Northern Tier 2010

September 5, 2010

Live Free or Die

Filed under: Geology, New Hampshire, Section 11 — Henry Scott @ 1:00 pm

New Hampshire isn’t very wide at this latitude (or any latitude, for that matter). I had to stop early again to ensure that I’d spend a full day here, a necessary step to justify using the state motto for a title. Actually, I suppose I’m dragging my feet a bit and savoring the last few days of the tour. In any event, my camp has been totally set for the night since mid afternoon.

I got an early start this morning and was rewarded with breathtaking views of the Penigewasset River valley once I finished the last bit of climbing up from the Wildwood Campground, and began the descent to North Woodstock, where I stopped for breakfast.

As Jennifer’s father, Bob, pointed out in the comments a few days ago, that put me within five miles of Franconia Notch State Park, which is home to the Flume Gorge. During breakfast, I got to know Dean and Nancy, who vacation in the area, and they were able to give me specific directions to the park. They left before me, but it turns out the cabin they’re renting was on the way. They were sitting outside on Adirondack chairs, waiting to greet me, as I made my way to see it — a very nice surprise.

The wonderful folks at the visitor center allowed me to bring my bike inside and stow it in a safe place so I could enjoy the short hike to the Gorge, and a few other park attractions, without worrying about it. Bob’s comment already provided some details about the Gorge: it is a steep-walled granite canyon with water still actively flowing through. The fracture was once filled with a basaltic dike, but most of the more-readily eroded basalt is gone, leaving the gorge in its place.

I rejoined the Adventure Cycling route on highway 112 in Lincoln, and after stocking up on food I continued east on 112, which is better known as the Kancamagus Highway as it heads up into New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Being a holiday weekend, traffic was heavy, and I didn’t stop for photos as much as I may have otherwise, but the “scenic overlooks” were excellent.

At the pass I decided to make camp at the first good spot I could find in USFS land. Because tonight is the last night of the holiday weekend, I didn’t want to risk finding the official campgrounds already full. I found a perfect spot close to the Swift River sooner than expected, which is why I’m all set up so early. Other than the occasional roar from a Harley, all I can hear is the stream working its way through rounded granitic boulders. It is cooling off quickly, and there are almost no mosquitos; I suspect I’ll sleep well.

I should still be able to make Bar Harbor by the 8th thanks to some long days the past few weeks — the Adirondacks, Green and White Mountains have been so beautiful, it feels good to be taking my time.


September 2, 2010

Moon Rocks in the Adirondacks

Filed under: Geology, New York, Section 10, Section 11, Vermont — Henry Scott @ 11:30 pm

I faced a tough decision early this morning: after a small breakfast in Blue Mountain Lake, Travis and I rode to the Adirondack Museum, which is housed in a large, rustic, yet modern building. Having grown up in New York, Travis had heard very good things about the museum, so we were anxious to see it. Unfortunately, it didn’t open until 10:00, which would have meant a two hour wait.

With hurting knees, waiting for the museum was the obvious choice for Travis, but for me it was harder because I want to make sure I have time for a thorough visit in Acadia. As I mentioned yesterday, I can get there on the 8th with modest daily mileage, but I ultimately decided to push on. The Adirondack Museum will be yet another site that will have to wait for a future visit with Jennifer.

I have absolutely loved riding through the Adirondacks: I can see how the combination of beautiful mountains, a sporadic population of small, seasonal vacation towns, and a decent balance of public and private land have continued to make them a popular destination.

The hills may be a little steeper than what I encountered in the West, but not by much, and they aren’t very long. But, being older, and much more eroded, they are heavily forested, and the many lakes give long stretches of rolling hills following the shores with gorgeous lake views.

I need to do more research about Adirondack geology, but the brief description I’ve read so far said there would be anorthosite in the interior, and that bright white igneous rock is exactly what I found. It is a somewhat unusual rock in that it is mostly made of just one mineral: anorthite. Anyone who has ever looked at the moon has seen anorthosite, at least from a distance: it is what makes the lunar highlands so bright.

Today’s ride took me up and down through Long Lake, Newcomb and North Hudson before ultimately delivering me to New York’s eastern edge with a long, screaming descent into Ticonderoga. From there I took a small cable-drawn ferry across Lake Champlain and entered Vermont. I didn’t need the welcome sign to let me know where I was: maple syrup was for sale on the boat.

