Number of days spent biking around the Northwest in Aug-Sept 2014: 19
Distance pedaled and elevation climbed by day, according to CycleRoute.org:
The Seattle-Vancouver loop:
Day 1 = 13 miles Seattle Gasworks Park to Shoreline WA, climbed 745 feet
Day 2 = 65 miles from Shoreline to Deception Pass State Park, 3384 feet (plus 1 ferry ride)
Day 3 = 64 miles from Deception Pass to Birch Bay State Park, 2689 feet
Day 4 = 31 miles from Birch Bay to Tsawassen, British Columbia, 856 feet
Day 5 = 50 miles from Vancouver to Sequim Bay State Park WA, 2040 feet (plus 2 ferry rides)
Day 6 = 58 miles from Sequim Bay to Seattle, 3800 feet (plus 1 ferry ride)
Day 7 = rest
The Portland-Oregon Coast loop:
Day 8 = 10 miles around Seattle and Portland OR (plus 1 train ride)
Day 9 = 52 miles from Portland to Longview WA, 1600 feet
Day 10 = 73 miles from Longview to Seaside OR, 3760 feet
Day 11 = 62 miles from Seaside to Cape Lookout State Park, 3865 feet
Day 12 = 61 miles from Cape Lookout to Beverly Beach State Park, 4132 feet
Day 13 = 55 miles from Beverly Beach to Corvallis, 4300 ft
Day 14 = rest (definitely got a Biblical theme going here)
Day 15 = 55 miles from Corvallis to Eugene, a very flat and mellow 610 feet
Day 16 = 20 miles around Eugene
Day 17 = 76 miles from Eugene to Salem, 2100 ft
Day 18 = 62 miles from Salem to Portland, 2000 ft
Day 19 = 20 miles around Portland and Seattle WA (plus 1 train ride)
Total distance pedaled, in miles: 827
Average distance pedaled per day, excluding rest days: 49
Total elevation climbed, in feet: 35,881
Total elevation climbed, in miles: 6.8
Average number of 24-ounce refillable bottles of water consumed per day: 5
Number of water bottles attached to bike: 3
Donuts and other bakery products consumed, estimated: 14
Bottles and cans of root beer consumed, estimated: 12
Calories burned during daily average 49-mile bike ride, according to MapMyRide: 3,000
Calories in a chocolate doughnut, according to Mighty-O: 330
Current age of out-of-shape cyclist: 49
Weight of said cyclist at beginning of trip, in pounds: 178
Weight of slightly more in-shape cyclist at end of trip, in pounds: 171
Pounds lost by happy cyclist during trip: 7
Miles pedaled per pound lost (while eating donuts and drinking root beer): 118
After nearly twenty days and 800+ miles biking around the Northwest, my legs have gone on strike, my brain is ready to go back to work, and my heart is eager to come home to my family. It’s been a ridiculously fun adventure, with spectacular views, delicious food, and friendly people. A big thank you goes to my sweetie Beth, who allowed (some might say encouraged) me to go on this trip; my teenage children, who took on cooking duties and household chores in my absence; and my wonderful sisters Kris and Ellen for providing me a base camp in Seattle.
As I concluded my trip by pedaling into Portland, Oregon, one of the highlights was meeting up with Gayle Lemery Lutes, a person who I knew from our tiny high school in rural upstate New York, but had not seen in thirty years. Gayle spotted me on FaceBook, discovered that I was biking through her neck of the woods, and invited me to sit down for a cold root beer. She is a year younger than me, and while we were not close friends in school, we know many of the same people, and had some good laughs about growing up in a small town and transitioning to life in a larger city. Since people from Morrisville, NY don’t visit Portland every day, and I hadn’t seen many familiar faces during my three weeks on the road, I was glad that she contacted me. Bicycling helps to bring people together.
