A funny thing happened when we decided to travel to Missoula for Adventure Cycling’s Montana Bicycle Celebration… We started thinking about all the other adventures we could add on to the trip… The places we could explore by bike, the rivers we could fish… After all, why fly out for just a single weekend, when you can re-arrange everything to go for the whole month, and bring a car full of bikes and fly rods and camping gear?
On Tuesday, we leave Portland for our Great Western Ramble. We’ve drawn up a giant loop that’s full of gravel roads and trout streams, and we’re really looking forward to exploring parts of the West that we haven’t yet seen. If you have any intel on any of these places, or if you want to meet up, give us a shout.
Our first stop is to the community of Pullman, Washington. Washington is blessed with an enormous number of railroad rights-of-way, and dedicated volunteers who are working to turn them into rail trails. When they’re successful, you’ll be able to ride from the Olympic Peninsula on the West Coast, all the way across the state to the Idaho border and beyond.
We’re joining the communities of Pullman, Albion and Colfax, for a discussion about rural bike tourism, and what the trail extension could mean for the area. If you’re local to the Palouse region, consider joining us.
The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes + The Route of the Hiawatha + the St Joe River
From Pullman, we’ll head East into Idaho, where we’ll finally spend time exploring the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes and the Route of the Hiawatha. We have heard so much about both of these trails, and we have wanted to experience them for years, so we’re stoked to incorporate them into this trip. We’re also planning to spend some time camping along the St Joe River, hunting for trout and exploring the endless gravel forest roads.
Next up, the impetus for the entire trip: 4 days in Missoula, helping celebrate the Adventure Cycling 40th Anniversary. There is so much good stuff happening over the course of the weekend, and we’re going to see and do as much of it all as we can. We’ll also be introducing some videos on Friday evening, so come find us if you’ll also be celebrating!
The Bitterroot Valley + the Madison River
After Missoula, we’re going to make our way to some of Montana’s most famous trout rivers. While we don’t know exactly where we’ll end up, we have a whole week to poke around, so you’ll likely find us in the Bitterroot Valley and along the Madison River.
The last time we were in Montana.
Next up, Sun Valley, Idaho. We’ve only spent a week, total, ever, in the state of Idaho, and that was way back in 2011. So, to say that we’re excited to just ramble around, is a bit of an understatement. We look at photos of the riding and the fishing and the mountains, and we can’t wait to get out there.
And since Boise is apparently the next Portland, and right in line with our route back, how could we not stop? It’ll be a quick visit, for one night on July 29, but let’s grab a beer while we’re in town!
Somewhere Eastern Oregon
From Boise, we’ll cross back into Oregon and follow some sort of zig-zagging route home. A stop in the Owyhee might definitely be in order.
Give us a shout if you know of a place we should definitely hit up, or if you want to grab a beer.
Last summer, we traveled down to Lodi, California, to speak at their first-ever bike summit. Their goal was to bring the community together to take stock of the riding opportunities that already existed, to highlight the missing connections, and to build the area into a destination for bike travelers. At the time, we were impressed by the conversations that were taking place and the number of dedicated people who were involved – and that summit led to the formation of a community group who committed to keeping the bike tourism ball rolling.
Over the past year, we have continued to be impressed, as we have followed their progress from afar. They created and vetted a collection of quality road rides that vary in difficulty and experience. They built out a cycling-specific page on the Visit Lodi website, complete with GPS tracks of their routes. And they designed a beautiful and informative brochure that features some of the best of their routes (which we have since heard to be the most popular piece of information at the visitor center).
So when Visit Lodi invited us back this past weekend for a sort of press tour, we jumped at the chance to see their bike tourism progress in person (and, of course, drink some delicious wines).
In thinking about how we wanted to travel down to Lodi, we decided to hop aboard Amtrak. Lodi is blessed with its very own train station (along the San Joaquin line), which meant that we could travel almost door-to-door without the hassle of flying or renting a car.
We also decided to not take our own bikes, which was a bit different for us. You can take a bike on both the Coast Starlight and San Joaquin trains (the San Joaquin actually has roll-on service, and if you take the bus instead of the train, you can put your unboxed bike in the luggage hold of the bus) – but we knew that we could rent good-quality bikes in town, and it further simplified the travel logistics.
We tumbled off the train in downtown Lodi at roughly 7am on Friday morning, a bit bleary-eyed from the early morning wake-up. It was obviously too early to pick up our rental bikes, so we went in search of breakfast. At the diner, our server was surprised to learn that we weren’t eating before traveling somewhere exotic, but rather that Lodi was our destination – and it proved to be somewhat of a theme, that Lodi is an unexpectedly great place to visit.
