Archive for the ‘bike touring’ Category
Thankful for the families that we’re born into and the families that we find. Thanksgiving is a favorite time for me, a festive holiday centered around food and family. The past couple years have been tough in that I haven’t been able to spend Thanksgiving with my family, missing out on the mornings catching up with cousins and the hours spent cooking up a feast of Korean and American comforts. But we’ve been fortunate on the west coast, too, welcomed by friends to their dinner tables and making a little community of our own out here. This year we were invited by friends to join in on their new tradition of taking a Thanksgiving bike tour, and I can’t imagine a better way to have spent the long weekend.
Reached Los Angeles on the day after Thanksgiving – a rainy one – after two days of riding from Santa Barbara. Adam and I had decided on a short Thanksgiving weekend bike tour since we finally had a chunk of free time off from work and school. Despite the rain, which left us thoroughly drenched by the time we reached LA, we enjoyed being back in the saddle and exploring new places on the California coast.
Entering Los Angeles via the Strand trail from Will Rogers Beach past Santa Monica was as relaxing as any weekend bike ride. We rode along a mixed-use path that cut right through the beach – no need to deal with traffic other than the occasional brave jogger. The path itself continues further south for a total of 22 miles in length, but we headed in towards downtown once we got to Venice. The mix of rain and sand led to lots of accumulated grime on our bikes, but the wet day also meant very light traffic once we got back to on-street riding.
It was neat wandering around Koreatown in the afternoon (eventually the rain did lighten up), as it was my first time visiting LA and because I’d been missing easy access to good Korean restaurants. We also enjoyed trying a selection of pastries from the local panaderias. It’s true that LA’s Koreatown is home to about as many Mexican immigrants as Koreans, and apparent when you walk around the neighborhood. Some streets have more Spanish-language signage while others are dominated by hangul. A vibrant neighborhood overall, with lively street life and families with young children walking around in the evening. We did also see a little bit of downtown in the early morning, though I’m sure we’ll be back to see more soon.
I love arriving at a new place that welcomes visitors with a sign that goes beyond the standard highway sign. They show off local pride and give you a sense of place that helps you distinguish it from any other town. Small towns in America often plaster their claims to fame on their welcome signs, ranging from the modest (Twin Bridges, Montana: “The Small Town That Cares”) to the baffling (Alexandria, Minnesota: “Birthplace of America”). I looked that one up later.
Many towns, of course, merely describe their physical location. Portland, Michigan, for example, calls itself the “City of Two Rivers,” which I suppose you won’t argue; it sits at the confluence of the Grand River and the Looking Glass River. Some towns pay respects to the local fauna, which I like to think may be more abundant than the people there. This could be the case of Norwalk, Wisconsin, “The Black Squirrel Capital of the World.”
Others were amusing to me when read in succession. We were welcomed by a sign to Fargo, North Dakota: “Gateway to the West” only to find that a few days of riding later we were in Mandan, North Dakota: “Where the West Begins.” I guess the gateway to the west is positioned two hundred miles east of where the west actually starts. It goes to show you how flexible place boundaries are depending on who you ask.
However, my favorite small town claim to fame may have to be the welcome sign for Marion, North Dakota: “Why Not Stop & Stretch” – simple and self-effacing. And a perfect suggestion if you’re cycling through.
Here’s our summer bicycle tour, by the numbers. We like to keep tallies of various things that help us remember the good times along with the bad. Feel free to ask about details!
4,651 miles bicycled
131,138 feet of climbing – almost 25 miles of elevation gain
88 days on the road
53 nights of camping
19 nights staying with friends and family
12 nights with Warm Showers hosts
3 nights at a hostel or motel
12 rest days
5 days of riding with high temperature of at least 100°F
61 miles on an average day of riding
25 miles ridden on our shortest day
88 miles ridden on our longest day
10 pounds lost per person over duration of tour
93 pounds, weight of Adam’s bicycle fully-loaded
80 pounds, weight of Crystal’s bicycle fully-loaded
8 flat tubes
3 tires worn out
3 chains replaced
1 bottom bracket replaced (Adam’s)
1 faulty cleat screw (mine)
Generally our biggest trip expenses were lodging and food. Tent sites at campgrounds were more expensive until we hit the coast, when hiker/biker sites for $5 per person became abundant. We weren’t paying rent at the time, and the entire trip cost us less than we normally spent on Washington, DC rent.
