Sunday, August 27

ECT ride along the Oregon Coast

The Exchange Cycle Tours is currently traveling on it's most impressive Oregon Coast trip. They are traveling the entire Oregon Coast, and I was privilaged enough to join them on the first leg of the journey in Astoria. We had a good sized group of 5 people including Steve, Jack, Ryan and Larry (who owns Bad Boys Bike Shop). Once our bikes were loaded up, we took off across Miles crossing which was a great deal safer than Young's Bay Bridge (which is not recommended).
We then traveled through some nice coastal floodplains before taking a visit to the Fort Clatsop state Park. After mistakenly stopping at the parking lot, we headed up to the park itself which was very nice and clean looking. The fort looked incredibly good considering the recent fire. It was almost completely rebuilt, and stood as an exemple of the real American spirit (which has recently been basterdized for political gain). These were the actual conditions our pioneers lived in, and their simple existance examplified a number of lifestyle decisions which modern Americans could embrace to reduce the hardships which will otherwise be endured by the next generation (such as a minimal building footprint). But I digress.
We left along Louis & Clark Rd and traveled south along the same route that the Hood to Coast convoy was using. I would normally have been very unhappy with the large amount of traffic which we were subjected to. However what stood out in my experience, was that every single vehicle passed us at least a meter of space (1). Given that the most frustrating aspect of traffic is the uncertainty in a driver's ability to safely pass, this was a singular experience for me. I've never traveled in heavy traffic without having to keep a sharp eye on other vehicles. Add to that many of the hilarious logos that some vans were sporting ("running from our kids", "coastal whine") and it was about as pleasant as traveling down Clinton.
While cycling along this road, we met up with Daryl who was cycling along the same road. Daryl told us of his previous feet to cycle the entire Oregon coastal route in one day. It sounded like an incredible journey, and he certainly looked like he was in shape enough to do so again. This is one of the many reasons why I love cycling so much. Like jogging, the lack of enclosure allows for great sharing with other people who might have otherwise remained strangers.
When we rejoined Hwy 101 the regular vacationing traffic resumed. As we headed into Seaside, the traffic was backed up for about 2 miles. This often brings me to wonder what people think as we pass. Do they feel envy, awe, jealousy? Do they feel gratitude that we on our bikes are reducing the traffic problem? Unfortunately I have little faith that they are aware of such benefits.
We stopped in for lunch at Seaside and I chatted with the shop owner about how the Hood to Coast event affects the city. Was the increased traffic more problematic? Or was it offset by the money that the event brings. She seemed to feel quite positive that the benefits of the run and the business it brings overshadows the traffic problem. Other people who I talked to ranged from neutral to negative. Apparently there's no consensus on the matter.
After a great lunch, we picked up some maps and headed out of Seaside (past more traffic) and out along the marvelous coastal scenery. Many of the areas we passed through reminded me of the Palos Verdes coast. We passed some great locations, like Hug Point and Pizza Cove. I got a fun shot of Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach before we headed back into the hills. At the Rockwork lookout we took some group shots and the panorama was amazing. No photograph could capture the awesome scale of the mountains we had surmounted.

We continued on through some great mountain country and everyone trooped through the hills well despite many comments of being out of shape. Touring is not something that a person has to be at a high fitness level for. Bike touring is an activity which builds strength over time, and encourages slow inhalation of the countryside.
We headed into Nehalem towards evening with plenty of time to get set up for the night. The road to the campsite was very depressing. A huge section of forestland had been demolished in order to expand the local dump. The whole area had been devastated. We even had a small spill on one of the sharp turns coming towards the park. There was however some contrast within the Nehalem Bay State Park where we traveled through a marvelous 8 meter wide road through the woods. It was similar to the roads around Mt Hood in peacefulness and beauty. We checked in and got to our campsite where everyone set up their tent and got things laid out. I was so excited to see other cycling campers there that I made some attempts to socialize with the other campers. The campsites were great in that there was a large sandbox for each tent. It was incredibly comfy to lay on.
Our group then went out to dinner at Wandas, a great local restaurant which was obviously reaping the benefits of the thriving tourist market. The food was great and I had a good time.
When we returned, we saw Gary who was riding his beautiful recumbent south from Astoria. He'd been riding along Hwy 101 with us for a stretch, and it was great to see that he'd made it nicely. The next morning I waited for everyone to pack up and looked on in amazement at what's considered 'normal' recreation. Apparently it involves no less than one vehicle, a trailer, and possibly a motorhome. I wonder how many millions of dollars our state parks could save (for use protecting wild areas and building trails) if the money didn't have to be spent on asphalt and concrete. I talked a bit with Gary about recumbents and the 'tecky' aspects of bicycling.
When we got to Wanda's later that morning, we found that Gary had saved us a table at the overpacked restaurant. This was a perfect example of how wonderful life can be when people have a lifestyle which is amenible to socializing.
For breakfast I had french toast with fresh blackberries. The important point is that the berries were my harvest from the bushes that grew along the path. Americans have so much to benefit from the huge amount of edible flora that grows all over.
We traveled out of Nehalem on on Rt 101 and saw the most beautiful scenery of the trip on this stretch of road. As soon as we left town the views became incredible. Even with the weather changing from foggy to clear in a matter of minutes, there was always something to look at.
We stopped in Garibaldi and saw a museum before heading on to Tillamook. Here we stopped at the cheese factory and saw the amazing plethora of yummy foods produced right here in Oregon. After the tour I departed company with the group and headed on along Rt 6 back to Portland. Thanks to Jeff Smith (of PDOT fame) I had pre-printed maps of the route back to Forest Grove (and public transit access).
The roads through the coastal range provide an amazing contrast. The scenery is undoubtedly the best scenery in the area, with thick forests, undulating hillsides, and gushing rivers. However the roads are thick with motorhomes, and trucks pulling ATVs during the most beautiful time of year. Near the summit I stopped at a perfect little alcove with a waterfall providing the most delicious water that I've ever tasted.
With time running short, I pushed my legs hard to reach west Portland before nightfall. So it was with huge relief that I passed the summit at 450 meters and headed downhill to Forest Grove. I stopped quickly for directions and some food from a local store, then continued east through some gorgeous farm country. Providence shined upon me when I found a great little niche by a field with some overgrown orchards. I had a great desert of blackberries and watched twilight fade into a marvelous star-filled sky.
The Oregon Coast is definately a great scenic destination, but you want to search out the less vehicle-centric locations in order to truly enjoy it's majesty.

