24. You’re Fired

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been paying close attention to the news about the wildfires in the West, not only because of our concern about the impact of those fires on so many people and on the environment, and our concern for our home state of Oregon, but also because of the disruption those wildfires might cause us during the final quarter of our cross country bicycle trip.  We’ve watched smoke dirty the western horizon, and sometimes the areas where we were bicycling, every day since at least July 10, when we departed Rawlins, WY, when I believe  we were still almost 1,000 miles east of the closest major fire.  Our route has been leading us right towards the fires (not surprising, since the entire West Coast seems to be on fire, again). 

On July 8, a lightening strike ignited the Trail Creek Fire, just east of Wisdom, MT.  A couple of days later, Montana State Highway 43 was closed.  (It has now reopened on an intermittent basis.)  That highway is on our route.  I understand that the  fire is now deemed uncontrollable, and will not be extinguished until it runs out of fuel or is extinguished by rain. 

Another fire, this one north of Wise River, MT, blocked an alternate route to Highway 43. 

At around the same time, a fire started just west of Lolo, MT, creating problems along Idaho State Highway 12 into Idaho, another highway on our route.  That road has been closed intermittently.

With wildfires, intermittent road closures, and increasing amounts of smoke likely in our upcoming rides, we were not sure what to do.  Riders ahead of us reportedly had begun riding with masks on in some areas, and some had taken detours along not-so-good alternate routes; for example, on dirt or gravel roads up over the mountains.  I know at least a few riders far ahead of us have made it over Lolo Pass from Montana into Idaho despite the fire there.  We did not relish the thought of riding  in smoke.

Our rides –  from Lander WY to Dubois (76 miles), to Colter Bay Village in Grand Teton National Park (64), and to Grant Village in Yellowstone National Park (41)  – were increasingly impacted by smoke.  The impact was mostly visual, with the smell of smoke fortunately only faint. I never felt that breathing the air around us was unhealthy.  But when we rode into Grand Teton National Park, we looked to the west  across Jackson Lake and were only able to make out the faintest outline of the massive Grand Teton mountains because the smoke was so thick  . . . And we were still hundreds of miles away from the nearest serious fire.

The air had cleared significantly by Thursday morning after a brief overnight thunderstorm (see picture to the left).  At breakfast that morning in  Colter Bay Village in Grand Teton National Park, we said a tearful goodbye to our friends Mark and Pat, with whom we have been riding  more often than not since we met them in Kentucky in late May.  They decided to turn around and  detour south to Jackson WY and over Teton Pass into Idaho in an attempt to skirt the wildfires.  Shelly and I  decided to stay on the TransAmerica Route, towards the wildfires and road closures ahead. 

But we knew we were just putting off an inevitable decision we needed to make: keep riding towards the fires and hope that things would improve, or look for alternatives. 

One alternative arose with the arrival of our close friends from Eugene, Ken and Pam, in Yellowstone National Park.  Before Shelly and I flew from Eugene to Charleston, SC, April 24 to begin our journey home, we had tentatively agreed with Ken and Pam for them to rendezvous with us somewhere around Yellowstone when they were vacationing in the area in their Sprinter Van.  They wound up overnighting in the same campground at Grant Village as we did this past Thursday.

While texting with Mark and Pat Thursday night, they raised the idea of them driving west around the fires, and then some, and continue their ride from there.  Shelly and I discussed doing the same during our ride through a somewhat smoky Yellowstone Park to West Yellowstone, MT (60 miles) on Friday.  With the weather forecast not providing any hope of rain extinguishing the fires any time soon, with the fires growing ever worse, and with the opportunity to ask for Ken and Pam’s help, we decided that we too would suspend our bike ride, transport our bikes and gear to Bend, OR, and ride from there to the Oregon Coast.  Obviously, this is not how we envisioned finishing up this adventure, but continuing to ride towards the wildfires with the information we had did not seem reasonable to us. 

Ken and Pam camped with us in West Yellowstone Friday night.  Saturday morning they somehow squeezed our bikes and gear and us into their Sprinter Van – which already held their own bikes, in addition to all their other stuff – and drove us 110 miles south to Idaho Falls, ID.  Thank you Ken and Pam for being such good, good friends, as you have been for so many years.

