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By meriwether, Jun 19 2017 03:19PM

Happy Fathers Day All . . . from Libby, Montana -

I’m doing the Rocky Mountains at present . . . or alternatively, the Rockies are doing me. We’ll see how that goes.

Backtracking a bit, I concluded my ride up the Columbia River Gorge, and took note of the dramatic changes in the land and climate. It is almost as if a Grand Hand flips a switch - one moment the rider is surrounded by lush rain forest and plunging waterfalls, and within the space of a few miles the topography seems to transform into an arid, high desert environment. It really is quite a dramatic shift of ecosystems, and the gorge itself broadens into a high desert plain through which the Columbia seeks its way to the sea.

Aiming northeast toward Spokane, I pedaled a route that took me across the broad and treeless Columbia Plateau - shades of the Great Plains that lie to the east of the mountains. I sought out alternative, less traveled roads - instead of the busy U.S. 395 (a four lane expressway) - that took me up onto the plateau, and it was worth the effort of the climb . Spread before me was a broad expanse of rolling and open rangeland. Far off to the east, I could catch a glimpse of the western most ranges of the Rockies, speaking my name.

I headed into Spokane and last Wednesday put in a volunteer day with Spokane Habitat For Humanity as they reached the conclusion of their Blitz Build. Tony and Jonathan were the construction site managers, and I always marvel how they can juggle so many things going on at one time - meeting with inspectors, trying to instruct novice volunteers with no construction experience, planning the next stages of construction, keeping things organized on the job site. It was a good but long day. My HFH volunteer days (this was my 16th of the ride) have always been the most positive of experiences and one of the highlights of my journey - always exceptional groups of staff and volunteers with whom to lend helping hands to achieve the goal of providing an affordable home for a family in need of one.

With the Rocky Mountains looming to the East, I said goodbye to Washington State and crossed the Idaho border, heading up to beautiful Lake Cocolalla not too far from quintessential mountain town, Sand Point. I was warmly greeted by Warm Showers hosts Jim and Lisa, daughter Margo, and Buddy the dog and welcomed into their beautiful home overlooking the lake. My Warm Showers experiences have also highlighted my journey, and Jim and Lisa were wonderful hosts. The extra beer they packed in my BOB trailer saved the day at last night’s campground after a long 55 mile day in the saddle.

Mountain riding can be a bit intimidating, as high peaks surround the rider on all sides, but the routes often follows the river valleys like that of the Clark Fork and Kootenai Rivers along which I pedaled today - really quite spectacular with their forested slopes and rushing streams always seeking a lower elevation in a bid to join the main course of the river. A visit to Kootenai Falls and the Swinging Bridge today were fairly awesome and a welcome break before heading into Libby where I am this evening.

But at a certain point, one must climb to cross the Continental Divide and that lies just to the east - Glacier National Park - one of the most majestic of our National Parks. There is a little road there called Going To The Sun Highway, and it’s called that for a reason. It is one of the most amazing drives in the country, but a beast of a climb. I do have an alternate route which may make sense. I did Going To The Sun in 1982 or 83, but I was in my early 30’s then, young and vigorous. 35 years later? Hmmm . . . Decisions!

I am over 10,000 miles for my journey folks, unofficially. The official mileage at this point is a little over 9,500 miles, but I have known that my odometer is off by five one hundredths of mile for each mile ridden. Doing the math, that adds on about another 500 miles not counted by my odometer. So . . . I will raise my glass to 10,000 miles, and you are welcome to as well - have one on me!

Proceeding On . . . and Up!

* My heartfelt thanks go out once again to these folks who have made recent donations to Save The Children and/or Habitat For Humanity in support of my U.S. Perimeter Ride: Tom and Lisa Hoersten, Tony Monroe, and Sarah and Jack Puffenberger.

** Please pass this on to anyone who might be interested, and invite them to visit my website to consider supporting these two charities that do much good in the world.

By meriwether, Jun 15 2017 07:58PM

For those who were following my journey and blog from August of 2015 to May of 2016 as I bicycled 9,000 miles along the eastern, southern, and western perimeter of the U.S., I decided to fly back out to Portland, OR, to pick up the trail where I left off on the northern perimeter. I arrived in Portland on June, 4.