I’m staying Dan and Judy, who I contacted through Warm Showers. They live in a two hundred year old farmhouse a few miles west of Middleburry. I haven’t seen their home from the outside yet because I arrived after dark, but the interior is fabulous. We’ve stayed up until almost 11:00 talking about touring: Dan did the Southern Tier a few years ago, and the two of them will be doing a five-month tour of Asia starting this November!

August 11, 2010

It’s True! Iowa Isn’t Flat (at least not entirely)

Filed under: Geology, Iowa, Section 07 — Henry Scott @ 1:00 pm

Might I be getting used to the heat and humidity? I was a sweaty mess all day, but I felt very good riding — certainly better than yesterday and way better than two days ago. Feeling good today was a bit of a surprise because I haven’t slept well the past few nights, so I decided to stop relatively early today at 74 miles in Elkader, IA to give myself more time to relax, and hopefully cool down, before going to bed.

As mentioned in the title, I found truth in the claims of my Iowan friends: not all of Iowa is flat. Rather, the riding today was quite hilly — it was either up or down all day, and the hills rivaled anything I’ve encountered so far other than the named passes of the West. They were long enough that I could get into a good climbing rhythm, steep enough to get me out of the saddle, but short enough that my legs could recover from one to the next. With the high humidity, my fluid intake easily matched that of Loup Loup pass.

Eastern Iowa truly is gorgeous, with ubiquitous outcroppings of sedimentary rocks and extremely steep and high blocks of crust creating an incredibly rugged landscape. Again I questioned the wisdom of the Northern Tier route as it repeatedly had me jog west up significant hills only to then drift south and east back towards the river, but I loved the scenery. As an added bonus, the route brought me by Effigy Mounds National Monument. I only stopped for an hour, but that provided a much-needed break from the sun and time to watch a video about the mound-building cultures.

I stopped for a late lunch in Monona at the newly opened Jodi’s Americana Grille. As Erika mentioned in the comments yesterday, my friend Bruce must be calling ahead on my behalf because the hospitality I received was extraordinary. Surely I looked like hell: I had just come up a long hill from Marquette during the hottest part of the day, but they welcomed me in, got me plenty of water and fed me extremely well. Plus, the owner, Jodi (at left in the photo), gave me a T-shirt and spent quite a while chatting with the waitress and me. I asked if I could take a snapshot, and Jodi insisted we all pose together behind the bar — I believe it was her daughter who took the photo. Definitely a great experience!

From there I had an easy, but still quite sweaty, ride to Elkader where I’m camped for the night. I met Jim, a westbound cyclist from Nashville, in town, and we’re sharing a campsite in the city park and exchanging notes about where to camp for the remainder of our respective tours.

August 9, 2010

Along the Mississippi

Filed under: Geology, Minnesota, Section 06, Section 07, Wisconsin — Henry Scott @ 1:00 pm

Today continued to be hot and humid, and I suppose I should expect that for much of the rest of the tour. It felt a bit easier today, but I think mainly because last night’s storm gave some relief, rather than I’m getting used to it. The humidity makes the evenings more difficult, too, because it is harder to get to sleep — I’m still sweating and it is after dark. But, it’s all part of the challenge, so I don’t mean to complain.

I got to Stillwater (back in Minnesota — the route crosses the Mississippi a few times as it heads south, but after today I’ll stay on the MN side until I reach Iowa) early enough to have breakfast before the bike shop opened. My left pedal has started to make a loud pop each revolution. They confirmed that the source is indeed the pedal, but didn’t have a solution other than to either ignore it or replace they pedals.

I continued on with the pedal, but the pedal noise combined with hills and humidify was too much. So, stopped at another bike shop in Red Wing and bought new pedals. The silence is wonderful!

This Mississippi has continued to grow, and it now looks like more like my life-long mental image. There is lots of activity along its banks including both industry and recreation, with small towns every five to ten miles.

Geologically, it is nice to see outcrops again after so many miles of gently rolling hills with almost no exposed bedrock. This is unusual for the Midwest and is additional evidence for the surprising lack of glacial activity in this region. The photo shows two things that don’t usually go together: vast fields of Midwestern corn and high outcrops.

I’m going to stop here to facilitate getting to sleep earlier; I’d like to get some miles in early tomorrow, hopefully in relatively cool conditions.

