Category Archives: Montana

Winter Tips from a Rain Expert

ACAGuestPost1My first guest blog post for Adventure Cycling Association went live on Friday. Winter Tips from a Rain Expert reveals most of what I’ve learned dealing with Portland rain over the years.

Riding in the rain was one of the more challenging obstacles I faced as a bike commuter, and I hope this article might help other people power through their resistance to the wet. If you like what you see, I hope you’ll share the article with others—I’d love to get lots of readers and feedback.

I’ll be doing a couple more guest posts for Adventure Cycling over the next several months. At the moment I’m brainstorming ideas for my next post. What would you like to see?

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A Struggling Relationship with Rain Capes

Rain capes and I have had a long and tenuous relationship. Curiosity interested me for years, but I didn’t have the opportunity to try one out. Now I have. And I want to like, them—really, I do—but the reality of using one has not matched up so far with how they’ve been explained to me.

If you’re not familiar, a rain cape is supposed to work like a big tent that shields water from your body underneath. Practical applications: if you hate wearing a rain jacket and rain pants, or perhaps if you are too short, too tall, too big, or too curvy for the few decent selections out there on the market. Available sizing got you down? No problem, a rain cape is for you!

But if you live in the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest (like I do), beware.

In Montana last summer, I received a bright red rain cape from the Dutch company Fast Rider. It worked when I biked a few blocks in Missoula’s spring showers, but I knew the ultimate test of this rain cape’s abilities would be testing it during a Portland winter.

Since coming back home last fall I’ve worn this rain cape out on three occasions:
• Riding downtown to see a bike-related brown bag presentation and meet a professional contact in person for the first time. The rain was pouring. While my top half stayed sufficiently dry, my pants were sticking to my legs when I arrived at City Hall. They remained so for hours. Tres professionnel.

• Biking about an hour to my friend Chris’ house the evening before Thanksgiving. Despite almost never having any unwanted attention while riding my bike, on this round trip I had a person from a car holler at me as they drove along a major street while I was waiting for a light. I had a frozen custard (or something similar) thrown at me on Williams Avenue (it hit my shoulder). Then I had a group of high school kids next to me at a light roll their window down to ask if I was warm biking in the rain. It felt like my bright red rain cape was a matador flag, invoking ire as I crossed town.

• Yesterday I journeyed to inner southeast. As soon as I left my house the rain went from pouring to drizzly, and stayed there most of the time I was in it. Result: while the rain cape protected me well from the top, my socks still got wet from the spray being kicked up by my wheels from standing water on the pavement.

If getting unwanted attention and wet pants from pavement moisture wasn’t enough, there’s also a signaling problem. When your arms are covered by a big tent of fabric (and your wrists are pulled through the loops inside), it’s impossible to signal your turns.

In theory, there is a solution to this. I like to call it the Bricker signal, for the person who introduced it to me. It involves using your head to communicate your intent (you may have to click the image to see what I’m talking about):

Of course there are problems. The Bricker signal isn’t exactly street legal. It’s not as easy to see a bobbing head as it is to see as an arm, and the signal may be misinterpreted by those around you (“I’m going to turn left” could mean “go ahead, pass me on my left”). So far I haven’t had any problems with the Bricker signal, but then again I live in Portland where people are largely used to riding courteously around bikes, and I am a pretty defensive cyclist.

In short, the results of my rain cape experiments have been achingingly inconclusive. Two of the three times I’ve worn it out, it seemed to be more trouble than it was worth. I really like having gear options, because I don’t really relish needing to don my ugly rain gear to ride most of the year. But there are more mundane options that can get the job done, like a heavy wool peacoat. I am keeping the rain cape in my closet for now, but maybe not for long. We’ll see.

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Featured on BikeOvernights, Still in Cahoots with Adventure Cycling Association

Earlier this week, a modified version of my post about bike tripping to Champoeg State Park was featured on the BikeOvernights blog, one of Adventure Cycling Association’s many websites.

