Category Archives: geocaching

Geobiking Philly to DC

The excitement of visiting colleges with my daughter, her applying to the short list, and waiting on the results has is over and I’m seriously craving a week unplugged from work.   I’ll be taking an organized ride in October from Philadelphia to Washington, DC.  Since these trips are as much about seeing different things as the Zen of cycling, I’ll also be stopping for geocaches (and other site seeing) along the way.   And maybe butterscotch Tastycakes, Cheeseteaks and those legendary tomatoes I’ve heard about.

I spent a good evening wondering if there was an efficient way to generate a “Find caches along a bike route.”   Having plotted the estimated route with Google Maps, using its delightful Bicycle Routing option, I had a rough idea where I’d be visiting:

Google Map version
Google Map version

I was hoping to use this to guide me with’s “Find Caches Along A Route” tool.  For trips in the west (like this), the tool plus clever battle-shipping of pocket queries has been good enough.  On the east coast, the tool’s auto-routing via turnpike or Interstate (but not, say, the C+O Towpath) makes it cumbersome.  Even trying to force it (the two circles) is futile:

The tool really, really wants to stick to turnpikes and interstates.
The tool really, really wants to stick to turnpikes and interstates.

It’s really bad on the leg from Harper’s Ferry to Washington, DC — I could not get it to recognize the C+O Towpath because, look, there’s a huge interstate!

A coworker reminded me of the Map My Ride tool, which is really well-engineered for generating bike routes.  What it offers above that, though, is the option of exporting said route to a KML (used in Google Earth) or GPX (used in Garmin GPS) file.  I built this:

Map My Ride works supremely well. It's built for this sort of endeavor.
Map My Ride works supremely well. It’s built for this sort of endeavor.

Trying to generate a set of geocaches from this was pretty involved.  Google Earth’s user interface confounds me.  (I find I’m shouting at it: stop. moving.)  Garmin Basecamp is a promising candidate, but didn’t seem to work with so many points.  Project-GC, which has completely upped the bar on geocaching stats, only does a point-to-point route with no fiddling.  I’d have to generate eight separate groups.

Project-GC is sooooo close to what I want.
Project-GC is sooooo close to what I want.  It just lacks multiple points, and the option to reroute.

I settled on this GSAK macro.  When fed an al dente KML file, it merrily generates bounding rectangles within ~1 mile (changeable) of the route. Next, I let GSAK fire off a bunch (120!) API calls of caches within each little box. It finished before I brought the takeout home.

Polygon-ized routing
Polygon-ized routing

Next steps are to whittle down the list of 1600+ caches to a reasonable number – focusing on the non-traditional or well-favorited.  I have already started solving a crap-ton of puzzles at each endpoint, Just In Case I’ll be riding over one.  Of course, since geocaching is also about numbers, I’m trying to figure out a scheme to make a side trip into Delaware (via train ride back?) or New Jersey (perhaps simply crossing the bridge from Philly) so I can say I have cached in both of those states.

Downtown Philadelphia
Downtown Philadelphia: Visiting in October.

Just skimming through the route, the two parts I’m most eagerly anticipating are the ride through Gettysburg — I last visited in 2008, astounded by the enormity of the place — and the ride along the Potomac from Harper’s Ferry to Washington, DC.

Removing Scratches from a Garmin GPSMAP 64s screen

A year+ of hiking has wrought havoc on the screen of my Garmin GPSMAP 64 screen in the form of numerous scratches from the unit rolling 70 feet down Rattlesnake Ridge viewpoint (when the carabiner prematurely unclicked) and rubbing up against several rock faces as I scooted along a narrow ledge to get to some insane geocache.  By last week, it was seriously hard to read:

Scratched Garmin Screen
Scratched Garmin Screen

Garmin offers an out-of-warranty repair for $99 (and three weeks), but since this is largely external damage, I looked into options for replacement glass.  The only one I’ve found was some dude in the Russian Federation offering one for $32 and six weeks.  Before I tried that, I considered some other options:

Toothpaste – this made no difference, but my GPS briefly had a minty-fresh smell to it.

Brasso – This removed the minty-fresh smell and replaced it with a petroleum distillate smell.  The screen seemed slightly shinier, but the scratches continued to mock me.

Headlight restoration kit – for about $12 (Amazon Gold Box), the kits include a spindly thing that fit in a drill, three grades of sandpaper and some polish.  This worked better.

Step 1: Disassemble the GPS.  There are six 1.3mm Torx screws on the back.

Disassemble the GPS.  There are six 1.3mm hex screws on the back.
Hex screws exposed.

Step 2: Gently pry the two sections apart a tiny bit.  The screen and antenna assembly (bottom) are just sitting on the case.  You’ll need to pry up the bottom, then slide it to the right so the antenna comes out of its shell.  You can then leave everything else connected to the “bottom” of the case.

Innards.  The front of the GPS is facing down.

The combination will look like this:

Sensitive electronics

Put this part in a dry place.  Now with the plastic shell, push the keyboard membrane until the whole thing pops out:

Pop out the rubber keyboard membrane.
Pop out the rubber keyboard membrane.

There are a lot of scratches on this screen!

