We’re updating from a cool guesthouse in Pullman, WA nestled in the Palouse region of the state. We are catching up on editing videos of our trip and finally got a chance to upload them to our Youtube Channel. Watch them to catch up on our trip so far!
We are getting ready for what we are calling our #GreatWesternRamble trip (you can follow along on Instagram). It is going to be a long rambling route in the American West with bikes and fly rods. We are driving a rental car, but hope to do a few overnight bikepacking trips along the way. Of course, the only problem is that we haven’t done a fully rackless trip yet. We’ve toured extensively with rear panniers, but this way of packing is relatively new to us and it is a bit strange (and frustrating, honestly) to be complete neophytes again. This first vlog on our Youtube Channel talks a little about our frustration with this new fangled “bikepacking” thing
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.
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.
Many folks probably haven’t heard about Maupin, a little river town that has become one of our favorite escapes, but if you follow us on Instagram (especially our new Rod and Road venture) then you know we’ve fallen in love with this little part of Oregon. We just spent the last week fishing the famed salmonfly hatch on the Deschutes river, which has become an annual trip for us. You can read our first fun but somewhat unsuccessful (from a catching point of view) trip here and our more successful report from last year here.
On this trip we spent four nights with our families at the bike friendly Imperial River Company, which we highly recommend if you’re looking for some indoor accommodations. Not only are they literally on the banks of the Deschutes (you can catch fish in front of the property if you’re feeling lazy) but they welcome cyclists and even have their own RideWithGPS Ambassador page!
The plan was simple: ride bikes and catch fish. I also had the goal of getting my dad, who was visiting from out of state, into atleast one of the famed Deschutes redside trout.
For bikes on this trip, we were breaking in our Salsa El Mariachis. We’ve been contemplating getting more into mountain biking and possibly bikepacking and are excited to finally have proper bikes to do it on! Our primary riding would be simply up and down the Deschutes River Access Road. Going downstream, the road is paved and lightly trafficked especially during the shoulder seasons. Going upstream, the road turns into gravel with some real deep and chunky sections. While we’ve ridden that section in the past with our Vayas, it was definitely NOT enjoyable. We would spend most of our time trying to pick good lines through the gravel rather than looking at the river. The El Mariachis were perfect for this trip. The front suspension took the edge off of the washboard and divots in the road and the wider tires with tread let us surf through most of the gravel. We could easily spend more time looking at the river searching for fish rather than trying not to slip out.
The trip was also a good way to do a shakedown of the new Ortlieb bikepacking bags. While we weren’t bikepacking per se, it gave us an opportunity to load them up and figure out how much they could carry and how they played with the bikes. We were primarily using the Ortlieb seatbag and the front accessory pouch and loaded them up with extra layers, snacks and fishing gear.
After a quick stop at Deschutes Angler to get some intel and flies, we hit the river. We figured that instead of packing our waders and putting them on at different locations, we would just ride in our waders during the next few days. The platform pedals on our bikes worked fine with the wading boots, though we did have to raise the saddles atlest an inch to compensate for the sole of the boots. On the first day we carried things on our backpacks which was fine riding out to fish. However, after hours on the river riding back on them became a bit of a pain (figuratively and literally). So on subsequent days, we tried out different ways to attach our rods, tackle, food and landing net on our bikes and bags. It was great to have a pretty low stress situation to try out different packing techniques.
The fishing was a little slow the first two days. There were LOTS of salmonflies about, but they were either not falling in the river or the trout weren’t exactly keyed on them. Our third and fourth day on the river, the fishing turned on. We had had enough consecutive hot days to stimulate the bug activity plus there was wind. Wind, while typically not good for casting, was good for the fishing. It blew the salmonflies and golden stones into the river, turning the Deschutes into a giant bug sushi conveyor belt for the opportunistic trout. Around us we were seeing some pretty violent rises as the trout would almost leap out of the water for a big mouthful of salmonfly.
