From Trains to Tourism: A Progress Report
One of the things that you tend to learn again and again when you’re traveling is that plans don’t always hold up. Things change constantly, and it’s only negative if you make it that way. For us, this trip has been a long series of things not going the way we thought they would – in ways that we have enjoyed immensely, as well as ways that have been endlessly frustrating. As the summer prepares to draw to a close, we wanted to take a moment to take stock of our trip, and see how the reality has been measuring up with the lofty goals we set back in February.
For starters, our goals for this trip have ended up flip-flopping. We had wanted to hop on and off of the train to explore various parts of the US and Canada, as a way to invigorate multi-modal travel and make bike touring more accessible. And, as a sort of secondary goal, we wanted to look at the economics of bike touring, and explore our hypothesis that cycling could be a part of the answer to the economic revitalization of small towns. It has turned out that the economics of bike touring has been the more dominant issue.
1. After my ankle sprain, we used the recovery time to make some connections with folks in Oregon, and begin looking into the bike economics idea. We interviewed Rob Sadowsky of the BTA, Kristin Dahl of Travel Oregon, Tara Corbin and Jerry Norquist of Cycle Oregon, and Alex Phillips of Oregon State Parks. Each of these conversations demonstrated an actual impact, within the state of Oregon, from cycling – and it proved that we were on to something with our bike economics hypothesis.
2. Leads that we garnered from these conversations, and the Missouri River flood that closed an enormous stretch of Amtrak’s Empire Builder train, caused us to change our initial route idea – and we headed out of Portland via Eastern Oregon, to sniff out some towns and businesses that have made changes because of cycling’s impact. This new route, and the fact that the Empire Builder is the only train in the wider NW, meant that we never actually had the opportunity to take the Bromptons aboard Amtrak (even though it was so integral to our initial vision). Instead, we had to content ourselves with buses being the transit component (from Portland to Tillamook and back, from Portland to Bend, from Joseph to Wallowa Lake, from Bozeman to Great Falls).
3. As bike economics continued to be the dominant theme, we had the chance to meet some wonderful people who are working hard to entice cyclists into their communities. Maureen and Jeff of Sea Haven Motel, Beverly Calder in Baker City, Oregon, and Bill White of Twin Bridges’ Bike Camp, to name a few. They’ve all been working independently, with an understanding that bikes can play into their local economies, and we were able to connect their stories into a larger string of anecdotal evidence of the impact of cyclists on small economies.
4. Making the move into video (while time-consuming and sometimes difficult to process on the road) has enabled us to document important insights into bike economics, bike tourism, multi-modal travel, and more. When we visited Adventure Cycling, for example, we were able to sit down and interview several staff members about ACA’s work and impacts (videos forthcoming).
5. We still believe that this country needs a great rail system, and that it would be a perfect compliment to cycling. We’ve traveled through so many places that would benefit tremendously from rail – either by bringing in tourists or by providing another option for residents without cars. And we’ve passed dozens of train lines that are obviously no longer used for freight traffic, which has made us wonder why those should just fall into disrepair instead of being revitalized and made useful again. It’s a radically progressive idea, we know, but we’re pretty sure that a larger and improved rail system would connect cyclists to these small towns who are eager to have such cyclists visit, thus invigorating the economy in a completely new (and more sustainable) way.
Looking back, we have discovered that, sometimes, it’s best to define goals in loose terms, instead of getting too fixated on the finer points. The details of our trip so far have looked very different from what we first imagined, but we have somehow been able to explore the issues and questions that intrigued us and led us to plan this particular trip. Each change has led to a new opportunity, and we are excited about a number of possibilities in the future. Plus, it turned out that we weren’t the only ones delayed this year – because of the heavy snow year, Montana’s legendary rivers were basically un-fishable until right when we got to them (meaning that if we’d been “on schedule,” Russ wouldn’t have been able to fish!).
Today, we finally get to board Amtrak – although, we won’t yet be continuing our eastward trek. We are headed back to Oregon for a short interlude, because my brother is getting married! It feels too early in our journey for such a long break, but sometimes that’s just how things work out.
As we look out onto the horizon, we can honestly say that we have no idea what comes after we head back to Oregon, and we’re kind of excited about the varied possible directions we could take. We’re planning to go to InterBike in September, hopefully with our Brompton touring guide in tow. We’ve committed to a panel presentation in October. We still want to get to the Midwest and Canada, but winter comes early out there, so maybe this fall isn’t the best time to head in those directions. We want to continue advocating for cycle touring resources in the US. And, oh yeah, we want to get on a plane and travel overseas. But first, we want to take all of that video footage that we shot and put it together into a presentation that illustrates the positive impacts of cycling on small economies – and, hopefully, we can take that presentation on the road!
James Hinchcliffe August 17, 2011 at 8:44 am
I have enjoyed following your travels. It has made me decide to buy a Brompton, to rediscover cycling as the fun it was when I looked through a childs eyes. I also intend to take my Brompton to Australia later this year. Enjoy your break, and keep writing.
