Missoula to Helena (or, The Camels Were Gone from Montana by 1867)

Well, my partner and I are back on our multi-year bicycle tour around the country. I will try my best to bring my posts from our travel blog (www.BarelyFunctionalAdults.wordpress.com) over here. If you are interested in more photos of our journey we have a Facebook page you can follow (www.facebook.com/shiftsandgiggles). I will try to post other personal stuff that comes to mind on this page as well but writing time is limited.

——————————

Saying goodbye is never easy.

As excited as we were to hit the trail again, it was hard leaving Missoula behind. We met so many wonderful new friends and strengthened old friendships as well. Missoula is a home to us now, a place where we feel loved and accepted. It isn’t easy leaving that, but, like most things in life, the easy way is not the way of growth or adventure… and we had an adventure to restart.

There are moments in life when language rings hollow. Trying to express how much we will miss this friend is one of those moments. Part of our hearts stay here in Missoula with her.

Our first day of travel was the perfect way to begin – exactly what we needed day 1 to be. We stopped at Black Coffee Roasters one last time for some world-class coffee and their batshit amazing avocado toast. Then, around 11 AM, we got on the road and headed east towards the mountains with wide shoulders to ride on and beautiful weather to boot. The terrain was uphill, but only slightly. This was a great opportunity for us to test out our new bike and trailer set-ups – prior to leaving we never got a chance to ride around with our trailers fully packed. (Smart, we know.) Turns out they are heavy, but not overly so, similar to our previous leg of the bike ride. The new bikes and trailers are incredibly stable and provide a much smoother ride than our old gear did. Higgins loves his new set-up as well. He doesn’t hesitate or resist getting into the trailer anymore and loves being able to stick his nose out the front to smell all the things. (Don’t worry, we have two leashes attached to his collar and the inside of the trailer to make sure he can’t lean too far or jump out and hurt himself.)

Higgs is ready to roll!

As our first day continued, we passed all the usual Montana things like a distillery, a bunch of farm animals, deer, a skunk, ghost towns, etc. We were lunching along the Blackfoot River when Anna’s front tube mysteriously went flat while her bike was just sitting there. I’m not sure why, the puncture was on the inner ring of the tube and this was the same tube that came with the bike to begin with. Oh well, it was an easy fix, and hopefully the flat was a fluke! The late afternoon brought some clouds and the threat of rain, but as we climbed to the top of our final hill the weather was still on our side. The original plan was to just camp on the side of the road but we found a campground in Lubrecht Experimental Forest that had unlocked cabins (which were furnished and even had electricity!) We weren’t sure if the campground was actually open…there were no signs to help us, and the only people we encountered just waved at us from a distance. We waited for someone to approach us so we could ask whether it was okay to sleep there, but no one ever did, so we just had a nice dinner, set up our stuff in one of the cabins, and went to sleep.

1554555_1455686278057393_5985798124334613138_n

The night went smoothly, except for when we were woken up at 4:30 AM by a tow truck backing up near our cabin (we never figured out what it was doing there – there were really no cars there to tow). Morning came soon after that and we hit the road after donating a few dollars to the camp as a thank-you for such nice accommodations. The day started with a steady downhill along the highway. The shoulder started getting a little narrower and had more and more sand and gravel on it. It was still nice but the conditions were deteriorating slowly. We also had a lot of hills… and a lot of hill optical illusions (when you look ahead and it looks like a downhill but turns out to be an uphill, AKA why are we pedaling as hard as we can to go downhill?? Pretty frustrating). We took our time though and had breaks whenever we needed them. Everything was pretty much going according to plan until we hit the intersection of Highway 200 (the road we’d been traveling on) and Highway 141. The plan was to continue up 200 to Lincoln but the shoulder basically disappeared, traffic was zooming past at or above the speed limit of 70 MPH, and the road started winding up a mountain with a cliff on one side. It just wasn’t safe. So, we decided to have a change of plans, turn onto 141, and head directly south towards Helena instead of going through Lincoln.