I’m also in cahoots with them to write a few posts for the main Adventure Cycling blog over the next year. I’ve already got an idea for the first one! Watch this blog for links as those are published.

The evening after the BikeOvernights story ran, Adventure Cycling organized a get-together in downtown Portland. The routes and mapping team was in town for the NACIS annual meeting, so they gave attendees an hour-long presentation about their work–including their current bear of a project, the multi-year conversion to GIS. I volunteered to bake vast amounts of cookies for attendees, and a swell time was had by all in attendance.

In related news, my friends Sarah and Josh recently wrapped up their six-month bike trip from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Mexico (documented on Real Big Fun). They both used to work at Adventure Cycling, but got engaged and quit their jobs to do this trip. It took them about five months! This is their end-of-trip photo, and speaks volumes about them. I adore them both, and hope to steal away to Missoula to visit them soon!

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Brewcycle Portland and the Triumphant Return of Diana

Readers of this blog may recall Diana, a spunky cross-country cyclist I had the pleasure of hosting last summer when I was living in Missoula. Diana has since landed in rural Wisconsin, where she is a practicing small-animal veterinarian (dogs, cats) and is also working toward a Master of Public Health degree.

Diana recently visited Portland! She and her boyfriend John were planning to attend a wedding on the Oregon coast, and would be in my fair city for fewer than 24 hours. What could we do that would give us time to catch up, allow Diana and John to enjoy some of Portland’s masterful microbrews, and would be oh-so-Portland?

Quick, someone reserve the last three tickets on the Brewcycle tour!

If you’re not familiar, the Brewcycle (or Cycle Pub, Beer Bike, etc) is a truck-sized, bar-looking contraption that runs on pedal power. It’s a pretty popular concept: it seems that there are similar vehicles running in Germany, The Netherlands, and even Bend. The New York Times covered the Beer Bike phenomenon earlier this year. Never to be outdone when it comes to either beer or bikes, of course someone had the brilliant idea to build one for Portland. Although ours doesn’t look quite as spiffy as the others, and due to various laws (mainly ORS 811.170 I think?) it doesn’t actually serve beer on the bike itself. Unlike others.

Diana, John and I met up at the tour’s start location, and after a brief jaunt into an unfinished space (supposedly the company’s office), the 16 passengers were vying for space on the Brewcycle. Our tour was pretty much as full as it could be. Not only were all the non-pedaling stools occupied, but the three-bum-wide bench at the back was full up, and one person even ended up sitting behind the bar on a small portable stool. Brewcycle tours have a city-approved route, and so each tour selects three of four available stops they would like to visit. We discussed our options, and off we went!

Rogue’s public house in Northwest Portland was our first stop. I knew I could not drink a full pint during the mere 25 minutes we had per location, so I ended up splitting a pint of Rogue’s Double Chocolate Stout with Diana, and it comprised the bulk of beer that I had on this trip. Left to my own devices, I’m not much of a drinker—a fact I mention mostly because of this exchange:

Diana: “Ooooh, it tastes just like a tootsie roll! Taste it, John!”
John: “That’s chocolatey alright!”
Me: “It tastes like beer. Oh, maybe I can kind of taste a little chocolate at the end?”

I fail to notice taste subtleties unless I’ve been drinking beer way more regularly than I have the past year. However I do appreciate a good mouthfeel, which is why I enjoy the darker, chewier beers than the lighter stuff.

Caps and Corks was the next stop. As soon as the Brewcycle pulled over, Diana noticed a couple of loaded touring bikes parked outside, right behind me. It was not tough to find the owners, Monica and Bill, and we sat and chatted about bike touring. Monica and Bill quit their jobs and are riding from the Seattle area to Zion National Park—we crossed paths with them on the third day of their journey. They asked Diana about her experience with Warmshowers, and we pointed out that she and I had met through Warmshowers on her cross-country bike trip!

