Southwest USA Summary 2014

Morning sun rays illuminating the mist in the deep cove below still shadowed by the steep hills.

October 10, 2015 | Posted in California, Nevada, Places, Summary | By

Aside from Arizona, which has been given its own summary section, we did very little cycling in the southwest. We bounced around between tons of visits and music and also did some great hiking.

California (19 nights: Oct 9-16; Oct 18-31)

Distance cycled:45 mi / 72 km / 292,431 RJP
Elevation gained:785 ft / 239 m
Elevation lost:639 ft / 195 m

Our time in California can be divided into two distinct periods: Humboldt County and SF+.

We drove down to Humboldt County from Oregon for a long-overdue family visit after many years of absence. We stayed with my uncle with six of his seven kids in a doublewide trailer. It was chaos. It was amazing.

Sediment layers exposed at 45-degrees jutting into the ocean forming huge cliffs.

The Oregon coast has many faces. There are so many cool rock formations. Yeah, not actually CA, but I’ve never claimed to be consistent here.

Roosevelt elk with huge antlers grazing

The Roosevelt elk are the largest subspecies of elk in North America. They are HUGE. We saw a bunch of them hanging out in the middle of the expressway. A massive bull was staring down an outsized SUV.

One of the benefits of using a krr was that we had time to take a short backpacking trip which we’d been jonesing for since we left the Olympics. We chose the Lost Coast Wilderness, and WOW! The drive there is the first part of the adventure as you take a curvy, dilapidated road over some steep hills and drop straight down to the coast. We were only able to make a two-night in and out trip due to weather, but we were touched by this place and intend to return to hike the full length.

A dilapidated road drops down into a deep valley of range land

Tons of flabby sea lions basking on the beach

Sea lions everywhere. This is pretty much all they do the entire day, aside from lots of grunting.

Morning sun rays illuminating the mist in the deep cove below still shadowed by the steep hills.

This was the morning view from our first campsite. There was only one other group camped on the far side of the bay. There was a rock covered with sea lions and seabirds below us making noise all night long.

Brandy standing in front of a sea view from the highlands. Gold meadows surrounded by pine stands roll away to the sea below.

We climbed way the heck up to the ridge in the searing sun to make a loop out of it. I still have a scar from bushwhacking through a briar patch.

L is tiny among a half dozen virgin redwoods

On the way back we stopped to spend a bit more time with some big trees.

The SF part of our trip was a mixture of friends, family and music. Most of the rest of my CA family lives around SF, so we were able to have some nice visits. Phish conveniently scheduled their fall tour around our plans, so we were able to see the three-night run there and we even got one of my old classmates to go to a show, which he seemed to enjoy. One of Brandy’s goals for the trip was to go to a west coast music festival and we were able to check that one off the list with the Hangtown Halloween Ball.

Bright orange hills reflected in foreground water

Arriving in the Bay Area on Amtrak

A couple people back from Mike, Trey and Fishman

We waited in line one of the days to get up close.

I had been to SF three times in my life, but had never actually “visited” it rather than just passing through. I finally put that to rest with this visit and got to enjoy the city. It didn’t woo me while I was there (I think the crazy gentrification and housing prices were always in my head), but I think back now and realize that it is indeed a special place. I was also disappointed with the cycling there, but not surprised considering the stupid court-ordered moratorium on infrastructure that was only recently lifted. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by how much they had managed to do in such a short time since the moratorium. I was very impressed with how much cycling infrastructure was available in the surrounding areas as well. Oakland was particularly great for riding, but we also rode through the silicon suburbs when we went to visit my aunt and I was pleased to see how nice it was to ride there and how easy it was to bring bikes on the Caltrain.

10 SF cityview

Sign shows a bicycle and says, "Green Wave". Sign below says, "Signals set to 20 MPH".

Signals on several arterials in SF have been retimed to provide progressive green signals for cyclists. In this respect SF is far ahead of most US cities.

Bike route sign says, "The Wiggle" and has blocky zigzag arrow.

