A few weeks ago, we spent 10 days in Iowa. Our goal: to explore three diverse parts of the state and find great places to ride.
The air is thick and sticky when we arrive in Des Moines, an appropriate welcome to the Mid West. It’s hot and humid on the patio of El Bait Shop also, but it’s worth it to sample the bike-friendly bar’s impressive beer list (along with some of their famous wings).
In the morning, we pick up a pair of bikes from Kyle’s Bikes in Ankeny. We had hoped to avoid the headache of flying our own bikes – and, although they don’t officially rent bikes, Kyle graciously set us up with a couple loaners for the whole trip (thank you Kyle, and Bob!).
Then we’re off to the SW corner of the state.
The Wabash Trace
The Wabash Trace is a 63-mile rail trail that would make a perfect easy bike tour from the Council Bluffs – Omaha metro area. The surface is crushed limestone, and it’s lined with a thick canopy of Elm and Walnut trees. The whole length of the trail is a nature preserve, and there are birds everywhere (and squirrels and bunnies and deer). It’s quiet and peaceful as it winds through the small communities that grew up with the original railroad.
The natural surroundings of the Wabash Trace.
We’ve arranged to stay in a few of the communities as we wind our way down the trail. In Malvern, we “check in” at the Project Art Church. A few years ago, Zack moved back to Malvern after a decade in Arizona. He bought the old Presbyterian church, which had stood empty for a generation, and converted it to a studio/gallery space and apartment. Now, that same apartment is headed for a listing on AirBnB, and we’re lucky to be only the third visitor to stay.
Zack, surrounded by some of his work, at the Project Art Church.
We visited Malvern for approximately 3 hours last fall, to talk with the trail group in the back room of the Classic Cafe. We ate dinner beforehand, and the idea of returning for another meal was one of the things we were most excited about on this trip. We splurge on a pair of steak dinners, complete with baked potato and fresh veggies. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, it’s the best steak of the whole trip (and quite possibly one of the best ever).
Along the trail, we goof off at the old jail in Silver City, stop in to the Mineola Steakhouse (where the infamous Thursday Night Taco Ride ends), and ponder the meaning of all the train cars in the river (an old way of dealing with riverbank erosion). We meet up with some local trail advocates who ride a stretch of the trail with us and tell us all the fascinating history.
A small piece of history tucked along the Wabash Trace.
Trail champion, Becca, and her son, enjoying one of the many historic rail bridges.
In Imogene, the tiniest town along the trail, I’m told the current population is: “maybe 40?” But it somehow feels bigger than it is – maybe because The Emerald Isle, the local bar (and only business in town), is the de facto community hang-out spot, and it’s positively buzzing when we’re there. Dinner is great, but it’s really just an excuse to dig in to the pie. Twice a year, at spring planting and fall harvest, the infamous Pie Lady and her husband travel to Imogene to help at the family farm, and immense and delicious pies abound. It’s a story that couldn’t be any more ‘small town,’ and it’s exactly the memorable sort of experience that got us into bike touring in the first place.
Seriously, plan your trip around the pie.
The next day, we work our way down to Shenandoah, the biggest town along the Wabash Trace (except for Council Bluffs, which anchors the trail at the North end). In Shenandoah, we have three places to seek out: Wabash Wine Company (yes, Iowa makes wine – Wabash also makes excellent wood-fired pizzas), George Jay Drug (or, rather, the old fashioned soda fountain inside the pharmacy), and The Depot Deli (an old railroad depot converted to a restaurant, that also houses a micro-brewery). The woman at the Shenandoah Inn, when I ask about our bikes at check-in, laughs, not skipping a single beat: “of course you can bring them in!” she says, telling me that they see a lot of folks coming in off the trail.
The Depot Deli and its incredible collection of memorabilia.
Our next destination is Grinnell, a small college town about an hour NE of Des Moines. For the past several years, Grinnell has hosted TransIowa, which has helped put the town on the map for gravel riding. After a teaser ride last fall, we’re excited to really explore some of the roads that the harder-core-than-us TI riders traverse (we’re also excited that we’ll have much, much better weather).
