In case you missed it, we’re finally ready to hit the road! Six weeks, to the day, from when we had planned to head out, my ankle is finally strong enough and we are heading East! (And we are very excited!) We made a few adjustments to our original plans, based on some connections we’ve made over the past few weeks, and we wanted to share our (tentative) route with you all.
While it would have been a beautiful route, we have decided to forego our original plan of leaving Portland via the Columbia Gorge. In our conversations with folks at Cycle Oregon and TravelOregon, we’ve heard so much about initiatives to entice cycle tourists to Eastern Oregon towns. We decided that we had to check this out for ourselves, and share our findings with you all!
So, from Bend, we will be heading East along (mostly) the ACA TransAm route. Since we love to freestyle our route planning, we are open to diversions, but it seems like a great way to get from Bend to Eastern Oregon to Missoula (which we know we want to be our next big stop). If you happen to be in or around Eastern Oregon or Central Idaho (along the TransAm route), or you know of something amazing that we should see or experience or people we should talk to, drop us a line. It looks like we’ll be headed through Prineville, Mitchell, Dayville, Mt Vernon, John Day, and Prairie City (Oregon), before rolling into Baker City for a few days. Then, we’ll likely continue on through Cambridge, Council, New Meadows, Grangeville (Idaho) and up and over Lolo Pass into Missoula.
Our Big Adventure on Small Wheels is finally ready to roll, and we’re thrilled to have you all along for the ride!
Even though Laura’s ankle is still healing, we’re not letting it stop us from having some bike adventures. Like Amtrak, regional bus systems can be a great way to augment bicycle travel. In this video, we take the very bicycle friendly The Wave bus out of downtown Portland to Tillamook. From there we stay at a bicycle friendly hostel in Rockaway Beach. Along the way, we eat beef jerky, bubblegum ice cream, feed fish and camp at the amazing Cape Lookout hiker/bike site.
My Brompton and I are stopped at an intersection. The light turns green and I push down on the pedal with my right leg. But the bike doesn’t respond, at least not the way it should. To get any momentum, I have to slam down on the other pedal with my left leg. Slowly, I get up to a roaring 7mph, telling myself to simply be content that I can pedal continuously at that speed without any pain.
That was a week ago. Today, I’m up to a more respectable 11-12mph. But I still have to rely heavily on my left leg to get moving from a stop. It’s a weird experience to push down with all your might, only to have the pedal swing anemically underneath you. My ankle is healing and limbering up again; my focus now is building strength back into those muscles and tendons. Slowly, but surely, day by day, I’m putting myself through my version of physical therapy, and I’m regaining my ability to go for a ride on my bike.
For the last week, we have been in Corvallis, Oregon (my hometown), staying with my Mom. It’s a city with a lot of cyclists and some of the widest bike lanes and best-planned, best-laid-out bike infrastructure that we’ve seen. But it comes with its ironies. The lack of obvious bike “culture” has made us wonder if the sorts of bike scenes we’ve found in Portland and Austin are actually born of strife. Since bike lanes have been around for decades in Corvallis, cycling is simply a part of everyday life, not something to fight for. There was no need for Critical Mass, so nothing galvanized cyclists into a group (in Portland, ex-Critical Mass cyclists formed Shift; in Austin, they formed Social Cycling ATX). It’s an interesting theory, and makes us wonder what it’s really like as a cyclist in Denmark and Amsterdam.
Tomorrow, we’re headed back up to Portland for a few days of Pedalpalooza madness. Amtrak’s Cascades line has allowed us to travel back and forth without too much trouble, and has provided even more proof of the value of long-distance public transit. On Monday, we’re headed to the coast on a short transit-supported trip, to continue exploring the link between cycle tourists and rural economic development. We’ve made some interesting connections and look forward to sharing them with you all. With any luck, the following week, five weeks after my injury, we’ll finally be able to head out on our big trip.
We’re starting a new series on the site highlighting people who are working to improve cycling in the US. Are you a business, restaurant or accommodation that is bicycle friendly? Tell us how! Are you a small community that is trying to encourage cyclists to visit, share your story. We’re looking for stories about how businesses, communities and individuals are trying to make their area more bike friendly.
