(We are going to start a new column on the website, simply called #BikeTourism. It will focus on industry trends and news relevant to this emergent field. We are hoping that as people see the work we are doing the idea will catch on!)
The announcement of the new camo Cogburn fat bike has been making the rounds on the internet. Cogburn is a new QBP brand that looks like it will be targeting the sportsmen crowd whose primary interest is hunting and fishing and may be interested in bicycling. This seems like the perfect lovechild between QBP and its outdoor counterpart Q-Outdoors.
While most of the attention has been focused on its camo paint job (which does look pretty awesome) and its fatness, the bigger and more exciting story is the subtext of this move. Let’s face it, bicycling is too often viewed in connection with people that live in cities. Cogburn could be the first brand that is targeting potential rural cyclists that don’t live in cities and have no interest in the bike as transportation, but could use it in conjunction with other activities. It is taking the bicycle to previously uncharted and vast waters.
What excites us most about Cogburn is how it dovetails with our interests in bicycle tourism. In our experience, rural communities are latent bicycle proponents. They won’t be advocating for protected green lanes on their Main Street with a single traffic light, but they can recognize the economic gains of people with bikes staying overnight at their hotels and drinking beers at their bars. In short, you have to make bicycling relevant to the people you are trying to reach and can’t beat the same old drum. This is what Cogburn does from the industry and product level and it is brilliant. A Linus or Bakfiets doesn’t make sense in the country, nor does it make any real steps to reach a new rural market, but a bike with the right form and function (accessoriess to carry a bow, rifle or rod) does.
While I don’t think QBP views Cogburn as rural bicycle advocacy (who knows, they might!), I think it has the potential to act as such. The more people you can get on a bike, the more you can find common ground. While it might be a long time before a hunter and roadie are sharing beers and debating the advantages of running tubeless tires, this brings us one bike closer.
When we heard that our friend Jason from Swift Industries was planning a little weekend bike touring / fly fishing extravaganza for the 4th of July AND that we would be riding a portion of the Iron Horse Trail, we couldn’t say no. We have been eyeing the Iron Horse Trail for quite some time because it looked like an intriguing gravel ride and because it seemed to have good bike tourism bones. Surprisingly, for a trail of its length, proximity to Seattle and general potential for awesomeness, there is very little information about it. There are some odd trip reports here and there, but nothing with photos that really give you a flavor of the trail.
We boarded the BOLT bus in Portland. For those that don’t know, the Bolt is a generally less sketchy Greyhound (though it operates The Hound umbrella). The coaches are newer, have WiFi and MOST importantly aren’t jerks about taking bikes. Interestingly, the buses don’t have racks but instead allow you to place them in the luggage area UNBOXED. For us, this illustrates that accommodating bikes is more about attitude/policy than hardware. We’ve taken the Bolt bus where they have accommodated upto 6 bikes sans bike rack. Also interesting to note was that the bus was full of Gen X/Y riders. Our generation may not be into owning cars, but it doesn’t mean we don’t like to travel. It just means we will travel to places that are easy to get around without driving.
After taking the bus to Seattle, we all gathered the next morning and got a lift from Steve, who actually wrote his graduate thesis on the Iron Horse Trail and is active in mapping and advocating for the trail. It was great to hear his insight about the potential and challenges of the trail.
We started riding at the trailhead at Rattlesnake Lake (about 43 miles from Seattle). The trail is unpaved gravel which is very rideable but is more enjoyable with some fat rubber. I was riding my new Surly Ogre with 2.3 inch tires and Laura was riding her monstercrossed Vaya with 45mm Vee Rubber tires. There was no tire skinnier than 35mm on the ride.
From Rattlesnake Lake we rode East on the trail, which is generally trending uphill. It climbs at a railroad grade, so it was pretty mellow, even with a load. There were short stretches of loose gravel and some pot holes to negotiate, but for the most part the riding was easy and freed us up to talk with each other and enjoy the scenery.
One remarkable thing about the Iron Horse is that it has some beautiful “backcountry” campsites just off the trail, with pit toilets. They were tastefully done and placed in some nice locations (the complete opposite of many hiker/biker sites around the country). One particularly striking site was perched next to a small waterfall and creek, tucked beneath some lush trees. We decided to take a break there for brunch. As luck would have it, another cyclist was also stopped, with a BOB trailer. He was actually providing support for a group of riders and wanted to ditch some of his load, so he gave us a sixer of Pabst, some V8 and muffins : )
As you ride you’ll be flanked by salmonberry bushes, which we of course took a few minutes to sample. You’ll also ride over trestles and pass some cliff faces that are popular with climbers.
