Tag Archives: Adventure Cycling Association

Three Reasons I Loved My Adventure Cycling Tour

ThreeReasonsILovedMyAdventureCyclingTourMy second guest blog post for Adventure Cycling Association went live a couple weeks ago. Three Reasons I Loved My Adventure Cycling Tour recalls my Oregon Coast bike trip last summer, encouraging other riders who may not have tried Adventure Cycling’s organized tours to give it a shot.

Over the last few months my time in the saddle has been nearly non-existent due to a new job and life obligations, but spring looks promising. In May I should be traveling to Wisconsin for a short bike respite with Amanda from Life Without Wheels, and hope it will provide some material for my third guest post for the organization.

Stay tuned!

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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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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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The Adventures of Lycra Grrl: Certified Excellence in Bicycle Touring

“There is a war in each of us against ourselves.” –Plato

The first thought that screamed through my head Saturday morning, about five seconds after opening my eyes: IT DOESN’T MATTER.

No matter how excited I may be to have slogged up a monster hill, to have ridden up to 55 miles in one day carrying camping gear and some group supplies, to have faced my worst case scenario on the road, already I could feel all my personal victories being squashed by others. To them, acquaintances who have had far greater victories, this would matter not one whit.

It put me in a mood for the better part of a day—but soon I remembered all the overwhelmingly supportive people on my trip, leaders and participants alike. I recalled all the coworkers I’ve helped become bike commuters over the years, and how everyone has to start somewhere. We all must ride our own ride.

Joyce had said going back to your daily life could be tough.

As a graduation present to myself I enrolled in Adventure Cycling Association’sIntro to Bike Touring” course, taught by Joyce Casey and Wally Werner. After doing a bit of extra hill/distance training the last couple weeks, on July 29th I headed south towards Eugene, Oregon. Another Portland-area participant, Terri, was gracious enough to offer a carpool, and we arrived at Fern Ridge Lake together.

Fern Ridge Lake, Eugene (Saturday Evening/Sunday/Monday)
Wildlife spotted: western grebes (even parents carrying babies on their backs!)

Fern Ridge Lake was the lovely setting for our first two-ish days of instruction and preparation. This lake is an enormous reservoir that was built by the Army Corps of Engineers just northeast of the city of Eugene, Oregon. It hosts both public and private entities on the shore. Around sunrise I would take a short walk down to the marina and listen to boats bobbing along the dock, their bells lightly clanking. Then I would attempt to get a better look at the grebes, who would dive and resurface 20 feet away. Guess they didn’t want to say hi to the wacky person following them around for a better look…

On Monday afternoon I helped the first meal team procure groceries in nearby Veneta. It was good to get a warmup bike ride! We encountered an uncourteous semi driver on the way to town, but that was the only bad automobile juju I was aware of during the entire trip. Soon enough I was hauling several(!) heavy cantaloupes back to our campsite.

Adventure Cycling does group meals and meal rotations, which I enjoyed. It was no problem that I had no cooking equipment—all I needed to do was allot 20% of my cargo capacity for group gear each day, and participate in one group meal rotation (dinner, breakfast/lunch). While I think each of our groups had too many cooks (har har), participating in the meal process was a very educational experience. Later I’ll be posting about The Humble Tupperware Container, which was another pre-trip revelation.

Just Get Up That Hill (Tuesday)
Wildlife spotted: red fox 

Early Tuesday morning, we set off. Our first stop was at The Sweet Spot in Monroe, OR, for a highly recommended second breakfast of Shirley’s cinnamon rolls. Sadly Shirley had forgotten to bake extra for our group that morning—but I nabbed one of the last! Then began the great slog.

It was fairly obvious why our route began with a big hill and a higher mileage day. The plan was clearly intentional. After all, we’d be fresh out of the gate. There was also a huge empowerment element in making it up this hill—a hill that I was nervous about. I vocalized my nervousness to anyone who would listen the previous evening. Terri and I talked through the day’s route for mental preparation, and I texted my mom who reminded me “you’re tough” and didn’t buy into my worry. (She never does!) I recalled a moment in Wild by Cheryl Strayed where she was in a pickle and decided that in the middle of nowhere you could either move forward or go back. Forward it was!