Scottie Jones is walking us around her property, Leaping Lamb Farms. It’s a working sheep farm, on property originally homesteaded in 1895. We navigate gingerly along a dirt path toward the barn, weaving our way through a small minefield of sheep poop. “Be careful, that’s stinging nettle,” she tells us, pointing at a tall, looming plant. Brushing up against the leaves can cause a burning sensation, followed by a rash. Conveniently, she tells us, all you have to do is look for a “dock plant”, found alongside the stinging nettle, whose leaves will neutralize the pain. The solution to a problem is oftentimes right under our nose; we just have to know what it looks like.
Eight years ago, Scottie and her husband Greg moved from Tempe, Arizona to the small rural farm community of Alsea, Oregon. She was “naive at 50,” she likes to joke. With their natural pluck and “we can do anything” attitude, they thought they could easily make farm life work. The reality of the situation was a lot different from their rustic frontier idea. When she realized she was basically paying people to eat her lamb, she began scrambling to find a solution. She found one and it was beneath their feet the whole time, she only had to see it in the right way.
In 2006, she opened her farm to guests. The cabin they had built for their parents, which subsequently sat unused, was re-purposed as “farm stay” lodging. Employing the marketing skills she learned while working at the Phoenix zoo, she turned her farm into a customer-oriented, hospitality-based business. That year, the farm made $4000 in lamb sales and $25,000 in farm stays. The farm stays were paying for the farm. From this transformative insight, she began the website FarmStayUS, a directory which lists US-based working farms which offer guest accommodations. FarmStayUS has a directory of over 900 farm stays across the US with accommodations that range from the rustic to regal. Many farms, she tells us, are in danger of becoming “hobby farms.” Farms that are doomed to lose money year after year, that people hold on to because they love the lifestyle. Farm stays are another way that farmers can create income with their land and still maintain a farm.
For Scottie, farm stays are also a part of a larger picture of advocacy for rural communities. Many of her guests come from cities and work in technology, law or medicine, who are far removed from the politics of rural communities. However, by staying with farmers and learning about the business and challenges involved in farming, they can more easily empathize with the plight of rural economies. Her guests, she tells us, are more likely to shop at a farmers’ market, understand the true price of food, and be more thoughtful about legislation that will affect farmers. Scottie also employs several of the local teens in Alsea, who not only help with maintenance, they learn computer skills (like Quikbooks).
The Cycling Connection
We first learned of FarmStayUS through Laura’s mom, who met Scottie through a local entrepreneur group in Corvallis. Farm stays and bicycle touring are a natural fit. Farms are generally located in rural areas with quiet country roads that are perfect for riding. Bike tourists generally have a tough time bridging lodging gaps in remote areas. By combining the two, farmers could make some extra income and bike tourists could more easily find accommodations or resources on their travels in remote areas. 30 years ago, Scottie did a bicycle tour in Europe with two friends, and they often asked farmers if they could sleep in the barn. Ironically, it didn’t dawn on her that the same thing could happen in the US until we contacted her through Facebook (and you readers left comments!). We’re happy to say that Scottie is very open to reaching out to bike tourists and hopes to work with Adventure Cycling in the future!
We’re excited about making this connection, because it could potentially open up a whole new network for bike tourists. We also hope that interactions like this will positively affect how rural communities view bicycling. We’ve seen how organizations like CycleOregon and TravelOregon have begun to create this change within the state. A nationwide network like FarmStayUS could be one of the many tools that help bridge the gap between bicycles and rural communities.
Yesterday, as I sat slumped under a black cloud, I realized that I needed to make a choice. I could either continue to mope around and feel crummy about my inability to do what I had planned and hoped and expected. Or I could move on, and re-frame how I think about this injury and what it means. Because, I realized, the only truth in this whole experience is that my ankle is sprained; everything else is subjective and up to me.
And then I had to chuckle, because I’m apparently not nearly as skilled at going-with-the-flow as I would like to believe!