Here in Idaho Falls, Shelly and I will rent a UHaul and drive our bikes and gear to Bend, where we will reunite with Mark and Pat, who are also hauling themselves and their bikes and gear there.  We four will begin our ride to the Oregon Coast from there Thursday, July 22.  Shelly and I will end our ride in Florence or Newport, while Mark and Pat will continue north to at least Astoria. 

Shelly and I will not reach our goal of riding our bicycles across the USA.  We will not have ridden over 900 miles of our planned route.  We will have skipped Montana, Idaho and most of Oregon. 

And no, we will not come back some day to ride those 900 miles and say “we did it.”  Because we didn’t do it.  Crossing the country in segments at different times is not what we set out to do, and it is unquestionably not the same grueling challenge as crossing the country in one continuous ride.  This is likely the one and only time we will have attempted to ride across the US, and we did not make  it.

What a mix of emotions I feel.  Mostly just pervasive sadness.  Choosing not to continue and not to search for  a way to bicycle around or through the fires, after already riding over 2,800 miles in two and a half months, and being so close to the finish line, was a teary, gut-wrenching decision.  It is frustrating  and depressing and infuriating.  Do I feel like a quitter?  Yes. Am I using the fires as a convenient excuse to give up on a quest that was a tough challenge in one way or another, mentally and physically, every single day?  Possibly; I am not sure. But do I think we have made a reasonable decision under the circumstances? Yes. 

But enough of this pity party. Really, what do I have to mope about?  Shelly and I got to go play on our bikes for three months.  It has been the adventure we were looking for. 

I am looking forward to riding from Bend to the Coast, finishing this journey on a high note, in our favorite state, on the most beautiful coastline in the country, with friends at our side.  All I should be saying is “thank you.”

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Ralene

    You two are amazing, and I’m glad to see you have made a wise decision!

  2. Diane Schilling

    You are not a quitter. Think about last summer when the smoke was so thick our eyes burns and you could not escape the smell of smoke. The blazing red sunsets may have been beautiful, but amount if smoke in the air was frightening. The hospital I work at gave everyone a N95 mask to try and keep us from getting too much exposure just so we could go to work. The air filters in our homes became black with smoke. I could not even imagine what it would be like to ride in those conditions. What you both have done just to get there is amazing! No, you are not quitters….

  3. Cherell Skelton

    YOU TWO ARE DEFINITELY NOT QUITTERS!! I have been checking nonstop for posts of your progress each day and your WONDERFUL adventures!!! Your health and safety is far more important than continuing this ride!! Think of the stories about the courage, stupidity in my book, lol, and wonderful adventures y’all have to share with your grandchildren!! DEFINITELY NOT QUITTERS!!! THANK GOD FOR WONDERFUL FRIENDS!!!

  4. Dan Braziel

    And, on to the next adventure……

  5. Margie & Larry

    To our way of thinking, it took as much fortitude to alter your plans as it took to decide to go in the first place. Your words, once again, have allowed us to share in that very difficult decision with you. Your mental fitness has shown itself to be as tough and toned as your bodies certainly have been throughout this trip. ALL OF IT…well done, friends!!!

  6. Ken P

    Wow! We’ve been out of cell service for the past couple days. Ditto what so many others have said! We really admire you two! Pam & I will cherish the time we spent with you in Yellowstone, catching up & sharing memories of our summer of adventures. We were honored to be called upon to help, and even rolling down Hwy 15 created fun camaraderie and lasting memories. Travel safe, enjoy the last legs of your journey & we’ll see you back home!

  7. Lasse

    We have been following your journey from week to week. The sadness you are feeling is fully understood, but the only realistic option is to be smart. You guys have certainly provided a lot of entertainment for all of us and we look forward to further reports from Bend. It has been interesting to see how well you have adapted to changing conditions and challenges along the way. In time all the memories – both good and bad – will be a source of satisfaction. It is shame that this did not work out as you planned now that you have “found your groove”, but you cannot fight mother nature. We are all extremely impressed by the way you have handled yourselves. Stay safe and healthy during the final push!

  8. Bob P.

    Good speaking with you Jens. You two are making the right decision. What an adventure! Safe travels ahead!

  9. Jane

    Wisdom prevailed and you made a good decision. I swear I saw you on the McKenzie Hwy today. So glad you are safe. It’s been fun and I’m extremely proud of you. All the best!

  10. Terra

    You 2 are rocksstars in my book. Looking forward to seeing you soon!!

Leave a Reply