Valley of the Giants

Rarely leaving Corvallis, I decided to set out on an adventure for spring break. The Valley of the Giants is a small grove of old growth Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock that survived logging operations due to a surveying error. In the 1970’s Oregonians worked to protect the Valley, establishing it as a pristine natural area. Located down a winding network of logging roads, I found a map and some directions and loaded up my bicycle for a five day bike tour.

A veteran to touring, loading the bike is therapeutic. On the road you pack and repack your bike many times in a day, but the first time is always slow. Do I have everything? Well no, I forgot my rainfly, or my bike pump, eventually wrangling all of the gear into the minimal cargo capacity of the bike. Excited to be on the road again, but somewhat intimidated by the wilderness that I would be exploring, I gave the bike a final once over before heading out.

My roommate Carl, who has biked across the US from west to east, decided to join me for the ride out of town. We left the Peace House under overcast skys, and soon found ourselves on the outskirts of town. Carl is a wonderful riding partner, with a rock steady personality and an excellent knowledge of local roads. Cresting the first big hill, we plunged away from Corvallis into vast farm land. The quiet country roads filled me with nostalgia, remembering the Uwharrie Challenge bike rides from summer camp. Sharing that story as we rode along, my spirit regained the freedom of heading towards the horizon under your own power.

All to soon, we reached the point where Carl was going to loop around back towards town. Taking a minute to eat fig newtons by the road, we wished each other safe travel as I was on my way. Typical of life in Oregon, an aggressive mist was gently soaking me, so I changed into my rain jacket was happy to find a steady wind at my back. Blasting north, my body felt strong and my mind was clearing. The simple pleasure of doing what you love.

The mist picked up into a full out rain. Deciding to wait it out, I pulled the bike into an empty house construction site, and found a nice dry spot in the garage. Taking the moment to check the gear and shuffle my clothes, the rain died down and I got back on the road. My destination was Independence, Oregon, where my old scouting friend, Tom Moose, lives. Taking the back roads is always a treat, as you’re able to focus on the world around you instead of the rush of cars. Soon I was welcomed to Independence by a large sign, meanwhile realizing that my front tire was leaking air.

Pulling off the road I was thankful that I had made it to town before getting the flat. I figure the construction site, littered with nails and staples, had something to do with the puncture. Overwhelmed by the traffic noise, as I was right beside the bridge over the Willamette at rush hour, I walked the bike down a local road to find some peace. Realizing that a flat is part of almost any trip, I was glad to get it out of the way, and in many ways, the peaceful zen of bicycle maintenance makes the experience quite enjoyable. Instead of stressing about the flat, I was filled with confidence that I know how to fix the bike and know how to work in unison with it. The afternoon sun blasted through the clouds, as I took the opportunity to sun dry my gear while I tinkered with the bike.

Rolling again, I set off for a slow stroll through town. Tommy was still at work for a few more hours, so I explored Independence. Truly classic small town America, the quite back streets were filled with historic buildings and people enjoying the afternoon sun. Finding my way down to the riverfront park, I mused about bringing my bicyclist agenda to places like this. Around sunset Tommy gave me a call, and I made the short ride over to his place.

Catching up, and enjoying a fine dinner, I was glad to make the visit. A year ago, I spent almost every night couch surfing around, entertaining folks with stories from my vibrant life. Now a days, I have a steady residence and a post office box. Playing a little dulcimer, Tommy and I settle into a philosophical discussion, ultimately resulting in the conclusion that the solution to the worlds problems is empathy. Settling in for the night, I found myself in a bed, but eventually was able to sleep.

A bright morning greeted us, as we enjoyed biscuits for breakfast. Oregon is seriously lacking in the biscuit department, and it’s always a joy to eat with a fellow North Carolinian. The dishes washed, and some more philosophy, Tommy thanked me for getting him out of his regular routine, as we said our farewells. Climbing on the bike again, I made my way through town heading for the wilderness.

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Stopping at a graveyard on top of a hill just outside of town, I stretched out while enjoying the rich greenness of Oregon’s rolling beauty. A crop duster plane was making passes over a field nearby, and soon was back on the road. The rural farms were further and further apart, eventually making it to the first gravel road. Coming around a corner, heavy foggy rain was ahead, so I stopped and waited underneath some dense trees. Amazed at how dry it was under the trees I took some time to reflect on the ride and settle myself into the slower gravel road riding.

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As I continued to ride, evidence of civilization grew more sparse. Most of the land is used for lumber, and is in various stages of regrowth following logging operations. Cars were a rarity, loud beast roaring down the roads, while I pulled over to let them pass. The road I was following was once a logging railroad, so the gentle grade was a pleasant ride. Similarly, the roads were very well maintained making for easy progress alongside a winding river. Coming to fork in the road that went across a bridge, I studied my map and directions, and decided to make the turn. The path was much steeper and rougher, as I struggled up a hill. The occasional mile markers painted on trees started over at zero again, and doubt filled my mind. Is this the right way? Cresting the hill, I decided to just camp for the evening and figure it out in the morning.

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Stretching out while my dinner curry cooked, I listened to the silent woods around me. Far from houses and paved roads, the quiet was heavy, the sounds cushioned by the thick moss covering everything. Enjoying my evening meal, I reflected on how thankful I was to be riding again. The simple peace of doing whatever is in front of you with your undivided attention is hard to achieve in a busy, computer intensive world. Crawling into my hammock, I noticed the stars high above me, twinkling through the dense trees.