Early in our last trip, we made the decision to not plan. When you plan, you feel attached to it, sometimes chained to it, and you’re not as able to enjoy the spontaneous other opportunities that come along. When we thought about heading back out on the road, we were really looking forward to getting back into that mindset. Little did we realize that we would get exactly that wish, in a completely different way than we expected. Which is truly ironic, because how can you plan to stop planning?
For the past week and a half, I’ve been lamenting the inability to stick with our plan. Yesterday, I realized that I needed to give up the plan, to say ‘okay, life’s a fact,’ and embrace this new situation. But what does that mean? And how do I actually get out from under these black clouds?
I talked with my Mom recently, and she pointed out something that I’ve missed until now… physically, I’m at a beginner’s level. I can ride 10 miles, max. I’m exhausted after just 3 miles. And hills? Forget it. I just don’t have the strength right now. The only path out of my ankle sprain is the same one that all beginners must travel… start small, do what I can, and slowly build up my strength.
Which is where the shift in thinking comes in handy. I can either be frustrated by my beginner-ness, or I can embrace it the way Buddhists do. What if I accepted my current situation and set out to have fun anyway, in whatever way I’m able, without heaping any shame on myself for not doing more? What would it look like to have an incredible adventure when I can only ride 5 or 10 miles?
This is where my head is now, as I try to shake these dark clouds. If it takes six weeks for my ankle to heal properly, I’ll give it six weeks. I’ll stop forcing it to heal on my timeframe, and let it tell me when it’s ready for something bigger. But I’m not going to just while away my time on the couch anymore. The more I ponder this injury and what I am capable of doing, the more I realize that it’s still possible to explore this great big world of ours – I just have to do it 5 miles at a time.
What would an incredible adventure look like to you, if you could only ride 5 or 10 miles?
We’ve been talking to a lot of people lately about bicycle touring and tourism. Oregon is fortunate in that it has a very active coalition, between TravelOregon (and its bike-specific site RideOregonRide) and CycleOregon and its State Parks, that sees the benefits of promoting bicycling throughout the state. What has been clear is that, although the improvements and amenities ostensibly target cyclists, the benefits of “bicycle-friendly businesses” and “bicycle routes” have larger ramifications.
Can bicycle tourism save small town America? From our own experience, we would stop at many small towns (sometimes nothing more than a post-office and a general store) and take a break, buy some snacks and maybe chat up a local. We would also spend money on lodging, groceries, and, I swear, I think I bought one small thing from every bicycle shop we passed. Bicycle touring is ripe with these small interactions that probably would not happen if you were just driving through. When people go out and ride to “see America” this is what they mean. Bicycles allow us to travel fast enough to move across the country, but slow enough to interact with the landscape and people.
There is often the perception that bicycles fall on the urban side of the rural-urban divide. While there are certainly more bikes in cities, it doesn’t mean that there’s terrible biking in the country. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Small rural communities often have the best roads with scenic riding and low traffic volumes. They have, as Tara Corbin, of CycleOregon, and Kristin Dahl, of TravelOregon, have pointed out in our recent interviews, many of the “assets” that make ideal cycling – they merely have to connect the dots. Simple actions with very little capital investment – like advertising a motel as “bicycle friendly,” having some spare tubes and a pump handy, and offering bag lunches to cyclists-on-the-go – are inexpensive ways to attract cyclists.
We fear what we don’t understand. When conducting the interviews, I was plying the thesis that rural towns are naturally antithetical to bicycling. From my interviews so far, it doesn’t appear to be the case in Oregon. Oregon benefits by having a one-two punch combination with CycleOregon (a bicycling event that acts as initial contact with small towns to demonstrate bicycling’s economic impact) and TravelOregon (a quasi-governmental organization that works to further develop bicycle tourism and infrastructure with interested small towns). Unfortunately, not every state is so lucky.