The other big highlight is the Snoqualamie Pass Tunnel, a 2.5-mile tunnel that bores right through the mountain. It is the longest tunnel open to non-motorized travel in the US. The sensation of traveling through a tunnel that long was a little unnerving but fun at the same time. The other end appears as a tiny pinprick of light in the distance that seems to grow larger at a glacial pace. Be sure to bring good lights and a windbreaker. On our return trip, the temperature outside the tunnel was a pleasant 75 degrees and inside was a breezy 45.
Just after the tunnel is the Hyak stop, which has a small building with restroom facilities with flush toilets, sinks and running water. There were also showers there, though they seem to have been shut off. At Hyak we had a break for lunch.
Soon after the trail crossed the Yakima river, we left the Iron Horse and headed for Lake Easton to find a convenience store to load up on more snacks. After the minimart, we made our way to our final destination, Lake Kachess. Through some navigational errors, we found ourselves on a pretty rough forest service road. Gone was the relatively relaxed Iron Horse Trail, replaced with fist-sized rocks and ponds that crossed the entire “road.” The going was slow but the climbing and obstacles made for a more exciting ride and was a good test of both my new Ogre and the Vee Rubber tires Laura was using on her Vaya. Both performed admirably.
After an hour or two on the forest service road, we strangely emerged into a housing development, which was rather disconcerting after feeling like we were in the middle of nowhere a few minutes before. From that point, we were back on pavement and made our way to the official campground on Lake Kachess. Although it was mid-week, it was also the 4th of July so the campground was a little fuller than it would have been otherwise but it still wasn’t too bad. We found a rather large site and pitched our tents and made dinner at the day use area by the waterfront.
The next morning, we left base camp, carrying snacks and fishing gear. The plan was to pedal a few miles up a gravel road and fish Box Canyon Creek. We passed some promising spots early on, but they were already filled with cars and other campers. We pushed on and finally found one wilderness campsite by the river that provided both shade and beautiful scenery for the non-fishers and some promising little runs for the fishermen.
I eyed a promising little run and strung up my Tenkara rod and got into the water. Instead of waders, I use neoprene booties and my Keen sandals. They give me just enough insulation to stand in the cold water. After about 10 minutes I hooked up with a fish in some really skinny improbable looking water. It was a beautiful fat 8 inch trout that got off before I could handle it. It was an auspicious start, but the rest of the day was a little slow fishing-wise. I caught two other small ones, but that was it for the rest of the day.
The next morning we got up early and took a more civilized paved path back to the Iron Horse Trail and essentially rode the route in reverse back to Rattlesnake Lake. From there, we parted ways with a few riders. The remaining group rode to Issaquah where we thought we could take our bikes back on the SoundTransit bus back to Seattle (cutting out 18 miles of urban riding), but we were turned away.
The driver pointed to my front rack and said “No bikes with baskets are allowed.” Admittedly, my 29er was having a tough time fitting on the front rack. I completely deflated the tire to try to get the hook to slide over more securely but had no luck. All the while, the driver was no help whatsoever. I asked if we could take the bikes on board since the bus was pretty empty, but he said no.
With that, we were left with no other option but to ride back, rounding off the day at just under 80 miles from Lake Kachess to Seattle. Fortunately we were all feeling pretty good and had it in our legs to do the mileage. But it seemed like such a disappointment that what could have been a convenient multi-modal connection was a non-option due to inadequate front racks and a none-too-helpful bus driver. Oh well.
We rode only a portion of the Iron Horse Trail and really enjoyed it and look forward to exploring it more in the future. The section we rode was pretty tame riding (perfect for families or a S24O) but we hear it gets rougher the further east you go (downed bridges, crossing a military base, signing waivers to ride through tunnels, etc.,). But we’ll save that part for a future adventure.
One thought that really stood out in our mind is how great a resource is the Iron Horse Trail. Our return trip was on a Saturday and we saw lots of day riders and climbers using the trail. Despite that, we felt that it could be even MORE popular. Being just a visitor and not privy to the politics of the trail, I was surprised at the lack of marketing behind the Iron Horse. It really could be an awesome bike destination, if only people knew about it and if the local communities seemed more connected to it. In the end, the riding was great, the fishing could have been better, but it was still a fine way to celebrate the 4th of July.
(Keep our adventures going and the site growing! If you’ve enjoyed our stories, videos and photos over the years, consider buying our ebook Panniers and Peanut Butter, or our new Brompton Touring Book, or some of the fun bike-themed t-shirts we’re designing, or buying your gear through our Amazon store.)
We just got back from about a week in Eastern Oregon filming and photographing the Blue Mountain Century Scenic Bikeway. While we were filming in that part of Oregon we were reminded of just how awesome it is for bicycling. The vistas go on forever, the people are friendly and the traffic is low. The Blue Mountain Century Scenic Bikeway is also in very close proximity to the Old West Scenic Bikeway which we filmed almost exactly a year ago. Since we were in the area, we decided to drive the Old West Scenic bikeway (it wasn’t as fun in a car FWIW) and check in on the small towns and businesses along the route.
