Thursday, April 29, 2010

Day 10: Turning 25 on the road from Denver, CO to Norman, OK

Mileage: 682
Total Mileage: 4593The most dreaded day of driving was upon me, and it was my birthday. It just worked out that way since I had to be in Norman on the afternoon of April 30th. I was sad to leave Colorado, since I was getting comfortable there. It seemed like the reason I was doing this drive was over after I left Denver that morning.
The dreaded part was the flatness. I'll be seeing a lot of this this summer, but that is just where the storms are, so that was a choice I made going into this. In a way, it was neat because it was all different from anything I've experienced, and it looked as the Great Plains should look.
It was EXTREMELY windy this day, winds 40 mph gusting to 50 mph in spots, so I had to take the drive slow in fear of sliding off of the road. I also had to stop and take my bike off of the top of the car and shove it inside since it was creating an unmanageable sail. It took me 13 hours with minimal stops to get from Denver to Norman. On the bright side, I received a lot of phone calls to make the time go quickly. Thanks to everyone who contributed to that - it REALLY helped out!
I was shocked to find that Oklahoma is actually not all that flat - it has some hills! I expected pancake flat but it is not so bad and definitely hills on all of the roads - hillier than the Colorado roads! Talk about backwards of my imagination. Finally got into Norman at 12:30am that night. A long day it was, but I made it - no speeding tickets, no loss of items or limbs, and on top of that, I didn't pay for lodging one night the ENTIRE 10 days. How's that for an accomplishment?!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Day 9: Denver, CO

The other day when I had my car tire problems, Marcie offered to hire me as a nanny for a day or two to help deter the cost of my unexpected repairs. Though I was slightly hesitant to take away some of my already little time in Colorado, it would be fun to spend time with Max, I needed the money, and plus, everyone was at work. Though I could have taken out my bike on the trails, this was a better thing to do since it helped both of us out. :-)

Plus, Max is potentially the easiest 15-month old I have ever taken care of. We were bffs from the moment we met, and he loves being outside. So, I took him on a walk/run around a lake by their house. It was pretty hot, so he looks pretty wiped in this photo. I was kind of feeling the same, and was trying to get us down the correct road to find our way home.
That night, I got dinner with my good friend Becca who lives in Arvada, visited Manushkka again, and Craig came down from Boulder to meet up.
It was great to see everyone and I look forward to coming back!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Day 8: Fort Collins and Boulder, CO

Leigh took off work to spend the day with me in Fort Collins where she lives, and in Boulder - because I wanted to see this place for myself. We drove to Boulder to hike on the Chautauqua trails, which are highly developed trails on the southwest edge of town. Boulder felt a bit like Anchorage because of the similar landscape, but is a much nicer community. Boulder is a haven for atmospheric science and meteorology jobs, so a bunch of people from my undergrad also live here, and it is a potential place for me to get a job. We got lunch on the Hill, the college-area of Boulder, and then hit the trails.
Here's Leigh doin' a little dance!
We tried to not kill ourselves doing jumping pictures at the Royal Arch.
A view of Boulder coming back down towards the bottom of the trail.

We didn't spend much time in Boulder, since we had to be back in Ft. Collins for a CSU Cycling Club event at the New Belgium Brewery that night. I borrowed a bike off of Leigh and we rode on the most bike-friendly roads I have ever imagined.
So we get to the brewery, go to the girl at the door looking at IDs, to find out that I left mine in the pocket of my hiking shorts, which were 5 miles away. When we were going up to the door I was thinking, "that girl looks SO much like Sarah U!" Sarah was a roadie/track racing star on the Penn State Cycling Club with me, but I never knew her well since I only rode mountain bikes. Anyway, after Sarah wouldn't stamp my hand without my id and we had gone into the brewery, I said something to Leigh about that girl looking like Sarah, and Leigh says, "that IS Sarah U! I didn't know you knew her!" Of course I did. :) Needless to say I went back out to the car to tell Sarah who I was and that we knew each other from PSU Cycling and suddenly it clicked to her who I was too. Ha!! Then she stamped my hand so I could have some beverages. How's that for a story of getting into a brewery without an id and finding an old acquaintance?! We chatted for a bit and she was interested in Alaska and the winter riding/racing I have done and knew about the Iditarod Invitational. For whatever reason I am shocked that outside outside of Alaska knows about the Iditasport, but I guess other crazy cyclists do know about it. Here's a photo of Sarah, Leigh and I at the brewery.
On our ride home, I found an interesting bike...
Maybe the jolly green giant's bicycle???

