so it was a Clif bar breakfast with some hot beverages and then we were on the road again.

We had one really big climb to start the day which went well.  We were then supposed to get on a trail for a bit.  We found the trailhead and went in about a 1/4 mile or so until the trail seemed to disappear.  Using the GPS we tried to re-find the trail but no matter what we did we couldn’t seem to get back on the line.  At one point I walked into the forest with the GPS (leaving Emma and my bike behind) in order to see if I could get on the line and re-discover the trail.  After walking for a bit I saw a guy walking down a trail.  I decided to not call out to him (yelling at sportsmen in the woods seems like a bad idea) but once he passed I ran ahead and sure enough there was a trail.  I turned around and headed back in the direction I thought I had come from and suddenly realized I couldn’t find Emma.

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Lost in the woods, fording a stream for no good reason

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Our steeds relaxin’ in the sun

I began calling her name; no answer.  Ok, getting a little louder now; still no answer.  Ok, time to get real loud; finally an answer.  Ahhh, the thought of us both being separately lost in the woods made me feel a bit sick for a moment.  Got back to Emma and said “We just need to go that way and there is a trail”.  Of course once we tried to go back we couldn’t find the trail again so we re-traced out steps and went back to the road.  From there we just took the road instead of the trail.  It added maybe an additional 4-5 miles but at least we knew where we were (and we got to see a porcupine climb a tree).

Rolled down another killer descent into Newburg where I saw an Amish girl mowing a lawn in her bare feet.  I had a cell signal so I pulled up a map.  The map showed a Starbucks a few blocks away. That didn’t seem right (and it wasn’t) but we looked anyway.  No Starbucks and no other convenience store or anything but we did find a vending machine outside the fire department.  Got a Gatorade from the machine and cooled off in a shady alleyway.

The stretch from Newburg to Shippensburg was rolling hills on a kinda shitty section of state highway.  Not too much traffic but definitely more than we had been used to seeing.  Emma was feeling pretty beat up so we had some heart-to-heart talk about whether we should just get a hotel in Shippensburg for the night.  After looking at the maps a bit we realized we could go off-route again cutting our one last big climb of the day and still make it to Caledonia State Park.  We decided to push on.

We made a quick stop at Aldi for some grocery supplies and then pushed on.  After being exposed to the hot sun for so many miles it felt good to get back into Michaux State Forest and the forest roads.  We had a steady climb into the forest and then the last few miles towards camp were downhill and we passed a lovely reservoir within the forest with people out kayaking on it.  I kinda wanted to stop and check it out but the siren call of the campsite was strong.  We rolled into Caledonia State Park and registered for camp at the ranger station only to realize the campsites themselves were up another small hill.  We gave it a valiant effort but ended up pushing our bikes up to the camp.

Last night of camp and we wound up on a weird wedge of real estate on a kinda hilly section of the campground.  We found a relatively flat place to set up camp.  We hosed down a container of hummus with tortillas and got washed up.  An evening storm came pushing through so we took shelter under the eave of the back of the bathhouse which conveniently had an outdoor electric socket.  We sat watching campers scamper around in the rain, charged up our phones and wrote in our journals.  It was pleasant.  Eventually the rain ended and we cooked up one last camp meal, made some tea and then ate an entire box of Aldi’s fake Girl Scout Samoas.  I probably could have done with about 3 less cookies but it felt right.

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Tired lil camper loungin’ & blowin’ up a sleeping pad

DAY EIGHT
Last day on the road.  Clif bar breakfast and had just enough gas left in the tank to heat up water for coffee/tea.  The morning started with a chill 6 mile climb that went easy enough and then hit a couple sections of trail.  We went off the original route a bit, opting to go on forest roads instead of single track.  Waterline Road had a picked clean deer skeleton at the entrance to the trail and then as the name suggests was a bit wet, but otherwise was a really nice section of trail.  We passed a turnoff for another trail and then our road came to a sudden end.  After consulting the map, we figured we had to turn down the other trail and then make another turn to keep going straight.  Turned out to be true.  Another speedy decent down a skittish crushed gravel road let us to our final section of trail – Monn’s Gap Road.  This was a really fun trail to ride and one that probably would have been more fun if we weren’t fully loaded down.  Lots of relatively small (3-5″) branches across the trail which was a fun change of pace.  Hop, hop, hop.