Fueled up from piles of eggs and potatoes and breakfast carnitas, we walked to Downtown Bicycles, where Kenny and Ashley got us all set up on two beautifully-spec’d road bikes. Downtown Bicycles is the second incarnation of their shop, which they recently moved into downtown. It’s a comfortable and inviting space, and they do a brisk business in both road bikes and cruiser bikes.
With wheels acquired for the weekend, we set off for Lodi Lake. Lodi may be surrounded by agricultural fields, but it’s also nestled along the slow and winding Mokelumne River, a piece of which was converted into Lodi Lake many years ago. At Lodi Lake, you can find a beach for swimming, a boathouse for renting and launching kayaks and paddle boards, trails that wind most of the way around, and bank access to fish for bass and bluegill. The fish didn’t want us to catch them that day, but we did enjoy a nap beneath the shady trees before finally checking in to our hotel.
On Saturday morning, we woke up bright and early for the Breakfast Burrito Ride. The original itinerary for the day included an afternoon wine-tasting ride. But when the forecast for the day promised temperatures over 100 degrees, we all agreed that a morning ride sounded much more appealing. And the new route was a perfect way to start the day.
We rambled through the countryside right outside of town, taking in views of vineyards and cherry orchards. We followed quiet roads with minimal traffic, allowing us to pedal at a social pace and chat amongst ourselves. At the end of loop, we rolled back into the edge of town and into the parking lot of the La Campana tortilla factory. It’s one of those unexpected locations, where you order at a simple counter and everything is take-out, but the burritos absolutely lived up to the hype.
After devouring our meaty goodness in a nearby park, we all set off for part two of our active morning: kayaking on Lodi Lake. Neither Russ nor I had ever kayaked before, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try something new. Especially since there was a tandem kayak that would allow Russ to fish while I paddled.
As it turns out, the Mokelumne River is an excellent place to try kayaking for the first time. It’s a lazy river, without much motorboat traffic these days, so we didn’t have to overcome any strong currents or big wakes, and we were able to just ease into a rhythm and enjoy the beautiful day. (Although, Russ still didn’t manage to pull out any bass.)
As we wrapped up the active portion of the day, our legs tired from cycling and our arms tired from paddling, we felt we had earned a decadent afternoon full of wine tasting. We stopped at three different wineries, each one with a different specialty and a different feel to their tasting rooms.
Beyond the fact that they produce some of our favorite wines, what we love about Lodi wineries is that they’re friendly and accessible – which makes them easy to visit if you’re just learning about wine or simply want to taste great wines without any pretension (or if you’re stumbling in off a bike).
One tasting rolled into another, then another, each with a delightful food pairing and stories about the wineries. Before we knew it, we had moved on to dinner, a stunning and delicious event at Oak Farm Vineyards.
Our last day in Lodi turned into a lazy bit of last exploration, thanks to the sweltering 102-degree heat. We returned to Lodi Lake to hunt for bass again and nap under the big trees. We poked around downtown, stopping in at the cheese shop and the coffee shop, before indulging in some craft beers and exploring the food truck festival in a nearby park.
All in all, it was a great visit, and we loved the opportunity to see how much the community has done to enhance and encourage cycling. In fact, as we waited for Downtown Bicycles to open on Friday morning, we chatted with two women who happened to roll up at the same time. Unprovoked, they gushed about the cycling, and gave us great intel on how to get around (by bike) to their favorite restaurants and wineries.
We think Lodi is well on its way to offering a great balance of outdoor recreation and epicurean indulgence, and we’re excited to see what comes next, as the community continues to promote bike tourism in the area.
To watch the rest of our Micro Episodes about our Lodi trip, visit our YouTube Channel.
Wherever we travel, we always stop at local bike shops and play tourist. It gives us a little snapshot into the local cycling scene and also how different shops operate. We’ve visited great shops with beautiful displays and friendly staff, and others that grudgingly answer questions. Bike shops and their employees are the frontline of bicycle tourism. Who else is more qualified to be the local authority on great riding in the area than a bike shop? However, at the same time, many shops don’t see themselves as part of their local tourism industry and are ill-equipped to answer the question: “I’m from out of town, where should I ride?”
