Thursday, August 30, 2012


Concrete, Wa - Vancouver, BC (Canada)

136 miles - Total: 3347 miles

On the 35th day of the my bike ride, two days ahead of schedule, with a last day of 130+ miles, I crossed the Canadian border and complete my fund raising bicycle ride across the United States.

Another sleepless night. The rough bed linen, the bleach smell of the room, the night-before-the-interview feeling, the cold night, the desolation of the place, I don't know what disturbs my sleep but I am not feeling too jaunty when I wake up. The weather is cold and wet. The road, a few feet from the motel, is wet and slippery. Forget about Vancouver, I say to myself, just ride a little and try not to get soaked.

I enter a badly-lit, deserted grocery store and I have a banana for breakfast and I cannot be bothered to eat anything else. Fog hangs over the hills above the motel and out over the surface of the road, and the wind blows just enough to send me shivering the moment I crawl out of the store. Again I wear everything I have. I ride 300 yards and I stop by the store near the gas station to grab water. There are only a few cars on the road. It feels like it is just me in this Godforsaken hamlet at the foothills of the mountains in Washington. Luckily the rain stops but it is still freezing. I start riding just to see how far I can go before it starts raining again more than anything else. The fog floats slowly over the tops of the trees as I wind along a flat road. I think about grabbing my rain jacket, but a moment later the dark clouds float East and I know I will be safe from the rain. For how long? Is this a signal? I have done about 20 miles when I reach Seedro-Wooley and it is time to go north toward Canada. So I turn right and head north on highway 9 which will take me all the way to the border. It is a bit of a gamble because the ACA route does not go this way. I am improvising. On google map last night it seemed like a good option. I don't know this road, shoulder no shoulder, traffic, steep inclines, distances. Not too sure. Doesn't matter any more.

Looking North the sky looks ominous and I feel like I might as well jump in the lake with my clothes on. It seems that the weather should break at any moment now. I push on and yet again, I duck the rain. It appears that it rains a few miles ahead of me and this is the pattern for the rest of the day. The road is wet and the air has that heavy rain smell mixed with the fragrance of moss and grass and it lingers in the air everywhere I ride. The more I ride the better I feel, now I can think of doing a proper ride. Can I reach vancouver? Let's see. Highway 9 winds through lush farmland, I can smell fodder, manure, poultry and livestock odours that seem so familiar by now. These elements bring back memories of my ride through Virginia and Ohio. Almost without noticing I clock 55 miles by 12pm.

I keep chasing the rain but luckily I don't catch it. The border is within reach and an exciting thought tickles my imagination, I can make it to Vancouver today. Let's go for it. Of course, who were you kidding, you were always going to go for it today, weren't you?! I stop to get my passport stamped, I fumble a few lines at passport control where a burly woman asks me why I am entering Canada here, the exact name of the hotel where I am staying and the day I am supposed to leave. I pass the test and I am off again, on the fabulously surfaced Canadian roads. For the rest of the ride I pedal with legs so light it's almost like they aren't there, like I am on my first day. I constantly scan the horizon waiting for that Vancouver sign that never appears. I negotiate my way through gas stations, shopping malls and attractive town parks. I shoot through suburbia and an urban area so vast that basically from the border to downtown Vancouver is a long colorful line of traffic lights, gas stations, parks, hotels, offices, movie theaters, shopping malls. This helps my ride, with the busy urban life as the new setting I don't even think about miles, weather or my fitness. I just ride. I certainly think about the cultural shock that I feel entering this urban world, especially after the last few weeks and the last few days in the mountains. I stop briefly at 7-eleven where I have an ice-cream and I eagerly continue with my ride. After God knows how long I finally see the Vancouver sign for the first time. It is not the official sign, it is the green highway sign but it is all good anyway. This is the moment I was waiting for. I feel a thousand butterflies in my stomach and something gets stuck in my throat, what are you gonna do now you sissy? Are you gonna cry? Of course not but I now think I can make it in 35 days as planned. I still have about 50 miles to go so I am not there yet but I am close.

