Portland Snow with Pixie

I made a fairly last-minute decision to head down to Portland for the weekend with Pixie. Then I made an even-more-last-minute decision to take my mountain bike instead of my Surly Straggler, thinking the knobby 26″ x 1.95″ tires would be better than the 700c x 38 mm slick but supple Barlow Pass Compass Tires on my Straggler because Portland is absolutely covered in snow. I found a pet-friendly Airbnb that was close-in so I wouldn’t have to do too much biking and could ditch the bike and walk if need be.

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All my photos are here: Portland snow with Pixie – January 13-15, 2017 – 105 photos, 2 videos

Mountain bike as travel bike
I stayed up late after the kids were asleep Wednesday night to transfer the bags I keep on my road bike to pretend it’s a travel bike to my old GT I-Drive 2.0 mountain bike to pretend it’s a travel bike. I used to mountain bike (very poorly) in San Diego occasionally, but these days this bike mostly gathers dust in the basement. It comes out for our very occasional snow (like biking in 2012’s snowmageddon) and for my first mountain biking in 10 years last summer (still extremely slow and cautious, but super fun!)

The Carradice Bagman Quick Release Support went on easily, but the KLICKfix mount for my Swift Industries Paloma Handlebar Bag is sized for my road bike bars covered in bar tape so I shimmed it with lots and lots of old inner tube. [NOW I know inner tube should not be used as a shim.] I also swapped out my clipless pedals for flats and took a little Knog Blinder light from one of the kids’ bikes to put on my fork since I couldn’t fit anything else on the bars with the Portland Pogies handlebar mittens on. I brought my CygoLight in case I could figure out where to mount it (with plenty of spare old inner tube, of course).

On Thursday I took a shakedown ride to REI. This meant my mountain bike visited the I-5 Colonnade Mountain Bike Park for the first time! I didn’t do any mountain biking because it’s too technical for me. But I took a picture:

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I also didn’t ride the gravel test track at REI. I guess technically I was test riding a bike (just not one of their bikes), but I was also in a hurry and only there on an errand.

The front bag worked great! The pedals stayed on! The rear bag, however… It looks like there’s a lot of clearance between the rack and tire, but that rear shock is really squishy.

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As I pedaled home and heard rubbing over each unnoticed bump (tiny bumps, even!) it occurred to me that I’ve heard the phrase “lock out one’s shock” so I Googled that when I got home, but it turns out I don’t have that kind of shock. I considered taking my Straggler after all, but decided to pack even lighter than I was already forced to pack (handlebar bag + saddle bag is a lot smaller than two large panniers) and cinch the bag around the middle with a John’s Irish Strap. This helped on the tiny bumps a lot. And getting out of the saddle for medium and big bumps worked for those. There was still a bit of rubbing here and there on bumps I failed to notice ahead of time.

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Once I loaded the front bag with lots of stuff–that’s my laptop in a cloth diapering dry bag (waterproof! I use this large size for swim suits) cargo netted on top of the bag–the bag started to droop. Fortunately I didn’t notice this until I got off the train in Portland so I wasn’t worried about it for the long train ride.

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First thing Saturday morning I hit the closest bike shop, Crank, to see if they had something better than inner tubes for me. Justin was SO NICE and instructed me that inner tubes should never be used as shims (shh, I’m still gonna use them for little things like bells) and found an old mount that uses the same sort of brackets and installed those.

So now my bike was sorted. Without the Straggler’s front basket, Pixie was forced to travel in her Timbuk2 Muttmover backpack the whole trip. This was probably better considering the slippery snow.

Amtrack Coast Starlight vs. Amtrak Cascades part two/Amtrak with pet part two
I recently took my first Amtrak Coast Starlight trip and compared it to Amtrak Cascades. I gleaned a bit more information about the Coast Starlight and about traveling with pets.

First: you get two seats when you travel with a pet! I thought it was an accident on the way down, but on the way back the conductor told me that it’s for safety since there’s no legroom with the pet down there (not so if the pet is in one’s lap, of course, but them’s the rules so I got an empty seat next to me each way). Reading Amtrak’s All Aboard, Pets page, it looks like perhaps that’s only an Amtrak Cascades thing and maybe the extra seat on the way down shouldn’t have been.

Second: Coast Starlight will bring food to you! From the Coast Starlight webpage:

“…Just-for-You Express Meal Service, where coach passengers can select from a limited daily menu featuring specially priced, freshly prepared lunch and dinner selections with the convenience of at-seat delivery.”

This is especially great when traveling with a pet, although earlier I stuck her in the backpack to walk to the cafe for a coffee. The lunch this day was a BLT with chocolate chip cookie and bottled water (and easy enough to skip the bottled water and utensils to cut down on trash/recycling).

Snow
Obviously, I’m not a regular snowbiker/icebearder so this is not the place for all things biking in snow.

I have only one interesting observation: fighting to stay upright on a mountain bike in unpacked snow is not unlike stubbornly refusing to put a foot down while inching along behind two circuitous toddlers on balance bikes on a cargo bike in gravel.

