Archive for the ‘cross country’ 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.
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.
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.
Today marked day 50 of our trip and we came across our first person walking across the country!
In the background of the photo, you can kind of see how she’s pushing her supplies across this huge country. We spotted her on the adjacent road near Big Timber, Montana and met in the middle of the field to chat.
Stacie Eichinger is from Tucson, Arizona and started her journey fifty-one days ago in Washington state. She’s headed east to Chicago (through South Dakota and on) and then south to Georgia, which marks the end of her journey. She’s walking about 15-20 miles a day, giving herself 9 months to complete the journey, and recently crossed the 1,000 mile mark. All the while, she’s pushing a modified baby stroller with her gear and an attached canopy for shade.
You can see a better photo of her rig and donate to the cause on Stacie’s fundraiser page. Very inspiring!
Montana’s state name is derived from the Spanish word montaña (mountain). Appropriately, this is also the state where we’re going to hit real climbing on our bike tour. The eastern side of the state is forgiving and has mostly thrown us short, steep treks up onto plateaus before the mountains truly begin further west. Today, only ten miles or so outside Billings, we saw our first snow-capped mountains on the horizon.
The Adventure Cycling maps that we’ve followed up to this point – a couple sections of the Northern Tier and some of the Lewis and Clark Trail (the route we’re following now) – hadn’t included the elevation charts alongside the maps. They do now. So far they’ve been fairly mild: a 250 foot climb here, another there, but looking ahead at some of the later sections of the Lewis and Clark, we will be in for major mountain climbing. We’ll reach our first mountain pass in a day or two.
Montana is gorgeous riding, though. I’m in awe of the variety of terrain we’re getting now, and prefer the hills to the flats. You never know what the view will hold just over the next ridge. At times they’re bizarre rock formations, other times it’s a herd of cattle grazing deep in the valley.
7 or 8 AM: Usually we’re waking by now. We don’t set an alarm most of the time; we wake when the sun starts to heat up the tent, beating us awake. Wash, eat breakfast, and pack up camp at a leisurely pace.
8 or 9 AM: Loaded up and hitting the road.
10 AM: Around 15 to 20 miles into our day, we take our first break to have a snack and reapply sunscreen. We eat whatever’s on hand – fruit, nuts, bars. Lately we’ve been taking to the Pearson’s Salted Nut Rolls (cheap, gas station version of a Clif Bar) or one of these Krispy treats when we can get them.
11:30 AM: Time to eat “first lunch,” one of the most important meals of the day. If we can’t find a diner (our top choice) or someplace else to grab an inexpensive meal in town, we’ll usually cook in a city park’s picnic pavilion, or, in rare instances, just make peanut butter sandwiches on the side of the road somewhere.
12 PM: More riding.
2 PM: Second lunch, if we’re feeling hungry. If not, just a big snack. We often take this time to look up where we might camp that night. Call nearby campgrounds or the town hall or perhaps a Warm Showers host, and hopefully resume riding with a sense of finality.
4 PM: Ideally we’re getting close to our destination by now. However, sometimes we ride until 7 or 8 in the evening, depending on wind conditions, amount of climbing, etc). Luckily there are plenty of daylight hours in the summer.
6 PM: Set up camp. We split the duties. Usually I’ll start cooking dinner while Adam sets up the tent, then we’ll eat – and shower if we have access to one.
8 PM: Read, write, stretch. Usually hit the hay around 9 or 10 PM because we can’t help falling asleep at nightfall.