Doesn't the

Highway 141 was probably the safest and best option we had, but it turned out to be a pretty miserable option. We quickly found ourselves in farmland facing a terrible headwind and crosswind. Apparently, when you destroy all of the trees in an area, it becomes incredibly windy. The climbs also continued with fairly steep rolling hills the whole way. I am beginning to think staying in Missoula for 8 months and storing lots of calories in our bodies for future use was not the wisest thing to do.

11050684_1455685258057495_3572389371188107719_n

Anyway, the temperature started to drop and any time we stopped biking to take a break, the cold made us pretty uncomfortable. We were trying to make it to a lake in the hopes there would be camping options there, but as the hours passed and we got more and more exhausted, we realized we weren’t going to get to the lake in time. There weren’t a lot of other options for camping, but we eventually found a spot on the side of the road with some bushes where we set up our tent. We fell asleep quickly and slept hard, despite the cold and the occasional sound of passing cars or deer sniffing our tent.

WHY?!?!

The next day started cold and a bit damp. Since we had changed routes unexpectedly, we really had no idea what the day had in store for us, but we did know we had two days to go (about 60 miles) until we reached Helena. We started riding with the gloomy, overcast sky hanging above us, threatening to pour rain on us at any moment but rarely doing anything more than drizzling. The road was pretty decent with very little traffic and the usual hazards that come with rural bike riding… loose dogs running across the highway at us (luckily they turned out to be friendly), skunks hanging on mile marker signs, etc. By early afternoon we’d made it to the “town” of Avon where we stopped to rest on the porch of a building next to the local fire station.

11054782_1455684594724228_5578615915098623243_n

While we were resting and eating lunch, a truck pulled up next to us. It was Old Bill. (Name changed to protect Old Bill’s privacy, and also because we don’t know Old Bill’s real name.) Old Bill asked us what we were doing and made general small talk. When he found out we were going through The Pass he let out a friendly laugh and told us to watch out for the snow. We chuckled along with him. Old Bill was always joking about snow. We were sure the weather wasn’t going to be THAT cold up on the mountain. Old Bill continued on his way and we continued resting. A few minutes later Old Bill came back, and told us about a great restaurant down the road where we could stop in to get some coffee and warm up. Then he laughed again and pulled away.

11261926_1455684534724234_6448127036275459203_n

We hit the road soon after that and started heading east on Highway 12. The traffic was heavier but we had a wide shoulder to use as we crept upwards towards The Pass. The first 9 miles or so were pretty easy and we arrived at a gas station/convenience store in Elliston at around 6 PM. We stopped to get some coffee, use the bathroom, and convince our muscles they were ready to climb The Pass directly ahead of us. The next five miles or so were going to be hell already, so of course the clouds above us decided it was time to dump their load. We knew that waiting wasn’t going to get the job done, so we got back on the road despite the rain, quickly finding ourselves at the foot of the mountain where the following historic marker sat.

If I had a time machine I would go back 150 years just to see camels in Montana

The climb was terrible. It really wasn’t a ride, it was a walk. We pushed our bikes nearly the whole 5 miles. The 8% grade was just too much with the gear we were carrying and the days of travel behind us. It didn’t help matters that we had a very narrow shoulder and lots of wind, plus visibility had decreased dramatically because of the rain and clouds. We often found ourselves pressed against the guardrails when cars passed by too closely (GET INTO THE LEFT LANE, YOU FOOLS!) But, after hours of pushing our bikes, ignoring our numbed hands and feet, being blasted by strong winds and rain that turned to sleet, we managed to get to top of The Pass just before sunset. (Although the sun was nowhere in sight behind the thick clouds, we assumed it was setting somewhere). We set up our tent quickly, put the tarp over our equipment, ate some glorious baked beans out of a can with nutritional yeast and Frank’s hot sauce, and then fell asleep. Sleep didn’t last very long. The tent collapsed on us in the middle of the night because of the heavy winds (mental note #1: always stake the tent down, don’t be a lazy asshole) and I ran out into the cold sleet to fix it, breaking our food bin in the process (mental note #2: plastic food bins cannot support the weight of a full grown human being). After fixing the tent I fell back asleep quickly, but the morning came soon and with the morning came snow. Old Bill was right.