August 4, 2010

Veritas Caput

Filed under: Geology, Minnesota, Section 05 — Henry Scott @ 9:00 pm

Today was a perfect touring day. We got off to a slightly late start because I was slow to get packed up, but once we hit the road we sailed on excellent winds. The terrain of the land of ten thousand lakes consists of rolling hills, but the wind was strong enough to make them all seem easy. We covered the first 64 miles in well under four hours, excluding a break to cook breakfast in Callaway, and stopped for lunch in the small town of Two Inlets.

From there we turned north and exchanged our tailwind for a crosswind, but that didn’t matter because before long we reached the entrance to Lake Itasca State Park, and we didn’t even notice the wind not blocked by the forest because the lake views were so gorgeous.

We had an interesting conversation with a local named Ray near the entrance who told us about several opportunities to leave the road and take paved bicycle paths, which we did to reach our campground. Now that he’s retired, he earns some side money by collecting leeches, using venison as bait, to sell as bait for fishing. After seeing leeches for sale over the past several days, I had been quite curious about how one, intentionally, catches them. The bucket on the back of his 1970’s-era Honda is to hold the leeches until he can sort and take them to market — “jumbos” fetch $6 per dozen.

Because we made such good time, we arrived early enough to explore the visitor center, set up camp and cook some pasta before setting off to see the park’s main attraction: the “official” headwaters of the Mississippi River. I put official in quotes because with so many tributaries it is hard to identify an absolute start, but the outflow of Lake Itasca is generally given this distinction. There was a surprisingly heated battle in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s by white explorers eager to be credited with identifying the headwaters.

The lake’s modern name was given to it by Henry Schoolcraft in the 1850’s with the explicit purpose of claiming it as the source for the Mississippi: the name is derived from the Latin words veritas and caput meaning truth and head, respectively. Schoolcraft formed a contraction by dropping the v-e-r and p-u-t from the beginning and end. Some Native American folklore was manufactured after the fact to give the name added cultural significance, but from what I understand, it has no basis in Native American mythology.

After watching Itasca’s outflow begin its 2,500 journey to the Gulf of Mexico, we biked around the ten-mile Wilderness Loop road, bringing us to just over 100 miles for the day. We went to the top of the fire lookout tower to see the landscape from above the canopy. Nature is allowed to run her course with no human intervention in the wilderness area, and the low-traffic, one-way only ride offered some very relaxing riding and terrific views.

July 28, 2010

ND Texas Tea

Filed under: Geology, North Dakota, Section 03 — Henry Scott @ 9:00 pm

Oil wasn’t discovered in North Dakota until 1953, and there have been several subsequent cycles of boom and bust. Today Seth and I continued east through northwestern ND, and we saw firsthand the latest rush to increase production in the state.

We rode through expansive parcels of cropland littered with derricks, active pumps and huge dancing flames from off-gassing (it isn’t clear to me why these gases aren’t used for anything productive); the roads were frequented by large trucks carrying pipes, machinery, and portable office units. Locals told us that the last flurry of activity was back in the 1980’s, and the most recent wave started just a year or so ago.

Despite the high volume of truck traffic, today was a great ride, and my legs felt strong. I think the main reason is due to yesterday’s half day of rest, but the winds were weak as well (from the south, but that is much better than the easterlies we’ve been getting!).

After leaving Culbertson we rode 26 miles to Lake Sakakawea before stopping to cook breakfast. We split half a canister of “old fashioned” oatmeal, half a jar of peanut butter and a pint of blueberries. I was so full I couldn’t imagine eating another bite, but massive quantities of oatmeal seem to work well while biking. We didn’t stop again until Stanley 50 miles later where we took a long break and made pasta — in addition to the company, a great benefit of riding with someone is that it makes cooking large meals much easier.

We didn’t make the side trip to Theodore Roosevelt NP that I mentioned yesterday, but we did get some views of ND’s badlands:

From Stanley we continued to Berthold, where we’re camped for the night in a city park, for a total of 108 miles. We went to a bar where we feasted on not-very-good (or healthy), but high calorie items.

Tomorrow morning we’ll start with a 30 mile ride to Minot, the first large town we’ve been in for quite a while, and we’ll then relax and take care of some errands before adding a few more easy miles.

July 22, 2010

The Mountains Are Gone

Filed under: Geology, Montana, Section 03 — Henry Scott @ 10:00 pm

I can still see an occasional butte, faintly to the north, but otherwise I’ve entered the plains and have many flat miles, predominantly on highway 2, ahead of me. Perhaps surprisingly, I’m enjoying the contrast in landscape. We’ll see how long that lasts.