After visiting bike shops around the country over the last half dozen years, this got us thinking about how we’ve experienced bike shops as end users. For us, bike shops either function as convenience stores or outfitters. There are shops that only focus on retail and don’t bother with creating an experience for customers and visitors – these are the convenience stores. It is a wham bam thank you ma’am affair with little follow up after the sale. Then, there are shops that focus on retail, and also go the extra step to create an experience for customers and cyclists – these are the “outfitter” type shops. These shops have group rides, host events, or employees that are always eager to share their latest bike touring route or perhaps they even lead a tour themselves. These outfitter style shops also function as a third space, maybe they serve coffee, beer or have monthly gatherings and presentations. Their focus is not only on selling new product, but educating and inspiring you to use the new product. They are your guides, gurus (sometimes a therapist) and ride leaders, as well as your salesperson and mechanic.
We know that this is often a big ask for small shops with little capacity, and there are also some shops that do enough volume through online sales that they are immune to having to develop the community piece. However, with more brands offering direct to consumer, we feel that bike shops will have to offer something of value that will compete with the ease of clicking a button with your pajamas on. We think many shops can benefit by adding “outfitter” style elements from a bike tourism perspective. Any shop can curate a short list of rides that people can do in the area. It could be as simple as printed cue sheets and maps at the front counter or downloadable GPS routes from the shop website. We’ve seen a few shops go that extra step and lead actual bikepacking and bike touring trips like Topanga Creek Outpost (notice how it’s an “outpost” and not a bike shop!), River City Bicycles and their new River City Touring Club, and Good Bike Co and their guided agritourism tours.
From a bike tourism perspective, shops with an “outfitter” mentality are essential because they offer a hospitality and guiding component that is necessary for successful bike destinations. From a customer perspective, the “outfitter” mentality creates an opportunity for people to be educated/inspired on how to use the gear they just bought (“where can I play with my new bikepacking gear?”) as well as provide a support group around the Cycling Experience. This you can’t buy on the internet.
What do you guys think? What shops do you feel have the “outfitter” mentality? We’d love to know!
Eastern Oregon is beautiful and rough country. It will steal your heart with its sublime landscape and make short work of your derailleur and tires at the same time. We learned that lesson last year when we went out to Treo Ranches with a group of friends. This year, we were determined to complete our trip out to Treo with our bikes intact.
For those that aren’t familiar, Treo Bike Tours is the brainchild of Phil Carlson, a former wheat and cattle farmer turned birding hunting lodge operator turned bike tour operator. In the country, everyone wears different hats to make a living. Phil’s philosophy of business is that if you’re going to get into an industry, you go whole hog. That is how someone that doesn’t even ride a bike ends up taking a week long bike mechanic class at the United Bicycle Institute in Portland (pretty easy work for someone who has worked on farm equipment), buys a shuttle and trailer to carry 20 bikes and even does a tofu taste test (you’ll have to talk to him yourself to see how that turned out).
Our trip started, quite conveniently, at a parking lot in Portland across the street from our apartment. If you have a large enough group, one of Phil’s services includes a shuttle from Portland out to Eastern, Oregon. This is perfect for people that are car free like us or for large groups where driving multiple cars just don’t make sense. On this trip there, were no less than 4 tandems and 8 single bikes in the trailer as well as coolers full of beer and food for the next few days. Aside from the convenience of not having to drive, one of the great benefits is that you can just relax, socialize, go over the routes or just stare out the window as the scenery changes from city to high desert.
After a quick lunch at Cottonwood State Park in the John Day River canyon we shuttled to Condon, Oregon and began our day’s riding from there. The first day was a great appetizer of what was to come in the days ahead: quiet paved and gravel roads. We descended down to Rock Creek on HWY 206 and climbed an exquisite switch-back climb, then left the pavement and took gravel roads to the lodge.
Revenge on Lone Rock and Impromptu Happy Hour
Last year, we had planned an ambitious ride to the Painted Hills all on gravel roads, but were thwarted by rain and derailleur-destroying mud. We made it a total of 16 miles that day. We ended the ride at Lone Rock that year to repair our bikes and lick our wounds. I had to hitch into town with a passing rancher because between the mud that had built up on my wheels and my mangled derailleur meant my bicycle wasn’t pushable, much less rideable.
This year, the ride started more auspiciously. The sun was out and the clay dirt roads were firm and rideable. As we pedaled, I remembered exactly where my bike destroyed itself and where I fortunately hitched a ride. Laura and I both breathed a sigh of relief when we reached the first summit. From there, it was a gravel descent into the town of Lone Rock, so named for the large lone rock by the church. Thankfully, there was a little community center building with some shade and a spigot with potable water.