Bicycles also help us to get away from people, even those we love. When people asked me why I was making this trip, I usually joked about wanting to have fun and lose weight. But the deeper answer is that I really needed to get away from my responsibilities, at least for a short period of time. Responsibility has always been a watchword for me. As a teenager working in the family store, I learned early on that accepting greater responsibility was my route to becoming an adult. The same theme continued after college, when as a twenty-something I became a teacher and took responsibility for educating young people other than me. Later, when I proudly began a family with Beth, one of the most important lessons I share with my children on a daily basis is to demonstrate how we all share responsibilities to one another. And truth be told, the workaholic side of me got overwhelmed this past year by juggling a few too many responsibilities on the job (which, being the responsible party here, was entirely my fault). See, it’s kind of ingrained in me.
Last winter, when I sensed the opportunity for a month-long opening in my work schedule, I briefly contemplated going on a group bike tour. Fortunately, I realized in time that riding with twenty other people and sticking to the group schedule was exactly the wrong thing for me, at this particular time. Instead, what I needed was a solo tour, where I chose where to go, how long to pedal, what to eat, and where to sleep. Mostly, I just wanted time alone on my bike to think. . . about absolutely nothing.
Some might diagnose this as a classic mid-life crisis. It’s true that I’ll turn 50 next summer. But I’m not pondering mortality or questioning life-long decisions. A mid-life crisis implies that there’s some aspect of yourself that you wish to change, and I feel very comfortable with who I am. Rather than a red sports car, I bought a blue bicycle, about five years ago, for around $900. So it’s not a classic case.
But perhaps the common thread here is that my solo bike tour was designed to be self-centered. I had no one to take care of other than myself. Here I am trying to teach my teenagers how to become more adult-like, and I’m goofing off on a three-week bike trip far from home, escaping from my responsibilities. Seems like I’ve turned into an adolescent again, at least for three weeks. But not too wild and crazy, as the strongest substance I’ve had on this trip is root beer. Great stuff. Highly underrated.
What have I learned about escaping from daily responsibilities on my bicycle? It’s an exhilarating feeling, full of independence and adventure, as well as uncertainty and loneliness. Many of those are the same feelings I had when I was twenty years old. Great to get back in touch with those emotions again. Given that my children and my students are at this age, perhaps feeling this way again will help me to become a more empathetic (and more patient) parent and teacher.
PS: In case you’re wondering, Beth definitely deserves a 3-week vacation, too, especially for putting up with me! And I look forward to sharing even more adventures with her in the years to come. Will be home soon! With love, Jack.
Here’s just a few of the odd things that happened to catch my eye during my Northwest bike trip through Oregon. Of course, there’s far more out there, and I mean really “out there.” If I really tried, I could fill a whole blog with “Oddities of Oregon.” Maybe that will be my next trip. So consider this to be just an appetizer. . .
On my Northwest bike tour, I was delighted to receive an invitation to visit one of my former students, Laurie Gutmann Kahn, and her husband Josh, both from Trinity College’s Class of 2003. Laurie double-majored in Ed Studies and Sociology, and as a student in my Cities Suburbs and Schools seminar, she conducted oral history interviews with adults who had participated in the Project Concern school integration transfer program from Hartford to suburban schools during the 1960s-1990s. After that semester, Laurie and another student continued working on the project through an independent study, which culminated in her senior research project. After Trinity, Laurie taught special education through the New York City Teaching Fellows alternate route program, and she has talked about her experience with current Trinity students through our Pathways to Teaching alumni video conferences. More recently, Laurie received a US Department of Education fellowship to attend graduate school at the University of Oregon, and this May was awarded her Ph.D. in Special Education with her ethnographic dissertation on lesbian/gay/transgender youth and their experiences with disabilities. This fall she has been hired to teach courses by the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Oregon. Congratulations, Dr. Laurie Gutmann Kahn!
Laurie and Josh and I had long conversations about what they learned at Trinity (both inside and outside of the classroom), and their views on constraints and possibilities for change in higher education, given their experiences as graduate students and college instructors. (Josh was a history major at Trinity, who also completed the NYC Teaching Fellows program, and is working toward his doctorate in educational decision-making at the U of Oregon.) They also showed me around Eugene and forced me (I swear!) to visit some delicious local food establishments, including Falling Sky restaurant and Voodoo Doughnuts.
After several days of exhilarating hills along the Pacific Coast, biking across the farmland of Oregon’s Central Valley into Eugene was the mellowest ride of my trip so far. And the residents of Eugene exude mellowness. Walk up to a counter of a local food establishment, and the normal exchange between clerk and customer goes something like this:
Clerk: Hey, how’s it going today?