Our last stop was the good ol’ Lucky Lab, a business which is near to my heart. Not only is their mascot a dog (and they’re a pretty dog-friendly business!), but their locations feel less bar-like to me. They serve food I don’t mind eating, and you’ll often find board games or other fun at the Southeast location. Now and again they even have a pear cider on tap—but not on this night, so I drank nothing. Instead I tried a new vegetarian sandwich on the menu which featured pesto, roasted tomatoes, onions, and mozzarella on whole wheat bread. Once we were seated, Diana and I continued catching up—pets, houses, jobs. It was really nice to be able to say the words “aural hematoma” to someone and not have to explain what that meant.

Diana and John weren’t done with their drinks by the time the Brewcycle was leaving, so they opted to stay instead of pedal the four blocks back to the end of the line. I did go though, and it seemed the intoxication level had jumped on this last little leg of the journey. (Naturally, this is when the tip jar got passed around!)

Aside from getting a chance to catch up with Diana, my favorite part of the evening was pedaling the ginormous bike. At first I wasn’t sure I’d be able to use one of the pedaling seats since the stool height is apparently challenging for shorter people. But with a little extension in my feet, I was able to pedal just fine. Another treat—navigating the urban streets of Northwest Portland on First Thursday. Not only did a streetcar actually stop so we could cross Lovejoy, but we traveled a couple blocks on busy NW 14th and despite the long line of cars piled behind us…there was not a single honk. People on the sidewalks stared and took photos, even though this contraption clearly travels through this area very regularly. It was nice though, to be seen by other traffic as amusing, rather than as a scofflaw menace to society—which I got a dose of today in Sellwood.

Normally this isn’t a tour I’d have done on my own, but I’m glad I went. It’s difficult to have discovery and adventure in your life when you’re in a place you’ve lived more or less your entire life. In addition to occasionally partaking in things like this, I’ve also been contemplating buying a hiking book and trying to check off all the hikes inside. Or planning more solo bike trips. How do you keep from being bored to death by your current surroundings?

See more photos from the Brewcycle tour on Flickr.

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On Shoes and Sweetpeas


One year ago I purchased a pair of Vibram FiveFingers shoes (left) in Missoula, Montana. They were too cold for Oregon’s wet winter but now that our skies are sunny and the world is dry, I’ve been wearing them out in the world once again. A lot.

I assumed these shoes were old news in Portland, but I don’t have to travel far to encounter people who want to talk about my feet.

Once I was held up for several minutes at the Happy Valley New Seasons because the woman behind me in line was curious about my experience with the shoes. After two recent conversations with random strangers in less than 12 hours, I suggested to my mom maybe I should try not to wear them in public anymore. Less than five minutes later, we encountered one of our neighbors at his workplace who—you guessed it—asked me about my shoes.

Just today while waiting for an early-morning MAX train, a man who spoke little English stood in front of me, pointed, and said “Shoes!” with a thumbs up and a smile.

When I go out in the world on Sweetpea (below) I wear more traditional shoes, but I find myself getting stopped just the same.

Recently I was attempting to make a detour from my usual route and took a wrong turn in the Lloyd District. As I attempted to move back on course, I signaled and moved left into a turn lane. When I realized I wanted the next street up, the light turned red and I was unable to get back over to the bike lane before cars approached from behind.

“Oh boy,” I thought, dreadfully. “Once the light turns, these people are going to be upset I’m slowing them down and not in the bike lane.”

The driver in the car to my right rolled down his window. I tensed.

“Hey, nice bike you got there!” he said.

As we waited a few minutes for the light to change, we talked about Sweetpea and my dread lifted. I told him about how this bike had all but eliminated my former hand pain and the breathing problems I experienced on previous frames. As the light turned green he complimented the bike again and wished me well before we both took off.

Even last summer, I ran into a man observing the Missoula Marathon who recognized the bike “in the wild” and we chatted about Sweetpea and her builder for a few minutes.