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The clear night got rather cold, especially since I had far fewer blankets than my domestic camping life. Very early in the morning, the sound of logging trucks filled my sleep, as they slowly rumbled up and over the pass. Eventually light filled the world, and I quickly broke down camp with cold hands and feet. Deciding that I had made a wrong turn, I headed back down the hill to reevaluated the road. The steep descent chilled my bones, as I had no need to pedal, just clinging to the brakes. Returning to the fork in the road, the other direction showed signs of more traffic. Stopping to soak in the morning sunshine while enjoying some hot coffee, I stretched out and waved to the occasional passing log trucks.

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Down the right path, I was soon climbing again, but this time on a steady railroad grade. Reassured that I was on the right path, I made good time, stopping at the pass to take in the view. On the descent again, I was following the South Fork of the Siletz River, and made the turns into Valsetz, an abandoned logging town. Little remained of the town, just a foundation and a crossroads. Confident that I had found my way I continued down the river, stopping to collect some water from a gushing green stream.

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The river continued to grow as I made my way along, eventually coming to a large bridge. Two local fishermen were standing on the bridge, scanning the water for salmon. “So where are you going on that bike? we saw you yesterday, way down the road? I’m heading to the Valley of the Giants. Well you missed the road for that, it’s a couple hundred feet back that way, the old one hundred road. Alright, thanks guys.” as I turned back towards the prescribed road.

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Grateful for the kind knowledge of the locals, I climbed over rougher roads heading north. I was now following the North Fork of the Siletz as the rapids churned below. My bike was starting to concern me. Something was wrong with my drivetrain. Thinking it was my worn out derailleur, I stopped to check its alignment. Thinking I really need to replace this thing when I get back, the derailleur has 8,000 plus miles of riding on it. Still concerned, I got back on the path, thinking of ways I could bypass the derailleur if it did ultimately fail. I’ll just shorten the chain and run it as a single speed, I decided, comforted that I had a plan. Back on the road, I realized it wasn’t the derailleur, but the freewheel that was giving me trouble. Whenever I would coast the freewheel would slip, and when I went to pedal again I would spin furiously before it would finally engage. Realizing I just had to keep pedaling, and not let it freewheel, the crisis was avoid for now. Reflecting on the irony of a failed freewheel, am I still freewheeling Dylan? Following my directions, I crossed over the Siletz for the final stretch before the Valley.

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The road was very step and rough. Deciding that it would be faster for me to just push the bike (plus my concern about destroying my weakened drive train by forcing it up the hill) the final mile was an exercise of patience and anticipation. The trees seemed to be getting taller, and the moss thicker as the raging river shrank away below me. Cresting the pass, I remounted the bike to coast / pedal down to the parking area. Several cars waited for hikers, as I dismounted my bike and packed my backpack for exploring the Valley. As I was packing some of the hikers returned, with the amazed look that accompanies “You mean you rode your bike up here?”

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Excited to have found the Valley, I set off down the footpath. Awestruck as huge trees loomed overhead, I slowly advanced down the trail. Realizing that pictures could not do the trees justice, I soaked in the mental experience of being under these giants. Nonetheless, I snapped plenty of photos anyway. Reaching the headwaters of the Siletz, I crossed over a substantial bridge and into the true Valley.

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A lone picnic table seemed like a great place for lunch, as my eyes studies the dense forest around me. One of the wettest places in Oregon (over 130 inches of rain annually), I had lucked out with the sun shining through the trees. Having munched down my snacks, I set off for the one miles loop trail that explored the Valley. Consistently blown away by the scale of the trees and the pure texture of old growth forest, I wandered through the forest. Stopping to play the duclimer under a particularly large fellow, I was at complete peace.

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In meditation with the natural world around me, the strength and longevity of the Giants humbled by brief human self. Many years they have stood in silent determination, harvesting the sun’s energy to slowly build their colossal scale. An ancient harmony exist beyond the deafening electric hum of human society. A harmony of interdependence and mutual survival, the harmony of life.

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Continuing my excursion beneath the giants, I stood in awe of the former second tallest Douglas Fir in Oregon, Big Guy. Estimated to be over 600 years old, this mammoth organism was felled by a wind storm in 1981.

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The land around the Valley has been logged, exposing the massive trees to more wind damage. Several exploded trunks littered the Valley, with a recent fall detouring the path.

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Returning to the picnic table, I took a final look at the old growth world around me, before heading back to my bike. The journey had been an adventure into the wilderness, and the destination was an awe inspiring oasis of ancient strength. Returning to the parking lot, I was the final pilgrim to bid the trees farewell.

 

 

Isle Royale

Note: The pictures here are from the internet, I did not take any during my visit.

Waking up early to catch the ferry was a lot easier once the park sprinklers surged into life, my hammock just out of the range. Firing up the cook stove and munching down a health portion of oatmeal and seeds, preparing my bags for the trip afloat. Heading down to the ferry amongst the growing crowd of adventurers, I waited. Unlike the other passengers who planned on taking the boat with tickets in hand, my decision was based on the good advices of a local, arriving without a ticket.

Self aware of my part in the group, I examine the diversity of those few who intend to visit the least visited national park. Backpackers and adventure seekers, well equipped families and experienced returners, myself a road tested explorer. Our goal is Isle Royal, an archipelago on Lake Superior near the Minnesnowta and Canada boarder, a rare journey away from the car trampled Parks of the mainland.

