Some footage from last winter when we escaped the grey of Portland to ride bikes in San Luis Obispo. The Central Coast is really an undiscovered cycling paradise and offers a ton of scenic riding opportunities in the area, especially for weather weary riders from the Pacific North West in the middle of the big grey.
If a mattress store can be a bike friendly business, any business can. We shot this interview last year for another project, but unfortunately it didn’t make the cut. Loathe to have this great interview and footage languish in the digital darkness of a hard drive, I cut together a short profile on Michael Hanna, owner of the The Mattress Lot.
Their business is located a few blocks from where we live and every time I would ride by I’d see their “cyclists welcome” sign. How could a mattress store of all places be bike friendly? After months of riding by, Laura and I finally decided we had to investigate. We chatted with Michael and were fascinated by his story. Perhaps not so coincidentally we also ended up buying a mattress from him
While the Oregon Outback was kicking off in Klamath Falls, we did a little bikepacking mini adventure of our own on the Deschutes. May is known for the epic salmonfly hatch on the D….which we pretty much missed (one lone stonefly did make an appearance at our camp on our final day of fishing to rub salt in our wounds). That said, it was still a fun trip and is probably the most accessible bikepacking trip in Oregon. We shot some video to make a little vignette of the trip, so grab some popcorn.
You know the state you live in is serious about bike tourism when it has a dedicated “gravel working group,” whose mission is to catalog and figure out how to promote its thousands of miles of gravel roads. This past weekend, we made the trek out to John Day, in Eastern Oregon; where Mike Cosgrove, one of the region’s most passionate rural bike advocates, wanted to show us a fraction of the thousands of miles of non-paved and mixed-terrain riding opportunities in the area. We went out there with a member of Travel Oregon’s destination development team and a marketing person from Chris King to see what the region had to offer.
Mike Cosgrove, rural bike provocateur, standing by his magic bike bus.
Mike, always one to take initiative, created a brochure advertising the 10,000 miles of gravel roads that can be found in the John Day area.
Before we get to the gravel, this bus / #adventuremobile deserves mention. It is an old Blue Bird school bus transformed into a crazy multi-colored Ken Kesey fun mobile, if Ken and the Merry Pranksters rode bikes. Definitely not what you’d expect to find out in Eastern Oregon. On the outside of the bus is a bright mural of mountains and rivers with a few wagon wheels and half a bicycle thrown in. When Mike isn’t shuttling some bikey ne’er-do-wells from Portland out into the middle of the forest, he uses the bus for rural Safe Routes to School and bike education programs.
How’s this for an #adventuremobile.
Our rough plan for the weekend was to have a mini tour de gravel in the John Day area. Mike had proposed three routes of varying lengths and difficulties over a multitude of riding surfaces, to figure out what sort of gravel riding would be best suited for cyclists. We arrived in the afternoon on the first day and had lunch at the diner in Dayville, with three local cyclists who looked at us with some skepticism when we told them that riding off pavement was a thing.
After lunch, we all hopped into the bike bus and Mike drove us up some delightfully empty paved roads until we hit some gravel. We unloaded the bikes and immediately put on some warmer clothes. We had gained a lot of elevation and the sky was looking somewhat ominous. What was drizzle down in Dayville had transformed into “graupel” at elevation, round icy pellets falling from the sky that had the knack of hitting you in the face. Thankfully, the first part of the ride was all uphill which gave us a chance to heat up and keep warm. The riding was really a picture perfect stretch of what you would expect for gravel riding in Oregon’s many forest service and logging roads. Low traffic. Unpaved and gravelly but a highly rideable surface. The road also offered peeks at the surrounding mountains and valleys when the weather cooperated.
Dylan, from Chris King, enjoying one of the sweet early stretches of gravel.
The road descended and we were met by Mike and the bike bus at the bottom of the hill. The next part, we were warned, might be a little bit muddy, especially with the recent storm. We were having such an awesome ride the last few miles, that we wondered how bad could it be? It turns out, pretty bad. We pushed on, past a gate to a road that was no longer maintained. The first quarter mile or so was mushy but rideable. We were in an obvious low part of the terrain judging by the small swimming pools that were forming in the middle of the “road”. About a mile in, I noticed my tires had apparently lost all traction. The mud was so thick and sticky that it clogged up the treads on my tire and I was essentially riding a 29+ mud tire slipping and sliding all over the place. At one point, while avoiding a rock, I slipped and fell on my side. At least the mud was soft-ish.
