Wednesday, August 13, 2008
I reached Astoria over two weeks ago and I've been back in Chicago for a week and a half. But time is deceptive. It passes differently now that I've ended my journey. My seventy-five days on the Transamerica Trail may well have been a year; the past few weeks but a few days. This is one of the many things that I'm readjusting to now that I'm back home.
It's hard to sum up the ride without resorting to a string of tired superlatives. It was simply the best thing I've ever done. The adventure, the challenge, the people, the scenery, and a significant amount of good fortune combined to provide an experience that I will remember fondly for the rest of my life. I won't say that it was a once in a lifetime experience, as I would certainly consider pedaling across the country again on a different route.
After the details and colors of each state's beauty have faded from my mind, what will remain are memories of my time spent with people from across the country. Often my encounters with these strangers, almost all of whom I'll never see again, were short, but their conversation and hospitality defined my journey as much as the roads and terrain that I travelled.
A story from my last day provides a perfect illustration. On Sunday morning, the final day of my ride, I pushed my loaded bike through a few hundred feet of sand in Seaside, OR, so that I could dip my tires in the Pacific. Rolling my Surly through the loose sand proved to be one of the more difficult challenges of the trip. As I stood beside my bike taking in the ocean's breeze and reflecting on the past two and a half months, a middle-aged guy playing fetch with his dog walked up the beach toward me. "This looks symbolic," he said. "Where'd you come from?" When I told him the Atlantic, he broke into a huge grin and excitedly said, "That's what I was hoping you'd say!" He congratulated me, gave me a high five and said, "I don't even know you and I'm proud of you." I told him a bit about the trip, he graciously took a few pictures of me and then he headed off back toward town.
Several people who had finished the Transamerica before me had commented on how reaching the Pacific can be anti-climactic. There's no bannered finish line, no parade, and no fireworks. There's just another town going about it's daily business. Yet, my five-minute encounter with that stranger on the beach provided all the acknowledgment that I needed at the end of my 4,700 mile ride.
A few readers have requested a best/worst of list. Below is a hodgepodge of awards marking some of the trip's highlights and lowlights.
Best Mexican: Mexican Food Bus, Dillon, MT. The attention to detail given to the presentation of my $4 plate of tacos-to-go was truly impressive. An array of radishes and hot peppers accompanied the taco assortment made with surprisingly fresh vegetables.
Best pizza: Christian's Pizza, Charlottesville, VA.
Best BBQ: Sugarfoot & Peaches, Fort Scott, KS.
Best shake: Fresh raspberry shake at a fruit stand outside Tillamook, OR.
Best pie: Apple Pie at Delaney's on Broadway in Goreville, IL. Truly memorable pie and I ate a lot of pie.
Most consumed meal: Bacon cheeseburger.
Least amount of Heath in a Heath Bar Blizzard: DQ in Scott City, KS. The dearth of Heath in my Blizzard forced me to inform the workers that their DQ was the most miserly with their Blizzard fillings from Kansas to the eastern seaboard.
Best donut: Daylight Donuts, Scott City, KS. The town redeems itself.
State with the most roaming dogs miles from any visible residence: Kentucky. Was there any doubt?
State with my closest encounter with a dog: Virginia (reenactment pictured here).
Most common roadkill in the East: Turtles and snakes.
Most common roadkill in the West: Deer.
Animal only seen dead never alive: Armadillos.
Best animal sighting: Foxes on the Katy Trail.
Vehicles and roads
State with the most cars built before 1980 on the road: Montana.
State with worst road conditions: Kentucky.
State with the best shoulders: Wyoming.
State with best drivers: Virginia, Kansas, Wyoming.
State with worst drivers: Out of respect to my friends in Missouri I won't name the winner.
Scariest vehicles: Rented RVs the size of a Rolling Stones tour bus that are pulling an SUV and being driven by an elderly couple that probably should not even be driving a car much less a 50 foot-long vehicle. Runner-up: Empty school buses. The drivers are like teenagers whose parents are gone for the weekend -- all wild abandon.
Biggest pet peeve: Oncoming cars passing other oncoming cars by moving into my lane while I'm in it.
My dumbest move: Flipping off those oncoming drivers.
Best campsite: Cliffside site at a Jellystone Campground near Canon City, CO.
Sourest people: Employees of the HOB Cafe in Hartsel, CO. I knew I was in trouble when a customer was told she could smoke in the restaurant if she paid a dollar. It is illegal to smoke indoors so the owner charges customers for the privilege to pay off the fines.
Most photographed state: Wyoming (pictured here). Runners-up: Colorado, Oregon.
Least photographed state: Illinois (I only spent three nights in the state).
State with the most free overnight stays: Virginia.
Most expensive lodging: Jackson, WY.
Favorite states: Montana (pictured outside Ennis in the panorama above), Colorado, Virginia, Idaho.
Favorite city: Missoula, MT.
Most enjoyably tacky town: West Yellowstone, MT.
Most peaceful ride: The Katy Trail, MO.
Best overall rides (in geographic order): Blue Ridge Parkway, VA; Loop to Mammoth Cave, KY; Canon City, CO to Hoosier Pass, CO; Grand Tetons National Park, WY; US 12 through Idaho; Three Capes Scenic Highway, OR.
Finally, I still plan on making a few additions to the blog. After I organize and winnow down my photos, I'll post them as a single album on Flicker and provide a link here. Also, for those looking for helpful logistical information on riding the Transamerica Trail I will link to more information about what equipment proved most useful and what businesses along the route were most cyclist-friendly.