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Luckily the captain decided we had room for one more passenger, helping the deck hands raise my bike up to the hold and climbing aboard. Our vessel, a large passenger ferry with several levels, would travel to the island exchanging passengers and dropping off supplies for the Park Rangers. Finding myself below decks, I took advantage of the captive audience and started playing the dulcimer. The music flowed to the rhythm of the bouncing boat, encouraging many warm smiles and curios conversations.

Ending my set, I realize my stomach must have been left behind at the dock. Focusing on the music, I had completely ignored the churning sea we were traveling over. Five to eight foot swells rocked my immediate journey to the bathroom. The sickness, while comforted by the idea of the commode, was far from going away. Retreating to the general deck, I steadied myself while watching the deck hand dance back and forth on his trusty sea legs.

Giving me the you got this brother look, ‘go out to the bow of the boat and get some fresh air.’ Thankful for the advice, I found myself a place to prop as the enormity of the lake engulfed me. The shore no long visible and white caps all around, I am humbled from my dockside judgements of others adventure worthiness. Fixing your eyes on the horizon helps to steady your brain and soon I feel pretty good. Suddenly a power wave of nausea overwhelms me, dashing for the port side, I managed to paint the churning lake and boat oatmeal brown. Relief with the release; a lesson learned about a big breakfast before time at sea.

Land Ho! All eyes searching for the shoreline. ‘I’ve been coming to Isle Royal for 27 years, and every time I hope to see a moose standing over there to greet me’ the captain comments as all eyes are now hopefully searching for a glance at a moose. Large herds of moose roam the island, especially now that wolves are no longer part of the habitat. We settle into the choppy wake of Rock Harbor and climb down from the ferry. Those waiting questions us, how is the water today?, hearing queasy replies they hope for the best.

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Grateful to be on land, I repack my gear into my backpack, the rest in my panniers, one to accompany me on foot across the island, the other to hide until my return to port. Bicycles aren’t allowed on Isle Royal as strict leave no trace principals are upheld, so a Park Ranger escorts me to a shed where I can leave it for the duration of my visit.

Topping off my water bottles and registering and discussing my itinerary with the Rangers, I set off for Daisy Farm, a comfortable afternoon’s hike away. Day hike groups quickly pass me, as I play leap frog with families that rush ahead, then stop for lakeside entertainment. The forest around me is pristine, unlike many parks that get trampled upon by millions of visitors, Isle Royal is a relatively untouched paradise. A sanctuary of nature sought out by those who want to experience solitude instead of just checking off another park on a drive by tour of our National Parks.

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After travelling hundreds of miles on the bike, backpacking is painfully slow. Several hours in and I’m only a handful of miles down the trail. I guess it goes to show that speed is relative. Being surrounded by nature more than makes up for the slow pace. Backpacking connects you to the natural environment in a deep immersive way, whereas the bicycle feels more like an observer, bound to the roads. My mind keeps returning to my high school friend Kyle Shores, who is hiking the Appalachian Trail. What an incredible journey, I hope to one day make an attempt at is also.

Beside the trail, a young couple from the ferry is taking a break. I ask if I can join them, and am soon entertaining them with the dulcimer. The music flows and melds with forest around us, companions in the wilderness. With a ways to go still, we part ways, as the path follows along the lakeshore. A string of tiny islands sets my mind dreaming about playing Tom Sawyer and exploring each one. Soon the path widens and I find myself at Daisy Farm.

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Dinner is the first item of business, after collecting and boiling water from the lake. I sit underneath a huge cedar tree and watch dragonflies devour the evening bugs. Each camp has a dock where Rangers can access the island, along with several dozen screened cabins. They’re first come first serve, and most are full as I wander through tall grass along the unmarked maze of paths that connect the campground. Eventually I find an empty one near the back of the site and set up for the evening. An evening thunderstorm rumbles in the distance, and soon I’m deep asleep.

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The morning light brings a smile to my face, deeper into the wilderness today! Perhaps I’ll see a moose, as I make my way back down to the lake for water and breakfast underneath a bright pink sunrise. Loading up my bag, I begin the gradual climb toward the center of the island. I hear folks in the cabins beginning to stir as I leave camp. Being in no hurry, I explore a rocky field, sitting down on a bed a moss to reflect. Beautiful birds cry back and forth overhead, as my connection to nature becomes more attuned. Back on the trail, constantly on the look out for moose, I find a cool tree and climb amongst the branches to play the dulcimer. A few groups of hikers pass by my enchanted wonderland, and offer kind words regarding the music.

Returning to the climb my body feels strong and my pack lighter with each step. Soon I reach a sweeping vista and I stop to sketch the scene. Below me a field and lake, surrounded by tall trees, and off in the distance Lake Superior. I’m overwhelmed by the beauty, and lay down on the ground to soak it in. An uncontrollable smile fills my face as I marvel at the wonders of life.

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A light rain begins to fall as I return to the trail. Ahead is the firewatch tower that marks the peak of the island. Forty miles in length and seven miles across, a tall ridge runs along the length. From this viewpoint the whole island is visible, and several groups of hikers have stopped here to take it in. Always the entertainer, I play my dulcimer, as some of the folks talk about their Master’s of Fine Arts degrees. What good does that do if you don’t have you instrument to share your music?