That time when all our bikes communally exploded.
At about mile two I rounded the corner and saw everyone standing around a bike in pretty sad shape. Harry’s derailleur had thrown itself into the rear wheel (perhaps to save itself from the muddy hell we found ourselves in) and broke a spoke and bent his derailleur hanger. While Harry and Dylan tried to bend the frame back into rideable shape with the help of a Leatherman and good ‘ole brute force, I tried to unclog my bike. The mud was so bad at this point it verged on comical. I literally couldn’t push my bike any further. The mud hung in fist size globs at both my brakes, beneath my rear fender and on my rear derailleur. I removed my rear fender and strapped it to my rear rack for the rest of the ride.
This, of course, brought up an interesting lesson about gravel roads and attempting to market them for general consumption. Gravel roads (at least in the PNW), unlike paved roads, have a seasonality. At certain times of the year, the riding is more manageable. During the wetter months or after a storm, you had better be prepared for a long walk in the woods. Also, the word gravel is such an inadequate descriptor for the range of surfaces you could encounter (everything from pea size stuff on up to chunkier loose pieces and the occasional baby head). Another huge consideration, which was staring us at the face at the moment, was that gravel roads are remote and people riding them must be fairly self-sufficient if something goes wrong. This became really obvious as we tried to call Mike and the magic bus and got no signal. We huddled and decided that it would make more sense to push on and continue on with the plan. We had about six miles until we got to a deserted ranch and from there we would be on more rideable roads. What’s six miles anyway?!
From mud to sharp pointy boulders, but the scenery was worth it!
It was slow going for another mile or so and a fair amount of cursing under the breath. It was obvious that we were pretty under-gunned for the terrain, but the saving grace was the absolute beauty of the place. After leaving the low muddy area, we were on a high rocky ridgeline that we were pretty certain no bike had traversed in a really long time. The terrain was the polar opposite of what we had just experienced. Instead of the road surface being softy and muddy, it was full of fist-sized rocks and mini boulders. While we were able to pick through it all with our more road-oriented bikes, the general consensus was that it was verging on cross-country mountain bike territory.
After the ridgeline, we descended to the aptly named Murderers Creek, probably because of the “bridge” we were going to cross. With some good old fashioned teamwork, we moved the remaining boards of wood into something slightly less treacherous and formed a bucket brigade to bring bikes and riders across one at a time. From there, we pedaled a few more miles to a rather picturesque abandoned ranch where bike tires began to puncture left and right. It was as good a time as any for a break.
Totally not sketchy at all.
At this point, it had taken us two hours to go six miles, and the sun was rapidly descending. Another lesson learned is that normal mileage/time computations for paved roads are useless. The six miles we just rode weren’t particularly hilly, but the combination of mud, rock and other obstacles brought us to a crawl. After another river crossing (this time a lot less treacherous, but the water was freezing!), we pedaled hard to where we were suppose to meet Mike hours ago. There was a bit of urgency during the last five miles to get to the bus before it got dark, but the setting sun along the cliff wall and the smoothest gravel we’d seen in a while made it hard not to appreciate the beauty of it all.
By the time we reached the bus, we were all ready for a beer. There was a lot of toasting and laughing and the smiles of people who had just narrowly escaped what could have easily been a bad time. On the bus ride to John Day, the consensus was that the route today was definitely an adventure, but should it be something promoted to other cyclists?
After the first eventful day of riding, Mike and the local cyclists took stock of their routes and re-evaluated where we should ride next. One day took us through a series of beautifully rideable forest service roads up to a fire lookout. Even though it was cold and we got some snow, it seemed like a piece of cake after the ride the day before.
Jim, a local cyclist in Prairie City and avid bike tourist, powers up a hill in the Strawberry Mountains.
On the third day, we rode along the cinder surface of an old railroad grade. It was a little soft and rocky in parts, probably more the terrain of a mountain bike than a traditional touring bike, but still very rideable. It wound through the forest and crossed over creeks that filled in large holding pools of water. The route then joined up with some more logging roads and back to the main paved road where we saw only one other car the entire day.
Riding along a rocky old railroad grade.
A few creeks formed large holding pools of water along the railroad grade.