After relishing in having actually ridden into Lone Rock this year, we ate some granola bars and began to tackle the long climb OUT of Lone Rock. From the valley floor you can see the trace of the road rise relentlessly to some hidden summit. The road itself was nearly free from traffic and gave good views as you ascended out of the valley. It is one of those climbs that is longer than it looks. Just as you think you are going to summit, it breaks your heart and reveals another pair of switchbacks. We were glad when we finally reached the top and saw Phil’s shuttle which had our sandwiches and more water.
From there we rambled along a paved road along a ridge and turned off to a gravel road that headed towards another canyon. The road conditions were getting a little worse and with the heat of the day, most of the people in the group were ready for an early happy hour. We stopped at the entrance of a big ranch when we saw an ATV speeding towards us from the ranch house. Just as the ATV reached us so did Phil’s shuttle. It turns out they were cousins and he was adamant at having us over for a visit. The group unanimously accepted and we called the riding done for the day to enjoy some beer drinking and listening about the early homesteads in this nearly forgotten valley.
Our third and fourth day included more back roads riding. Perhaps one of my favorite rides from the lodge was a varied 42 mile loop. I rode it last year as a singlespeed since my derailleur broke and it was much more pleasant to revisit the ride with all the gears. After a gravel climb and a paved descent into a wooded valley with a creek, we turned on to Sunflower Flats road which (surprise!) began to climb again. This time we were climbing beneath the shade of some pine trees which was a welcome change from the exposed grasslands.
At a certain point near the summit, the trees distinctly gave way again to more open country and we found ourselves riding an undulating ridge line with spectacular views. Just when we thought the scenery couldn’t get any better, we descended on a rough gravel road through another canyon. This time of year, the hills were still green and it gave the impression of riding through some unreal painting.
In this country, the only thing bigger than the hills are the steaks. I would be completely remiss if I didn’t make some mention of the food. It is no lie when I say half the reason I look forward to going to Treo is the steak. We got a special treat when Brian, the son of our ride leader, brought a big slab of cow from EatOregonFirst, a small business that provides meat to some of the most well known restaurants in Portland. Brian and Phil cut up the meat into 12 “cowboy steaks” which contain the extra bits and trimmings that are usually removed when steaks are served at a restaurant. Brian then cooked them up sublimely on a flotilla of grills outside. Meals were family style and without pretension and it was a good way to share experiences from the day’s ride.
The Canyon of Sorrows
The final day’s ride was fairly tame compared to the previous rides. Although it did start with a somewhat technical downhill on double track where the terrain verged on XC mountain bike territory. The trick was to just go slow and pick your way through the ruts and rocks. After that, we ended up on Dale Brown Road, which was flat and fast and the tandems took off in the distance. We regrouped at Barlow Canyon Road and pedaled slowly by the remains of old homesteads. It was like riding through a museum exhibit as we passed the buildings of many people that had tried to make a life out in this rough country.
At the end of the Canyon of Sorrows section, we packed all the gear in the trailer and Phil drove us back to Portland. Instead of having to drive through the Memorial Day traffic, we were able to snack, have one last celebratory beer, and take a nap. This year’s riding out in Treo was far more successful than last year. There was no peanut-butter mud and no serious mechanicals. Although we didn’t quite make it all the way to the Painted Hills this year, there are already plans to tackle it again next year as a two day gravel road ride. The terrain by Treo is simply challenging. The climbing, varying road conditions and heat can make any ride a slog unless you are in peak form. That is one of the reasons Phil’s services are so awesome, because you can explore areas by bike and actually enjoy them without having that constant dread of managing water and food. We know from doing a lot of self-supported touring that some of the most inhospitable terrain is also the most beautiful and often that beauty was lost on us because we were trying to boogie to our next resupply point. Riding this part of Oregon with Phil, for us, has allowed us to truly enjoy the riding and the scenery without the constant worry of our water bottles going dry.
Check out the rest of the photos in this Flickr album.
Just posted another video review on our Bicycle Travel Channel (you’d know if you were a subscriber…hint, hint :), this time looking at two popular titanium pot supports for bike touring and bikepacking. Watch the vid below, or scroll down for the executive summary.
+ Lightweight at 2.5oz
+ Very stable base, good for larger pots and pans
+ Compact when folded down
+ Works with alcohol stoves and solid fuel tablets
Vargo Titanium Hexagon Stove
+ Light at 5oz
+ Compact, one piece design
+ Very heat efficient
+ Works with alcohol stoves, fuel tablets and twig fires
– Warps over time and doesn’t fit together as snugly
– A little dodgy to move once lit because of loose fit