Eager to return to solitude, I set off down the Greenstone Ridge trail, a trail that follows the ridge across the whole island. A blueberry patch invites me to partake in the fresh ripe berries, and soon I’m on the ground munching handful after handful of berries. The wild side has taken over, I think as I pick berries directly with my mouth. What a place, this Isle Royal.

Eating my fill, I return to my walk, stopping frequently to take in the splendid vistas. In a thicker section, a huge warpath crosses the trail. It dawns on me, this must be a moose track, as I marvel at the eight foot wide path of destruction. Every plant seems to be either eaten on or trampled upon as I follow the moose path. Recognizing the power of the moose, I decide that perhaps walking up on one isn’t the best course of action, so I turn back.

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Eventually I reach my turn off, a trial that will take me back down to Rock Harbor. The junction is at an impressive cliff face, where I sketch another incredible landscape and play the dulcimer. A vision of the Earth fills my mind, Mother Natures face spread out across the globe. Her face once pristine, is covered with deep wrinkles from where the cities and roads cut across her visage. Nature is a story of harmony and balance, with life cycling through plants and animals in a continuous loop. With life comes death, and with death comes rebirth. The humans however insist on playing by there own rules. Conquer Mother Nature, exploit her resources, human ends are more important than harmony, society the only thing that is sacred. Through technology they have become demigods, creators but mostly destroyers, lost in the vanity of their self-imposed self-importance. Mother Nature is weeping, her great harmony has been so disrupted that many of her species are dying off. How much longer will they take it for granted? The gift of life bestowed but squandered. Perhaps you will someday too see her tears.

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The evening sun reminds me of the coming night, so back to the trail I go. My soul filled with peace, I’m grateful for this adventure into nature. Returning to the lakeshore, I collect more water before hiking the days final miles in the diming light. The path widens as I arrive at the Rock Harbor campground, and soon my hammock is filled with subtle silence of sleep.

 

Ethan’s Odyssey

My younger brother and bicycle travelling companion Ethan has embark on his next great adventure. He is currently in Guinea in West Africa to serving in the Peace Corps, a voluntary humanitarian / cultural exchange program. Applying his education and sharing his kindness with those abroad is a powerful next step in his development. I am forever grateful that I was able to be along side him during some of his trans-formative journey and want to take a moment to reflect.

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“I’m thinking about going with y’all.” Erik and I had biked from the coast of North Carolina, back to Rockwell to the family compound. Ethan rode his bike out to greet us, and I was elated to hear he wanted to ride along. Preparing his 10 speed yard sale bicycle, and packing his backpack with a change of clothes, we set off for the west. Adapting quickly to the life on the road, we shared camping gear to get through those first cold nights. Originally envisioning making it to the mountains, Ethan decided to stick with us and continue the push west. With his ever calm demeanor he was the peacemaker between hard headed Dylan and planned out Erik. I doubt if I would have made it out of Tennessee without Ethan’s consistent optimism.

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With the tension between Erik and I growing to the point of turmoil, we decided it was best to in fact set out on our separate paths. Ethan and I found ourselves deep in Indiana with no real plan. Ethan took the opportunity to grow out of his normally shy self and decided to just ask a local instead of trying to divine some knowledge out of the overly refolded maps. His peaceful nature was well received and time and time again folks went out of there way to help us out. Many of the events were completely unsolicited, just strangers seeing us travelers, and wanting to help us any way they could. A meal, a few dollars, a kind word, it seemed as if we had found the universal kindness spring. Perhaps we had brought it from North Carolina, Ethan’s hopeful smile.

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We first parted ways in Illinois, both wanting to experience traveling independently. We reunited in Minnesota, where I had the pleasure of meeting Ethan’s new heart, Kim. They met in southern Minnesota, and I saw a new spark in Ethan’s eye. His excitement and young love were inspirational. Previously distant with his relationships, I saw him developing commitment, calling Kim most every night. As the physical distance between them grew, the emotional connection grew stronger. Luckily Kim had given Ethan her Ipod and we listened to Bob Dylan and the Avett Brothers as we rode along.

“And I don’t care how I get there
Transportation can’t hold me back”

-Walking For You, The Avett Brothers

After a long push across North Dakota, we reached Montana, the state Ethan had always wanted to visit since riding the bus with Ben Marsh in elementary school. Several days into the state, feeling like we were a long way from home, but still halfway to nowhere, I remember Ethan breaking down to tears as we argued about what to do. Why couldn’t I put my own expectations aside and do what was right for the moment? He could ride like the wind, but for me a constant struggle against my own self interests. I might have been the older brother, but I now I was trying to follow Ethan’s path.

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Crossing the Rockies on our separate journeys and through Idaho we were only one state  from the Pacific. After taking the long way into Canada and through Glacier, I had raced for days to catch up with Ethan. Riding into the scab lands south of Spokane I was exhausted. I need a break man, I don’t want to go on. No worries dude, as we stopped at a laundry mat in St. John. Playing my guitar that Ethan had picked up from the mail in Missoula, I was glad to just be off the bike. Meanwhile Ethan struck up a conversation with a local, and we soon had a place to stay with a steak dinner. He was able to find us a home, 2,000 miles from our own.

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Riding down the Columbia River Gorge, we once again parted ways against the constant wind and roller coaster terrain. Ethan’s heart was in San Diego for the summer and nothing could hold him back. He was in San Francisco by the time I reached the coast. With the wind on his back he covered 100+ miles a day, with a high of 140. Though he did take a bus at one point, he covered the 1,400 miles in about two weeks. Love is a powerful motivator.