Scratched screen
Scratched screen

Since I was going off the headlight kit directions, I taped off the other plastic bits of the case.  In retrospect, I don’t think this was particularly necessary since the screen juts out just a little bit higher.

Taping off the case bits
Taping off the case bits

Step 3: To the extent you can, clamp the GPS body to something that’s going to hold it firm, because you’ll want both hands to control the spinney motion of the drill.

Step 4: Dab some water on the pad/GPS.  Using the 800 grit sandpaper (the coarsest), sand the screen.  You’re going to feel bad about doing this, but it’ll get prettier.

Dab some water on the screen and sand.  You'll want to keep the screen wet throughout.
Dab some water on the screen and sand. You’ll want to keep the screen wet throughout.

As you sand, the screen is going to get a little goopy.  That’s okay.  Just keep adding water occasionally and sanding as evenly as you can.

Step 5: Switch out the 800 grit sandpaper for the 1500 grit sandpaper.  On the Goldilocks scale, this is “mama sandpaper,” not as gritty as the 800.  Repeat keeping things wet and sanding as evenly as you can.

Clamped in case after step #2
Clamped in case after step #2

This was the stage where I decided the masking tape probably wasn’t necessary, because guess what gets gradually sanded off?

Step 6: Rinse everything off and inspect.  The glass may be a little hazy.  If you see signs of the original scratches, repeat the two previous sanding steps again.

Step 7: Rinse everything off and swap the 1500 grit for the 2000 grit pad.  Repeat.  The more time you spend using 2000 grit, the better the results will be.

Step 8: Dry the screen well.  The headlight kit came with some goo that you dab onto the cloth pad and use to polish the screen.  You’ll want to keep it moist.  Also plan to spend a lot of time on this step.

Step 9: Rinse and inspect.  If everything looks great, remove the tape, clean both sides of the screen with Windex and reassemble the GPS.  If the screen isn’t clear, you will want to polish it some more.

Step 10: Dry and clean.  Assemble the GPS and test.


What can go wrong:

  1. You still have scratches: start the sanding process over with the 800 grit paper.
  2. Screen is hazy: Try polishing more with the 2000 grit.  If that’s not doing it, back down to 1500 a little bit, then go back to 2000.  Again, the super fine 2000 grit should make it look beautiful.
  3. There is a round spot in the middle: This can be caused by uneven pressure applied by the drill spinner thingie.  Your options are to either live with it — which is fine if it’s subtle — or get a block sander, the 800 grit and try to smooth it out.
  4. The case doesn’t go back together: It’s hard to see in the photos, but there is a rubber gasket that goes around the perimeter of the case.  Remove the six Torx screws, gently open the case, and reseat the gasket into the detente.

50k elevation challenge

After 3 3/4 years, I finally completed the 50k elevation challenge (for geocaching) in October with my friend Jes.

Spoiler alert: Victory!

I logged far more than than 50k of elevation over the period, but the challenge had so many rules that many of my hikes didn’t count.  In fact, for a while I had kind of given up even tracking gain.  I was tantalizingly close after a huge boost in July from Cycle Canada but resigned to completing the official challenge in 2015.  In September, Jes mentioned that she wanted to go to Mailbox Peak, and let me tag along.  The elevation gain (>4000′) put us both over the cutoff.  On that trip, we schemed on how we might finish it off while not completely incurring the wrath of our respective spouses.

Checking the mail at Mailbox Peak
Checking the mail at Mailbox Peak.  I would completely destroy those shorts on the way down.

Armed with the three rules (credit to my soon-to-be-ex-coworker Ronni):

  1. Remain friends
  2. Don’t get hurt
  3. Have fun
Geocache hint: Under a pile of rocks.


Oh Dark 30
Oh Dark 30.  Oh, so dark.

So at oh-dark-thirty, we arrived at the Mt Si trailhead to see four other cars in the abject darkness. Thanks to improved stamina, the hike up to SiHi went very quickly and felt far less strenuous than Mailbox Peak did a few weeks earlier. After Haystack, we were in find-or-bust mode for the 50k, zig-zagging up a vein on the side of the mountain.

Jes made the find of the cache.  Once the log was signed, we broke out the ceremonial cupcakes and sandwiches hauled up the mountain as our reward.

Lemon, Espresso, Pumpkin Spice


Roast beef, provolone, heirloom tomato and avocado.

Now as most of you know, when you do a hike like this on a cool/windy day, and you stop actually climbing, you get quite cold. That’s pretty much what happened to us. With half-sandwiches in hand, we set out to the east to the next set of caches. This was an adventure as the BirdsEye imagery supplied by Garmin seemed like BirdsCrap. There was bushwhacking. Lots of bushwhacking. However, in looking back at the tracks, I still think it took about 40% of the time than it would have to find the trail we came in on and circle back.

Once on “Unmarked road”, we headed east with the intent of getting to the top of Teneriffe and returning west to the caches we passed.  About halfway, we heard intermittent rumbling of thunder. Then it completely opened up. We were huddled under trees for a while when Jes spotted an oasis – a small shelter made for the trailworkers’ stuff.  We stood under that for a while.


