Any Road Tour: Lessons Learned

Well, I’m back in good old muggy DC. Time to reflect on two months of bicycle touring. What worked? What did I find useful? What did I bring and didn’t use? What did I not bring and wish I had?

Things that worked

  • Before I left, I had my bike tuned up. By two bike shops. Special thanks to Taylor at the Spokes Etc. Belle View location for doing the final look over. As part of this process, I had a new chain, cassette, and big chainring installed.
  • Even though my old tires looked fine, I replaced them with new Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires (700×35). I had no flats over 4,300 miles.
  • I cleaned and lubed my chain every four days or so. (I use wax lube so this is not unusual for me.) I had only a handful of bad shifts, mostly due to me rushing to get to a much smaller gear.
  • I bought a slightly used Brooks Flyer saddle before leaving. I needed the ability to tighten the leather and the adjusting bolt on my old Flyer had run out of space. I had zero saddle sores, but still had some perineum problems, particularly in the first half of the tour. I dug out the adjusting wrench and tightened the saddle up. Then I made sure to get my butt off the saddle at least once an hour. Problem solved.
  • I had only two mechanical issues. My pedals started to fail and my hub of my rear wheel came loose. Missoula Bicycle Works replaced the pedals and tightened the hub. No big deal.
  • My 15-year old tent started to leak. I sealed it with silicone sealant. I have no idea if it will still leak because it didn’t rain when I was camping afterwards.
  • For sleeping I had a yoke-shaped travel pillow. It was exactly what I needed. I propped up a big pannier then put the pillow against it. Great for reading and sleeping in the tent.
  • I used a silk sleeping bag liner. On colder days I supplemented it with an REI sleep sack, a lightweight sleeping bag. I was cold only once. I put on my rain jacket and went back to sleep.
  • The REI full length sleeping pad was indispensable. I simply can’t sleep in a tent without one.
  • Warmshowers.com worked well, if imperfectly. I had success in Morehead MN, Republic WA, and outside Winthrop WA. I also stayed in two places listed on the Adventure Cycling Maps. They were both also on Warmshowres. Alice’s Attic in Royalton MN and the Honey Pot in Gackle ND.  Another five of these experiences were excellent. My experience in Lewistown, MT was not a good one. The host’s yard was a mess and he and his neighbors had several barking dogs. I didn’t stay. I went to an overpriced dumpy motel instead.
  • Adventure Cycling Maps also worked well. As the tour progressed I deviated from the maps’ routes. Places where the maps need work are in eastern Ohio (I missed a turn even though I was paying very close attention) and in Stillwater MN. There was a detour to get across the LaCroix River that was poorly described in the ACA material. I wasted an hour or more trying to navigate the mess. It’s super important to read the addenda to the maps. I didn’t and ended up paying for hotels a couple of times.
  • Google maps saved me numerous times when I made wrong turns or deliberately strayed from the ACA routes.
  • Sun sleeves. I wore them everyday for the last month or so of the tour. No more bugs sticking to my arms.
  • Compression sleeve. When my left calf became swollen, I started wearing a compression sleeve. The swelling went down and stayed down.

Things that didn’t work

  • I used chamois cream religiously on previous long rides and tours. I forgot to put it on one day in the middle of the tour and never used it again. Maybe it’s useful for humid conditions like we have here in DC, but I never missed it.
  • Weather.com was laughingly inaccurate. Time and again it forecasted storms when none came and missed storms that I could see with my eyes.
  • My Ortleib panniers leaked. Again. I put my stuff in plastic bags before loading them into my panniers. Also, my Ortleib handlebar bag is annoyingly hard to open and close. The map case tore in the first couple of weeks. The hook at the bottom of my front panniers came loose multiple times.
  • The lenses in my sunglasses are for distance only. I really need a pair with progressive lenses so I can read my maps.
  • My crappy rim brakes were useless on downhills in the rain. I highly recommend disc brakes for touring.
  • Years ago I downsized the chainrings on The Mule using Sheldon Brown’s gear calculator. Only I couple of times was my granny (easiest) gear not quite up to the task.
  • Google Maps occasionally went haywire. Sending me in circles or, in Shelton WA, to a single track thtough the woods and along a cliff.

What did I bring and didn’t use

  • Most of my repair kit. My spare tire. My spare tubes. (I’d still bring them for obvious reasons on my next tour.)
  • My bear bag and rope. I used the bag once in Pennsylvania. I didn’t camp in the woods and didn’t need it.
  • Chamois cream
  • Trail mix. I carried a bag from Illinois to Portland. It was buried deep in a pannier and it got so old I decided not to eat it unless absolutely necessary.