We had a few good hours when there were rises around us. Catching the fish was another matter. Sometimes the fish would pass on the fly or it would strike but we wouldn’t be able to set the hook fast enough. We all caught fish however. Laura caught the largest, a big bruiser of a fish that looked a worse for the wear but put a massive bend in her rod. My dad hooked up with a plump athletic fish that did a few aerials before coming into the net (mission accomplished!). I caught some nice fish that fought well above their weight class and hit the flies with gusto. The Deschutes is a big and powerful river and the fish that survive and thrive there are strong and aren’t easy pushovers.
The riding was relaxing and was a good way to get to different spots and to wind down after standing in the river. On this trip, the fishing was a bit more of the priority, but it was nice to stretch the legs every morning and afternoon by riding the river road. Speaking of post fishing/riding, we had awesome meals at the Riverside restaurant in Maupin. The food is spectacular. At our table, we had everything from smoked game hen, steaks on a bed of perfectly roasted asparagus to some scratch made cheesecake with real whipped cream and real fruit glaze topped off with some craft beer. If you’re staying in Maupin or simply passing through, the food there is worth a stop!
For me, it was great to see Laura advance in her fishing skills. She caught her first trout on the Deschutes almost exactly a year ago and since then she has become more adept at reading water, tying knots and casting a Western style fly rod. For us, there are a lot of elements in fly fishing that we love about bicycle touring. They are both physical activities, they both require you to actively read the landscape (or waterscape) and they both give you excuses to stop and get to know wonderful small towns like Maupin.
While there, we also gave a short presentation talking about bicycle tourism at a chamber meeting. It was held in an American Legion building just off of the main street. We spoke about the benefits of having a Scenic Bikeway (they are currently proposing one), joining Oregon’s Bike Friendly Buisness Program as well as how bicycling can fit into the recreation opportunities they already have.
By now, the salmonfly hatch is probably winding down but there are still tons of fish in the water. We’re looking forward to it again already next year as well as planning our next biking and fishing excursion. If you’re into both fishing and bicycling, Maupin makes an awesome basecamp and we highly recommend it as a long weekend escape from Portland (the weather is usually drier too…bonus!). Tight lines and rubber side down.
We are currently on a road trip with our bikes from Los Angeles back to Portland. We made a quick stop in Redding to check out the local cycling scene and talk with bike advocates. Redding is an interesting bicycling destination with lots of great riding (that no one knows about!) and great fishing. Of course, I had to throw a line in and try a little #bikefishing in town!
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Up, Down and In-N-Out
Distance: 12 miles
Elevation: +1932 feet
Riding Conditions: Some road riding, mixed terrain, fire roads
Ideal Bike: Gravel bike, touring bike, mountain bike, fat tire road bike
Tire Size: Recommend at least 32-35mm, 40mm ideal
GPS: Ride with GPS link
After a busy and successful Bicycle Tourism Conference, where we made some great new acquaintances and reconnected with colleagues we headed South via Amtrak to where I grew up in Los Angeles. Whenever, we visit with my parents, I’m always excited at the opportunity to do some riding since they live just a few miles from Angeles Crest Forest and the Verdugo Mountains. Of course there is a bit of irony, since I remember in high school feeling bored because there was “nothing to do” in the Sunland/Tujunga area. This was before I discovered bicycling. Now, when we visit, its a bit of a cycling vacation if you can believe it.
One of our favorite short rides to do is what we’ve dubbed the “Up, Down and In-n-Out” ride because just as the name implies, there is a lot of climbing and descending ending conveniently at an In-n-Out. The Verdugos have been “discovered” the last few years since the interest in mixed terrain riding/gravel grinding has become popular. We enjoy it as a great short ride to stretch the legs and enjoy an awesome 360 degree view when the wind patterns allow.
What I personally love about it, is that it is this natural oasis right smack in the middle of the San Fernando Valley. There are some deep almost forested pockets where you can imagine for a second what this area looked like before the freeways and strip malls. It is a great ride for mental health when you’re tired of the urban jungle that is Los Angeles.