Despite my poker face, I was pretty cold and wet, starting to shiver while standing around watching the weather.  Self-preservation overcame social awkwardness and I lifted up the tarp and suggested we hang out inside for a little while.  Being dry gave me a chance to rifle through my backpack for the pair of mylar blankets I tossed in the night before.  We each huddled under one.  When the rain subsided, they were stuffed into the jacket as an extra layer of insulation.  The crinkling noise was obnoxious, but being warm was nice.

Can’t hear you, crinkling.


Resigned that goal 2 (Teneriffe) was a dicey proposition — altitude + bad weather — we headed back west for the caches we’d skipped over.  Three DNFs in a row due to trail work.  As appetite returned, Jes served up a lovely pasta salad made with roasted pine nuts.

pastasaladWe headed down the zig-zag until the cross-trail to Kamikaze Falls.

On the way to Kamikaze Falls. Daylight, schmaylight.

With 90 minutes until official sunset, we hoped we might be able to get the trio of caches at Kamikaze Falls. Once at the falls, we had 40 minutes on the clock, but the sun was definitely below the mountain line and it getting dark fast. We punted on the other two caches because one of them felt rather insanely dangerous with the conditions (tired hikers, rain, dark) and turned around. That takes a lot of willpower when a cache is so dangerously close.  The falls were very nice, though:

Kamikaze Falls with about 2 minutes of daylight remaining.


It was probably a good thing we left when we did because the trail looked completely different at night, what bits we could see.  We just sort of plodded west, climbing over things along the way, until the trail got less minor.

Daytime version of the trail

The thunder returned, as did the rain.  Being under the tree canopy tempered the effect until we got back to the main trail.  There, it was pouring enough that pools of water were collecting in the horse tracks, which made for slower going downhill.

Close to the bottom, we were debating whether to take the “closer” trip that would bring us to a main road, then walk back along that a mile to the car, or power through the paths leading us to parking.  I suggested the latter simply because we’d been out for over twelve hours and I was tired.

This section of trails was in good condition.  As we continued, we saw an occasional reflective tack from a night cache in the area.  The thunder subsided enough for us to hear owls in the trees above.  It was pretty cool.

Nearly 14 hours and 16 miles after we started, we were back at the car.  This was the longest hike either of us had done.  Jes’ fitbit claimed it was 45,000 steps.


Cycle Canada – Icefields Parkway Part 2

(Continued from part 1.)

Day 5 was a rest day in Jasper.  Unlike Day 2, when I really wanted a rest day, I was feeling well enough that I would have preferred continuing.  On the other hand, I seriously enjoyed the slow, sit-down meals where I wasn’t swatting mosquitos off my legs.  I wandered around town, avoiding the anchovy-loving pizza bears.

Bears love pizza, too.
Anchovies: pizza topping or bear attractant?

Jasper is a stop for the Via Rail route between Kamloops and Edmonton, alternating between insanely busy with the flow of passengers stretching their legs and “small town.”

Day 6: Jasper, AB to Wilcox Creek Campground:

Jasper to Wilcox Creek
Jasper to Wilcox Creek

Another rider wanted to see what this geocaching thing was about and, despite gentle suggestions that I ride pretty slow and stop a lot, was undeterred.  The plan for the day went slightly awry when, immersed in conversation, we had missed the turn onto the more scenic, less trafficked spur of Highway 93.


We realized the error when we hadn’t been passed by the speedy riders within the first hour.  The maps supplied by Cycle Canada would have a lot of missing important detail.

Roughing it, Carson-style.
Roughing it, Carson-style.

The first stop of the day was an earthcache at Mistaya Falls.  Nearby was a magnetic container attached on the bottom of one of the interpretive signs.  It was so fun watching the look on my friend’s face when she reached under and felt the container.  It remains geeky, of course.

Mistaya Falls
Mistaya Falls

Later down the road, we stopped off at another earthcache that required a moderate hike to its vantage point.  We parked the bikes behind a tree, took our valuables and hiked down the rocky trail to more spectacular views to gather the required information.   Within minutes of snapping this photo:

Cue the ominous background music…

two other park visitors came over, exclaiming “Oh, you’re the cyclists.”   Umm…

While our bikes were parked, the local gangland crows had pried open our handlebar bags to loot the contents of anything edible.  They were after foodstuffs, such as the fresh-baked cookie I was saving for the top of the climb up the Columbia Ice Fields later.   Inedibles with no market value on the crow-equivalent of eBay were dropped onto the ground.

Crow escaping with the last Clif ShotBlok
Asshole Crow.

The map had warned us of 12-14% grades.  It was certainly a steep, long grind, made less enjoyable by buses of tourists being taken to the overhang.  The worst part, though, was on the flats, where the wind was turning me into a weather vane.  But I got some photos.

Possibly  Boundary Peak
Possibly Boundary Peak
Lot of recession

Once past this, there was diversion up a narrow, winding road to Wilcox Creek, our campground.  The view was fantastic:

Wilcox Creek Campground, AB Elevation ~6800′

… but there was no opportunity to clean up after a long ride.  I’m pretty sure I went to bed around 8pm.

Day 7: Wilcox Creek to Lake Louise:

Wilcox Creek to Lake Louise
Wilcox Creek to Lake Louise.  Wheeeee!