After three full days of riding and learning about the area from local cyclists, our heads were exploding with all the possibilities of mixed terrain riding out in Eastern Oregon. You could probably basecamp in John Day and spend three weeks riding in the area and barely scratch the surface of what was out there. There is everything from quiet paved roads, to remote forest service and logging roads, to stretches of right of way that would barely qualify as a road!
The challenge from the gravel working group’s perspective is to make sense of it all. What would be fun for one rider would be hell for another. Do you classify riding surfaces with a number system or minimum tire width recommendations? What percentage of a ride must be gravel for it to be considered a gravel ride? How do you adequately communicate how remote these areas are? How do you deal with the seasonality of gravel roads? We came away with as many questions as we did answers, and it forced us to really examine, from a bike tourism perspective, what would be a good route that you would want to promote.
All’s well that ends well. Trying beers at 1188, the new micro brewery in John Day!
By the end of the three days, we were excited by the possibilities of mixed terrain riding in Oregon. Oregon has some great paved roads; but if you add the forest service roads, publicly accessible logging roads, gravel roads and everything in between, the potential network is really mind blowing. The gravel working group is still defining its role and trying to figure out how to make sense of it all and what best practices would be; but whatever happens, our eyes have definitely been opened to fun and challenging new routes in Eastern Oregon that we will have to return to ride.
The Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway video is finally out! This is a great ride for someone that wants to explore the rugged country of Eastern, Oregon but wants a good craft beer at the end of your ride. It is unique to other Scenic Bikeways because it is a figure 8 route so you can slice the pie any number of ways depending on how much mileage you want to do. Baker City, one of the ride’s anchors also happens to be on the Adventure Cycling TransAm Route. If you are riding across the country and want to dig a little deeper into the area this is a great route.
Some great bike friendly businesses in Baker City are Barley Browns (awesome brew pub!), Paizzano’s Pizza and the Geiser Grand. Catherine Creek State Park was a gem of a campground on route that is about as idyllic as it gets. The small town of Union has a great hardware store and serves espresso and coffee drinks as well! If you want to experience Eastern Oregon on bike, but don’t quite want to carry all your camping gear this Scenic Bikeway is a great option.
It’s going to be a crazy week. On Tuesday, we’re off on a whirlwind trip to conduct a series of interviews for a video project with PeopleforBikes. The goal? To document how protected bike lanes are changing cities. We’ll be interviewing elected officials, business owners and everyday riders. This is where you come in!
We have several interviews already scheduled, but we also have gaps of time where we will be shooting b-roll and trying to capture man on the street interviews. So, if you’re interested in talking to us about the experience of riding in a protected bike lane, we would love to hear from you. Contact us in advance or simply drop by while we’re filming b-roll.
Chicago: On Wednesday, February 19, we will be filming on Milwaukee Ave, near the Paramount Room, roughly between 4-6pm.
Austin: On Friday, February 21, we will be filming on Guadalupe, near the bike share station at 21st, roughly between 4-6pm. On Saturday, February 22, we will be filming along the Bluebonnet and Barton Springs protected bike lanes, roughly between 12noon-3pm.
Memphis: We have nothing concrete planned yet, so suggest something! On Monday, February 24, we can meet you in the Broad Avenue district, roughly between 9-11am. On Tuesday, February 25, we can meet you downtown or elsewhere, roughly between 10am-12noon.
If you are on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter we’ll be posting updates with the hashtag #PLPGLP (short for PathLessPedaledGreenLaneProject). So don’t be shy and send us an email us so we can set something up.
Confession: when I was growing up as a kid in Los Angeles, I had no interest in bikes whatsoever. My interests were about par for my age (i.e. hanging out at the mall and killing quarters on Street Fighter II). So when my family moved out of the more urban part of the San Fernando Valley into what I considered “the sticks” (Sunland/Tujunga), I was filled with typical mall-deprived angst. Fast forward a few decades later, and I’ve come to appreciate where I grew up through the lens of bicycling… and it is awesome!
Yep. This is Los Angeles.
Sunland is not a town one would really consider a tourist destination. The main drag of Foothill Blvd has had a hard time attracting and keeping any businesses of note. There used to be a bike shop, but they have since moved down to the neighboring town. What it lacks in urbanity, though, it makes up in some pretty amazing (and completely hidden) bicycle rides.
