Thursday, April 30, 2015

I was due for a problem

So what I said about speaking too soon about surviving the Dempster? I spoke too soon. Just 44 miles after leaving Eagle Plains, I had a flat. I had over 180 miles of rough dirt road to make it back to pavement, much less a tire store another 300 miles from there. I don't have a spare tire and wheel, just a doughnut. I had kind of hoped that if I had a flat, it would be early on. The snow likely concealed some short of sharp rock.

My comeuppance has arrived

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Looking immediately at my tools, I did have a jack, the spare, and a wrench, so it would first appear like I had all the tools I needed to keep moving. If there's another flat though, I'd need a tow, which would likely be more expensive than the car. I jacked up the car, and immediately ran into a problem. The wrench that came with the car was the wrong size!

Luckily, I bought a small tool set at Home Depot before leaving Tehachapi. I opened it praying there was the right socket size. I know it's a metric 21 mm, and my set goes to... 19 mm. But! There's a 7/8 socket, and it fits over the nut but with a lot of wiggle room. I've played this game before, and if you torque it too much the nut gets stuck in the socket.

I really carefully undo each nut, and luckily I was able to get the wheel off. Did I mention it's snowing? I mount the doughnut, lower the car, and the tire deflects almost completely. The thick rubber on the spare made me think it was inflated, but it was almost completely flat.

Luckily I also brought along my trusty tire pump that served us so well in Mongolia, and it worked great... up to 40 psi of the recommended 60 psi. It would have to do! I strapped the flat tire to my hood, which I chose partly because I thought it looked cool but it turns out it tends to block a little bit of my visibility, well a lot actually.

Wish me luck

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Just to get a feel for how isolated this place is, the process for changing the tire took over an hour, and not a single vehicle passed me, either way. Yogi was happily wandering around the woods until I was done.

The rear tire likely went first because I worked the rear tires a lot harder on track days than the fronts. This also means that the rear-right tire is just as likely to fail as the rear-left. I decided to at least make a small change so that I can say I tried if/when the other tire fails. I lowered all the tire pressures to 25 psi to try to lower the contact pressure with rocks, maybe that would help.

I kept moving, and on snow with almost bald all-seasons and a spare tire, the rear end really wanted to oversteer in every corner. The spare also was so narrow it really wanted to stick itself into ruts and stay there. I ended up "edging" the right side of the car to save the rear-right.

It probably took me an hour or two longer than the way up, but I finally escaped Dempster without any additional problems. Luckily I didn't try to go much farther than the Arctic Circle, a Jeep driver told me a bit past it there's a river crossing, and due to the rain and snow it was about 3 feet deep.

A little dirtier than before

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I had a nice lunch at one of the Tombstone Park overlooks before heading back towards Whitehorse for a new tire. I stopped at a nice lake for the night. I decided this might be my most northward opportunity for the Northern Lights, so I decided to set an alarm at 2 AM, and set up a big pile of firewood to keep me warm. I woke up to a bright tent, but unfortunately it was lit by the moon more than anything, no northern lights! Maybe the next night.

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I'm here in Whitehorse now getting 4 new tires, they were all due for replacement anyway. From here I'm going to head to Haines, Alaska to visit a friend, and then finally back South. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Arctic Circle

With the sun coming up so early, it's impossible not to wake up at a reasonable time without feeling like you've wasted all morning. I've also found I don't really feel cold until I need to pack everything up the next morning, lots of exposed digits and sub zero temperatures don't mix well. After getting the car packed Yogi and me were on the road towards Dawson, a small mining town.

Along the way, there were some really nice views of the Yukon, but I didn't see any wildlife except for these really neat falcons. I tried to stop at a few trails, but they're still all snowed in. I feel bad for Yogi, he's going to be fairly un-exercised for a few days while I make it North. After a few more disappointing trailheads I decided to make an attempt to book it north and then head back South so I can get back to Mountain biking in warmer temperatures.

Once at Dawson, I refuel, get some cash, and then fruitlessly try to find some wifi before I decide to get out of dodge and get on the Dempster highway. This is the highway I've been looking forward to/fearing the entire trip. I mentioned it to one of the brewers at Wheelhouse in Prince Rupert, and his reaction was "that'll destroy your car". I took the lonely road to the start of it, and set off, only to immediately see a sign stating that the next gas stop was 370 km away. Under my normal driving habits, this is longer than the range of my car. There was a gas station at the start of the highway, so I topped my tank off to the brim, and hoped that the road's surface wouldn't degrade my milage by too much. I'd be a filthy hypermiler if it meant I make it to my goal.

