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Click here to see a La Crosse Tribune article about the mission in Uganda.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Friday, July 24
St. Mary to West Glacier via Going to the Sun Road

Note: there are 27 pictures in this post, so I chose the "small" format. You can click on a picture and open it in full size.

Have you ever done anything epic? You know, as in heroic; majestic; impressively great. That definition sets the bar pretty high. A less grandiose picture of something epic is surpassing the usual or ordinary, particularly in scope or size. Looked at this way, epic may actually be within reach. Come to think about it, I have been called “out of the ordinary” more than once. But that’s another story altogether.

At the Thursday night meeting in St. Mary, Greg said getting over Going to the Sun Road would be an epic ride. It was certainly going to be different from the riding we had behind us. We would climb about 2,100 feet over 12 miles then descend almost 3,000 feet in the next 12 miles. But epic? We would have to make the ride and see.

After breakfast, we packed a lunch and clothing suitable for hiking. These would be carried up to Logan Pass, the designated picnic stop. There is a restriction in riding a seven mile stretch of Going to the Sun Road. One of our choices was to start early and ride hard to get into the section before the restriction started at 11:00 a.m. As the section in question was at the bottom of the descent, some 41 miles into the ride, this was only theoretically a choice as far as I was concerned. Besides, it would turn the ride into a race; I prefer a tour. So, it was the second option that we all (as far as I know) chose: ride to Logan Pass, have lunch, change clothes, enjoy some of the hiking opportunities then continue the ride at a time that would bring us to the restricted stretch after 4 p.m.

Remember the paragraph that described weather for the day’s ride? The one in the second paragraph of the Happy Wanderer post? The one that was to apply to every day, unless otherwise noted? Good. You do remember. Consider yourself otherwise noted.

Bikes are ready - just waiting for the riders

As we coasted down the hill from the campground into St. Mary, we could see the mountains up ahead. The forecast was for a chance of rain and thunder storms; low clouds draped over the rocky slopes made the “a chance of” condition seem decidedly optimistic. But it is of little consequence. I have been captured again by the enjoyment of being in such a spectacular place and by the anticipation of the climb.

Entrance to the park and Going the Sun Road

It was a short jaunt to the park entrance, followed by a very nice ride on the lower part of the road – we were not officially climbing yet. Right from the start, the views were impressive. The twisting road presented new vistas at every turn. Rocky slopes cascaded down from the right, their course briefly interrupted by the level road surface before continuing down on our left. I pull off at an overlook. The lake below is surrounded by towering mountains; there is a small island in the middle. While admiring the view, it starts to rain in a way that lets you know it’s only going to get worse. A few miles farther and we start the “gradual climb.” A waterfall cascades down from the slopes on my right. And the rain gets more serious, encouraged, it seems, by the thunder that rattles around the lower reaches of the road. I get on my helmet cover, don my light rain jacket and head up.

For a while, the intensity of the rain increases with altitude. The thunder does not last long though, a good thing as the road soon gets up and onto the side of the mountain where we riders are quite exposed. I stop at the first big switchback and wring out what water I can, snap a picture, and continue on. The rain soon lets up and the wind, quite brisk at this point, is at my back. I make seriously good time going up a section that my computer rates at 7 to 9%.

The skies alternately cleared (in a relative sense) then dropped a damp, foggy mist during the remainder of the climb to Logan Pass. I’ve been wetter. I’ve been colder. And on rides on roads not nearly as impressive. No rain would have been OK. But the weather did not dampen what counted. That would happen soon, however. Here are pictures from the ride up:

As soon as I parked the bike, I realized it was COLD. I was damp. The air was damp. The wind was fierce. After stopping at the van to pick up my lunch, I headed for the visitors’ center. Ignoring the sign on the door that said No Food or Drink in Visitor Center, I joined several of the group eating lunch and trying to dry out and warm up. This morning, Bill had suggested a hike to Hidden Lake. That sounded like a great idea. Now, it was cold. Shivering cold. Hiking did NOT seem to be a good idea. I had dry socks, a wind-stop base layer shirt, leg warmers and an extra pair of tights. I changed into the drier, warmer clothes, but my jersey was damp and it was still cold. We decided to start the descent to get out of the weather; we could wait out the cycling restriction at Lake McDonald. Down we went.