This is where a project like the US Bicycle Route System, being spearheaded by Adventure Cycling, is so important. Not every state or region has organizations working to delineate good routes for bicycling. Most people that bike want to know what the best roads are for riding, and while this is certainly possible with lots of independent research and trial and error, it is infinitely easier to have designated routes. We see this daily on a micro-scale in cities with bike paths, bike boulevards, and bicycle lanes. Think of how convenient it is to know these routes on your daily commute, how you are much more free to enjoy the riding and your city. Now imagine that on a macro scale. Suddenly, the anxiety and burden of finding a route is lessened. You are free to just pedal, to stop at the small general stores and strike up conversation and to “see America.”
The fundraiser for the US Bicycle Route System is winding down and we feel its a worthy project to support. Click here to donate and support the USBRS!
Today we had the great pleasure of talking with some of the folks at CycleOregon, one of the premiere multi-day tours through Oregon. While CycleOregon is a bicycle event, guiding 2000+ riders through various parts of Oregon, it is also so much more. In this Rough Cut, Tara talks about how CycleOregon has helped communities that have hosted them and how the event is making rural towns more accepting of bicycles.
If you’ve enjoyed this video and want us to continue our project of interviewing bicycle and transit advocates and exploring the issues around bicycles and their economic impact, please consider supporting our project.
Every time I sit down to make a headbadge, I seem to cut my hands somehow. On our last trip, I had semi-permanent bruises on the backs of my legs, from all the times my pedals would raise up and bite me. My first aid kit and I are friends; and I’ve gotten quite good at slapping on some Neosporin and a bandaid and pushing through. But, try as I might, there is no pushing through an ankle sprain.
The doctor said I could get back on my bike after the first 72 hours, but he forgot to mention that it would be an excruciatingly frustrating experience.
I have been latching on to possible new get-out-of-town dates to give myself something to think about other than how weak I feel and annoyed that I’m in such a state of limbo. I thought, for sure, I’d be able to leave this weekend. Except, when I actually got on my bike on Friday, it was a completely pitiful experience.
On Sunday, we joined friends at Sunday Parkways. I rode the very leisurely women’s ride, and had a great conversation with a reader (Hi Gretchen!). I thought, for sure, since I was feeling so good after 10 miles, that we would be able to roll out this week. I talked Russ into planning for Wednesday. Then, last night, we went for a short ride, and it became entirely too obvious that I wasn’t as ready as I had thought.
There are hundreds of books on the psychology of sports injuries, my brother tells me. After the emotional roller coaster of this past week, I have no doubt.
It is a humbling experience to not be able to do the things that would normally be so easy. When you’re me, and oh-so-good at always being strong and in control, humble is not a positive experience. There are moments when I can focus on the silver linings and the many things for which I am grateful about this set-back. And then there are the other moments, full of darkness and tears.
At the heart of it, I hate the waiting. I waited for years before I was finally able to make my dream life happen. And I waited through a long, wet winter before we could get back on the road. To wait, now, for some nebulous time in the future, feels like the Universe is taunting me.
They say that life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. I keep thinking that there’s a lesson in all of this that I am still blind to.
The Voice of Reason says to wait a little while longer, to let my ankle heal and get stronger. It says, this weekend is Memorial Day, you don’t want to have to fight for road space and campsites anyway. It’s hard to quarrel with logic, even when I want to. So, we are waiting until at least Monday before we do any serious riding. But this endless sitting is wearing on me, on both of us, so we are considering a short transit-and-bike trip in the meantime. Seattle? The Coast? Klamath Falls? We’re hoping to find an example of bicycle tourism positively affecting a local community/economy, so please email us if you know of a great place in Oregon or Washington.
With our temporary set-back because of Laura’s ankle, we are enjoying the beautiful sunny spring weather that has appeared, suddenly, here in Portland. Sure, it would be great to soar down the road on the Bromptons in this sunshine and warmth, but sitting outside and soaking up some much-needed Vitamin D takes a very close second.
As we make the most of this waiting period, we wanted to say THANK YOU to all of our amazing readers and supporters! We are blown away by your kindness and generosity!
For starters, Thank You for all of the well wishes about my ankle! Your support and stories and compassion have helped me keep my sanity and gently work on healing (which is coming along quite nicely, other than the not-being-fully-able-again part).