What did I not bring and wish I had

  • My fiber fix spoke. I found one in Ohiopyle PA.
  • My passport. I was really close to Canada when I was in Washington state. More importantly, if I had to deal with road closures, I could have ridden north into British Columbia.
  • My headsweat. I brought it and left it in a hotel. So I sprayed sunscreen on my head everyday. (The bottle ran out on my last day.)
  • A belt for my off road shorts. I bought one in Pittsburgh.

I may add to this if I think of things. If you have questions about gear, gear choices, feel free to ask away in the comments section.

Next up: the best and worst parts of the tour

Expecting to fly

I am staying at the house of my friends Eric and Sue just outside Portland. Sue is out of town so Eric is doing his best to show me around the area.

Yesterday we checked out a rose garden and a Japanese garden on the hills west of downtown.

That’s Eric with the statue of the rose garden’s founder.

After s midday break we drove to the Cannon Beach. The Oregon Coast is truly beautiful. Sometimes dorks get in the way of pictures of haystack rock.

After Cannon Beach we drove south to Oswald West State Park. More pretty.

We stopped one more time to gawk at the scenery, this time at Neahkanie Mountain.

The last couple of days have been like going through decompression. My body is figuring out that it’s been through a lot. My brain is happy not to have to navigate, find a place to sleep, or keep a look out for large metal things.

A tip of the hat to Eric (and Sue) for the hospitality.

I’m off to the airport in an hour or two for the flight home.

Any Road Tour: Bikeless in Bikeland

I have four things to do while in Portland and I did three of them today thanks to Eric and his wife Sue’s station wagon.

We drove to West End Bikes in downtown Portland and dropped off The Mule for its shipment home. The service department people seems to be very competent so I have a good feeling that this is going to work out fine. Still, parting with The Mule was difficult after over 4,300 miles.

Next up was a trip to Andy and Bax Army surplus across the Willamette River. It took all of four be minutes to find a big duffle bag. (Later I tried out all my stuff and it looks like I can make this work without incurring luggage charges.)

Chores completed we drove to Multnomah Falls up the Columbia River gorge. The parking lot was closed, but we could see people leaving, so we drove to the next exit and doubled back. And the parking lot was magically open!

The hiking trails were closed but we did get to check out the falls from the base and the walking bridge part way up the cliff.

As you can see, my head completely absorbed the water.

Tomorrow we may drive to the coast.

Any Road Tour: Day 63 – Put a fork in it

The hostel served its purpose. It had a bed and shower, and was walking distance to Powell’s book store.

I spent the evening hanging around the hostel, sampling a local koltsch.

This morning after checking out I rolled to Voodoo doughnuts. I had the Mafia fritter, a concoction only a deviant mind could invent.

Then I rode about 10 miles to my niece Shannon’s house. It was a mighty hilly ride.

I spent about five hours there. It once my grandnephew took a nap he was a fun play buddy. He’s currently trying to figure out how to crawl. I pulled out my grandpop’s knee bouncing act, perhaps my earliest memory.

He also had fun playing with Mrs. Rootchopper’s crinkle quilt.

His mom is a happy, if tired, camper.

After baby time, I ride a few miles to Eric’s house. Eric and I worked together for years. He’s putting me up for a few nights so that I can get The Mule and me home Thursday night.

Mikes: 12

Tour Miles: 4,313.5

Any Road Tour: Day 62 – Falls, fail, and fifty

M&Ms come in all kinds of flavors these days. Last night I meant to buy the old fashioned milk chocolate kind, but I got the sleeping pill version. I ate some and passed out at 9:15. I woke up 7 1/2 hours later with no idea of where I was.

This tour is starting to wear my ass out. Good thing it’s nearly over.

The hotel breakfast was biscuits and gravy, oatmeal and raisins, eggs, sausage, potatoes, coffee, and OJ. I took an apple and a banana for the road.

Oink.

The ride to Portland must have featured a tailwind because I put no effort into it. I rode over the St, John’s bridge and followed my maps toward Multnomah Falls which is well east of the city up the Columbia River. As I rode I saw beaucoup runners, mostly really good ones. Oregon is the home of Nike, the late Steve Prefontaine, and Alberto Salazar and the weather is perfect for running. At least it was this morning, before a heat wave hit.