It was an interesting descent. Going down, the road is steeper with considerably more twists and turns. And the surface was not all that great. In fact, one section was pretty much just loose gravel. But the views down into the valley below were breathtaking. And, the weather improved dramatically. It warmed up right away, the mist lifted and the rain was gone. For good. I stopped several times to take in the views and capture them, imperfectly, with my little camera. Here are the pictures from the trip down:

The restaurant at the Lake McDonald lodge offered up a pretty special buffalo burger, accompanied by a locally brewed Huckleberry Lager. Ice cream, jam, beer – that huckleberry is one versatile fruit! The lake was nice but, in the end, the wait for the restriction to lift got a little long. After a few hours of sightseeing, sitting by the lake, watching one of the riders fix another’s flat, we rode to the sign and waited for the big hand to crawl past 12.

It was a fairly easy 12 mile ride into West Glacier and the Highland Glacier Hotel. Luggage was carefully unpacked:

And we found a physician-approved recovery beverage:

Up and over Going to the Sun Road made for a great ride. But epic? I do not think I’d go that far. Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park; riding from Ulrichen to Bergun in Switzerland. Epic rides in my book. But let me repeat, Going to the Sun was a great ride. One I’ll remember for a long, long time. Along with all of the others. It might not be a collection of epics, but it is an epic collection, to be sure.

Today's Ride:      Tour Totals:
54.3 miles           366.7 miles
2967 feet            16817 feet

Saturday, September 19, 2009

4,000 Words (and then some)

I did not take a camera to London. Instead, I had this nice little passport-sized journal in which I kept notes so as to not forget all of the things I'd seen. Like the Humped Zebra Crossing. You know, the really important things. And, I made sketches. Four of them as it turns out. So, instead of the 4,000 words I'd had all planned for this post...

Breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express, looking out onto Old Street

Bunhill Fields; Daniel Defoe on the left, William Blake on the right

Presentation at City University London

Dinner for one at Zigfrid von Underbelly

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What's in a Name? Or on a Sign?

Foreign languages are fascinating, none more so than the one we supposedly have in common with England. We are all familiar with that English (UK) spelling rule; you know, the one that goes “e before r except after t,” requiring the tongue to say something other than what the eye sees, as in centre. But there is so much more than this little quirkiness that makes the US and UK known as “two countries separated by a common language.”

Names here are lively and beg to be researched for the story that gave rise to them. Take Elephant and Castle, a train station and tube stop south of the Thames. Really, you have to make a trip there, just to say you've been and to report, as have countless thousands who have made the trip before you, there are neither elephants nor castles there.

There is a Great Portland Street tube stop. I like that name. Do you suppose there is a Mediocre Portland Street somewhere? Marylebone Road runs through a neighborhood of the same name. Originally known as St. Mary at the Bourne (bourne being a stream or rivulet), it morphed over the years into its current form.

Other tube stops making the famous London Underground map even more colorful are: Tooting Bec, Barking, Swiss Cottage - notable for it’s startling non-Britishness, in rather sharp contrast to stops on either side: St. John’s Wood and Finchley Road. Then there are Headstone Lane (NOT at the end of the line, by the way), Chalk Farm, Upminster (if there’s a Downminster, I haven’t come across it yet), Hounslow (West and Central) and a couple of Circuses: Oxford and, of course, Piccadilly. Anyway, you get the picture.

“I’ll take Names of British Business Establishments for $1,000, Alex.” OK, how about pubs? On this trip I visited Masque Haunt and the George and Vulture. Admiral Nelson is honored by having a number of pubs bear his name. One near my hotel was called The Nelson’s Retreat, as if there might be some question as to which Nelson they were referring.

One rather disturbing development is that British pub food seems to have fallen out of favor at British pubs. Thai and Italian menus have pretty much taken over. As a result, I had a Margherita pizza at George and Vulture. And it was no contest when it came to my choice of beverage – they had Scrumpy Jack cider on tap. It’s the cider, not Jack, that’s scrumpy – a term meaning small or withered apples. Later, I tried Old Rosie Cloudy Scrumpy Premium Cider and decided that a Scrumpy Jack easily trumps an Old Rosie. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

On my last night, I ended up at Zigfrid von Underbelly (I am NOT making that up), a bar and restaurant in Hoxton Square, near my hotel. It was an interesting looking place, but I went mainly because they offered Fish and Chips with Mushy Peas. Mushy peas, I’ve been told by people who should know (i.e. those born and raised in the U.K.), make it a REAL fish and chips meal. Well, the fish was very good as were the chips. But the mushy peas? I found myself looking at a small bowl filled with a brilliant green puree that would have made Mr. and Mrs. Gerber proud. THAT was disappointing.