Is this really the first time that I think I can do it? Did I really doubt it or was it just for good luck that I deliberately subdued any expectation I had about the fulfilment of the goal of this bike ride? Whatever it is I am now faced with the prospect, or I should say, the reality, that I am about to enter Vancouver. After 35 days and 3300 miles I can stop spinning the wheels, I can talk, I can listen, I can be the person I was before. I can put on a pair of jeans and go see a movie. Before I return to all that I still have a few miles to go. Entering Vancouver, as with any large urban centre, is not easy on a bike. I take little detours to avoid the highway. I would later find out that urban sprawl is beginning to be a problem in Canada too, growing fast and unchecked.

I fly through traffic lights, red and green alike, I shoot past various boroughs that are inhabited by Arabs, Chinese, Koreans and other ethnic groups and H1 finally takes me into Mount Pleasant and then it hangs left all the way into Stanley Park, the green heart of Vancouver. I pass several cyclists; in downtown Vancouver I stop at red lights in utmost respect of traffic signals. I wipe my glasses as a gentle but steady drizzle has began. I cycle down the last stretch of urban road which takes me to the gate of the Stanley Park where I can take my arrival picture. Victorious.

I made it. Damn it yes! We made it. 3000 miles and 25 thousand dollars later we are here. Coast to coast. Come on let it go now. I can let it all go now, all the mental discipline, all the focus the rigour to keep up with the scheduled, to follow the established routine of riding all day, finding a motel, checking in, shower and manual laundry, downloading the pictures, writing the blog, eating, sleeping, getting up the next day to brave the elements once more. No more walking with heavy legs and riding through muscle pain. No more stress of not getting as far as I would like. No more fear of getting a puncture in the middle of nowhere. And I can also let go of the fear of being ill. Yes, let go of that fear because you are not ill. You made it all the way across, a 100% healthy person would find it atrocious and you, between rounds of chemotherapy, with cancer in your body, with your mind and your heart set to it, you made it thsi far so what the hell are you afraid of? What the hell will make you afraid in the future? You just turned fear into energy, you turned anger into strength, you raised money for a good cause. You made it, you did this just like you wanted it, now you can do anything you set your mind to.

I know this is going to heal me, or at least heal my mind and free it from fear. Now just ride around Stanley Park. Such a beautiful place, a sanctuary of peace and nature, with the Pacific ocean on one side and the city with the harbor on the other. Check out those giant trees, what a pretty thick lush forest, and look at that dark blue water, you are lucky, aren't you? Yes I am lucky, I see so much of the world and I cycled across this amazing country. What was it that you wanted to do when you got here? Kiss the ground? Sink to your knees? I feel like it but I can't now, I feel paralyzed, I can't let it go but it is all boiling inside and it will explode at some point. I know I made it. I made it for me and I made it for the people that love me and want to see me being me despite the problems that I have and that I will have in the future.

I have the Pacific ocean in front of me, a few yards from my feet, I think back on the crazy, the kind, the hilarious, and the generous people I met along the way. I think about the beautiful landscapes, the sweeping open lands, the mountains, the hills, the rivers and the cities, the quirky signs, the towns that are thriving, and those that have been lost to time forever. All of the elements come together to create an amazing and rewarding experience that I will draw strength from every day for the rest of my life. Especially when things get difficult and I know they will. I will think about the places that were once a two-dimensional outline or a dot on a map and now fill a corner of my mind that's colored with texture and character and soul. And I think of the people that I have seen, I think of their faces and their eyes, eyes that will never see the world that I have seen and I will continue to see in my mind.

So much of my life has been defined by the things that I wanted; lately it seems that my life is defined by elements outside my control. Honestly, it seems easier to climb a mountain than to wait for the doctor's report on my lastest tests. It is up to me to take both challenges with the same attitude. I might not be able to do it every time but at least I can try.

Let's go find a nice hotel and have yourself the best meal in the whole town. I am hungry. is still me.



The weather is not very promising at 8am

The road is wet and it is very cold

Very cold

Highway 9

Mt. Baker behind those clouds

Washington sky

I turn around and I see the last of the mountains, they are behind me, now it is all flat (more or less) all the way to the Pacific

The little town of Acme, pop: 39
 Along H9

 A "new frontier"

 No line required for cyclists

As I cross the border the sun peeps out of the clouds. From the sign it is only 50 miles to Vancouver downtown, let's go

 The "people that we don't see" picking berries

I see this Vancouver sign for the first time just before I cross Pitt Lake

After miles and miles of urban areas at 4:57pm I finally enter Vancouver downtown

I did it!

