One of the things that you tend to learn again and again when you’re traveling is that plans don’t always hold up. Things change constantly, and it’s only negative if you make it that way. For us, this trip has been a long series of things not going the way we thought they would – in ways that we have enjoyed immensely, as well as ways that have been endlessly frustrating. As the summer prepares to draw to a close, we wanted to take a moment to take stock of our trip, and see how the reality has been measuring up with the lofty goals we set back in February.
For starters, our goals for this trip have ended up flip-flopping. We had wanted to hop on and off of the train to explore various parts of the US and Canada, as a way to invigorate multi-modal travel and make bike touring more accessible. And, as a sort of secondary goal, we wanted to look at the economics of bike touring, and explore our hypothesis that cycling could be a part of the answer to the economic revitalization of small towns. It has turned out that the economics of bike touring has been the more dominant issue.
1. After my ankle sprain, we used the recovery time to make some connections with folks in Oregon, and begin looking into the bike economics idea. We interviewed Rob Sadowsky of the BTA, Kristin Dahl of Travel Oregon, Tara Corbin and Jerry Norquist of Cycle Oregon, and Alex Phillips of Oregon State Parks. Each of these conversations demonstrated an actual impact, within the state of Oregon, from cycling – and it proved that we were on to something with our bike economics hypothesis.
2. Leads that we garnered from these conversations, and the Missouri River flood that closed an enormous stretch of Amtrak’s Empire Builder train, caused us to change our initial route idea – and we headed out of Portland via Eastern Oregon, to sniff out some towns and businesses that have made changes because of cycling’s impact. This new route, and the fact that the Empire Builder is the only train in the wider NW, meant that we never actually had the opportunity to take the Bromptons aboard Amtrak (even though it was so integral to our initial vision). Instead, we had to content ourselves with buses being the transit component (from Portland to Tillamook and back, from Portland to Bend, from Joseph to Wallowa Lake, from Bozeman to Great Falls).
3. As bike economics continued to be the dominant theme, we had the chance to meet some wonderful people who are working hard to entice cyclists into their communities. Maureen and Jeff of Sea Haven Motel, Beverly Calder in Baker City, Oregon, and Bill White of Twin Bridges’ Bike Camp, to name a few. They’ve all been working independently, with an understanding that bikes can play into their local economies, and we were able to connect their stories into a larger string of anecdotal evidence of the impact of cyclists on small economies.
4. Making the move into video (while time-consuming and sometimes difficult to process on the road) has enabled us to document important insights into bike economics, bike tourism, multi-modal travel, and more. When we visited Adventure Cycling, for example, we were able to sit down and interview several staff members about ACA’s work and impacts (videos forthcoming).
5. We still believe that this country needs a great rail system, and that it would be a perfect compliment to cycling. We’ve traveled through so many places that would benefit tremendously from rail – either by bringing in tourists or by providing another option for residents without cars. And we’ve passed dozens of train lines that are obviously no longer used for freight traffic, which has made us wonder why those should just fall into disrepair instead of being revitalized and made useful again. It’s a radically progressive idea, we know, but we’re pretty sure that a larger and improved rail system would connect cyclists to these small towns who are eager to have such cyclists visit, thus invigorating the economy in a completely new (and more sustainable) way.
Looking back, we have discovered that, sometimes, it’s best to define goals in loose terms, instead of getting too fixated on the finer points. The details of our trip so far have looked very different from what we first imagined, but we have somehow been able to explore the issues and questions that intrigued us and led us to plan this particular trip. Each change has led to a new opportunity, and we are excited about a number of possibilities in the future. Plus, it turned out that we weren’t the only ones delayed this year – because of the heavy snow year, Montana’s legendary rivers were basically un-fishable until right when we got to them (meaning that if we’d been “on schedule,” Russ wouldn’t have been able to fish!).
Today, we finally get to board Amtrak – although, we won’t yet be continuing our eastward trek. We are headed back to Oregon for a short interlude, because my brother is getting married! It feels too early in our journey for such a long break, but sometimes that’s just how things work out.
As we look out onto the horizon, we can honestly say that we have no idea what comes after we head back to Oregon, and we’re kind of excited about the varied possible directions we could take. We’re planning to go to InterBike in September, hopefully with our Brompton touring guide in tow. We’ve committed to a panel presentation in October. We still want to get to the Midwest and Canada, but winter comes early out there, so maybe this fall isn’t the best time to head in those directions. We want to continue advocating for cycle touring resources in the US. And, oh yeah, we want to get on a plane and travel overseas. But first, we want to take all of that video footage that we shot and put it together into a presentation that illustrates the positive impacts of cycling on small economies – and, hopefully, we can take that presentation on the road!
We spent a fantastic week in Missoula – hanging out at the Adventure Cycling office, interviewing some of the ACA staff, meeting lots of other cycle tourists, learning a bit about Missoula’s bike advocacy, sampling some great local beers, shopping at the fantastic Saturday farmers’ market, chatting on a local radio show!, and figuring out what the next leg of our adventures would look like.
We decided to do a bit of a Grand Montana Loop, so we headed south out of Missoula to a campground just south of Hamilton. In Hamiilton, we found a bike shop full of friendly, helpful people, and a fantastic brewery (Bitter Root Brewing). On the way there, we found delicious raspberry pie and a huckleberry milkshake. Crews are finishing work on a bike-ped path that will follow Hwy 93 from Lolo to Hamilton. It’s finished and lovely, except for a 4-mile stretch after Victor, where we got to test out the dirt-riding capabilities of the Bromptons (they performed admirably!).