This is probably a bad idea...

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I set off and was immediately disappointed at the road surface, in that it was exactly what I was expecting. It was a rough dirt road, with many exposed rocks and sand, I could barely maintain 40 mph. At this rate, it would take me roughly 5 hours to get to the Arctic Circle, my loafty likely unrealistic goal. Not only that, my tires aren't exactly new after several track days, so any sharp rock could puncture the tire. I was also thinking back to when I first packed the car, I knew I had a spare, but I didn't know whether I had a jack and the right tire iron size.

Nevertheless I pressed on, hoping that the weather would clear and the road would improve. Magically, it did temporarily. The weather cleared just before Tombstone Park, which turned out to be incredible. The road took me far above tree line, and I was quickly driving among snow capped peaks. Because of the low tree line the peaks are shorter than they seem, but they still looked large an imposing especially compared to a pitifully small Miata.

I decided to put the top down, which ended up being the correct choice. The air was cold but felt good while properly bundled up. It would be the best part of the Dempster, by a long shot.

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The car's rattles and squeaks kept getting worse, so I finally put a concerted effort into fixing some of them. Turns out 90% of the noise was coming from two sources. The first was solved by rolling up my Buff and shoving it into one of the convertible top's hinges. The second was solved by shoving a sock in between the roll bar padding and the convertible top. Suddenly my car seemed quiet and composed in comparison, but it still complained loudly whenever I hit a large bump.

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Suddenly the road darkened as I drove under a layer of clouds, and the road started gaining in altitude. The road surface itself started degrading to the point that I couldn't go much faster than 30 mph or I felt the car would fall apart Blues Brother's style. I found that if I drove on the far extreme right and left sides of the roads, there were less rocks and pot holes, but you run the risk of getting carried off the road by a large rut if you're not careful. I decided to call this method "edging".
After over 5 hours of traveling, with an average speed of just about 40 mph, I finally reached the next fuel stop with some margin. The hotel/gas station/bar/restaurant/shop was currently being run by a solitary gruff German woman, and after a beer and some gas I kept going north, enough light at 11 PM to keep me going for at least a couple more hours.

As I approached the arctic circle, more and more things on the car seemed to be complaining. It was probably my heightened awareness, fearing that something would go wrong just miles from my goal. But as the miles went by it became less and less likely. 8 miles to go... that oil temperature seems strangely warm... 7 miles... oh that wheel bearing is making that funny sound again.... 6 miles... huh is the left bearing making the same sound now? 5 miles... it suddenly occurs to me why people travel to Hawaii so much, it's awesome there... 4 miles... I can't believe there's still dusk remaining at midnight...

Suddenly, I'm at the arctic circle. There isn't a huge monument, just a small wooden sign. It was still very cloudy, very windy, and very cold, so I decided against putting up my tent and instead decided to sleep in my car, my first time doing so on the trip. Pictures could wait until the next morning. I celebrated with a beer Kristina and Ryan gave me in Seattle, and it was worth saving until now. I had a slight hope that the clouds would clear up so that I could see the Northern Lights for the 2:30-4 AM period when it's actually completely dark, but with the last clear pockets closing up I decided to get a few hours of sleep before heading back south.

I woke up surprised by about an inch of snow on the ground. What this meant, in the short term, was that I needed to do some doughnuts. In the more long-term, it meant I was driving back on the Dempster in the snow. It was also my first time driving the Miata in snow, maybe any rear wheel drive car actually. Just an inch of snow, rather than closing up bumps or pot-holes, ends up just concealing them. The drive back would be even slower than the pitiful 40 mph I was able to average yesterday.

Made it! Somehow!

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After a crawl I was able to make it back to Eagle Plains, the refueling station. And that's where I am now! Waiting on everything opening up so I can get some fuel. The tentative plan is to stay in Dawson tonight in a real bed, and get a good night's rest before heading down to Haines, Alaska via the Top of the World highway. If I can survive the Dempster (maybe I shouldn't speak so soon) I can survive that highway right?