Barb Hobe August 17, 2011 at 8:53 am
I love your website, which I recently discovered. As I finished reading the above, I thought, “Not all who wander are lost.” And, after reading “You’re Doing It Wrong,” I thought of how right you and others are. I have a Bike Friday which I ride upright, average speed of about 11 mph, and use dual platform pedals. And I’m very happy, as are you. Thanks for all that you are doing to promote cycling! Barb
Sean August 17, 2011 at 9:00 am
Very cool. You’ve been both inspirational & instructive as I’m working towards launching my own long-term tour. Keep it up!
Frank Peters August 17, 2011 at 11:27 am
Thanks for the perspectives on changing plans.
Tom Howard August 17, 2011 at 3:54 pm
Hope you enjoyed Montana. It has a lot to offer, to bikers. Keep up the excellent posts, and I especially love your drawings.
Caroline Helmkamp August 17, 2011 at 7:40 pm
Sorry to hear that you haven’t been able to use Amtrak. We just finished a short bike ride and a long train ride with our Dahon’s. It was our first time to carry on a folder, and it worked better than expected. (See blog above)
Perhaps you would have better luck in the eastern U.S. where there is more train service. I am eager to hear more about your folder/Amtrak experiment.
Marilyn Hedges August 17, 2011 at 9:30 pm
We are leaving for Quebec’s Route Verte Sept 3 with our folding bikes to check out a corner of the world where bicycle tourism has definitely impacted the economy. The American West is not set up for multimodal travel unfortunately. Travel by bicycle through many parts of the western U.S. is often dangerous and inconvenient for the cycle tourist. Maybe you should join us on the Route Verte? 🙂
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Nic August 19, 2011 at 7:32 am
Laura and Russ, thank you so much for sharing your journeys. I have enjoyed all your stories and vids whenever I’ve been able to steal a moment. Your storytelling style really makes me feel, happy. I have to thank Brompton, for mentioning Big Adventure Small Wheels. I’ve been wanting to buy a Brommie for commuting and every day use. I also dream of the day that my partner and I can have our own big adventure and tour around America and Europe on the Brompton. Keep doing what you are doing, its great stuff! Your fan in Oakland, Nic. Ps, have fun at the wedding!
et August 20, 2011 at 8:48 am
I don’t know the Canada Rail (http://www.viarail.ca/en/main) policy re bicycles, but Amtrack isn’t “the only train in the wider NW” if you’re willing to see Canada also.
Karen August 23, 2011 at 3:00 pm
Great website. It inspires me to do more with my Brompton. And that is an absolutely fabulous picture! Enjoy your adventure and safe travels.
Scott August 23, 2011 at 8:05 pm
I’ve taken my Brompton onto Amtrak many a time, mostly Seattle/Portland round trips but also Seattle/Vancouver, BC, Seattle/Salinas, and one way from LA to Seattle. (I flew to San Diego and took Amtrak back, stopping in Santa Barbara, Salinas, and Portland along the way.) The bike fits readily into the luggage rack at the end of an Amtrak passenger car, so you don’t even have to muck with checking anything. Having a bike is great for exploration and for a fun jaunt, for example, the ride from Salinas to Monterey by way of Castroville. With a Brompton, you can also take the bike onto buses without worrying about whether there’s an open slot on the bike rack. I talked about this in a recent blog post on why I ride a Brompton: http://practicalbiking.org/2011/08/why-i-ride-a-brompton-folding-bike.html.
Here’s hoping you get back on the road again soon or, at the very least, get up to Seattle to talk about your adventures.
Thanks for recounting your adventures.
Mary Paquet August 28, 2011 at 4:20 pm
Wow, I just found this site through Adventure Cyclist magazine. Bob and I are in our 60s and we have done multi-modal touring to some interesting places. In part, riding a bike was a necessity for Bob until he had double knee replacements in 2005. Walking any distance was not an option.
In California, we’ve ridden the Coast route to Paso Robles for the Great Western Bike Rally on our loaded Bike Fridays, then rode to San Luis Obispo and caught the Coast Starlight train back to San Jose. One year we rode on to Santa Barbara before taking the return train.
In 2002 we did a cheap fly/drive package to France, stayed in country inns, and rode the countryside. Then we used the car to move locations from the Champagne region to the Burgundy region. We ended up on bike for 6 days in Paris, a great place to ride bikes.
In 2004 we took the Fridays to New Zealand. We combined riding both North and South Islands with buses, a ferry, the Transalpine Express train, and plane for our two week visit. Now there is a country that makes bike touring really sweet.
More recently we crossed the USA by bicycle in 2008 when Bob’s asthma required an assist through high altitudes in the Western States by rental car — we still rode over 3000 miles without it. We returned to San Jose by Canadian Via and Amtrak.
This year we rode from Key West, Florida to Portland, ME. Lots of ferries were involved on the East Coast. Airplanes got us home. You can check out our tours on http://www.crazyguyonabike.com where searching for bobandmary and bobandmary2 will take you to journals about our adventures.
In the future we hope to use Amtrak and the folding bikes on tours yet to be decided.
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Kudos for your unique and wonderful activism. Looking forward to seeing some of the new videos and hopefully seeing a presentation in person. The drawing are awesome too.
I find every twist and turn your lives make, on the road and personally to be inspiring.