There are a multitude of fast food shops, many selling Kebab. City Best Kebab was right around the corner. Further on down Old Street, I came across the parenthetically parenthetical (The) Best Kebab). Displaying a slightly errant understanding of both U.S. geography and fast food franchises, the owners of one establishment came up with the name Tennessee Fried Chicken. Soooo close.

A number of small grocery stores can be found on any short walk and just down from (The) Best Kebab) I found Good Luck Supermarket. For my money, I’d like to have a little more than a wish for “good luck” in my food shopping experience.

Finally, there was the startling revelation that exotic wild animals were loose on the streets of central London. Seriously, right there on the road alongside Paddington Station is a sign calling attention to a Humped Zebra Crossing. And I thought the humped zebra had been hunted to extinction decades ago. I wonder if they have to pay the congestion charge?

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Thursday, July 23
Waterton Lakes, Canada to St. Mary, Montana

How many crazies are there? Apart from me, of course. When leaving Uganda last October, the friend of our Ugandan host drove me to the airport. Just entering the Entebbe airport property required a stop at a security checkpoint. Manned by soldiers. Who were armed. One of the guards leaned over and our driver (names withheld to protect the other crazies on board) looked at him and said, "If you are looking for the gun, it's in the boot." I said, well, nothing. I was thinking, "GUN! You have a GUN in the trunk! WHAT! Are you CRAZY?!" Or something more or less along those lines. The guard looked in the trunk then came back, smiled at the driver, and said, "It must be the little one. I don't see anything." And he waved us on. I asked about the encounter, as calmly as I could. Our driver smiled and said, "I was just joking with him."

If you think no one else could really be that crazy, well there was this one rider on the tour. Going through the border crossing at Chief Mountain, he told the agent that he'd dropped all of his drugs and related paraphernalia a few miles back. The agent dragged him away for interrogation smiled and waved him through.

I'm not sure who is crazier, those who joke around with security guards and border patrol officers or the guards and officers who smile and wave them through. Whatever, I heartily do NOT endorse such behavior. And yes, I have heard people say "Hi Jack. Oops, don't want to say THAT in an airport." More than once.

OK, maybe one of the other riders in the group was even crazier. In a different way. On a long, gradual descent, I just had to pull over to take a picture. As I turned to snap the photo, one of the other riders went whizzing by. He wanted a picture too. So, he took his hands off of the handlebars, dug his camera out of his jersey pocket, turned, took the picture, re-pocketed the camera and kept on going. That may be just plain good cycling. But I think he was crazy. One of the so many of us, it seems.

What a day. The ride from Waterton to the border was breathtaking. We left the main highway at Babb and rode in to Many Glacier. Lakes tucked into mountains with the remnants of glaciers on their upper flanks. It was you could hope for on a bicycle ride.

Here are some of the sights along the way...

This was the day of the bear for me. A few miles after crossing into Montana I was riding up a gentle slope when I saw a number of cars and few of our Cycle America group stopped on the far side of the road. There was a good sized cinnamon colored black bear walking away from the road. Just as I got my camera out, it disappeared into the tall grass. We saw another - a mother and her cub - just off the road as we entered the resort area of Many Glacier. The shot I got wasn't all that good, but here it is:

Today's Ride:      Tour Totals:
75.3 miles           312.4 miles
4341 feet            13850 feet

Sunday, September 6, 2009

In Long Repose

A morning stroll brought me to Bunhill Fields, a cemetery whose residents include authors Daniel Defoe and John Runyan, poet and painter William Blake and scores of other lesser-known individuals. There are marked graves dating back to at least 1692. But what got my attention on this day was the tomb of one Mary Page. On one side, the inscription reads (apparently neither lower case nor punctuation had been invented yet; also note, the spelling is carefully checked and reproduced):


Then, on the other side:


I haven't given much thought to what I'd want to have on my headstone, but I'm pretty sure that's not it.