When visiting my parents during our winter escapes, we can literally take a small neighborhood road and be in honest-to-goodness mountains in less than 20 minutes. It was a pretty mind-blowing moment when I first realized this. The brown hills and mountains that I looked upon with discontent as a teenager now call to me with any number of adventures as an adult. Amazing how perspective changes. There is quick access to Big Tujunga Road (“Big T”) that winds its way up into the mountains of Angeles Crest Forest. On that road, you can climb on pavement to your heart’s content or veer off on any number of dirt roads and trails along the way. There is also the gruelling off-road climb up to Mt. Lukens on a battlefield of babyheads.
One of our favorite areas to ride, which can be accessed from Sunland (and even Burbank), is in the Verdugo Mountains. The Verdugos are a small transverse mountain range that parallel the San Gabriels and divide the La Cresenta and San Fernando Valleys. It is literally a small island of wilderness in a sea of urban development. Growing up as a kid, I went to high school on one side of the mountains and lived on the other side. The Verdugos have an interesting history. Apparently, a tram was once proposed to go its top. It would have started in Burbank and ended at the summit, at a restaurant. For better or for worse (probably for better), it never materialized. Instead, it now exists as an outdoor escape right in the middle of the city.
There are several trailheads that access the Verdugos from both it’s Southern and Northern sides. We’ve only ever entered from the Northern side of the mountains, near where La Tuna Canyon and the 210 freeway intersect. There is an unimproved dirt parking lot, which to our surprise always seems half full. I never considered this part of Los Angeles as having much outdoor recreation, but every time we have gone to the Verdugos, we’ve seen loads of people walking, jogging, hiking, and biking.
From the trailhead, there is a short and wide paved section which feels like an abandoned freeway on-ramp, then the climbing begins in earnest. You make a right and you’re almost instantly into a short 14% climb. It doesn’t last for long, but it’s punchy enough to get the heart beating. From there, you end up on Hostetter Fire Road, which is unpaved and rocky in parts, but is pretty rideable. We would recommend at least 32mm tires (28 would be doable but not much fun). I have 40mm Clement MSOs and they were just about right. You are pretty much on Hostetter until you get to the ridgeline. Hostetter winds, twists, and turns, and gives you some amazing views along the way. You’ll absolutely forget that you’re in the city after a while.
When you get to the ridge, you’ll intersect Verdugo Motorway. I’ve tried to figure out why it is called Verdugo Motorway without much luck (if you know, email me!). Perhaps it was a through road for cars at one point, but now it is only open to hikers and bikers. Verdugo Motorway meanders along the ridge of the Verdugos and has great views of greater Los Angeles. On a clear day, you’ll see downtown Los Angeles, the piers of San Pedro, and the Channel Islands. It really is an amazing view to behold.
One of our favorite spots along the Verdugo Motorway is Warden’s Grove, which has a picturesque oak tree and bench, begging for you to have a picnic. It’s a good place to stop to take in the view and some snacks. Be sure to bring plenty of water with you, since there are no services up there. Usually, that is about where we turn around and head back, but there are miles and miles of riding to be explored. There is singletrack, as well as fireroads, that criss-cross the Verdugos.
If you live in Los Angeles or The Valley and are looking for some great mixed terrain riding (a la those epic Rapha videos), the Verdugos might literally be in your backyard! I never thought that I’d go back to where I grew up as a teenager and appreciate it like I do now, but that pocket of Los Angeles has some of best bicycling that no one has heard about. Go explore!
(Keep our adventures going and the site growing! If you’ve enjoyed our stories, videos and photos over the years, consider buying our ebook Panniers and Peanut Butter, or our new Brompton Touring Book, or some of the fun bike-themed t-shirts we’re designing, or buying your gear through our Amazon store.)
When we heard that our friend Jason from Swift Industries was planning a little weekend bike touring / fly fishing extravaganza for the 4th of July AND that we would be riding a portion of the Iron Horse Trail, we couldn’t say no. We have been eyeing the Iron Horse Trail for quite some time because it looked like an intriguing gravel ride and because it seemed to have good bike tourism bones. Surprisingly, for a trail of its length, proximity to Seattle and general potential for awesomeness, there is very little information about it. There are some odd trip reports here and there, but nothing with photos that really give you a flavor of the trail.