The Wiggle is a signed route for cyclists planned to avoid hills going between the center of the city and the western part of the city including Golden Gate Park and Haight-Ashbury.

Entire car is dedicated to bicycles leaned against the side with tie downs. There is one row of seats in back.

Bike cars on Caltrain are spacious and easy to use.

L riding on crushed stone path next to the bay

Cycling along the extensive trail network in the South Bay.

Nevada (4 nights: Oct 31-Nov 4)

Distance cycled:50 mi / 80 km / 324,923 RJP
Elevation gained:2,379 ft / 725 m
Elevation lost:2,733 ft / 833 m
Flat tires:1

I don’t have much to say about Nevada. I have driven all over that state and love it. We spent the bulk of this time partying it up with our friends in a house we rented for the Halloween Phish shows in Vegas. The drive to Vegas was beautiful, like the rest of Nevada. I was impressed by how nice it was to cycle in Vegas. It’s difficult to use the bike for transport because everything is so spread out, but the roads are so over-engineered that there is plenty of space for all the traffic in most places so we felt comfortable riding as we left town. There were some very nice multi-use trails as we got further out of town. We did NOT ride on the Strip, which is a horrible krr-oriented hellhole. It’s a hassle to get anywhere, especially on foot. It is specifically designed so that you either never leave the casino complex you’re staying in, or you take a taxi everywhere. I really can’t figure out why people love this place so much, but with great friends and great music, it wasn’t tough to have a great time.

Rows of tiny white barracks in a broad valley

Old barracks in a desolate landscape.

Profile of the Strip from a few miles away. The silly pyramid is especially visible.

The Strip from a safe distance

L rides down a drainage canal towards Lake Mead in the distance.

Part of the path to Lake Mead followed a drainage canal. This was a lot of fun slaloming downhill on the banked sides!

L riding on a paved bike path above Lake Mead.

Lake Mead

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam

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Northwest USA & BC Summary 2014

Pine trees silhouetted against the backdrop of the Olympic Mountains on the other side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca with the fading sunset orange to yellow to green to blue with the full moon rising

October 8, 2015 | Posted in Canada, Oregon, Places, Summary, USA, Vancouver Island, Washington | By

After a long train ride out West, we spent some great times traveling around Washington, British Columbia and Oregon by train, bike, bus, krr, boat, foot and dogsled. Ok, not the last one. We met lots of friends, old and new, and spent time in stunning natural beauty.

Idaho (Aug 29) Transit only

We passed through Idaho on the train to Seattle.

Washington (15 nights: Aug 29-Sep 3; Sep 8-18)

Distance cycled:326 mi / 524 km / 2,117,849 RJP
Elevation gained:15,147 ft / 4,617 m
Elevation lost:15,129 ft / 4,611 m
Brake failures:2

Our route took us from Seattle up to Vancouver Island, British Columbia via the San Juan Islands, back to Seattle and then around the Olympic Peninsula. We cycled through incredible beauty in Washington and met really great people there. We also had some of the more challenging days of our trip so far in that state, both physically and mentally. We added the Olympic Mountains to our growing “must revisit with more time” list, but do not really recommend cycling the Olympic Peninsula. I had been looking forward to that ride for quite a while, but in the end it did not deliver. It was a nice ride, but the scenic views were too few and far between to be worth putting up with the absolutely horrible log truck drivers. These guys to date constitute the very worst group of people we have encountered on our trip, by a very wide margin. We felt in danger the entire time we were there and it is only a matter of time before someone is killed by their willful negligence.

Snowcapped mountains peek out between closer mountains.

One of the very few views of actual mountains on the Olympic Peninsula

Mountains in the behind a golden ranch

Another rare view near Forks, WA

Rays of sun shining through pine trees in Olympic National Park, Washington

The beauty of the Olympic Peninsula is in the forest

Beautiful red leaves against the blue sky

Fog shrouded rock pillars on Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park, Washington

And the sea

Sign saying the dates of forest plantations and harvest and "JOBS GROW WITH TREES"

If only those jobs could be filled by humans with some respect for life.

