Archive for the ‘camping’ 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.
Peaceful camping in Sequoia National Forest last weekend, tucked away under the majestic trees while Fourth of July crowds gathered along the banks of the Kern River.
A great weekend trip up north to Big Sur, a scenic part of the central California coast where I had last been on the bike trip with Adam. It was definite change to see things from inside a car, with the tight curves of the Pacific Coast Highway passing in a blur. I was both pleased to see other cyclists enjoying this beautiful stretch of coastline and anxious about how little space they really had on the road, with a constant stream of fast-moving cars and motorcyclists enjoying the drive. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d ride the PCH again on a bicycle, at least not on a busy weekend.
Big Sur is an interesting area. The first time we passed through we couldn’t figure out when we were actually in Big Sur. The signage seems to disagree on what bounds the region. There’s a little community that calls itself “Big Sur” toward the northern reach of Big Sur, but the region continues quite a bit further south along the PCH. The shift in landscape is very apparent as you leave Big Sur, however.
We hiked through stands of coastal redwoods and set up a miniature tent city at our site. With the decreasing daylight, we donned headlamps and finished cooking dinner into the darkness. We consumed close to twenty heads of garlic in one meal (almost 2 heads of garlic per person). An early start that morning, a good uphill hike, and 10 o’clock quiet hours meant we were all in our tents with plenty of time to sleep off the long day.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is a great choice if you’re looking to camp in the area. It’s popular but large enough to accommodate hundreds of people, and offers hiking trails in walking distance of your site.
In the evening, we took time out to admire the stars. You can see so many out there.
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.
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!
Last night we stayed in the best cyclist-only lodging we’ve seen yet. The Twin Bridges bike camp is a simple facility that provides everything a touring cyclist needs. It’s a welcome hub for cyclists who are traveling through Twin Bridges, Montana on the popular Lewis & Clark or TransAmerica routes. The bike camp is located in the city park just across the bridge from Main Street.
The main building has “Bike Camp” posted prominently at its entrance. Inside, there’s seating and table space, information about the businesses in Twin Bridges, a cooler in case you want to keep your drinks cold (a luxury on the road!), plenty of outlets to charge your electronics, and a donation box. It’s free for touring cyclists to use, but since the facility is donation-run, it’s important to contribute what you can and to fill out the survey so organizers can keep the place running and better gauge usage.
The backside of the building has a sink for dishwashing, one shower room and one bathroom. There’s a patio with picnic tables and a grill so you have space to cook dinner. Tents can be pitched anywhere on the lawn, so no worries about running out of space if other cyclists are staying the same night. There were two other cyclists camping with us that night. We spent the evening getting to know each other, then in the morning commiserating over the crazy winds that raged all night – which turned out to be tailwinds for today!
Twin Bridges calls itself “the small town that cares.” It’s a great little town with a full set of amenities: post office, library, grocery store, restaurants, cafe, and laundromat. We’re huge fans of this step that Twin Bridges is taking towards drawing in more bicycle tourism. This proves that it doesn’t take much to convince a cyclist to spend a bit more time and money in your town: just put out the welcome mat. You can read more about the Twin Bridges Bike Camp from its conception on the Adventure Cycling blog.
You’ve probably noticed by now our route isn’t your usual cross-country bike ride. (Ignore the missing section – we did ride it, but GPS was out of battery.)
Though it’s taking us much longer this way than cutting straight across America, we’ve plotted it thus for several reasons. Some are practical considerations – we’re not keen on cycling through the southern U.S. in the high heat of the summer, for one. Other reasons stem from our preferences.
Adam and I both love exploring urban places and there are some great American cities we want to experience firsthand. The density of cities makes for better bikeability and walkability, both huge pluses for us. We’ve been able to observe the variety of solutions that have been implemented all over, including the novel bicycle infrastructure of Minneapolis.
In major cities, we happen to have more friends or friends of friends to visit. Friends have also convinced us to reroute occasionally: Madison was added simply because enough people claimed it was a city worth visiting. Our schedule change ended up making our route more direct, though it meant missing out on some of the reportedly beautiful upper Michigan areas.
There are an incredible number of National Parks designated in the United States, and we both have a love for them instilled in us by our parents. I fondly remember hiking with my family in the Smoky Mountains and a freezing night in a cabin in Yosemite when my father had to stay up and keep the fire going. Adam has travelled cross-country by RV twice with his family, passing through Yellowstone, Crater Lake, and others. On this bike trip, we’re excited for the prospect of visiting Crater Lake (a first for me) and possibly Glacier, depending on how much extra time we factor in.
Weather and Climate
I haven’t ever been great with dealing with high heat, and we figured the northern states would have a milder summer than the middle states along the TransAmerica Trail. So far that’s been the case – we didn’t have any stretches of days hitting the 80s or higher until we were leaving Minnesota. As a plus, it’s been much less humid than the summers we’re used to in Washington, DC.
For more specific routing, there are other considerations:
Elevation and Terrain
Elevation and terrain matter for cycling. We prefer quiet country roads, but if they’re significantly hillier than taking a wide, flat shoulder, sometimes the busier, more direct roads win out. Another issue we’ve run into with roads in farmlands is they’re not always paved. After a few long bouts of gravel road riding, we’ve begun to dread the sudden “Pavement ends” signs.
Rail-trails are great alternatives when they exist. These are former railroad lines converted into multi-use trails meant for walkers, joggers, cyclists, and sometimes snowmobiles. They’re necessarily flat because of their original use, so you know you won’t be getting major changes in grade.