We boarded the BOLT bus in Portland. For those that don’t know, the Bolt is a generally less sketchy Greyhound (though it operates The Hound umbrella). The coaches are newer, have WiFi and MOST importantly aren’t jerks about taking bikes. Interestingly, the buses don’t have racks but instead allow you to place them in the luggage area UNBOXED. For us, this illustrates that accommodating bikes is more about attitude/policy than hardware. We’ve taken the Bolt bus where they have accommodated upto 6 bikes sans bike rack. Also interesting to note was that the bus was full of Gen X/Y riders. Our generation may not be into owning cars, but it doesn’t mean we don’t like to travel. It just means we will travel to places that are easy to get around without driving.
After taking the bus to Seattle, we all gathered the next morning and got a lift from Steve, who actually wrote his graduate thesis on the Iron Horse Trail and is active in mapping and advocating for the trail. It was great to hear his insight about the potential and challenges of the trail.
We started riding at the trailhead at Rattlesnake Lake (about 43 miles from Seattle). The trail is unpaved gravel which is very rideable but is more enjoyable with some fat rubber. I was riding my new Surly Ogre with 2.3 inch tires and Laura was riding her monstercrossed Vaya with 45mm Vee Rubber tires. There was no tire skinnier than 35mm on the ride.
From Rattlesnake Lake we rode East on the trail, which is generally trending uphill. It climbs at a railroad grade, so it was pretty mellow, even with a load. There were short stretches of loose gravel and some pot holes to negotiate, but for the most part the riding was easy and freed us up to talk with each other and enjoy the scenery.
One remarkable thing about the Iron Horse is that it has some beautiful “backcountry” campsites just off the trail, with pit toilets. They were tastefully done and placed in some nice locations (the complete opposite of many hiker/biker sites around the country). One particularly striking site was perched next to a small waterfall and creek, tucked beneath some lush trees. We decided to take a break there for brunch. As luck would have it, another cyclist was also stopped, with a BOB trailer. He was actually providing support for a group of riders and wanted to ditch some of his load, so he gave us a sixer of Pabst, some V8 and muffins : )
As you ride you’ll be flanked by salmonberry bushes, which we of course took a few minutes to sample. You’ll also ride over trestles and pass some cliff faces that are popular with climbers.
The other big highlight is the Snoqualamie Pass Tunnel, a 2.5-mile tunnel that bores right through the mountain. It is the longest tunnel open to non-motorized travel in the US. The sensation of traveling through a tunnel that long was a little unnerving but fun at the same time. The other end appears as a tiny pinprick of light in the distance that seems to grow larger at a glacial pace. Be sure to bring good lights and a windbreaker. On our return trip, the temperature outside the tunnel was a pleasant 75 degrees and inside was a breezy 45.
Just after the tunnel is the Hyak stop, which has a small building with restroom facilities with flush toilets, sinks and running water. There were also showers there, though they seem to have been shut off. At Hyak we had a break for lunch.
Soon after the trail crossed the Yakima river, we left the Iron Horse and headed for Lake Easton to find a convenience store to load up on more snacks. After the minimart, we made our way to our final destination, Lake Kachess. Through some navigational errors, we found ourselves on a pretty rough forest service road. Gone was the relatively relaxed Iron Horse Trail, replaced with fist-sized rocks and ponds that crossed the entire “road.” The going was slow but the climbing and obstacles made for a more exciting ride and was a good test of both my new Ogre and the Vee Rubber tires Laura was using on her Vaya. Both performed admirably.
After an hour or two on the forest service road, we strangely emerged into a housing development, which was rather disconcerting after feeling like we were in the middle of nowhere a few minutes before. From that point, we were back on pavement and made our way to the official campground on Lake Kachess. Although it was mid-week, it was also the 4th of July so the campground was a little fuller than it would have been otherwise but it still wasn’t too bad. We found a rather large site and pitched our tents and made dinner at the day use area by the waterfront.
The next morning, we left base camp, carrying snacks and fishing gear. The plan was to pedal a few miles up a gravel road and fish Box Canyon Creek. We passed some promising spots early on, but they were already filled with cars and other campers. We pushed on and finally found one wilderness campsite by the river that provided both shade and beautiful scenery for the non-fishers and some promising little runs for the fishermen.
I eyed a promising little run and strung up my Tenkara rod and got into the water. Instead of waders, I use neoprene booties and my Keen sandals. They give me just enough insulation to stand in the cold water. After about 10 minutes I hooked up with a fish in some really skinny improbable looking water. It was a beautiful fat 8 inch trout that got off before I could handle it. It was an auspicious start, but the rest of the day was a little slow fishing-wise. I caught two other small ones, but that was it for the rest of the day.
