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.
The central coast of California is a well-recognized wine destination, with a number of vineyards and fine dining options sprouting up in Paso Robles and surrounding areas. But this post isn’t about wine, this post is about the area’s OTHER great untapped regional asset – amazing roads for bicycling.
Although Paso Robles has played host to the Great Western Bicycle Rally for decades and some curious bicycle tourists diverge from the main coastal route into Paso, it still seems like a relatively undiscovered cycling destination. An internet search of bicycling in the region brings up relatively little in the way of bicycle travel posts. People are riding bicycles in spades in the area, but aren’t talking about it online.
We recently met Steve and Carol Fleury who run BestBikeZone, one of Paso Roble’s bicycle shops. They gave us a lot of insight into the ways that Paso Robles is becoming bicycle friendly, but also the ways it can still improve. At the shop level, Steve is finding many active Boomers who are looking for a recreational activity that is a little easier on their body than running. Many of his customers have leisure time and income and like to taste wine as well as ride bicycles through the amazing country roads. Steve was also the catalyst in encouraging the city to apply for a bicycle-friendly designation for Paso Robles. Carol has been instrumental in reaching out to the women in the area and getting them on bikes. She helps lead a social ride every Sunday out of Dark Nectar in Templeton that attracts cyclists of varying ability. She recently got several of the women at “The 9’s” salon on bicycles, which she counts as a personal victory. When she’s not helping lead group rides, she also rides one-on-one with several women in the area who are just beginning and want to gain more experience before joining group rides.
When we put out our feelers for bicycle-friendly businesses in Paso Robles, we connected with TravelPaso, the local destination marketing organization. TravelPaso started a thread on their Facebook page that was instantly inundated with suggestions of businesses that are bicycling friendly. But what we quickly learned is that being bicycle friendly in Paso/Templeton is very different from the usual conversations about being bicycle friendly in larger cities.
Two businesses that instantly stood out were Cass and Sculpterra wineries. Because they have several employees and customers that enjoy bicycling, they designated the stretch of road between the two wineries as the “Linne Bicycle Trail” and put up signs at the wineries. We stopped at Cass and spoke to Lindsey, the tasting room manager, about what it meant for Cass to be bicycle friendly. Cass offers free water to cyclists, which is especially important during the hot summers, as well as allows day riders to enjoy their outdoor patio. They have also offered up the property as a rest stop during event rides and even had a bicycling costume contest during harvest season (the winner won her weight in wine!). She said that there was no pressure on cyclists to buy wine during a ride because she knew that many would return and bring their friends and family with them. For Cass and Sculpterra (and other businesses in the region), being bicycle friendly was expressed in a very low key and pragmatic way. It was less about using bicycles as a marketing tool and more about acknowledging that their employees, customers and many people in the community enjoyed riding bicycles, and then simply welcoming them. For them, being bicycle friendly was about being a good neighbor and community member and basic customer service.
This sort of pragmatic approach was also seen at Dark Nectar in Templeton. As the official meeting place for the Sunday group ride, Dark Nectar opens early to accommodate the cyclists. Because the ride attracts upwards of 40 people on good weather days, and because there are no bike racks in Templeton, a customer who was an engineer came up with the idea to install hooks on the awning for cyclists to hang their bikes. Across the street, the natural foods store in Templeton is also planning to install similar hooks to attract cyclists.
While in Paso, we also visited with Robert Nadeau of Nadeau Family Vintners, a relatively small winery located at the top of Peachy Canyon, one of the classic road rides in the area. Peachy Canyon is located on the west side of the 101 and is a fantastic road that climbs in a serpentine pattern beneath beautiful oak trees. Robert is an avid cyclist himself who understands how special the area is for riding. Robert has seen the pattern that many road cyclists tend to be foodies and enjoy wine. They stay in local accommodations (La Quinta in Paso Robles is noted for hosting large cycling groups), eat at the local restaurants and, of course, enjoy the local wineries. As we left his winery, we noted that the loop sensors that open the gate are tuned to detect bicycles as well as cars.
Paso Robles does not quickly come to mind as a bicycle friendly destination, but there are many things underway. A frontage road that connects Templeton to Paso Robles has beautifully marked red bike lanes that make it easier for cyclists to get into town.
The city has also submitted an application to the League of American Bicyclists to be recognized as a bicycle friendly community. Slowly, through events like the Great Western Bike Rally and the Tour of California, the area is being recognized – not just for its wine but for its great riding. There is still a long way to go. There are few resources about cycling in the area, other than local knowledge, and there is little mention in the destination marketing materials about welcoming cyclists. Hopefully, with the leadership of Steve and Carol from BestBikeZone and other respected community members that ride bikes, people will not only visit Paso Robles for the wine, they will spend multiple days exploring its marvelous roads on two wheels.