In Stanley Park

In Stanley Park with the Pacific ocean behind

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Winthrop, Wa - Concrete, Wa

116 miles - Total: 3201 miles

Without a doubt Highway 20 in the North Cascades is one of the great mountain rides in America.

A physically exhausting day but I dodged the expected storm. And the mountains exceeded expectations. Haughty in their beauty, solemn in their appearance, intimidating in their shape. I loved the climb and loved the long descent even more. No more climbing to do now. I am on my way to the coast.

The North Cascades are the real deal. Glaciers was higher but ended quickly and its appearance too charming, postcard-like. The North Cascades are real mountains, wild, untamed, with constant snow along its slopes and on the highest peakes. These are angry-looking peaks, smooth vertical walls of dark rock hit by winds that would move mountains. I am now looking at the Skagit hills, past those, twenty miles west lies the Pacific.

I have a terrible night, even for the standards of this bike ride. I keep waking up every hour. At 3, at 4, at 5. I decide to end my misery and I finally get up at 7 and I shake off the stupor I am in. It looks still very dark outside. I dare not look at the sky because I know...the unsavoury weather forecast gets it right again. It's raining and in the direction of the mountains the sky is so dark that it is almost blue. I go back to bed but there is no point in tossing and turning and the blanket over my head won't make the rain go away. I know what I want. I want to get out of here and climb the mountains. I don't care about the rain. I want to go West. I eat three muffins with a warm apple cider and I am on the road.

The rain has stopped in the valley but who knows what's going on up there. The fresh air hits my face like a thousand knives, I am wearing everything I have. Four layers, apparently it is not enough. I wish I had more layers. It is very cold this morning and I need more hot beverages in me. After 15 miles I stop in Mezana where I have a hot chocolate which does me good. This is the last stop before the climb. I ride for 20 miles before I reach Washington Pass. This pass is different from the others, it is windy, it is cold, snowy and unwelcoming like a real mountain should. This is quintessential Rocky Mountains. The road exposed and winding. It's amazing how the climate changes as soon as I hit the top. On the other side the climate is even worse: it's windy, cold and damp. I put on the rain jacket on the way down, it is the coldest I have felt since the beginning of the trip. I shiver on the way down and I long for another climb to feel warm again. The stunning scenery makes up for the cold temperature though. This road affords some of the most breathtaking views I have seen in the States and I urge anyone to visit this place. The jagged line of the mountains is streaked by snow. I don't run into a single cyclist today, I am the only one doing the Cascades.

The descent is long. I only stop for a few seconds to take pictures. The view is perfect from any angle it seems so I snap away and after reviewing my work it was hard to select a few for the journal. I keep going pushing on the pedals with my head down most of the time. I am mindful ofthe storm and if it did come there would be no place to hide from it. The road goes a bit up then down, then up and then down again. The wind is insane on this side blowing from all directions. The strong winds are the worst part of the descent, I feel like I could fall any time. I gain speed, I hit 30mph but many times over I am slowed by the gusts of wind. Most of the wind is head-on so it is not going to blow me off the road. Luckily the heavy clouds that hover above don't produce any rain. The road drops abruptly into a valley that keeps shrinking to the point of becoming a gorge and I cannot help but thinking about the first explorers that opened this passage, how the hell did they find it and how did they manage to squeeze through? The road is a two-lane highway, one lane in each direction but there is a generous shoulder so I am not bothered by the traffic. After the Rainy Pass, expect a few short hills, it is all downhill. Most of the downhill grades are around 6 to 8 percent. After an hour or so, I begin to enter the valley leading up to the Ross Lake area. It gets as windy as it can get. I squeeze hard on the brakes as soon as I feel I am losing control of the bike. I stop at a number of overlooks to watch the views. The cold from the climb and the gusty wind begin to take their toll. On the descent my toes go numb and I lose life in some of my fingers for a few hours, my thumb is still numb as I am writing this (8pm).