1 I use metric measurements to encourage understanding of international units of measure

Monday, August 21

Cycle to Snowline

Trillium Lake and Timberline Lodge

Over the past weekend I went out with the Exchange Cycle Tours on a ride to Trillium Lake. We left Gresham early enough to have enough time out there. After departing from the Gresham MAX station, we left via the Springwater Corridor, and rode through Boring before connecting with Hwy 26. [It's best to avoid connecting with Rt 26 for as long as you can, because it's quite unpleasant until the road narrows to 2 lanes near Zigzag.]

It was in this area that we experienced the one flat tire of the trip. Given the distance and road conditions, that was quite fortuitous. The ride alternated between unpleasant conditions with minimal roadside space, and wonderful conditions with shade trees growing alongside the road.

After Lolo Pass Rd, the route began to climb and the views grew more impressive. We had great views of the mountains, and took many more rest stops as the grade became steeper. While I don't have photos to describe it, we had the amazing experience of cycling through a storm of butterflys in the area. All around us were white or orange butterflys floating along the roadside. This is one experience that auto-dependants are unlucky enough to miss out on. It brings me such joy to see these animals fluttering a few inches in front of me.

It became worrisome, as the afternoon waned, if we would make it to our destination before nightfall. With the sun beginning to set while we were still in Government Camp, the situation became more disconcerting. However we didn't lose our composure. We had lights, and the traffic was minimal so late in the evening. After getting dinner, we rode through the twilight towards Trillium Lake. By staying together and riding responsibly, there were no problems.

The only bad news was that all the auto-dependants had raced ahead and consumed all the camping spots in the campground by the time we arrived. At first I was unhappy about this. However while we rode around the camp access road, it became clear that camping amongst a sea of motor homes would have been no vacation. It felt more like cycling through a trailer park than a national park. In my opinion, the whole reason to make the excursion so far from the city, is to get away from the motorized public. We therefore cycled down the road and found a nearly deserted camping spot by a dirt road, and had a fairly peaceful evening.

In the morning Steve set up an impromptu stove and with a single match, had breakfast cooking on it. Not everyone of course was so bright eyed. I had been working hard the day before sharing in the bikey fun, and therefore was a bit less chipper.

After cleaning up the camp, we headed to Trillium Lake which is amazingly majestic. Thankfully due to the ban on motor boats, we had a mostly peaceful morning swimming and enjoying the views. Then once the urban campers began filing in, we headed out on the return trip.

But when we reached Timberline Hwy, we caught site of the zoobombers. For those of you who don't know zoobombing, it means using small BMX bikes to ride down a steep descent at ridiculously high speeds. While they caught rides with sympathetic drivers, we hauled ourselves up the last 600 meters (2000ft) to Timberline Lodge. I wasn't at first excited about the climb; but the rest of the group was willing, and I have little trouble climbing hills since I do it every day. So we headed up the road, making our way slowly toward the top. The effort was more than worth it when we reached Timberline and found ourselves within walking distance of the snowline (at 1800m). It was unbelievable to have a snowball fight in August, knowing we had reached such an elevation with muscle power alone.