11295549_1455681858057835_2453847273345377208_n

There’s something you need to understand about Old Bill: he is always joking but always serious. There are innumerable rumors about his origins. Some say that his Granny was a settler named Helen and the city of Helena is named after her. Others say that his great-grandpa was Sammy MacDonald who came over as a settler after the Civil War, and that the MacDonald Pass was named after him. Some others say it goes further back than that –  that Old Bill is the last direct descendant of the ancient Montanan Native American tribes and the state is named after his ancestors. Finally, some claim he has Elven blood in him, that his ancestors chose not to travel across the sea with the rest of his kind to the Undying Lands before the Dawn of Man.

Regardless, Old Bill was right. We got snowed on. A lot.

Due to the snow and our general tiredness we didn’t really get moving until about 1 PM. Luckily(?) our day started with a 7ish mile downhill. Normally, that would be awesome. But this wasn’t a normal day. It was bitterly cold out and we couldn’t ride for more than a couple miles before needing to pull over and stick our hands in our crotches to warm them back up, lest we lose any of our fingers to frostbite. The combination of strong winds, cold temperature, and wet conditions had taken its toll on us. There was an unexpected bright spot though when we pulled over at a scenic outlook. A nice elderly couple in a car had pulled over there as well and they were very excited about our adventure. They chatted with us a bit and kind of brightened our morning. We also met another cyclist who was traveling from Phoenix to Minnesota…he looked pretty rough. He was missing most of his teeth, had some pretty intense sun damage to his skin, was wearing shorts in 35 degree weather, and he didn’t have front brakes. The three of us took off down the hill at about the same time but he quickly passed us while yelling “Ho ho ho!” to Anna. It was weird.

11252106_1455681464724541_6149139373537345210_n

Eventually we got to the bottom of the mountain and pushed on into Helena, where we found a Starbucks to sit down and warm our bodies. While we sat there a man named Fred Cowie approached us. It turns out Fred is a Professor of History at Carroll College in Helena, but his true passion is art. He chatted with us a bit about our lives and the adventures he has had. Just before he left the Starbucks, he gave us a beautiful small watercolor he painted and his business card. It was an amazing meet-up.

After we got a bit of work done at the Starbucks, we ran some last minute errands and then headed over to the home of our host for three nights. Nicolle found us on Couchsurfing and offered to let us stay at her place while in Helena. She has a beautiful house on a big plot of land with dogs and chickens. Overall it has been a great ride so far but we are looking forward to resting a bit, exploring what Helena has to offer us, and prepping for the next round of travel.

Missoula to Helena - Map

Missoula to Helena - Elevation

An Intersexual Child

While reading “Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex” a question popped into my head, what would I do if I had a child who was intersex*. It is unlikely that I will have any children, and even less likely that my partner will go through pregnancy to have our child, so I posed the following to Facebook to see how others handled this:

Before having kids did you research and discuss with your partner things like intersexuality?

Like, how would you handle it if your child was born with both male and female genitalia, or “abnormal” genitalia?

The results were kind of mixed. I’ll start with the group that I agree with.

Do Nothing: Unless there was a medical need for survival or the health of my child I would do nothing. I wouldn’t remove testes, trim back a phallus that was “too big” for a clitoris but “too small” for a penis, alter the urethra opening, create a vaginal cavity, or anything else. If my child decides to alter their body to conform to how they feel inside that is a choice they can make when they are adults. I don’t think permanently altering the body of a child (and this includes circumcision) is within the rights or responsibilities of the parent unless that permanent alteration is necessary for survival or a healthy life.