Normally I don’t identify as a person who randomly converses with strangers. In Missoula things were different (everyone is so friendly), but I’m enjoying the experience of being back in Portland and having people approach me. Talking about Sweetpea and FiveFingers is enjoyable because I’m passionate about them both and enjoy encouraging people through sharing what I know. It also makes me wonder if maybe the black cloud that often follows me in public may be breaking up a little bit.

Purple is a truly magical color, is it not?

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How To Get Super Strong Women

One of the things I really love about Montana Dirt Girls is the group’s dedication to cultivating and supporting women on bikes. What this meant is that when I rode with them last summer, a wide variety of skill levels were in attendance.

In the front, more experienced mountain bikers forged ahead so they could tackle the whole 16-mile round trip before dark. In the back, I rode with a woman who was relatively new to cycling in general. We became instant bike buddies, getting to know each other and supporting each other through our physical challenges (I was borrowing a bike that didn’t fit right and was killing my lower back, she had done a challenging road ride two days previously and was still a little sore.)

Even though I’m no longer in Missoula, I’ve kept my subscription to the Montana Dirt Girls’ email list—they’re that fabulous. In yesterday’s newsletter, the weekly ride announcement was accompanied by a fun tip thought up by a participant:

Melissa, one of our Dirt Girls, created this acronym to help herself remember all the items to bring on a ride. Thought I’d share it with all of you:
How       (helmet)
To         (tools)
Get        (gloves)
Super     (shoes)  
Strong    (sunglasses)
Women   (water)
HECK YEAH! Who couldn’t get behind that mnemonic? Who else would like some of that pro-female, mutually supportive regardless-of-skill-level energy exported to Portland?

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Norma!

One month ago I traveled to Hamilton, Montana, to interview an energetic woman named Norma. Ever since, I’ve been hard at work making my first short film—and now it’s done! Copious amounts of time went into this seven minute video, which I’m considering the crowning achievement of my MPub internship.

Won’t you give it a watch?

The Cycling Eight also went up on the Adventure Cycling Association blog earlier today, where you can read a little more contextual information if you’re interested.

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Ian Klepetar and Bicycle Benefits

It sounded like a trick question. “Do you know the guy who started bicycle benefits?”

I assumed Greg was talking about the bicycle benefits included in the Bicycle Commuter Act of 2008. When I worked at the BTA, that’s what we called the employee benefit where we received a small amount of money each month for biking to work.

“Earl Blumenauer?”

Greg gave me a puzzled look. Apparently he’s not familiar with my bike-advocating congressional representative. After a brief conversation, Greg revealed that he was talking about a non-profit called Bicycle Benefits. He had shot a portrait of the founder, Ian Klepetar, for the touring cyclists portrait gallery.

Greg sometimes likes to extract as much information as possible out of some of his portrait subjects, and asked me to do so for him by interviewing Ian. Yes, my internship is over—but I still seem to be coming into the office almost daily and have been picking up some volunteer assignments while I’m still in Missoula.

Friday I sat down with Ian (above, drinking mate) and learned more about Bicycle Benefits.

Ian started the program in 2006, in his hometown of Saratoga Springs, NY. Bicycle Benefits encourages people to use their bike for daily trips such as grocery shopping, going to cafes, etc., by incentivizing it. How? Participating individuals purchase a sticker for $5 and affix it to their helmet. The sticker is shown at participating businesses, entitling the bearer to some kind of discount or freebie. The sticker never expires, and is valid at all participating businesses—meaning if you buy your sticker in Salt Lake City and move to Seattle, the discounts in your new town are all still available to you.

Ian eventually left Saratoga Springs and now bikes around the country expanding the Bicycle Benefits program into new markets. When he’s approaching a new city, he says he usually targets a local coop or grocery store first. After all, he says, “…everybody gets groceries. And having a foundation for the program makes it less labor intensive on my side. Even if [a grocery store is] the only place in town on board with the program, we’ll be successful.”