We chose the perfect time to visit western Washington because the rains had not yet started and there was an unbelievable amount of apples, pears and especially blackberries available for picking on the side of the road.

The cutting board at our campsite includes free pears found on the side of the road.

Free fruit breakfast!

Corncobs bungeed to the front of Brandy's bike rack.

Some other good produce from the farmers market!

"Coming Soon - Cannablyss"

Other Washington produce coming soon!

The ferries throughout the San Juan Islands were a nice treat, although we didn’t see any whales. Orcas Island claimed both of our brake failures. On a steep downhill, Brandy lost a screw, which dropped the pad it was supposed to hold in place. This is a serious design failure in some otherwise excellent brakes. Luckily she was able to find the pad and poached a screw from another, less crucial spot. I had a brake cable snap while coming down a very large hill. Luckily I had been on the road previously and knew I could coast it out without worrying about some busy junction or crazy potholes. I would find out in a couple months that I had made a serious rookie mistake of not investigating why it snapped (hint: that should never happen).

Brandy sits in a low limb of a huge pine tree in a virgin forest on Orcas Island

Great trees on Orcas!

The sound outside of the Orcas ferry terminal with imposing grey clouds.

Waiting for a ferry that never came.

Riding on an empty road underneath alongside a raised highway causeway and some huge pipes.

Sometimes you find yourself riding in some really random places.


With some random names

A Model T era car driving down the road

One day there was a classic car rally along our route and we saw dozens of these guys. Most of the passengers were dressed in period wear as well.

Working in front of a huge window with a view of Mt. Rainier

My “office” in Seattle

Lewis staring longingly into the display window of Metsker Maps

And my paradise!

Yellow leaves at night match the school buses behind

Just a final cool photo from Seattle

British Columbia (5 nights: Sep 3-8)

Distance cycled:85 mi / 136 km / 549,770 RJP
Elevation gained:2,155 ft / 657 m
Elevation lost:2,178 ft / 664 m

We had a short, but sweet visit to Vancouver Island. The cycling was fantastic and almost entirely on trails. Our host in Sooke, Justin had been a Couchsurfing guest of ours in NYC back in 2013 right after we first decided to take this trip. We stayed at his parent’s beautiful B & B / blacksmith shop and had a good time catching up.

Silhouettes of the blacksmith tools over the background of chopped wood outside

The forge

Pine trees silhouetted against the backdrop of the Olympic Mountains on the other side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca with the fading sunset orange to yellow to green to blue with the full moon rising

View from the B & B

Victoria is a cute, but pricey town where we had the best sushi of our lives and our first intro to bike polo! I think this town has some good soul, but we just weren’t there long enough to get too far into it. My cousin came down to meet us and we took a krr trip out to the isolated tourist town of Port Renfrew. Everyone says this part of the island is incredibly beautiful. It is definitely pretty, but I was a bit underwhelmed, perhaps because the coast here is so much like Lake Superior so the scenery was not much of anything new for me. We got some more time with BIG trees, which is always magical.

The nearly full moon above a brightly lit colonial building

Victoria at night

Hiking back from Big Gnarly tree

Hiking back from Big Gnarly

A large cliff overhangs a sandy beach on the shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca

Aside from the mountains across the channel, this could be Lake Superior.

Vancouver Island is HUGE. We only got to see a tiny part of it. Hopefully we’ll get a chance for further exploration in the future.

Lewis riding on a path next to a highway stacked with billboards

This one spot on the ride from Victoria to the ferry was littered with billboards. We learned that BC prohibits billboards on highways, but this short stretch is on First Nations land, so the laws do not apply.