I woke up to 34 degrees and was moving very slowly. Once we hit Sunwapta Pass (actually a descent from camp), there would be a steep drop for the next 30 miles.  Despite packing nearly everything else I’d need, I left the full-fingered gloves in the back of my car.  The only remedy I could concoct was using a pair of latex disposable gloves (kept for tire changes).  Once at the bottom, the sun was finally above the mountains.

Serpentine curves coming down from Sunwapta Pass
Serpentine curves coming down from Sunwapta Pass = Glorious

I rode alone for most of the day, stopping at the occasional geological oddity of the “Weeping Wall.”  (GC2FME0).

“Cirrus Mountain wraps around the Huntington Glacier that lies to the southeast of the highest peak. As the glacier melts, much of the water is prevented from escaping by the topmost rock of the mountain. With nowhere else to go, the water seeps down through the more permeable shale and limestone. It travels through various channels within the rock itself and eventually emerges from the side of the rock face.  In the summer and fall, one can see a steady trickle of water from dozens of cracks in the wall. In the springtime, the flow increases significantly as the increased glacier run-off drives more water through the wall; for this wall, the peak water flow appears around June. And in the winter, the streams freeze into a sheer ice wall, creating one of the world’s leading ice-climbing surfaces.”

I'm pretty cold pondering the earthcache.
I’m pretty cold pondering the earthcache with, possibly, ice crystals forming on my gray stubble.

This was a very enjoyable day of riding as it warmed to 15C and was sunny.  Inspired by completing the second highest ascent of the trip, I continued further up towards another earth cache overlooking the turquoise Peyto Lake.

Bow Summit, looking down on Peyto Lake (GC32FFX)
Bow Summit, looking down on Peyto Lake (GC32FFX)

Yep, this was a nice day.

Moseying along to Lake Louise
Moseying along to Lake Louise

Once in Lake Louise, I struggled to find the missed turn to camp.  A clue was a verbal description of something known as a Texas Grate:

Texas Grate

… which are used to dissuade wildlife (bears, elk and moose) and cyclists.  For cyclists, there are fenced off sections with double-doors.  I wish I got a photo of those because it’s surreal being imprisoned in the wild.

Camp was mentioned as being “bear proofed” as it’s surrounded by more Texas grates and electrified fences.

Electrified fences complement the Texas grates surrounding the campground.
Electrified fences complement the Texas grates surrounding the campground.

Day 8: Lake Louise to Banff:

Lake Louise to Banff
Lake Louise to Banff

After two strenuous days, we were offered a comparatively short day between Lake Louise and Banff.   So I took side trips.  After heading out of camp, I rode up to Lake Louise proper to do some geocaching and get some post card shots.  Yep.


My geocaching friend Cliff (aka crs98) had a third earthcache where one estimates the volume of talus deposited during the walk from the parking lot to the lake.  I tried to do the hike (replete in bike cleats) relatively quickly as tourists buses were beginning to stream in.

On the walk back to the bike, I was musing about hearing that Lake Louise is the uglier sister to Moraine Lake.  I toyed with visiting the second one until I saw the 11% grade on top of what I’d already done.   I headed downhill, and continued along the route, picking up an occasional geocache.  One of the more (cough) interesting experiences was a cache deep in the woods.  I leaned my bike up against a tree and walked down to ground zero.  As I was looking for the container, I heard (but did not see) the distinct rumbling of something I didn’t want to encounter in the woods wearing only bike cleats.

I was pretty quick to leave.  A mere quarter mile down the road was the baby version of what I’d heard.

A brown bear
A brown bear: completely uninterested in my DNF story

Not having to worry about a long day presented me with the opportunity to push harder and keep up with a group or riders who’d been faster than me.  This, in turn, was a chance to talk honestly with some other folks about what was good and bad about the ride.  These folks overwhelmingly thought that while the scenery was top-notch, the level of service provided for the fee was lacking.  (This is something I will ponder later.)



Day 9: Banff to Calgary:

Banff to Calgary Airport
Banff to Calgary Airport.  That rise at mile 65 was painful.

The trip sheet provided by the Cycle Canada folks for the last segment was a byzantine combination of turns, prose and small fonts intended to get to the University of Calgary, where we’d spend the last night before parting ways. Because the map was apparently created pre-floods, Paul (the owner) was going to apply race arrows along the way for corrections.  (These are thin sheets used on events.  They decompose naturally, avoiding the need to pick them up later.)  Fortunately, I was heading to the Calgary airport to pick up my car.  Garmin’s autoroute had a cycling option that kept me off really nasty roads.

Starting off the day, I packed my geological sandwich:

Mt. Rundle - a geological sandwich.  Crunchy dolomite with delicious nougat.
Mt. Rundle – a geological sandwich. Crunchy dolomite with delicious limestone nougat.

visited the hoodoos:

Hoodoos in Alberta!
Hoodoos in Alberta!

Reflected at the Castle Mountain Internment Camp memorial how I wish the US wasn’t so filled with blowhard assholes that we would apologize for and learn from the bad things we’ve done.  Those interned built these roads I rode on today.

Ukranian Internment Camp memorial
Castle Mountain Internment Camp during WWI where immigrants, mostly of Ukranian origin, were imprisoned as enemy aliens.  Plaque is in memory of those held between 1915-07-14 and 1917-07-15.
McDougall Church, Morley, AB.  Built in 1875 to establish a more permanent relationship with the Blackfoot Nation.