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After saying farewell to Kim who was returning to Minnesota, and his German friend who he biked the Pacific coast with, he set off east for a reunion with our Mother in Flagstaff, Arizona. I can only imagine how he biked through the desert of Southern California solo. Reuniting with him in Flagstaff, he had transformed. His long blonde hair wind swept and still covered with Pacific salt. His eyes had the tear lines of a tiger, burnt into his now brown skin by the southwestern sun. Covered with bracelets and gifts from countless souls along the way, my brother was now a shaman; a warrior against the wind, a peace pilgrim.

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A joyous reunion with our Mom in Flagstaff brought the three of us together again. How we had grown; a journey to adulthood, a journey of self discovery. Too soon we said farewell to our Mom, as we set off together for the east. Riding through the Navajo Reservation, I was continually impressed with the reaction Ethan received from the natives. His friendliness was contagious, making new friends at every stop. Truly a humble soul who finds communion with any he meets, I am his disciple.

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We shared some incredible memories through the Rez and into Colorado and the Rockies. Riding now as wiser and stronger souls, we complemented each other in our refined brotherhood. Ethan continued to challenge and humble me though. “We don’t need to buy food man, people will see that we’re hungry and give us food.” Making our way into the harsh windy plains of Kansas we were losing motivation. Leaving the incredible west behind was tough, wondering if he should head to Minnesota, or back to NC with me; we sat on the side of the road and struggled with what to do next. We stuck together into Arkansas, after receiving more saving grace from strangers.

In Bentonville Arkansas I would come down with the flu and end my ride. Ethan’s ride wasn’t over yet, as he continued all the way to Key West, Florida before returning home to NC. Salisbury couldn’t hold him though, and soon he was travelling west again with his friend to Colorado. He heart wasn’t there either, so in January he set off from Denver to return to Minnesota. Travelling with his bike through wintertime Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota still amazes me. No surprise though, he received plenty of kindness from strangers, and even met Santa Claus in Wyoming (gave him a much needed new tire).

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Ethan found his way home, his home in Kim’s arms. They, like any couple, have faced plenty of struggles in finding themselves, but Ethan’s unrelenting optimism and love have been the solid foundation. Growing together over the last year, they were together in Philadelphia, before his departure for Africa.

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Seeing Ethan’s growth and maturity in making his own way has been inspirational. My shy little brother is now a globe-trotting humanitarian man. I often look at the map and think about what Ethan’s doing in Guinea, and I know it’s sharing his light and peace with others. I miss Ethan deeply, and look forward to visiting him and hearing about this latest and greatest chapter in his legend.

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Houghton, MI

Under the evening sun I made the final push into Houghton, a bike path made the miles fly by. Soon I am surrounded by Michigan Tech, with the largest buildings I’ve seen on the UP. It’s nice to be on a college campus again, active people everywhere, sidewalks, green spaces; I realize I’m really looking forward to school in the fall. I stop to look up an old pen pal of mine and bike across town to her address. Realizing that I’m unannounced and unexpected, I take a deep breath and knock on the door. A ruffling at the window, then the door opens. Can I help you? Hey, does Kelsey still live here? Yeah, but she’s not here, she’s back at her parents house. Okay, cool… Thanks.

Returning to the sidewalk, I’m disappointed. Houghton, MI seemed like the most out of the way place to have a friend, and then to arrive at the right place at the wrong time. The sun is setting so I should probably find a place to camp. The door opens again, Hey man, would you like to come in? Sure thanks! Allen, Kelsey’s roommate offers me some leftover pizza as I fill him in on my backstory and how I know Kelsey. He’s just finished his degree in civil engineering, so I have plenty of wisdom to offer him (don’t be afraid to quit a job, money isn’t everything, find somewhere you’re happy). Soon we’re having a great time getting to know one another, and he offers to let me stay. Thanks man, a rule from the road is to not turn down hospitality, I’d love to stay! I pick at the dulcimer for a while, while we talk about school, work and the great beyond.

Heading down to the grocery store, we pick up some snacks and I buy Allen some beer to compensate him for his kindness. Back at the house we keep talking, as he starts the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. A couple of minutes in, two guys bust into the room. Joe and Andres are on a Saturday night adventure looking for the next place to party. The movie forgotten, I introduce myself, and delight in their late night shenanigans. Up much later than my usual sundown bedtime, I’m pleased to get to know some peers and relax to the comforts of high octane beer on a Saturday night. Eventually the party heads elsewhere and I settle down to sleep on the couch.

In the morning Allen is off to work and he welcomes me to hang out during the day. The recycling at the house is stacked up, as Michigan has a deposit return policy for cans and bottles. I load up several bags after a sorting procedure then take the cans down to the grocery to insert them in the de-vending machine. At 10 cent a can, I soon have a pocket full of change and the house seems much more manageable without stacks of bottles everywhere. Joe stops by to pick up his truck that he wisely left behind the night before. He helps me with the final load of bottles, a whole shopping cart full, then we head to the local burrito shop for lunch.