We have to admit, we have a special affinity for the OWSB. Not only was it the first one we filmed, but we also managed to sit in on a county-wide Bicycle Tourism Studio that TravelOregon put on to educate and bring support around the Scenic Bikeway in the area. For us, it was an amazing meeting to witness. We met and chatted people that drove hours and shuttered their businesses to attend. There was so much enthusiasm and hope around the bikeway and the opportunities it would bring. How has it worked out a year later?
We first stopped at Long Creek, where a year ago we had stumbled into the Stampede Restaurant after the longest stretch of the OWSB and just about ate our body weight in hamburgers and bacon. Tammy, the woman who was running it at the time had great hopes for the bikeway. We were a little sad to hear that she had left, but one of her relatives was now operating the place. When we told the current owner that we had filmed there a year ago for the Scenic Bikeway program she said, “Oh, so you’re the ones to blame for all the cyclists.”
Apparently, they have had a steady stream of cyclists coming through the last few months. “They eat a lot of ice cream and we can’t keep enough in stock.” Although they didn’t keep an exact account, it was noticeable for a small town of less than 200. The cyclists often came in pairs or in groups and would sometimes fill the only motel in town. She told us that some community members had even opened up their backyards and bathrooms to cyclists when the motel was full. They had even seen a family with a young child come through to ride the OWSB. Although the current owner seemed a little flustered at the unexpected businesses when she took over for Tammy, she did seem glad to have customers.
From Long Creek, we made our way through Monument. Right as we entered town, we noticed that the motel on the edge of town had an old bicycle right next to its roadside sign. I was hoping to run into the Philip, the nut farmer that was in our video but he was out of town. It was heartening however to see that a year later he not only had one but TWO bicycles in front of his building to attract cyclists.
We went to the small market in Monument and picked up some food. I noticed that the Scenic Bikeway pamphlets at the entrance of the door. Just as we were leaving town, we noticed two loaded tourists at the town park. I jumped out of the car, perhaps a little too quickly, to ask them about their ride. They were a couple from Chicago who had originally planned to ride the coast, but had heard it was too busy and decided to ride the Old West Scenic Bikeway instead. They said that they were enjoying the ride immensely. When I told them we had made the video a year ago, she recognized us and thanked us for helping promote the ride.
From Monument, we drove out and decided to camp out at Bates State Park because we knew that there would be a good chance of touring cyclists there. When we arrived, we spotted them with all their tents pitched under the outdoor gazebo to avoid the rain. There were two women from Alaska, a guy from Los Angeles, another from Michigan and a Brit. Although they were riding the TransAm they had noticed the Scenic Bikeway signs and were absolutely loving the riding in Oregon so far. Laura and I made a campfire and invited them over and chatted about their trips.
Later that evening we saw a van pull up with a trailer that had two Bike Fridays on the back. Literally every person at the campsite that night (camp host excluded) had a bike and was a cyclist! In the morning we said goodbye to the bike tourists and took our Vayas out on some gravel forest roads in the area. We noticed that the couple with the Bike Fridays were gearing up for their own day ride too. My guess, though I didn’t get to ask them directly, was that they were going to ride some signed portion of the Old West Scenic Bikeway.
After our gravel ramble in the forests we drove up to Austin House Cafe, one of our favorite stops along the OWSB and TransAM route. There we shot an interview with the owners Christy and Jeff to see how things have been since we last saw them. They have operated Austin House Cafe and have been providing awesome service to cyclists for the last 13 years. We’ve heard numerous stories of them opening up when they are closed (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) to cyclists that they see huddled under their porch.
They have a guestbook and encourage cyclists to sign it and are becoming a bit of a destination for bike tourists. In talking to them it was interesting to hear that they have noticed a fair amount of people who are riding the Old West Scenic Bikeway specifically. Another interesting observation was that those that were on the OWSB were more likely to stop and eat than just cross-country tourists. For us, this makes perfect sense having been both cross-country riders and more recreational bike travelers. When you are riding cross-country you have to economize and are probably more likely to pass on certain experiences because of time/budget constraints. When you are doing a shorter loop or more vacation-oriented tour, you are more likely to be leisurely and stop along the way. After some awesome hamburgers and great conversation at Austin House Cafe we pushed off and promised to come visit when we were in the area again.
Our next stop was Prairie City. Last year, we had met Rhianna who was operating Roan Coffee Company. She told us about some plans to have a repair station in the shop. It was awesome to see that she had followed through in a big way! Right outside her shop is a big banner that advertises a free repair stand for bicyclists.