(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.)
The plan was to meet up with our friend Howard on the Springwater Trail after he got off work. We loaded our bikes and rode down to the trail just as the sun was setting. It was just the right time of day when everything was bathed in the sort of gilded light that makes you sigh constantly at how beautiful things look. The evening was unseasonably warm and it was nice to ride on the thinning trail that was usually croweded with people. We got rolling about 7pm and after a few miles down the trail the sky had gone through its various hues and had settled into darkness.
For all our years of touring, we’ve done very little night riding. What struck us immediately was how much further distances felt in the dark. We have ridden that stretch of the Springwater several times and for some reason it never seems as long during the day. But at night, with the small patch of vision provided by our lights, it seemed to go on forever. We stopped momentarily near Powell Butte to eat some snacks when we heard a chorus of coyotes not far from the trail. The howling and the nearly full moon seemed fitting.
It was with some relief to get off the Springwater at night, which was starting to feel a bit claustrophobic and be on actual country roads. We noticed houses and a little cafe that we usually missed when riding through the area during the day. But at night, with their porch lamps shining it we a bit surprising to see how many people lived in this stretch of countryside. We passed one hopping little cafe on Dodge Park road with some people hanging out outside by their truck. Of course, as we roll by someone spots us and shouts out a cheery “Hey, Lance!” I smile and for a second contemplate responding with “Hey, Bubba!” but think the better of it and pedal on.
We take Dodge Park road and turn on Lusted which has a slight incline to camp. Nothing major, but enough to keep your legs honest. When we reach a part of the road where the groomed inhabited meadows fall away and we are faced with tall brooding trees once again, we know we are near to camp. It also means the start of our final descent to river level. Laura has the weakest lights of the three of us, so we plan to descend gingerly so she can see by the pool of our lights.
We begin our descent into the darkness and are only vaguely aware of anything else but the striped line of the road, that we try to keep centered in our patches of light. My headlight is mounted to my left fork and it is a strange and slightly unnerving sensation when the road twists to the right where I have no visibility. I make a mental note to look for a helmet mounted light if we plan to do more night touring. It’s a fairly long descent (atleast it feels long at night) with lots of twist and a few hairpin turns. There are few straight stretches but when there are, I try to look up and see around me. The full moon peeks through the tall black rushing trees. Somewhere below we begin to hear the unmistakeable sound of running water.
The end of the descent is punctuated with a spectacular exit out of the trees. Suddenly you are on a bridge and the forest opens up and on either side of you is a wide and glorious river in different shades of grey and dark blues in the night. I drag the brake to momentarily take it all in.
As luck would have it, we get into camp just in time. It is a little after 9pm. At 9:30, the camphost calls it a night and starts their final rounds of the park before shutting the gate. We have our choice of the campground and pick a spot quickly and get to work setting up camp. Laura puts up the tent and I work on getting the fire started. I’ve brought our camp knife and chop up lots of bits of kindling. I use an Esbit cube as a fire starter and soon we have fire.
Now we could finally relax. We each brought burritos for dinner from a foodcart and try to warm them by the fire. We packed light and brought no cooking gear, except for a kettle and a folding Esbit stove for coffee (we are not completely Spartan). We talk around the fire and take everything in. The tall trees around us hide the moon but its light works it way to the forest bottom and gives everything a bluish glow. Our small fire burns for a surprisingly long time before we call it a night.
The next morning, I get up at 7am and try my hand at some fishing. The water is at late summer levels before any of the winter rains so it is noticeably low. What were rapids a few months ago are just wade-able trickles. With no luck, I go back to camp and have some coffee and breakfast. Laura gathers some twigs and the rest of our wood to make a small morning fire. I decided to tackle the water one more time before heading out and switch tactics. Instead of fishing the riffles, I try out the slower deep water rigging up two weighted nymphs I cast upstream and drift the flies subsurface hopefully near the bottom. It’s tricky to fish this way since the takes are harder to feel. After about a half hour I’m ready to call it a day since we have to take off by 9am. I’m doing a slow retrieve over some rocks and see a flash of silver and the familiar tug of a fish on the line. I can tell by the weight on the line it is no monster, but the little guy has some fight. It’s a beautiful six inch rainbow. The other people fishing across the river momentarily look up and give the nod. I let it go and head back to camp to pack up.