So the snowy snow felt familiar, but I still hate ice. I slipped and fell to the ground once on Saturday. After that I successfully hopped clear of my tipping bike three times. Pixie was unscathed and seemed not to even notice my fall and jumps.

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I got a bit better at recognizing surfaces too icy to ride over, but I still fell a few times on Sunday, too. The first I went down hard on my elbow and expect to see a nice bruise soon. That was as I realized I was on a hill (steeper than the very slight icy downhill that felled me so many times the day before) that had turned from snow on top of ice to just ice and as I VERY VERY SLOWLY applied my brakes to dismount and walk, down I went. But I got pretty good at choosing spots to slow to a stop and get off to walk. Walking isn’t easy on the ice, either, but using the mountain bike as a outrigger to help balance made it a lot easier. I never fell while walking the bike, but I got off the ice as quickly as I could (and by quickly I mean very slowly, but via the most direct route).

Sunday was slushier than Saturday, but there was also more ice. Most my falls were on sheets of glassy ice, but running up against the icy edges of ruts was wobble inducing, too.

All weekend people kept talking about Seattle’s snow plows having come down to Portland to help plow the roads. I didn’t much evidence of plowed roads, though. I think the streets too busy for me to ride on were plowed, but that didn’t mean they were clear of snow as this non-snow-experienced visitor would have expected, rather the snow was packed down much more in the roads than it was on the sidewalks.

If I lived somewhere snowy, I’d love to have a set of studded snow tires. Of course I can’t say that I’d bike as often in the winter if it was snowy. It’s still faster than walking and more reliable than transit (the bus app in Portland temporary replaced “minutes away” with “distance away” since it’s impossible to predict in these conditions) so I have a feeling I’d stick with biking. I certainly wouldn’t want to drive in these conditions–eek!

I really didn’t ride much either day: 5.8 miles on Saturday and 7.9 miles on Sunday (divided into three trips: 4.4 miles + 1.5 miles + 2 miles). Had the streets been clear, I would have done more stuff, but for a last-minute trip and tiring snow, this was just perfect.

One cold-weather thing I think I finally got figured out is keeping my phone running. I keep my iPhone 5s in a LifeProof case at all times (waterproof and shockproof for those of us who have dropped phones in toilets and on hard cement) and attach it to my handlebars with a LifeProof Bike + Bar Mount so I can listen to the Google Maps app tell me where to go. My previous phone, an iPhone 4s worked better in the cold and would shut off when the battery was at 20% on very cold days. This phone seems to do the same at 50% battery. It seems to work slightly better if it’s doing something–like giving me directions or playing music. But keeping it plugged into an external battery (I have a RAVPower Deluxe that has a little built-in flashlight I’ve never used other than accidentally turning it on and blinding myself, but it might come in useful someday) kept me running all weekend.

Portland Activities

And just to give a shout-out to all the fun places I visited, here’s what we did…

As previously mentioned, I started Saturday with a visit to Crank. This is a great bike shop! Lots of cool bikes, including Public Bikes in adult and kid sizes. And a dad came in with an Islabikes that needed its rear wheel trued from excessive jumping and skidding (that sounds familiar!). Also exciting was my happening to be in on the day of the soft opening of pop-up in-store coffee by Foxy Coffee Company. Great coffee and the best hot chocolate. Look for them popping up all around Portland.

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Next up I went to Clever Cycles to meet up with friends. While there I got a Problem Solvers Handlebar Accessory Mount like I’ve seen on a friend’s bars to get her light up above her Paloma bag. It was nice to have it on the mountain bike for this trip, but it’s really for using on my road bike once home.

Kath met me with her daughter on her Bike Friday Haul-a-Day midtail and my best-friend-from-when-I-was-little-who-moved-to-Portland-a-year-ago-yay! Miwa came by bus from her southwest Portland neighborhood. We walked our bikes a couple blocks to Lardo because it has a big heated tent where Pixie was welcome. And it’s delicious!

We left our bikes there and walked a few blocks to Upper Left Roasters (because they’re at the upper left corner of Ladd’s Addition, says Kath). I had the special, a maple turmeric latte, to combat the tiredness brought on by being out in the cold. The cold is really sapping my energy this winter! I don’t remember it being so bad in the past, but I’m sure I’ve just blocked it out for survival’s sake.

Miwa hopped back on the bus and Kath bravely led the way to Rivelo. No falls, but we had to walk in some deep sections and over rails. I love Rivelo. I picked up some more John’s Irish Straps because they’re great for everything, including giving away to friends, so I don’t have enough to hold all my stuff on. They also have two sets of Portland Pogies, the handlebar mittens I like so much. And several signed copies of my book, Urban Cycling: How to Get to Work, Save Money, and Use Your Bike for City Living.

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Did I mention the cold makes me tired? I got home at 6 and was done for the day. I thought about calling in a to-go order at bike-friendly (and with dog-friendly outdoor heated seating, too!) Pambiche Cocina & Repostería Cubana around the corner, but I couldn’t even muster the energy for that. Packing light meant I didn’t have snacks for 20, but I still had snacks for me so I survived the evening without outside food.

