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|
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It began gradually. We turned off of busy US Highway 20 in Sisters, OR onto the Old McKenzie Highway. Immediately out of town we entered a silent and expansive forest. The shoulder vanished, but so did the traffic. A line on the map makes all the difference; we were now in the Deschutes National Forest.
The road shot like an arrow through the widely spaced pines. Our freshly oiled chains and the smooth macadam allowed us to sink into a buttery groove and soak in the soft afternoon rays slanting through the dry trees.
It appeared flat, but our gears knew differently. We were down a notch from the level grounds before Sisters and could feel the slight strain. We knew there was little chance of shifting back up until we were truly UP. Everyone we met in Bend lit up whenever we mentioned our plan to ride the Old McKenzie Highway. The highway had been the primary way over the Cascades in the early part of the 20th Century until the route over the Santiam Pass to the north was widened and paved in the 50s. The Old McKenzie Highway is now a scenic byway with no vehicles (or vehicle combinations) over 35 feet allowed. It is also closed in the winter and doesn’t open for cars until June or July. However, ODOT does plow one lane in early spring and opens the route exclusively to cyclists! This would be our first of (hopefully) many passes we’d cross on this journey, and what a great first!
After a few miles, click-kik, we dropped another gear. Fewer miles, click-kik. Click-kik. Before long we were deep in our large gears and cranking out the inches and feet. It came upon us so gradually, we didn’t fully realize we were into it until we were really crunching it and pulled off for a water break in a deep sweat. The forest was so still as we drank that we could hear the buzz of the tires of descending cyclists as they approached.
With an hour or so more of crawling up the slope we could see the telltale signs that we were nearing the top. The trees began to decrease in size and bits of blue sky started popping through the foliage rather than more green and brown. We’d been hoping for some views and made one final break when the hill tossed us a scrap with one distant mountain poking through a break in the trees.
We hydrated, snapped photos and readied ourselves for more climbing, but then a couple quick turns later through a cut in the rock the sky opened up over a downward sloping road and massive lava flow. We’d made it! It hadn’t even been all that tough, just long and patient.
The afternoon was getting long, so we set off to our destination, a free forest service campground a couple miles further down the road. The campground was another mile uphill on a rutted dirt road, but it was well worth the ride to reach the quiet sites on a pristine mountain lake. Of course, we were at elevation, so the temperature tanked and I tossed and turned all night in my ratty old sleeping bag that did not keep the heat inside.
The next day we found that we were a very short climb from the true summit of the pass, and we only took one break on the way up because a bee seemed to think my yellow shirt was a flower and wouldn’t leave me alone. Or perhaps he was hoping for an easy ride out of this barren lava rock landscape.
Over the top we had a few more little ups and downs before we finally settled into the beautiful payoff of the previous day’s climb. The road dropped before us into a thick pine rainforest as our tires carved graceful arcs around the smooth switchbacks. Thanks to our starting elevation in Bend our descent was much greater than the climb and we spent over an hour coasting through the primordial forest being passed by fewer cars than I could count on my fingers. The air was mostly chilled, but each opening where the sun met the road hit us as the brief warmth sank into every inch of our bodies. At the bottom of the long drop, the road intersects the busier Route 126.
After much debate, and a bit of arguing, we turned right and rode a few miles out of the way to dip our bodies into some undeveloped hot springs we’d heard about. The water was not as toasty as we’d hoped, but it still felt great and the setting right next to the rushing McKenzie River was fantastic. Enroute to the springs some jackass in a large SUV decided that it was reasonable to overtake a semi into oncoming cyclists with a tiny shoulder. No, this is not ok. This is stupid and makes you a horrible person.
Thanks to our gross underestimation of how late we could sleep if we didn’t set an alarm, we hadn’t gotten rolling that day until after 1 pm. By the time we left the spring, the sun was dropping fast. We got to the first forest service campground only to find that it was not free like the other, but had been taken over by a “private concessionaire” and was going to cost us $20. In conjunction with the idiot krr earlier, the arguing and some additional scheduling stress, this surprise unnecessarily crushed my spirit and I became a whiny baby. I had been really looking forward to a regular campsite next to the river and I’d be damned if I was going to pay twenty bucks to camp on Forest Service land! Olympic National Park campgrounds were even cheaper than that! We turned heel and rode out of there while Brandy endured my rants about the privatization of public land, blah blah blah, quicherbichin’. We didn’t go far before finding a nice little spot where we could stealth and had a delicious chili dinner with the bright moon casting its glow on the trees around us.
I was a bit sour about having lost half the day and being back on busy roads with fools and the unexpected surprise with the campground, but I read something before going to sleep that helped revive my spirit. I had bought a book written by a guy who canoed down the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers with his sons back in the 70s. The opening paragraph described a miserable 20 hours stuck in a tent during a long, cold rain storm as the quagmire they were in slowly engulfed the tent and drenched their clothes, sleeping bags, and spirits. He talked about how miserable they were, but that it was all part of going on an adventure. When you plan such things, you know you are setting yourself up for some inevitable hardships, but you are also gaining much more in the long run. This reminded me that I was on an adventure myself, and not just some “little trip” as I’ve been calling it. It may not be as badass as canoeing 3,600 miles across the continent, but it is definitely an adventure with great payoff and naturally, some minor hardships to endure along the way, so I should stop being such a baby and letting obnoxious drivers get to my spirit because that’s what I signed up for, fer chrissake.
Discomfort is one thing, but scheduling is another story. We left our jobs and apartment primarily for the freedom from time constraints, which would allow us to travel at our own pace and take the time to explore whatever cool things we found along the way. But then what did we do, but throw ourselves into yet another schedule situation. We created an aggressive visitation schedule along the west coast AS WELL as an immovable set of Phish tour dates. Ha! This has caused us to again be staring at the calendar and the map and wondering how we can fit it all in, which makes short days become a real problem. We were used to filling up our days months in advance in NYC, and it seems that old habits are hard to break.
We started the next day knowing that it would be unlikely that we’d blast our previous record by 30 miles to get to Corvallis that night, as originally planned. We were going to try to go as far as possible, but as we were riding through the suburbs (ugh) of Eugene (about halfway) during rush hour, I decided I’d had it and didn’t want to stealth camp that night. We stopped at good ol’ Motel 6 and sure enough, the light was on. Upon my request for a “cycling to South America” discount, the friendly attendant told us we could have the stained carpet room for a fraction of the usual cost. Apparently someone had died … I mean dyed her hair in there and they hadn’t gotten to cleaning it yet. Sold! The shame quickly wore off and spirits soared as we enjoyed our first motel of the trip along with some delicious local craft beer purchased at the finest fuel station within walking distance and some tuna melts in the microwave using some groundscore tomatoes. I also got some photos of the nationally renowned EmX bus rapid transit line!
The hotel room decision paid dividends as we were able to get an early start out amid some beautiful fog/sunrise/mountain formations. The ride up to Corvallis was flat and virtually free of traffic or wind. We rolled right into the Saturday farmers market where we met up with my friend Araby and then Paris, a friend of my old Lancaster roommate. Paris has toured extensively in many parts of the world and was excited to hear about our trip. Talk with other cycling tourists and hearing about their adventures is always an inspiring event.