$47.36 spent per day, or $23.68 per person per day
$15.93 average cost of camping for two
29 ounces of cooking gas used
9 batches of bagels baked
11 jars of peanut butter eaten
17 waffles consumed – and countless pancakes
43 scoops of ice cream enjoyed
150 beers drank
1/2 loaf of bread stolen from camp by raccoons
63 showers each – hey, we were usually camping
32 ounces of sunblock applied
4 awesome cyclists met on Muskegon-Milwaukee ferry
4 thunderstorms – all in Montana
2 test rides on fellow cyclists’ rigs
Our bike tour that took us across the country from Washington, DC and down the west coast came to a close yesterday, as we picked up the keys to our new apartment. We’re now living in Goleta, California, which is home to UC Santa Barbara and a short bike ride into downtown Santa Barbara.
We’re going to miss the life of bicycle touring: meeting new people everyday and striking up conversation everywhere, juggling the tasks of keeping ourselves fed and our bikes running smoothly and our devices charged, falling asleep exhausted to the lingering scent of our fellow travelers’ campfires. I almost feel spoiled now by electric light, the ability to turn on a faucet for clean water anytime, and a fixed roof over our heads. But I’m thankful for it, and I don’t think I’ll take these things for granted again.
Living on the road for three months has taught me to think on my feet and be flexible with our plans. It’s shown us that it’s possible to cover huge distances through our own strength and perseverance, that each epic journey is composed of small efforts stacked up over time. It has also reinforced my impression that most people are good. Friends, family, and even family of friends that we’d never met before took us in graciously and became our connection to home. And our friends back home never stopped sending their encouragement. With a lot of time to think while pedaling for hours daily, every kind word was repeated over and over again. I missed you all.
I often told people we met that we were moving by bicycle so that we would have the time to see everything in between. Traveling a distance by bike really shrinks it to human scale. DC to Pittsburgh felt like a long trip, then it wasn’t. It became a gravel trail, a week of camping, and a few inspiring conversations. When we entered Montana, we were amazed at the claim that crossing the state east-west was comparable to riding from New York City to Chicago. But for us it was really two weeks on the bike riding through gorgeous scenery and staying with wonderful folks who took us in before they knew us. That’s what travel does: it makes a place comprehensible, personal, and, for a short time, yours.
It’s a bittersweet feeling as our trip comes to a close. We’re trying our best to savor every moment, while looking forward with anticipation to our next stage in life. We tell everyone we meet we’re almost there, and each new day brings us nearer to Santa Barbara. Now we look at our destination on a map and it doesn’t seem so far, especially compared to how far we’ve come already.
Over the past few days, the colder coastal weather has been slowly warming up, with more hours of sunlight with each passing day. We stop often, to watch seals play or have a roadside snack or talk to other travelers. Bike paths are becoming more common, and we appreciate each one. Yesterday we passed huge strawberry farms with busloads of migrant workers listening to the radio as they worked in the heat of the day. Dusty roads greeted us with the aroma of strawberries. I saw my first field of artichokes – never imagined the plants looked the way they do. It’s nice to be out learning about the world first-hand.
We’ve had several big climbs that reward us with big vistas. Big Sur was a nice climb. A passing road cyclist cheered our effort. A morning climb today between Gorda and Ragged Point was a perfect start to the day, which is warming up quickly. The first half of the day is usually still blanketed by the marine layer, though. We have to run our headlights and taillights to be seen while riding, as we can barely see the road ahead of us ourselves.
The sun actually came out today in San Francisco, making it an easy decision to walk over for the park to picnic away the afternoon, soak up vitamin D, and wander through the de Young Museum. We spent time catching up with friends who are both former DC residents and new residents to SF, having lived here less than a year each. I love discussing differences in lifestyle from east coast city living versus west coast city living. There’s much more homelessness here, some of it voluntary.
The Lawn Bowling Club was out, playing what looked to me like bocce. The signs, however, forbade playing bocce on the lawn bowling greens – so there must be some major difference. They invited us to come learn how to play during their free lesson tomorrow, but we’re back on the road then.
The view from the observation deck of the de Young Museum was improved by the lack of fog that is quintessential San Francisco. We could see all the populated streets fanning out on the hillsides.
The museum was designed by the prominent architects Herzog & de Meuron and I felt that the building was as much on display as the collections of art. In the cafe courtyard, people were out soaking up the sun.
We made sure, of course, to eat enough Mexican food to fuel us for the last few days of our trip. Continuing south tomorrow, hopefully with fresh legs!
On day 71 of our trip we finally reached the other coast! It was a splendid day of riding, leaving Portland with lots of excitement – and a day of rest – in our legs. We were also stuffed from a huge home-cooked breakfast, thanks to my aunt. On a recommendation from a local cyclist, we hooked up to 99W then made our way to Nestucca River Road, which gave us a long climb then an even longer descent into the small town of Beaver, Oregon. This was a great route through lush forest on an almost entirely car-free road, and the climb was fairly gradual the whole way. It probably ranked as one of our longest climbs, though.