Not only does she have a repair stand and a pump, but a set of tools, miscellaneous small parts, tubes and tires. She told me that she worked with Sellwood Cycles to help assemble their repair kit. If you’re going through Prairie City on the TransAm or OWSB route, be sure to stop by and grab some pastries and espresso at Roan!
This summer marks the first full year that the Old West Scenic Bikeway has been designated and advertised. When we first rode it to film and photograph it, we loved it and knew it was special but wondered if others would make the journey as well. Talking to businesses and people in the small towns along the route it is obvious that it is making a difference. Cyclists are coming out to some of the most remote parts of Oregon to ride their bike and they are spending money buying food and staying in accommodations.
Now, no one is making money hand over fist and retiring in a year just yet, but cyclists are starting to discover Eastern Oregon, ride their bikes there and contribute to those local economies. Just as heartening it is to see cyclists in tiny towns like Monument, OR is to see businesses along the way (who aren’t cyclists themselves) put up a bike banner on their wall or leave a bike by their roadside sign. The Scenic Bikeway program is about bridging that urban/rural divide as much as it is an economic development tool through bicycling. The most gratifying moment for us was to run into the couple from Chicago at the town park. It was great to know that the photos and video we created made them want to take the journey out to Eastern Oregon, that they were having an amazing time and were helping some of the small rural businesses along the way. It’s those moments that give us hope that bicycles can indeed save small town America.
It seems these days we’ve been so busy writing articles, giving presentations and creating videos ABOUT bicycle travel that we’ve hardly had a chance to do a trip ourselves. With the weather starting to warm up, we decided to pack our bikes this past Sunday and do an overnighter to one of our favorite local camp spots – Dodge Park. You can easily get to Dodge Park from the Portland metro area by taking a combination of the Springwater Trail and some country roads and that would come out to about 25 miles. But, we were itching to do some riding, so we tried an alternate route that is more scenic and hilly and comes out to just under 40 miles.
After the freeway noise of the I-205 and I-84 bike paths, we were on quieter country roads. We stopped at the small town of Troutdale and had lunch at a new bottleshop/pub Brewligans. In the corner of the pub, they recreated the perfect nostalgic mancave for men of our generation: a wood finished TV cabinet complete with a Nintendo and a bin full of games. Mental note: have to stop there for some brews and Super Mario Bros. after riding the Gorge some time
The riding was spectacular. There was little traffic and the route was beautiful with some nice shady climbs and twisty descents down to the Sandy River. It felt great to be on loaded bikes again carrying everything we would need for the next day. When we checked in at Dodge Park it was pretty empty with the exception of some people in the day use area. By the time they closed the entry gate, we were literally the only ones in the park except for the camp hosts. It made for some great sleeping with the sounds of both the Sandy and Bull river just outside our tent.
Speaking of tents, we recently picked up a Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo. They are having a sale right now until June 6th on the Outfitter model of the Lunar Duo. At $143 for the tent, poles and seamseal it was too hard to pass up. It is an interesting design that splits the difference between a tent and tarp. It is not freestanding and is single walled like a tarp, but has a floor and mesh walls like a tent. It was our first time setting up and using the tent so we can’t make any long term statements about it, but so far it is pretty awesome. It packs down smaller and weighs less than our Big Agnes Copperspur UL2 tent at a third of the price! Perhaps the most striking difference was the interior room which was palatial compared to tents we’ve used in the past.
Our old paella pan which we carried with us across the country came out for a bit of a campfire encore. As did our camp coffee gear and a cute pepper grinder that was gifted to us by a reader (thanks Jolene!).
After getting camp setup, I fished for a few hours without much luck (there was one nibble) and settled for the consolation prize of standing by a beautiful river and watching the sunset. There could be worse places to not catch fish.
We slept well. Tired from a day of loaded touring. Thinking back, it is almost hard to imagine the time when that was just what we did everyday, rain or shine, whether we felt like it or not. We talked a little about whether we missed the endless road much. There are some things that are truly magical about it. But interestingly, we both are really enjoying what we are doing now also, using our experiences to inspire and help make changes to facilitate bike travel in Oregon. We are glad that we did the trip when we did and don’t regret it for a second. For now, we’re happy to follow this strange new road of sorts around bicycle travel and tourism.
The next morning, we made a breakfast fire. Ate some hard-boiled eggs that Laura prepared the day before and brewed several cups of coffee. I did a little more fishing and when it looked like the fish were going to win that day, I packed it in. We pedaled up out of the river valley and headed back towards Portland, arriving at our apartment a little more than 24 hours after we left. It felt much longer though and it reminded us about the magic of bike travel. You are so engaged and in the moment that time stretches out before you like a road that never ends.