Don’t Worry About It Now: The second group basically said the chances of it happening are so small that it isn’t even worth discussing until it happens. Personally, I don’t operate that way. My partner and I discuss a lot of things that probably won’t happen, we don’t sit around worrying and fretting, but we do have basic plans if something unexpected (tragic or not) happens. While numbers are very hard to come by for intersexuality current estimates put about 1 in 100 babies are born that differ from the standard binary, and about 1 in 1,000 babies receive surgery to “correct” “abnormalities”. That isn’t a small number and is in the realm of a child having Down Syndrom (which seems to be discussed more often). That seems like something that should be discussed at least once if you are bringing a life into this world, at least to get an idea that you and your partner are on the same page. You may not know exactly what you will do but the discussion seems worth having.

Abort: One person put abortion but he may have been trolling. I disagree with this for two reasons. First, it is technologically impossible, you don’t know whether your child is intersex until after it is born. Secondly, wanting a child but aborting it because there might be some difficulty raising it is a shitty move. Don’t have a child if you only want it to be easy or normal.

Appeal to Authority: Another response was to let the doctor decide what to do. Honestly, this may have been my response before reading the book. Aside from giving a view into the history of intersexuality in France and Great Britain, the book also showed that doctors have traditionally had a vested interest in maintaining a heterosexual binary in society. To many of them all sexuality should fit in two boxes, humans are either MEN (male, attracted to women, masculine) or WOMEN (female, attracted to men, feminine) and there is no room for things in between. That is changing in some circles but doctors aren’t gods, they are biased humans who lack a lot of knowledge and won’t bear the consequences if they make a mistake when permanently altering an infant.

As we continue to explore what it means to be human we are finding that sexuality is far more complicated than anyone could have realized. Terms like pansexual, polyamory, and genderfluid didn’t even exist a generation ago. What it is all really pushing towards is an acceptance of individuals as individuals instead of pushing them into boxes. Many power structures (particularly religion and government) have a vested interest in keeping everyone in easily defined boxes and categories but, thanks to the internet (imo), that is changing. Someone’s gender, chromosomes, and genitals are becoming less important. Questions like “are they straight?” or “is that a woman?” have always been cover for what we really want to know “Could they be attracted to me?” or “Do they fit into a category?”, those questions replace individuality with tribalism and changes their value based on whether they will be a potential sex partner.

Thankfully, we are moving away from that. We are moving to a time where we love ourselves as we are and we love others for who they are.

*I realize definitions can be tricky but for this blog intersex means that the genitalia (internal and/or external) do not easily fit into the male/female binary. I think that binary is limiting and bullshit given the diversity of our evolved species but that is for a different blog post.

Pathfinder

For the last few months or so I have been getting together online with my brothers and few other friends to play Pathfinder (basically Dungeons and Dragons), but sadly that time has come to an end. Trying to coordinate the schedules of five or more adults who have families, kids, jobs, etc has become unmanageable. I guess that is a common story when it comes to D&D and I am a bit surprised at how sad I am about the whole thing.

This was my first experience with “pencil and paper” games. Growing up I was told that D&D (and similar games like MechWarrior) were evil, tools of the devil, would cause addiction, would destroy my grades, etc. It turns out that isn’t really the case. What struck me most about playing is how open it is, you can literally try and do anything. This sets it apart from video games, even massive games like World of Warcraft. We are just not at the point technologically where software can even begin to compete with the human imagination.

Playing D&D is more of an art than a science. Sure, having book knowledge about your characters and rules and such is necessary, but the real enjoyment comes from using creativity to find solutions. Often, the most fun is not shooting fireballs and swinging swords, but is getting into your character and talking your way out of a solution, or even finding a way to avoid a problem altogether. I am going to miss taking a few hours out of each week to become a cleric with a hawk on my shoulder and going around bringing balance back to the world, but maybe I’ll be able to play again soon. Until then, I have those wonderful guys at The Adventure Zone podcast playing D&D version 5.0 to keep me entertained.

Rules

Recently my friends Isaac and Zak posted some of the “rules” they have for their own life. It seemed like a cool idea so I did the same thing, though many of these rules I break regularly and some are more like goals instead of laws in my life.