From Hamilton, we headed deeper and deeper into world-class fly-fishing territory. There were many fishing breaks, plenty of camping decisions based on where the good water is, and several days off (so that Russ could make the most of his annual fishing license). From Hamilton, we also headed into beautifully rural areas that felt like what we had envisioned as Montana – small wild west towns with gravel secondary roads, cowboys in Wranglers and boots, skies that seem to stretch on forever, and nothing on the horizon except the next set of mountains. This is a part of the country that has to be seen to be believed, and meandering slowly through it on a bicycle is a humbling experience.
From Hamilton, we continued south on Hwy 93, still following the ACA TransAm route. We stopped for lunch and coffee in Darby, and met two tourists nearing the end of their east-west adventure. Russ got the first two of what would be a string of flat tires (Montana has a lot of crap on their road shoulders!). We decided to camp that night at the Sula Store, just down the road from our Continental Divide crossing, and experienced our first Montana storm (which are amazing to behold). Russ patched his tire again and headed down the road to fish the river. A few hours later, I looked up to see him walking back to camp with a beautiful rainbow trout in his hands. Dinner! We lit a wood fire and grilled it up (strangely enough, I even had a lemon in my bag!). As the evening wound down, we crawled in the tent and watched the Mosquitos descend, waiting to attack if we ventured outside again.
From Sula, we had a 3000 foot climb ahead of us. The first 1000 feet were fairly gradual, through a bucolic ranch-filled landscape, and then the road tipped upward and the wind kicked up. Normally, you don’t have a headwind when you’re climbing a mountain, because the mountain blocks the wind, but that wasn’t the case for us, and we trudged upward, trying to stay zen about the stop-you-in-your-tracks gusts. Eventually, we got to pull over to the side of the road for awhile… to patch Russ’ third flat in 24 hours (did we mention there’s a lot of crap on the road shoulders?!). Tire fixed, we continued on and finally made it to the top of the first pass. At the top, there’s a nice rest stop with visitor info, and we took a long break and mused about how motorcycles have become quite hip with the baby boomer generation. From there, we turned onto Hwy 43 and climbed another mile to the crest of the Continental Divide! After the requisite photos, we soared down into the Big Hole valley. It was a perfectly enjoyable, steady downhill, at an easy 20mph, and then… pop! hissssssssssss… my back tire rapidly deflated itself and I steered off the road. Thank goodness we carry spare tires, because my tire was toast! By the time we rolled into the small town of Wisdom, we had battled headwinds, climbed 3000 feet, and lost our momentum twice from flat tires… so we called it a day and checked in to the Nez Perce Motel, a really lovely and recently remodeled small motel (at a very reasonable price!). And it turned out that Wisdom was a perfectly delightful random stop. We found a phenomenal restaurant with local beers on tap, cowboys wandering the dusty streets, and the annual Gun Show and Craft Fair.
The next morning, we hemmed and hawed about where we would go. Would we just go the 18 miles to Jackson, so that we could soak in the hot springs? Or push all the way to Dillon (66 miles)? We ended up going for Dillon, although we did stop in Jackson and check out the hot springs (which are lovely, FYI). Between Jackson and Dillon, there’s basically nothing but ranches. No towns, no services. Just endless rolling fields and a few gradual climbs to get over the passes out of Big Hole valley. It was on the downhill after the first pass that Russ let his Brompton fly and hit 42mph! Just as we were tumbling into the edge of Dillon, I noticed that the horizon behind us was getting darker and darker. By the time we got into town, the darkness had become the edge of a seriously epic storm that looked a bit terrifying. We sprinted the rest of the way into town and found a coffee shop where we could hide. As we watched the trash cans roll down the street outside, we decided that a place indoors was definitely called for. And that’s how we came to discover the best KOA ever! The folks that run the Dillon KOA were so impressed with all the cycle tourists that came through that they began offering a 25% discount! The regular price of their cabins was already better than the Motel 6, and with the discount we could afford to stay inside for two nights (and take a rest day in Dillon). We have had every manner of experiences with KOAs across the country. Because they are all independently run, there are slight price and operational differences between properties. Some KOAs have great tent prices, others not so much. The Dillon KOA is the most bike friendly one we’ve ever come across (or heard about) and we highly recommend it!
After a rest day in Dillon, exploring the town and doing some work, we headed up Hwy 41 to Twin Bridges. We had been hearing about the Bike Camp in Twin Bridges for awhile, and wanted to check it out for ourselves. There’s not much to the small town, but there’s a very smart man who started a discussion about building a facility to entice cyclists to stay and spend money in the community. Most of the town was extremely skeptical, but he and the other believers persevered, and today there is a gorgeous dedicated space for cyclists to stop and camp. There’s a shower and restroom, a cooler, outdoor grill, information about local businesses, and a lovely screened shelter with tables. As we wandered through town, we stumbled into the Weaver’s Studio and, in the course of small talk, Russ asked if the two men in the shop knew anything about the Bike Camp… and lo and behold, Bill was sitting right in front of us (the man who pulled it all together), and he graciously told us lots of stories about the process of putting in the Bike Camp and the reception from the town. One of our favorite bits of information… they’ve discovered (after starting to ask folks to fill out a short survey) that cyclists staying at the Bike Camp spend an average of approximately $25 per person per day in the town. (Video coming shortly.)