In North Dakota, we’re just now hitting an area where towns are few and far between. Fortunately, we don’t have to do as much research on this leg of our trip since we’re back on the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) routes. The ACA routes show us distances to nearby towns and what amenities are available in each town – whether we’ll be able to stock up on groceries, find a place to camp, etc.
We’ve found that town parks are great for midday breaks because they usually have a covered picnic area, meaning we can cook our lunch, fill our water bottles, and even plug in our cell phones for a quick charge if there’s an outlet.
In some places, people have even set up cyclist-only lodging, such as the Adirondack shelters in Connellsville, Pennsylvania or the Honey Hub in Gackle, North Dakota. These are always the best kinds of places to stay, with amenities geared towards touring cyclists. You can usually find the essentials: showers, laundry, bike tools, and space to crash.
Leaving Pittsburgh was much less straightforward than entering Pittsburgh via the GAP Trail, as we had to navigate a succession of bridges through the fairly well-trafficked surrounding area. We weren’t following the Adventure Cycling maps yet, so for the most part I pieced together routes that other cyclists had shared online. This worked better than looking up directions on Google Maps or drawing lines across state maps because you get an idea of which roads are navigable by bicycle. Google Maps had led us astray several times by trying to put us on dangerous roads (even using their “bicycling directions,” which are very much in beta).
We rode through the quiet industrial area of Neville Island and crossed the Ohio River again into Sewickley. This stretch along the river from Sewickley to Ambridge passed through pleasant suburban towns. Unfortunately, a bridge being closed near Ambridge meant we couldn’t cross over again there and had to find another meandering route to avoid riding on the busy Ohio River Boulevard. Sometimes there were side streets we could take that paralleled the route, but eventually we reached an area where we couldn’t continue north that way and had to detour. It was a hot day combined with stressful navigation – I called for us to stop early that day and make up the miles tomorrow.
Navigation the next two days was better because we decided to follow the BicyclePA route the rest of the way into Erie. Bike Route A is mostly a gently-rolling, two-lane road that runs across north to south (and vice versa) in the western part of the state. It was a fairly monotonous series of rolling hills, but navigation was straightforward – we only had to follow the street signs marking the route. From the little we saw of Erie, it seemed to be your typical beach town. It was nice to camp right on Lake Erie, and though it cooled down fast after sunset, you could sink your feet into the still-warm sand.
From Erie, we picked up the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) Northern Tier route to continue west along the coast of Lake Erie. There were many beautiful picnic areas that overlooked the lake, so we stopped often to take in the sight. Following the ACA map sections was great – worth the cost to not have to deal with mapping the route out ourselves. It also lists amenities along the route, including campsites and places to stock up on groceries.
Ashtabula was one of our favorite stops because it had a superb cafe called Harbor Perk where lots of locals gathered. We took a break to catch up on emails and arrange hosting for the night, and in that time we got to talk to several friendly people who took interest in our trip. Hello and thank you to Karen, who kindly offered us a place to stay if our lodging fell through that night. She’s hosted cyclists who have come through the town on the Northern Tier route before. (An aside: Another random act of kindness came the next day, from Bob in Grand River who gave us soda – or pop – as a midday pick-me-up!)
We stayed with our first Warm Showers host in Geneva, a great guy named Richard who lived next door to his cousin. When we arrived, we got to watch a tree fall – they’re clearing space for a pasture to start keeping cows. Richard was very welcoming and we all chatted well into the night, exchanging stories about our bike tours. It’s easy to stay up past daylight with electric lights! He’s done a bike tour from San Diego to where he lives now, and I hope we inspired him to do the stretch to Washington, DC since it’s a great route.
Before we ever reached Cleveland, we had been warned by people as far east as the Pennsylvania-Ohio border that the filming of the new Captain America movie was causing traffic havoc in downtown Cleveland. We had braced ourselves for the worst by the time we approached Cleveland – to find that there was a bike trail that led us around the congestion. We never had to deal with movie filming traffic, just bypass a high water area near the shore. On our way into downtown Cleveland, we also passed through Bratenahl, an incredibly wealthy area with some of the largest houses we’ve ever seen in person.
In Cleveland, we met up with Rich, a guy we met camping on the C&O, and his great family. His work schedule was flexible enough that we could take a day to see Cleveland, visiting the extensive Cleveland Museum of Art, the famous Sokolowski’s polish cafeteria, and Great Lakes Brewery.
The ride from Cleveland to Toledo took us two days. We camped for a night about midway along the route, then picked up the North Coast Inland Trail from Clyde to Elmore. Elmore had a cute downtown where we took yet another ice cream and coffee break. Stayed with Taylor, an electrical engineering student at the University of Toledo, in Toledo. We cooked dinner and had some fun conversations. It’s funny how such a late sundown causes you to lose track of time. We were exhausted by day’s end, having ridden 66 miles that day.
Always break for ice cream.
We’re in Pittsburgh now! What a wonderful, underrated city.
Cycling long distances day after day is a real challenge. We keep pedaling on with thoughts that it’ll get easier over time, but new challenges will take its place: heat, more complex navigation, big climbs…
Here are some of the less glamorous parts of cycle touring:
- spider bites
- saddle sores
- missing friends and family
- rain getting all your gear muddy
- needing to eat all the time (both good and bad)
- those long stretches of road where everything kind of looks the same
But this is all balanced out by the wonderful parts of cycle touring:
- meeting new people every day – everyone opens up to you much more readily
- setting your own schedule
- encouraging emails or notes from friends (send more!)
- food tasting much more delicious
- eating all your meals outside
- beautiful vistas and regional flora and small towns
We are mildly sunburnt and our legs could use a break. So, we’re taking our first rest day tomorrow and just hanging out to explore Pittsburgh a bit more. Shooting for zero miles on the bikes!