  • Drink plenty of water: Cutting out soda and other beverages (except for evening beer and morning coffee) has really made me feel healthier. Sometimes I forget to drink water regularly throughout the day so I have an app called Plant Nanny that reminds me to drink water and rewards me with cute plants that grow.
Untitled

Aren’t they cute? (Despite the terribly fuzzy picture)

  • Apply my ethics to food: I strive to apply my ethical stances on harming others (basically, don’t harm others) to my food sources as well. That means I am generally vegan unless the food is going to go in the trash or is a gift from someone. A bonus to this is eating a minimally processed plant-based diet has been really healthy for me.
  • Partners Come First: My sexual partners should have at least one orgasm before I have mine. Aside from just being polite, focusing on the pleasure and satisfaction of another person is an incredibly rewarding experience.
  • Unfriend Negative People: I try to unfriend people on Facebook who contribute nothing of value to conversations and only serve to be a negative force. I don’t mind debate and discussion on my posts (though I think Facebook is a terrible platform for that) but some people seem to show up just to dash the happiness of others. I don’t need that in my life.
  • Lose Pants: I take off pants (and all clothes) whenever possible. Environment often dictates this but if I am in a public or private place where nudity isn’t going to get me arrested or kicked out of a home then I will go au natural
  • Educate Myself: The internet provides access to nearly endless amounts of education so I try to do Khan Academy or watch educational videos or listen to podcasts before I get on Facebook each morning. Similarly, I try to blog before Facebook each day (this is new though)
  • Go Digital: When I want a new book I try and purchase an Audible or Kindle version. This is both for practicality (I can’t take all my books on the bike ride) and to guarantee I have access to that information in the future. It is unlikely something saved to Amazon’s server will get lost or broken like a book will.
  • Yelp: Write yelp reviews often, and try to be as honest as possible
  • Kiss: Kiss my wife passionately at least once a day and make sure she knows I love her
  • Savor Beer: Only drink good beers as the first or second one of the night. If I’m buzzed I can’t appreciate the artistry of brewing.
  • Minimize Distractions: When I am working or creating I put my cell phone in a different room and close all tabs that aren’t part of the task at hand.
  • Balance Art and Entertainment: When I am watching something on Netflix, reading a new book, or listening to music I strive to balance artistic stuff that makes me think and analyze my own life, and entertainment which serves to relax and distract for a time.
  • Love Myself: Whenever I get out of the shower I take several moments and look at myself naked in the mirror. I then mentally pick out the things I like about my body.
  • Minimize Trash: I purchase products in bulk or second-hand whenever possible.

At Our Fingertips

There is an old joke or something that I read once that goes something like this…

Question: If you could go back in time 100 years and could tell people anything, what do you think you would tell them that would amaze them the most?
Answer: By 2015 much of humanity will have access to nearly all of human knowledge on small plastic devices that fit in their pocket, but instead of learning and growing, humans mostly spend their time looking at cats and calling each other Nazis,

For me, the truth in that makes me chuckle and stings a bit. While I don’t think I have ever called someone a Nazi and looking at cat photos isn’t really my thing, I do spend way too much time on the internet wasting time and arguing with other people instead of improving myself. Hopefully, I can change that and take greater advantage of the opportunities that present themselves with the internet.

In total I currently pay for Netflix, Audible, Spotify Premium, and Amazon Prime. I split the costs with my partner so this amounts to about $20 a month. That is a hell of a deal for films, audio books, music, and quick/cheap shipping of physical goods. These resources would have literally costs millions ten years ago, if they even could be purchased at all. Maybe it is because I was born in 1981 and am an older millennial that this is staggeringly awesome to me. I remember renting VHS films, buying cassettes, scouring libraries hoping they have one or two outdated books on a subject. Now, most of that information is free or very low cost.

I can’t imagine my life now without Wikipedia, global access to more information than I could hope to consume in a lifetime (even if we stopped adding things now). You can even get educated through Khan Academy, Code Academy, and a variety of Open Courses provided by major traditional higher education facilities. Maybe colleges know they need to adapt or die.