Being a bicycle commuter at the top of Mt. Hood does make a person feel like an outsider. After all, the chances of meeting any other bicycle advocate was near zero. So it was with utter amazement that I see the revered Reverend at Timberline. [Rev Phil is an unusual member of Portland's SHIFT community. He has hosted numerous bike-movie events, and he also plays a leading role in zoobomb] While I have never been a fan or advocate for such extremism, I gained new respect and some sympathy for the group after hanging out with them at Timberline. Not only were they very impressed and courtious to us, they even offered to trade bikes with us for the descent. I thought that was a big offer on their part. Especially since they make the effort to come all the way out to Mt. Hood in order to ride these low-slung bikes which offer less aerodynamic drag. So the three of us joined them on their next run down the mountain and while I didn't break any speed records, the crew apparently hit 40mph on the descent. I was also impressed that the group was so amicable given I had hardly topped 25mph. It's great to live in a community where people from very diverse backgrounds can share great bikey experiences. [I later heard that the bombers had been struck by a murderous group while traveling at high speed on the same road which our group had traveled. I compare this with someone who would hurl a stick into the spokes of a motorcycle because they see it as offensive.]

After leaving the bombers at Government Camp, we continued on our uneventful trip back to Portland. While the trip up there took almost 9 hours, the trip back took about 3 1/2.

For those who feel that a 60 mile ride would be daunting, there is the option of taking the MAX to Gresham, and hoping on the free Sandy Area Metro to Sandy. This cuts the trip by 1/3 leaving plenty of time to climb the elevation to Government Camp.

Thursday, August 17

Bridge Pedal Couch-in

While participating in discussions during Elly's Carfree meeting, I brought up the idea of mimicking street reclamations such has been done by Micheal Rakowitz and the Rebar collective. The concept was to bring a living room to the bridge pedal route and show what streets could be like if cars were not consuming such a large amount of space.

Since I was going to be traveling to places where there was only one available mode (the bicycle) my plan was to use the schlepper II and glean from the concept of the bike move to bring a living room to the highway.

For those who haven't experienced bike trailer usage, it can range the gamut from simply loading some items into a child trailer to more impressive feats of bike haulage. In carrying large items like a bed or a couch, certain skills are required. You have to use a larger turning radius, give more room to stop (and avoid it if possible), put the bike into granny gear before accelerating from a stop, and don't go too fast on the descents.

Early in the morning I loaded up the trailer with a couch, rug, small table, lounge chair, and a wall painting. I headed towards downtown, and trucked the load up to the Ross Island Bridge. I was a little nervous that the police or ride organizers would give me a hard time about being in the way of traffic, but amazingly there was nothing but support. I set up the living room and waved to the cyclists passing by. Despite being on a descent, there was still a lot of connections made. At least half the riders passing by waved, smiled, or offered positive comments.

It was interesting to see the Ross Island Bridge filled with all modes of transport. There were two eastbound lanes of traffic, one westbound lane full of bicyclists, and one lane of regular bus traffic. The road was noticably quieter, and the unpleasant smell of exhaust was barely perceptible.

Since I had placed myself on a downhill portion, I was afraid that nobody would stop. But it was great to see that Maurice had stopped in to chat and share the couch. She actually became the spokesmodel when a local reporter stopped in to take a shot of us.
After that Helen, who was waiting for her husband, stopped and relaxed in the 'living room' while I thanked people for riding and encouraged them to ride every day (it would have been easier with Jeff's bullhorn). We chatted about why I was here, how I managed to get a couch onto the bridge, and she definately came away with a different point of view.
I also got to chat with Steven Kung from Exchange Cycle Tourswho rode bridge pedal as part of the weekly Sunday rides.

After that Jeff Manning from The Oregonian had a seat on the couch and interviewed me for an article that he was writing on Bridge Pedal. It was amazing to get so much publicity for such a simple event. Hopefully the trend continues and we have a continuously increasing amount of bikes in print.

Interestingly enough there was a huge amount of traffic building up on the eastbound side just as Bridge Pedal was ending. While I loaded the trailer, it became clear what had happened. Due to one single car being stalled on the bridge, the entirety of the traffic stream was backed up for 1/2 mile. I was completely amazed at the amount of delay that could be caused by only one person.

This set the stage for the next half hour. Traffic resumed on the westbound side of the bridge, and I got my vehicle ready to go. I don't know if any warning was given, I saw a few cyclists trapped on the bridge with cars zooming by around 10am. Fortunately with my HUGE mass, I was able to safely prevent cars from traveling in the right lane, which left the lane free for these folks. One mom riding with her son almost rode onto the highway entrance, since she was obviously unused to traveling through Portland on her bike. I guided her over to 1st ave which is a bikeable route to downtown and stayed behind her until we reached the esplanade.

All in all the publicity was great, the outreach was fantastic, and it was a completely successful event. I look forward to more successful public outreach events like this one along with my companions in the bike community.
Yea bikes!

Diagonal Crossing

The most innovative example of transportation planning which I've been blessed to enjoy in Portland is the diagonal bike signal installed at the northern terminus of the Eastbank Esplanade. Formally cyclists leaving the path had to carefully negotiate around right-turning vehicles, even when the light was green.

With the installation of the signal, a loop in the sidewalk activates a bike-only green signal and traffic in both directions is halted which provides a safe crossing for pedestrians and cyclists. Given the heavy use by cyclists traveling between the eastbank esplanade and the Rose Quarter, this is a well appreciated safety solution.