Our big climb started out shady and cool, but sunny patches closer to the top took their toll as the grade increased. Over the course of two miles we climbed from about 400′ up to 1,425′, with grades up to 8%, and only two or three of our group was able to make it to the top without walking at least a little. At one point I looked back to the other side of a hairpin curve I had just traversed, and everyone I saw through the trees was walking their bike. It was a tough climb.

Eventually we came to the town of Alsea. The evening’s meal group bought vegetables from a farmer whose place we biked by just before town, and goat cheese from Alsea Acre, which we also passed. They also purchased three (delicious) pies from the local cafe, and the owner offered to drive them to our campground for free! Kindnesses like this happened elsewhere and were one of the best aspects of the trip. In town I tarried a while on the front porch of the local market. Pushing towards our camping destination I visited the Hayden covered bridge, where the clear water beckoned me to go wading below.

Beach Beach Beach Beach Beach! (Wednesday)
Wildlife spotted: spouting whales

I had a fairly specific motivation to get me through each day of the trip, and Wednesday’s was getting to the beach! As soon as our morning map meeting was over I filled up my water bottle and headed out. As Joyce predicted, the hardest climb of the day was the short hill getting back to the highway from our campground, given we’d be on cold legs. Ocean calling, I tore to the front again, only stopping for some construction about seven miles outside of Waldport. The pause allowed me to eat my lunch as second breakfast, and by the time I was attempting to follow the pilot car through the one mile construction zone, Ross had caught up to me and we rode the rest of the way to Waldport together.

In Waldport, I managed to burn an hour and a half before I knew what had happened. First I visited the Alsea Bay Bridge Interpretive Center and spent a fair amount of time marveling at the ocean and sunny afternoon, then spent some time drinking a soda in front of a market with Tony. Eventually I decided to bike the last few miles to the state park we’d be staying at. Highway 101 mostly had a huge shoulder (except strangely, going up the small hill out of town) and it was far more enjoyable than some of the Highway 101 horror stories I’ve heard.

Even though my group had the meal rotation, I still managed to enjoy this location quite a bit—likely because it was our lowest mileage day of the trip. Not only did I nab a great spot for my tent, but I got to wade in the ocean, enjoy the sunny weather, and take a shower in the evening. Getting groceries back in Waldport and getting our dinner together in time was tricky, but somehow it all came together with panache. During cleanup, John pointed out there were whales spouting out in the ocean, and I was able to watch for a few minutes (no binoculars needed!) before getting back to things.

Sea Lion Caves! (Thursday)
Wildlife spotted: swimming sea lions

Our day’s travels would take us straight down Highway 101 to Florence, then inland about 15 miles. Highway 101 afforded us a scenic ride, which included many small climbs followed by downhills as we climbed up a cape, then rolled down to a small town. Our highest elevation of the day was 475′ at Sea Lion Caves, but the tunnel before that climb was pretty harrowing.

At the entrance to this tunnel, a push button turns a light on warning auto traffic there are cyclists inside. We were advised to take the lane because there is no shoulder in the tunnel. As soon as I entered and positioned myself, I heard what sounded like an enormous truck approaching behind me. It echoed throughout the tiled walls of the tunnel. I closed my eyes and hoped they would see me and slow down so I wouldn’t be squished. Clearly they did, but at the first opportunity after that tunnel I pulled over to take a few breaths since my hands were a bit shaky. As the truck passed, I saw it was one of those enormous Dodge pickups that are one small step under needing a CDL in order to drive. Yeeps!

At Sea Lion Caves I bought some postcards and eschewed the $12 elevator ride to the cave. A staff member told people that as it was breeding season the sea lions were out on the rocks anyhow. While futzing with my bike before leaving I noticed some birds way below, and realized they were following a few swimming sea lions, which I then got to watch for a moment before heading out.

After descending from Sea Lion Caves, Highway 101 got a lot less shady and the overcast morning had completely burned off. This made the rest of the way to Florence slightly less pleasant, and by the end of the day I was developing a sunburn. In Florence I ate a Gardenburger at Mo’s (we had been given $10 out of our meal budget to do so) and filled out postcards. After mailing said postcards at the post office and a quick bathroom break at the lovely Real Food Co-op (thanks again!) I headed inland.