Our lodging is one of the impeccably designed and decorated lofts downtown. Since most of Grinnell’s hotels are on the edge of town, we feel fortunate to simply stumble downstairs and into one of several great restaurants. And we take full advantage, sampling almost all of the local eateries, including the wine bar. The food options in town are surprisingly cosmopolitan for this little town surrounded by farmland. (Our favorites: La Cabana for filling Mexican lunches, and Prairie Canary for fresh, locally-grown dinners.)
Solera wine bar welcomes with a cozy interior and a delicious collection of wine and beer.
Our first morning in town, we meet up with two local gravel riding aficionados, who have offered to take us out on an iconic Grinnell gravel loop. Instantly, the roads surprise us, as they roll straight up and over some pretty intense hills. This is not the flat land that we blindly assumed characterizes the whole Mid-West, nor is it the kind of long-and-slow climbing that we’re used to in the West. These are short punchy climbs that suck all the wind out of your lungs and legs, before giving you a rip-roaring descent down the other side.
Gravel and farmland in Grinnell.
Lots of challenging-yet-picturesque hills.
A few miles out of town, we pass the barn that marks the end of TransIowa. We pass beautifully-quintessential farmhouses, perched on ridge-lines, overlooking miles and miles of corn and soybeans. We pass Rock Creek Lake and several small streams. And we roll back into town ready for a nap.
Over the next few days, we get into a rhythm of riding early in the morning, hiding inside while the sun rages, then heading out again in the late afternoon. We learn that the rides to the West of town are hillier than the rides to the East. We learn that B roads are absolutely phenomenal, provided that they are dry, dry, dry (these roads will swallow you whole after a rain). We learn that you can ride in a straight line for seven miles, and gain 500 feet of elevation. We learn that you can turn a corner and disappear into a landscape belonging to rural Europe.
Just about perfect.
Our final destination is Decorah, nestled in the NE corner of the state. Here, there’s no mistaking the landscape as flat. Decorah sits at the lower edge of the Driftless Region, an area marked by deeply-carved river valleys and limestone bluffs. As a result, surrounding farms are smaller, because it’s hard to plant thousands of acres of corn across the steep landscape.
We check in to the Hotel Winneshiek, a beautifully-renovated historic hotel in downtown. Again, we are within easy walking distance of great restaurants and shops. Decorah has a thriving Main Street district, complete with a food co-op and outdoor store. Again, we’re determined to sample a little bit of everything. (Our favorites: Old Armory BBQ plus a beer at The Courtyard & Cellar’s neighboring beer garden, and the seasonal bistro options at La Rana.)
Bike-friendly Hotel Winneshiek.
Warm interior and delicious food at La Rana.
We meet up with the three women who’ve offered to ride with us in Decorah, and we pick a route the heads NW to the small community of Bluffton. It’s a simple out-and-back route, following low-traffic paved roads. We climb out of one valley into another, taking in sweeping vistas as we momentarily follow a ridge-line. We pass some of the characteristic rocky bluffs, before paralleling the river into Bluffton and resting for a bit at one of the shaded campgrounds.
It turns out there’s great (paved) road riding in Iowa too.
Rocky cliffs and rolling hills.
The next day, we expand our radius a bit and piece together a mixed-terrain route that zig-zags down gravel farm roads and beside impressive rock outcroppings. We’re astounded at the changing terrain and topography – lush and green, then wide open farmland, with the occasion tiny community – and we’re astounded that this incredibly-remote-feeling countryside is only a few minutes from town.
There’s a reason they call this ‘Scenic River Road.’
Both afternoons, as the heat of the day fades, we head out on the Trout Run Trail, a phenomenal 12-mile loop that winds alongside fishing rivers, small farms, and a bald eagle nest. Russ throws a line out in a few places along the river, and reels in (and then tosses back) a dozen or so small trout.
The switchbacks along the Trout Run Trail, as it cuts through farmland south of town.
If only all #bikefishing was this accessible!