Then, finally, after biking through what seemed like Houston (hot, humid, flat), I crossed into Calgary proper.  Wohoo – my longest ride ever, with mountains, rivers, glaciers, talus, and more.

Calgary Sewer Cover art
Calgary Sewer Cover art
Otafest - University of Calgary
Otafest – University of Calgary

I split up the long drive back by spending the night in Waterton Lakes National Park.  I wanted to visit it for a while, but couldn’t make it out last year when I was going through Glacier.

Mt. Blackiston
Mt. Blakiston, named after Lieutenant Thomas Blakiston, who first explored the area.


Red Canyon
Red Canyon – Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta


This was the smallest group event (18 people, 8 of whom started from Vancouver) and longest (10 days, 582 miles) I’ve done and definitely “no frills.”   Their welcome packet was pretty thorough in describing the level of fitness, suggested training regimen, type of bike you’d want to bring, and what was not included:

  • Getting to the start and from the final points.  The option I eventually came up with was: drive to Kamloops, drop off camping gear; drive to Calgary, drop off the car at the airport; fly back to Kamloops; bike to Calgary Airport; drive home.  While the road trip was awesome and bolstered my caching count, I probably should have paid to fly in and out.
  • Lunch and water stops.  We were welcome to take extra breakfast stuff (PB&J, bananas, gorp) to tide us over or we found a store where we could buy something.  I estimated that I spent about CDN$40 each day for sundries – beef jerky, fruit, water and, in Valemont, an iced espresso.
  • Sag wagon.  Despite this, there was a couple who had not trained for the ride and, not surprisingly, were barely making it into camp before sunset, sometimes worrying Paul (the owner) enough that he’d try to pick them up, at the inconvenience of everyone else.

One really nice aspect of this trip was having an opportunity to talk with everyone.  Everybody is from somewhere else and has an interesting story.  The number of retirees doing this tour as a warm up for something longer gives me hope that my kids’ post-college years will let me do some more of this, maybe even convincing my wife to join.

Having also ridden Cycle Oregon, Ride Idaho, RAPSODY, Cycle Pendleton and Ride Around Washington, I thought it’d be useful to spell out the pluses and minuses.  With all of these events, the minimum is a planned camping spot, truck to schlep your stuff to the next stop, breakfast (cereal, fruit, maybe oatmeal) and a hot dinner.  Anything less than that I’d consider to be a “self-contained” tour.

For an event with 200 people (e.g., Cycle Pendleton, RAPSODY), you get a lunch stop during the day, at least one mid-day stop with toilets, and a couple of sag vehicles.  They’ll usually have shower trucks (a nice luxury) or access to a high school with warm-ish water.

At around 300 people (RAW, Ride Idaho), the camp can support vendors offering massage (typically $75/h), bike parts, and local entertainment.  There is usually voluntary participation of ham radio operators for coordination. A crew will typically go out in the morning to place directional signs for the next day.  On layover days, there are enough people to organize formal outings.  For example, Ride Idaho had excursions to the Route of the Hiawatha.  An interesting thing Ride Idaho did was give out vouchers usable in any restaurant in the layover town (Sandpoint, ID and Wallace, MT).  This was a nice way to lure us into exploring the town.

Larger rides like Cycle Oregon (~2500) are a moving city, trucking water, sewage, food where it needs to go (which is important for visiting a town with a population of 200).  Food/potty/water stops every 12-15 miles, full lunch (with entertainment), sag wagons, and a police presence (typically a few motorcycle officers who ride up and down the route).  There is often a tie-in with local groups to offer a paid, “tent sherpa” service where they set up everything for you.


Cycle Canada: Icefields Parkway – Part 1

Lake Louise, AB
Lake Louise, AB

Cycle Canada – Icefields Parkway trip summary: 9 days, 582 miles, 26k elevation gain, 95 geocaches and a hundred insect bites.

Back in the darkest weeks of December, while visiting my parents in the Houston area, I was hunkered down on the couch, enjoying an escape (summer) fantasy with a copy of Adventure Cycling’s smörgåsbord of 2014 rides.  While I’d love to do the six week ride down the Pacific Coast (or even a snippet, like the Pacific Coast Central), I couldn’t swing the time away.

My ideal ride would have:

  • Scenery.
  • 5-8 days of riding — I am limited by vacation time and the munificence of my lovely and erudite spouse.
  • An average daily distance of at least 50 miles — if I’m going to sunscreen, sully a pair of bib shorts, and become an expert in erecting my tent, it’s not going to be for 30-mile days.
  • Camping — to keep the cost down.
  • Someone to schlep my camping stuff between campsites

… which pretty much describes the events I’ve done in the past: two tours with Ride Around Washington (along the peninsula, down the center of the state), three with Cycle Oregon (this, this and this), and, last year, Ride Idaho.  These were all fantastic, but I wanted to see some different scenery.