Customer: Awesome. How’s it going for you?
(Long pause that may make some Northeasterners uncomfortable.)
Clerk: Great. (Stretches out all of the vowels.)
Customer: Hey, we’re thinking about getting some food.
Clerk: Yeah. . . we’ve got that. Hey, where did you get that bag? (Long side discussion about the handbag fabric, how it came from Botswana, the clerk’s co-worker comes over to talk about how he went to Africa through the Peace Corps, and someone else mentions that they went to Africa, too. Observer is getting hungrier, but patiently continues to take notes.)
Took a break from my bike ride to spend part of the weekend with Korey Jackson, a friend from the digital scholarly publishing world, who lives on the outskirts of Corvallis, Oregon. So far on the outskirts, in fact, that Google Maps directed me down a mountain bike trail to reach his house. While my rig can handle most stone dust roads and dirt trails, this one had so much loose gravel, steep grades, and barbed wire fences that I had to walk about half of the 3-mile trail. It was a hot and dusty way to end a 6-hour ride.
Fortunately, Korey is an excellent host and culinary guide. He has a particular knack for locating excellent food inside what on the outside looks like a dive bar. The most interesting find of the weekend was The Woodsman, an old bar in the lumber mill town of Philomath, which also happens to serve enormous portions of some of the best-tasting Thai food in all of my travels. Who would have thunk it?
Biking along the Pacific Coast Trail provided me with several hours of solitude, huffing and puffing up and down hills while enjoying ocean scenery. But those long solo rides also made me appreciate opportunities I’ve had to meet other bikers and hikers along this route, and to learn a bit about their lives. I’m still a relative novice at bike touring, but my guess is that the Pacific Coast trail attracts a wide range of fascinating people whose stories I would not have heard if we were not traveling together, if only for a few miles, on this beautiful trail.
In British Columbia and Washington state, I discovered that ferry terminals are ideal locations to meet fellow travelers because we’re all standing in line together while waiting to board. Chris and Heather, a retired couple from northern BC, had already been on the road for a month when I met them on the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, WA. Their bikes were fully loaded for their 7-month ride to Central America, where they had lived years ago, as did I in 1987-88. Their calm sensibility about being flexible during their long journey impressed me, since I’m the type of person who usually worries about the source of my next meal and where I’m spending the night. Both spoke highly of the people they’ve met through WarmShowers.org, a virtual organization where people can host bike riders in their homes and request to stay with others when traveling. They were experienced riders who also knew how to camp out in the field when no other options were available. Chris also had the benefit of working for for a year as an Adventure Cycling tour leader. “I think we’ll meet each other again,” he assured me as we departed the ferry, taking very different routes to the Pacific Coast. And I would be surprised if we our paths don’t cross again at some point down the road. See you again soon, Chris.
On the Washington State side of the Columbia River, heading toward the Pacific Coast trail, I spotted two riders on Bike Fridays, the same foldable cycle that I ride. Jerry and Peggy, another retired couple from Vancouver, also were heading south, but going all the way to California, much farther than me. I had previously seen them at a breakfast place that morning, but at the time I was feeling quiet and kept to myself, didn’t realize that we were pedaling in the same direction, nor that we shared the same preference for bikes. After we met on the road, Peggy suggested that we exchange mobile phone numbers in case our paths overlapped and we wanted to meet up at a pub later in the day. Jerry also told me about the Seaside Hostel, a friendly and inexpensive place to stay on the Oregon Coast. This became a very valuable tip when I hit rain and wind in Astoria, and decided not to camp out that night. Turns out that our travels did not coincide. I caught the Cathlamet-Westport ferry before they did, so our travels were separated by an hour and some steep hills. While we did not meet again in person at that pub, we kept in touch that day through texting.