Really fun day in these towns. I am in shock though how FLAT all of those Colorado roads were. I must commented on it 20 times over though 3 days. Sure there's mountains to the west, but the roads themselves are flat and fast! I was also in shock of how HUGE and populated the entire Ft. Collins/Boulder/Denver area is. I knew it was "crowded" but it seemed way huger and more populated than western PA. But, I still loved it and can see why so many other people do, too.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Day 7: New tires, Rapid City, SD to Denver, CO

Mileage: 389
Total mileage: 3631

The tire shops in Rapid City didn't open until 7am, but I was lucky that the shop I went to was able to help me right away. I was able to get on the road around 8:30am for my destination of Denver, CO. I have been trying to get to Colorado for years, lured by the promise of an amazing mtb trail system, and finally got my chance. And now, I know a lot of people there, so it has become even more of a welcoming destination.
First though, I had a scenic day through windy Wyoming with my new tires and hoping they would hold up. Wyoming was overall much flatter than I imagined. But that was probably just because of the corridor I was driving through.

I was able to get to Denver at 4pm, which was my shortest 'long day' driving. It was very welcoming since I was now going solo, having lost my driving partner in SD.

I was so ridiculously excited to get to CO, knowing the smiling faces which would greet me there. Three of my old roommates from college are now living there and I would be seeing all of them in my short 3 days there. I sacrificed play time in Canada to spend time in Colorado, but I am happy I did.

I stayed with Marcie, Felix and Max in Denver. Here is a picture I got of them on my last day at their house.Below is Manushkka, another one of my awesome roommates from my last semester of undergrad.
Manushkka came over on Monday for FUNFETTI cake that Marcie had made me for my birthday. We celebrated a few days early since we were able to all get together on the 26th. Manush brought my favorite ice cream too. These girls are fantastic and so thoughful!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Day 6: Missoula, MT to Rapid City, SD

Mileage: 674
Total Mileage: 3242

It was sad leaving Missoula, but we had to go onward to our next destination, Debbie's new home, Rapid City, SD. We saw lots of cows on the way.This was the day I had car trouble. Even with a good car things do happen. This was one of those days when you wonder what would have happened if you didn’t pull off of the road in time. One of those days when you realize that literally everything you own that is worth anything could have become fierce projectiles if things would have happened differently and you would have rolled.

Debbie and I hit the road east on I-90, heading for Rapid City, SD. Beautiful morning, it was sad to leave LeeAnn and wonder when we’ll meet again. The familiar face that I’ve known for 6 years, the somewhat familar town, the hike, the nightlife, the after hours pizza. I was driving starting out on a 75mph speed limit highway, booking between 75 and 80, which seems so fast to me. I noticed that the alignment of my steering wheel was funky, something I didn’t notice previously. It kept swerving to the right.. huh. Well that sucks, is what I thought. Then, all of a sudden the car got really shaky, and at first I was thinking it was the road since I was going close to 80, but it didn’t seem to matter if I slowed down or not. I pulled off at the next gas station, and Debbie suggested first that we check and make sure the tires were not loose. No loose tires. Okay. She called her husband, and I called my Dad. Dad said that the tire may have a bubble in it and to see anything and notice if we could feel the tire rolling uneven at a slow speed. If so, we could be close to a blowout. Sure enough, he was right. Never doubt the advice of a 72 year old man who worked on cars his whole life. I had to get back on the highway to get to the nearest tire shop in Butte a couple miles down the road. I was that jerk going 30mph with my blinkers on through a one lane construction area for a mile. HA! Really big pickup truck, it’s not going to help anyone if you tailgate me right now. Get off my back, k thanks. In Butte, we stopped at a gas station, looked and there was one big honkin’ bulge in the front right tire about to explode, with a slight tear already in the tire. Phew, that was close. That could have been the end of my car, my friends’ canoe, my bike, guitar, research laptop, and potentially our health and life. I’ve had these moments before, ones that make you realize in the matter of seconds what really matters. Since all of the tire shops are closed on Sundays, we put the spare on (in a graupel-squall), and headed back east to SD. Now I am a seasoned tire changer.
On the left side of the tire is where you can really see the bulge. A hole had already developed and this tire was about to blow.

Debbie documents my first tire change. Note the graupel falling.

Montana is pretty. I like it a lot down here, though I’m not 100% sure that it is for me. I think I might be able to do it for awhile. The great wide open is awesome, and maybe it is just the time of year but things are really dry down here. The color contrast isn’t much compared to Alaska, the Yukon, British Columbia, and Alberta , but again maybe it’s just this time of year. Part of me though still sees this image of living on a big plot of land in the hills with a view of a sunset that can blow anyone away.
Not to mention the cool skies. I guess Montana is called "Big Sky" for a reason.
We passed a few Indian reservations on the way to Rapid City.
We didn't get photos at ALL of the state signs, but we stopped at Wyoming, since I was looking into going to grad school here a few years ago and imagined living there someday.

