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Cross Country Tandem
Trip:
A Journal

by Rhona & Dave Fritsch

Editor's note: This chronicle of the West Virginian authors' 1996 cross country tandem ride, which spanned 3,710 miles and lasted 47 days, is appearing as a series in the online newsletter of the TOYS: Tandems of York (PA) Society. Thanks to the authors and the newsletter editor, Carolyn K. Stafford, for allowing us to reprint it here.

Rhona and I began our great tandem adventure in Washington State and finished in New Jersey. Rhona accepted the major responsibility of compiling a journal each night. Her narrative is typed in upper and lower case letters. In the interests of historical accuracy, I added comments, in upper case italicized letters. --DAVE

WEEK 1

DAY 1: Tuesday, June 18, 1996.  
Anacortes Island, WA to Rockport, WA (71 miles)

What a beautiful day to begin our trip! Not a drop of rain; cool and sunny. It was almost 1:00 before we were ready to go into Anacortes. It was a longer drive from Vancouver than any of us had anticipated, with a half hour wait at the border (magnificent "Peace Arch"). Uncle Ross has gone beyond the call of duty in devoting his entire day, the truck, and gas to our needs.

We couldn't get near the water at the ferry landing in Anacortes so we went to a nearby boat launching ramp and had a "bike launching"! We passed through such a variety of terrain today, from the sea coast, through farmlands, along the beautiful Skagit River valley, to the foothills of the Northern Cascade mountains. We are surrounded by pine-forested ranges and snow-covered peaks. The Skagit River itself is beautiful, fairly wide, a swift-flowing, sparkling green reflection of its forested banks. We camped right on its banks.

The flora has been interesting, very large and lush. Every plant seems oversized, from the trees to the roadside shrubs, ferns and flowers. There is a familiar flower I'm anxious to identify. It's like our eastern Blue Bells, but the "bells" are amazingly large.

The fauna thus far has consisted of deer skittering across the road, and numerous bald eagles (much to Dave's delight!). We see many of them circling above and hear others screaming in the forest. When we were driving with Ross, I saw what I thought was someone's remote control helicopter, but it was an eagle hovering over its prey.

Such friendly people so far (one day); everyone is interested in and amazed at what we're doing. We purchased a glass of lemonade from two girls at a small stand and made a bonus purchase of four daisies for $.08. While eating lunch in a "Subway", we met a tandem rider/bicycle shop employee.

He's a serious cyclist and is preparing for a 200 mile race; his female stoker just qualified to compete in the "Iron Man" race. Locals were helpful in directing us to the county park for camping. Also, I hope today's vehicular traffic is the norm. Drivers were extremely polite and gave us lots of room. We were attacked by only one dog today, and one spray of "HALT" was sufficient. What a fantastic first day!

DAY 2: Wednesday June 19, 1996.
Rockport, WA to Washington Pass
(73 miles) 

Today was certainly a contrast to yesterday! Yesterday was an easy ride, perfect weather, lovely campsite. Today had it's own appeal, but so different. It was probably the most challenging climb we have ever done, approximately 40 miles up to Washington Pass. We went from hot (I wore a crop top) to snow banks several feet high. The day ended in a wilderness camp site and we were glad to have that!

We took way too long in the morning to get started, not yet efficient at packing, dealing with laundry, leisurely breakfast. Our destination was 86 miles away, with no services along the way. I bought some snacks and we started out, disregarding several locals (and other cyclists) surprise at what we were attempting. I think from now on I'll believe the locals; it's just that we always assume they're not looking at things from a cyclist's point of view.

The climb began along the lakes and reservoirs created by the Diablo and Ross Dams. The water is the most beautiful emerald green, just like pictures I've see of Jamaica. Only the power lines spoiled the views. We continued to climb for hours, leaving most signs of civilization behind.

It became obvious that we were not going to reach our destination of Mazama on the other side of Washington Pass, and also that we weren't going to have enough food (I hope to never see another Granola Bar!). Water we were OK on because a highway crew let us fill our bottles from their supply.

Dave wanted to stop and camp far down on the western side of the pass and renew our efforts in the morning. But I held a whip over him (that's his version) and made us keep going. I knew that without food I'd have an extremely difficult time doing the climb in the morning. However, if we could at least get over the pass, then the next day would be downhill...that I could handle without nourishment! (The next day, Dave told me he was very uncertain about whether or not we could get over the pass by nightfall, and if we didn't, there would be no way to keep warm at that altitude. For once he was worried and I wasn't.) So, we continued to walk/ride and finally reached Washington Pass at about 8:30 p.m. By that time the sun was setting and it was freezing! Dave said I wouldn't want to know the temperature.

Snow was piled several feet high in places. As difficult as the climb up had been, the three miles we descended (approximately 2,000 feet drop in elevation) was really hard on Dave-freezing cold and windy. We stopped at a forest service campsite (nothing but pit toilets) where we quickly made camp, hung our remaining muffin in a tree for protection from bears, and collapsed. I changed my bike pants, but otherwise just layered on more clothes and huddled in my sleeping bag, even tying up the "mummy hood". Actually, it wasn't too bad inside the tent.

