Seattle to Chicago – Introduction


Denis Kertz, ©1994





On the second day of my bicycle tour from Seattle to Chicago that I started on Labor Day weekend I lost my wallet and all of my money and identification in Port Townsend, Washington.  Now it was the end of the second week of my bicycle tour and despite this inauspicious start, it had been a great trip as I crossed the Washington Cascades on into Idaho and Montana.  Yesterday I had ridden the Going-to-the-Sun Road to Logan Pass in Glacier National Park on a beautiful fall day, a ride I had often thought would be challenging and fun and it was.  After camping overnight in a Glacier National Park campground near the St. Mary’s entrance, I started out to circle back along the southern boundary of Glacier towards Hamilton, just south of Missoula, to visit my sister and her family.  Then I planned to rest for a couple of days before I continued my odyssey on to Yellowstone National Park and  the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming, the Black Hills, the Badlands, and the prairies of South Dakota.

I had just climbed about 5 miles out of St. Mary’s on another one of the great fall days of this memorable fall of 1994 and started an exhilarating descent with gentle S curves as the just reward for my climbing efforts.  I was in no mood to slow my descent when I spotted two cows, one on each side of the road, in this open range area.  Having grown up on a small farm 50 miles south of St. Louis, I knew cows were not the brightest creatures in this world so I watched them carefully as I approached, hoping they would respect my right-of-way.  Just as I was virtually even with the cow on the right and had just relaxed, figuring it was too late for the cows to cause any trouble, the cow on the right spooked, ran down the side of the road a few steps and then bolted straight across the road and stopped and stared at me.

With a sinking feeling in those last few seconds, I knew a crash was inevitable as my loaded 90 pound touring bicycle projectile hurtled forward at 30 mph with no chance of a quick evasive maneuver.  I smashed in to the cow’s hindquarters, stopping my bicycle instantly but launching me over the cow in what may well have been a graceful flight but never to be known as there were no witnesses to this flight, except for the two cows who promptly fled the scene.  I lay sprawled on my back in the middle of the road too stunned to be able to get up and I was sure I had injured myself in some manner that would terminate my tour prematurely.


I wanted to do some cycling in the Rocky Mountains as a change of pace from my annual two week backpacking trek in the Rockies that I had done each fall for the past some 20 years.  I considered driving out West from the Naperville western suburb of Chicago where I lived and doing some kind of loop tour but I eventually decided to just fly to Seattle with my touring bicycle and ride back.  My plan was to ride through the Washington Cascades through Idaho and on to Glacier National Park in Montana following the Bikecentennial northern transcontinental bike route from Anacortes, Washington through Glacier.  From Glacier, I planned to swing southwest to visit my sister and her family in Hamilton, Montana, and then continue on to Yellowstone National Park.  From Yellowstone, I planned to cross the Big Horn Mountains in north central Wyoming and then continue on to the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota.  After the Badlands, I expected the scenery would be less interesting and I would more or less make a beeline to home, either heading across Minnesota into Wisconsin and South to Chicago or heading across Iowa and on into Illinois.

Since I’m an avid golfer and prefer to hang around the Chicago area in the summer for that purpose, I considered the feasibility of a fall tour as previously described.  I have been snowed on in the Rockies in mid-September while backpacking so I knew there was a weather risk.  On the other hand, I have had exceptional fall weather as well and knew that fall had the potential to offer some of the best cycling weather.  However, the threat of snow dictated a west-east route in addition to the promise of the prevailing westerly  winds.  In addition, it was easier to plan airline transportation for the start of a tour rather than the end.

With those thoughts in mind, I planned to fly to Seattle on Labor Day weekend and begin my journey back to Chicago, hoping that the fall weather would withhold its snow until I crossed the Big Horn Mountains.  After the Big Horns, I figured the worst I would have to deal with would be chilly or rainy weather which I could manage.  I had previously completed a 1200 mile tour of Lake Michigan as my only  touring experience and had experience with climbing hills on a loaded touring bicycle.  So I understood the necessity for adequate gearing that would be even more important in the Rockies where I could expect much longer climbs than those in the Midwest (and I was not disappointed).

My cycling equipment was a Miyata 618 touring frame equipped with 18 speed Shimano SIS with bar end shifters.  It had new wheels with Mavic 3D rims and  36 hole, 14 gauge spokes fitted with 700x28 Continental Super Sport tires. My gearing consisted of 24-36-38 chainrings and 12-30 6-speed cassette, having swapped my 28 tooth granny for a 24 tooth granny.  This gave me the following gearing:






























My bicycle was equipped with four OverLand panniers, two medium sized front panniers and two larger rear panniers, and a small handlebar bag.  Finally, I had a Vetta C15 cyclometer with front fork mounted pickup and a handlebar clip on compass.  I also had clip on Scott aero bars which I used solely as a map holder.

I planned to carry a tent and sleeping bag with the intention of camping wherever I could.  However, I wasn’t interested in cooking so I planned to eat out along the way and carried no cooking gear.

At the end of my trip (after I shipped some unneeded clothing home), I weighed my bike and panniers with the following results:

Left front pannier


Right front pannier


Left rear pannier


Right rear pannier


Empty panniers (4)


Tent and sleeping bag


Bicycle with racks, pump, handlebar bag


Loaded bicycle




Copyright Denis Kertz, 1994. All rights reserved.