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On Sunday I started my day with a snowy ride to The Bridgetown Bagel Company tucked inside Rose City Food Park because the photos of the bagels looked delicious and the food park is dog friendly:

“Rose City Food Park also welcomes dogs, big and small, with plenty of space for walking, potty break and fresh water bowls.”

It was too cold to stay and eat more than a couple bites on site, but we’ll be back after the thaw.

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Since I was close to Velo Cult bike shop/bar/coffee shop I swung by to take a picture of my bike by the mural, even though they weren’t open yet. This would have been the perfect place to bring Pixie Saturday night (with food brought in from a nearby take-out place) had the streets been clear.

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Then after packing up and checking out, back to Lardo with Kath–because I didn’t know of a similarly warm Pixie-friendly place, but mostly because I couldn’t stop thinking about the grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup Miwa had the day before.

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In nice weather I would take one of my favorite two bridges and a trail to get to the train station: either Eastblank Esplanade to Steel Bridge or Tilikum Crossing to Waterfront Park Trail, but I doubted the trails would be passable so I opted for the Hawthorne Bridge and Naito Parkway. It was OK–mostly slush and some ice. The bikeway/walkway over the bridge the salted and clear (well, half of it).

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Things were really slushy downtown…from more cars and buses? There were even some proper puddles to ride through.

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It was a wonderful visit and this small dose of snow was fun, but I’m happy to be home in warmer Seattle. Next up for Portland is thawing and flooding. Good luck!

Family Bike Camping at Manchester State Park (but not on Sunday)

I found a bike camping spot easier (sort of) to get to than our old favorite Fay Bainbridge Park & Campground–welcome to Manchester State Park.

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It’s flat and calm enough that the kids rode their own bikes camping for the first time ever! There are three considerations, though:

  1. The second of two ferries doesn’t run on Sundays
  2. The elevator to the second ferry doesn’t fit long bikes
  3. The second ferry is too small for big groups

Comparing briefly to Fay Bainbridge:

We took two trips this past summer so we’re not total pros, but we learned quite a bit.
All my photos are here:

For comparison, here’s the photo album from a trip to Fay Bainbridge from this past summer:

This two-ferry, never-on-a-Sunday route isn’t the only way to get to Machester State Park. One can also take the 40-minute Fauntleroy-Southworth Ferry. I made this longer-but-simpler trip two summers ago to camp with a dozen other adults. It’s a 17-mile ride to get to the ferry (versus 6 to the Seattle Ferry Terminal). Once off the Southworth Ferry, it’s 7.6 miles of rolling hills. It’s hard for me to imagine how those hills would feel with passengers and/or more gear, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed them…and I’m pretty sure the kids would have hated them. Side note: we’ve biked/water taxied to Lincoln Park (by the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal) as a family once, but deemed it too far away so we haven’t been back in six years.

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machester-bikes

For our first Manchester State Park family bike camping trip, a Thursday to Friday, I rode the Big Dummy and the kids rode their own bikes–each with two little panniers containing sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and small camp pillow. They were not a fan of riding with panniers so they only carried them a mile to Gas Works Park where we started our day with #coffeeoutsideforher.

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My cargo bags were packed full, but the four panniers fit atop my deck. I made a deal with the kids that I’d carry the panniers, but they’d have to ride the whole way because it would be difficult to squeeze them and their bikes on my bike with the extra stuff. (Totally not true, of course I could have carried the whole show on my bike, but they fell for it and never asked to be carried!)

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The Bremerton route allows bikes to ride aboard, just like Bainbridge. Super fun!

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This is the same ferry we took for family bike camping at Illahee State Park, by the way. But rather than climb climb climb four miles to the campground, we biked the equivalent of one flat city block to the foot ferry. This was where I ran into trouble because the foot ferry is accessed by 17 steps or a small elevator.

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I carried the kids’ 18- and 20-pound bikes down the stairs and a foot ferry employee very kindly helped me get my 75-pound (plus gear) bike upright in the elevator. (Mind you, this was all after initially freaking out and trying to convince the kids we should hit Illahee instead.)

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The foot ferry is small, but it was possible to maneuver the Big Dummy aboard.

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This was our first time in Port Orchard and it looks adorable, but we didn’t linger to explore before heading for the park. Bay Street and Beach Drive are both flat and have a great coastal views. Two-lane roads aren’t my favorite, but we didn’t see many cars. Most of the way had shoulders and the few cars that passed us gave us a lot of leeway.

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There was a bit of climbing once we left the coast, but at least this was in the shade. Then it flattened out just before the hill into the park and THERE ARE CAMELS AND HORSES next door. The kids were too hot and tired to appreciate the camels, but I’ll play them up before we head back. There’s one hill before the camels and one hill after so I hope to use the camels as incentive to get up the first hill this summer.

