Days 16 – 18 (Portland to Seaquest)
(Updated from a booth at the McMenamins Olympic Club in Centralia, WA)
Passing through Portland our second time was bittersweet. I think in our heart of hearts both Laura and I have decided that Portland will be our new “home” after our sojourn. The city is progressive in so many ways no city in Los Angeles is even close. Beyond the bike infrastructure and great public transportation, Portland, more than any city that I’ve ever been in, has a real sense of community pride.
We passed through Portland again for two days to charge our batteries – literal and otherwise. While there we stayed with Ethan and his family in the backyard in a family size Coleman tent. We had great discussions over the last few days that really secured in my mind that would end up in PDX. As if to make it even harder to leave, the Saturday when we were to push off was Tour d’ Fat – the great bicycle and beer festival put on my New Belgium.
Laura and I went to a TdF years ago (2007) in Portland and had a blast riding in the bicycle parade. It was the first time I met Jonathan Maus of BikePortland.org in person – and as if to remind me of all this we ran into him again this year. We hung around for the beginning of the bike parade and but eventually pedaled away with heavy hearts.
Eventually, I assure you, we were able to escape the strong gravity of Portland. We made our way to Vancouver, WA through a very circuitous and confusing series of poorly signed and designed bike paths – a stark contrast to Portland. From there, we navigated through the hilly urban sprawl of Vancover to the hilly country of parts north.
It was as if we crossed some invisible geological divide where climbs went from 4-6% to 10-15%. It was humbling. On our route to our first campsite in Washington (Paradise Point) we hit some pitches that were comical in how steep they were. One particular stretch that stands out was on 29th near Washington State University. It was a stretch so steep that you could see it jut from the ground about a half mile away mocking you. Fortunately, we rode around it through the campus.
When we arrived at Paradise Point, the camp host told us that it was full and that we would have to talk to the ranger on duty to see if we could stay there. We waited around for a few minutes while the ranger finished a presentation on fires at the campsite’s amphiteather. We spoke to him and he was as enthusiastic and friendly as any park ranger we’ve ever met.
“Of course there is room for you. It’s our policy to make room for people on bike,” he said. We weren’t sure if this was the official stance of all Washington State Parks but we weren’t going to argue.
Dinner was corned beef and hash and we slept well. Sore from the hills but happy that we had made our first state crossing.
The next day we were greeted with more hills. Trying to avoid riding on I-5 we diverted off to a Green Mountain Road. Note to self – when a road has the word “mountain” in the name it means some serious climbing. It started manageable enough with some rideable grades, but then the road jutted upwards once again in a way that defys physics. It was the first time while on tour that we had to push our bikes. The grade was too steep for too long and instead of trying to switch back and forth on the road we opted to hoof it.
Green Mountain Road was a humbling experience. Once we were at the top we really had second thoughts about what we were doing. Were we prepared to do what we set out to do? Fortunately, the roads the rest of the day were rideable by mere mortals such as ourselves, but the thirty minutes of pushing our bikes haunted us.
We happened upon a car show at Kalama. Cresting the hill before town we see the city streets closed and flooded with people. I thought it was a bit ironic to run into a vintage car show after pedaling all this way. There were the typical nice old shiny cars. However, the one that I found tremendously entertaining was the Chia-Car. A full sized car with grass growing outside of it.
As we got closer to our campsite we were passed by another couple that was touring! It was nice to see fellow bike tourists after having traveled the last few days with hardly a cyclist in sight. They didn’t stop to talk though as they were huffing it up a hill in synchronized seriousness.
We caught up with them eventually at Seaquest, our campsite for the night. It was their first tour. Amelia had just passed the BAR and this was her trip before buckling down. Her boyfriend was just along for the ride. They looked pretty tired and a bit shaken by the riding (they weren’t prepared for the hills in Washington) and were already talking about hopping a train to San Diego.
I told them to give it until a few days on the Oregon coast before they make any hasty decisions. There was so much good riding ahead of them.