Our 10 days in Iowa surprised us. As natives of the West Coast, we admit that Iowa never really registered as a travel destination – at least, not until we had an opportunity to spend some time in the state last fall. As we rambled across the state, we found signs of bike dotted throughout Iowa’s culture, just in a different way than you find in Portland – and we found ourselves wondering what other great rides are hiding behind the cornfields.
Exasperated, I stopped in the middle of the mud field of a road. I could no longer shoulder my bike, after carrying it most of the way down the hill. But pushing wasn’t an option either, as the peanut butter mud clogged up the tire tread and chain and everything else in the bat of an eye. So I just stood there for a moment, pondering what to do.
And that’s when I saw Phil’s van, chugging up the hill on a rescue mission. I stuck out my thumb, amazed that he’d gotten enough traction to come after us. As we loaded up my muddy mess of a bike (and muddy me), Phil joked, “if everything went perfect, it wouldn’t be a good story!”
In Oregon, the part of the state West of the Cascade Mountains is known as the “Wet Side.” The Eastern part of the state, predominantly high desert and ranch land, is the “Dry Side.” There’s a reason for this – it’s usually exceedingly dry and sunny in the East.
The Dry Side also has spectacular gravel roads that wind their way through endlessly open and empty vistas – which is why we had crossed the mountains with a motley group of friends.
We were base-camped out of Treo Ranch, a hunting lodge that caters to cyclists in the off-season – and a slate of beautifully challenging rides had carefully been planned for our weekend.
Phil and Dan plotting ride routes for the weekend.
But Russ and I seem to be on a streak of having rainy weather on the Dry Side – and we woke up Saturday morning to a soggy landscape that had been pummeled with rain overnight.
We dawdled over coffee and breakfast, trying to pull up the weather forecast via weak internet and cell service, before deciding to just go for it. This was clearly not the weather we wanted, but there was no point in wasting the trip.
Dodging puddles as we pedaled away from Treo.
We followed the undulating ridge line out of the ranch. All of Eastern Oregon, it seemed, rolled out alongside us, a never-ending series of deep valleys and tall hilltops, all covered in sage and wild grasses. The storm clouds of the night before still lingered on top and around us, lending a surprisingly grey cast to the landscape.
Determined to ride, we ignored all the ominous signs.
Fantastically steep descent down Buttermilk Canyon.
After a few miles, the storm clouds seemed to lessen, and we descended into Buttermilk Canyon. The creek had long ago carved this narrow and winding canyon, and there was an old ranch spread out through the bends. Hundreds of swallows rushed out of their nests in the cliff walls above us – and, for a few miles, everything seemed perfect.
Then we started up the hill.
At a certain point, the good gravel we’d been enjoying turned into sticky muck. Mud glommed on to every possible surface, gumming up tires and chains in seconds. And it brought along the remnants of the gravel that should have surfaced the road, so that pebbles could be heard scraping frames and found clogging chain links to the point of cogs no longer turning.
There’s a bike under there somewhere.
When the mud got too thick on my tires, I walked.
When the mud got so sloppy that it tried to suck off my shoes, I carried my bike.
Cyclo-cross style, aka why I have a bruise on my shoulder.
Slowly, gingerly, we made our way up the hill.
At the top, I discovered that I had cell signal, so I snapped a photo and posted it to Facebook, laughing at the ridiculousness of the mud.
And then I heard the worst words you can hear on a ride: “I broke my bike.” In the fight of Russ vs the mud, the mud had won. It had ripped off his derailleur, which now hung from his chain in a sad and mangled ending.
Our 70-mile ride had been reduced to just 16, and the mud had left a few casualties in its wake.
Unable to make all the necessary repairs on the fly, Russ and his steed hitch a ride with a passing rancher.
There is something about Eastern Oregon that keeps drawing us back. The landscape is mesmerizing, with its big skies and rolling hills. You can stand on a hilltop and feel impossibly tiny, just as you will check that your eyes are open when it’s pitch black at night and that your ears can still hear when it’s stunningly quiet. Whenever there is an opportunity to ride around Eastern Oregon, I will take it, and it will never be enough.
But the allure of Eastern Oregon can obscure an important fact: you can easily get in over your head.