So I’ve been back on the trail again - the Lewis and Clark Trail, actually. Back in 2005 I pedaled down the Columbia River Gorge at the end of a 3800 mile journey following the route of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their Corps of Discovery. And this past week, I have been pedaling up  the gorge, retracing the beginning of their homeward bound journey.

This has been a week of demons for me, questioning at every step my wisdom in deciding to head back out again, and even as I write this, the demons are having their way. 

I arrived in Portland on Sunday, June 4, and that in itself is a challenge - just getting bike and trailer and all my “stuff” back out here to where I left off over a year ago.  

Pedaling the Columbia River Gorge has been a roller coaster of a ride, both literally and figuratively. The Gorge is truly one of the most awe inspiring pieces of real estate in the country - akin to the Pacific Coast Highway in its beauty and majesty. Within 30 miles of Portland  as you travel up the gorge are a multitude of waterfalls that take your breath away.  Cascades that are fed by the melting snows high atop Mt. Hood, they plummet downward in dramatic fashion to meet the Columbia River. Many are within sight of the Historic Columbia River Highway - a roadway constructed between 1912 and 1915 to allow a nascent motoring public to experience the breathtaking natural beauty of the Columbia Gorge. Many of the original bridges, tunnels, and guard rails are still there, their stone work speaking of decades of weathering.  There is a part of the old highway that is closed off to motor traffic which makes it ideal for cycling - that is - if you like climbing, of which there is quite a bit.

My second day out was about 53 miles, but the temperature soared into the lower 90’s and I climbed over a 1000 feet which just sapped my energy. I had to stop numerous times to avoid overheating - I felt much as I did that one day in the Mohave Desert last year when I wasn’t sure I was going to make it 

Had a bit of a melt down in the middle of the week, staying at a Motel 6 in The Dalles, Oregon - just couldn’t move, thinking of that  9,000 miles and the hardships endured . . . and the vast distances of these western states; and the early morning pouring rain and 50 degree temps did help my mood much either.  Floyd also was not on his best behavior, and had to be looked at - a new gear cluster on the rear wheel was called for, and since . . . Floyd is now back on track.

It is hard to find more spectacular vistas. Wending my way along the Columbia's dramatic shores, I imagine that I see five  large  dugout canoes with  the seasoned members of the Corps of Discovery digging their paddles into the churning waters of the powerful Columbia currents, fighting their way upriver. They are are on their homeward bound journey after a year and a half of exploring the Louisiana Territory all the way to that Great Western Sea. In one of the canoes is a man who exudes confidence and authority; it is William Clark. He jokes with the men, encouraging them, taking notes of his observations, working on his maps. William calls out to one-eyed  French voyageur Pierre Cruzatte, “Ho there St. Peter (his nickname), how do you know where you are going with that one eye?”  Cruzatte replies with a glint in his one good orb, “I know where I’m going Monsieur Captain - I’m going home.”  In another canoe is Meriwether, more intense, less garrulous, but focused and observant of all around him, constantly making sketches in his field note book,  giving directions to the men, all the while setting an example with his determination, fortitude, and  honesty. They are surrounded by the other 31 souls of the permanent party of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, including a young Indian girl and her infant child. Their 8,000 mile Voyage of Discovery to the Pacific Ocean and back is considered the greatest exploratory mission in American History. 

The above was written from the picnic table at last Saturday night’s campsite near Pasco, WA, and this is coming from a nice little motel in Connell, Washington. I’m on the way up to Spokane where I am scheduled to work with Habitat For Humanity on a “blitz build’” which concludes this coming week. 

During those couple of days when I was quite stressed out, I had a heart to heart talk with my sister about the journey and its future.  The outcome was that I would continue on up to Spokane and reevaluate at the time. My arrival in Spokane will bring me to about 9,400 miles. Looking forward to working with another HFH affiliate, which will be my 16th for the journey.

Best Regards All . . . Proceeding On,

By meriwether, May 27 2016 02:28PM

Beer and peanut butter and jelly - that’s what got me through. If I could have a cold beer and a hot shower at the end of a riding day, I was a happy camper. And peanut butter and jelly? I usually kept a jar of each buried deep in my pantry (front pack) and a half loaf of bread scrunched in my rear trailer bag . . . voila . . . P B & J sandwiches any time, and I ate a lot of them.