Oregon (23 nights: Sep 18-Oct 9; Oct 16-18)

Distance cycled:215 mi / 346 km / 1,398,469 RJP
Elevation gained:4,340 ft / 1,323 m
Elevation lost:7,926 ft / 2,416 m

I had not been back to Oregon since I lived there in 2008, so I was excited to come back to this place I loved, but I was also nervous that it might have changed, or I might have changed or my expectations would prove ruinous in one way or another. I am happy to report that Oregon withstood the scrutiny. Portland was as comfortable and welcoming as ever. I was a bit disappointed to find that the city seemed to have stagnated a bit in terms of cycling infrastructure and ridership. Portland was still high on its early cycling successes when I lived there and there was so much optimism about capturing an even greater share of travel. They hadn’t backshifted, thankfully, but there did not seem to be much new, aside from a sweet car-free bridge they were about to open. People I spoke with in the industry seemed a bit disheartened about some negative governmental changes and lack of energy. The low-hanging fruit has been picked and the momentum doesn’t seem to have been enough to take it to the next level. Nevertheless, it is still an awesome city for cycling. I was not at all surprised after six years living in New York to find Portland much smaller and quieter than I remember.

A neighborhood traffic circle is surrounded by flowers painted on the road

Portland: still funky and bikeable

A fully enclosed yellow tricycle waits for a train

A good way to keep cycling through the wet Portland winters.

A cool mural on the side of a house

I was not at all let down in the brewery department. There are tons of good ones and we even took a brewery bike crawl one day. On the west coast I discovered that it’s not that I don’t like IPAs, I just don’t like crappy, stale East Coast IPAs. The difference is night and day. On the flipside, IPAs are great on the West Coast, but the diversity seems to be a bit limited. Everyone makes great IPAs, but not much else. It could be worse though, it could be 1976 and everyone could be making light American lagers only.

Brandy looking bored and cool with a beer flight

From hipster…

B & L looking like dorks with our tasting

To dork in three breweries.

Brandy and Joe packing up the bikes after a successful brewery crawl.

And that’s a wrap!

We also made it down to Bend, and so did our bikes despite being strapped to the top of a Ford Focus. The town was a little more car-oriented than I expected, but we had a nice time, and again, the breweries did not disappoint. The ride over the mountains to Corvallis was spectacular and we got some hot springs action.

Bikes tied to the top of a Ford Focus

Lewis cycles through lava fields

Over the pass to Eugene

Strings of morning mist hang over the fields

Morning out of Eugene

"Nimrod" location sign

A sign just for us!

We had been looking forward to cycling the coast down to visit my family in Humboldt County, CA, but when we compared the timeframe with the distance, it was looking like we’d have to do some heavy pedaling and I was starting to have some pain that couldn’t be ignored. When my friend Araby offered us the use of her krr AND said she’d go with us to the Phish show in Eugene, it was a done deal. I realized that I probably would not have enjoyed cycling the coast too much anyway. There is too much tourist traffic, not enough shoulders and not enough views. I think the way to see it would be to hike the Oregon Coast Trail and I intend to do that someday. The sea has captured my affection on this trip in a way it never has in the past. Although I consider Humboldt County to be part of the Pacific Northwest in spirit, it’s still in California, so I will lump it in with my Southwest summary.

A starfish wrapped around a seaweed stalk on the sand

The ribbed texture of the sand fills the screen

My conviction that Oregon is a very special place has been reinforced. We had an incredible time checking out some new parts, drinking delicious beer and best of all, reconnecting with some great friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. I have also had my conviction reinforced that krr travel is for the birds. It could be great for certain things (like Phish tour!) and some of my greatest childhood memories are of grand road trips out west. These are the trips that started it all for me! But man, sitting in a krr driving around just sucks the life out of me these days. It puts me into a state of hypnosis where I just float unconsciously from one place to another. The air is stale, even with the windows rolled down, there is no connection to the places we pass through and I become insanely tired for no reason at all. After all the cycling touring I have come to realize just how much of the experience of a place is missed when boxed in.

Typical Pacific Northwest coffee hut

I love the coffee huts in the Pacific Northwest

B & L posing with loaded bikes

See you soon!

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