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Yukon Brewing or Bust

This morning I woke up to what I thought were water droplets on my tent, but once I examined them closer I found they had actually frozen! I did my best to shake them off, and after filling up and getting breakfast I was off northward. The road followed a lake, crossed some rivers, but was mostly through either burnt or thinning forests. As I move north, the trees begin to look more like Dr. Seuss trees, very scraggly and thin, definitely responding to the harsher temperatures and weather. I saw some Caribou for the first time! Next up is Reindeer and hopefully a bear at some point.

Eventually I arrived at the 37 junction with the Alaska Highway. I asked the gas station attendant if there was any good biking trails nearby, and she said there was a "wicked" trail near Lucky Lake, about a 20 mile detour in the wrong direction, which sounded fine by me. It turned out that this trail was only 2.2 km long, and after beginning to take my bike off I decided I'd just run it instead.

Turns out this was a good choice, the trail was sandy until the snow took over all the way until a river. I was being overly optimistic by wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I ran through as much snow as I could but eventually it was too deep and I had to walk. I saw lots of interesting footprints, one was likely a moose but I'm not sure. The river was almost entirely frozen. It looked like a bunch of icebergs had a traffic jam and the water was just flowing around them all.

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Once I got back to the junction I found some wifi and discovered that there was a brewery in Whitehorse called Yukon Brewing, but it was very far away and if I hurried I could make it there before they closed. I booked it the entire way there, and ended up covering a lot of ground. I should put more breweries off until the last minute. I felt a little bad though, my first long stint on the Alaska Highway, and plenty of good views but I was in too much of a rush to stop.

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The brewery was worth the effort though, I ended up mixing a six pack and got a lot of good advice from the bartender. Unfortunately the hot spring/campground I was hoping to check out was closed, so it might have to wait until my journey back south. As a result of it being closed, I was traveling north later than I usually like to. I ended up stopping to make dinner at a river, and then moved on another 15 miles or so to camp. I figured a bear would be less likely to want to get into my trunk if he hadn't just gotten lured there by dinner smells,

I was hoping to find a rest area, but as the sun was going down I decided to just stop on the road and pitch a tent in a field. Turned out to be one of my most scenic camping spots, hopefully a Mounty doesn't come to shove me out of it!

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Monday was lame, well as lame as driving through the wilderness of Canada can be. I drove through rain basically the entire day, hoping to take advantage of my healing knee to get some good driving hours completed. Almost all views were spoiled by clouds. Not the cool kind of clouds that give you cool perspective and depth, the lame ones that obscure almost everything. The variations in weather, climate, and vegetation at different altitudes is really startling though. One minute you'll be driving through fairly dense forest with budding deciduous trees, the next minute you'll have climbed a few thousand feet and the temperature will have dropped, it's snowing, and even the conifers are having a tough time clinging to life.

I passed several gorgeous lakes, and stopped at one to make dinner. I'm increasingly worried about bears, not for fear they might take my food or damage the car, but rather that they'll damage my new bike in doing so. I'm prepared with some bear mace to fight them off and the stupidity to do so. I'm currently at around 58 degrees north, so only another 8 degrees before I hit the Arctic Circle, if I make it that far.

I did finally make it to the Yukon! So there's that, the goal for tomorrow will be Whitehorse, a small but relatively large town.

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The Miata's rattles are getting increasingly annoying, consistent, and maddening. I'll probably spend some time ditching some more interior panels to track a couple down. The bike rack's bolt keeps loosening, allowing the rack to sway but it's not in danger of falling. It's more concerning that that swaying would create some contact pressures and fatigue the metal. I'll have to tighten it up tomorrow before I drive farther north.

I'm currently writing this in a tent at 9 PM, and the sun has just barely gone down. There's at least another hour of twilight. At some point I'm going to need to check out the Northern Lights, hopefully the weather clears up soon to let me. It's been cloudy fairly consistently since I was in Whistler, with only some brief hours of sunlight. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

An Awesome Pointless Detour

I ended up at a camping spot right next to a nice lake, but unfortunately the weather didn't really clear up. I didn't have to setup or tear down in the rain, but the tent definitely demonstrated it was worth every penny.

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The next day I was off to Smithers for more biking, and the road west took me closer towards the mountains, a welcome relief from the more arid rolling hills. Once in Smithers I saw a biker riding through town. My normal approach is to ask a local bike shop or information center for trail recommendations, but seeing this biker I decided the best plan was to just follow him.