Unlike Fay Bainbridge with its convenient kiosk, we had to pay at the entrance which meant we couldn’t skip the line of cars. We chose one of the three hiker/biker spots–$9 each and no fire pits. They’re not right by the restroom, but it’s right by a nice trail and blackberries.

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None of the campsites are right on the beach like at Fay Bainbridge, but that means it’s not completely exposed on hot days and it doesn’t feel like a big parking lot. The beach was a quick bike ride from our site (and is also walkable for those so inclined).

The most easily accessed beach is STINKY, but you get used to it after a while. The kids enjoyed piling up the stinky seaweed, but we didn’t go into the water because there were jellyfish. I have a feeling it’s not always jellyfishy here. Note the Bremerton ferry cruising by in my photo below–fun view!

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This is a great campground if you have a camper into old military stuff. There are several structures, like the torpedo storehouse pictured below, all with interpretive signs.

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We were surprised by unexpected rain overnight which was good in that it got us on the road early. I sent the kids to stay dry and warm in the restroom while I quickly packed us up.

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The foot ferry back was easier thanks to knowing ahead of time what I’d be in for in terms of wedging the cargo bike onto the boat, plus this time I was able to tilt my bike upright on my own for the elevator. However, I’m still of the opinion that I don’t want to do this with the big bike ever again.

We skipped the soonest Seattle ferry to have lunch at Fritz European Fry House in Bremerton (just up the hill from the ferry terminal) and then explore the area around the USS Turner Joy.

The ride home from the ferry is all slightly uphill so we took lots of water/rest breaks (and one crash/rest break), but the kids made it without complaint!

Our second trip was double the fun. I didn’t even try to convince the kids to use their panniers and I was somehow able to fit all the stuff on my Surly Straggler. I needed my front basket for gear which meant I had to wear nine-pound Pixie in her backpack, the Timbuk2 Muttmover, which I wouldn’t want to do for a big trip, but was just fine for this short one.

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This time we went with Brad and his two kids, our frequent camping buddies. They also have a Big Dummy and a tandem plus trailer bike, but I convinced Brad to carry all the gear on his Surly Long Haul Trucker and put his kids on their own bikes so we’d all easily fit in the elevator.

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The elevator was so much easier like this! I took our three bikes in the elevator while the kids walked down the stairs.

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One thing that was trickier with our bigger group was the varied speeds and personalities of the kiddos. Brad rode ahead with the two speedsters (his big and my little) and I hung back with the two who appreciate a slower pace.

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We didn’t get too far from one another and met midway for a roadside blackberry snack.

Having friends along was encouragement enough that my kids biked up the last hill–Hillsdale Road just after the camels–that they had both walked up on our first visit.

This time we opted for a $25 economy spot and chose one fairly close to the beach. The hiker/biker spots are big enough for two tents, but we wanted a fire. We still chose to bike down rather than walk, but everything is all close together with no fast roads to cross.

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We ventured beyond the stinky beach to hit the tide pools. This meant biking along a gravel path and narrow trail lined with poison oak warning signs. No one got poison oak and we found tons of tiny and big crabs to play with.

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Having friends along meant we hung out at the campground for quite a while on day two–laps and laps were sprinted around the campground, a dead snake was thoroughly examined, and fellow campers were befriended. Next time I’ll try to time our visit so we can stay for two nights and [hopefully] more easily hit the road early in the day with fresh legs.

The first 90% of the journey home went well: great ride to Port Orchard, successful foot ferry and foot ferry elevator rides, tasty lunch at the fry house, and restful ferry ride back to Seattle. Once on the Seattle side we stopped to play at the beach, visited an outdoor bike commuter happy hour, parted ways with our friends, and then slowly clawed our way home with quite a few tantrums, some angry bike walking, several water break stops, and one blackberry picking session. Definitely too big a day. That said, WE CAN’T WAIT TO GO BACK!

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Snowboarding for the car-free family

Warning: contains cars. Also, no bike riding…but lots of snowboard riding.

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I love living in Seattle and the many varied activities available to us right here in the city, but it’s fun to get away every once in a while, ya know? We commonly do so in the form of summertime bike camping. Apparently we’re not the only ones who like to skip town, per the Seattle Weekly’s article “Do Urbanists Have a Wilderness Problem?” Stoked to share the 10th paragraph down with my friend Tom:

“…Seattle Bike Blog creator and anti-car urbanist Tom Fucoloro or family bike expert Madi Carlson, both Seattle residents who frequently journey to the forested outlands by bike alone (and in Carlson’s case, with two kids in tow).”

We expanded our repertoire last January when I signed up for Zipcar car sharing. This is incredibly silly, but I immediately felt more legitimately car free. Now when people get that horrified look on their faces and ask, “But Madi, what will you do if you ever need a car?” I no longer have to fight the urge to ask back “What the f–k would I need a car for?” Now I can easily say “Oh, I have Zipcar!” and I don’t even have to admit that I’ve only used it once.