We have to be back in Portland at a certain time, so it is not a leisurely ride going back either. The road that we gingerly descended in the dark, we attack with gusto in the morning. We make short work of the two climbs and before we know it we are back on the Springwater heading into town. We stop at a foodcart just off the trail and inhale some enormous cheeseburgers in record time. The trail in full daylight doesn’t seem as long or as mysterious; it is an altogether different place when the sun is out. The magic of riding under the full moon is gone, but not forgotten. We are a little sad that we won’t be able to camp at Dodge Park for another year, but excited at the possibilities of other places night rides could take us.
This weekend we shook up our bike touring adventures with something new, bike camping with KidicalMassPDX! Andy, one of the organizers for the bike camping trip invited us along to join in the fun. Though Laura and I don’t have any kids of our own, we are very supportive of family biking and especially bike camping! We met at Woodstock Park in SE Portland which appropriately had a playground at the start. In total there was about a dozen families, 22 bikes and 16 kids in attendance! The bikes ran the gamut from regular bikes with trailers, to a Surly Big Dummy, a Kona Ute, a custom Bilenky longtail, a Bilenky coupled tandem and even a pair of Bromptons specially outfitted with a child’s seat. It was quite the sight to behold! Sometimes its easy to take all this bikey fun for granted living in Portland, but we definitely recognized how special this event was.
Our end destination was Dodge Park (GPS route), formerly a day use only site along the confluence of the Sandy and Bull Run river that has been recently re-opened to camping. The distance from the meeting point to the campground was about 22 miles, far longer than the usual KidicalMass rides. About half the ride was on off-road paths a significant portion would be on small country roads. This sort of riding is usually beyond the ken of Kidical Mass, but the route was well chosen and generally managed to avoid busy roads and steep hills. Another great feature about the route was that it was essentially a door-to-door route without the need to take any transit. This has been a big deterrence for many would-be family bike campers with cargo bikes who can’t easily take light rail past the suburbs of Portland. As enlightened as Portland can be with some things transit oriented, the MAX rail system isn’t really all that great with bikes. If you have a regular bike you have to lift it up and put it on a hook and there is a general ban on trailers, tandems and cargo bikes. This route, however, cut all that needless worry and hassle of negotiating with grumpy passengers and Trimet operators.
A large part of the first 10 miles was on the Springwater Trail which made for relaxed riding and getting to meet some of the families. Filtering back and forth and taking photos, I learned that for quite a few of the families it was their first ever bike camping trip with kids. What made it appealing to newbie families was being part of a great supportive group of other families and of course, new playmates. The ride pace was family friendly with plenty of restroom breaks and even a berry picking break along the Springwater.
Once we left the Springwater, there were some small roads with light to moderate traffic to negotiate but it was largely just a pleasant ride through the Oregon countryside. After a gradual climb you descend down to river level beneath a canopy of trees and essentially coast to the campground. The campground itself was nice with lots of trees providing shade. There was a new-ish looking covered pavilion building with bathrooms, showers and a small outdoor amphitheater. A short walk from where we pitched our tents were the Sandy and Bull Run rivers with quite a few beach areas for swimming.
At this point, Laura and I snuck away momentarily from the group so I could get a little fishing in. On the first cast I hooked an aggressive small trout that eventually got off. I managed to hook and land another small one about twenty minutes later. No record breakers, but it was good fun to feel the tug of a fish on the line.
By the time we got back to camp, a fire was built and dinner was in full tilt. We enjoyed chatting and meeting some new people and slowly the kids pealed away and went to bed. Some “grownups” stayed up a wee bit later and talked until it got dark. The next morning, we all prepared breakfast and lingered a bit. There was a scheduled break for the kids to head down to the river before pedaling off. After everyone was packed up and on their bikes I took a group photo and we pushed off to tackle “the hill.” The nice long descent at the end of the day yesterday was to be the first climb this morning. It was a little slow going, but with some patience and sweat everyone made it up to the regrouping spot at the top of the hill.
It was there that we peeled off and said our goodbyes to the rest of the group. It was a fun weekend and it was great to share the experience with some families new to bike camping. After the success of this trip, I have a feeling it won’t be the last trip KidicalMassPDX will organize!
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For our first Bike Trekker episode, we’ve decided to film our experience at the Cycle Oregon Weekend ride. Cycle Oregon is an epic week long ride that showcases the great rural communities around Oregon. Aside from creating a well organized and wonderful riding experience, they do a lot of philanthropy for the small communities they go through. The Weekend Ride, just like it sounds, is a mini-version of the week long ride. This year, it took place in Corvallis, Laura’s home town and within a long day’s bike ride from Portland. We thought, “what better way to start a biking event than to bike there!”