The next day on the Oregon Coast Bike Route, I caught up with Rick, a slender man from New Hampshire who had recently retired and set out on the first big bike trip of his life. On June 1st he departed the Atlantic Coast and ventured his way across the Northern Tier trail to the Pacific Coast. When we met, he was slowly heading toward San Diego at about 10 mph. Rick’s rig was the heaviest I have seen on the road. He estimated that his bike weighed 35 pounds, with another 70+ pounds of gear. “People tell me that I brought too much stuff,” Rick mentioned, and it seemed like he brought a fair number of his life possessions with him. He explained how he rented out his home to his granddaughter for a year, since it was more affordable for him to live on the bike than to make house payments. We both agreed that the Cape Lookout State Park biker-hiker sites, which cost only $6 per night with free showers, were one of the most beautiful spots we’ve seen for riders on our journeys. Rick was one of the slower cyclists I met on the trail. Sometimes he would not arrive to his destination until well after sunset. But he was also the most determined rider I met, and I regret not having asked if I could take his picture to better remember his face.
That same day I met four different cyclists from Montreal, and the most memorable of them was an adventurous twenty-something who told us to call her Jazz, because her French name was too difficult for most English-speakers to pronounce. With youthful energy she pedaled a bicycle that looked older than she was, and I think she said that it belonged to her father. Jazz met up with a group of San Francisco riders at the Tillamook Cheese Factory in Oregon, and they invited her to stay with them in their lodging at Cape Lookout State Park. When they asked her what she was carrying inside her overstuffed bike bags, Jazz surprised all by pulling out her metal teapot and knitting needles. Not what I thought I’d see on the bike trail, but I have learned to expect the unexpected. This is one of my favorite photos of the trip, and I’m pleased that Jazz liked it too, and asked me to email her a copy.
While some cyclists carry their own gear on a one-way journey, others park a car at a campsite and ride day-long loops around parts of the Pacific Coast. Kandace from the Olympia WA region and I pulled into the campground at the same time, and she invited me to trade stories about bike adventures and to visit the yurt that she shared with her friend Karen. (This was my first time inside an Oregon state campground yurt, which had a bunk bed, couch, and skylight. Make a note to reserve one of these next time.) They told me about the 100+ mile rides they’ve done in Washington State and other rides they’ve done with their spouses. Kandace also asked about my BikeFriday, which folds up and fits into a suitcase, for possible future travels abroad. Of course, they kindly offered me a cold beer, and I was sorry to turn them down, since I don’t drink alcohol. But feels great to meet other friendly riders and receive an invitation to contact them when I’m biking in their area again, which I hope to do soon.
The next day I hit a trifecta of meeting very generous people, all within the span of a few minutes along the Otter Crest Loop on the Oregon Coast. Near the end of a long day of climbing up hills, I met up with Beth, a cyclist from Missouri. “Would you like a chocolate macadamia nut?” she asked, offering a bag that a friend had sent her from Hawaii. A minute later, an older pickup truck driver named John pulled over and handed us extra cold water bottles from his cooler, explaining that he had just finished his roofing job for the day. A few minutes later, at the top of the hill I pulled into a cliffside lookout and learned how to spot gray whales feeding in the ocean below, thanks to Beth (who, coincidentally, had just received a whale-spotting lesson at a nearby maritime center) and other visitors with far better eyesight (and patience) than me. Indeed, good luck comes in threes.
While most of the folks I met were fellow riders, I also met up with several people traveling the coast on foot at our shared hiker-biker campsites. One who stands out is Travis, a soft-spoken young man from Alaska, who served in the US military in Iraq and Germany. After sunset, several of us sat together at the campsite to trade stories about our travels. Like me, Travis grew up in a rural community where everyone said hello or waved in the street, and he missed that familiarity when passing through the big cities. For those of us bicycles, riding 60+ miles is a long day, but Travis had once hiked 20 miles in one day to keep up with a friendly group of two-wheeled travelers, with all of his gear loaded on his back.
Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned on this trip is this: Never underestimate the power of social ties that hold us together, especially when we believe that we’re traveling alone. As I write this, my solo bike journey is two-thirds done, and I’m looking forward to coming home to my family, with memories of the people I’ve met along the way.