Here is a route that we’ve plotted from the In-n-Out on Foothill and Lowell. The first 2 miles (and last 2 miles) are on city streets, but the traffic seems to be fairly light and there are good sight lines and passing space. Once you cross the gate and hit the off-road portions it is essentially uphill until the top. In short order you’ll be tested with a punchy 15% ramp that lasts a few hundred feet. Once you get past that there is some (but not much) reprieve. Most sections hover above 7% with some more stretches in the 10-12% range. There is no traffic, so you can go as slow as you need. There are portions that are pretty rutted and sandy so you have to be a bit more present to navigate those parts. This is definitely a 30mm+ sort of ride with 42-45mm being optimal, but if you are a skilled rider you could do it with 28mm tires.
You’ll know you are near the top when you see the radio towers. A lot of the ride is fairly sun exposed, so on a hot day it pays to have at least 2 water bottles. Once you make it to the towers, you can enjoy a flatter section on the ridge with amazing views of downtown Los Angeles in the distance. There is a little area signed as Plantation Lateral that makes for a good picnic with a bench that could not have been better placed. Once at the top you can explore some more, or if you’re hungry by then, ride down hill and head for the In-n-Out!
This is a great ride if you only have a few hours and want some traffic free climbing in or if you want to break in your new gravel grinding machine. It is also a great introduction to the riding in the Verdugos if you’ve never ridden there before (and did we mention there is an In-n-Out at the end of the ride?) Sunland/Tujunga will probably never be a true cycling destination, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some true gems hidden in the San Fernando Valley.
(Check out our blog post about our visit to the Verdugos back in January 2014)
We’re about to hop a plane today to head down to San Diego for the National Bicycle Tourism Conference (#biketourism2015 for Twitter folks) in San Diego. It should be a fun and informative conference and will give us a chance to connect with both our bicycling and tourism colleagues. From there, we’re going to the Los Angeles area to ride the Verdugos, visit with family and celebrate my birthday (yay!).
From there, we are on sort of a road trip (with a car unfortunately and bikes in tow) making our way back to Portland, Oregon. We have rough plans to stop in Redding, CA to do some #bikefishing with some locals then stop in some Shasta area communities to interview folks behind the new Great Shasta Rail Trail. We’ll be posting on our various feeds (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) and if you want to meet up or give us suggestions of what to check out, let us know!
Standing on the edge of Lost Lake, with Mt Hood looming majestically in the distance, it’s easy to see why it’s the second most photographed lake in the whole state (behind only Crater Lake). As the sun set behind the forested hills and shadows crept across the water, I stood on the shore and watched as the kayakers slowly turned back toward land and Russ hooked into trout after trout. It was about as idyllic an evening as you could imagine – made all the sweeter by the challenging ride that had gotten us there.
Knowing the elevation profile in advance, and the fact that the temperatures were forecasted to be well into the 100s, we let public transit carry us straight to the start of the good riding – first the MAX to Gresham, then the bus to Sandy. As we loaded the bikes on the bus, the driver inquired about our impending adventure, and then cheered enthusiastically at the very idea. Here was a man who clearly relished the way his bus takes city dwellers to the foot of the mountain.
We navigated our way out of Sandy, onto Ten Eyck Road, then Marmot Road, winding alongside the Sandy River and picturesque small farms. Tall trees and wildflowers lined the road. Cows milled about in the pastures. And every viewpoint showed hills that seemed to roll out forever.
Our first glimpse of Mt Hood.
As Marmot Road ended, we turned onto Barlow Trail Road. We stopped in the small hamlet of Brightwood, where we stocked up on water and snacks at the Brightwood Store. A few miles further and we finally turned onto Lolo Pass Road, the iconic road which had lured us into this entire trip.
Since moving to Portland, we have heard about Lolo Pass Road. It’s a beautiful country road that lets you wind up the base of Mt Hood without the headache of the nearby highway. It provides views of the mountain and surrounding forest that you can’t see from other roads. It’s also one of the original routes across the region and once served as a final leg along the Oregon Trail. Today, it’s mostly paved and mostly ignored by motorists.
She turned out to be our constant companion.
We worked our way up Lolo Pass slowly, stopping frequently to take in the spectacular views. The power lines that share the corridor meant little shade along the route, which became increasingly more brutal as the afternoon wore on and the temperature increased. But the grades were mostly gentle, so we dropped into the low gears and spun up the long climb, reminding ourselves to enjoy every moment of the long-awaited ride.