We rolled into South Dakota pretty late, but successfully made our destination. When I arrived at Josh and Debbie's house, we found out that the other front tire was beginning to bulge as well. Something to take care of in the morning.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Day 5: Missoula, MT

Mileage: 135
Total mileage: 2568

We hit the road south the 100 miles that seemed so far on Friday night to get to my good friend LeeAnn’s place in Missoula before she had to go on shift at 2. I was very excited about arriving in Missoula, not only because it is Missoula and the place I first landed “out west” in the Rockies two years ago, but because my buddy was there with open arms and totally pumped that I was finally coming to visit her. LeeAnn made sure that we checked out Flathead Lake just north of Missoula. It's one of her recent favorite spots.

After my GPS took us to the Lolo trailhead instead of LeeAnn's apartment, we managed to get ourselves out of there and to the real place.
Debbie and I by Saruba

Right away, it was like we hadn’t been separated for years. I have a lot of ‘favorite people’ and Leeann is definitely one of them – she is a brilliant ball of energy, so when you get us together feeding off of each other it’s a darn good time. To help things out, we lived together for a short time so we spent some quality time together. It was really cool to see how she’s made it in the world and how she is moving on up with her dreams.
Debbie and I stopped by LA's office with pizza and did jumping photos. ;) While LeeAnn was busy working, we hiked up Mt. Sentinel before the sun faded for the day.
After work we went down to the Iron Horse for some drinks as well as another classy bar, and got late night pizza after. It was potentially the most perfect “rest day”. It’s one thing going all of these new places, but it is something so special to have friends to spend it with. What I really like about Missoula is all of the young people. So many faces that are just as confused and enjoying the young life and trying to get by and establish themselves as I am.
Debbie, me, LeeAnn, Matt and Mark
Thanks Missoula, it was fun once again.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Day 4: Prince George to Kalispell, MT

Mileage: 675
Total mileage: 2433
Animals: big horned sheep
Little Lasalle Lake

The night in the car wasn't too bad, especially the part where we didn't have to break down camp, though Debbie was extremely fast at it. I think spending so much time in tents while backpacking not having a car to through stuff in makes one appreciate being able to chuck things in the car, as well as the luxury of having a pillow and extra blankets. :-)
Jasper. Jasper is the one place I went to where I wanted to stay for a long, long time. I am not talking about Jasper National Park, though that in itself was incredible as well. But the yuppie mountain town of Jasper. I don’t know if it was the snow covered peaks surrounding the town and the really nice, small town structure, or the friendly people, but I fell in love with this town and really truly felt happy just churning around in circles around town. It reminded me of Asheville in some ways.
Jasper needs a meteorologist, right?
Debbie enjoying Athabasca Falls

Overall, day 4 was the most scenic day by far, and our longest driving day with a total time of 16 hours. I was disappointed in myself this day, because I realized once we got past Banff NP, that I must have abandoned my road trip planning in my state of multi-tasking pre-trip stuff, so there were places we drove through that I wasn't expecting, and would have liked to stop at.
The Icefields Parkway was hands down the prettiest part of this trip, lined with snow covered peaks, very ski-able snow (of which I hope to someday do some skinning/skiing on), glaciers, waterfalls and the whole package. One could spend weeks here and never be bored.
Continental Divide in Alberta!

I had big visions of getting to Missoula this night, being so close to the first night with a bed and a friend I hadn't seen in 2.5 years. We ended up having to crash a couple hours north of Missoula. We went through Radium Hot Springs, Fairmont Hot Springs, and crossed back over into the US this day - with another border guard entertained by my story. We ended up camping two hours north of Missoula since there were deer everywhere and I didn't feel comfortable driving high speeds at midnight with deer all over the place.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Day 3: Iskut, BC to Prince George, BC

Mileage: 660
Total Mileage: 1758
Animals: nothing notable that I wrote down or remember
And today, I got homesick. I kid you not. I was ready to turn the car back up north. I think what I am embarking on was finally settling in. With things so nuts in the last few months, I didn’t have much time to think about leaving Alaska for more than a few weeks at a time. The whole idea of what I was doing felt wrong, rebellious, and having been fairly distant with friends and coworkers in the weeks leading up to the trip, the whole thing felt very uncomfortable. I guess when you have dreams for so long and then finally you get your chance to make the breakaway, it feels like you are abandoning the life that you learned to know. Because you ARE for that short time, even if you are returning. Think about it. A lot can and will happen in that time, especially if you put yourself way out of your normalcy and run into unfamiliar territory.But the day itself – we woke up to a snowy morning. I was relieved to see that the precipitation was snow and and not rain! I had a mission to find an undeveloped hot springs on this section of the road, but what used to be a forest service road that we could have used to get most of the way there is now a blocked off, no trespassing mining road. We could have bushwhacked 3.5 miles through the trees and 2 foot deep snow, but sadly didn’t have the time to do that. It would have taken all day long. Another point I’d like to go back there. Bummer.
Bear glacier on the Stewart-Hyder road

