Archive for the ‘bike touring’ tag
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.
Today we made it into San Francisco! This was the eleventh straight day of hilly riding on the west coast without a break – though we’ve decided to take a needed rest day tomorrow.
This morning we continued our ride up and down through Marin County.
In the early afternoon, our friend Maya caught up with us on Route 1 and guided us to her place in the city. We took a coffee break in the touristy Sausalito, then waited for a few minutes amidst the hubbub of tourists on the Golden Gate Bridge until 3:30, when the west side of the bridge opens for cyclist-only passage. Navigating the east side looked much too chaotic, with tourists shakily riding rental bikes and abruptly stopping everywhere to take photos.
San Francisco is hillier than I remember it from a family trip ten years ago; the grade of some of these busy streets seems to defy logic. Yet buildings sit, positioned at angles to the streets and sidewalks, while drivers zoom up, cyclists trudge by, and streetcar lines trace the grey skies.
Pockets of the city do see some sun, though often too briefly.
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.
The past three days of riding have been spent winding along U.S. 12, a road through rugged wilderness. The road follows the bends of the Lochsa River for most of the part we were on, and the area is designated a Wild and Scenic River; a friendly park ranger said we can pull over and camp anywhere we’d like. It has required some planning in advance so we could always have enough water, especially in what’s been a bit of a heat wave through the area. We’ve been filling up on water at ranger stations and some picnic areas with better amenities. There is no cell service through most of this route, so we can only make updates when we find a place with wifi. I was also excited to see “wildlife resistant” trash receptacles, because it means we’re really out in the wild, but relieved to see signs saying grizzlies are essentially non-existant in this area.
Cycling over Lolo Pass going westbound was a breeze – only a 7-mile haul up, followed by an incredible coast down the other side. Six percent grades on a meandering road are just about the ideal when you’re coming down, as you don’t need to brake. The ranger station atop Lolo Pass was one of my favorite rest stops: free coffee and tea (many flavors of tea), wireless internet, picnic areas, and the usual wealth of information and maps.
There have also been plenty of places to pull over and wade into the river. It’s a great way to cool off, and we even talked to some fly fishermen who were finishing up their day in the oppressive midday heat. The temperatures have hit the low hundreds each afternoon in the river valley, though it cools off significantly in the evenings. We finished reading A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean, which made us begin to understand fly fishing and life in these parts a little bit better.
Recent milestones: crossing the 3,000-mile mark of our trip, entering Idaho and the Pacific time zone, and celebrating two months spent on the road! We’re looking at options for the rest of our ride to Santa Barbara, but expect it’ll be another month or so before we end our bike tour.
We’ve been looking forward to arriving in Missoula since our journey began. It’s a milestone for us because we’re now in the hometown of the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA), an organization that does a huge amount of work to promote bicycle touring and safe bicycling routes nationally. We’ve also been chatting with the ACA folks along the way and were finally able to meet some of them in person.
Having done a couple of longer days beforehand, on Friday we were able to have a short ride to Missoula from Hamilton (about 50 miles). We were surprised to find that there was a separated bike path most of the way from Hamilton to Lolo, so it was a relaxing ride punctuated with many stops to talk to bike tourists – some headed south from Alberta, others headed across the United States.
After Lolo, the bike path ended and we rode along Route 12 into Missoula, following a pair of women from Oakland who were headed to Yellowstone. We all rode into Missoula to the ACA building together, where we enjoyed free ice cream, got our photos taken for the collection, and relaxed with the staff. That evening, we attended a free film event called ‘Clips of Faith’ sponsored by New Belgium in Caras Park. It was nice seeing so many people out enjoying the cool evening and watching short films on an inflatable projection screen.
Saturday we got our bearings around town, checked out the library where we took care of some on-the-road paperwork, watched people jump into the Clark Fork river, had great ice cream at Big Dipper and great pizza at Bridge Pizza, and cooked a nice dinner with vegetables from the farmers market. There’s a nice bike trail system that runs along the river, as well as many bike lanes throughout the rest of Missoula. We also ran into two of the cyclists we had met a few days ago in Bozeman – bicycle touring can feel like a small world at times.
The unexpected discovery of the day was the Maker Space in the Missoula Public Library. We overheard two local students asking about where the 3D printer was located and couldn’t resist the opportunity to check it out. We followed them to the lower level where the Maker Space was located, and Jim Semmelroth demonstrated how the 3D printer worked. The model they had was the MakerBot Replicator 2. It was neat to see it in action, printing an earring design in 10 minutes with maybe a quarter’s worth of material. The machine is fed with a large spool of plastic filament which is melted down and then applied, layer by layer, onto the plate as the form emerges.
On Sunday, we took our host Evan’s suggestion to grab coffee and pastries at Le Petit Outre, a bakery and coffee shop that also sponsors a cycling team. Then he let us borrow his inner tubes to go float down the river. Hoards of people had the same idea to take to the water. We floated down for a couple hours, then met up with a friend of a friend at the Rhino for some beers. Over 50 taps!
After two fun and restful days, we’re back on the road tomorrow – crossing into Idaho via Lolo Pass soon. Thanks to Rachel and Evan for being super hosts in Missoula!
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.
Started the day in Bozeman with a greeting from our host’s five chickens. They had laid some eggs which Greg sauteed up into a veggie scramble. It’s important to have a good breakfast before hitting the road.
We also stopped at the Bozeman food co-op before leaving town to stock up on some bulk food. We met three westbound cross-country cyclists sitting outside having their breakfast: Cole, Derek, and Adam. The three friends had started cycling from North Carolina and were taking a rest day in Bozeman before heading north towards Glacier National Park, and then to Vancouver.
Today was a spectacular day of riding all around. The winds were with us for once, carrying us swiftly along, the scenery in Montana growing more astounding since we crossed into the mountains. We descended into the Jefferson River valley, where we were treated to views like this.
Spent time this afternoon chatting with people who were curious to hear about our trip, including a group of women who had become friends when they attended college at Madison. They said they were inspired by our journey – “I’m going to make my kids do this!” – and one of the women was originally from Alaska. (I mention this because ‘Meet an Alaskan’ is an item on our scavenger hunt.) We also talked to a couple guys who were in the area taking a geology course.
Montana is in a class of its own when it comes to natural beauty. A woman at our campground just walked by telling us to walk over and spy on a bull moose feeding by the river. I can definitely see the appeal of the west.