The road drops even farther until it reaches Lake Ross, its water is a milky, glowing, turquoise, a soft, pearly green that twinkle in the sun. The top of the water is agitated and hit fiercely by the gales which create waves that ripple ferociously. It looks just like those lakes in airbrushed postcards or TV programs. It looks so awesome that doesn't seem real but it is. I stop, I gaze and I marvel at the beauty of all of this. I let the wind hit my drenched clothes as I stand beside my bicycle, I breathe in and out and when I focus on my body I feel the heaviness creeping in on my muscles. I smile. It really begins to sink in how far I have traveled. I look at the bike and it looks worn out, dirty, beaten up. Maybe we look alike. We have taken a lot on the roads of America. Cold, rain, heat, sunshine, wind, even a couple of falls.

At Newhalem the descend ends and when the valley widens and the road flattens I realize that I can now begin to dream about the Pacific, it is not too far, maybe a day or two. I feel energized and encouraged by the change of scenery and by the assuring fact that the wind has decided not to follow me. It stays behind to batter the steep rocky sides of the mountains. I am done with climbing. The valley awaits. On the west side of the Cascades it is not as arid as on the other side of the Pass but much more fertile and lush. I ride past berries and apples fields and vineyards. I am in full flight. I average 19mph and I am getting hungry. I ride another 35 miles without taking a break. I have a town in sight and I ride efficiently for two hours. I reach Concrete at around 6pm with more than 9 hours on the road that as sure as hell have left their mark. Concrete is a totally depressing town where the only motel that seems just about okay, run by a jovial Korean man, will be my home tonight. The room smells like bleach and I am the only guest in the whole place. The internet connection is slow so I won't write too much. At least I have a chance to dream about Vancouver. I am almost there. And I feel fine. Tired but fine

8:30 am the sky looks heavy with rain when I leave the motel in Winthrop 

The North Cascades in the distance 

Taken in Mazana, before I start the climb 

Here we go 

 This is where I came from

Nice switchback


Very accurate 

Lake Ross 


Concrete, Main st, total desolation. Where the hell am I? I ask

Monday, August 27, 2012


Okanogan, Wa - Winthrop, Wa

51 miles - Total: 3085 miles

A few hours of sleep did the trick.

The energy is back and with it the eagerness to get this over with. I don't have the beautiful Sacagawea to lead me to the Pacific like Lewis and Clark did but the charting of my own Northwest passage is almost complete. Just one major hump before I report back for duty. I climb the Loup Loup Summit and on the way down the scenery opens up, I look afar and through the haze I see a wall surging behind the hills, peaks as jagged as a jeans zip and covered in snow like Alpine peaks. The North Cascades mountains appear. I do not recoil, I do not grumble, I do not look for a way out. I want to climb those peaks and then motor down all the way to the coast.

Today I decide to play safe. I ride as far as I can go before the climb into the North Cascades. I reach Winthrop at 2pm and a nice clean motel on the south edge of town will do just nicely. Tomorrow I will set out early to tackle the two passes and the rest of the ride into the North Cascades National Park. It should be awesome. The only uncertainty will be the weather. There's a storm coming tomorrow, nobody is certain as to when and how long it will be.

I sleep well and I take my time as I know that I only have a short day. I leave town at 9am and the steep road climbs up like I have only seen in the Appalachians. The climb to the pass is 21 miles long, the first third of the ride is tough and steep, definitely the steepest climb of the journey. Fortunately the road surface is pleasant and traffic very light. As I leave Okanogan behind I am surrounded by tiny plateaus where cherries, golden apples, peaches and the likes are grown. And vineyards. Apart from these gardens of delicious fruits of the earth the place is rocky, sun burnt and desolate. It is hot and despite the dry heat I sweat copiously. The reason is that there is no shelter in a land of arid, sun-whitened soil that reflects every ray of heat. The road veers up on the edge of a ridge and it is unrelenting. There is a degree of shelter later on with the tall pine trees but all in all it is the toughest climb so far. In the later stages of the climb, the route enters the Okanogan National Forest so the road is shaded by the tall pines on both sides. Traffic is extremely light but you get the odd truck carrying logs that spits all sort of debris the moment it passes me and the strident, ubiquitous mindless and noisy motorbikes. Once or twice when there are no vehicles within earshot in either direction I stop to listen to the bird songs from the trees or the wind hitting the tree tops which makes a suave sound. From time to time I hear a suspicious rattle from the forest but I don't see anything. I just take in the silence, I let the sweat soak up my clothes and I realise how lucky I am to be here in this blissful solitude among the mountains. And I am thinking about the people that will never know what they are missing. Maybe those birds are creeper or woodpecker.