Portland, as it turns out, only has two businesses participating in Bicycle Benefits, neither of which are a grocery store. While I know of many businesses that offer discounts to cyclists, I was surprised that the program hasn’t spread more in our fair city. Maybe it’s because Ian hasn’t journeyed to Portland yet—and at the moment he’s heading towards Minneapolis.

What do you think? Would Bicycle Benefits be successful in Portland, or is cycling so ingrained in our city that business owners wouldn’t sign on, as their profits may be seriously threatened by such a program? Do you have any advice for Ian on bringing Bicycle Benefits to Portland?

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Presenting…My Adventure Cycling Portraits!

My internship at Adventure Cycling Association is over, but it’s almost as if I’ve never left. (No, really—I’m still working on a couple projects and just got a couple more when I went in the office today!) While these portraits are great mementos of my internship, I am also blessed to have an original Greg Siple embellishment that was presented to me on my last day.

Man, I really like that place.

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The Adventures of Lycra Grrl: Touring to Clinton

“Hey, look at that bird!”

“A great blue heron!”

“My dad says they’re good luck.”

Indeed, we did have pretty good luck. Riding without a bike pump, we were tempting fate. But there were no flats on our four-hour ride to Clinton and back.

Sarah and I originally had planned a longer bike ride to Alberton on Adventure Saturday, which would have put us at 65 miles for the day. But the weather forecast predicted hot temperatures, so we set our sights on Clinton. No, not that Clinton—the town of Clinton, MT, about 20 miles east of Missoula.

We met at 9am at our office and started heading east. Our first short stop was so I could view what I had been calling “the gay wedding altar,” which ended up actually being a memorial to two teen girls killed in 2009. (Oops. My bad.) It was easily the most extensive roadside memorial I’d ever seen, with a cement patio, two benches, a decorative street lamp, pink petunias, metal artwork, and a large stone pulpit with their photos and story. After leaving Bonner/Milltown, we rode the adjacent multi-use path for a few miles, but then got back on the road until we got to Clinton. In Clinton, we hitched our iron steeds to the horse hitching post and visited the local market for refreshments.

This was the first time I got a close look at the unusual billboard outside Clinton, advertising their annual Testicle Festival. Another first: riding on a two-lane road with no shoulder that had a really high speed limit. Because there wasn’t much traffic I often found myself riding beside Sarah so we could chat as we rode. Gabbing away, just as I noticed an approaching car behind us I would try to fall back and—too late, they had already passed. The cars were going too fast for me to do onesie formation. I guess this is why people wear eyeglass mirrors. Fortunately since there was barely any traffic, all the cars passed us in the other lane, and only one gave a honk. Not even an aggressive honk. Maybe this rural road riding doesn’t have to be so bad after all.

The day brought a couple other discoveries. First: my sunscreen has been really useful this summer. How do I know? In my morning rush I hadn’t put it on, and I don’t tend to stop for such silly trifles on the road. Back at home I discovered my face was rather pink, my tan arms stung, and a clear line dividing cherry and porcelain skin was visible on my lower thighs.

The second discovery? Look at the photos: I thought the blue wicking shirt, being looser than a regular jersey, would be more flattering on my body. Nope! This is why being Lycra Grrl is kind of a big deal: as a person who does not have what people think of as a cyclists’ body, form-fitting clothes are scary. Sarah was wearing a skinsuit, and we talked a little about the Sweetpea Ladies’ Auxillary skinsuit. Her thoughts: Want it so much! But it’s so expensive. My thoughts: Uh, not even an option. Can’t even pull off lycra in a two-piece format!

Once we were approaching Missoula, Sarah suggested we race back to the office before the Saturday greeters closed up shop. Then we could get immortalized on the wall for our big tour. Paul and Tom had already locked the door, but they let us in anyway and shot our photo before heading out. Rather than partake of the free ice cream at the office we headed over to the Big Dipper on the other side of the river, where a helpful mother volunteered to memorialize our post-ride gluttony.

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