After a while I thought this was getting awkward and decided to just be a normal adult and ask him for a recommendation. He immediately pointed me to the nearest trail "network" that he was heading towards, a term I've come to despise but I thought I would give it a try.

While examining the (very confusing) map for the system some helpful bikers, Matt and Erin, came to my aid. They gave me some recommendations, but also offered to just let me follow them around, which I happily accepted. Two other bikers Brian and Zach met up with us, and we rode up the mountain.

The network they've developed is really extensive and amazingly well maintained. The new bike handles the climbs really well but it's going to take me a bit to get used to the new tire size. They've got a sweet widget that effectively lets you spin a wheel to decide what trail to go on! There were also a lot of other people enjoying their Saturdays on their bikes, definitely a healthy bike culture in that city. Having a ski area in town also helps bolster those sports.

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The trail uphill was pretty easy going, but on the way down I would find that there was a good reason everyone but me had a full suspension bike. The Trek handled it pretty well but i think less tire pressure would have been better over the roots and small rocks in places. It got pretty steep at times, and I chickened out by walking in a few places, but unfortunately not on a feature over a large log.

There was a narrow plank up a 3 foot high log, and unseen on the other side was the descending ramp actually turned to the right slightly. I ended up tumbling off the left side, and jammed my leg into either the bike's frame, the ground, or both.

I was able to make it down to the bottom without any problems, but it's definitely going to be sore for a couple of days! Matt and Erin both gave me some recommendations on where to check out next. They said the drive to Prince Rupert was incredible, and that there was a brewery there. It was out of the way, but whenever someone mentions and incredible drive and a brewery I pretty much have to check it out.

The drive was as great as they said it was. There was still snow on a lot of the peaks, but I think the warmer temperatures at lower altitudes and near the coast allowed the aspens and other deciduous trees to start blooming down below sooner than the rest of the country I've seen so far. The route followed a large river, and was a broad sweeping highway.

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Yogi's still afraid of loud noises, so he's never been a huge fan of driving, but he's starting to get comfortable enough to almost sleep in the car. I'm sure by the end of this trip it'll be no problem for him.

Prince Rupert is a nice quaint town, lots of nautical architecture and history. I stopped for a couple pictures near the water hoping to find their seaplane base, but eventually had to give up and found the brewery.

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Wheelhouse Brewing is a really great place, the owners were serving great beer, the people were very friendly, and they let Yogi roam around the building. Everyone signed the car, and after some free samples of a grapefruit ginger beer we all ended up heading over to a sushi place in town. I went with a wonderful girl from Prince George Lindsay, Lindsay's friend Lindsay, a local legend that payed for our dinner Tim, and co-owner of the brewery Ronnie. Ronnie told us some pretty amazing stories about the region, and I gave them some beer in exchange for dinner and the company. Pretty late I headed to the local hostel to get some sleep, eventually.

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Now I'm off back East, then heading North again to get to some higher latitudes. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Throwing Money at the Problem

After doing some more bike research online and running some errands, I decided that I would head to the reasonably sized city of Prince George to buy a bike, if I was going to at all. I drove the three hours north I would have driven anyway and headed to the closest bike shop once I arrived. Over the course of the day I headed to 4 different bike shops, rode at least a dozen rides, did a lot of online research... basically all the stuff necessary to convince myself that this wasn't what it was, an impulse buy. Finally, I settled on a ~$1000 Trek X-Calibur 8, which had the best components for the money, an air shock, rode extremely well, and I wanted it. I'm an adult I can do what I want.

I got a new rear derailleur, and bike

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They helped me swap the pedals, do some last minute checks and then I mounted the bike to Miho. Last thing to figure out was what to do with Futility. I decided someone should be able to find it a good home, but after the last few days I didn't really care, I just wanted the bike gone. I decided to leave it next to a dumpster and if someone wanted it, so be it.

Someone will give her a good home, right?

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I was on my way out, and suddenly my $50 Harbor Freight bike rack seemed comically inadequate for the task at hand. Whereas before I would have likely laughed had the rack snapped off and dragged across the ground with my bike grinding its way to a halt, with my new bike this would not be acceptable. I drove along, worrying every minute that the bike would be damaged by a rogue rock, corroded away by rain, or contact the ground the moment I hit a large bump. The rear tire was also hanging worryingly off from the left side of the car, creating the possibility that if I or someone else drives too close to that part of the car, the bike would likely be damaged or destroyed. The bike lock was putting load at the middle of some spokes, potentially bending them irreversibly. I never worried about any of this with Futility, but now I was adamantly worried something would go wrong. And then, suddenly, I smelled the faint odor of burning rubber and immediately stopped and inspected the bike.