As we crested the pass level, we were met with a crossroads. Straight ahead was a very rough and rocky road, with a “not maintained for car travel” sign. The road surface to the right was more appealing, but the GPS said to go straight. A family in a minivan waved us down, concerned, when their GPS said to take yet a third option. We finally decided to go straight, and bombed down the rock garden of a road.
The giant chunks of rock don’t mean anything with that view, right?!
Eventually, we merged back with the main paved road, which treated us to a fast tree-lined descent, and then we hooked a left to continue on to Lost Lake Road. Russ joked that his GPS said we still had 1400 feet of elevation to climb to get to the lake, and that it must be wrong. Jinx. As we spun our way up the last few miles, the sun beat down, and car-after-car passed on their way to the lake, with rafts strapped to the roof. Slowly, we crested the last of the climb and then dropped into Lost Lake campground.
It has taken us a long time to finally ride Lolo Pass Road for the simple fact that we were stumped by how to ride it the way we wanted on the bikes we wanted. In our minds, this was a road that cried out for a light and fast bike, a machine that would let us simply enjoy the climb and the view – not a heavily-loaded touring bike that would get us there, but in a fashion more akin to slogging. At the same time, we wanted the freedom to stop a lot and take photos. We didn’t want to just bang it out like any ordinary day ride.
Yes, there really are that many trees.
In other words… How could we plan an overnight trip up Lolo Pass, while bringing a few necessary items and leaving the rest, and still have an adventure? How could we go “credit card touring” without the often-negative connotation of going “credit card touring”?
If you’d asked us about credit card touring when we first took off six years ago, we likely would have scoffed at the very idea. For us, at that time, the fun of traveling by bike centered around the self-sufficiency of carrying all our stuff with us wherever we went. A week’s worth of food, six gallons of water, extra wool layers, metalsmithing tools… whatever we needed to be able to ramble off into the middle of nowhere for an extended period. But strip away the stuff, and our beast-of-burden bikes weren’t “fun” on their own. As we grew weary of lugging around all the gear, we began to re-think our bike travel model. Which is how, over the past year or so, we have come to appreciate and value ride quality over utility.
In fact, part of the reason we got our Warbirds was to take them up Lolo Pass. Fast and nimble, while still stout enough to handle rough terrain and a bit of gear, we knew instantly that these bikes would fit that ride in a way that surpassed our other bikes. And our spring trip to Cascade Locks had proven our hunch correct – the Warbirds could handle a super-lightly-loaded trip without sacrificing the ride quality.
But what unlocked the whole puzzle was the discovery that Lost Lake Resort (a private entity operating along the lake, just a few miles off Lolo Pass Road) offered minimalist cabins with a bed and linens, and a store stocked with beer (and, if you remember to order in advance, fresh hot pizza).
Since we didn’t need the wood stove, it provided perfect indoor bike parking.
Double gas burners + pots + dishes + toaster. Pretty well set-up for a tiny cabin.
On the morning of Day 2, we were up early in the cool mountain air. We navigated our way our of the campground via trail, which was mostly planned but also a bit of a gamble – and which turned out to be a very bumpy shortcut to NF13. (To avoid the trail, just backtrack out of the campground and turn left.)
Before we left Portland, we were tipped off to NF13 as a better way to ride down the mountain to the NE. NF13 basically parallels Lost Lake Road, but the narrowness of NF13 makes it feel more like a bike path through the woods. Without a doubt, it was the best stretch of road of the whole trip. We passed a ranger a few times, and a couple logging trucks, but otherwise it was just us and the quiet, as we descended through giant rock flows and old growth trees.
Boulders bigger than our apartment.
Quiet descent through the thick forest full of old growth trees.