Today we also took a little side trip to Hyder, AK – the easternmost town in Alaska. This was recommended to me by my friend and I’m glad we went over there though it added 80 miles to the trip. At a population of 64, there wasn’t much to “see” in Hyder. We drove down a super sketchy bridge to the port, and met one of the locals, Tom. Tom asked me where home is, and I said “Fairbanks”. He responded, “no, before that”, and I responded “grew up in Pennsylvania”. “Where?” ha, oh man this is happening again. I told him and found out he is from Johnstown, a place not too far east of where I grew up. He was asking because he saw the Penn State stickers on my car. I couldn’t believe I found another person from the same area in Hyder, Alaska! Granted, he hadn’t been back to PA in over 30 years, but still interesting. He had me say “yinz guys” and was happy. It was neat talking with him though like anyone in a remote small town you could tell he was thrilled to have someone to chat with, and we probably could have bs’ed all day long but we had to get back rolling on the road to keep my ambitious schedule. I don't have a photo of him, since I'm still a bit shy about asking strangers to take their photos.That night, after seeing a baby black bear on the side of the road where we were going to camp, we opted to sleep in the car.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Day 2: Destruction Bay, YT to Iskut, BC

Mileage: 649
Total mileage: 1098
Animals: Takhini Valley Elk herd and lots of caribou
We woke up to a beautiful morning outside our tent!
Today’s hilight was the herd of elk that crossed in front of us. And by herd, I mean close to 50 – and there may have been more. They kept coming until some of them decided that they didn’t want to. What was interesting is that the elk looked like they were thinking before they crossed the road- was smarter than deer or even caribou, that’s for sure. If I were to label the deer family in terms from smartest to stupidest, it would go: elk – moose – caribou – deer
Debbie enjoyed driving around Kluane Lake, while it took me about halfway around the lake to realize we were at Kluane Lake – a place many Fairbanksians talk about. The rivers and lakes were all still frozen but rotting – which made for spectacular scenery.The Cassiar highway made us go offroading within the first 10 miles of getting on it – I wouldn’t have wanted a small sedan on that section. The Cassiar is very windy in parts, but overall not too bad and in way better shape than the Denali highway.
Some caribou hanging out on the side of the road.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Day 1: Fairbanks, AK to Destruction Bay, YT

Mileage: 449
Animals: 1 lynx, 1 moose
Debbie flew up from Rapid City to drive part of the way to Oklahoma with me. We got out of Fairbanks 5 hours later than planned – surprise, surprise. I was not about to embark on this journey without having everything comfortably ready. Since I only had 5 weeks’ notice for this internship and it was just before the big race, everything was kind of haywire from the day I found out until the morning we left. We hit the road toward Whitehorse, but knew that we wouldn’t make it there today. I was running on 11 hours of sleep total over 3 nights, and Debbie is a morning person so both of us knew we wouldn’t last driving too late. After driving 30 miles, I had to pass over the wheel and pass out on what might possibly have been my shortest adrenaline rush from excitement of getting on the road. Debbie kept driving to Tok, then I took over again so I’d be driving my own vehicle across the Canadian border. The border is always fun to cross, but I’ve found it helps to be nice to the guards.

Good looking young border guard: “Where are you going to?”

Me: “Norman, Oklahoma!”

Good looking young border guard: “What for?”

Me: “To go tornado chasing.”

Border guard busts out a big grin (bet he hasn’t heard that one before): “Wow. That’s cool”

A few more questions and he let us in. Not a mile past the border, all of a sudden a vicious snow squall popped out of NOWHERE. It stopped then we got right back into another one. During the non-snowstorm part, there was a fuzzball that looked like a dog at first glance but I quickly identified it as a LYNX! My first lynx, cool! The lynx ran too fast for us to get any photos of it. We saw a moose a bit later on, which Debbie was excited about, but I kind of take for granted on road nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing moose, but not in the road or when skiing down a hill with little ability to stop. That night, we landed ourselves an awesome old mining gravel pad away from sight of the road and set up camp in the moonlight near the mountains. It was 34 degrees F when we stopped and likely dropped another 8 degrees by morning. Our sleep was very poor since the wind was whipping our tent around. But when you wake up with a view like we had and warm sun in the tent, the living is good.
We drove south to find the snow!