There were also bicyclists riding what was obviously a predetermined route. It was the Portland Bridge Pedal. It’s like the 50 States Ride in DC but with signs instead of a 10 page indecipherable cue sheet.

I rode to the Columbia River and around the airport. I saw two story house boats and green islands and a rather enormous snow covered mountain which I took to be Mt. Hood. (It might have been Mt. Adams but what do I know.)

When I arrived in Troutdale, I saw an electric sign that said the interstate exit to Multnomah Falls was closed. I asked the Google and it told me that the cycling route to the falls was closed.

Boo.

I booked a room in a hostel conveniently located 15 miles across Portland. So I asked the Google to direct me. And I got a tour of the city. I was riding mostly in the northwest part of town. Parts reminded me of Pasadena, others of Stockholm, and others of Arlington Va. I saw light rail, Craftsman houses with interesting paint jobs, and helpful bike wayfaring signs.

I even saw two buildings that had a Peter Max kind of paint job.

I checked in to my hostel which is walking distance to all kinds of interesting stuff that is closed because it’s Sunday evening.

Tomorrow I go see my niece and grandnephew. The boy looks like a cross between Winston Churchill and Don Zimmer. This raises the question: what do they call gerbils in England?

Miles: 61

Total miles: 4,301.5

And another thing, while riding through Portland, The Mule turned 50.

Any Road Tour: Day 61 – Read the fine print

The day started with a sore butt, the result of last night’s fall off a bar stool. I swear I wasn’t even approximately drunk. Julie will vouch for me. Right, Julie? You know, Julie What’s-Her-Name.

What was her last name anyway?

Having name amnesia is no way to win friends or provide eye witnesses. It took me two hours but I finally solved the puzzle by combining “Julie” with specific details of her life that she shared with me last night. Suffice it to say, if she wasn’t a rolfer, her last name would still be a mystery.

Having solved the puzzle. I moved on to first breakfast, rolled oats with strawberries, a mixed berry scone, and coffee.

Then I carried all my stuff down 1 1/2,flights is stairs at the hotel/hostel and road off toward the sun. For the first time since I left home I was pointed in that direction. And I had a terrific tailwind. Over the course of the next eight hours I road much of Thursday’s ride in reverse. 600-foot climb? No problem. Downhill at 40 miles per hour? As you wish.

Every hour or so I stopped for a snack. I had second breakfast too. This time eggs, bacon, hash browns, and coffee. (Anybody hungry yet.)

I had no worries because I was planning on camping in the town park in St. Helens, like my Adventure Cycling maps said.

I stopped in Rainier for ice cream. No hurry.

I admired unusual signs.

And acvolcanic mountain (St. Helens) and a broad river (the Columbia).

After about 68 miles I arrived in the town of St. Helens and went to the town park to set up my tent. I called the police to get permission.

Had I read the addendum to the Adventure Cycling maps I’d have seen that camping in the Park was no longer allowed. Now it’s 6 pm on a Saturday night, there’s a county fair and s rodeo in town. The only hotel room in town was over $160. Dang.

I tried places ten miles away but nobody would answer the phone!

So I went back the the Best Western and threw myself on the mercy of the desk clerk. Once he realized that I had ridden over 4,000 miles, he cut the price of the room out of pity.

I checked in and called it a day.

Miles: the easiest hilly 70.5 miles ever

Tour miles: 4,240.5

Tomorrow: Portland

Any Road Tour: Day 60 – Most peculiar, Momma

Bike touring is strangely like having a job. You get up. Eat. Pack up your things. Ride for hours and hours. Find your bed. Go to sleep.

Over and over again.

It’s quite a grind but somehow you only really notice when you stop.

I’m in Astoria. My legs, mostly my quads, are sore. I spent the morning walking around, stopping here and there for coffee.

After a break in the hotel, I went out for lunch. The restaurant was short one cook. I ordered and waited an hour for a sandwich and fries. I didn’t care. I had no place to go. The waitress zeroed out my bill because of the wait. (I left a generous tip, of course.)

I’m back in my room. It has four huge double hung windows. The walls and bedspread are white. It’s the perfect temperature for a nap which I sorely need.

And I took one and it was glorious.

I went out to dinner at the Fort George Brewery down the street. Last night I ate pizza in their upstairs taproom; this time I went into the downstairs pub. Being alone meant I could skip the half hour wait and sit at the bar.

Conversation ensued with Julie, an artist visiting from Juneau. She wore a floppy hat and bragged about her boys, 16 and 9. As we talked I could feel my right hamstring going into and out of spasm.