The highway wasn’t terrific at first but the shoulder soon opened up to the width of an entire lane! A tailwind carried me quickly into Mapleton, where we were staying at the local RV park. And what an RV park! Our tents were 15 feet from the Siuslaw River, which beckoned us to come for an afternoon swim. I hung my legs off the dock while my now-sunscreened skin baked a little more. Others jumped off the dock into the river or floated on tubes. After coming back from the dock I discovered the shady back porch, noticed the Traeger barbecue embellished to look like a tractor, chatted with the owner, and luxuriated in some fine bathrooms and laundry facilities. None of our camp sites were that bad, but I had never stayed at an RV park and this was really nice.

That evening we had dinner in town at Frank’s Place as a last hurrah. Joyce awarded us certificates to commemorate our “excellence in bicycle touring.” She then noted the next day’s forecasted heat (95 degrees) and decided to push our morning up an hour, making our map meeting at 7am instead of 8am. Oy. We all went to bed nice and early.

Home! (Friday)
Wildlife spotted: a family of deer (two fawns and mom) crossing the Siuslaw River

Besides traveling largely by myself, one of the ways I got enough alone time each day was by waking up fairly early. This meant setting my alarm for 4am on Friday. When I opened my tent the river was draped in fog, illuminated only by the fluorescent light on the dock. Walking around that morning, mist dampened my clothes.

When I left the RV park shortly after our 7am map meeting, I had tea in my water bottle. According to my TransAm map (we were now on the alternate route of Section 1!) we would soon be in Swisshome, a full-service town where I could get some water. So I drank most of my tea before it went cold. What I hadn’t budgeted on was that the markets in Swisshome and subsequent towns wouldn’t be open that early on a Friday! So I ended up making the first climb of the day with no water, and only about 1/4 cup of tea available to me. Oops. Imagine my delight then when I arrived at the open market at Triangle Lake, where the owner offered me ice water with my purchase.

Again on this day I was in the front our group, but after reapplying sunscreen and drinking my soda at Triangle Lake, I realized Todd had left ahead of me. This trip taught me that I’m a carrot rider (a goal or reward keeps me pressing forward)—so catching up with Todd became my goal for the next few hours. I summited our next climb, Low Pass (1022′) fairly quickly, and pulled into Low Pass Market after a shady descent.

At first I asked the women sitting in front if Todd had been through and how long ago that was. When they estimated he was 10 minutes ahead of me, I decided to stop for another soda. After others arrived, I took off but was now feeling a thump, thump, thump as my wheels turned.

“If I don’t look down, I don’t have a flat!” my brain bargained.

But I needed to look down. And there it was. My worst case scenario made real. (Although in my brain it is happening in a cold downpour, and I am alone.)

Turning back to the market, I asked if I could borrow anyone’s frame pump. Dan graciously loaned me his, and I started tearing gear off my bike, hyper-focused on what needed to happen. It wasn’t that bad—Sweetpea’s first flat delayed me only another 10-15 minutes, and I took care of it completely by myself. VICTORY WAS MINE! TAKE THAT, BRAIN! My worst case scenario didn’t seem nearly as dreadful as it once had.

After the victory of the flat change, my spirits took a little dive. At this point the afternoon was getting quite warm and we were heading back into the unshaded farmland of the Willamette Valley. (Lesson: if you get a flat on a hot day, fix it in the shade—not on asphalt next to a bright white concrete building.) Once when I stopped to turn my iPhone on to see if I had missed my turn (I hadn’t), I received a disappointing email. I was less than 10 miles from being done with this trip, but my motivation was waning. Joyce was right: one’s attitude can make a big difference.

Dan wasn’t far behind me, so we ended up riding back to Eugene together. We passed the campground where the trip had started, and pressed on to the airport, where the group’s vehicles were in long-term parking. The land was mostly flat and uninteresting, it was hot, and we had a bit of a headwind.

After pulling into the airport and putting my things in Terri’s van I attempted to use the shade of her car to protect my burned skin. After a few goodbyes to the other early finishers, we stopped for a cool drink and headed back towards Portland.

Would I Do It Again?

One of the first questions my mom asked was, would I do it (a multi-day bike trip) again? After a week meditating on it, I still don’t have a definitive answer to that question.

It seems there is an expectation that I should instantly be over the moon about bike touring. No—I haven’t been writing “HA + BIKE TOURING 4EVA” with hearts all over my science notebook, or planning my round-the-world honeymoon bike trip after I become Mrs. Biketouring. It often takes me some time to fully warm up to a thing (see also: Napoleon Dynamite, pickles, tofu), and it seems the things I am instantly enamored of are the things I soon can’t stand (see the hobo scene in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure for a cinematic demonstration). We should be glad I don’t want to be Mrs. Biketouring.