On a ride last fall, we climbed up a twisting gravel road and dropped into a deserted valley. Breathtakingly beautiful, and eerily easy to just disappear and never again see anyone or a hint of civilization.
I love the feeling of being completely independent and self-sufficient. But, I have to say, when things go wrong, when the road tries to swallow you alive, it’s nice to know that someone has your back.
Thank you Phil and your mud-conquering van.
We first met Phil roughly a year ago, and we were instantly impressed. A former rancher and mechanic, Phil has run a hunting lodge near Heppner, Oregon since the 1980s – and began to reach out to cyclists a few years ago to fill the gap during the hunting off-season.
Cycling caps now hang alongside hunting hats.
At Treo, cycling and hunting blend together under one roof, in a style that’s both odd and perfectly fitting. There are pheasants on the wall and cue sheets on the side table. There’s Bud Light for the hunters, IPA for the cyclists – and everyone gets a steak at the end of the day (this is Eastern Oregon, after all).
And that’s what makes Treo so inviting – rather than putting on airs, it’s a cozy slice of Eastern Oregon. It’s an opportunity to experience a place that’s vastly different from where most of us live, to rub elbows with the history and culture of this part of the West – and to cycle some of the most beautiful roads in Eastern Oregon, without a second thought about ‘did I pack enough water?’ and ‘what if I break my derailleur in the middle of a long ride?’
Helping cyclists blend into the surroundings and be a good neighbor.
The morning after the mud fiasco, we awoke to sun streaming in the window. Was it all a dream? It would be easy to believe that we had simply imagined all those miles of walking through muck – if not for Russ’ derailleur-less bike propped against the wall.
On a normal independent trip, we would resign ourselves to “not chancing it.” But the promise of van support on our planned 40-mile route meant that we wouldn’t have to miss out on the last day of (now dry) Eastern Oregon gravel. Russ could spin on his make-shift single-speed – and bail if it turned out to be a terrible idea.
In sharp contrast to the day before, we were greeted by a sparkling blue sky, dotted with a few perfect powderpuff clouds. Out through the ghost town of Hardman, down a roaring canyon descent, uphill again along a winding creek, and into the Ponderosa forest. Treo Ranch is located on a grassy slope, surrounded by rangeland – so the tall pine trees surprised and delighted us. And then they surprised us even more when they suddenly disappeared on the other side of the summit, and we followed a screaming descent through wildflower-dotted prairie-land.
Incredible views around every turn.
A much better experience in the sunshine.
The landscape and terrain of the route changed every few miles, a perfect welcome-to-Eastern-Oregon gravel sampler route. Up, down, narrow canyons, wide open fields. Constant wonder and surprise, on a deliciously warm and sunny day. It was exactly the ride that we had been looking forward to – made all the sweeter by the sheer inability to experience it the day before.
I feel like a complete goof. I’m standing in the Deschutes River, decked out in waders, rod in hand, as if maybe I belong there, but I have no clue what I’m doing.
An hour earlier, amid conversation at the fly shop, we let it slip that this is my first attempt at fly fishing. Curiosity ensues, and I try to explain what makes me want to wade into the river and swing for trout. As a feminist and marketer, it bugs me that fishing ads rarely show women. But that sounds weird and pretentious to say, so I go with the second reason – which is that, after years of watching Russ, I have simply started to wonder what the fuss is all about.
It’s over 80 degrees, sunny and dry, and the sky is swimming with giant insects. So far, so good.
We decide to keep it as simple as possible, so I use one of Russ’ Tenkara rods. No reel, no complicated cast patterns, I just have to land the fly in the right part of the water.
But first, I have to overcome my fear of water. As soon as I step into the river, I remember why I have always avoided fishing, and it’s the same reason why I avoid swimming in rivers or lakes or the ocean… I tend to panic when I can’t clearly see my feet. The river bottom is dark, and there are ripples on the water’s surface. I take a deep breath and step in, but I have to remind myself that I’m only ankle-deep and the waders and shoes will keep the river critters from brushing up against my skin.