Zipcar is often at bike events with various discounts (and free sunglasses), but I signed up online because I can be impulsive and decided late on a Wednesday night that we should go snowboarding the coming weekend. The threatened 1-3 business days to approve my application only took a few hours (thank goodness!) and I opted to bike downtown and pick up my Zipcard in person rather than wait the 3-7 business days for it to arrive in the mail. We ended up not going snowboarding that weekend so the rushing around was for naught, but I tend to opt to pick things up rather than have them driven over to me.

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We eventually used Zipcar for the first time a couple months later for day trip to the closest ski area, The Summit at Snoqualmie, where I’ve brought the kids snowboarding a bunch of times back when I was a car owner.

The snowboarding was awesome! My ability of following the Zipcar rules: not so much. Totally my fault. It’s all right there online. Plus I received an email with subject line “Your first Ziptrip – the one you always remember” that would have been very helpful had I read it carefully.

So let’s talk about the snowboarding part first. Summit is an hour’s drive from home–just how I like my snow. There are four little resorts: Alpental, Summit West, Summit Central, and Summit East. We’ve tried three of the four in the past and Summit Central works best for us. The kids use the magic carpet (the conveyor belt lift thingy) which is great for me because I don’t need to shell out for my own lift ticket–I can easily walk up the bunny slope after jogging down alongside them. This also means I don’t get to do snowboarding myself, but that’ll change as they get bigger. I’m not a very good snowboarder and the one time I helped my older kid up the lift and down a run in North Vancouver was really hard. I don’t think I could manage two kids. But back to Washington: the bunny slope at Alpental is a little too steep and long so I can’t keep up as I jog after the kids hollering at them to sit down before they careen into each other, the bunny slope at Summit West isn’t steep enough and I have to give them pushes every few feet to keep them moving, Summit East doesn’t have a magic carpet, but Summit Central is just right!

Bears!

New this year: they carry stuff! From wearing the baby on my back and carrying one kid’s gear, to wearing a toddler on my back and carrying two kids’ gear, to this!

Carrying their boards

Here’s what the magic carpet looks like. Our regular lift operator back in the frequent weekday visit days used to let me stand on it to ride back up, but it’s easy enough to trudge on either non-moving side.

Magic carpet

Now to admit my many Zipcar oopsies:

Zipcar oopsie one: I forgot there’s a gas card! I used my credit card to fill the tank (had I asked for a receipt, I could have been reimbursed). Doh. Regular rental cars come with full tanks, but Zipcars don’t. This might be enough to dissuade some renters.

Zipcar oopsie two: I LEFT THE ZIPCARD AT HOME AND LOCKED US OUT OF THE CAR IN THE SNOW AN HOUR FROM HOME! Thank goodness for modern technology–they unlocked it remotely over the phone. One checked out a Zipcar by holding the Zipcard near a sensor to unlock the door; the key is very conveniently zip tied to dangle near the ignition. So the key stays in the car and the card [ideally] stays in one’s wallet.

Zipcar oopsie three: I didn’t realize I had to tap my Zipcard on the sensor upon returning the car. This is mentioned on the website and in the helpful-if-read email, of course. Fortunately, I went online to see if I could let Zipcar know I’d returned the car two hours early in case someone else wanted it, so I read about tapping out before it was too late.

Despite all the problems of my own making, it was a great experience and we’d do it again. I don’t want to tempt fate and say I’ll never make a Zipcar mistake again, but there’s a pretty good chance I won’t repeat these specific mistakes.

Price

Zipcar isn’t the cheapest way to get a car for the day–it’s really best for an hour or a few hours–but it’s definitely the most convenient for us. There are a couple Zipcar spots a couple blocks from our house, and another set 10 blocks away. Two traditional car rental places (Enterprise and Budget) are an additional 10 blocks farther. Convenience is key when you’re traveling with kids. I figured as long as Zipcar was cheaper than three $40 ski shuttle tickets, it was an acceptable price. The daily rate for the car we rented was $73 (total with tax was $85). That price includes 180 miles and we went 115 miles.

Note: It looks like the Zipcar spots closest to our house aren’t there anymore (per the website, I’ll have to bike by to look for sure) so there’s a good chance I won’t renew my membership. Bummer.

Car seats: RideSafer Travel Vests

Lugging regular car seats around is a pain. That’s why I got RideSafer Travel Vests when I went car-free, following in the footsteps of Dorie from Hum of the City and Elle of Tiny Helmets Big Bikes. They are as safe as traditional car seats (with a price tag to prove it), but back when I got them, they were for use in taxis, rental cars, and car share, but not in one’s personal vehicle. However, I don’t see that mentioned in the RideSafer FAQ so I think they’re approved for us all the time now. They’re lower than car seats so the kids don’t have as good a view and I’ve heard that they’re uncomfortable for very long trips.

RideSafer Travel Vests

Other options:

Traditional rental car
If frugality was more important to me than convenience for this once-a-year trip, I’d use one of the car rental places 1.5 miles from our house. Honestly, I’m not sure how I’d easily manage that on a weekend. For a weekday one-day rental I’d grab and return the car while the kids were at school, but I’m not sure how I’d get us all there (or especially how I’d get us all back after a long day of snowboarding). Peeking at pricing, SUVs (which is what we used from Zipcar) are more expensive at both car rental places, but smaller cars are a lot cheaper. An economy car would work fine for the two kid snowboards. Dealing with office hours would be less convenient, though, and probably mean we’d keep the car overnight the day before or after hitting the mountains.