From Twin Bridges, we headed east through a string of small western towns. In Sheridan, we stopped for coffee. In Alder, we stopped for lunch at Chick’s Bar (the food was surprisingly great!). In Nevada City, we stopped to look at the collection of old west buildings and drink a cold drink in the shade. In Virginia City, we marveled at the sheer number of tourists and shared a huckleberry milkshake. And then we climbed up and over the hill to Ennis. Just over the crest of the hill, there’s a small pull-out with an astounding view of the Madison River Valley. We stopped to admire it and chatted for awhile with a couple who had also stopped to enjoy the view. As we were talking, we noticed that a huge storm was encroaching from the side of the hill we had just climbed. We high-tailed it down the incredible descent, but the storm got hung up by the hill and never pummeled us the way we thought it might. In Ennis, we found the Taco Bus and devoured some of their yummy tacos (real Mexican food!), before riding through downtown and setting up camp at a small Fish & Game campground beside the river (only $7 with Russ’ fishing license!).
The next day, we hung around Ennis. We poked around the shops in downtown, ate at the Taco Bus again, and met several other cycle tourists. Oh, and Russ got to fish the mighty Madison River for many, many hours.
From Ennis, we climbed out of the Madison River Valley and slowly made our way to Bozeman. The ride is a series of rolling hills, winding beside the Madison River for part of the way (and a beautiful BLM campground that we wished we’d known about!). After awhile, we climbed one last big hill before descending into the Four Corners area (basically, a really big intersection with truck stops, casinos, mini marts, a Subway, a few fly shops, and a lone coffee cart). We enjoyed the randomness of the intersection and hung out for a bit before rolling into town to find our friends that we’re staying with here.
I walked out of the supermarket the other day, pushing my folded and grocery-laden Brompton in front of me. Wheeling it around on the casters, I maneuvered it around the soda machine and the shopping cart return. As I started to put on my helmet and unfold the bike, I heard a now-familiar sound behind me, “Whoa… Is that a bike? That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Riding a Brompton is an invitation to repetitively answer this one question, and to continually blow people’s minds. There’s a moment, when we’re rolling the folded Bromptons through a store or a restaurant, when it’ll click in the head of an onlooker that this funny contraption is actually a bicycle. The tilted head and squinty expression (that betray the confusion and desperate attempt to understand what they’re seeing) fade into a look of awe and amazement. I can honestly say that I love this moment.
Of course, that mind-blowing moment isn’t always followed by a meaningful connection. Sometimes, we get to endure the inane comments and heckling of folks who’ve decided that we must be some sort of fantastic freaks for riding these circus contraptions. Or we have to hand over the bike to some random stranger who absolutely has to pick it up to see how much it weighs (hint: Bromptons are made of metal, just like most other bikes). And then there’s the automatic assumption that they’re Bike Fridays (which is a little maddening – not because we have anything against Bike Fridays, we just wish they hadn’t cornered the US folding bike market).
These random frustrations aside, after a month of traveling on the Bromptons, we’re pretty much pleased as pie. And if you’ve been wondering if they’ve actually lived up to our hopes and expectations, read on.
The first thing we can say about loaded touring on the Bromptons is that we are continually impressed with how well they handle the stress and strain that we heap on them. We are constantly asked about touring on the small wheels and if it makes life more difficult or sluggish – and we can honestly respond in the negative, because they’ve proved themselves to be much more rugged than we imagined.
We’ve lost track of how many mountain passes we’ve climbed up and over. But we haven’t lost track of how many of those we were able to pedal every inch – all of them. We may only have six gears, but it turns out that they’re the right six. Sure, there are times when we wish that we had another gear in the in-between, but we knew about this limitation when we chose the Bromptons, so we’ve learned to work with what we have.
The load capacity is, obviously, much less than our Surlys. In theory, we were thrilled by the need to lighten our load. In practice, we’re still thrilled that we can’t load them up any heavier – and, in fact, we’re continually wishing that we could cull our gear even further.
Rigging the backpack to the back of the saddle has turned out to be a brilliant way to carry gear. Because of the small wheels, the weight of the backpack is low to the ground, keeping the center of gravity low. The backpacks hold a fair amount of stuff, in a streamlined fashion, without getting in the way of our pedal strokes or posture on the saddle. Which all adds up to us hardly noticing that there’s that much weight on the back (except when I load my backpack with food!). Plus, the ability to break everything down into just three pieces (bike, front bag, backpack) has been invaluable for the transit connections we’ve made.
In all, we estimate that we’re each carrying about 50 pounds of gear on the bikes. Like I said, we wish that we could lighten this load a bit – but mainly because we’re just tired of schlepping around a world of stuff, not because we don’t think the Bromptons can handle it. That said, though, 50 pounds of gear is probably at the upper limit of what a Brompton can appropriately handle.
One of the biggest downsides to riding the Bromptons is having to be more careful about road surfaces. They handle fine on smooth gravel or dirt (including most fire roads), but we have to be really cautious of bumps and a washboard surface. We have certainly pushed the Bromptons beyond what might seem prudent (including riding through a 4-mile stretch of highway yesterday that had been torn up to third world conditions), and they have performed admirably so far. But the small wheels don’t roll over obstacles as well as larger wheels do, so vigilance is key. The same goes for railroad crossings!
Oh, and did we mention that it’s really hard to change a tire on a small wheel?!
We both firmly believe that there is no such thing as a perfect bicycle, for touring or anything. What works for us may not work for someone else. After a month on the road, we feel like the Bromptons fit our style of touring really well – which is a slow, meandering style. We like the challenge of being minimalist, and we have no need to be super fast. We like to roll into a town and explore for a few days – and the folding nature of the Bromptons means that they translate beautifully into a city bike. As we look forward to, hopefully, heading overseas in the near future, we’re convinced that the Bromptons are about as perfect (for us) as we could hope to find.
