Friday, August 5, 2016

West Coast Bike Tour

Hey Putz!  Here's a kind of long, poorly-photographed, and somewhat rambling account of the month after graduation, much of which I spent on a bicycle riding down the Pacific coast.

The trip was minimally planned.  I decided to start in Vancouver, at Muffin's suggestion, and end in LA, where my older sister lives.  Along the way, I wanted to visit Seattle (to see people) and Portland (because Marcos said Portland was great) .  Before long stretches (Portland to SF, SF to LA) I bookmarked a bunch of potential campsites on Google Maps, and then day-of I would just see how I felt in the afternoon, and pick one to finish at.  I only booked my flight out of LA when I was a week out of the city, because I didn't want to be pressured to get there at a particular time.  For the most part, this approach worked well, but a couple times I got screwed by not researching campsites/parks carefully enough.  I'll get into that later.

Here's approximately the route I took.  Over all, it was 1,570 miles, give or take a few.  Over ~19 days of riding that's something like 82 miles a day on average.  The longest distance I did in a day was ~115 miles, on a beautiful day in the middle of the Oregon coast.

The original thought was to fly or ship my bike and stuff out to Vancouver, but fortunately Billy came to the rescue.  Instead the two of us drove there in his sweet new car, with the bike on the roof.

Hold on.  First, I went and got a new learner's permit, because I don't have a driver's license and my Georgia permit expired 4 years ago.  Then Billy gave me a driving lesson in his stick-shift car (this was my second time ever in front of the wheel of a car).  Then Billy drove to Chicago, where I got my second driving lesson.  Then we drove to Vancouver.

We camped most of the way there.  Here's the sunset from Badlands in South Dakota.  Man, the east side of South Dakota is suuuper boring, but it gets a bit more interesting towards the west.

Here's a lake in Glacier National Park.  In Glacier, a small grizzly bear wandered through our campsite one night.  It seemed to not care one bit about all the people, and made its way to the nearby stream and out of sight.

I started biking a little north of Vancouver, just the Lions Gate Bridge and Stanley Park, which would have been lovely if it hadn't been pouring.  We parked under some cover, I got my bike off the roof, attached my rack and panniers, and rode off straight into the rain.

Fortunately it quit in the early afternoon, and by the time I got to the US border I was mostly dry.  At customs, the guy who checked my passport and questioned me was very confused that I had biked there from Vancouver, and cycling "for fun" seemed like a novel concept to him.

First day in Washington was very pretty, although I didn't take many pictures.  Here's my first campsite, in Larrabee State Park.

Sadly I woke up to this in the morning.  I must have run over a thorn on my way into the campground.  

Next day I made it to Seattle, where I stayed with Austin Brown '18 for a few days.  While I was out there I visited Freefly Systems, which was extremely cool, and saw Shane Colton and Tyler Christensen, MITERS-folk who both work there now.  I've got a healthy fear of RC flying contraptions, but their Alta drones were remarkably not-scary, despite their huge size, I because of how (relatively) quite they are and how smoothly and controllably they fly.

First day out of Seattle I meant to have an easy, 50-something day ride.  After an afternoon of getting rained on, I intended to camp at Holiday Park near Spanaway.  I got there, and the whole park was fenced off with concertina wire.  Turns out it was a military famcamp and I wasn't actually allowed to stay there without a military ID.  It was getting late and there were no other campgrounds anywhere close (or reasonable places to pitch a tent on the side of the road), so I found the crappiest motel I could in Spanaway.  Spanaway is a dump, I recommend not going there.

This barn is somewhere between Seattle and Portland.  I have no explanation.  "Dr. Pierce's favorite prescription for weak women"

I spent a full day in Portland.  I did lots of walking and drank lots of coffee.  It was good.
Here's a bumper sticker I saw in Portland.  It's funny if you've just driven across South Dakota on the 90:

The ride from Portland out to the coast was one of my favorites of the entire trip.  I started by taking the light rail out of the city to Hilsboro, because I hate navigating cities, especially in the morning at rush hour.Google maps led me through several miles of gravel farm roads, which was actually a lot of fun.  I greatly appreciated my extra-fat tires.

I knew from the Google Maps elevation map there would be one miserable hill, but after that it would be gentle downhill all the way to the coast.

Hill approaching:

The hill was worth it, though.  Both sides, but especially the way down, were beautiful.  The road on the downhill side followed the Nestucca River, which was absolutely lovely - Winding,  through old forest directly adjacent to the water at the top, and smoother, sunnier, lined with foxgloves and many other flora I can't name towards the bottom.

