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.
My goals for this bike trip are to have fun and lose weight. Well, at least I’m having fun. You’d think that riding 300 miles a week would automatically drop your weight. Think again, because that’s not the way it’s worked it, at least so far.
I can’t quite figure out what’s gone wrong with my otherwise excellent bike-to-lose weight plan. Perhaps it had something to do with the aromatic Breadfarm Bakery in Edison, WA (population 133), which tempted me in the door with the scent of chocolate babka. Research shows that biking long distances heightens one’s sense of smell. I’m quite confident of that “fact.” And I also believe that the clerk must have stuck a cupcake in my bike bag when I wasn’t looking, too.
Or it might have been the sight of the “Monster Donut” at Rocket Donuts in Bellingham, WA. I wasn’t even hungry, but the huge rocket and mural on the side of this shop drew me in. Had to take a picture of the kids, I figured. Although I only ordered a regular-sized chocolate donut, the clerk kindly pulled out their giant donut for a photo opp, once again, for my kids. Just looking at this brute probably added a few pounds.
It could have had something to do with the root beer. At a restaurant in Victoria, one of my friends encouraged me to try Captain Electro’s Intergalactic Root Beer, a fascinating local blend from the Phillips Soda Company. The most attractive label that I’ve ever seen on bottle. My friend explained that the unique flavor was due to special ingredients that I don’t typically encounter in US stock, so upon my return I had to do some comparison tasting. For scientific purposes.
Or maybe I could blame it on the blackberries, as there were hundreds of thousands of unharvested beauties for several miles along the Mud Bay, Vancouver bike trail. They also tended to pop up on the side of the road up really steep hills, and beckon me to get off my bike for a spell.
Yes, now that I’ve considered all of the possibilities, it’s definitely the blackberries. Will try to steer clear of those while biking around the Oregon coast for the next week or two.
I love me some maps. Can’t leave home without ’em. So for my bike tour I sought out a replacement for the Google Maps app on my smartphone, since there are times when I cannot access a cellphone signal, or more commonly, would prefer not to pay roaming charges to my provider for venturing into Canada.
A $2 solution that solves my problem is the Maps.Me app (for iOS, Android, Blackberry). First, before leaving the land of Internet, the app allows you to freely download maps of entire states or provinces from OpenStreetMap, the user-contributed platform that rivals Google. Later, when wandering in rural or urban areas, turn on the Maps.Me app to find your location, zoom around, or search for place names. It relies on the GPS receiver in your device, which draws battery power but does NOT require an Internet connection. This tool couldn’t tell me where to find the best inexpensive sushi in Vancouver, but as long as I already had the street name (Davie Street between Granville and Seymour), I could find my way there and back. Absolutely delicious.
I’ll do my best to avoid over-romanticizing my joy of cycling in British Columbia, but it’s no comparison to my home state of Connecticut, whose unofficial motto is “bike at your own risk.” While I only traveled about 60 miles through this Canadian province, mostly in the metropolitan Vancouver and Victoria regions, I was absolutely blown away by the bike-friendly green signs and painted lanes that greeted me nearly everywhere, through downtown streets, outlying suburbs, rural farm roads, and on the ramp up to the ferry. Even the busy commercial highway alongside the auto mall in Surrey BC had a designated bike lane.
As you’d expect, I saw far more bike riders here in British Columbia than back home in Connecticut, but what surprised me were the demographics. No hard data here, and my impressions could be shaped by times and locations where I rode, but BC women bikers appeared to outnumber men in my travels, both in urban commuter lanes and recreational trails. This pattern differs from the predominantly male riders I see around Hartford, Connecticut. Back home, I commonly hear women (and some men) say that they would ride their bikes more often around West Hartford if they felt safer around traffic. This experience makes me wonder about what could be possible. If anyone has read any studies on whether the gender composition of riders changes when local governments create bike-friendly routes, please tell us more by posting a comment.
In addition to my love affair with BC bike lanes, allow me to babble on for a moment about water fountains. I’m a thirsty rider who’s always on the lookout for a cold (and free) drink, so I tend to spot water bubblers, mentally note their location, and admire the better-quality models. But this was the first time that I’ve encountered a 3-tier fountain for refillable bottles, regular drinking, and a dog dish. Several of these models stood out along the Lochside regional bike trail in Victoria. Now I’m jealous of those Canadians (and you should be, too). Why don’t we have water fountains like these in Connecticut’s public parks or shopping areas like Blue Back Square? As State Senator Beth Bye reminds us, we waste a lot of money on shipping and purchasing bottled water. Sometimes you need to travel outside your hometown to reflect on how things could be different.
Not everything in British Columbia is beautiful. I intentionally took some photos of the ugliest scenes on my two-days of biking through the province. It seems that Canada has just as many billboards (or more) than the States, which makes some sections of the Lochside regional trail a bit unpleasant on the eyes.
And this truck I spotted outside a fancy home in BC is just wrong on so many levels. I’ll definitely be coming back to Connecticut soon.
While preparing to cross the border into Canada on my solo bike trip, I emailed the only person who I “sort of” knew in British Columbia and asked if he’d like a get together for lunch. The only problem was that I had never met this individual in person before, nor did I have any idea where he was located in the province. But hey, there’s only 4.6 million people in an area the size of California, and everyone knows that Canadians are so friendly, so how hard could it be to find this guy?
Thankfully, Brad Payne replied to my email and encouraged me to stop by his office, which happened to be located in downtown Victoria, BC, just a few blocks from my 3pm ferry ride back to the States. Turns out that he’s an avid biker, too. I corresponded with Brad several times over the past year due to our mutual interest in open-access digital publishing. Brad invited me to have lunch with him and two colleagues, Amanda Coolidge and Clint Lalonde, who work at BCCampus OpenEd. Together, they collaborate with faculty throughout the BC public higher ed system to create and adapt open-access textbooks for the most heavily enrolled courses, which means that students may read online or download for free, or purchase a print copy at low cost. Brad is a software developer who has made incredibly valuable contributions to PressBooks, the WordPress-based open-source code (developed by Hugh McGuire and colleagues in Montreal), which allows authors to easily publish books in multiple formats: online, PDF, EPUB, Kindle, etc. I’m a big fan of the PressBooks Textbook plugin that Brad developed, which makes this platform very suitable for all types of academic publishing, such as the scholarly edited volume that co-editor Tennyson O’Donnell and I completed just before my trip, Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning (forthcoming from Michigan Publishing).
We had a great lunch and conversation about the BCCampus approach to open-access textbooks, their strategies for broadening faculty involvement, and their occasional need to “Canada-ize” materials (a new word for me) that were not originally designed for their student population. Given all of their youthful energy, I initially thought this was a “start-up” operation, but then learned that BCCampus has been producing open education resources for at least ten years, so am very impressed by their stability in the field. The BC crew invited me to meet up with them at the Open Education Resources annual conference in Washington DC in November 2014. And they also introduced me to the flavorful Phillips Intergalactic local root beer, which was other-worldly.