From Hell’s Gate State Park, we headed down the road a few short miles to the town of Lewiston, Idaho. We decided to have a rest day indoors and catch up on some work and video editing. As the afternoon progressed, I put my shoes on to wander into town… and then, turning the corner to get to the elevator, I ran right into some friends from Portland! Paul and Caroline got married over the 4th of July weekend and are riding across the country for their honeymoon! Steph and Bonnie are riding with them as far as Glacier. We all had a good laugh that we’d wound up in the same hotel, and then we went out to dinner, and enjoyed our free drink in the smoke- and karaoke-filled hotel bar (yes, that’s right, they gave us each a free drink ticket when we checked in!).
Leaving Lewiston, we hopped on the ACA Lewis & Clark Route, and followed Hwy 12 east. Hwy 12 is a terrible road for cycling. Far too much traffic and no shoulder. We took as many detours as we could, including riding a stretch of the old highway by the Nez Perce National Historic Park. We rolled into the small town of Orofino that afternoon, tired and hot, and checked into the Clearwater Crossing RV park. As we were checking in, we met two cyclists who had left Canada a few weeks before and were headed to Mexico and Cuba. They were ecstatic to see other tourists, and we told them they’d get more than their fill now that they were on an ACA route. Clearwater Crossing turned out to be one of the nicest RV parks we’ve camped at. Brand new, so the trees were still too small to provide shade, but the bathrooms were luxurious and pristine, the tent price was really reasonable, and there was a wonderful pavilion with electricity, all situated along the Clearwater River (and within walking distance of downtown). (Recommend!) That evening, a series of thunderstorms rumbled through, and we got to put our new tent through the paces and give it some good weather testing (it passed!).
From Orofino, we continued on Hwy 12 through the small towns of Kamiah and Kooskia. On the side of the highway between the two towns, we passed a woman selling salmon. At the sight of the hand-painted sign, I pulled off the road to scope out her offerings. She had both fresh and smoked salmon, recently caught and smoked locally by her husband, and we picked up a small package of smoked salmon. Later, we pulled off the highway to sit by the river and enjoy the salmon with some crackers. Absolute perfection! That evening, we camped at Three Rivers Resort, located at the confluence of the Clearwater, Lochsa and Selway Rivers. It’s an older property that was showing its age, but the location was spectacular, and we happily made use of the wifi in their restaurant.
The next morning, we were up super early, to beat the traffic. Hwy 12 slowly winds its way upward toward Lolo Pass, following the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers. It’s an incredible road, flanked by national forest and wilderness areas. When there’s no traffic, it’s peaceful and an incredible experience to be so far-removed from civilization (there’s no cell service for 150 miles). Unfortunately, cars and trucks are allowed on Hwy 12, and we saw all sorts of evidence that drivers couldn’t handle the road: a mini-van nose-down in the river, a jack-knifed big rig, enormous rolls of toilet paper left-over from a big rig crash. I couldn’t help but think that the road should just be closed to vehicular traffic and open only to those of us who could handle it: cyclists and hikers. That day, even though it was further than we wanted to ride, we decided to push ourselves all the way up to the Lochsa Lodge, especially after we passed a cycle tourist going the opposite direction who flagged us down to sing praises about the food and cabins. We were dead-tired when we rolled in, but the $45 cabin and phenomenal food made it all worthwhile. (The promise of good food will usually put enough wind in Russ’ sails to go further or harder than expected, especially when it’s the choice between a long day or chicken-out-a-can.)
From Lochsa Lodge, it was a short 14 miles to the summit of Lolo Pass. Ironically, we had gained more elevation the day before than we did actually reaching the summit. In other words, staying at Lochsa was a great way to make Lolo Pass seem really easy! At the top, we took a break at the visitors center and ranger station. They had a fantastic exhibit about the area, as well as free coffee and wifi! I had seen an image of a moose walking in front of the visitors center sign, and kept my eyes peeled in hopes of seeing one myself… but, alas, no moose appeared. The rangers also had the weather report posted, with promises of a very large thunderstorm that afternoon and evening, so we didn’t dawdle too long at the top. Coasting downhill to Lolo Hot Springs, we passed several other cycle tourists, members of an ACA-led TransAm group – and had a chance to meet and chat with a few of the group, who were obviously having a blast on their trip! That night, we decided to pony up for another small cabin ($42, including entry to the hot springs), and we were glad we did when it stormed all afternoon and evening. The hot springs were fairly anti-climactic, not at all the romantic idea you have of mineral water seeping out of a pile of rocks (it’s a swimming pool with the mineral water piped in), but it was delightfully soothing to all those exhausted muscles!
From Lolo Hot Springs, we had a quick morning ride, coasting downhill with a bit of a tailwind, into the small town of Lolo. All morning, we kept passing signs for ‘Moose Crossing,’ and I kept hoping and wishing for some moose to wander out into view (given that I’ve never seen one in person and think they look so fascinating in photos). ‘It’s okay, mooses, come out and say hi,’ we called as we rolled down the road. And, then, just as I’d given up hope, something very large moved in the bushes to the right. I gasped, “it’s a moose, no wait, it’s an elk, no wait… what is it?!” I’ve only ever seen images of moose with antlers, so I never imagined that a she moose wouldn’t have antlers (hello, city girl!). But, there she was, way too big to be an elk, and with a much different face. She ran off into the bushes before we could think to snap a photo, and I squealed with delight at finally seeing a moose. And then we headed the rest of the way into Missoula, stunned to actually roll into this city that we’ve so long thought about visiting.