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Oh, Pennsylvania – you amaze and disappoint.

The trail came to an end in a spiderweb of directions.  We tried consulting some maps, picked a direction and ended up in the backyard of a tiny house (but not like a hip tiny house, a beat-up, hillbilly tiny house with “no trespassing” signs), so we re-routed a bit and found a road.  After once again consulting some maps we determined we were on the right road and pushed forth towards Waynesboro.  Took a little stroll down Wayneboro’s Main Street and admired the architecture of its buildings.  So close to our destination we decided not to dally too long and were once again off on our bikes.

The roads leading out of Waynesboro and towards Hagerstown were pleasant rollers, at least they would have been had we not been at the end of an 8 day journey.  Mostly they were fun but the lack of shoulders, some aggressive traffic and some tired legs made them a bit more challenging.  When an oil truck trying to back into a driveway blocked our way, we took the opportunity to sit in the shade and grab a few calories.  I realized at this time that I had a slash in my rear tire’s sidewall.  Nothing very deep but definitely something I didn’t want to spend too much time on.  Luckily we were like 5 miles away from our endpoint.  As we sat there, a woman rode by on a bike in one direction and then minutes later a small peloton of spandex clad folks rode in the other.  It was nice to see other bikers out.

Got back on our bikes and the Maryland border was really like just over a half mile around the corner.  No “Welcome to Maryland” sign but there was a “Welcome to Washington County” sign, so that had to do.  Stopped and took photos and then pressed on for the last few miles, which were relatively flat and made for a nice finish.  We had told Deanna to pick us up at the Dunkin Donuts near the Hagerstown airport (since our hotel in Wellsville, NY had been right next to a Dunkin Donuts, we figured why not end at a Dunkin Donuts?), but then once we got in the area we saw a Sheetz and decided to end the trip there.

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HEY LOOK AT US!  WE DID IT!!!

We changed out of our filthy bike clothes into our slightly less filthy camp clothes, bought a heap of food and cold drinks and chilled in the cafe waiting for Deanna come to pick us up. We did it and we felt like champs.

Deanna arrived about an hour later.  We loaded up and headed back towards the Burgh, blasting the songs on the radio that had been running through our heads all week.  Arrived home, picked a huge pile of strawberries that had ripened in the backyard, got washed up and got dinner at Taste of India.  I definitely ate too much and had to come home and lay down on the couch for awhile.  It was worth it.  It was all totally worth it.

For my full set of photos, go here.

For Emma’s write-up of the trip, go here.  For her set of photos, go here.

 

 

 

 

Process: Rough’n & Grouse’n

Hey – so I was doing that “A Season of Stuff” project and things started feeling a bit self-indulgent and I felt my writing going downhill instead of improving, so I opted to take a break.  Here we are a week and a half later and nobody seems to have noticed, so i’m not sure if i’ll continue or not.  But here’s another little something for anyone who’s hanging around.

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As most anyone who knows me knows, I love Pennsylvania.  I’ve lived here my entire life.  I have the state tattooed on my arm. I have keystone imagery everywhere in the house.  I’m about to head out on a cross-state bike excursion to go explore whole new sections of the state.  For some reason last Wednesday I was thinking about various other Pennsylvania imagery beyond the keystone and I got to think about the Ruffed Grouse, our state bird.

I came home that night and started looking up some images of ruffed grouses and did a few quick sketches.  After a couple attempts I landed on the image in the upper right-hand corner of the above photo.  The next day I cleaned up the image and inked it. It was a fun little image but I didn’t really have any plans for it.

