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Oren Sheinman - The Mystery of the Hidden Tungsten
08.31.12
 
Not satisfied to merely cycle through neighborhoods and take in the sights of the suburbs, Goddard engineer Oren Sheinman prefers mountain vistas, primitive campgrounds, and—for some reason—the chance to see a grizzly or two.

Sheinman likes his riding to be an adventure, which is why he took his “very used bike” on a three-week, 1,400-mile, self-sustained ride from Missoula, Mont., to Edmonton, the capital city of Alberta, Canada.

“Self-sustained means you carry everything—your food, bedding, tent, sleeping bag, pots and pans, stoves, you name it,” Sheinman says. “You stay in campgrounds, not hotels. … You miss half the experience, the camaraderie, staying in a hotel.” Thirteen cyclists made the professionally organized and guided trip with him.

Oren Sheinman at Logan's Pass› Larger image
Oren Sheinman at Logan's Pass located along the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park, in the U.S. state of Montana. Credit: O. Sheinman
“At the campgrounds, the locals would tell us about all the cool places to go,” says Sheinman. “Places like natural hot springs on the edge of a mountain where we could sit at dusk and watch the sun set.”

“You get this feeling of invulnerability once you’ve acclimated to the miles in the saddle,” he says. “Then you hear that some Tour de France guy went 35 mph up a hill while you thought you were doing well going 35 mph down a hill."

"The first week you get sore and just pedal through it,” he says. “The body tends to take care of itself if you don’t push too hard initially.” The first week they averaged 55 to 75 miles a day and increased up to 100 miles a day the second week. The team allotted one day a week for rest including enjoying nature, healing the wounds, and even once rafting rapids in Montana’s Glacier National Park.

Oren Sheinman with his cycling group› Larger image
Sheinman with some of his cyclist friends on a trip out West. He is seventh from the left. Credit: O. Sheinman
It’s a type of cycling that burns a lot of calories: “Sometimes I ate two breakfasts, two lunches, a dinner including a pound of pasta and still lost weight,” he says. “As preparation, I did a bunch of practice rides putting 50 pounds of bricks in the bags.”

Sheinman’s riding partner for the trip was a gourmet cook who managed five-star fare like pasta primavera and salmon croquettes despite the outdoor kitchen. “You didn’t want to screw up because there were 13 hungry people counting on you—often with no running water, stores, or McDonalds in sight,” Sheinman says.

The group was able to receive mail at a P.O. box halfway through the trip. Sheinman, ever the practical joker, was himself the brunt of a long-distance gag from his coworkers. One coworker sent him a diversionary care package of Hostess cakes. Another sent the ride leader a 10-pound tungsten cylinder with secret instructions
to hide it on Sheinman’s bike. Tungsten is a metal used as balance weight on spacecraft because of its high density. This piece was about the size of a can of V8: small enough to easily conceal. After discovering the tungsten, Sheinman turned the block into a running joke and hid it on his fellow riders’ bikes.

The rider who carried the metal stowaway for seven uphill hours on Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park was not amused, Sheinman says.

“After a while, in the mornings before we rode, out of paranoia, everyone asked to see the tungsten,” Sheinman says. “But the last joke was on me. One morning after breakfast duty, I was the last rider out of the campground. I went back to the campsite only to find my bike in pieces. One wheel was bungee-corded up into a tree, Vaseline was on my mirror, and tree stumps and boulders were rolled into my tent.”

The group trip concluded in Jasper, Alberta. Sheinman rode the final 300 miles—through the Rocky Mountains with full packs—to Edmonston solo. By the time he reached the airport for his flight home, Sheinman had racked up a miraculous grand total of zero flat tires.

For the next adventure, Sheinman would like to bike up the Alaska Highway, from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Fairbanks. While he waits, he enjoys local day trips, including the annual Seagull Century, a 100-mile trek from Salisbury, Md., to Assateague Island.

Oren's bike rigging for his trip› Larger image
Sheinman's bike packed and ready for the road. Credit: O. Sheinman
As for the infamous tungsten, Sheinman presented it to the ride’s group leader before the team separated in Jasper. When the cyclists went their separate ways, the tungsten (and the gag) remained in the Pacific Northwest. Mystery solved.

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Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.