Waking up at Phillips Lake, we were still grateful that they had found space for us. We were headed into Baker City for a few days, just a short 20 mile ride from the lake, so we were able to take our time getting out of camp and enjoy the beautiful spot. Baker City was just waking up when we rolled into town, and we poked around the few places that were open that Sunday morning of 4th of July weekend. Ice cream, coffee, and then we set off to find our warmshowers hosts for the night. We pitched our tent in their beautiful backyard, cleaned off for the first time in a few days, and then found our way to Paizano’s (a local pizza spot, recommended by a reader). We polished off an entire (delicious!) pizza and a few beers while catching up online and enjoying the air conditioning. After pizza, we went in search of a rumored Airstream rally, and found a dozen or so gleaming trailers parked in a circle in the city park. We chatted with a few Airstreamers (who were there celebrating Wally Byam’s birthday, the inventor of the Airstream), and even got a tour of a few trailers. That night, we went to sleep to the sound of fireworks being shot off around the neighborhood.
Since we rolled into Baker City on the holiday, we decided to stay around town for a few days until the city returned to “normal” hours and we could actually explore some of the shops and restaurants. So, the next few days were filled with coffee at Bella, singing Happy Birthday to Wally Byam with the Airstreamers, interviewing folks about bike advocacy in Baker City, attempting to watch fireworks from the hotel balcony, drinking local brews at Barley Brown’s, and checking out the many shops in the historic downtown.
Leaving Baker City, we headed east on Hwy 86. About 6 miles out of town, we stopped at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. It had been highly recommended that we stop, although we were wary of the steep steep climb up to the museum. As it turned out, it was one of the best educational centers we’ve been to, and full of fascinating information about the Oregon Trail (from the perspective of the pioneers, as well as the Native Americans). One of our favorite parts was learning that most pioneers considered bacon to be an essential part of their pantry, and would plan for roughly 100 pounds per person! From the Oregon Trail Center, we rambled onward through the sweltering heat, thankful that we weren’t roughing it as much as the pioneers. In Richland, we stopped for ice cream and burgers, and then hid out in the library for a few hours, enjoying their free Internet and air conditioning. We decided to camp at the county park just outside of town. Their showers were crazy expensive, but the location was beautiful.
The next morning, we woke up to cloudy skies, which meant that we would have some reprieve from the sweltering heat during all the climbing that was ahead of us. We had decided that we really wanted to see the town of Joseph and Wallowa Lake, so we departed the TransAm after the small town of Halfway, and we headed up Rte 39. But, first, we had to stop in Halfway. We stumbled into Levi’s (on their first day!) and devoured the most delicious plates of brisket hash. Rte 39 turned out to be one of the most fantastic roads for cycling, although almost all of the elevation information we had beforehand was wrong. It’s a narrow road, so there’s very little traffic, and the scenery is spectacular. From the south side, you climb almost 3000 feet to a summit of roughly 5300 feet, over a distance that feels like practically forever. As we pedaled our way uphill, a thunderstorm slowly rumbled its way across the sky and brought some moisture and cooler temperatures. And, eventually, we reached the top (a very unassuming summit, with no signs), and suddenly started screaming downhill. We had hoped to get out to the Hell’s Canyon overlook, but we were exhausted when we reached the turnoff and nearly out of water, so we just couldn’t bring ourselves to log an extra 6 miles and several hundred feet of climbing. Instead, we enjoyed the downhill, and pulled into Ollicott campground, along the Imnaha River. We chose it because it was the only campground along the whole route with a well and drinking water. And once we figured out the strange well and tasted the water (full of minerals!), we ended up just getting water from our very generous neighbors. The Imnaha was absolutely raging, full of snow melt, and provided a lovely soundtrack to fall asleep to.
From the campground, we expected a few rolling hills into Joseph. Man, were we wrong! You go down, then you go up, and up, and up, to almost 6000 feet. Then you go down just a little, ramble around a ridge, and go up to almost 6100 feet. Exhausted and almost out of snacks, we finally reached the summit (thankfully, there was a sign this time, indicating we had actually found the top). The road wound around the north side of the snow-capped mountains, giving us the most breathtaking descent. At the bottom, there was one final hill to climb and then a headwind to fight to get into Joseph. By the time we rolled into town, we were thoroughly worn out. But we were also ever-so-glad that we had decided to take the detour. Rte 39 was a fantastic experience and Joseph and surrounding areas were proving to be worth the effort. We devoured a delicious lunch and some beers at Mutiny Brewing and then walked around town a little before heading to Wallowa Lake. We had stumbled onto the little visitor information booth and discovered that there’s a shuttle that runs between Wallowa Lake-Joseph-Enterprise… so we took it! The folded-up Bromptons sat in the back of the bus, which left the bike rack open for the other folks who took the bus to the lake. We staked our little patch of ground in the hiker-biker site (thankful that it was there, because the whole park was full!), and enjoyed a restful evening with a campfire and a couple of beers.
We were so enamored of Joseph and Wallowa Lake that we decided to stay for a few days. I quickly decided that Joseph is my “perfect” small town – great food, lots of art, an independent hardware store, farmers market, all set against an incredible backdrop of snow-covered mountains. Russ reveled in the fishing, catching four trout in one day. We explored and got a bit lost trying to take the “back” way from town to the park. And we were “adopted” by a baby bird that had fallen out of the tree and kept hopping over to our campfire.
After a restful few days in Joseph (and a perpetual quest for decent Internet service), we headed just a few miles north to Enterprise, to meet Dan & Lynne Price. We had a wonderful time with them, talking about travel and simplicity. Dan graciously welcomed us into the Meadow and gave us a tour of his incredible little homestead, all built by hand from reclaimed materials, in a way that the buildings entirely blend into the landscape. The visit inspired us both, so stay tuned for more stories in a little bit. The other thing had to do in Enterprise, of course, was check out the Terminal Gravity brewery. We enjoyed some beers and food in their delightful garden, and met two guys (on vacation to the area) who were checking out all the local watering holes by bicycle.