The final day’s ride of my U.S. Perimeter Ride was a fairly glorious one under a sunny sky that hung around all day, and temps that spoke of summer. I departed Round Lake early and caught a nifty tailwind along U.S. 223 to Adrian. From there I cut southward and followed mostly Michigan backroads homeward bound. I apologize for arriving earlier than anticipated. I had first thought it would be between 2 and 3, but the early departure and tailwind had other ideas. I pulled into my driveway a little after 1:00 with a nice gathering to greet me, and a Channel 11 news crew there with their cameras rolling. Over my garage door was a sign proclaiming that I had “Done It”, and balloons waving in the breeze shouted welcome.

I’m often asked what have been the highlights of this journey. My meeting with Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur always comes to mind. She had had a very long day, and still sat down with me in her office for almost an hour back in October. Also . . . the warm reception that I received at Save The Children headquarters in Fairfield, Connecticut, where I found myself in front of a large group of their welcoming staff doing a little impromptu talk. My volunteer opportunities with the 15 different Habitat For Humanity affiliates were some of the best days and always left me with a very positive feeling, being able to work with such dedicated HFH staff and volunteers. And the ride itself which took me through some spectacular terrain as I peddled the perimeter of our United States. Mostly, I suppose, would be raising almost $28,000 thousand dollars for these two worthy causes through donations from family, friends, friends of family and family of friends, fraternity brothers, tennis and golf mates, and complete strangers that I met along the way.

There were some lowlights too, but even those had a silver lining. My accident could have been much more devastating - I was lucky to escape with a few scrapes and bruises. But the circumstance of a disabled veteran paying for my entire repair bill and choosing to remain anonymous . . . because he liked what I was doing . . . how could you not wonder at the goodness of that act?

So . . . home at last! And it IS a sublime feeling. Although . . . when I first thought about all that I had to do to get my life back on a normal track after being gone for 9 months, I was tempted to hop back on my bicycle and keep on riding . . . but not that tempted. And now that I’ve been home for a few days, things are falling into place, and I’m thinking I will stay put for a while.

Thanks to you all for your support throughout these past months, for your donations to Habitat For Humanity and Save The Children, for your words of encouragement that kept my peddles in perpetual motion, and to my many hosts along the way who provided a safe haven for the night.

Hope you all have enjoyed the Ride!

Proceeding On (in spirit),

Al Thompson

As always acknowledgement and many thanks to some new and repeat donors who have made recent donations in support of my ride to Habitat For Humanity and/or Save The Children: Katherine Kelly, Phyllis and Kenneth Frain, Sue and Ron Lang, Don and Patty McGraw, and Doug and Marilyn Palmer.

I was invited by Jerry Anderson of WTOL, Channel 11, to appear on a segment of his Sunday public affairs program The Leading Edge. It was taped today (Thurs) and will be aired this Sunday at 8:30 am for anyone who might be interested.

The photos below are some images from my Final Day's Ride.

By meriwether, May 27 2016 02:16PM

I’ve spent a relaxing day up here in the Irish Hills of Michigan at Round Lake . . . which is, as you might guess, quite round. Fraternity brother Gary and wife Sally have a beautiful home on the lake, and so rather than being in my customary position on my bicycle saddle, I’ve been on the water - first in the saddle of a kayak, and then a leisurely cruise around the lake on their pontoon raft.

Tomorrow, Monday, will be my final riding day on this 9 month journey. When I leave Gary and Sally’s tomorrow morning and peddle the first 7 miles of the 40 to 50 mile ride to Toledo, my odometer will register the official 9,000 mile mark which is the lower end of my estimate I made for the ride before I left. I think I considerably underestimated since doing the complete perimeter would be closer to 11 to 12 thousand. But I am content with 9.

A number of folks have asked when I will be arriving in the Glass City. I plan to get away early tomorrow morning (Mon) and, rather than ride U.S. 223, follow the backroads from the Irish Hills into Toledo somewhere I’m thinking between 2 and 3. WTVG said they would like to do an interview with me, so I may ride over to their station on Dorr Street, and from there to my own house at 2926 Heysler in Sylvania Township - home at last. Will try to send out an email via my cell phone as I am close to the finish line.