At some point, we popped out into the Hood River Valley. Mt Hood gleaming to the South, Mt Adams to the North, orchards all around. On our way into Hood River, we stopped at Tucker County Park for a fishing break. In talking with the campground staff, we learned that they now offer hiker-bike camping for just $5 per night (so does nearby Toll Bridge Park). We also learned where to find the “best street tacos in all of Hood River” – and, when I had to dust off my rusty Spanish to order, I knew it wasn’t a bluff (a little food truck by a gas station called “Nobis” for fellow taco aficionados).
Since we had decided to turn the ride up Lolo Pass into a whole trip, we routed a 4-day loop: up the mountain on the West, then down the North slope into Hood River for 2 nights (giving us time to ride another iconic route: the Rowena Loops), then back to Portland via the Gorge.
Hood River is a beautifully-appointed small tourist town, so we knew lodging wouldn’t be a problem. But after a night in a cabin in the woods, we bristled at the idea of just crashing at a motel somewhere. Small towns excel at unique lodging options, so I went hunting for something that could parallel the cabin experience. I found it in the tent cabins (also known by the terrible term “glamping”) at Vagabond Lodge.
Our tent cabin, secluded, yet just a short distance to town.
Makes you sleepy just looking at it, doesn’t it?
Set back at the edge of the property and nestled a short distance from the cliffs that drop down to the Columbia River, the tent cabins felt like some modern-day version of Hemingway going on safari. The soft-side canvas tent was pitched on a wooden plank floor, set up several feet off the ground. Beautifully furnished, it came with a vintage-styled cooler, full water jug, and LED lanterns. No electricity, no running water, a short walk to the outdoor shower and porta-loo. The only downside is the low rumble of traffic from the nearby freeway, although the crickets put up a pretty good fight for loudest white noise.
Our “layover” day in Hood River was meant to be a long day ride, a chance to tick off some of the iconic area rides. We decided to head out to Rowena Crest, along the Historic Columbia River Highway. From Hood River, we followed the state trail through the Mosier Twin Tunnels, then passed through the small community of Mosier, before continuing through the orchards and vineyards.
Mother Nature was out in force that morning, determined that her latest heat wave should keep us all inside by the air conditioner. By this point, we had traveled far enough to the East that we were officially on the “dry side” of the state, meaning no shade, and the little wind that kicked up was hot and dusty. Still, we were determined. We were also not alone, and the several dozen other cyclists on the road far outnumbered the cars.
We reached Rowena Crest and peered down at the twisting curves of the old road. And then we kicked off. When the road was first built 100 years ago, it conformed to the needs of the cars at that time: wide curves, gentle grades. But it feels as if it was built for cycling, because those wide curves and gentle grades let you let off the brakes, lean in, and just enjoy the ride.
They don’t build roads like this anymore. Absolutely perfect descent.
The next day, we would return to Portland via the very-familiar-to-us Historic Columbia River Highway corridor. But it didn’t escape our attention, at that moment, that we had successfully pulled together a multi-day, lightly-loaded-yet-bikepacking-esque, Lolo Pass themed trip. Our pursuit of Lolo had also enabled us to check off several other iconic NW rides. Despite the heat and the moments of getting lost, it absolutely lived up to our hopes and expectations.
After soaring down the Rowena Loops, we turned around and rode them back uphill. We backtracked our morning route, and stopped in Mosier for a taco lunch. And then, when we were safely back in Hood River, we waited out the rest of the 109-degree day with a few perfectly cold adult beverages.
Climbing back up Rowena Crest, with the mighty Columbia River in the background.
Margarita salt is an electrolyte replacer, right?!
Curious about the route we took? The GPS tracks of our route are below…
– Sandy to Lost Lake. Remember that we took the straight and rocky route over Lolo Pass. To avoid all that bumpiness, turn right. Both roads intersect again.
– Lost Lake to Hood River. With no signs and a confused GPS, we didn’t realize that the trail had delivered us to NF13 – so we did some extra credit and rode uphill until we found a sign that told us we had been exactly where we wanted to be. If you take the trail, just turn left.
A few weeks ago, we spent 10 days in Iowa. Our goal: to explore three diverse parts of the state and find great places to ride.