All this information really comes down to opportunities for freedom though. My bike ride will be kicking off again soon and it is the first time in human history where something like this would be possible to maintain inevitably without some sort of financial fortune. My partner and I can work online from the road, power our devices with solar panels, access the internet on our phones, and even continue to educate ourselves, learn new languages, read thousands of books on a small thin, light, computer, stay up to date with the news, and listen to our favorite artists album’s the moment they are released.

It really should be no surprise that millennials travel more, reject “secure” careers, and are putting off families. The internet has made it possible to customize our lives. We can find happiness, meaning, satisfaction, and love in our own way instead of following the model of our parents.

Beer

Yesterday was National Beer Day in the United States. Unlike most random “national” holidays this one has some roots in history. April 7th, 1933 ended the incredibly harmful prohibition of alcohol… well, sort of. You could only buy beer with less than 4.05% ABV (alcohol-by-volume), but it was a step in the right direction. Prohibition of alcohol, just like prohibition of drugs today, always makes things worse.

As my Facebook friends, my coworkers, and my family know, I love beer. My coworkers usually see me purchase a couple of beers a night and I probably drink 1-2 every night. My mother is worried I am an alcoholic. It isn’t about the alcohol though, I don’t buy and drink beer to get drunk. To me, it is an appreciation of an artform. It is experiencing the hard work, experimentation, creativity, and diversity created by another person. As I have started brewing my own beer I have come to appreciate the nuances and variety that comes in the form of an amber ale.

I realize this is one of the trappings the Stoics wrote about. Becoming a snob in a certain area means the endless pursuit of something better, richer, more rewarding. It is a never-ending quest because you can never really catch them all (just ask Ash). Whether it is beer, video games, comic books, Magic cards, porn videos, rare coins, visiting new restaurants, or whatever other hobbies exist, the pursuit of the new instead of the appreciation and enjoyment of what you have can create dissatisfaction.

I don’t think I’ve fallen into that trap yet. Maybe I will someday, but for right now I am very happy enjoying a wonderful beer for the taste. Yes, I try to buy new ones regularly, but I am also happy to abstain from drinking or turning to an old favorite. Brewing is an artform to be appreciated, analyzed, and hopefully shared with friends. I’m sure the brewers around the world who provide this wonderful creation are happy to know that their work is enjoyed and they are appreciated.

Election Season

Well, in my little corner of the world it looks like election season is here. It’s true that the actual Presidential election is over 550 days away but that isn’t what is important. The important thing is that Rand Paul is announcing his intent to run for President. This provides my libertarian friends the opportunity to pass on a cultish devotion from father to son. Of course, libertarians aren’t the only ones who do this, just ask a member of the GOP about Bush or Reagan, or a member of the Democratic party about Obama or Hillary Clinton. Personality trumps action in national elections.

My lack of support for Rand Paul is blasphemy in some circles. He has been held up as some last, best chance to turn the country in the “correct” direction…. whatever the hell that means. The truth is, even if I agreed with Paul on everything (which I don’t) or even if I trusted him to keep the government out of the areas I disagree with him on (which I don’t) one person as President trying to change the course of the country is like one guy on the Titanic paddling against the engine.

If Paul is elected it could be a very negative thing for libertarians. He will have a hostile congress on both sides of the aisle. Anything bad that happens will be seen as a failure of libertarianism (even though that is way too simplistic in all cases). The few areas where he could make some positive changes, like the drug war, the momentum is already there for success. By time 2016 rolls around there will be a dozen or more states with recreational marijuana legalized and most states will have it decriminilized and/or medicinal use legalized. It would be political suicide for any candidate to stand against that wave and I’m willing to bet most plausible candidates in 2016 will vocally support states making the decision on marijuana themselves. Marriage is another issue that really won’t be an issue in the election (except maybe to rile up the religions right). The courts will have decided by then and there won’t be anything a President can do about it.

So no, I won’t be voting for Paul. I don’t see the Presidential elections as any real value. It is a dog and pony show, and for most people in this country their vote doesn’t even matter on a national scale. If I vote it will be only for local candidates and propositions that expand freedom. I only hope I can make it through the next 18 months or so without unfriending half the people I know on Facebook.