Make no mistake though. Despite that Saturday morning brain crash, I definitely enjoyed myself.

Our leaders and participants were superb. Everyone on the trip was really interesting, and I enjoyed getting to chat with people individually when I rode beside them. We had an organic blueberry farmer, an ER doctor, a psychiatrist, two college professors (one retired), an ex-postal worker, a middle school principal, two cancer survivors… Our participants lived in North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, California, Washington, and Oregon. Our leaders Joyce and Wally had superb leadership skills and a comedy team rapport that kept everyone chuckling. I really enjoyed riding mostly alone, but having the safety net of the group and leaders should I need it.

In the end, whether I’d do another bike trip would highly depend on the particulars—especially the participants and group dynamic.

It could happen!

Check out my Intro to Bike Touring photos on Flickr.

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A Bikish Graduation Present

If you read my other blog Bookish, you may know that I’ve been diligently working on my MPub project report (aka thesis) since January 1st.

Publishing to Inspire: The Role of Publications at Adventure Cycling Association examines why Adventure Cyclist, the member magazine of Adventure Cycling Association, is so unique among member publications, and vital to the non-profit’s operations.

About 24 hours ago I got the seal of approval from the last of my committee members, meaning I just need to deliver the thing to Vancouver BC between now and April 27th.

The work was particularly rough this week, but between the meltdowns and the hours of editing, I got myself a little graduation present. This summer I’m going to be taking the Intro to Road Touring class with Adventure Cycling Association!

Determined to complete school this term, I decided that this trip would be a good graduation gift to reward months of hard work. The trip will be a new challenge and a great opportunity to learn. A vacation that will edge me out of my comfort zone. Given everything I’ve been through in the last year and a half though, I’m not certain there’s much left outside that comfort zone.

A particularly exciting aspect of this trip is that I’ll be learning from the best. Adventure Cycling Association held their annual Leadership Training Course in Missoula last year during my internship—I was very impressed about how they run the course, which is just the first step to becoming a paid trip leader for the organization. The course directs leaders in building teamwork and camaraderie among a group of strangers, so every single person on Adventure Cycling trips feels like an equally valid group member whether they’re a newbie or veteran. I even had the pleasure last summer of chatting with the woman who runs the trip I’ll be taking—I felt instantly at ease with her, trusted her abilities, and saw eye-to-eye with her on some important issues.

It took me several months to sign up for the trip—my monetary situation is extremely tight these days. But now that I’ve enrolled, I’ve already started dreaming of doing some shorter trips independently in order to start expanding some of my skills. Increase my confidence. Get back to what drew me to bicycling as an adult in the first place—exploration of the world around me, on my own terms.

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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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Portrait of a Disheveled Intern

Sunday evening the water heater in my house died. I made the discovery Monday morning, when my attempts to take a shower were thwarted by the complete lack of even lukewarm water. After trying to troubleshoot the problem, I looked at the time and resigned myself to having a braids day.

The problem hadn’t been resolved by this morning. But I couldn’t suffer another day! So I packed up soap, conditioner, deodorant, a towel, and other shower supplies in one pannier, and a set of clean clothes in the other (just in case the soap tried to mess up my work wear). After zipping up my rain jacket, strapping on my messenger bag, and fastening my helmet, I was on my way to work a half-hour early.

When I arrived I felt sheepish about my grimy hair, wearing yesterday’s pants, sporting unsubtle and uncoordinated colors, and carrying way too much stuff for a one mile trip to the office. Of course as luck would have it, the office shower was already in use. I started walking toward my desk to put down my messenger bag and kill some time.

It was at this point—and you’d understand if you had met him that it could only be at this point—that ACA co-founder Greg Siple walked up behind me and wanted to take one of his cyclists portraits of me. With all the gear and everything. Despite the fact that I am not a touring cyclist—just an extremely overpacked intern.

But I had some time to kill before the shower was free, so I agreed. While I refastened my panniers, unlocked Sweetpea and wheeled her around to the back of the building, Greg started unfurling the backdrop he uses for these portraits, taken in front of the loading dock of the building. Normally he does portraits during the afternoon when the sun is positioned better, but mine was done on a very gray, almost drizzly, morning.

Hey. I’m an Oregonian. We do things in the rain.

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