When initially mounted, the bike was nicely elevated from the ground, and spaced a decent distance away from the back of the car. However as I drove along, the front tire of the bike started shifting forward, and as it did so it got closer and closer to the exhaust pipe. As I was driving along, the front tire heated up and melted enough to produce a bump on the side of the tire as the tube expanded into this weak point, but luckily I stopped in time to prevent it from actually getting damaged.

I immediately reassessed how I was mounting the bike, and started rearranging the entire setup. I decided to remove both tires, and place them on the rack separately with the frame. I liberally applied duct tape to prevent the frame from scratching the wheels, and added a bunch of redundant ropes, straps, and the bike lock itself. I also added tape around the expensive derailleur. It seems to have solved every problem, but we'll see.

Problem solved

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I'm on my way to the place recommended by the bike shop, Smithers. I didn't end up having time to ride today, but hopefully tomorrow morning I can get an early start and get a ride in there on the new bike. And, hopefully that tire isn't too damaged from my incompetence. I'm currently driving West, hopelessly trying to escape this poor weather. Hopefully it'll clear up somewhere so I can have a relatively dry camping spot. 

I've Finally Named My Bike Futility

I started the day with a bunch of chores, laundry, charging stuff, organizing the car, buying some supplies, before heading out to... The Museum of Flight, one of the best aviation museums in the world. Some highlights were the SR-71, walking through a Concorde, and seeing the Gossamer Condor II. There was also the sailplane that currently holds the highest unpowered altitude record at around 51,000 feet.

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After that I headed to Paseo, a Caribbean sandwich shop and had a deliciously messy roast pork sandwich, and then headed to Stoup, one of the better local breweries. And then just to put me in my place, I got a parking ticket. I thought we were friends Seattle!

I did some chores at Kristina and Ryan's before meeting up with them to head to Elliot Bay to get a burger and a beer before heading to Beer Junction. It's a local bar/beer store, so I stocked up pretty well for at least my first week in Canada.

The following morning I said goodbye to my wonderful hosts, admired Miho after her free Seattle car wash, and decided to head straight for the border to take advantage of the clear weather. Along the way I found an amazing breakfast burrito in Bellingham called Burrito King. I should have known a college town would have a good burrito place.

Pretty quickly I was at the border, where the border guard gave me a couple weird looks based on my car and asked tough questions accordingly, but once satisfied let me by. Immediately going in to Canada, I think they built up a lot of impressive infrastructure close to the border, there's no way their entire road network is this nice.

I no longer had any cell data, so I would be relying on a rough map and dead reckoning. I was immediately lost when I hit Vancouver and ended up downtown, a place I was hoping to avoid. I parked next to the bay to find out where I was, and when heading to the water to get a bearing immediately saw at least a dozen seaplanes. I had randomly stumbled onto the Vancouver Seaplane Base. I basically ran down to the water to take as close a look as I could, and watched at least a half dozen take offs and landings.

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I saw the bridge I was hoping to get to from the base, and once on it it was a pretty straight shot North to my goal, Whistler. I was pretty quickly stopping at every opportunity to check out the scenery. The road was along a large waterway, with mountains on either side. It had just snowed at higher altitudes, so most of the peaks were white with green trees down below.

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I stopped at an enormous waterfall right off the roadway (where Yogi had his first taste of Canada), a couple scenic overlooks, and finally got to Whistler about 10/6.2 faster than I was originally calculating. First stop, obviously, was the local brewery (for my first taste of Canada) where a bartender Tony, besides giving me some delicious samplers, pointed me towards the closest place to bike and camp.

First taste of Canada

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The bike ride started out poorly, despite functioning flawlessly on my previous ride, the chain immediately snapped. After a repair, it snapped again. I think it was finally calling it quits. Luckily I thought ahead and bought a replacement at the REI in Seattle, so after a quick installation I was heading up the river.

The trail ran along a large turbulent river, with enormous rapids. Luckily it was down too far for Yogi to try to swim in it. It was pretty short, but just at the top of the trail just before a bridge my drivetrain locked up. My immediate thought was that the chain came loose and got jammed, but I quickly discovered that my derailleur finally imploded on itself. Luckily most of the ride back would be downhill, but it was still a pain in the ass. I'm had to find a bike shop the next day to get a new one, which is probably something I should have done in Petaluma anyway.