I broke out a map and outlined routes that I would like to ride sometime (and the rough order):

  • Santa Fe, NM to Boulder, CO — Adventure Cycling offered this route a couple of years ago, when I was having body parts removed and couldn’t train.  I couldn’t find an equivalent tour option for this year.  But next time, oh baby, I’m all over it.
  • Pacific Coast from Eugene, OR to San Francisco, CA – there were a couple of options, but the trip time was on the order of 15 days.
  • The Icefields Parkway (Jasper, AB to Banff, AB) – Cycle America has a future ride extending to Waterton Lakes, which was perfect, but their schedule was TBA.  Cycle Canada had a Vancouver, BC to Calgary, AB. Diving into the fine print, I saw they offered a shorter version from Kamloops to Calgary
  • Missoula, MT to Jackson, WY – Cycle America has this as part of their cross-country route.  Cycle Greater Yellowstone also offers trips skirting around Grand Teton and Yellowstone, but a sucky cancellation policy.

After searching until smoke came out of my ears (not very long), I opted to try Cycle Canada’s shorter version, Kamloops, BC to Calgary, AB.

A July ride would be the earliest I’ve ever done one of these things.  Thus, I was keen to try to get out when I could.  With short winter days and sucky weather, I stuck to 8 to 15-mile hikes on Tiger Mountain, one of the hillier areas.   My FitBit was happy-vibrating.

A typical round-trip commute.  Because of various construction projects (e.g., Elliott Bay Seawall), I try to avoid the ferry area in the morning by looping through Capitol Hill.
A typical round-trip commute. Because of various construction projects (e.g., Elliott Bay Seawall), I try to avoid the ferry area in the morning by looping through Capitol Hill.

The bulk of my training came in May, during the Bike to Work commuter challenge.  The rare opportunity to successfully compete against the 20-somethings kept me on the bike a lot.  The nearly 500 miles of commuting included a healthy amount of hill-climbing.  What it lacked, though, was riding in hot weather.  In most years, I get some of that during the Century Ride of the Centuries.  Not this year.

So, physically, I went into it feeling pretty confident.

So meanwhile, I was trying to figure out my travel situation.  It’s a real comedy of transportation.  WIth patience, I could take a train (with a bike on it) from Seattle to Vancouver to Kamloops, but getting back from Calgary would require either going to Edmonton or flying.

Day 1: Kamloops, BC to Clearwater:

Kamloops, BC to Clearwater

I had my usual first-day-of-the-ride jitters: it was Canada Day, I didn’t sleep well the night before (unrelated to Canada Day!), I met a bunch of people, most of whom had ridden together since Vancouver, but whose names it would take me another five days to remember.  This was also the longest, hottest ride I’ve done since Ride Idaho.  On the plus side, I found geocache puzzle that had gone nearly three years since its last visit.  I also perfected my dorky look with a Da Brim to keep the sun off my nose and ears.

Dorky, yet comfortable and practical.
Dorky, yet comfortable and practical.

Nearly a month later, I’m not sure if my scant photos on this segment were due to the near-constant torrent of traffic on this moderately-busy highway or it being comparatively un-scenic.  Like most days, I rode by myself.

Okay, it wasn't that bad.
Okay, it wasn’t that bad.

Where opportunities presented themselves, I pulled over to check out interpretive signs.  The Overlanders route of 1862 still shows signs of the McClure Fires of 2003.  Our campground was nice and, surprisingly, offered free wi-fi.

McClure fires of 2003.
McClure fires of 2003.

Day 2: Clearwater to Blue River: 

Clearwater to Blue River
Clearwater to Blue River

My general lack of recent experience riding in the heat made this the most challenging segment of the whole trip.  The moderate hill near mile 55 was comparable to what I do to and from work, but hitting it during the peak afternoon heat (36C/97F) left me light-headed.  At the summit rest stop, I sat on a retaining wall staring at an interpretive sign, sucking down the remaining water I had.

I don't smile much.
Light-headed, but trying to mentally convert meters to feet.

Because our maps were lacking detail (like elevation gain), I assumed the “hill warning” meant another 1,000′ before I got to camp.  I grabbed the nearby geocache then lollygagged for another 40 minutes until my stupor abated.  The post-summit plunge was nice, tempered by the warped mental dread of having to make up the elevation.

As it turned out, camp was pretty soon thereafter.  With the primary group space full, I was relegated to an area behind the office, where the septic technicians were doing battle with effluent.  They didn’t seem to mind the stinky cyclist setting up a tent nearby!  The best part about being over here was sharing a spot with Mario and Shelly, a fantastically nice couple who had done the ride before.

Like napalm in the afternoon -- the cyclist odor.
Like napalm in the afternoon — the cyclist odor.

After getting the tent set up — more or less — I plugged my phone into the solar charger and sauntered over to the well-equipped camp office for a Popsicle.

On these trips, the ritual becomes:

  • Find a camping spot
  • Set up the tent/cot/etc
  • Clean out water bottles and fill them for the next day
  • Do any necessary bike maintenance (like rinsing off the sports drink blowby, oil chain)
  • Shower
  • Text significant others
  • Eat
  • Sleep
  • Un-set up tent/cot/etc
  • Ride


Day 3: Blue River to Tete Jaune Cache:

Blue River to Tete Jaune Cache
Blue River to Tete Jaune Cache

This was a great route.  The morning began with this roadside display:

Would you like coffee?
Hi, there’s a geocache in my … (do you really need to ask?)