Ski shuttle
I mentioned the $40 round-trip shuttle bus, Seattle Ski Shuttle, above. Last year they departed from REI if I remember correctly, but now they leave from a hotel. I had planned to try it out myself first before subjecting the kids to a super-early wakeup. The bus leaves at 6:30am and it takes at least half an hour to bike there with a snowboard on the Big Dummy, and longer if I’m also carrying kids. I think I might still try this on my own this winter because Zipcarring alone doesn’t seem worth it. I really doubt I’d do it with the kids. They wake up too early for my taste many days, but to be ready to leave the house with snowboarding gear before 6am is a whole different realm.

Other rides
The Summit has some great resources listed on their Carpools and Shuttle Services webpage.

More? If you know of other ways to get to the mountains, I’d love to hear them!

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First Family Ride of 2017

Happy New Year! We celebrated the last day of winter break with a bike ride to the beach. It was a couple degrees above freezing (brr!), but the sun was out and the kids wanted to collect seashells. I more or less bundled us up in snow gear: the kids wore snow bibs, snow boots, combo sweater/jackets, gloves, and caps under their helmets. One kid started out in his balaclava, but changed his mind. PRO TIP: call balaclavas “ninja masks” for better chances of kids wanting to wear them. I don’t own warm base layers for them or wool socks, but they did OK with cotton under all of that. I wore snowboarding pants over cotton leggings, wool socks and boots, thin merino wool long-sleeved shirt and merino wool sweater, and cap under my helmet. Pixie wore her thickest sweater and has a warm liner than goes inside her basket bag.

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And I brought a bit of backup stuff along: extra set of gloves for the kids, thick gloves for me to wear while at the beach (my bike was wearing its Portland Pogies handlebar mittens so I went gloveless on the way there, though had I been more organized, I would have worn thin cotton gloves), snowboard jacket for me at the beach and on the way home, balaclavas for the kids in case they came to their senses, and two HotSnapZ reusable hand warmers.

Like most of our bike excursions, the journey is just as much (and sometimes more) fun than the destination. The kids chirped “Happy New Year!” at all the dogs we biked by on the Burke-Gilman Trail, I got to say, “Hey, cool bike!” to a bunch of kids, and we watched a guy in a sail boat taking photos of the Fremont Bridge as it opened for him to sail under (but he didn’t hear us calling “Ahoy!” at him).

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We stopped for a water break along the ship canal and discovered a heart-shaped tree trunk! The kids threw sticks into the water for a little bit and could have gone on forever, but Pixie attempted to roll in something stinky so I packed us up and moved us along.

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I was surprised to see so many people at the beach. Coming out on a cold day like this was a BIG DEAL to a wimp like me, but these real Pacific Northwesterners are very hardy. We met a fellow Big Dummy owner visiting from Arizona–he must have been freezing, though he didn’t look it.

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The one thing I have yet to figure out is how to time things so the kids don’t get hungry and want a snack five minutes after we’ve left the house. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible because they ate a huge breakfast right before we left. I was able to get us all the way to the beach (with one water stop and one rest stop) before we had a snack and were able to last a couple hours at the beach. I had noticed a new-to-me cafe, Jibe Espresso Bar on our way over so we stopped there on our way home and discovered that the Shilshole Bay Marina is AWESOME!

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It’s across a busy street from the Burke-Gilman Trail, but one can stick to the sidewalk of Seaview Avenue for half a mile to avoid that.

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We can’t wait to come back when it’s warmer (OMG is that a petanque court? We’re coming back with our boules!)

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but it was pretty great even for a day like today. The cafe didn’t have restrooms so we walked to the main entrance (just two doors down) and discovered a great area to hide from cold and/or rain! There were restrooms, drinking fountains, and a warm, dry area for snacking (because eating at the cafe wasn’t enough, of course).

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I also saw a sign for free loaner bikes. Not that we’ll ever be overnight moorers, but that makes the place that much cooler!

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The bikes are yellow and clunky, but they all have rear racks and it’s flat all around here. So they’re perfect!

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The kids warmed their hands with the HotSnapZ while I unlocked the bikes. The heat packs are a bit big for shoving in gloves or boots for use while riding so I haven’t yet figured out my favorite way to use them, but this worked well.

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Heading home was an adventure, too. My seven-year old started getting tired so we took a rest break at Kitty Cat Rocks. There are a couple rocks recently painted with cats alongside the Burke-Gilman Trail that we’ve never bothered to stop at before, so it was exciting for all of us. Even Pixie thought they looked very authentic.

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The kids threw sticks in the water for a bit and it was perfect.