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After scooting my bike back to the car, I decided to make a quick dinner and then head back to the brewery. I gave the bartender one of my Old Rasputins earlier in an attempt to convince him he needs to head down South to try out some California breweries, and as a result they were returning the favor, many times over. Luckily I remembered the way back to my campsite.

The following day I packed up and tracked down a bike shop to fix my derailleur. They nicely bumped up working on my bike so that I could get on the road, and after a coffee break I was back out on the road. I didn't test ride it first, which will come up later...

The guys at the bike shop recommended Williams Lake, a 5 hour drive, which was going to be hard but I decided to go for it. The drive immediately put me in a very remote part of the mountains, I don't think a lot of people must take that road north of Whistler. It went through a lot of gorgeous passes, and I kept the top down even as it started snowing on us.

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The clouds prevented me from seeing some of the peaks, which also gave me the impression the mountains kept climbing far beyond where I could see. The tree line is much lower here, perhaps due to the limited growing season, so 4000 feet seemed like 12000 at times when you're climbing above where the forest can reach. I started using my headphones to listen to music (the Miata doesn't have a stereo), and each song seemed to fit the scenery in its own way, but Alt-J was definitely a highlight.

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Eventually the mountains gave way to some more arid rolling hills, which lasted all the way to Williams Lake. I decided to climb around Fox Mountain, which was supposed to have a good biking network and views of the lake. That might seem like a neat idea, but in hindsight, a network just means it's incredibly easy to get lost.

I started out and the bike was working fine, exactly as expected. I stopped for a quick picture with Yogi when I encountered the only other people I'd see on the mountain, and then kept moving. There was a symbol for a trail that was supposed to circumnavigate the whole network, a fox's tail. So I had hoped if I followed this symbol I'd be fine.

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I was about a third of the way into the trail when I had my first gear skip, and was immediately annoyed that even with a new chain and a new derailleur I'm still having issues with the drivetrain. I press on and immediately the trail starts descending rapidly. I could have turned in to the network, but I would have been lost immediately. I had a reasonable idea of where I was and where I needed to go, but it didn't feel right that I was descending so much. I decided to keep following the fox's tail and pressed on.

After that, another worrying thing started happening, it started drizzling. I picked up the pace to get back sooner, and after about another mile the trail started to get more confusing. There were the occasional tails, and usually a sign at every junction, but worryingly I passed a few junctions without signs, and had to hope that my choice was the right one. After a while I didn't see any more tails, and eventually the trail ended at a neighborhood that was definitely not where I parked my car, and definitely at a lower altitude than where I needed to be. I started back from where I came from, and noticed what looked like a trail that could be a shortcut. It was sort of in the direction I needed to be, and it was uphill, which was promising, so I started on it. What looked like a trail from below turned out to be just a deer trail at best, and pretty quickly I was walking straight up a mountain in an uncontrolled area. Every 50 feet I thought I saw a biking trail going left, the direction I needed to go, but once I climbed to it it would just be another deer trail.

Finally, after at least 500 feet of climbing up a mountain with a bike on my back in some light rain, I found a clear mountain biking trail. It wasn't optimum, it was effectively a steep downhill run, so I had to continue carrying the bike on my back, until it finally leveled out a bit and I could climb on my bike.

This was great, except it started raining a little harder, and then, oh joy of joys, the derailleur broke again the exact same way as the day before. I angrily tried to bend and crank the parts back into their original position, but eventually I had to give up, remove the chain, and scoot back to my car.

Thanks for leaving me stranded again #Shimano

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I immediately sped to the closest bike shop, thinking I was going to buy a bike on the spot, but after considering getting a $1200 Specialized Pro Evo 29, I decided I didn't want to make that purchase emotionally. I headed to the local pub for a beer and some wifi to research reviews on that bike and others, and then headed to the in-town campsite to sleep on it. So that's where I am now, writing this in a tent, my stomach hurts for some reason, it's raining off and on, I knew every day wasn't going to be perfect, and I should at least be happy this one started well. Hopefully tomorrow will be better! 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Must... keep... climbing

The next day started early, I got a couple hours of driving in before getting to a nice beach and going for a long run, made a little surreal by the coastal fog. I thought Yogi might be getting tired, he was actually running BEHIND me towards the end, but he quickly put me in my place to chase off some seagulls.