We were asked to move over one stool to make room for a couple. No problem. I stood up and my right hamstring went bonkers. A massive muscle spasm. My right leg gave way beneath me. I stifled a yell and fell hard on my butt, all the while grabbing my hamstring.

I don’t know what hurt more, my pride, my butt cheek, or my leg.

I felt like a complete idiot. I hadn’t even finished a pint of beer and I fell off a bar stool. If your going to fall off a bar stool, you should at least be piss drunk. I mean you should get your money’s worth for the humiliation. I was robbed!

Lordy.

After Julie left, a young man sat down. He was a pharmacist. We talked about blood clots and various blood thinning medications. He told me about the clinical studies of various blood thinners and aspirin. Recent studies suggest that discontinuing certain blood thinners might cause a rebound effect, a surge in clotting. Eek! I think I’ll just take aspirin for my flight home.

We also talked about opioids. Doctors and pharmacists in Oregon are required to tell their patients they after only five days, certain opioids can be addictive. I was on Percocet for weeks before and after back surgery. I hated the disorientation that drug caused. And I still went through withdrawal when I switched to acetaminophen.

I walked back to the hotel without the slightest limp. I doubt my leg will cause me trouble on the bike tomorrow. The plane next week might be interesting though.

So my last night in Astoria involved falling off a bar stool and geeking out about prescription blood thinners and opioids.

Nobody told me there’d be days like these. Strange days indeed.

Any Road Tour: Day 59 – Wheel dip at last

So I hovered the complementary breakfast. Frosted Flakes, banana, OJ, coffee, toast. Burp.

And so I left Kelso (he wouldn’t tell me who Superman is either) and headed for Oregon using a route suggested by the bike shop dude yesterday. The Longview Bridge flies over the port which seems to ship nothing but enormous logs.

On US 30 in Oregon I climbed for about 500 feet. To put this in normal people terms, DANG!

The road was a high speed two lane truck fest. Riding on it stressed me out but I was on a mission from God: get to the bloody Pacific Ocean!

I rode and rode, up and down, timing my sprints across narrow bridges so as not to become a dead bicycle tourist.

I stopped at a gas station for Diet Coke and a candy bar. The bathrooms were PortaPotties that should have been emptied in May. I chose discomfort over disgust and rode on.

After another ten miles I stopped in Svensen. The town was having its free Senior’s lunch. I chose the market instead. It was owned and run by a Muslim family. I guess we’re not in Montana anymore.

The owner without hesitation let me use the bathroom. I wish I had been hungrier to repay his kindness. I bought some Gatorade and a big cookie.

Friend of the blog Ryan recommended Mo’s. Seafood and Chowder restaurant earlier in the day. All I could think about in the cool headwinds was hot clam chowder.

And so the first thing I did when I got to Astoria was to get chowder at Mo’s. In a bread bowl. A perfect meal after 54 miles of hills and cool headwinds.

All the way to Astoria I was passed within a few feet by huge trucks, campers, and mobile homes. My nerves were a little frayed. I left Mo’s and headed under the Astoria Bridge to Cape Disappointment in Washington. It’s waaay high and waaay wife with not a whole lot of room for bikes.

Rather than go to the hostel, I decided that I’d ride to the ocean and dip my wheel in, the tradition ending if a transcontinental bike ride. I followed my maps. One bridge had a metal grate bridge deck. My nerves were shot so I walked it.

It took me a good 45 minutes to find the biggest body of water on the planet. My frustration was off the charts. Where is the fucking thing!!!

I finally found Fort Stevens State Park. After two more miles I came to a parking lot. The ocean was right over the dunes. So I pushed The Mule over a 15 foot sand dune. It kept sinking in. I kept lifting it out. PUSH!!!

Getting to the top took everything I had. Now I had to go down the beach side of the dude. The Mule kept sinking in which, I suppose, is preferable to having an 80 pound loaded touring bike go screaming down a hill without me.

I pushed the bike across the flat beach and asked a dad to take my picture.

I talked with him and his wife. They were there with their two naked towheaded toddlers. Pale white, tow headed, naked toddlers on a beach for some reason just crack me up.

Mom suggested that I walk my bike two miles down the beach to the site of a shipwreck. The dunes are much lower there.

Off I went. I tried riding but The Mule objected do I walked. Even a ten-foot dune is a bitch to push a touring bike over.

On the other side a mountain biker named Steve led me out of the park. I decide to take the main highway, US 101, back to Astoria.