Russ ties a fly onto the Tenkara line, the fly that the guy in the fly shop says I should rely on. I get a few pointers and throw the line into the water. Russ stands on the bank, watching and taking photos.
When it seems like I’ve grasped the basics, Russ strings up his own rod and steps into the river behind me. While he brings in a few trout, I snag a few trees.
Russ suggests that I move down the river a bit further, out from under the brush, but it’s too late. My fly has decided to dance with the tree branches. I wade down to where it’s royally tangled up, trying to make sense of the mess. And then I see the snake. Game over.
It rained overnight, so we wake up to a soggy campground and grey skies. The temperature is at least 20 degrees cooler than the day before. There are no giant clouds of enormous bugs. But we’re not leaving, so we load up the bikes and pedal down the gravel road.
The gravel is thick and chunky, recently graded. It’s not ideal for the tires we have, but I’d much rather be on a bike than picking my way through in a car.
Russ watches the river for rises while I take in the scenery. This stretch of the Deschutes is different from the stretch we usually visit.
Eventually we pick a spot. Waders. Crocs. Down jacket. Tenkara rod. Magic fly. I wander back into the river, thankful that the change in weather means I won’t likely see any snakes.
The morning wears on, I catch a few more trees. We take a break and chat with another fisherman. I feel completely out of my element.
And just when I’m beginning to think that fishing is completely the dumbest thing ever… I hook into a trout. I’m so shocked that I literally scream. The guys who had just boated across the river watch as Russ helps me land a beautiful 8” rainbow. I just keep saying, ‘holy crap, I can’t believe I caught one.’
Ten minutes later, I hook another.
Not long after my fishing triumph, it began to rain. And rain. All through the night and into the morning. We drag ourselves out of the tent, hoping for some clear skies for a few hours. I want to catch another trout.
We pack up our stuff, hop back on the bikes, and pedal back down the road to the magic spot of the day before. I get a strike only 10 minutes after getting into the river, and I’m so mesmerized by the sight of the fish coming up from the depths to grab the fly, that I forget to set the hook.
Clearly, I’m still a rookie. But at least I finally understand why fly fishing is so darn addictive.
From the moment I first threw a leg over my Warbird, I knew a gauntlet had been thrown down. This bike would travel places with me. But how would my gear?
Our first bike overnight without panniers to Cascade Locks.
As I stared at our bikes in advance of our overnight to Cascade Locks and as I dug around the pile of old bags at the back of the closet, I couldn’t help but think back to our very first bike tour, over eight years ago. A lot has happened in between then and now, but I once again faced a packing conundrum that proved how much I still had to learn.
Eight years ago, I had no idea where to start. I didn’t have any of the fancy gear, because I wasn’t yet sold on this bike touring thing. So, I used what I had, and I overpacked a basket that hung so heavily from my handlebars that it scraped the paint off the headtube.
We all have to start somewhere, but there would be no ill-fitting basket hanging on my Warbird. Nor would there be a hairdryer, or any of the other excessive items I packed on that first trip. But I needed to carry some things, and I once again faced the fact that I didn’t have any of the fancy gear – because, again, I wasn’t yet sold on this bikepacking thing.
Packing with panniers is so simple and easy.
The truth is I like panniers. They’re simple, they’re exceedingly functional, they locate the weight of your gear low to the ground. In contrast, most bikepacking setups rely on many small bags, strapped all over the place with fat ugly velcro, located so high off the ground that they raise your center of gravity.
Panniers are egalitarian. You can use them to buy groceries and you can use them to travel the world. Those funny seat bags, though? Where else do you use those?
Plus, I’ve become incredibly skilled at packing for a bike trip with panniers. It’s such second-nature that I really don’t need to think about it, other than deciding what to cook for dinner.
Put another way, though, maybe I’ve become too skilled at packing with panniers. There’s no challenge anymore, just the chore of finding the things and dropping them inside just-so.
I may hate the look of most bikepacking bags, but I have to admit that I like the challenge of completely re-thinking everything I know about packing for a bike trip.