It was a LONG ride, coming in over 80 miles. We took the MAX out to Hillsboro and began our ride there. For the most part we meandered all day through small country roads right in the heart of Willamette Valley wine country. Our favorite part of the trip was stumbling upon some quiet gravel roads with nary a car in sight.
We arrived in Corvallis tired and famished from the ride. Thankfully, we had a rest day before the madness of the Cycle Oregon Weekend began. On Friday, we rode to the OSU campus, registered and then set up our tent on campus. We got there fairly early so we were able to find a spot by some trees. In a few hours, people trickled in and the field became a tent city!
That night, we walked around the grounds and chatted with some fellow cyclists. We ran into quite a few readers which is always a treat. The folks camped next to us followed our trip to New Zealand and were planning their own NZ tour in January. We gave them a few tips of where to go and what to avoid. Later in the evening we had a few drinks at the beer garden and listened to some music on the main stage. This was our first ever “event” style ride and after years of fully supported touring this felt pretty luxurious even though we were still in a tent. We crashed out fairly early, still tired from our ride from Portland and rested for the next day.
The next morning we got up bright and early (with about 2200 other cyclists!) had a quick breakfast with bleh coffee (sorry, Portland coffee has spoiled us) and hit the road. We opted to do the medium length rides on both days since we knew were going to be stopping a lot to take photos and video.
The first day was the hillier of the two, but didn’t have any major climbs and only a few rollers. It was beautiful riding through several scenic back roads around Corvallis that we had not been on before. Some were so devoid of traffic we didn’t see any cars on them. Another first for us was pulling up to rest stops with food and drinks! We are so use to carrying all our own stuff that through force of habit we still had a pannier filled with almond butter, fruit and tortillas. Riding without carrying all your gear is a strange new world
One thing we did enjoy immensely was pedaling along and seeing we were traveling at a decent clip of around 15-18 mph! Much faster than our turtle like touring pace. It was good to know that beneath the piles of all our panniers, we can be pretty zippy bicyclists. On the evening of the first day, we had some wine in the beer garden and spotted a copy of the new maps of the Oregon Scenic Bikeways, which featured some of our photos form our recent trip out there.
The second day, some clouds rolled in and there was a forecast for strong winds. We got up fairly early and banged out the miles quickly but still stopped at all the rest stops (what a luxury!). We even got a tour of an old water-powered mill.
At the end of the second day, Cycle Oregon rolled out the red carpet for the cyclists at the finish. There was a balloon arch and a small squadron of cheerleaders, as well as a freezer truck full of ice-cream. Cycle Oregon Weekend was our first ever event ride and it was definitely different from what we were use to. Although the camping wasn’t quite as scenic, it felt pretty pampered to have rest stops with local volunteers serving sandwiches and fresh local fruit (if only that would happen on all our tours!). We had a great time and it was nice to have a few days where all you had to do was pedal your bike and everything else would be taken care of. With such a positive experience with the weekend ride, we hope to one day get a chance to do the full week ride and really get the full Cycle Oregon experience.
We are headed back to North Carolina! We’ve been invited by the wonderful people at the Waynesville Rotary Club to speak and ride at the Blue Ridge Breakaway! We will be giving two presentations on Friday, August 17th. One will be a Lunch and Learn for the local business community focusing on bicycle tourism and the benefits of being a bicycle friendly community. Then, later that evening we’ll be doing a kick-off presentation about some of the ups and downs of traveling on bike with lots of photos and stories from the road! And on Saturday, we’ll get to ride those beautiful roads without any gear (yay!)! So come join us for the presentation and the ride!
Nuts and Bolts
Blue Ridge Breakaway – BlueRidgeBreakaway.com
Friday, August 17th
1pm – Lunch and Learn
7pm – Friday Evening Kick-Off (Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center)
Saturday, August 18th
We are really excited about attending the event and hope to see some readers there!
It feels like ages since we were out on the road in Eastern Oregon. The grey skies of Portland are making us long for sunny days and wide open roads. I got an email this afternoon from a reader turned friend from Denton, Texas. He’s a talented musician and sent me a couple of tracks that he recorded in his living room. One wisp of a song called “Gravel” really hit me with a mix of wanderlust and sadness. I fired up Final Cut and put together a little montage to the music. Perhaps as a reminder that though the sky is grey and our pockets a little thin, we’ve had some great adventures and more await us in the future.