We headed north from Enterprise on Hwy 3. It slowly winds up a gentle grade through ranch land and forest, giving you a few glimpses of Joseph Canyon, until you come to the edge of a very large canyon with the Grand Ronde River at the bottom. We soared down the 10-mile descent, winding around all its twists and turns. At the bottom, we pulled into Boggan’s Oasis, a small restaurant with RV park and cabins. We had heard about Boggan’s many times before reaching it, as tales of their milkshakes have spread far and wide. We stayed in one of their cute little cabins and spent the evening at the river – Russ fishing and me watching.
The next morning, we slowly psyched ourselves up for the climb up Rattlesnake Grade. 13 miles to the top, we heard, and 110 turns. We filled up on a hearty breakfast at Boggan’s and then began the climb. As it turned out, it was not nearly as bad as we were expecting. The grade was quite gentle, the traffic was low, and the scenery was amazing. At the top, a black bear ambled across the road, maybe 200 feet ahead of us. And then, around the corner, a coyote trotted across the road as well, making us laugh and joke about a wildlife highway. At the top of the climb, the road straightens out and runs through a high-elevation prairie, dotted with farms. The change in the landscape was so drastic that it startled us and made us, again, glad that we were on bike and able to experiences these changes so fully. Just before the small town of Asotin, the road suddenly pitched downward, and we enjoyed a surprise descent on a smooth and recently re-paved road. After coffee in Asotin, we found our way to Hell’s Gate State Park in Lewiston, Idaho, and enjoyed a quiet evening overlooking the Snake River.
As we sit at a small diner on Wallowa Lake, sipping some NW microbrews and patiently surfing the slow internet, we’ve been realizing that two whole weeks have quietly slipped by and we are getting back into the groove of traveling. After a rainy winter and an ankle injury that served to keep us off our bikes, we’ve discovered that our legs are a bit stiff and have lost some of that strength that we built up over the last trip. The first few days saw us going to bed way before sunset, because we were just so tired. But the route we have taken has been spectacular, and we are so glad we chose to explore Eastern Oregon.
Our first day back out on the road took us from Bend, Oregon to the Crooked River. It was a swelteringly hot day that involved a lot of climbing. We weren’t entirely sure it was all going to be worth it, and then we turned onto Hwy 27 and soared downhill, into an ever-expanding canyon, to the Prineville Reservoir and Crooked River. Russ spent the afternoon fishing (and even catching!), and we enjoyed our first night on the road in a beautiful campsite beside the river.
From the Crooked River, we headed north into Prineville. It was a Monday morning, and the evidence was all around us of a successful rodeo that weekend. We stopped for groceries and found a great little coffeeshop with wifi. As it turned out, the owners had recently moved out from Ohio, found themselves surprisingly pleased with life in Prineville, and bought and expanded the business. In a small world turn, we discovered that our friend Matt (who is also cycling across the US) stopped there a few weeks before us, and the wife of the couple is the sister of one of our readers! (Which is one of many reasons why we love traveling – the world continually shrinks and we remember how connected we all actually are!) Prineville was also the point at which we joined the TransAm route. That night, we camped at the county park at the Ochoco Reservoir, and met the three TransAm cyclists that we would leapfrog and camp with over the next few days. Sally & Patsy had decided, on a whim, to ride the TransAm in sections, as a way to add some adventure and fun to their lives. Mark had always wanted to ride the TransAm and took advantage of being job-free this summer.
Day 3 saw the first of many mountain passes. Lucky for us, it was an easy grade with gorgeous scenery. About halfway up the climb, the forest opened to a gorgeous meadow, and we couldn’t help thinking how surprising it seemed to find such a lush green landscape in the high desert. The other side of the pass gave us an incredible screaming downhill, easily one of the best descents we’ve even been privileged to experience. At the bottom of the hill (and a slight tick up again), we reached the small of town of Mitchell. We enjoyed an iced coffee and wifi at the coffee cart at the south end of town, then stopped for a burger. Mitchell is only about 150 people these days, although one resident told us it used to be a booming town with several bars (and the place that everyone wanted to stop on their way through the area). These days, Mitchell allows camping in their city park (free, donations graciously accepted), and there’s one bar and a small market. Since we got in so early that afternoon, we picked up a few beers and some snacks at the market, and enjoyed cycle tourist happy hour in the park. That evening, we were joined by Jeff, a lymphoma survivor who had vowed to ride across the country to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
From Mitchell, we headed uphill once again. The summit was the only place in the area that had good cell phone reception, so we had a silly 21st-century moment at the top of the climb, with five cycle tourists checking email and phone messages. After the summit, we rambled through ranch land and the Painted Hills. Just outside of Dayville, we ran into three women on bike tour around the area. When Sally & Patsy caught up with us all, we took a moment to recognize the fact that there were six women on bikes, the largest grouping of female bike tourists I have ever seen! In Dayville, we decided to call it a day. We stopped for ice cream at the mercantile, ate some pizza and corn dogs at the mini mart, and set up camp at the Fish House Inn (which had the most glorious lawn of any RV park we’ve stayed in).