And when I say re-think everything, I truly mean everything. The systems that I’ve adopted for packing in panniers aren’t transferrable. Neither is a lot of my gear. For the first time, I have to care about ounces and excessive compressibility. I love simplicity, but this is a whole other extreme. And I really don’t want to cut my toothbrush in half.
Definitely planning more rides like this!
In the end, though, I accept this challenge for one reason: this bike is a blast to ride!
I just hope I can find a Mary Poppins bag, because it turns out that the trunk bag I have will only hold one incredibly minimal change of clothes if I want to make decent coffee in the morning.
Our first full day in Alabama, we borrowed some bikes and joined a small group of folks on a 20-mile loop through the farmland outside of Montgomery. The overcast sky threatened rain and thunderstorms at any minute, and we passed old, crumbling farmsteads and small pre-Civil War cemeteries.
The traffic was nonexistent. I asked Jeff if it was because it was Sunday or if that was the normal traffic volume – and he smiled and said it’s normal to not see any cars out there. So far, so good.
We were in Alabama to speak at the first statewide bicycle summit, and to meet with a few communities interested in bicycle tourism. We were excited (after all, the South is the frontier for bike advocacy), but we truly had no idea what to expect from our week-long visit. Would it be a living stereotype? Would there be more to eat than fried chicken? Was it a joke to think that anyone might ride a bicycle there?
On our second day in Alabama, we drove to Selma. It turned out that we happened to be there on the same week as the voter rights march from Selma to Montgomery, 50 years ago. A large group was walking the route in honor of that historic event, and the visitor’s center was buzzing with activity. For me, it was surprising and humbling to find ourselves in the middle of something so significant.
In Selma, the blocks of empty downtown buildings met us with sadness and resignation. The tall brick buildings date back to the early 1800s, and you can almost envision what it must have been like when there was enough commerce to support them all.
The Montgomery Bicycle Club put on a ride to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the march. They expected only a handful of people – and had to cut off registration when it reached 350. They estimate an economic impact of $300,000. But they had to bus participants to the beginning in Selma, because there’s no lodging.
Could this really be a bicycle tourism destination? The history and culture are incredibly strong draws, but is that enough?
At Redemptive Cycles in Birmingham, a large and diverse group turned out for pizza and beer and talk about cycling. Here, there is a burgeoning bike culture, with tall bike jousting and an independent coffee roaster and a new bike share system which is slated to open in the fall.
Several hours to the South, we visited the town of Fairhope, along the Mobile Bay. Fairhope is a small community, literally built around utopian ideals. The downtown is exceedingly walkable, they’re starting to stripe bike lanes, and the whole town shows up along the beach each evening to watch the sun sink into the bay. It couldn’t have been more different from Selma.
In Fairhope, we were treated to a round-town bicycle tour so we could see the “castle” built by a local artist and a segment of the Eastern Shore Trail. We ate gumbo and jambalaya and far too many beignets.
And we learned about a new mountain bike park in the nearby community of Foley. One day, someone noticed that people were biking on the hiking trails through a nature area. Rather than kick them out, they worked with the local bike shop to design purpose-built mountain biking trails.
Back in Montgomery, there was an interview on Alabama Live, followed by a short bike ride with staff from the Mayor’s office and a pre-Summit happy hour. The manager at the restaurant suggested the First White House of the Confederacy, just around the corner, as the one thing we should see before leaving town.
Alabama is a surprisingly beautiful state, and a bit of a conundrum. Rolling hills in the North, the Gulf and Mobile Bay in the South. Trees and farms and the most biologically diverse waterways in the US. And, yet, outdoor recreation hasn’t really caught on.
The Summit, which initially drew us to Alabama, was the finale of our trip. After five days spent in various parts of the state, talking with folks about bikes and tourism, reading visitor brochures and trying to grasp the various experiences on offer, we joined 30 or so folks to talk about bicycling in Alabama. From DOT to tourism to Forest Service to advocates across the state, the most striking thing about the Summit was that it brought together people who had never before been in the same room. Maybe that’s what all Summits are about, but it felt remarkable in a place like Alabama, which seems like one of the last places to consider adopting cycling as a part of its culture.
