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.
Yay. It’s live. Only 7 more Scenic Bikeways to ride this summer
It is hard to believe, but it has almost been a year to the day since we rode the Old West Scenic Bikeway. For the unfamiliar, it is part of Oregon’s innovative Scenic Bikeway program, which is designed as an economic development tool for small towns to attract the growing bicycling travel market. Of all the bicycling initiatives and programs in Oregon (there are a lot!), the Scenic Bikeway program is nearest and dearest to our hearts. It captures the essence of what we experienced during our years on the road. Small towns and rural places are awesome for bicycle travel and the exchange can be mutually beneficial – small towns get tourism dollars and bike tourists get amazing riding experiences.
This summer, we get to work on an awesome project that combines both our love of bike travel and storytelling! Partnering with TravelOregon and the local communities, we’ll be riding, filming, photographing and telling the story of each of the Scenic Bikeways. It’s an amazing assignment that will put all our skills (both in bicycling and media creation) to the test! Since filming the OWSB a year ago, we’ve jumped headlong into video production, doing a handful of film projects with local organizations (Clever Cycles, Hop in The Saddle, Adventure Cycling) and honing our skills.
We just finished filming the McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway this weekend and we are currently editing the video. Looking at the footage, it’s amazing what a difference a year makes! We’ve improved technically and have added a few tools to our video toolkit to increase production value. While our video kit is fairly small compared to what others use, it is bigger than when we road the OWSB.
McKenzie is a fairly short Scenic Bikeway with only one real climb. Since we didn’t need any camping gear, I decided to pull out all the stops and bring a tripod, slider and a jib! The first challenge was simply to figure out how to carry all equipment! I contemplated using our Burley Travoy, but a week before we left, I decided instead to make bike scabbards for the tripod and monopod. Setting up a tripod once or twice a day isn’t a big deal, but those minutes spent setting-up quickly become hours when you do it 100 times. I fashioned some crude missile-silo-looking scabbards out of PVC pipe, steel pannier hooks and bungees. The idea was that I could just stop the bike, pull out a monopod and grab some quick B-roll, without dismounting. Not elegant, but very functional. To make sure they wouldn’t fall apart in the middle of McKenzie Pass (and to get into shape), I rode with the rig up and down Mt. Tabor in Portland.
Of course, you can prepare all you want, but you won’t know what the actual conditions are going to be at a shoot until you show up. Driving over Mt. Hood to get to Sisters, things were not looking promising. The “dry side” of Oregon was anything but dry. In fact, it was down right raining. We contemplated what we would do the next day if it was raining, but opted to not make any hasty decisions until the morning. It was a gambit. If we canceled the shoot, all the time spent in pre-production, arranging of talent, accommodations and shuttles would all go down the drain. Fortunately, the next morning, the sky looked a little less threatening. There were still clouds, but there were also patches of blue. After a quick breakfast, we decided to go for it. We shot some footage of the talent checking out of their cabin at the beautiful Five Pine lodge, loading their bikes and pushing off. Then we all saddled up and headed toward McKenzie Pass.
The McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway is unique in that there is a brief window of time when a portion of the route is open to cyclists and closed to cars. The dates are different every year, due to snow levels. This year, it opened early to cyclists and will be closed off to cars until June 16th (which means you still have time to get out there and ride it!). This is the best time to experience the Bikeway (and was also the best time for us to film it). The ride itself is fairly mellow. Although you are constantly gaining elevation, the inclines are never very steep (at least going from East to West). Some of the highlights include the eerie lava landscape near the summit and the very surreal Dee Wright Observatory.
Through most of the day, we benefited from intermittent sun breaks, and that is when I would pull out the cameras and start shooting. Our talent for the video, Kristen and Jake, were good sports about riding back and forth in front of the camera. (These sorts of assignments are a mixed blessing: Yes, we are riding our bikes in amazing country, but it’s still work.) As we rode, I was constantly scanning for the best viewpoint and mentally ticking off the shots we would need for continuity. I was trying my best to get everything in a single take (I would shoot video and Laura shot stills), because the weather continually threatened to get worse and I knew I wanted to get to the summit before it started raining. About 3 miles from the top, we encountered some cyclists coming down, who told us they got snow and sleet after Windy Point.
When we got to Windy Point, the clouds were thick and we were buffeted by some really cold winds. We had taken a gamble in the morning and now that we were close to the top, we had to decide again what we were going to do. We had been lucky all day with a patch of blue sky that followed us up the climb, so we pushed on despite the warnings from the cyclists. Just as we were within spitting distance from Dee Wright, we had another sun break. We staged a few vignettes, and then it started raining (and even snowing a little bit). We quickly hustled into the observatory, set up a lunch sequence with the talent (getting all the shots as fast as possible because a cold wind was whipping through the windows), and then quickly inhaled a real lunch.
The descent down the west side was cold and wet, but about two-thirds of the way down the mountain, we got a few more sun breaks. We really wanted to do justice to the ride, despite the wet conditions. We were all slowly counting down the miles until the hot springs at the end. When we got to Belknap, we shot some arrival footage, a few quick details of the space, and the talent enjoying the hot pool – and then we sunk in and relaxed (and warmed up). After getting the hotspring footage and soaking for a few minutes, we took off for dinner at Takoda’s in the nearby community of Rainbow. We chatted with the friendly owner who also happened to be on Big Brother, listened to some local music, and enjoyed a hearty dinner.
The next day, we had to shoot some pickup footage in Sisters, and we had an amazing lunch at Open Door.
Jake and Kristin left that afternoon, but we were planning to stay in Bend for a few more days to do some mountain biking. Of course, two days after the talent left, the weather was absolutely stunning! We decided to ride back up to Dee Wright (and sadly forgo hitting the trails) to shoot more pickup shots of scenery and the lava landscape. (There are worst things to do for work than having to ride up a stunning mountain pass twice in a week.) We got some great beauty shots of the Cascades and also managed to capture a curious little chipmunk inspecting our bikes.
When we got back to Portland, I backed up and reviewed the footage, and then the real work began. Beautiful footage really doesn’t amount to much without a story, so we started writing the script (with the help of a few beers). The script writing is one of the toughest parts. Since each video is only 2 minutes long, each word has to be carefully selected to move the story along. After about a day and a half of script writing, Laura searched for music. We recorded her voice over, and I started assembling it all in Final Cut. For some, the editing process can be maddening, but I really enjoy it. There is something supremely satisfying when all the visual and aural media come together to make perfect little moments. I love photography, but more and more I am drawn to video. It is so challenging but fulfilling creatively!
Now, the video is in the hopper and is off for final approval. We’re hoping to release it soon to get people out to ride McKenzie Pass. It really is spectacular and we’re excited to be part of telling its story.
Here’s a sneak peek at one of the video projects we’ve been working on. Oregon is about to launch the nation’s first state-wide bike friendly business recognition program targeted specifically towards bike travelers. This is huge! With a new study that cites that bicycling contributes $400 MILLION dollars a year (a little more than a million dollars a day), Oregon is getting serious about making it even easier for people to come to the state and recreate by bike.
We’ve been tasked with interviewing businesses who are bike friendly (and have seen the economic rewards of welcoming cyclists) and creating a piece to inspire other businesses around the state. We’ve had a chance to sit down with business owners large and small, from a B&B in Salem to the VP of operations at Chris King to the head roaster at Stumptown. Although we’ve got a few solid interviews in the can, we really want to knock this video out of the park. It really is becoming a passion project. So if you’re a business in Oregon (specifically a lodging property, restaurant or retail) that is bike friendly, contact us for a possible interview!