It went fine until I got to the bridge. It was narrow with strong crosswinds that yanked the front of The Mile all over the place. I made it without incident until a tractor trailer went by me with a foot to spare.

DON’T LOOK AT IT!

I didn’t and managed not to get sicker under its rear wheels.

That pretty much sealed the deal on Cape Disappointment.

My hostel is more of a pensione. I have a private room with a shared bath and a shared shower. It’s expensive but I just crossed the damned country on a bike. I’m staying here two nights. I had to carry The Mule up a flight and a half of stairs. Tomorrow The Mule gets a rest too.

I’m really not usually this messy. Honest.

I sit in the Fort George brewery drinking beer, eating pizza, and watching the white caps on the Columbia River. (Thanks again to Ryan for the suggestion.)

I know my days on the road are coming to an end. As my son used to say when he was a toddler, I want to sleep in my own bed.

Miles: 82

Trip miles: 4,170

A final note: Happy birthday, Klarence. Thanks for screwing the lid back on my jar.

Any Road Tour: Day 58 – Getting there

Last night at the Motel 6 I watched the All Star game. The best part was when the crowd cheered for Wilson Ramos during the player introductions.

I slept in and had another diner breakfast. I am burning out on diner food. I am really looking forward to cereal with bananas when I get home.

The road now leads south and I followed my maps faithfully. There were a couple of small hills but, even with a headwind, hills are no longer annoying me. Lower gears. Stand up and pedal. Over the top. NBD.

The scenery was a mix of small farms, exurban homes with some livestock in the yard, and a few wooded stretches.

I rode about 35 miles west of Mt. St. Helens. I declined the opportunity to climb 35 miles to see some exhibits. It was once big. Not so much anymore. The end.

Maybe I’m getting numb to the scenery but man made stuff is getting more of my attention. This dude graced the water tower in Toledo.

This was in someone’s front lawn. Looked more like King Kong than Sasquatch.

Here’s the turn off to volcanic doom.

I followed the Cowlitz River as it slowly descends to the Columbia. I saw a few freight trains go by. The noise from I-5 killed the country vibe a bit.

I saw two separate northbound bicycle tourists today. Neither encounter occurred where we could chat. I also learned that last weekend was the annual STP ride, a 200+ mile trek from Seattle to Portland.

I rode into Longview in search of a bike shop to pump up my tires. A local bike rider saw me and escorted me to a Proper Cycle Works. He also offered me a camping spot in his yard because people did the same for him on his bike tour to and from San Francisco. His name is Alex and he’s a nice guy but I had motel-on-the-brain today.

The bike shop guy told me my tires were running at 60 psi. Low but not too bad. He pumped them up to 80. Then he gave me directions to the motels in Kelso across the Cowlitz from town. He also told me that the Adventure Cycling route to Oregon is not on a safe road. He advised me to cross the Columbia River on the bridge just outside Longview and ride US 30 to the coast. There’s only one big hill, he said. We’ll see.

At the end of the day, I found out that #bikedc friends Megan and Nate are on the coast driving a hippy van and doing drugs. Okay, I made the drugs up. Anyway there is an outside chance that our paths will intersect in the next day or two.

Miles: 60.5

Tour Miles: 4,088

Any Road Tour: Day 57 – Good form after 4,000 miles

A little breakfast. A little chain maintenance. Good bye Shelton.

The first 28 miles featured rolling hills, cool temperatures, a headwind, and chip seal roads. This is logging country. Large swaths of the woods have been cut down. Others are recovering from being cut. I saw one tract that was cut in 1984 and the trees are still nowhere near the size of the forest around them.

I stopped for a mid morning snack which I shared with the store’s dog. I’m not sure she was crazy about the nacho cheese Duritos I gave here.

The store owner and a customer were chatting about wild life in the area. Cougars, bears, wolves, and coyotes. Suddenly I am less than enthusiastic about camping.

I stopped in Elma for lunch. When I walked outside, I found that the wind was now at my back and the roads were level.

Looming over the town were two cooling towers from a nuclear power plant. The plant was never completed. It’s now an office park for several businesses including cannibis production.

The next 34 miles were easy. Along the way, I passed the 4,000 mile point of the tour.

As I waited at a traffic light entering Centralia, a woman lean out her car window and said that I had good form. Sadly I didn’t have a witty comeback.

I suppose it’s easy to look good with a tailwind pushing you on level ground.

I am told that I am getting close to Mt. Saint Helens.

Eek.

Miles: 62

Tour miles: 4,027.5