Seaquest itself was a beautifully wooded campsite. The primitive hike/bike sites were tucked away from the RV sites. At night, it was pitch black and the quiet enveloped our weary bodies.
sam August 18, 2009 at 7:02 pm
These are just some random thoughts, and I’ve never done a trip as… indefinite as the one you have embarked on, but nonetheless I’m familiar with those feelings of what-have-i-got-myself-into, this-is-hard, maybe-i’ve-gone-too far, is-this-even-fun? Those feeling always go away as the time goes by. You sink into a rhythm. You spend yet another sunset outdoors breathing mountain air. And then it starts to seem the trip is going to end too soon, not too late.
You will get stronger. You’ll find rhythm. You will get thinner. You’ll slow down. You’ll hang around some campground for a few days. Go for a hike. Neglect to update the blog. Lock the bikes to a tree and climb a mountain. Swim in a river. Especially a cold river. Shower under a waterfall. There’s going to be crappy days.
In my experience, a backcountry trip that ends up with a 50-50 ratio of good times to bad is ultimately considered a wildly successful trip. Perhaps in the more civilized realm of bike touring you should expect a somewhat better ratio. Nonetheless, 50-50: wildly successful. You’ll remember why.
Jason Crane | RocBike.com August 18, 2009 at 8:27 pm
Lovin’ every vicarious minute of this, guys. Thanks for the stories.
Jack August 19, 2009 at 5:40 am
Beautiful pictures! I love the grassy VW.
Thanks for sharing, Jack
Sweet William August 19, 2009 at 6:17 am
Sorry to agree with tdp, but having spend pleanty of time in Vancouver/Seattle/Tacoma it’s only going to get steeper.
Find the biggest rear/smallest front sprockets you can run – you’re carrying a lot more stuff than the average bear. And once north of SEA/TAC/YVR it starts to really get steep.
But it is worth the effort – seriously, seriously beautiful country. I chewed through a lot of film up there (told you it was a while ago!)
Paul August 19, 2009 at 8:22 am
Wow. Just wow. Thanks for sharing!
Jason Brune August 19, 2009 at 12:21 pm
I hear, If the hills are steep enough and you ride slow enough, the moss will grow on your backs like the chia-car.
Chris Cavs August 20, 2009 at 4:57 am
I love seeing the pictures from your travels. The Pacific northwest looks so beautiful, and to travel it on bike must be amazing. Your descriptions of your tour are well written too, something you rarely see on the web these days!
I live in the *other* Portland (Maine), and I love to travel. For some time now, I’ve felt the west coast pulling at me. I think soon the time will come for me to have a visit.
I have a blog where I talk about travel and my attempts to see the world. After listening to a few podcasts and now finding your blog, I’m tempted to do a bike tour myself.
I’m new to your site, so I’m going to poke around more, but I hope you’ve done a post on how you’re making a living while doing this and how you saved up to do it in the first place.
Thanks for the great posts!
sara August 20, 2009 at 3:28 pm
Reading about Portland and its bike culture does make me want to live there. Alas, we are such East Coasters, I don’t see that happening in our near future but I do love to get inspired. Gotta say that I called my three boys over to the computer so they could see your photo of the Chia Bug! We all agreed that it was one of the coolest things we ever saw.
Simple Living News Update: Week of August 17 August 24, 2009 at 6:32 am
[…] Portland to Seaquest […]
Steve August 24, 2009 at 12:50 pm
“We made our way to Vancouver, WA through a very circuitous and confusing series of poorly signed and designed bike paths – a stark contrast to Portland”
Actually, you must have been speaking of the unmarked confusing mess of trails on the PORTLAND side of the river.
Also, you took the toughest route north out of Portland. You should have gone up Highway 30 to Longview. Its relatively flat that way.
Thanks for the wonderful read!
Vancouver, WA, USA
Marcey August 24, 2009 at 6:42 pm
Seeing all the NW photos brings back a lot of memories. I use to live in Portland and if I had to go back, it would be a pleasure. I am in KY and going to explore the East Coast area now. I wish all cities were like Portland, OR in their ideas of bikes.
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Granny gear baby!
Remember in “Miles From Nowhere,” they eventually strengthened up. The hills get steeper as you go north toward Canada or east toward the Cascades and Rockies but I’m certain you two will toughen up. I’ll wait until you’re in the San Juans to tell you how steep some of the climbs on Vancouver Islands are.
Cheers and keep it up!