The air is thick and sticky when we arrive in Des Moines, an appropriate welcome to the Mid West. It’s hot and humid on the patio of El Bait Shop also, but it’s worth it to sample the bike-friendly bar’s impressive beer list (along with some of their famous wings).
In the morning, we pick up a pair of bikes from Kyle’s Bikes in Ankeny. We had hoped to avoid the headache of flying our own bikes – and, although they don’t officially rent bikes, Kyle graciously set us up with a couple loaners for the whole trip (thank you Kyle, and Bob!).
Then we’re off to the SW corner of the state.
The Wabash Trace
The Wabash Trace is a 63-mile rail trail that would make a perfect easy bike tour from the Council Bluffs – Omaha metro area. The surface is crushed limestone, and it’s lined with a thick canopy of Elm and Walnut trees. The whole length of the trail is a nature preserve, and there are birds everywhere (and squirrels and bunnies and deer). It’s quiet and peaceful as it winds through the small communities that grew up with the original railroad.
The natural surroundings of the Wabash Trace.
We’ve arranged to stay in a few of the communities as we wind our way down the trail. In Malvern, we “check in” at the Project Art Church. A few years ago, Zack moved back to Malvern after a decade in Arizona. He bought the old Presbyterian church, which had stood empty for a generation, and converted it to a studio/gallery space and apartment. Now, that same apartment is headed for a listing on AirBnB, and we’re lucky to be only the third visitor to stay.
Zack, surrounded by some of his work, at the Project Art Church.
We visited Malvern for approximately 3 hours last fall, to talk with the trail group in the back room of the Classic Cafe. We ate dinner beforehand, and the idea of returning for another meal was one of the things we were most excited about on this trip. We splurge on a pair of steak dinners, complete with baked potato and fresh veggies. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, it’s the best steak of the whole trip (and quite possibly one of the best ever).
Along the trail, we goof off at the old jail in Silver City, stop in to the Mineola Steakhouse (where the infamous Thursday Night Taco Ride ends), and ponder the meaning of all the train cars in the river (an old way of dealing with riverbank erosion). We meet up with some local trail advocates who ride a stretch of the trail with us and tell us all the fascinating history.
A small piece of history tucked along the Wabash Trace.
Trail champion, Becca, and her son, enjoying one of the many historic rail bridges.
In Imogene, the tiniest town along the trail, I’m told the current population is: “maybe 40?” But it somehow feels bigger than it is – maybe because The Emerald Isle, the local bar (and only business in town), is the de facto community hang-out spot, and it’s positively buzzing when we’re there. Dinner is great, but it’s really just an excuse to dig in to the pie. Twice a year, at spring planting and fall harvest, the infamous Pie Lady and her husband travel to Imogene to help at the family farm, and immense and delicious pies abound. It’s a story that couldn’t be any more ‘small town,’ and it’s exactly the memorable sort of experience that got us into bike touring in the first place.
Seriously, plan your trip around the pie.
The next day, we work our way down to Shenandoah, the biggest town along the Wabash Trace (except for Council Bluffs, which anchors the trail at the North end). In Shenandoah, we have three places to seek out: Wabash Wine Company (yes, Iowa makes wine – Wabash also makes excellent wood-fired pizzas), George Jay Drug (or, rather, the old fashioned soda fountain inside the pharmacy), and The Depot Deli (an old railroad depot converted to a restaurant, that also houses a micro-brewery). The woman at the Shenandoah Inn, when I ask about our bikes at check-in, laughs, not skipping a single beat: “of course you can bring them in!” she says, telling me that they see a lot of folks coming in off the trail.
The Depot Deli and its incredible collection of memorabilia.
Our next destination is Grinnell, a small college town about an hour NE of Des Moines. For the past several years, Grinnell has hosted TransIowa, which has helped put the town on the map for gravel riding. After a teaser ride last fall, we’re excited to really explore some of the roads that the harder-core-than-us TI riders traverse (we’re also excited that we’ll have much, much better weather).