I had a good morning in Cut Bank. I got up reasonably early, but stayed around the Riverview campground to let my gear dry out. It didn’t get wet in yesterday’s storm, but rather from condensation during the night. To pass the time I went out for breakfast and spoke with the owner of the park. He owns about a mile along the ravine on which the park is located, carved into thinly bedded sandstone, and he told me that a complete T-Rex was found here in the 1920’s and is referred to as the “coulee dinosaur.”

The rest of the day was flat with winds that slowly veered from cross with a slight tailwind to cross with a significant headwind. I stopped in Shelby to get groceries, and stayed for over an hour because a storm rolled in while I was shopping; I watched it while eating lunch under a large overhang. The downtown has a lot of character, and the town itself has a rich history of boom and bust economics, ultimately succeeding due to the discovery of oil deposits.

I was hoping to get 100 miles in today, but I got caught in another small storm — it was after that the wind once again became my adversary. I’ve been told that this region usually does indeed have predominantly westerly winds, except for when storms roll through, and we’ve been getting lots of storms recently.

After the storm, my speed kept dropping until I could barely maintain 10 mph, and at that point I reached Chester. The town allows free camping in a pretty park — complete with a large covered structure, drinking water and a clean bathroom.

I met another eastbound cyclist here named Seth; he is ultimately headed for New Hampshire, but we’ll follow the same route for quite a few miles. Before long a westbound biker came through, a teacher from New York, and a motorcyclist after him. We all quickly became friends and set up camp under the protected structure; this turned out to be a good move because sure enough, yet another storm rolled in last night.

Here’s hoping for a return to the prevailing westerlies tomorrow!

July 20, 2010

Oh, Can-a-da…

Filed under: Geology, Montana, Section 02 — Henry Scott @ 9:30 pm

Although I did enter Canada today, this title is a bit misleading because the highlight of today was the hike up to Grinnell Glacier. I got off to a slower start than planned because the rain that had me trapped in my tent last night transitioned into a very cold fog this morning. It got so cold late last night / early this morning that I had trouble sleeping. On the bright side, I’d be very surprised if I experience another sub-40 degree night, so I think my sleeping gear is working out well.

Despite the rough start to the morning, I eventually emerged from my tent to make some oatmeal and tea, and in the process got to know the neighboring backpackers. There were two young electrical engineers (one a recent graduate and the other about to enter his final year at USC), a soon-to-be forestry student from Oregon, and a principal from New York. It was a great group.

After breakfast I made my way to the Grinnell Glacier trailhead and promptly met a black bear. (The young mountain goat shown here is actually from a couple of days ago on Logan Pass.) I saw a grizzly last night, but at too great of a distance to get a photo. We stared at each other few a moments and went about our business. The trail followed Josephine Lake for a mile or so, and started working its way up in elevation through red and green outcroppings of the Grinnell formation — mud cracks and ripple marks were ubiquitous. It is mind boggling to imagine so many episodes of drying out and subsequent deposition of new sediments only to dry out once again.

Before long the trail offered grand views of the jade-colored lower Grinnell lake and, eventually, the upper Grinnell lake and the glacier itself. The picture here show the progression of lakes and the U-shaped valley carved by this once-mighty glacier. It was fascinating to see active glacial erosion — Grinnell is rapidly retreating, and the exposed rocks are covered with glacial striations, clearly etched in the stone during a larger period of the glacier’s life.

I also saw more stromatolites and got good views of a park feature I’d been hoping to see the past few days: the igneous intrusion in the Helena formation. It is notable because it extends through many of the highest peaks in the park and presents some of the few igneous rocks in the park. It is quite easy to see because it is dark in color, but it is bounded above and below by bright white marble. The dark-colored diorite intruded into limestone and metamorphosed the limestone into marble.

By the time I got back from the 12-mile hike my appetite was back so I had a cheese burger and fries from the Swiftcurrent restaurant, but that wasn’t quite enough so I followed it up with a small pizza.

It was important to eat so much because I then broke camp and rode the hilly 34 miles across the border to Canada (Alberta) and into the campground at Belly River. I knew ahead of time that there’s no running water here, and I only wanted to carry enough for some noodles tonight and oatmeal in the morning. I’ll stop for a big meal somewhere early tomorrow. The ride, by the way, was wonderful because the route slowly took me around Chief Mountain, and by the time I reached the border crossing the setting sun had it perfectly illuminated.