Playing some dulcimer for Joe we’re busy relaxing the afternoon away. It’s so pleasant to just chill on a Sunday afternoon after the continuous movement of being on the road. Allen eventually comes home from work, but is heading down to Ohio for a job interview. We say our goodbyes, and Joe offers for me to come crash at his place. This late in the day, I gratefully accept his offer, and bike over some huge Houghton hills to get to his house. Showing me around his pad, it’s not much, but it gets the job done, another home on the road! We continue the chilling, hanging out listening to music, swapping favorite artist. As the sun is setting we decide to head into town. Strapping his guitar on my shoulders we promenade downtown to my tunes. You’re pretty good at that thing man! Thanks man, glad to have someone to share the music with. The sleepy summertime college town doesn’t have much going down on a Sunday afternoon, so we’re soon hiking back up the hill. Stopping at a Little Caesars we’re now equipped with a hot and ready pizza, which I doctor up with some of veggies when we get back to the house. Chilling away the evening, Joe sets up a air mattress for me and I fall asleep to another peaceful night.

Waking up late, I take the liberty of using the shower. Refreshed I study the maps and decide to head north to Isle Royal instead of west to Duluth. Isle Royal is the least visited national park, as you can only get to the archipelago by boat or seaplane. When else am I going to have a chance to go? Joe completely supports my decision, it’s great up there man, you’re going to have a blast. Noon is quickly approaching, and being almost sucked into another day of laying low in Houghton, I decide to hit the road. Saying my farewells to Joe, I reload the bike and head down the hill.

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Over the lift bridge that separates Houghton from Hancock, I follow the water west out to Lake Superior. The long route is the right choice as I enjoy the scenic views with little interference from cars. The legs feel sluggish after all the lounging, but soon get with it. Realizing I need to get to Copper Harbor before the morning to catch the ferry I’m at my most rushed pace of the trip. Instead of stopping every hour like I normally do, I push on and on riding along the lake shore. Eventually I do stop at a convenient roadside park to eat and rest. I soak in the peaceful lapping of the lake and the beautiful vista, as I realize just how blessed I am to have this experience. True freedom.

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Returning to the road I keep up my steady pace. I ride by some waterfalls, but uncharacteristically don’t read every one of the sign and information boards.

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As I round the peninsula the lake shore gets even more picturesque. Rock formations and quiet parks beg to be explored, but I continue my ride. The setting sun lights the surreal scarlet sky, dramatized by the reflections off the clear pure water. Constantly recalculating my mileage, I should be there soon, at least I hope so, it’s getting dark.

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Finally I past the Welcome to Copper Harbor just as darkness covers the land. Pulling over at a ice cream parlor, I’m amazed at my fortunes. After the long hard ride the blackberry chocolate milkshake slurps away the tired legs. Riding around the small tourist town, I stop at the local general store and find some information on the ferry. Noticing a park behind the town hall / post office / community building, I set up under a covered picnic shelter and plan on being up early. A deer in the brush grunts as I drift into a deep sleep.

The Upper Peninsula

Having biked down a long dirt road, returning to the pavement brought ease and joy. Arriving in Grand Marais I enjoyed dinner bay side watching beach goers quickly dip in the cold water before returning to land. The small tourist town has a large campground, but I decided to keep riding towards the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Entering the national park, I stopped at Sable Falls to jam on the dulcimer as the daylight faded. Camping on a ski trail I quickly fell asleep, and have hazy recollections of deer calling out in the night.

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Waking early, I set out on foot to explore some of the local dunes. The large bodies of sand stretched as far as the eye could see, as I waded through the deep sand. Not far off the trail, a porcupine sauntered deeper into the woods. Returning to the bike, my mind still brilliant from the pink morning glow, I continued my push west.

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Hoping for water I stopped at the first Ranger Station, but due to renovations all the faucets were dry. Luckily the free map showed a camp ground not too far away that would have water. Early in the morning the national parks are most exquisite. Without the busy tourist bustle, peace resonates throughout. Down a long grade, I ride along the Hurricane River, and soon find myself refilling my water bottles at the camp ground.

The Au Sable Point lighthouse is a few miles along the shoreline, so I park the bike and pack a day bag. Walking through the woods I realize just how quickly I move on the bike, even on sandy roads. Cutting down to the shoreline I explore the rocky beach while soaking in the purity of the lake.

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Eventually I come upon the half buried remains of wooden shipwrecks. Heavy plates of iron still bind the timber frames.

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Climbing back up to the trail, the lighthouse soars overhead.

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Exploring the grounds and reading the exhibits I reflect on that lonesome occupation of lighthouse keeper. Would the serene beauty of this place make up for the isolation from society? Returning to the bike the road follows the lakeshore, affording fine views of Superior. Eventually the road turns however, and I find myself on long straight sections between vast woodlands. Pulling over to talk to a touring couple, we trade camping locations while briefly sharing our stories.

The afternoon sun bakes overhead while I continue my push through the park. The later in the day, the more traffic, but luckily drivers are courteous. Suddenly from around a blind corner a raging logging truck roars. My reflexes take the bike into the grass and I’m grateful for the mirror that is my eye on the back of my head. Rough pavement and a huge downhill greet me as I arrive in Munising. Stressed from the afternoon traffic I head to the Munising Falls visitor center. A dramatic series of cascades was once harnessed to power a lumber mill, but now entertains tourist.

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Riding into town, I’m grateful for a bike path, and find myself eating at a fresh fish food truck. Talking to some local dred heads the fresh fried fish hits the spot, before heading to the laundromat to clean my gear. Camping between the high school football field and the lake, I call Pops before retiring surrounded by a swarm of mosquitoes.

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Another early morning gets me on the road before the cars, and I soon find myself far down the road. Noticing some strange sculptures, I pull into Lakenenland, a sprawling outdoor sculpture museum built by local artist Tom Lakenen. A trespasser’s welcome sign amuses me, as I’ve long wondered where I would find one.