Over the weekend after looking at this image for a few days decided I wanted to make a screen of it, if only for my own purposes.  Instead of going the normal route of making a transparency of the image, I decided to try another technique that I had heard about.  Rumor had it that you could take a normal photocopy on regular weight copy paper, coat the paper in vegetable oil or baby oil to make the paper translucent and then use that in the same way that you would use a transparency.  I had always been skeptical about this process, but this image seemed like a good way to test it.

I went online and found a couple blog posts talking about their success with this technique, including this one and this one.  Seeing some successful screens burned using this technique emboldened me to give it a try.

Last night I reclaimed a screen and coated the screen with emulsion. The jar of emulsion I have is getting hella old but it still continues to work, so I keep rolling with it, but wondered if it might not be ideal for this test.  My concern being that since the paper is translucent and not truly transparent, I would want to expose the image longer to make up for the fact that less light was actually getting through.  Would the change in technique and the old emulsion mean that I would overexpose or underexpose the image?

I got up this morning and tried to burn the screen before I left for work.  I put the image at the normal distance from the light and decided to go an extra minute than I normally would.  Unfortunately this was perhaps a bit of an overburn.  The image wouldn’t wash out.  I took a toothbrush to the screen to try to help get the image cleaned out and then it started coming out…but then it accelerated and began washing out the rest of the emulsion too.  Conceding failure, I washed out the screen and went to work.

I came home from home and re-applied emulsion to the screen and set it to drying.  I modified the exposure setup, moving the image closer but thinking that I would do the exposure for the normal amount of time (2 minutes).  After the emulsion seemed to be dry, I gave it a shot.  This time I had about a 95% success rate, but the emulsion wasn’t 100% set.  I’m not sure if this was perhaps because I didn’t let the emulsion dry long enough before exposing, because I didn’t expose the image long enough, etc.

Most of the image looked fine tho’ the tail section was a bit washed out.  The emulsion left on the screen was kinda tacky/wet and didn’t seem 100% exposed.  I left it under a light bulb for further exposure but that was going kinda slow.  Heat works just as well as light, so I turned the oven on to 250 degrees and threw the screen in the oven for like 5 minutes.  That dried it up and hardened the emulsion.  With a little masking tape help to clean up the lines of the tail, I ran this test run of images and they turned out really pretty nice, all things considered.

I look forward to experimenting more with this oil technique and with more images of our feathered friend.

A Season of Stuff: messy work surfaces

A Season of Stuff is a writing challenge that I will be doing for the length of Spring 2016.  The plan – to pick some object from within my personal possessions each day and write about it – its history, its significance, etc.  Come on in – check out my stuff.

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the basement woodworking/project area

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the upstairs screenprinting/project area

We spent a little time tonight checking out some of the open studio events that were part of the FULLTIMEPGH festival of local creative types.  We only got to check out two studios – Garbella and Sapling Press.  It’s always inspiring to get into other people’s spaces, see how they set up there studios and get a closer look at the work they do.

I’ve been friends with Amy of Garbella for awhile now and I’ve missed out on checking out her studio/storefront space multiple times now.  Her band Reign Check is playing the show that i’ve been silkscreening flyers for, so it doubled as a good excuse to get down there and give her a short stack of flyers.  Took a little time to talk process with her and she showed me the exposure unit she uses to burn her screens (very similar to the one I talked about the other day) and admitted to many years of burning screens with a single lightbulb as well.

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Final 3-layer version of the flyer

After leaving Garbella we shot across Lawrenceville to Sapling Press, which is primarily a letterpress studio.  Really lovely old machines.  Ellery (who we are babysitting for the weekend) got to roll out a print on one of the machines with some help from Emma.  Pretty cool.  Upstairs from the studio is the offices of Bootstrap design where they were hosting the Pittsburgh Poster Show portion of the event.  Some fun poster designs in the show but the clear winner for me was this Strawberry Luna “City of Bridges” diptych.