I was worried about the hills, since what they call a “hill” on the West Coast is what we refer to as a “mountain” back East. But they weren’t as bad as I had thought. On my first day of major climbs on the Pacific Coast trail in Oregon, I ascended a total of 3800 feet from Seaside to Cape Lookout State Park, and didn’t even use my lowest gear. The second day of climbing was harder, about 4300 feet in total, including this steep one just south of Cape Lookout, where I had to pedal up 850 feet within the first two miles of the morning ride. Good thing I ate my Wheaties. It also helped to stop a couple of times along the way to contemplate the ocean (huff, puff) and all of the beauty surrounding me (groan, huff, puff).
But what I didn’t expect to be so *surprisingly* scary was biking through the tunnel at Arch Cape. The Oregon Department of Transportation installed a button for bikers that triggers warning lights to inform drivers that you’re in the tunnel. But it’s more of a “feel good” button, because the RV driver behind me (blaring the horn) certainly didn’t slow down to 30 mph as the warning lights recommended. I guess he was just pressing his button, too.
Thanks to my Connecticut neighbor Kathy Barnett, whose FaceBook comment reminded me of Chuck Jones cartoon where Wile E. Coyote paints a tunnel to try to fool Roadrunner. Glad that I didn’t turn into a wall mural on this trip!
Years ago I saw a quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt that stuck with me: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Turns out she didn’t really say that, according to research by the Quote Investigator, who credits those words to Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich in 1997. But Eleanor Roosevelt did make a similar statement about fear in her 1960 book, You Learn by Living: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Those words are on my mind as I’m preparing to tackle some gigantic hills that will face me on what will be the toughest climb of my Oregon Coast bike tour on Wednesday. The route from Seaside to Cape Lookout State Park climbs at least 3,400 feet in total elevation, according to Google Maps, while other sources such as CycleRoute list it as a 4,600 foot climb. Either ways, it’s far more than I’m used to doing on my humble rides around Hartford, Connecticut, and will be the maximum on this Northwest trip. To put it into perspective, today’s elevation gain to the Oregon Coast was 2,500 total feet, which is the highest I’ve experienced so far on this trip. The Adventure Cycling elevation map isn’t making me feel any better about this. Check out those wild spikes!
After completing my Seattle-Vancouver one-week loop, I was puzzling over how to do a Portland-Oregon Coast loop in less than two weeks. The problem was that riding from Seattle to Portland would take me 3 full days, plus 3 more to get back, which would seriously cut into the fun parts of the Oregon Coast. Speedier cyclists like my friend Chris Payne do most or all of this 200-mile jaunt in one day on the annual STP, or Seattle to Portland ride, but that’s much faster than the 75-mile per day maximum I can handle on my touring bike with 50+ pounds of camping gear. I needed to find another way. Fortunately, my sister Kris’s friend Hooper put the idea in my head to jump ahead to Portland to begin my ride. Turns out that the Amtrak Cascades train runs frequently from Seattle to Portland (and other stops) at a reasonable fare ($30-50), and charges only $5 extra to load your fully-assembled bike into their newly-designed baggage car, with no box required. Wonderful!
I rode my fully-loaded rig to Seattle’s King Street station to catch the Sunday 2pm train to Portland. (Coincidentally, I had a lunch meeting scheduled at a nearby Vietnamese restaurant with Michael Bowman, a University of Washington doctoral student who’s writing his dissertation on the spatial history of schooling, housing, and planning in Seattle.) The ticketing office gave me a tag to put on my bike, and just before boarding I rolled it over to the baggage handler, who lifted it onto bicycle hangers in a specially-designed car, with about six other cyclists who reserved a slot. Everything went smoothly on the other end, too. Tip for next time: I removed my handlebar bag and blue pannier bags, but the Portland baggage handlers advised me to remove my tent etc. from the rack, too, because excess weight could damage the bike when it’s on the hangers in the train.
Follow my photomap of this loop, which begins in Portland, heads north to the Washington border, then around to the Oregon Coast. Looking back, I could have gotten off the train in Longview WA, rather than Portland OR, which would have saved me riding 50 miles north to Longview the next day. But I love biking in Portland, and will blog more about those adventures at the end of my loop. Thanks again to Eli for helping me with code to integrate Flickr photos and GPX routes into an interactive Leaflet map, which interested folks can explore on GitHub. My job is to improve its interactivity and appearance (without breaking it!). Scroll around inside the map below OR click to view the full-screen version.