Day 86: A pilgrimage to the place that started it all in Missoula

I woke up at the hostel in Missoula with a single goal for the day – make it to Adventure Cycling Association’s headquarters. It’s a place I’ve been dreaming of making it to for years, and today was the day that it finally happened. 

I’ve heard the stories so many times of the tour of the building, the free ice cream and soda for cyclists passing through, and the portrait for the archives. Despite my reticence in cycling the same route as everyone else recently this was a stop that had to be made. These are the people that put me out here in the first place. 

I was all smiles pulling up to the front right across the street from the hostel:

And then opened the door with the best door handles ever:


Be still, my beating heart…

And then right inside a bike that was ridden in Bikecentennial, the tour that started it all:


No small chainring. Unbelievable. 

But this tandem to the left was the first bike to make the TransAm trail:


That was in 1974 as a route scouting type deal for the big ride in ’76. And there were bikes all over the place:


Apparently these are all donated by bicycle tourists. How they can let go of their machines is beyond me. Not to invoke Heston but they’ll have to pry my bike from my cold dead hands. 

And then I got the tour of the place, seeing where these guys put together the publications, maps, and catalogs that have inspired me and so many others. It was flipping through a back issue of Adventure Cyclist at Velo Cult in Portland that put the touring bug in my head, and today I got to see where each issue is put together. I wanted to take a million pictures but felt shy about it, so no dice. If you want to see the place, get on your bike and ride on out here and see for yourself!

I went back to the cyclist’s lounge and got  some ice cream:


Then checked out the wall of all the cyclists that have come through this Mecca in 2016:


This particular bit was an unexpectedly delightful experience. Why? Because I got to see a lot of the people I rode with or came across. They were all up there:

Dave!

Linda and Norm!

Andrew!

Dan!

Ping and Qing!

Marius!

James and Monty!

Crazy man Rick!

And of course…

Them.

For all my complaining about the annoyance of being part of the never ending cross-country tourist train, through Yellowstone it was a joy to see all these people and how they made it through. We’re all part of a bigger thing. We’re two-wheeled adventurers on a journey that only we can fully understand. There’s a million ways to do this ride, and we are all doing it differently. But only we know what it’s like to be out like this, and there’s communion there. But I was glad they all beat me to it. Im glad I slowed down and went my own way. I’m glad I’m on my own again, and while I’m joining an ACA trail tomorrow morning, I’m not on the TransAm. It’s the Lewis and Clark, all the way to the western waters. I hope these next two weeks are done alone. But we’ll all see what happens.

I was sitting in the cyclist’s lounge downing a can of coke when Greg Siple, ACA founder and one of the first to ride from Alaska to Argentina, came up to me with a 35mm Nikon SLR strapped around his neck. He said he takes portraits of some tourists that come through and collects oral histories for the archives. I’ve seen so many of these over the past few years on the back page of Adventure Cyclist:


He wanted to know if I wanted to be part of it. Uhhh….HELL YES I DO. He gave me a model release where I could tell my story, and I did what I could. How does one even condense this down to an 8×10 sheet of paper?

Then it was out back to the backdrop I know so well:


I hope it turned out alright. I may never know. 

Then he asked how much my bike weighs. I said I thought it was somewhere around 105-110 pounds but wasn’t really sure. He said we were going to find out. 

We hung the bike from webbing attached to a hanging scale and the true value came out: 104 pounds. I quietly thought “well I lost one pair of shorts, shredded another, and there’s less food in the front pannier than usual, so…”. But then I caught myself. This is no pissing contest. Quantification is a touring killer. 

And then after lunch it was off to the Missoula Art Museum to check out some of Greg’s life project on the walls:


I love what he does and am so grateful he opened up the touring world to me and countless others. The man has shown people they can have the most wonderful, challenging, life-affirming experiences if they just open up and decide to ride a bike to a place other than home and sleep for the night. 

Then I put the latest sticker on my bike:


It’s a sticker I’ve seen on the the ACA’s website forever. I always wanted to order one as kind of a statement of purpose but decided no, the only way I could get it was to ride into Missoula and get it that way. Well, I did.  Get sentimental about the stickers on my bike. One only goes on if I want to remember the event every time I see my bike. This one felt like a gold star.

I lounged around the hostel after and in came Wendy, riding to Billings from the Pacific before grad school starts in the fall. It was nice to talk to a young, solo touring woman. I know they’re out there, but I haven’t met any until her. Touring feels like an old man’s game for the most part – if my experiences are representative of the whole, a lot of tourists are retired bachelors and teachers. Stands to reason I guess. We all can’t be having mid-30s crises.

I invited her out for a beer, and she said she was looking forward to watching the opening ceremonies for the Olympics. Sounded good to me.

We headed down to a brewery with a line out the door, then decided to grab a local six pack and a pizza and try to pull up the spectacle on a live stream at the hostel. She got the booze and I picked up the pizza. While I waited I went for some Huckleberry soda:


This was a revelation. Huckleberry soda for life. 

Back at the hostel Wendy wasn’t able to pull up a live stream of the opening ceremonies so we sat around and chatted about road life. Good stuff. Eventually Andre, an actor from Seattle between shows, joined us. I started to realize that maybe I have been wrong to not like hostels. I think it really depends on where the hostel is.

But tomorrow the road awaits. I’ve got a mountain to climb but in the morning, the last doozy of the tour. I’m sad and excited at the same time. Once I climb it though, I’m that much closer to

The Pacific…

-J

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