July 19, 2010

Moving Like a Glacier

Filed under: Geology, Montana, Section 02 — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

I slept in as long as I could today (7 a.m.) because it was a bit cold and cloudy, and then realized I didn’t have a sense for how to best use my time. Should I go for a hike? Proceed to another part of the park? I decided to go out for pancakes to think it over.

Somehow, things still weren’t clear after breakfast, and I thought about seeking the advice of a ranger. Right about then a park bus showed up on its way to the St. Mary visitor center, which was about five miles away (Glacier has a terrific, and free, public transportation system), so I hopped on. I spoke with a very helpful ranger, and she encouraged me to continue on to Many Glacier and hike to Grinnell Glacier.

As I waited for the return bus, it started to rain. Fortunately, I left my camp rain-ready when I went for breakfast, but it was still raining when I got back, so I parked myself in the tent to read and wait it out. Once the rain stopped I packed up and rode the 23 miles to Many Glacier and made camp. The ride took quite a while due to strong headwinds.

I got here too late for the hike to Grinnell Glacier, but I had enough daylight to head up to Ptarmigan Falls, which were incredible, but hard to photograph. Along the way, however, there were many good outcroppings of the Grinnell formation of the Belt Supergroup.

The rocks in this formation are mostly fine-grained sedimentary deposits with a deep red color due to the presence of some oxidized iron. They clearly formed during a long period of time for which much of the Belt sea was shallow water that periodically dried up, only to be re-flooded, as indicated by numerous preserved ripple marks and mud cracks. These rocks are overlain by deep-water deposits such as limestone, so we know sea level was ultimately on the rise, but within the Grinnell formation there appears to have been a long transitional period because there are occasionally interbedded green layers which suggest the more reducing conditions of slightly deeper water.

I’m currently trapped in my tent while it rains again, but that’s okay because I’m ready for bed, and I love the sound of rain on the tent. I just hope the weather will be good tomorrow!

July 18, 2010

Gone to the Sun

Filed under: Geology, Montana, Section 02 — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

The only bad thing about today is that I’ve already climbed the highest pass of my entire route and crossed the Continental Divide. Presumably, if I just start coasting from here I’ll either end up in the Gulf of Mexico or The Hudson Bay.

The road over this highest pass is called the “Going-to-the-Sun” road, and it provides visitors access to the park’s interior via Logan Pass at 6,664 feet. Completed in 1932 under the leadership of superintendent Stephen T. Mather, the road itself is impressive. Rather that excavate a series of switchbacks to cross the mountains (the more common and less expensive option), park planners worked with architect Thomas Vint to build a road that feels like it blends into the landscape by following and slowly rising up through a valley, with just one dramatic switchback, before continuing the climb up the other side. They were remarkably successful,

The tilted rocks of the Belt Supergroup are right up against the road’s edge, and streams and waterfalls appear to spill right into the road, only to flow underneath through subtly constructed aqueducts to continue on the other side.

Bicycles are prohibited from being on two key sections of the 32-mile road from Apgar (where I camped last night) to Logan Pass from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., so I got up early enough to be biking by 6:00 a.m. My legs felt great, and I easily made it to the pass by 10, with many photography stops.

I lingered at the pass for a couple of hours to bask in the spectacular vistas of glacial horns, aretes, cols, cirques, U-shaped and hanging valleys, visit the bookstore, and attend a presentation about the rapidly retreating glaciers of Glacier National Park — there are only 24 remaining (well over 100 in the 1800’s), and conservative predictions have them all gone by 2030.

The ride down was wonderful, and I decided to stop at the Rising Sun campground for the night. I got here by about 2:00 or so, and I had plenty of time for a big meal, a shower and some hand washing of laundry. Afterward, I retreated to my tent to read, but felt an overwhelming desire to sleep, and I had the best nap I can recall: birds chirping, with gentle breezes moving air through my tent. (I’ve haven’t been getting quite enough sleep for the past few nights, so I think this was a prudent way to spend part of the afternoon.)

After waking I visited with my campground neighbors for a while — I was pleasantly surprised to learn I had only been asleep for a couple hours, rather than the several days I feared.

I then cooked a simple dinner and watched a ranger program about avalanches and fire; now I’m getting ready for bed and trying to decide what to do tomorrow. I think I may take a break from biking and do some hiking.

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