Beach run!

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Bend was 6 hours away. I was going to be a long drive, but if I moved quickly it should be doable. The drive through the rest of Northern California was the standard gorgeous forests and pacific coast. The road turned inland where I finally hit the border into Oregon. I drove pretty much non-stop all day.

Apparently you can't pump your own gas or you'll get arrested in Orgeon, as one helpful gas station attendant informed me.

Bend seems like a Boulder from 2005, a lot smaller and less crowded. I met up with Kurt, we'd be staying on a friend's couch for the night. I took a quick shower to knock down my smell a few notches, and then headed to a place called The Lot, which is an outdoorish food truck/beer pavillion. I had a Wet Burrito and a few beers before we headed to Bend Brewing and then Deschutes, where I wisely/poorly chose to have a sampler of every beer.

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The following morning was a flurry of gathering supplies, doing laundry, packing, and a quick breakfast before driving to Mount Hood. I also got Yogi a more comfortable setup instead of just sleeping on top of my duffel bag. We stopped at Mount Hood Brewing to get lunch, have a few beers and figure out our plan for the day. We decided on going to Ramona Falls on the Western slope of the mountain.

Yogi got a better bed today

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The hike was about 7 miles and Kurt has a bad knee, but there was a lot of water for Yogi to jump in and the falls themselves were pretty gorgeous. The big river valleys also provided some nice clearings to see Mount Hood. The trees are so tall and thick here it's hard to find the consistently epic views you get in Colorado.

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Afterwards we camped along a rive we passed on the way there. It was pretty isolated besides the few cars that would drive by every couple hours. It was also my first campfire of the trip, the Miata doesn't have a lot of room to carry excess firewood. We made a gargantuan amount of chili-mac, and I had a Sanctification from Russian River, which seemed perfect for the occassion.

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Kurt and me had breakfast at a neat place just at the end of Lola Pass Road, the ZigZag Inn, and then said our goodbyes after he gave the car a sign off with a sharpie. During the Mongol Rally we had friends and helpful strangers sign our car, and it was too good of an idea not to do again.

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I headed North, along a nice mountain road around the East side of Mount Hood. The road took me along a river and finally through some vineyards before I crossed the Columbia River into Washington. Instead of heading on the road North that follows the West side of Mount Adams, I decided at the last minute to head farther West and drive along the East side of Mount St Helens. It was a great drive, but my GPS died so I was driving by intuition. There was a sign saying the road I was on was closed, but I decided to keep going anyway to check it out.

I stopped at a small grocery store in the middle of no where called Eagle Rock to ask for directions. Two helpful people gave me some great directions, a map, and a recommendations for the scenic route. Unfortunately the route I was planning was closed, so I had to head West and take... sigh... the 5 North to Seattle. The scenic route would take me along a dirt road mountain pass, so I hoped that would make me feel like less of a cop out for taking the 5. I thought that would be as good an opportunity as any to go for a mountain bike ride.

I checked my chain beforehand, there was a link on the verge of failure. I decided to try to fix it by compressing it and re-pressing the shaft, and then hoped for the best. The start of the ride was probably the worst type of surface imaginable for someone on their third ride ever with clip-in pedals, basically over sharp volcanic rocks. I chickened out by walking some of it and hoped it would end quickly, and after a couple hundred yards I entered dense Washington forests.

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I was consistently climbing, and I had a goal of getting to the bottom of the mountain, but as I kept riding... and riding... and riding... it was quickly apparent this was an ambitious goal. I finally got to an open clearing thanks to an enormous landslide, providing a great view that made the entire ride worth it. A little farther on I had a good view of how close I was to the mountain, but the snow forced me to finally give up. Somehow my quick chain fix worked perfectly the whole time.

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After that I drove basically non-stop to Blue Origin, where my friend Kristina works. She gave me a tour of their badass facility, and all of the exciting work they're doing. I'd be staying at her place with her husband Ryan for a couple days to prepare for my longest couch-less stint through Canada.

That evening we went to a nice Hawaiin-Mexican-American fusion place right on the water, and then to an amazing bar called Brouwer's Cafe before calling it a day. I've got a lot to do today to prepare, hopefully I don't get too distracted by breweries and good food.

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