I finally saw a glacier:

Athabascar glacier
Athabascar glacier

Took a 2km side trip off-route to completely enjoy a real lunch with iced coffee:

Photo by Shelly Huisken
Photo by Shelly Huisken

Check out this old Studebaker:

1926 Studebaker meets 2006 Cannondale
1926 Studebaker meets 2006 Cannondale

and crossed this bridge into camp:

Old bridge crossing the Fraser river
Old bridge crossing the Fraser river

where my tent site was 20 feet from the mighty Fraser River.  And I had enough energy to do laundry (yay, clean clothes!)

Day 4: Tete Jaune Cache to Jasper, AB:

Tete Jaune Cache, BC to Jasper, AB
Tete Jaune Cache, BC to Jasper, AB

If you’re ever going to bike over the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains, Highway 16 is the easiest way to do it.  After a healthy climb in the morning (and cooler weather!), I stealthily rode past the summit-munching ram of Mount Robson Park:

All Hail the Mountain Eating Ram
All Hail the Mountain Eating Ram

followed the Fraser River around to Moose Lake,

Moose Lake
Moose Lake.  Hey, I’m smiling?  Let’s retake the photo, okay?

Crested Yellowhead Pass:

Yellowhead summit
Yellowhead Pass – the leg with the compression sock is in Alberta, the other in BC!

And enjoyed the rolling hills into Jasper until I saw Tourists Behaving Badly.  In the center of this photo:

Stupid tourists
A bear! Let’s drive like idiots and endanger ourselves, too!

you may notice a black blob.  That is a black bear.  You’ll also notice the motorcyclist is on the wrong side of the road with the Hyundai in close pursuit.    The poor bear just wants to get some berries, take a morning dump, and move on.  A day later, we saw a bigger group where a lady with one of those selfie extenders for the phone was trying to coax the bear out for a better photo.   Two days later, we observed a car do a rapid 180-degree turn in front of a pair of racers, drive half a mile in the wrong lane, then suddenly stop to photo an elk.  The racers cornered the driver and shared some reality.

Ride Idaho 2013

What I think about when I am having a bad day at work…

In the dark world the natives call “January in Seattle,” I was pining for a week-long bike ride as a “carrot” to entice myself to get back to riding.  I’ve covered a lot of great spots in Washington, but was looking for something different.  That something different – but not too different – was Ride Idaho.  For reasons I blame squarely on Ted, I keep mentally thinking of it as Ridaho, and may occasionally lapse into typing it that way, deliberately or otherwise.

Ahem.  For their tenth anniversary, the basic route was thus:

Ride Idaho 2013 - basic route
Ride Idaho 2013 – basic route

So not only would I get my momentary dip o’ the wheel into Montana’s Big Sky Country, the ride had proximity to water.  Since May Day, my training was primarily the Bike to Work Commuter Challenge and my Memorial Weekend treat, Century Ride of the Centuries.  My overall fitness level was pretty good going into the ride, though I hadn’t done any really long weekend rides or sweltering heat training.

Day 0: Arrive in Coeur d’Alene, ID – Having driven I-90 to Spokane in April, I was eager to explore Highway 2 and some of the geological awesomeness (earth caches) it has to offer.  Highway 2 is indeed pretty, though random slowdowns as it ekes through a “blink and you’ll miss it” town can get to be a bit annoying.  On the other hand, it does afford one unusual opportunities.  For example, in Waterville, the road was blocked off while a truck was moving a bridge span through.  Watching real engineering is awesome.

I love the elation on the dog's face.
I love this dog.  Riverstone Development, Coeur d’Alene, ID

I arrived in Coeur d’Alene around 4pm, wandered around looking for the place to check in.  Ride Idaho’s web site was pretty clear that they weren’t providing supper, but they didn’t have any suggestions on where to eat (that I saw).  Once I got my tent set up, I went on a solo bike quest for a burrito.  With no plan, I was reliant on my Garmin’s faux database leading me to a convenience store.  (“Oh, you didn’t say good burritos”).  As we were ostensibly going to have a “rider orientation” at 7pm, dinner of champions consisted of the more benign foodstuffs available: Fig Newtons, Pringles and a quart of milk.

Looks kind of like Pendleton.
And that road was smooth with large expanses and scant traffic.

Day 1: Coeur d’Alene to Sandpoint, ID – The excitement of the first day means I have never been able to sleep very well on the zeroeth night.  (Conversely, once the all day riding begins, I have no problem whatsoever sleeping.)  I awoke at dawn, slathered sunscreen on everything likely to be exposed and packed up my camping stuff.  It was still a little early for breakfast, so I offloaded some “I can’t believe I packed this” items to my car.  When the doors of the restaurant catering breakfast opened, the locusts descended upon the beige-colored carbohydrates.  Post-digestion happened, then I was finally on the road.

US 95 causeway into Sandpoint
US 95 causeway into Sandpoint: half of the road is for pedestrian and cycling use.  It’s a beautiful thing.