The thing that struck me about all of these spaces was how clean and organized they were.  Of course they might just have been tidied up for this specific affair, but the general evidence seemed to indicate that these are workshops that are regularly well organized.  It’s hard at times like this not to feel a bit embarrassed about the state of my work areas.  In order to do my recent prints of these flyers, I had to remove stacks of materials from the work surface and  push things to the side.  The downstairs woodworking area looks like an avalanche.  I struggle with this; what does it mean about my commitment to my work?  What does it say about my work ethic?  I know some people say a messy work area indicates a creative mind, but maybe its just laziness.

I think this relates to a couple of my other struggles.  First is the life of a generalist.  I can do a lot of things ok – construction, woodworking, metalworking, silkscreening, drawing, drumming, etc, but I’ve never committed enough time to any one creative pursuit in order to really conquer it.  In some ways I feel this shows a lack of focus on my part, but in another way it shows a curious mind.  At nearly 42 years of age i’m not sure how likely I am to change these patterns, but at revolving intervals I try.  I get a little more serious about things – I build a proper silkscreening exposure unit, for example – and learn new skills, but then something new catches my eye and i’m off to a different thing.

Another struggle that’s been on my mind as I work on my piece for the Sidewall Project is with this feeling that i’m not a “real artist”, whatever that means.  My art leans heavily towards the “folk art” end of the spectrum.  It is not “fine art” (lots of quotes getting thrown around here).  Sometimes it just feels corny and weird and what’s the point, right? Who likes this stuff?  Who wants this stuff?  But apparently some people do get enjoyment out of it and probably more important than anything, I enjoy the process of creating and making, so of course there is some value in it.  But sometimes I just wish I was a “better” artist and I know that probably if I put the ol’ nose to the grindstone I could get better and be a more impressive artist, but once again, that’s not my nature.  I have a way.  I have a style and maybe I should just embrace that, right?

But mostly this is all to say: Keep making.  Keep doing.  Go check out other peoples’ creative spaces when you get a chance.  Get inspired.  Learn a new thing or two.  Learn how to do an old thing a little bit better.  Think about what you do.  Dwell on it occasionally, but not for too long.  Make some more stuff.  Share with friends.

A Season of Stuff: one for the manor

A Season of Stuff is a writing challenge that I will be doing for the length of Spring 2016.  The plan – to pick some object from within my personal possessions each day and write about it – its history, its significance, etc.  Come on in – check out my stuff.

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I think upon buying our house Emma and I knew that it would eventually have a name.  We didn’t rush to give it a name; you don’t want to force these things.  But somewhere along the way, like every good punk house (and we do consider it a punk house, read my thoughts on that in the “Drag Me Home” compilation/zine), it ended up with one: Torley Manor.

But where did the name come from?  I don’t really remember how it came about.  Clearly the first half of the name is derived from the street that our house is on, but why manor?  I can only guess that I was inspired by Calgary Manor, one of the punk houses that Social Distortion/Youth Brigade end up at in Another State of Mind.  The residents described themselves as “one big happy family” and in the movie they cooked up a huge meal for the bands and all the local punks.  It always seemed like such a great example of punk community.  Of course they also say “Most of the punks come party here”, which does not accurately describe our house, but whatever.  Anyway, I don’t recall pulling that out as a reference when the name “Torley Manor” came about, but it stands out in my head as a possible influence.

*  *  *

Almost every year our friend Bethany goes off to “ceramics camp”, a weeklong getaway where she gets away and does pottery/ceramics.  Some years Eric the Red (her partner) goes along with her.  Several years after we bought the house and after the Torley Manor name was well established he went along to ceramics camp and that year he made us this ceramic nameplate.  It’s just a slab of clay with stamped in letters and three owl designs (they are not what they seem!) stamped in the corners.  A couple mounting holes and glazed up.  Nothing fancy but a nice addition to the house from a friend.  It’s been hanging in our kitchen ever since.