The next morning we got up early and took a more civilized paved path back to the Iron Horse Trail and essentially rode the route in reverse back to Rattlesnake Lake. From there, we parted ways with a few riders. The remaining group rode to Issaquah where we thought we could take our bikes back on the SoundTransit bus back to Seattle (cutting out 18 miles of urban riding), but we were turned away.
The driver pointed to my front rack and said “No bikes with baskets are allowed.” Admittedly, my 29er was having a tough time fitting on the front rack. I completely deflated the tire to try to get the hook to slide over more securely but had no luck. All the while, the driver was no help whatsoever. I asked if we could take the bikes on board since the bus was pretty empty, but he said no.
With that, we were left with no other option but to ride back, rounding off the day at just under 80 miles from Lake Kachess to Seattle. Fortunately we were all feeling pretty good and had it in our legs to do the mileage. But it seemed like such a disappointment that what could have been a convenient multi-modal connection was a non-option due to inadequate front racks and a none-too-helpful bus driver. Oh well.
We rode only a portion of the Iron Horse Trail and really enjoyed it and look forward to exploring it more in the future. The section we rode was pretty tame riding (perfect for families or a S24O) but we hear it gets rougher the further east you go (downed bridges, crossing a military base, signing waivers to ride through tunnels, etc.,). But we’ll save that part for a future adventure.
One thought that really stood out in our mind is how great a resource is the Iron Horse Trail. Our return trip was on a Saturday and we saw lots of day riders and climbers using the trail. Despite that, we felt that it could be even MORE popular. Being just a visitor and not privy to the politics of the trail, I was surprised at the lack of marketing behind the Iron Horse. It really could be an awesome bike destination, if only people knew about it and if the local communities seemed more connected to it. In the end, the riding was great, the fishing could have been better, but it was still a fine way to celebrate the 4th of July.
(Keep our adventures going and the site growing! If you’ve enjoyed our stories, videos and photos over the years, consider buying our ebook Panniers and Peanut Butter, or our new Brompton Touring Book, or some of the fun bike-themed t-shirts we’re designing, or buying your gear through our Amazon store.)
We just got back from about a week in Eastern Oregon filming and photographing the Blue Mountain Century Scenic Bikeway. While we were filming in that part of Oregon we were reminded of just how awesome it is for bicycling. The vistas go on forever, the people are friendly and the traffic is low. The Blue Mountain Century Scenic Bikeway is also in very close proximity to the Old West Scenic Bikeway which we filmed almost exactly a year ago. Since we were in the area, we decided to drive the Old West Scenic bikeway (it wasn’t as fun in a car FWIW) and check in on the small towns and businesses along the route.
We have to admit, we have a special affinity for the OWSB. Not only was it the first one we filmed, but we also managed to sit in on a county-wide Bicycle Tourism Studio that TravelOregon put on to educate and bring support around the Scenic Bikeway in the area. For us, it was an amazing meeting to witness. We met and chatted people that drove hours and shuttered their businesses to attend. There was so much enthusiasm and hope around the bikeway and the opportunities it would bring. How has it worked out a year later?
We first stopped at Long Creek, where a year ago we had stumbled into the Stampede Restaurant after the longest stretch of the OWSB and just about ate our body weight in hamburgers and bacon. Tammy, the woman who was running it at the time had great hopes for the bikeway. We were a little sad to hear that she had left, but one of her relatives was now operating the place. When we told the current owner that we had filmed there a year ago for the Scenic Bikeway program she said, “Oh, so you’re the ones to blame for all the cyclists.”
Apparently, they have had a steady stream of cyclists coming through the last few months. “They eat a lot of ice cream and we can’t keep enough in stock.” Although they didn’t keep an exact account, it was noticeable for a small town of less than 200. The cyclists often came in pairs or in groups and would sometimes fill the only motel in town. She told us that some community members had even opened up their backyards and bathrooms to cyclists when the motel was full. They had even seen a family with a young child come through to ride the OWSB. Although the current owner seemed a little flustered at the unexpected businesses when she took over for Tammy, she did seem glad to have customers.