By meriwether, May 19 2016 08:26PM

The Midwest did come through for me - yesterday - on my ride from Allegan to Three Rivers, MI. A cloudless sky with nothing but blue, temperatures into the mid 60’s, and a tailwind that I haven’t felt in months it seems - one that lasts and stays at your back.

The ride from Ludington to Whitehall a few days ago was also sunny but quite brisk - I stayed bundled the whole time. On that ride I was on familiar ground cruising along one of my favorite Michigan Rail Trails - the Hart-Montague; it is one of my choice fall rides. Those of you who might have given a passing thought to a little weekend bicycle excursion, here’s one for you. Hop on the trail at Whitehall/Montague (a little north of Muskegon) and head 24 miles north on the Hart-Montague trail to Hart - easy cycling on a paved trail through beautiful Michigan countryside. From Hart cut over a few miles on back roads to the coast at Silver lake and stay at the Dunes Waterfront Resort, a beautiful location right on Silver Lake which is framed by dunes galore - catch a dune buggy ride if you are in the mood. The next day head back south on Scenic Drive B-15 which meanders along the Lake Michigan Coast through orchards and vineyards. You can follow it most of the way back to Montague/Whitehall to the shores of White Lake. Check in to either the White Swan B&B or Cocoa Cottage B&B which are right across the street from each other. I chose the Cocoa Cottage a couple of days ago, declaring that I needed a bit of luxury as my journey draws to a close.

Of course, a couple nights later I was back in my tent doing a bit of stealth camping - that is, camping where you are not supposed to. This was at Little John Lake County Park. It was fairly remote and secluded, so I wasn’t too worried about getting the boot. Out west in some states it is quite different - touring cyclists are more than welcome to camp at city and community parks. Wouldn’t it be grand - and smart - if more state parks and city and county parks around the country had policies that encouraged self propelled travel and all its health benefits . . . by bicycle or by foot . . . like those in California and Oregon. There you can stay in a Hiker-Biker campsite for $5 with access to showers, picnic tables, and food lockers in a group camp setting. What a novel idea . . . no, not novel - just common sense.

In the Michigan coastal town of Grand Haven I stayed with Warm Showers hosts Andrew and Debbie. They have a beautiful house overlooking Lake Michigan. Their dinner table faces the lake and each evening they can dine with the most amazing view of the waters framed by their huge windows. The next morning Andrew rode with me and gave me the Tour De Grand Haven - really a wonderful waterfront community. In conversation Andrew mentioned a book that he had read and the author said something like this that really struck home: Life is magnified on a bicycle; cycling in rough weather with the cold, rain, and wind can make a bad day unbelievably bad . . . and cycling in fair weather with sun and warmth and following winds can make a good day superlative. It’s so much different than traveling in a car. You can’t roll up the windows . . . you can’t turn on the heater. You are out in it . . . and deal with it the best you can . . . and keep peddling. I had little trouble identifying with the sentiments of the author having been out in it now for nine months. Fortunately, those good days do make up for a lot of rough days!

Yesterday’s ride from Allegan to Three Rivers found me on another Rail Trail that I am partial too and have done a number of times - the Kal-Haven Trail which runs from Kalamazoo to South Haven on the coast - another great weekend excursion if you are thinking. It runs for 34 miles, but I hooked into it on the last six miles into K-Zoo. From there it was a straight, wind caressed shot southward to Three Rivers and Corey Lake where I am taking a rest day courtesy of Cassandra and her wonderful cottage on the lake. Cassandra was a team member of mine on our 2009 Global Habitat Mission to Zambia. She lives in Prospect Heights, IL, just north of Chicago, and offered this great place to stay for a day or two and gather forces for the final push home.

Some folks have asked when exactly I will be peddling into Toledo. From here I am planning to head east to Round Lake in the Irish Hills where I will visit with Fraternity Brother Gary and his wife Sally, and then make tracks for my front door - I think that will be on Monday. My house is waiting for me, and has been wondering where I have been this past year! If anyone has a yen to do a little bike ride and would like to join me these last few miles, feel free to do that. I will be coming in from the Irish Hills, but rather than take U.S. 223 will more likely take the back roads.

Proceeding On To The End

As always, many thanks are due to repeat donors Julie and Bryan Haas who have made recent donations to both Habitat For Humanity and Save The Children in support of my ride.

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