The city of Sandpoint had given us a waiver to camp at the non-campable City Beach park with the proviso that we were not to set up tents until 5pm (lest we completely dominate the park and piss off the residents – which would be bad).  I was riding at a very comfortable pace, even stopping for geocaches along the causeway, but still arrived in town at 1pm.  I spent the next four hours cyclecaching and enjoying an iced mocha, sandwich and the last fast wi-fi I’d have during the trip.

Sandpoint’s City Park was worth the wait.  We’d be staying here two nights.

Sandpoint City Beach Park.  Ignore those ominous clouds.

Day 2: Layover in Sandpoint – One novel aspect of Ride Idaho was they didn’t have a catering truck stalking us.  Breakfasts were provided by a nearby restaurant and sack lunches provided in camp.  For dinners, we were given vouchers to spend in town.  I liked this a lot since it meant I could eat earlier and without crowds.

Among the activities were two optional loops, up Schweitzer Mountain or a loop around Bottle Bay.   I was leaning towards the latter as the Bird Museum sounded pretty cool and I had already compulsively solved every Sandpoint area puzzle in anticipation of this route.  More importantly, I didn’t want to be doing a mountain climb the day before a 90+ mile ride.  But… there was a snafu with the Road Arrows switching colors.  Several of us ended up not realizing this until later.  As would be the case throughout the week, the other riders were so ultra-friendly that rather than turning around, I was enjoying talking with someone as we climb, climb, climbed.

Almost at the top.
Almost at the top.  (Why, yes, I have lost some weight.  Thanks for noticing.)

The views at the tippy top weren’t really that great because of all the resort home building out that’s been done.  However, 500′ lower was this gorgeous vantage:

Schweitzer view, about 20% below the top
Schweitzer view, about 20% below the top

I was feeling pretty good after all the hills, but not so good that I’d undertake the second loop so late in the heat of the afternoon.  I went back to camp for a swim in the water.

Day 3: Sandpoint to Thompson Falls, MT, 87 miles.  Because I had some concerns about my ability to do the ride in a respectable time with the anticipated temperatures hitting the upper 90s, I was very vigilant about sunscreen and hydration, but was still surprised when I consumed about 250 ounces of liquids during the ride.  Stopping for geocaches prolonged the route.

On the way to GC5D6.  Even when biking, I like my data feeds.

But there’s history to be learned, too.

Kullyspell House

I was doing pretty good with these before the route had diverted off Highway 200 to very quiet roads.   Then we crossed over into Montana, where the dirt roads were much better than the paved ones (at least on this stretch of highway).  Scenery made up for it.

But at least it's pretty
But at least it’s pretty

I got into Thompson Falls around 3:30 pm, giving me enough time for a shower and to find a post-ride massage.  After grabbing a plate-ful of dinner, I went for a walk around town.  The best view was on the Island Park, which overlooked Thompson Falls dam and the spillway.

Thompson Falls Dam, as seen from Island Park
Thompson Falls Dam, as seen from Island Park

Further off the beaten path was a cache calling attention to a marker for someone who’d gotten too close to the edge.  Views like this were mine to savor.


Day 4: Thompson Falls, MT to Wallace, ID (76 miles) – Since this is Ride Idaho, we headed back into the state to the town of Wallace via a mountain pass.  This we’tlander was perfectly fine with doing it in the morning.  An interesting earthcache called attention to the fugliness left behind by dredging work done nearly a hundred years ago in an effort to find gold.   The rest of the afternoon would follow the paved forest roads along the Coeur d’Alene river.

Wallace has a curious personality, vying for self-proclaimed center of the universe status with Fremont.  Whereas Fremont has Lenin, Wallace has the Chef.

The chef at the Center of the Universe
The chef at the alternative Center of the Universe

Day 5: Layover in Wallace, ID – There were a lot of potentially interesting things we could do on our day off.  For me, it was Riding the Hiawatha – renting a mountain bike and tooling down the 15-mile former railway.  It’s a gorgeous route and one that I would love to revisit without the chaos of a large group on a tight time schedule.  (However, that chaos also permitted me to get a 10-stage multicache.)

Route of the Hiawatha
Route of the Hiawatha

The initial tunnel was 1.7 miles and crossed under the state line.  At the halfway point, in complete and drippy darkness, is a plaque of the meeting of the two steam shovels.  The engineers were impressive.

Tunnel 20
Tunnel 20

Day 6: Wallace to Chatcolet, ID – Our penultimate day took us from to Heyburn State Park via the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, a flat, well-paved 70+ mile rail-to-trail.  Portions would go for miles without interruption, letting me ride like I was twenty again.  Adding on an extra out-and-back made this my first sub-7 hour century.  (Normally I ride a leisurely 8:30, so this is a big deal to me.)

Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes
Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes

Day 7: Chatcolet to Coeur d’Alene – All good things must come to an end.  The last day was a set of rolling (and not-so-) hills to Coeur d’Alene.  There was a segment that had us taking a left on US-95 to hit the Washington border then come back via another trail. Some riders (cough) took the more direct route so we could get on the road sooner.

Glacier NP
That side trip to Glacier National Park isn’t going to make itself.

Overall, a very enjoyable ride.  Totals were ~435 miles, ~15k altitude gain and ~105 geocaches found during the week.  I’ll write some thoughts comparing Ride Idaho with Cycle Oregon and Ride Around Washington, as the events have very different personalities.