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Just when I was patting myself on the back for having weaned the kids from needing (and myself from offering) rides on the Big Dummy, my littler dude said his poor sore back couldn’t take it anymore. Of course at first I said, “Hmmmm perhaps your back wouldn’t hurt had you listened to me about not bunny hopping with a sore back,” but I’ll happily tote him the last couple miles home lest he change his mind about loving bikes. So I popped his bike into the Xtracycle FreeLoader bag and he climbed aboard the deck.

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But really, I rarely carry the kids these days, though I will continue to drive the Big Dummy just in case I need to carry one or both of them and their bikes.

Turns out he was pretty tired because he tried to sleep on the way home. I know this because his brother tried to bike alongside us and chat with him and he snapped, “Shut up! I’m trying to sleep here!” I glanced back and saw his eyes were closed so perhaps he did sleep! It’s actually easier to take selfies over my shoulder and peek at the phone to see what’s going on back there, and that showed evidence of closed eyes, too:

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Fortunately he woke up just in time for the big hill to give me a “Jedi Push.” The Jedi Push is when you push against the back of your pedaling parent and use The Force to help propel them up the hill. It totally works.

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Here’s to lengthening days and lots of biking. Happy New Year!

2016: Better Biking in Seattle!

For months I’ve wanted to blog about how much bicycling has improved in Seattle, but then something happens that makes me shelve it until a better day. Seeing as it’s the last day of the year, I don’t want to put it off any longer…even though biking along the Wallingford Neighborhood Greenway earlier today, mere blocks from home, I watched four cars blow through cross-traffic stop signs. So unfortunately my mood today isn’t as celebratory as I’d hope for, but here goes…

There’s a lot of great new stuff! These new things might mean more to me than the average bike commuter since I spend a lot of time biking with kids and encouraging new city bicyclists and family bikers.
Read 2016 Year in Review by Seattle Neighborhood Greenways for a great recap of all that’s new.

The kids are riding their own bikes more and more these days and it’s very exciting…and makes biking uphill a lot easier for me minus their 125 pounds! I made an amazing discovery when we fetched our Christmas tree by bike four weeks ago: the kids have been listening to me all this time! They’re great little city bicyclists. They like to sandwich me as lead car and follow car when I carry precious loads (like a fish tank a year ago) so my seven-year old led the way to check for potholes and other hazards while my nine-year old trailed behind, making sure Fluffy (they name the tree) stayed put.

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Back when they spent the majority of their time sharing my Big Dummy’s deck I spent the majority of my time spewing a steady stream of chatter to keep them distracted from fighting with one another. Some of it was non-bike-related stuff like pointing out cats and squirrels or asking the kids to count dogs or buses. But lots of it was narrating our ride: “We’re going to turning left at the end of this block,” “A hill’s coming up so I’m going to downshift now,” and “Wow, that woman must be in a hurry to skip stopping at that stop sign so that’s why we always carefully check intersections.” Everything is a teachable moment, right? So it was adorable when my seven-year old darted ahead so he could call back over his shoulder, “Mama, there’s a hill coming up! You’re going to watch to downshift when you get right here.” Which is hilarious since the kid refuses to shift out of his hardest gear.

One of the most frustrating things about the nice new bikeways is that none of them connect to other nice bikeways. Which is why Ryan Packer’s Best Bike Infrastructure Of 2016: The Sidewalk for The Urbanist resonates with me. I often apologetically tell visitors that the best thing for bikes in Seattle is that it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk, but at the same time it’s such a shame that it’s necessary for so many people to resort to the sidewalk. Granted, a lot of times it’s just for a couple blocks to transition between bike-friendly-ish streets or in my case for parts of our routes when the kids are on their own bikes. I doubt anyone thinks it’s ideal, but it sure makes it possible for a lot of people to get around by bike in this city.

It’s exciting that Seattle grabbed the number one spot in PeopleForBikes’ America’s best new bike lanes of 2016 for the Westlake Bikeway. We love the Westlake Bikeway and I use it for lots of the Kidical Mass and Critical Lass rides I lead. Unfortunately, the Westlake Bikeway is not without its problems–see Seattle Bike Blog’s As tacks return, Westlake bikeway named nation’s ‘best new bike lane’ for 2016.

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When I ride without the kids I often opt to take Dexter Avenue instead of the Westlake Bikeway so I don’t have to worry about stopping for a tack-induced flat tire. I haven’t picked up a tack myself yet, but I’ve been with three people who have. However, the bike lane on Dexter–paint-separated at some points, flexi-post separated at some, and regular bike lane for the rest–is usually worse. I need to take a few minutes before I leave the house to remind myself to stay calm as I encounter countless delivery trucks and Uber private taxi service cars (usually Priuses for some reason) parked and waiting in the bike lane. On the days I don’t take the time to remind myself to not engage, I get progressively angrier as I pull into car traffic to pass each bike-lane-blocking vehicle. On these bad days I’m sometimes unable to resist the urge to [politely!] point out open parking spots to Uber drivers and ask why they don’t park legally in a spot that’s safer for me. I don’t feel that this makes any difference, thus the pep talks. However, I do think pointing out to people [also politely!] they’re turning right through a no-right-on-red light where Dexter crosses Mercer often does make an impact. I’d love if there were more no-right-on-red intersections (see Seattle Bike Blog’s Banning turns-on-red is an exciting first step to taking back our crosswalks) so people were more used to checking for the signs.