From Dayville, we had a relatively flat and meandering ride into Mt Vernon. The countryside was glorious and peaceful – and not a bad place to ride my bike on my birthday! We stopped in Mt Vernon to poke around the little outdoors-ammo-hardware-pharmacy-tourist-misscelanea shop, enjoy a hearty breakfast with Patsy & Sally, and check out the Bike Inn. We had looked all over the internet for information about the Bike Inn and didn’t really find anything concrete, but it sounded like an incredible resource. So, fellow cycle tourists, if you’re headed through Eastern Oregon and want to stay in Mt Vernon, yes, the Bike Inn does exist and, yes, it’s lovey. A separate little guest house with a futon, small kitchen, bathroom, tv, and gorgeous outdoor patio. Since it was only 11am and we had only ridden 20 miles, we decided to keep going, and pushed on to the town of Prairie City, another delightful small town. We poked into the visitors center, and then settled into Oxbow Bar, a bar/restaurant with wonderful food and ice cream and microbrews on tap. After a few hours on the internet, we made our way down to Depot Park, a small city park that offers camping (tent and RV). The showers are crazy expensive, but the park is lovely, situated next to a river and with a large pavilion with electricity. After cleaning up and resting, we set off to celebrate my birthday! Sally & Patsy joined us for dinner and wine and ice cream and we laughed until they closed the doors and it was time to crash out in our tents. It was a fantastic birthday celebration and a great last evening with Patsy & Sally, who we had spent so much time with over the previous few days, and whose company and spirit we enjoyed so much!
The following day, we decided to take a rest day in Prairie City. My ankle had been bothering me a bit, and I wanted a day off the bike. We had hoped to migrate into a hotel room for the night, to take a proper shower and do some internet-ing, but we were foiled by the 4th of July weekend! Instead, we explored town a bit and ended up back at Oxbow and Depot Park.
Day 7 was the day of the three summits. Good grief, we were not looking forward to all of this climbing! The first one out of Prairie City is the longest, but it is also the one that ends in a diner with fantastic burgers and milkshakes (which we enjoyed at 10am!). Just outside of Austin Junction, we stopped at a small spring to fill up our water bottles. As we were finishing up, the owner of the property where the spring originates came out to lightly hassle us. He told us a bit about the spring and that he was allowed to charge whatever he wanted for it. The catch, he said, is that, as soon as he starts charging, he has to have the water tested on a weekly basis. Not wanting the hassle, he leaves it running from a pipe the ends by the side of the road, just like it’s been for the last 40 years, he said. The water was cold and crisp and delicious, and we were thrilled to have it as we started up the second climb. By the time we finished the third climb (3800 feet over the course of the day!), we were absolutely exhausted. We hemmed and hawed at the turn off to Sumpter, wanting to see the old town, not wanted to ride any more miles than necessary. We thought about just trying to stay in Sumpter, instead of heading to the campground, but again, we were foiled by the holiday. We waved to Sumpter from the highway and headed to the Union Creek campground. With not a drop of energy left in our legs, we rolled in and had the volunteer at the entrance tell us the campground was full. I could hear Russ groan and slump over his handlebars as I begged and pleaded. Finally, he sent us down the hill to fill up our water bottles and find his supervisor. I was expecting to have to beg for a small corner of grass by the ranger house, but he smiled and said that he had one tent space left! We handed over some money and happily trotted down to the smallest campsite known to man (it must be the one they always leave open for the poor souls who show up on bikes, because there’s no way that a tent any larger than ours would fit there). Needless to say, we were in bed way before dark, which is how we heard a group of kids wander by and proclaim, ‘whoa, that’s the smallest tent I’ve ever seen!’
In case you missed it, we’re finally ready to hit the road! Six weeks, to the day, from when we had planned to head out, my ankle is finally strong enough and we are heading East! (And we are very excited!) We made a few adjustments to our original plans, based on some connections we’ve made over the past few weeks, and we wanted to share our (tentative) route with you all.
While it would have been a beautiful route, we have decided to forego our original plan of leaving Portland via the Columbia Gorge. In our conversations with folks at Cycle Oregon and TravelOregon, we’ve heard so much about initiatives to entice cycle tourists to Eastern Oregon towns. We decided that we had to check this out for ourselves, and share our findings with you all!
So, from Bend, we will be heading East along (mostly) the ACA TransAm route. Since we love to freestyle our route planning, we are open to diversions, but it seems like a great way to get from Bend to Eastern Oregon to Missoula (which we know we want to be our next big stop). If you happen to be in or around Eastern Oregon or Central Idaho (along the TransAm route), or you know of something amazing that we should see or experience or people we should talk to, drop us a line. It looks like we’ll be headed through Prineville, Mitchell, Dayville, Mt Vernon, John Day, and Prairie City (Oregon), before rolling into Baker City for a few days. Then, we’ll likely continue on through Cambridge, Council, New Meadows, Grangeville (Idaho) and up and over Lolo Pass into Missoula.
Our Big Adventure on Small Wheels is finally ready to roll, and we’re thrilled to have you all along for the ride!
When you’re recovering from an ankle injury and slowly expanding your cycling radius, Oregon in June is a pretty good place to “have to” hang out. Over the last few weeks, we have moved beyond the frustration of the initial set-back, and we have taken advantage of this extra time to explore and sink in to the bikeyness.
In June, all of Portland’s bike community comes together for Pedalpalooza. It’s a celebration of bike fun and, after hearing so much about it, we were thrilled to be able to participate. We joined in the rambling madness of the Midnight Mystery Ride (a large late-night social ride to who-knows-where). We cheered on the cargo bike race, bike parade, and criterium at the Cirque du Cycling. We DIY-ed red felt beards in support of Portland’s red-haired citizens at the Ginger Ride. We shared tea and a hill-climb with other folding bike enthusiasts. We toured the Irish pubs and read passages from Ulysses on the Bloomsday Ride. And, last but not least, I stripped down with 8,000 or so other cyclists for the World Naked Bike Ride.