The day's scenery and views were spectacular and well worth the effort. The Cascade Mountains are very aptly named for the many waterfalls. These northern Cascades remind us very much of our ride to Lake Kootenay in British Columbia; I assume it is all the same basic range of mountains.

I'm very proud of how I handled today's experience; I viewed it as an adventure and at no time was I upset or worried (as soon as I knew Dave was following my plan). We had water and I had Dave, my trusty Boy Scout. I knew we could handle anything! With only two muffins to tide us over night for dinner and breakfast, we thought only of each other, no snarling and grabbing at the food. Dave let me have most of one for dinner, while Dave said his body was "feasting on fat cells". (I don't know if I need a new pen or if it's just too cold for this one. I'm sure when we're climbing the Appalachians in August we'll remember this cold weather with longing.)

DAY 3: Thursday, June 20, 1996.  
Washington Pass to Okanogan, WA (67 miles)

WE LEFT THE "LAND OF EARLY WINTERS" THIS MORNING AND IMMEDIATELY DESCENDED FOR ANOTHER FIVE MILES. MYSTERIOUSLY, THERE WAS NO SIGN OF THE WHIP RHONA USED ON ME LAST NIGHT. THIS MORNING, SHE KEPT PULLING ON THE BIT, WANTING TO SLOW US DOWN. WE HAD BREAKFAST IN A "GENERAL STORE" IN MAZAMA WHICH APPEARED TO BE PART OF A DUDE RANCH. THE SANDWICHES WERE VERY GOOD. THE WIND WAS IN OUR FACE UNTIL MIDDAY AND AS PROMISED BY LOCALS THE DESERT BEGAN. THE CLIMB UP LOUP PASS WAS MUCH EASIER THAN YESTERDAY'S CLIMB AND THE DESCENT WAS GREAT. ON THE WAY INTO OKANAGAN WE PASSED IRRIGATED APPLE ORCHARDS. IF IT ISN'T IRRIGATED, THEN IT'S SAGE BRUSH. SINCE THERE WAS NO OPPORTUNITY TO CLEAN UP LAST NIGHT, WE STOPPED AT A MOTEL TONIGHT. WE ATE AT THE "APPLE INN" WHOSE DECOR IS A POOR IMITATION OF THE "STRAY CAT INN" IN OUR HOME TOWN, NO CONSISTENT THEME. THE TANDEM IS WORKING FINE, ALTHOUGH THE CAMPING GEAR GETS HEAVIER BY THE DAY.

Although I've been advised not to include a discussion of food in a journal, I just have to say more about the Mazamo Store. It had such a neat atmosphere...Mother Earth/L.L. Bean type, with homegrown/natural products and employees in Birkenstocks. I had the most fabulous orange scones for breakfast! We met two more people who had cycled cross country. One was the postal employee who didn't even charge me for a mailing envelope to send items back home. People continue to be incredibly friendly. One retired couple from Florida (they had lived in McDowell County, WV years ago) stopped on the roadside to take our picture and get our name and address. Our WV license plate had attracted their attention.

Motorists continue to be courteous. One highway worker held traffic to let us pass (going uphill!) and we even saw a sign warning cyclists of a hazard. I wish WV was as cycling friendly.

DAY 4: Friday, June 21, 1996
Okanagan, WA to Republic, WA (72 miles)

There was only one way to characterize today's ride...headwind, headwind, headwind!! It was a 59-mile gradual ascent but the wind made even level and downhill sections difficult to pedal. I was whipped, and of course Dave takes the brunt of the wind. We stopped at the Regal Fruit Co-op, hoping to buy a few apples, and the woman didn't charge us for them and also told us about how her children did a coast to coast trip. Everywhere we go people tell us how they or someone they know cycled cross country.

An older gentleman stopped and offered us assistance when we were walking up the mountain, and I explained that I was looking for an outdoor restroom! We saw him again at the store near the top of Wauconda Summit and he expressed such an interest in our trip. This is one of the highlights of the trip...meeting and talking to so many locals and other cyclists.

We moteled for the second night in a row; we're getting in so late. I blame Dave for not getting up and getting on the road earlier!

WE WERE CHASED BY A ROTTWEILER THAT MEANT BUSINESS TODAY, BUT RHONA WAS ACCURATE AGAIN WITH HER FIRST SPRAY OF "HALT", MIGHTY IMPRESSIVE IN LIGHT OF THE STRONG WIND AT THE TIME. SHE IS NOW "TWO FOR TWO". I HOPE THE WORD SPREADS TO DOGS FURTHER UP ALONG THE ROUTE. "STAY AWAY FROM THE FUNNY LOOKING BICYCLE WITH THE TWO PEOPLE."

Deer are everywhere! Terrain was the same as yesterday, desert-like mountains, sagebrush, actually very boring. Unfortunately, I fear that most of America's heartland will be similar to this. Four days in Washington and so far no rain!