Some facts to enhance your reading experience ~

RELICT - a widow or survivor
BART - A man holding a British hereditary title of honor reserved for commoners, ranking immediately below the barons and above all orders of knighthood except the Garter.
REPINING - feeling or expressing unhappiness or distress

And I'm sorry to have to point this out, but that's 3.6 gallons for each procedure. Yikes!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Day Flight, Night Landing

Inserting yourself into the UK through London’s Heathrow Airport is always an interesting experience*. And so it was again last night. The landing is pretty much what you’d expect: a long runway with lots of lights, some buildings appearing in the distance. You know, just another airport. But then you taxi in and it’s altogether another world.

It’s like you’ve landed in a medium sized city and the pilot, who seems to have lost his map, decides to roam aimlessly in search of a suitable parking place. Having taken the day flight from Chicago, we are here at 10:30 p.m. It is dark and this adds to a growing feeling that I will quite possibly go missing, leaving my family and friends to forever wonder what happened to me. We wander around amongst a scattered collection of buildings, only a few of which actually look like they might be part of an airport. Warehouses, office buildings. Seriously, I think we passed two Kwik Trips. Or maybe it was the same one twice. After a while we approached a likely looking place - a long edifice with planes nuzzled up against one side like piglets at dinner time. But we passed it by and continued on into the night.

After stopping twice to ask directions, the pilot decided to pull in at the end of a sprawling building that looked more like a vacant strip mall than a terminal at a major air travel hub. But we deplaned (a term coined by Hervé Villechaize in the TV series Fantasy Island) onto a real, if not altogether stable, jet bridge. Really, the thing was rocking like a boat in a storm. The Tacoma Narrows bridge came to mind as I made my way towards the terminal, my hands pressing the wall for support.

The pilot had hoped to do better, I’m sure. But when you’ve been searching for as long as we had been, even the most remote of parking spots begins to look attractive. I figure it was a good two mile walk to the passport control area. Looking at the bright side, it was a chance get my land-legs back and to stretch out the various kinks that had settled in during the long flight.

I would eventually make my way to the arrivals hall where the thirty or so passport control desks were staffed by six people, only four of whom were in the area assigned to the 98% of us passengers who could not avail themselves of one of the special categories. On this night, that included a line reserved for “First time workers and students.” Perhaps procrastenation does pay off sometimes. A sign along the winding queue, one that would put many at Disney World to shame, assured us that the desks were being manned (or womanned as was the case at two of the stations) by “all available personnel.” Well, it was 11 p.m., so I suppose I shouldn’t begrudge the other 25 staff a little rest at home. Actually, the process ran smoothly and took just long enough that when I reached the baggage claim area, I found my suitcase lined up in one of the four neat rows of bags already removed from the conveyor by the helpful Heathrow staff. The British do like a nice, ordered queue.

Another half-marathon walk and I was on the platform of the Heathrow Express. “15 minutes (to Paddington Station) Every 15 Minutes.” True to their word they were this evening. Then it was on to the taxi platform outside the station where both the London cabs and prospective passengers have their own queues. The ensuing ride to the hotel was longer and more expensive than that on the Express, but I had arrived.

And there you have it; a mere 14 hours after waking up in La Crosse, I was settled in at the hotel on Old Street in the Shoreditch neighborhood which is within the borough of Hackney, possibly spilling over into Islington and maybe even into The City in east London**. With issues of geography still not wrestled to the ground, another battle begins: my internal clock, insisting it is only 6 p.m., versus the one on the nightstand showing it to be approaching midnight. Sigh.

* Heathrow is an amazing place. I have yet to grasp its overall layout, although I suspect it is a little more orderly than I have described**. The multitude of planes from all over the world that gather around the several terminals create a visual display as disjointed and visually arresting as a Jackson Pollock painting. This feast for the eyes is supplemented by the unending stream of people in what we would call costumes but what they simply consider as clothes. It is not unusual to walk around for a goodly period of time and not hear a word of English.

Those whose goal is to be whisked away through to their final destination hate the place. And while I do fall into the category of those not actively seeking travel misery, I relish the experience of going through Heathrow. Most of my experiences have not been that unpleasant. When problems do arise, there is often an exotic twist and you get the chance to become part of a most diverse community of displaced people now more or less sharing a common experience. Finally, there is always - always - a new story to add to your collection.

This is all easier to say after my trip from La Crosse which was, in nearly every respect, flawless. But I still mean it. Every word.

** A little time carefully studying a few maps and I could figure all of this out. But then it wouldn't be nearly as much fun, would it?