In between Pedalpalooza events, we piled all of our gear (in its new configuration) onto the Bromptons for a short trip out to the coast. We took the Wave bus to Tillamook and rode north to Rockaway Beach. In Rockaway Beach, we met Maureen and Jeff, owners of Sea Haven Motel & Guest House, and talked with them about the impact of cyclists on their business. (Hundreds, if not thousands, of touring cyclists zip by every year, and they’re on a mission to bolster Rockaway Beach and entice these cyclists to stick around… stay tuned for a more in-depth video interview.) We were thrilled to stay in their lovely property and use it as a base to explore Wheeler and Manzanita (to the north). From Rockaway Beach, we headed south to Cape Lookout, our favorite campground along the Oregon coast. All told, we rode 80 miles, up and over some hills, and my ankle passed with flying colors!
On Sunday, we finally bid our farewell to Portland and headed east to Bend. After the coast trip and riding around Portland, we were both confident that my ankle had become strong enough to finally hit the road! We decided to head out to Central Oregon to visit my brother for a few days and flip the proverbial coin to decide where to head next. In Bend, we’ve ridden up to Pilot Butte for the sunset, and out to Tumalo Falls – two beautiful local rides with a lot of climbing.
After five and a half weeks of resting and healing, we’ve finally given my ankle a (mostly) clean bill of health, and we’re happy to announce that our delayed trip is finally getting started! From Bend, we’ll be heading east along the TransAm Route to Missoula, MT. It’s a bit of a change from our initial plan, but we’re eager to log some miles, and we hear there are some small towns in Eastern Oregon that are making major changes to attract cyclists!
Thanks to all of our incredible readers for your support over these past few weeks! Updates from the road are coming soon!
My Brompton and I are stopped at an intersection. The light turns green and I push down on the pedal with my right leg. But the bike doesn’t respond, at least not the way it should. To get any momentum, I have to slam down on the other pedal with my left leg. Slowly, I get up to a roaring 7mph, telling myself to simply be content that I can pedal continuously at that speed without any pain.
That was a week ago. Today, I’m up to a more respectable 11-12mph. But I still have to rely heavily on my left leg to get moving from a stop. It’s a weird experience to push down with all your might, only to have the pedal swing anemically underneath you. My ankle is healing and limbering up again; my focus now is building strength back into those muscles and tendons. Slowly, but surely, day by day, I’m putting myself through my version of physical therapy, and I’m regaining my ability to go for a ride on my bike.
For the last week, we have been in Corvallis, Oregon (my hometown), staying with my Mom. It’s a city with a lot of cyclists and some of the widest bike lanes and best-planned, best-laid-out bike infrastructure that we’ve seen. But it comes with its ironies. The lack of obvious bike “culture” has made us wonder if the sorts of bike scenes we’ve found in Portland and Austin are actually born of strife. Since bike lanes have been around for decades in Corvallis, cycling is simply a part of everyday life, not something to fight for. There was no need for Critical Mass, so nothing galvanized cyclists into a group (in Portland, ex-Critical Mass cyclists formed Shift; in Austin, they formed Social Cycling ATX). It’s an interesting theory, and makes us wonder what it’s really like as a cyclist in Denmark and Amsterdam.
Tomorrow, we’re headed back up to Portland for a few days of Pedalpalooza madness. Amtrak’s Cascades line has allowed us to travel back and forth without too much trouble, and has provided even more proof of the value of long-distance public transit. On Monday, we’re headed to the coast on a short transit-supported trip, to continue exploring the link between cycle tourists and rural economic development. We’ve made some interesting connections and look forward to sharing them with you all. With any luck, the following week, five weeks after my injury, we’ll finally be able to head out on our big trip.
Yesterday, as I sat slumped under a black cloud, I realized that I needed to make a choice. I could either continue to mope around and feel crummy about my inability to do what I had planned and hoped and expected. Or I could move on, and re-frame how I think about this injury and what it means. Because, I realized, the only truth in this whole experience is that my ankle is sprained; everything else is subjective and up to me.
And then I had to chuckle, because I’m apparently not nearly as skilled at going-with-the-flow as I would like to believe!
Early in our last trip, we made the decision to not plan. When you plan, you feel attached to it, sometimes chained to it, and you’re not as able to enjoy the spontaneous other opportunities that come along. When we thought about heading back out on the road, we were really looking forward to getting back into that mindset. Little did we realize that we would get exactly that wish, in a completely different way than we expected. Which is truly ironic, because how can you plan to stop planning?
For the past week and a half, I’ve been lamenting the inability to stick with our plan. Yesterday, I realized that I needed to give up the plan, to say ‘okay, life’s a fact,’ and embrace this new situation. But what does that mean? And how do I actually get out from under these black clouds?
I talked with my Mom recently, and she pointed out something that I’ve missed until now… physically, I’m at a beginner’s level. I can ride 10 miles, max. I’m exhausted after just 3 miles. And hills? Forget it. I just don’t have the strength right now. The only path out of my ankle sprain is the same one that all beginners must travel… start small, do what I can, and slowly build up my strength.
Which is where the shift in thinking comes in handy. I can either be frustrated by my beginner-ness, or I can embrace it the way Buddhists do. What if I accepted my current situation and set out to have fun anyway, in whatever way I’m able, without heaping any shame on myself for not doing more? What would it look like to have an incredible adventure when I can only ride 5 or 10 miles?
This is where my head is now, as I try to shake these dark clouds. If it takes six weeks for my ankle to heal properly, I’ll give it six weeks. I’ll stop forcing it to heal on my timeframe, and let it tell me when it’s ready for something bigger. But I’m not going to just while away my time on the couch anymore. The more I ponder this injury and what I am capable of doing, the more I realize that it’s still possible to explore this great big world of ours – I just have to do it 5 miles at a time.
What would an incredible adventure look like to you, if you could only ride 5 or 10 miles?