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Wondering through the sculptures I’m impressed by the scope and scale of the art. From strong political messages, to ridiculous animals; the park fascinates me. Perhaps the best free park in America (that I’ve seen), I use up all my photo memory before climbing back on my own roadside attraction.

Approaching Marquette I’m relieved to find an extensive bike path that wasn’t shown on my map. A public beach beacons to me, and soon I’m strolling knee deep in the lake. The cold water is a shock at first, but soon I’m quite comfortable in the sunshine. Spreading smiles, I chuckle at the frolicking children and realize that I’m perhaps the prototypical beach hardbody. Drying off in the sun, I’m soon back on the bike riding along the picturesque harbor front in town. Marquette was once destroyed by a fire, and when the city rebuilt, they built it with stone. The incredible architecture reflected glory days of old, but the city was far from old news. Vibrant people and clean growth seemed commonplace. Stopping at a Little Caesars to stuff a whole pizza into my stomach, I’m soon passed out under a tree in the park.

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Waking up the world around me has changed. Shriner’s have taken over the city, and are whipping around in packs of mini-cars. Amused but deciding it’s time to move on, I ride the Iron Ore Heritage Trail out of town. The rails to trial path follows an old grade used to haul iron ore from the inland mines to the docks at Marquette. One of the nicest signed trails in America, the path provides plenty of educational information about the history and heritage of the region. Peaceful afternoon miles along the trial take me Negaunee, one of the mining towns.

Back in the days of underground mining (the current practice is open pit mines) vast networks of tunnels followed the rich deposits of iron ore. After a massive cave in, it was realized that much of Negaunee had in fact been tunneled under. The mines responded by buying up the compromised half of town, relocating citizens, and fencing off the area. With modern technology, the exact locations of the tunnels have been determined, and sections of the old town have been reopened as a park. Traveling through the ghost town, foundation outlined old buildings, and stairways lead to nowhere. Staking out a spot, I camped for the night surrounded by the mystic feeling of a place that once existed.

Sleeping in later and later, the sun was high in the sky before I got rolling again. Taking it easy, I pedal past huge mine pits on my to Ishpeming, another mining town. Exploring a mining museum I take some time to repack my gear, as the sky has turned a foreboding shade of grey. Preparing for the rain, I follow the trial, which eventually turns into a snowmobile trail. Due to the harsh winters, snowmobile infrastructure connects every town in the U.P. These paths are great alternatives to the roads, if your bike can handle some sandy spots. I stop to record a dulcimer jam among the solemn sounds of birds. Riding through the afternoon, I stop at Van Riper state park to wait out rush hour.

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Seeing fleets of RV’s rolling into the park for the weekend, I reflect on how little gear I need in comparison (not to mention fuel efficiency). Returning to the road, I break the sixty mile mark and stop at a roadside overlook to camp for the night.

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A long night of mosquitoes has me at wits end as I make the most of the Saturday morning. I spot a Bald Eagle hanging out with a pair of crows working on some roadkill. Not quite as majestic as the propaganda will have you to believe. A beautiful rest area provides water for my breakfast, as I relax next to a bubbling stream. Pushing on, I decide to head north towards Houghton. Stopping at a produce stand, I fill up my food bag with some fresh veggies and get into a conversation with the owner. Playing her some dulcimer songs, I’m invited to have lunch, and soon meet the whole family. Thankful for the fresh food I say my goodbyes and head towards the Keweenaw Bay. A heavy afternoon wind slows my progress, so I stop and relax in a graveyard before the final push into Houghton.

 

Lake Superior Musing

The following was written on the shore of Lake Superior, a ways from anyone or anywhere. The cold water rested tired feet as I stared into the vast clear waters.

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Sometimes life is a 12 mile sand road ride on a bicycle. At the beginning of the road, the challenge seems impossible for every moment requires keen attention. After some practice however, you find the sweet spot where it comes easy.

Suddenly the road changes and every path is difficult. The most traveled routes are bumpy from too many folks racing to the end. And the road not taken appears easy, but in reality is deep and treacherous requiring determination and resolve. Often a parallel path appears simpler but experience teaches every path has its challenges.

Sometimes you lose control and fall, and the faster you went the harder it was. But nonetheless stability comes from moving forward, for those who stop shall also fall. Luckily the road isn’t about how quickly you traveled down it, but instead about what you experienced along the way. The kind smiles, the helping hands, the pure splendor of nature, and the wisdom of perseverance.

Sometimes the road takes you to beautiful beaches where life is as simple as the lapping waves. Other times you find yourself in rich blueberry patches greedily munching every berry you find. But eventually even the sweetest berries lose their charm.

Sometimes you meet others along the road. Some will pass you by without notice, kicking up dust into your face, but don’t be discouraged, because others will marvel at your experience. The key to riding the bicycle is to keep pedaling and before you know it you’ll arrive at the most sought after destinations: Peace, Love, Joy, Happiness, and Self-Awareness.

 

Two Hearted River

Departing from the ferry, I set course for the northwest. Settling into riding the fully loaded bike, town soon slips away as I’m surrounded by rolling farmland and forest. At first the miles seem so slow, my mind is racing, here I am on the road again. Is it going to be the same? Do I have everything? Am I ever going to get there? The miles get easier though, and I stop for a break at an old one room school house. Ah, food, that’s what this is all about. Cracking the cover of The Grapes of Wrath I appreciate the luxury and mobility that I enjoy compared to the struggle of the depression. My second annual western odyssey has begun.