Our week was spent digging in and questioning the possibility of cycling in Alabama. In many ways, bike tourism is already happening. There are pockets of opportunity for cycling and there are energetic, enthusiastic people who are working for safer, more comfortable riding experiences. And, yet, there’s no denying the incredible uphill battle that advocates are facing. What happens next is anyone’s guess. But we’ll definitely be watching, with our fingers crossed.
We’re thrilled to announce that we’ll be presenting about bike tourism at this year’s Alabama Statewide Bicycle Summit. At first blush, Alabama might not seem like an obvious bike tourism destination – and that’s exciting for us, because bike tourism brings new people to the bicycling conversation.
We’re also excited because we have the opportunity to visit a few parts of the state before the Summit. We’ve never been to Alabama, so we’re looking forward to exploring a bit, as well as meeting with community leaders and bike advocates, and seeing what bike tourism can look like in Alabama.
If you’re local and want to join in the fun, we’d love to meet up! There are some events already planned or in the works, and hopefully there will be impromptu meet-ups along the way as well.
We’ll be in the following places on the following dates:
– Birmingham: Monday 3/23
– Fairhope: Tuesday 3/24 & Wednesday 3/25
– Montgomery: Thursday 3/26 & Friday 3/27 (the Summit is Friday)
If there’s anything we should see and do (or eat), we’re all ears!
We’re thrilled to start the pre-production for another Scenic Bikeway video shoot with Travel Oregon. In June, we’ll be filming the Cascading Rivers Scenic Bikeway, and we’re on the hunt for potential talent. If you’re local and interested, check out the details below and contact us for the full call-out.
Who: A couple + a dog (preferably a large breed, like a lab). Talent must provide their own bicycles and camping gear. Ideally, talent will provide their own trailer to carry their own dog, so that the dog is familiar with being on a bike.
When: 2 full days in mid-to-late June, to be scheduled with talent.
In case you’re not familiar with the series, check out the Madras Mountain View Scenic Bikeway video below…
When I last looked at the weather for Minneapolis, it promised a whopping 5 degrees when we arrive this afternoon. It’s not lost on us that this may not the best time of year to visit, especially since we don’t really like the cold. But it is when QBP is hosting Frostbike, so we’re packing all of our layers (literally) and planning to make the best of the silly cold weather.
We’re looking forward to meeting (and meeting again) the good folks at Salsa (and Surly and Cogburn), and maybe tossing around some new project ideas. We’re looking forward to seeing some of the behind-the-scenes, and getting a glimpse into what’s coming up. And, despite the cold, we’re looking forward to exploring a bit of Minneapolis, although we have conceded that biking in this weather is not in the cards for this trip (unless anyone wants to lend us proper snow biking gear).
How do you tell a story from five years ago? How do you describe a memory that looms so large in your head that you’re not sure if you completely remember the “truth”? And, as you search for all the little details, how do you know what you were really scared of and what the lesson really was?
Tonight, I will be one of four storytellers at a bike-themed fundraising event here in Portland. (If you’re in town, join us!) Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working with the creative souls behind the Portland Story Theater, slowly fine-tuning our stories and how to tell them in front of a live audience. And the thing that has struck me most about this process is the way it has dug out all of the details that I haven’t thought about in years, leaving me pondering the “truth” of my memories and the extent of that “truth” that I’m brave enough to share.
Five years ago, we were in the West Texas desert. We were exhausted, and we desperately wanted winter to be over. Yet, we were also in awe of the beautifully rugged landscape and the immense quiet. And set right in the middle of this frontier is the story that I’ll be sharing tonight.
At its core, it’s a story about bravery. Not the “bravado” that Hollywood tries to sell as bravery – but the quiet bravery of being anxious about an impending situation, while not wanting to admit it, and then going ahead because there are no other good options, and finding a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I easily could have missed.
Which means that, as I have found my way to the precise words that I will be stringing together on stage, I have thought a lot about the concept of bravery.