We also want to say Thank You to everyone who donated to our Big Adventures on Small Wheels fundraiser! The last day of the fundraiser was our intended departure date, May 15, and we raised $6,126! Thank You also to everyone who told friends, re-tweeted, posted on facebook, and generally made some noise! Every penny raised will help us connect with advocates across the country and start some much-needed conversations about multi-modal travel.
We’re hearing from advocates nation-wide and collecting stories about your experiences with bikes and rail. We’re watching trends and finding opportunities to bring people together. And we’re excited to start making some great things happen!
We’re also seeing reports that show the economic impact of cyclists and bike tourists. We have long suspected that small communities could benefit, economically, from cyclists, and we’re excited to see this idea gaining traction.
We’ll be out on the road soon, so please send us your suggestions for people to contact and questions to ask. Also, even though the official fundraiser has come to a close, if you’d like to support our travels and our goal to increase and improve multi-modal travel, please consider sending a donation through the yellow paypal button on the right or buying an ebook, poster, headbadge, etc.
It seems like only a few weeks ago that we tumbled off the Amtrak train into Portland and were standing on the esplanade, watching every variety of bicycle whiz by, in awe and wonder at what was going to be our “home” for the next few months. We still remember trying to take a self-portrait of us and the Steel Bridge behind us. We were looking for someone in the crowd of bicycles to take the picture, when almost on cue, our friend Logan from RowdyKittens appeared out of nowhere. Barely twenty minutes in town and we were met with a friendly and familiar face.
Our seven month stay in Portland has been pretty rough weather wise. They are not kidding when they say it rains here. As someone that more or less grew up in Southern California, this winter has literally been the coldest and wettest I’ve ever experienced.
However, we made the most of the rainy season, or the The Big Dark as some call it. We did some rides with CycleWild, a great local group that promotes bike camping. Laura had a table at BikeCraft and still has some Bike Mustaches over at Bikeasauraus. I was able to contribute some multi-media stories to BikePortland, a website that has greatly influenced me over the years. I took part in a photo show with bike pundit Elly Blue and local bike photographer Heidi Swift. I shot a lot of lifestyle imagery for the folks at Klean Kanteen. I got to go fishing for steelhead on the famous Deschutes river. We sampled a fair amount of food carts and local beers. I also became a bit of a coffee nerd, getting into brewing methods and searching for the best cup of coffee in Portland (Coava Coffee Roasters).
Of all the things we did, the most fulfilling was making friends and finding a community. We were fortunate enough to fall into a small group of people that we really enjoyed and spent time with them, doing silly things like riding up steep hills to make Frito Pie. The word friend gets tossed around so casually these days (and has even been transformed into a verb), but we’re distinctly aware of how special the word really is. One of the joys of travel is meeting wonderful people everyday; one of its sorrows is parting ways with those kind souls.
Laura and I had dinner last night and talked a little about the next coming days, but I was distracted and a little melancholic. The reality of moving again was sinking in. I was trying to get myself excited about all the great things we would experience in the coming months, the wide open spaces of Montana, fishing, riding through a part of the country we had never been to. Truth be told, at that moment I was too overcome with the sadness of leaving our friends here in Portland. It was hard to do it in Long Beach two years ago and it hasn’t gotten any easier. It is part of the unspoken cost of travel.
Tonight, we’re sleeping on sleeping pads in the living room. The bikes are readied. The bags are packed. Tomorrow morning we cast off and become sailors once again. We are different people this time, looking at open-ended travel with a different lens. We are a little less giddy perhaps, but far more thankful to have this chance again (we’re doing a once-in-a-life-time trip twice, after all!). Thank you dear readers, old and new, for following us through strange and interesting times of our lives. Thank you to all the people we met on our previous trip who showed us so much kindness. Most of all, thank you to Portland and all the kind souls who graced us with their friendship.
LAST DAY TODAY! If you’re excited for our Big Adventure. Small Wheels. trip and support our goal to invigorate bike and train travel, consider making a donation to allow us to go further and create inspiring videos along the way.