First sighting of the Oregon coast:

Next day, I woke up to the sound of rain, packed up my camping gear in the rain, started biking in the rain, and only had the willpower to ride about 30 miles.  This particular section of the 101 was fairly developed and busy with cars, and in the rain and heavy fog I was worried about not being seen and getting run over.

I got started as soon as the rain stopped the next morning.  After a cloudy start, it turned out to be a beautiful day, so I rode all day and put in ~115 miles.  Here's some Oregon coast:

At Harris Beach, a little north of the California border, there was this cool rock with a hole through it:

Made it to California!

Here's the top of the big climb in Del Norte Coast Redwoods Park, high up enough to be in the low clouds.  I took a short break to absorb everything before bombing down the other side.  It's always so satisfying to see those "7% grade next (n) miles" signs at the top.

I stopped for lunch in Klamath, which was the only civilization for a fair distance.  I think the whole town had one restaurant, which was an exceptionally mediocre diner with some ostriches next door.  There I met a pair if guys a couple years older than me, biking the pacific coast by the book.  I ran into them again that night where I camped.

Next day, even more redwoods.  Here's a bit of Avenue of the Giants, a scenic detour off the 101.  Note my bicycle for scale.

Finally leaving the Hwy 101 for Hwy 1, which splits off and goes back out to the coast:  The folks I camped with a few nights before hyped up the amount of climbing on this stretch ("Leggett"), but it was really not too bad, after that climb out of Portland.

Random stretch of California coast:

Many of the hike/bike campgrounds had wooden boxes to keep food away from critters, and lots of cyclists signed in and doodled on them.

I haven't talked about food yet!  The coast is fairly populated, so you don't need to bring much food along with you.  Lots of people I met brought proper cooking gear, like camp stoves and pots, but I didn't bother.  At any given time, I usually had a couple meals worth of bread, peanut butter, and honey, and a handful of granola bars on me.  Peanut butter and honey sandwiches are incredibly tasty and wonderfully calorie dense (Which is important.  Man, do you have to eat a lot when you're riding all day).  Distributing a jar of peanut butter and bear-shaped bottle of honey across a loaf of wheat bread works out to around 700 calories/sandwich.  About half of my meals I would find on the road, either stopping at restaurants or grocery stores, and the rest I'd eat at campgrounds or scenic stopping points. 

Only the finest of peanut butter and honey based dinners

On my way through Point Reyes Station, I stopped at Cowgirl Creamery and got a brick of delicious (and expensive) cheese and some freshly baked bread for lunch.

I stopped with some family in Berkeley for a couple nights, then stayed with Ava and Jennie in San Jose for the 4th of July and next couple days.  I forgot to take pictures after this point, except for a few shots of the Bixby Bridge.

San Jose to my sister's place in LA took just over 5 days.  First day out I attempted to camp in Veteran's Memorial park in Monterey, which was a mistake.  After climbing the steep hill to get into the park (which is in the city), I paid my $5 fee, and made my way to the hike/bike area.  There were other people there, but they didn't at all resemble the usual cyclist-crowd at these sites.  The first indication that I should maybe gtfo was a sign at a picnic table saying a bike had been stolen from the site a month ago.  I hung around for a while and had a snack, and eavesdropped a little on the conversation these two middle-aged men hanging out there were having.  Over the span of 10 minutes, I heard such phrases as "I used to go up there to shoot heroin" and "my girl got killed," so I bailed and found a motel, not wanting to be robbed and murdered in my tent as I slept.

A couple days later, near Oceano, I once again couldn't find a good campsite - I was rejected by the two state parks nearby, so I had to settle for a spot in an RV park by the highway.  I was starving since I hadn't eaten lunch that day, and was generally displeased with the situation for the night.  My solution to both problems was to find an all-you-can-eat sushi place a short ride from my "campground."  It was $25 for the infinite sushi deal, and sushi rolls were generally ~$8-14.  Presumably they expect you to get ~2 rolls and a side or something, totaling maybe a little more than the $25.  Well, I'd just biked 90 miles on a hot day and hadn't eaten lunch.  I managed to put down $80 worth of sushi.  Wesley would have been proud.

I think the most dangerous riding of the entire trip was the last ~20 miles down the pacific coast highway, going through Malibu and into Santa Monica in morning traffic.  But I survived!

Over all, A++, would bike tour again.  If any of you Cambridge-based folk are interested in shorter (few days to maybe a week) bike touring adventures, I'll probably be doing some of that this year.  

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