Archive for the ‘travel’ tag
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.
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!
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.
Avenue of the Giants, a 30-mile stretch of scenic road that parallels 101, redeemed what had otherwise been a tiresome stretch of riding. Our morale was wearing thin after days of riding a shoulder alongside inattentive (or inexperienced?) RV drivers, and even the pleasure of riding through the northern part of Redwood National Park was dampened by the cold, wet weather.
When we turned off 101 to ride onto Avenue of the Giants, however, the skies opened up to let some sunlight in and the coast redwoods made their majesty clear. We meandered along the various paths, taking our time along the redwood groves and reading the signposts. The ranger station even offered free coffee. It’s always the little things you really appreciate on a big trip.
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!
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!
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.
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.