DAY 5: Saturday, June 22
Republic, WA to Colville, WA (54 miles)

I spoke too soon, rain all day (until we had committed to paying for a motel room) but it was never heavy. It was cold up on Sherman Pass but for once Dave had gotten out of bed early enough and we weren't stranded at the top at night! We met Andrew and Allen, a father/son team who are cycling to Boston. Another friendly retired couple stopped to talk to us, even offered us food and a place to stay. I'll have to stop writing about all the wonderful people we meet, there are too many! Wait, one more! Peter, owner of a fabulous Italian restaurant in Colville; he was very attentive and friendly.

I've discovered a similarity between cycling in WA and in WV, it's still unnerving to look in your mirror and see a huge logging truck barreling down on you! These trucks are much bigger and are carrying huge logs. The forests here, that we cycled through today, are exactly how I pictured WA/OR, dense forests of tall "pointy" pines covering the mountain sides. We rode through the area of the 1988 White Mountain fire.

RHONA HAD PROBLEMS GETTING HER CLIPLESS PEDALS TO RELEASE TODAY, MEANING SHE COULD NOT DISMOUNT FROM THE BIKE. SHE SHOULD BE ABLE TO JUST TWIST HER FOOT OUT. SHE TOLD ME I SHOULD BE ABLE TO "FEEL HER POWER" WHEN SHE TRIED, PROMPTING VISIONS OF 95 LB. "POWER RANGER RHONA" IN MY MIND. I FIXED THEM TONIGHT. THE TEMPERATURE AT THE TOP OF SHERMAN PASS WAS 38 DEGREES AND IT WAS RAINING. WE HAD LUNCH UNDER A SMALL ROOF AT THE PASS WITH FOUR OTHER CYCLISTS, TWO OF WHOM WERE GOING CROSS COUNTRY. THE MOMENT WAS THE TYPE OF ENCOUNTER I HAD HOPED FOR, ADVENTURE SEEKERS ENJOYING THE COMPANIONSHIP ENHANCED BY A SHARED EXPERIENCE.

LATER, AT THE COLUMBIA RIVER, WE WERE WALKING ACROSS THE PEDESTRIAN WALKWAY. RHONA HUMMED OUT LOUD. I THOUGHT IT SOMEWHAT INCONGRUOUS THAT SHE WAS CROSSING THE "FAR AWAY" RIVER, 4,000 MILES FROM HOME, WITH ONLY A BICYCLE TO GET HER HOME, AND YET SHE WAS AMBLING ALONG LIKE SHE WAS WALKING ON THE STREET IN FRONT OF OUR HOME.

DAY 6: Sunday, June 23, 1996
Colville, WA to Newport, ID (96 miles)

Very poor directions on the map in several places today. One time we finally flagged down a passing motorist for directions. It was much rainier today but there were no high passes so we made good time and mileage. We passed through the Kalispell Indian Reservation. We're told this is grizzly country; some troublesome bears from Yellowstone are relocated here. I'm not eating very nutritiously; as I feared might happen, too many of our meals are at "burger joints." AS I HAD HOPED, MANY OF OUR MEALS ARE AT "BURGER JOINTS." I get french fries and ice cream, actually worse for me than a burger. I realize now I can simply ask for a cheeseburger, minus the burger! We completed Washington State at 8 p.m. June 23 after 5 days of riding and 433 miles.

DAY 7: Monday, June 24, 1996
Newport, ID to Clark Fork, MT (70 miles)

Torrential downpour this morning/early afternoon, very worrisome and unpleasant. Nice bike route over Lake Pend Orielle (Idaho); it was the old bridge, the motor vehicles use the adjoining new bridge. We had a late start again, it rained in the night, everything was soaked, packing was a hassle. Seemed like slow riding too, although not much uphill. We do seem to stop frequently to add or remove clothing. The lake was gorgeous, reminded us so much of Uncle Ross's place on Kootenay Lake in British Columbia. Yesterday's ride through eastern Washington was supposed to be a desert, but our route followed green fields and wooded hillsides, just like today.

Ants in my pants! The "behind a bush" roadside bathroom facilities leave something to be desired! Spent the night in a hostel on a ranch. It was a nice little cabin surrounded by lots of farm animals. We walked around with a cyclist, Ed, who had been a bike messenger in San Francisco who was staying in the next cabin. A colt had been born that morning; He was learning to nurse. Pigs roamed free, came right up to nuzzle around the bike, so we brought everything into the cabin. I HAD TO SWAT ONE OF THE PIGS IN THE SNOUT TO KEEP IT OUT OF A PANNIER, BUT IT DIDN'T SEEM TO CARE.

Rabbits, goat, sheep, peacocks, miniature, and full size horses, cows, cats, dogs, some putting on a show by fighting. I saw a new type of blue bird, very bright, light blue with no orange breast. They flitted from post to post to welcome us down the driveway...shades of Walt Disney!

We saw signs in store windows and in yards saying "We support." or "This family supported by the timber industry."

Week One Total Miles: 503

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