The road from Loup-Loup drops down to Twisp, the descent goes fast but it is not as steep as the Logan Pass so I don't have to hit the brakes for the entire duration of the 8 mile stretch. The road takes me into town, which is named after the Indian name for 'wasp'. The centre is tiny, just a main road with little wooden buildings but surprisingly pleasant. A lovely bakery is my first and only stop for the day and I indulge in Asiago cheese croissant and a pesto roll. This is proper bicycle touring: no hurry to go places, no long distances to cover so local food can be sampled at every opportunity. I almost go to the riverside for a dip in the water but I resist the urge. I ride 6 miles north and the wind today decides to blow from the south which means that I get the unique privilege of having a tailwind. It carries me down the hills and on the mounds of the bluff river area. It is incredible, I only now realize how influential the wind factor is. It sets the line between the happiness and the miserable moods. The ecstasy does not last long though as Winthrop, the next town along the Methow river valley, is only a few miles farther up and it will be my final destination for the day. I feel in good shape when I reach the town and I am slightly sad to stop after only 50 miles, it feels like a wasted day but it will be a long one tomorrow.

After yesterday's miserable ride, I felt surprisingly well this morning and with the wind blowing my way, the beautiful mountains within sight and the energy back in my body I could have gone for a much longer stage. If everything goes to plan I can still be in Vancouver on the 35th day of my journey. Just like I planned.

Winthrop has been rebuilt to look like an early 1900s frontier town. The result is of course a sort of Theme park town but the vibe is good and the Main st is pleasant. I find out that the whole town reinvented itself with the completion of the North Cascades highway in 1972 to take advantage of the tourist trade; there is an excellent ice-cream place in the main street. I have a large steak dinner with mash potatoes and vegetables and two more ice-creams after dinner. This is fuel for tomorrow's climb. I am ready.

Today on the steep climb of the Loup Loup pass I rediscovered the pleasure of riding the bicycle. Most importantly, I relate it to my recent (or present?) situation of paralyzing fear of the unknown. The bicycle is so empowering. By now it is a third limb, a part of me. And when I am on that road the bicycle becomes my legs and my feet, I make them move, I make it happen, I control it, I give it life and it gives life back to me in oh so many different ways. And the hours spent on the road besides cursing at the wind and eating junk food, give me ample opportunities to reflect and soak in the magic of the outdoor. Its smells, its colors, its perfect lines, its shapes. I cannot even begin to find words to describe the beauty of a world that I have soaked in and absorbed through the medium of the bicycle.

I am getting messages of love from people I don't know that are ill and, like me, are looking for answers. I am so grateful for your messages of support and for sharing your personal struggle with me.

The North Cascades mountains or Vancouver will not be the finishing line. How's that saying? Every beginning is a new beginning's end. So, with three days left, the end is nigh and so it is a new beginning. Bring on the mountains.

A storm? So what.

The town watch in Okanogan, it reads: "live better electrically"

This is where my beloved cherries are grown 

The arid and dry land gives way to a lushier vegetation as I make my way up 

The climb is the steepest of the journey 

And it goes on for 20 miles 

On the Pass 

The descent is pleasant and not too steep, unlike the ascent 

And at one point the view clears and I see the North Cascades mountains in the distance 

As good a view as any I have seen on the journey. The snow-capped rocky peaks of the Cascades. I will be there tomorrow.  

The descent is always windy but this time the cool air won't make me shiver like on the Logan Pass, just use the rain jacket. Why didn't I think of that coming down the Glaciers??

The charming town of Twisp, just one main street

And the delicious bakery on main street

 Methow river with its green banks. The river creates a small but lush valley which feeds several villages

Methow river from the west bank in Twisp 

Post Office in Winthrop 

The river in Winthrop 

Winthrop city centre