From Beaver, we got onto 101 (The Oregon Coast Highway), which led us to the coast. Though it was foggy, looking out onto the Pacific Ocean for the first time here felt significant. The route generally follows the coastline all the way south to the California border, so we’d have no shortage of ocean viewing in the next few weeks.
The next day and the first full day of riding down the Oregon coast started off with another great climb on a quiet road. Compared to the previous day’s ascent, we barely noticed the climb up Slab Creek Road. We chatted away the time as we wound up gentle switchbacks. And again, it felt as if we lost much more elevation going down than we had just worked to gain. We followed this with a stop at what was probably the best diner of our trip so far: Otis Cafe. We filled up on German potatoes – hash browns cooked with onions and smothered in white cheddar cheese – and sourdough pancakes. Perfect fuel for the day ahead.
The following day, we met even more cyclists heading down the coast. It’s refreshing to suddenly meet lots of folks heading the same way we are, as we’d met very few other people going east to west across the country, but here everyone we see is heading south. We met a German couple while riding and then that night’s hiker/biker site was packed to the brim with other touring cyclists! We shared a small site at the popular Sunset Bay State Park with seven others: a French-Canadian couple from Quebec, two women from Portland, a Swiss guy, and a couple from Eugene riding a custom cargo-recumbent-tandem bike. That ride was truly one of a kind. Dexter converted his cargo bike into a tandem with a recumbent set-up in front, where she sits with the gear stowed below her. It has an internal 8-speed hub with two chainrings but no derailleur, so he has to manually shift into and out of the granny gear. (They look at elevation charts to plan ahead for that.) There’s a custom chainguard that keeps the bags from bothering the chain. And either one of them can coast while the other pedals.
Today we had an early start to get as close to the southern end of Oregon as we could. Rocky coastlines lined our right side and cold misty air blew in all day, giving us only a couple hours of sunlight all day. We’ll be crossing into California tomorrow, then continuing down the coast towards Santa Barbara. Long days of riding ahead!
One of my favorite legs of the journey so far was taking Historic Columbia River Highway for sections of our route from The Dalles into Portland. The construction of this scenic highway first started in 1913, but in the 1930s it was beginning to be thought of as too narrow and dangerous. Interstate 84, which runs along at river level, replaced the Columbia River Highway by the 1960s.
More recent efforts to restore and reconnect the old highway are bringing the highway back for a scenic alternative to I-84. Some portions are open to all traffic, but other sections had been converted into trails closed to motorized vehicles. The stretch between Cascade Locks and Troutdale (just outside Portland) was memorable for its lush waterfalls, serpentine wanderings, and sweeping vistas.
Gorgeous, and enormous, Multnomah Falls.
One of the biggest perks of staying with family: being fed huge meals! Korean dinners, waffle breakfasts, and as much fresh fruit as we could eat. It was wonderful spending hours catching up and sharing stories.
Portland’s giving us a taste of Pacific Northwest weather, as it’s been mostly in the 60s and a bit drizzly. We had the chance to walk around downtown and see some cool transit in action, including the Portland streetcar.
Some neat old factories-turned-condos in the downtown, as well.
We browsed around Powell’s Books, had some beer and some coffee, and skipped the enormous line for Voodoo Doughnut (very much reminded me of the perpetual line outside of Georgetown Cupcake).
Next we’re heading to the coast – the other coast! – where we’ll mostly be following the Oregon Coast along Highway 101. Advice, recommendations, comments are always much appreciated.
As cyclists know: For every uphill, there is a downhill, but for every headwind, there is another headwind.
That’s a good recap of our past three days of riding. Coming into the Columbia River valley going west, we knew to expect the constant headwinds, but it’s been a real challenge to make our planned distances for each day. We’re fortunate that our schedule is flexible and there are many campgrounds along the Columbia River, and stopping ten or fifteen miles short hasn’t really thrown our plans. We are arriving in Portland tomorrow and planning to take a rest day there before we head to the coast (!).
That being said, we can’t complain because the riding has been beautiful.
We have also been meeting more and more cyclists every day as we near the west coast. Today, we even met three cyclists from Santa Barbara, who were on a bike tour that started from Seattle. Their blog is Ready Riders. I talked to Bob about the maps he uses to navigate, and it turns out he’s using OpenStreetMap downloaded maps so he can look at them offline on his iPad while riding. Pretty interesting solution – the iPad doubles as their blogging tool, as well.