Our lodging is one of the impeccably designed and decorated lofts downtown. Since most of Grinnell’s hotels are on the edge of town, we feel fortunate to simply stumble downstairs and into one of several great restaurants. And we take full advantage, sampling almost all of the local eateries, including the wine bar. The food options in town are surprisingly cosmopolitan for this little town surrounded by farmland. (Our favorites: La Cabana for filling Mexican lunches, and Prairie Canary for fresh, locally-grown dinners.)
Solera wine bar welcomes with a cozy interior and a delicious collection of wine and beer.
Our first morning in town, we meet up with two local gravel riding aficionados, who have offered to take us out on an iconic Grinnell gravel loop. Instantly, the roads surprise us, as they roll straight up and over some pretty intense hills. This is not the flat land that we blindly assumed characterizes the whole Mid-West, nor is it the kind of long-and-slow climbing that we’re used to in the West. These are short punchy climbs that suck all the wind out of your lungs and legs, before giving you a rip-roaring descent down the other side.
Gravel and farmland in Grinnell.
Lots of challenging-yet-picturesque hills.
A few miles out of town, we pass the barn that marks the end of TransIowa. We pass beautifully-quintessential farmhouses, perched on ridge-lines, overlooking miles and miles of corn and soybeans. We pass Rock Creek Lake and several small streams. And we roll back into town ready for a nap.
Over the next few days, we get into a rhythm of riding early in the morning, hiding inside while the sun rages, then heading out again in the late afternoon. We learn that the rides to the West of town are hillier than the rides to the East. We learn that B roads are absolutely phenomenal, provided that they are dry, dry, dry (these roads will swallow you whole after a rain). We learn that you can ride in a straight line for seven miles, and gain 500 feet of elevation. We learn that you can turn a corner and disappear into a landscape belonging to rural Europe.
Just about perfect.
Our final destination is Decorah, nestled in the NE corner of the state. Here, there’s no mistaking the landscape as flat. Decorah sits at the lower edge of the Driftless Region, an area marked by deeply-carved river valleys and limestone bluffs. As a result, surrounding farms are smaller, because it’s hard to plant thousands of acres of corn across the steep landscape.
We check in to the Hotel Winneshiek, a beautifully-renovated historic hotel in downtown. Again, we are within easy walking distance of great restaurants and shops. Decorah has a thriving Main Street district, complete with a food co-op and outdoor store. Again, we’re determined to sample a little bit of everything. (Our favorites: Old Armory BBQ plus a beer at The Courtyard & Cellar’s neighboring beer garden, and the seasonal bistro options at La Rana.)
Bike-friendly Hotel Winneshiek.
Warm interior and delicious food at La Rana.
We meet up with the three women who’ve offered to ride with us in Decorah, and we pick a route the heads NW to the small community of Bluffton. It’s a simple out-and-back route, following low-traffic paved roads. We climb out of one valley into another, taking in sweeping vistas as we momentarily follow a ridge-line. We pass some of the characteristic rocky bluffs, before paralleling the river into Bluffton and resting for a bit at one of the shaded campgrounds.
It turns out there’s great (paved) road riding in Iowa too.
Rocky cliffs and rolling hills.
The next day, we expand our radius a bit and piece together a mixed-terrain route that zig-zags down gravel farm roads and beside impressive rock outcroppings. We’re astounded at the changing terrain and topography – lush and green, then wide open farmland, with the occasion tiny community – and we’re astounded that this incredibly-remote-feeling countryside is only a few minutes from town.
There’s a reason they call this ‘Scenic River Road.’
Both afternoons, as the heat of the day fades, we head out on the Trout Run Trail, a phenomenal 12-mile loop that winds alongside fishing rivers, small farms, and a bald eagle nest. Russ throws a line out in a few places along the river, and reels in (and then tosses back) a dozen or so small trout.
The switchbacks along the Trout Run Trail, as it cuts through farmland south of town.
If only all #bikefishing was this accessible!
Our 10 days in Iowa surprised us. As natives of the West Coast, we admit that Iowa never really registered as a travel destination – at least, not until we had an opportunity to spend some time in the state last fall. As we rambled across the state, we found signs of bike dotted throughout Iowa’s culture, just in a different way than you find in Portland – and we found ourselves wondering what other great rides are hiding behind the cornfields.