This weekend we did a S24O with CycleWild, a local non-profit group that organizes monthly trips. The trip they had planned was out to Ainsworth State Park in the Columbia River Gorge. It is a scenic ride that runs along the historic Columbia highway which has multiple points of interests and great views. When we heard that there was an actual chance we’d see the sun, we dusted off the Surlys and strapped on our camping gear.
We took the MAX line out to Gresham to the start of the ride. Many Cyclewild trips offer the option of either riding the entire length from the Portland city center or taking transit to the start. Feeling a little lazy in the morning we opt to take the light rail. When we arrived there was already a good group gathered at the Gresham stop. One of the things we enjoy about short bike tours is that you can do it with very little and in a myriad of configurations. Laura was trying out a front-biased load with front panniers and a Carradice, I had an Acorn handlebar bag and two rear panniers. A reader we met was using using a Burley Travoy Trailer, which we had once contemplated pairing with the Brompton.
From Gresham we made our way down to the Sandy River, crossed a bridge and began the slow gradual climb to Women’s Forum, the highest point of the trip. From there you can see the ponderous stone Vista House and the Columbia River Gorge. All the riding is on a small rural roads which alternated between having a small shoulder to none. Although there was a fair amount of traffic (it was Easter weekend and the sun was out!) most of the drivers were fairly well-behaved. This route is one of the more popular road rides in the Portland area so cars tend to be aware of bikes.
After a windy break on Vista House, we descended down a series of switchbacks to the river. Once in the gorge, we passed a series of waterfalls which had viewing platforms. Perhaps the most popular was Multnomah Falls which has a cafe, bathroom and was crowded with tourists. After Multnomah Falls, there is a noticeable drop in traffic since most drivers tend to leave the historic highway for the modern freeway at that point. This meant a few quiet miles into Ainsworth State Park.
Ainsworth is a small campground but has full facilities with drinking water and a bathroom with some really nice showers. The best sites are the walk-in sites just to the left of the entrance of the park. There are 6 sites tucked in the woods that offer a nice forested camping experience. There are train tracks not too far away though, so on occasion the illusion of being out in the woods is broken with the rumbling of a passing freight train.
My favorite part about riding to Ainsworth is the ride back. Starting out early in the morning, there is hardly any traffic and you get a significant tailwind that sometimes feels like its blowing you up the hill. The slow gradual climb from the Sandy to Women’s Forum becomes a glorious coasting descent in the other direction. Of all the close bike camping options from Portland, Ainsworth is one of our favorites. It offers lots of opportunities to stop and take in the scenery as well as a pleasant camp experience. Its only downside is the traffic on the weekends. If you have the time, it makes a great mid-week getaway!
We got to try out and handle some new gear on this trip. We borrowed a friends Marmot Haven 2 Tent. It is single pole design and is closer to a tarp tent than a dome tent. It requires staking out to hold its structure. It has an open floor design with an optional footprint (which we used since the ground was a little damp). Its biggest asset was its size! It offers 56 square feet of room for about 4lbs of weight. If you were a solo tourist you could literally park your bike inside as you slept. If we had brought the Bromptons we could have parked them folded with plenty of room to spare. The initial setup was fairly easy but required some fine-tuning to get the pitch just right. Because of its open floor design it also has no mesh, so it probably wouldn’t be our first choice for camping in really buggy areas.
Another bit of gear we got to play with was the Leatherman Squirt, a small light-weight multi-tool which stores commonly used tools in a tiny package. Notably, it had a small pair of scissors, pliers, bottle opener, blade and screwdriver. It is even smaller and lighter than the Leatherman Juice that I really love. And speaking of blades, I also tried out a CRKT Ringed Razel which is a beauty of a knife. It has a chisel style blade at its tip which is great for push cuts and scraping. The knife is really well balanced and beautifully constructed and would make the short list for a fixed EDC knife.
And of course, I can’t seem to go on an S24O without nerding out on some coffee geekery. On this trip, I brought along our trusty Hario Slim Mill, insulated Klean Kanteens and a Hario V60. The Hario has been my choice of single cup brewing at home paired with a Bonvita kettle. It worked great in camp though I didn’t have as much pour control with our GSI kettle. Shawn, the ride leader on this trip, showed me his really cool Esbit coffee maker. It packs down into the size of a coffee mug, but contains a Moka pot style brewer, complete with its own Esbit stove and flame extinguisher! It really is a nifty and elegant setup.