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The eastern Upper Peninsula is fairly desolate place, with low population density and smaller and smaller towns. The gas station serves as the social center, where local folks gather to talk around coffee and visitors pass through asking about campgrounds. Soon I’m on country roads, cars forgotten, the sounds of the gentle breeze in the trees and animals scurrying for cover are all around. Reaching the fifty mile mark, I realize this is the furthest I’ve rode since last fall. Stopping at a local firehouse / municipal building / county park, I enjoy my dinner under the setting sun watching three sandhill cranes forging in the baseball field. Deciding to obey the no camping signs, I head down the road to find a camping spot.

A roaring demon terrorizes my dreams. Shaking I peer out of my hammock to see a midnight freight train hurtling down the tracks. Soon I’m back to sleep until the cool morning light wakes my spirit to move on. The quiet back roads provide a blank palate for my thoughts. Reflecting upon my summer and the coming genesis in Oregon, my soul feels so free to be on the road again. Arriving the the metropolis of Newberry (population 1,500) I explore the coolest gas station in America, Pickelman’s One Stop. They have everything, and reasonably priced too. Purchasing some snack supplies and topping off the water bottles, I ride on underneath the noon sun. A sign warns that the pavement ends in 22 miles as I turn off the main road. Taking a break in the woods, I stretch out and rearrange my gear. The constant packing and repacking affords plenty of chances to optimize the accessibility of each item. Satisfied, I return to the road heading for nowhere.

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Descending a long hill, a sign announces that I’m crossing the Two Hearted River. Familiar with the Hemingway short story Big Two Hearted River, a tale of a fisherman hiking into the wilderness to escape the hustle of civilization and in turn finding solace in the simple rhythms of nature, I stop. Sketching the view of the river from underneath the bridge, I’m at complete peace as a pilgrim of truth. I scratch my name onto the bridge column, joining a long register of names and dates reaching back into 80’s. Briefly considering wondering along the river, I instead decide to remount the bike and return on my journey.

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As I power up to climb a hill, a sudden snap frees my pedals. Wildly spinning, my momentum dies as I teeter for a second before hopping off the bike. My chain broke. Thinking through the gear, I never repacked my bike tool kit from my larger overhaul toolbox. I don’t have a chain tool. Shucks. Taking a breath, I start pushing the bike up the hill. I figure I’m about three miles from Deer Park, someone there will be able to help me. Cresting the hill, I coast down, then settle into a skateboard like one-legged push. Cars drive by. Creeping along, I appreciate just how fast I’m moving under normal conditions. Balancing on the bike, my legs yearn to pedal, conditioned from many miles, but instead I coast on.

Pulling into the general store parking lot, a boy sits upon a vintage green Schwinn. Striking a conversation, I ask him about tools. He goes inside to alert the shop keeper, Mike, who doesn’t have the tool but joins us in the shade. The kid tells me his dad is a bike mechanic, and soon is riding to ask. Mike opens up his shop and we try to drive the pin of the chain out with a punch and hammer. The kid returns, my dad says he has two of those back home, but nothing up here. Soon I give up on the hammering as I’m making no progress and have little hope that the procedure would work. Mike assures me that I’ll be able to catch a ride into town as I settle at a picnic table.

Halfway through a ice cream bar, Mike calls me over to introduce me to some folks. Steve-O and Ashley help out around the store / campground and offer to take me in to town in the morning. Accepting an offered beer, we head over to Muskallonge Lake to take a john boat out. Relaxing in the afternoon sun, I’m thankful for my calmness during this minor trial. For as it is written: Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:27. Steve-O stops the boat, and I pick a couple of songs on the dulcimer as we drift back towards the dock. The gentle music and scenic surroundings relax us as a juvenile bald eagle flies overhead. Returning to the dock, I load up my bike in their truck, and we set off for their place for the evening.

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Ashley is a dogsled musher, taking care of the dogs throughout the year in exchange for a place to stay. The huskies are pinned in a large lot, each individually housed and staked. The energy of the dogs is overwhelming, constantly running circles and barking at any disturbance. During the warm summer months they must limit the dogs activity to avoid overheating them, but come fall, the dogs are hitched to four wheelers to begin the winter conditioning. As Ashley fed and watered the dogs, Steve-O and I built a fire, before an all you can eat Mac & Cheese dinner. Saying goodnight, I climb into the loft for the evening.

Sleeping in to the soft sound of agate wind chimes, I eventually climb down for coffee and a shower. Soon Ashley and I are loading up in the truck to head into town. Blasting down the road I biked the day before we talk about life in the U.P., literature, and our plans for the future. Back in Newberry, I’m dropped off at the local sports store, while she runs errands. I explain what I need, and decide to purchase a new chain. With the chain tool, the job goes pretty quick. Taking the opportunity to tune up the rear derailleur, I’m soon satisfied with the bike. Sitting down on a bench briefly, Ashley arrives and we’re headed back to Deer Park.

Having brought some fried chicken from town, we joined Steve-O and Mike for lunch. Eating a lions share, we enjoy the noon time shade, but soon everyone is back to work. I reload my bike, and say my farewells, thanking them all for the kindness they’ve afforded me. Riding again, I’m soon at the shore of Lake Superior, the focal point for the coming weeks.

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