Sometimes we don’t see our own bravery, because we assume that “being brave” means doing something “epic” or “hard-core.” But we’re not all afraid of the same things, so I’ve come to believe that bravery operates on a sliding scale. I didn’t see it at the time, but the more that I think back on our travels and prepare my story for tonight, the more I believe that bike travel is inherently brave. Not because of the unknown or the bears or the strange people – but because traveling by bike has an incredible knack for breaking down barriers and giving us glimpses into worlds that we would never otherwise see – and the simple act of being open to these experiences is bravery.
Let’s be honest, when most of us think about Mississippi, we don’t immediately think ‘Hey, that sounds like a good cycling destination.’ Truth or not, perception is powerful – which is why we jumped at the chance to consult with the town of Ridgeland, one of only two Bicycle-Friendly Communities in all of Mississippi.
We first met Mina at last year’s National Bicycle Tourism Conference. We were so surprised and impressed to see a small-town tourism professional from Mississippi that we couldn’t not find out all about Ridgeland and why they were thinking about bike tourism.
It turns out that the Mayor of Ridgeland, Gene McGee, is an avid cyclist. We’ve seen our fair share of politicians who dig out their dusty bikes whenever the press cameras show up – but this is not Mayor McGee, who hits the pavement for his daily rides whether or not anyone’s watching. The joke, we were told, is that any new ideas for the city had better include bikes.
Ridgeland is also conveniently located along the Natchez Trace, which is one of those great bucket list routes. Every year, Ridgeland sees hundreds of people ride by without stopping, pedaling as fast as possible because there’s too much traffic and everyone says to just get out of Dodge. If only those touring cyclists knew about the nearly-parallel, off-road, multi-use path that local cyclists credit with an increasing interest in biking.
In short, Ridgeland has all the makings of a perfect bike tourism storm. So we flew out for a whirlwind weekend in early May – and came back excited to see what they create.
The anchor for the weekend was the Natchez Trace Century Ride. The good folks at Indian Cycles set us up on a pair of zippy road bikes, and we rode a portion of the century route. The ride may be named for the Trace, but the majority of the ride ventures away from the parkway, following small country roads through equally small towns and beside the Ross Barnett Reservoir (populated, we hear, with its fair share of gators).
Four years ago, we crossed the Mississippi River into Vicksburg, pedaled into the Jackson area, and rode the Natchez Trace into Nashville. We may have spent two weeks in Mississippi, but most of it was either in urban Jackson or along the Trace. The century ride gave us the opportunity to ride into the country and really experience the area. The century ride also gave us the opportunity to enjoy the tree-lined streets and wave at the kids who were watching the riders go by – with the help and support of dozens of volunteers running rest stops and local police stopping traffic at busy intersections.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, though, the best part of the century ride was the hospitality. The century ride treats all riders to a kick-off party the night before the ride, lunch after the ride, and a catered event that evening. This is not a ‘come, ride, get out’ sort of event, this is an invitation to linger and learn more.
Oh, and there were the delightful women in Pelahatchie who could hardly believe that we don’t say “y’all” on the West Coast.
The rest of our weekend in Ridgeland was spent exploring possible day ride routes, touring the mountain bike park, riding the multi-use trail with the Mayor, talking with local cyclists, brainstorming new ideas, presenting about bike tourism, and eating way too much good food.
Granted, we also heard from folks who ride at 4am to avoid the traffic, or who always go out in a big group because ‘you never know what can happen’ – so there is still a lot of work to do. But, bicycling is on the rise in Ridgeland, and there’s a lot of genuine interest in embracing cycling as both a quality of life benefit and a tourism asset – and that’s where good things start.
Four years ago, when we rode through the South, we never thought these places would prick up their ears to the benefits of bicycling – and, yet, that’s exactly what’s starting to happen. One of the things that we tell small towns is that bike tourism allows them to embrace who they are, rather than needing to become “like Portland.” In the South, this makes even more sense, because just being “the South” is enough of an intrigue for those of us who don’t live there. Don’t believe me? Just imagine how good fried chicken and boiled shrimp will taste after a long bike ride.
After a great weekend in Ridgeland, seeing first-hand the growing momentum around bikes, we’re excited to see what they create, and how they help lead the rest of the South.