From Long Creek, we made our way through Monument. Right as we entered town, we noticed that the motel on the edge of town had an old bicycle right next to its roadside sign. I was hoping to run into the Philip, the nut farmer that was in our video but he was out of town. It was heartening however to see that a year later he not only had one but TWO bicycles in front of his building to attract cyclists.
We went to the small market in Monument and picked up some food. I noticed that the Scenic Bikeway pamphlets at the entrance of the door. Just as we were leaving town, we noticed two loaded tourists at the town park. I jumped out of the car, perhaps a little too quickly, to ask them about their ride. They were a couple from Chicago who had originally planned to ride the coast, but had heard it was too busy and decided to ride the Old West Scenic Bikeway instead. They said that they were enjoying the ride immensely. When I told them we had made the video a year ago, she recognized us and thanked us for helping promote the ride.
From Monument, we drove out and decided to camp out at Bates State Park because we knew that there would be a good chance of touring cyclists there. When we arrived, we spotted them with all their tents pitched under the outdoor gazebo to avoid the rain. There were two women from Alaska, a guy from Los Angeles, another from Michigan and a Brit. Although they were riding the TransAm they had noticed the Scenic Bikeway signs and were absolutely loving the riding in Oregon so far. Laura and I made a campfire and invited them over and chatted about their trips.
Later that evening we saw a van pull up with a trailer that had two Bike Fridays on the back. Literally every person at the campsite that night (camp host excluded) had a bike and was a cyclist! In the morning we said goodbye to the bike tourists and took our Vayas out on some gravel forest roads in the area. We noticed that the couple with the Bike Fridays were gearing up for their own day ride too. My guess, though I didn’t get to ask them directly, was that they were going to ride some signed portion of the Old West Scenic Bikeway.
After our gravel ramble in the forests we drove up to Austin House Cafe, one of our favorite stops along the OWSB and TransAM route. There we shot an interview with the owners Christy and Jeff to see how things have been since we last saw them. They have operated Austin House Cafe and have been providing awesome service to cyclists for the last 13 years. We’ve heard numerous stories of them opening up when they are closed (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) to cyclists that they see huddled under their porch.
They have a guestbook and encourage cyclists to sign it and are becoming a bit of a destination for bike tourists. In talking to them it was interesting to hear that they have noticed a fair amount of people who are riding the Old West Scenic Bikeway specifically. Another interesting observation was that those that were on the OWSB were more likely to stop and eat than just cross-country tourists. For us, this makes perfect sense having been both cross-country riders and more recreational bike travelers. When you are riding cross-country you have to economize and are probably more likely to pass on certain experiences because of time/budget constraints. When you are doing a shorter loop or more vacation-oriented tour, you are more likely to be leisurely and stop along the way. After some awesome hamburgers and great conversation at Austin House Cafe we pushed off and promised to come visit when we were in the area again.
Our next stop was Prairie City. Last year, we had met Rhianna who was operating Roan Coffee Company. She told us about some plans to have a repair station in the shop. It was awesome to see that she had followed through in a big way! Right outside her shop is a big banner that advertises a free repair stand for bicyclists.
Not only does she have a repair stand and a pump, but a set of tools, miscellaneous small parts, tubes and tires. She told me that she worked with Sellwood Cycles to help assemble their repair kit. If you’re going through Prairie City on the TransAm or OWSB route, be sure to stop by and grab some pastries and espresso at Roan!
This summer marks the first full year that the Old West Scenic Bikeway has been designated and advertised. When we first rode it to film and photograph it, we loved it and knew it was special but wondered if others would make the journey as well. Talking to businesses and people in the small towns along the route it is obvious that it is making a difference. Cyclists are coming out to some of the most remote parts of Oregon to ride their bike and they are spending money buying food and staying in accommodations.
Now, no one is making money hand over fist and retiring in a year just yet, but cyclists are starting to discover Eastern Oregon, ride their bikes there and contribute to those local economies. Just as heartening it is to see cyclists in tiny towns like Monument, OR is to see businesses along the way (who aren’t cyclists themselves) put up a bike banner on their wall or leave a bike by their roadside sign. The Scenic Bikeway program is about bridging that urban/rural divide as much as it is an economic development tool through bicycling. The most gratifying moment for us was to run into the couple from Chicago at the town park. It was great to know that the photos and video we created made them want to take the journey out to Eastern Oregon, that they were having an amazing time and were helping some of the small rural businesses along the way. It’s those moments that give us hope that bicycles can indeed save small town America.
It 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.