One cool event that highlighted the recent infrastructure changes was the annual Critical Lass ride to Candy Cane Lane. Our route has evolved a lot thanks to the flexi-post protected bike lanes over the Cowan Park Bridge and the contraflow bike lane on NE 62nd Street.

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Unfortunately, when the kids and I went on our own to Candy Cane Lane it wasn’t all sugar plums and kittens in Santa hats. I was excited when I realized we could take the new protected bike lane on Roosevelt on our way home. It’s a one-way street and situated such that it doesn’t make sense for us to use, but heading home from Candy Cane Lane made sense! My Kidical Mass to Celebrate Roosevelt went well, but I have to admit I don’t feel completely comfortable on Roosevelt. It’s better than it was before when it was a regular bike lane (we never used it before), but the intersections are crappy. There are some people (usually vehicular cyclists) who argue that protected bike lanes are never worth installing because they provide a false sense of security. I certainly don’t agree with that, but this particular protected bike lane really makes a case for protected intersections and I hope someday Seattle has some of these! Oh, and better “protection” than flexi posts.

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So this night I stupidly chose to not take our usual hillier, more round-about route from Ravenna to Wallingford because I knew the kids would be excited to ride in the protected bike lane. We were extra cautious at each intersection, slowing nearly to a stop in case a car turned without checking for people on bikes or on foot crossing the street. And then a block before we were due to turn off Roosevelt, we encountered a car parked in the bike lane. We stopped behind him so I could consider our next moves. There were a lot of cars on the street so I didn’t really want the kids to have to ride around it. And another car was pulled into the driveway behind us (but only partially blocking the bike lane) so it wouldn’t have been easy to get up to the sidewalk…not to mention I prefer not to ride on the sidewalk unless it’s really necessary. I parked my bike in the bike lane, asked the kids to wait, and tried to get the driver’s attention by waving at his window several times. He was engrossed in his phone so I tapped on the window only have him to roll it down and shout at me that it wasn’t OK for me to tap on his window. I asked if he could re-park so we could bike through, but needless to say, that didn’t go very well. I took a photo of his license plate and filed a Find It, Fix It ticket with the city. I didn’t expect them to come quickly enough to do anything about the car, but hope that if that spot is a regular car-in-the-bike-lane area, something might change. And in the meantime, we won’t ride Roosevelt again.

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The Roosevelt thing made me nearly forget that a family in a minivan honked at us during the one block we rode on Ravenna Blvd to get to the entrance of Candy Cane Lane. The passenger poked her finger at us (pointing at us to get on the sidewalk?) and after a few-seconds delay, they had space to fit past us. We never get honked at, probably because I tend to choose the sidewalk (best bike infrastructure, remember?) for the spots where this might happen. For this short block, I didn’t want to take the narrow sidewalk in case we encountered people walking to Candy Cane Lane. It’s a very steep short block so it’s harder to ride in a perfectly straight line. Tricky call this time, in retrospect.

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So bike-infrastructure-wise: lots of good, a bit of bad, and that’s 2016! Here’s to more good stuff in 2017. Happy New Year!

Ride Recap: Kidical Mass to Olympic Manor Holiday Lights 2016

We had a terrific Kidical Mass ride through the holiday lights this year! Olympic Manor is a community in the Crown Hill neighborhood of North Ballard and goes all out for the holidays.

See all the pictures here.

It was our warmest and driest holiday ride yet–a balmy 44 degrees Fahrenheit (7 Celsius) when we arrived to the park at 4pm, but it got a bit colder as the sun disappeared. Arriving at the park–the playground by Loyal Heights Community Center–while it’s still light out is great for hanging out while we can see one another, but waiting for 4:45 to roll around felt kind of long this year so I’m contemplating moving it a tad later next year.

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We had a great turn out with 33 participants! Here’s rundown of our bike collection:

Lots of cargo bikes, about half of them with e-assists.

I’ve been fine tuning our route over the years and this was our shortest ride yet, 2.7 miles all together–here’s the route. It seemed perfect and it was less hilly than years past. We still saw all our favorites, like Santa in a VW bus:

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And our regular jog on a side street to see the Flying Spaghetti Monster for a taste of something a little different. It’s always worn a Santa hat in the past, I figured to toe the line per community holiday guidelines, but it was bare-headed this year.

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We noticed (and were freaked out by) a Santa hologram in the house across the street from the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He waved at us, we waved back, he waved more, he disappeared, we screamed! He was very authentic. Also new this year were lots of houses with elaborate projector lights, some with tons of tiny dots, giving the illusion of houses blanketed in twinkle lights, and this one that the kids thought looked like was under water:

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I love holding the ride on the winter solstice so we can shout “Happy Solstice!” to everyone in addition to “Merry Christmas!” and it’s fun to be out to share that earliest sunset of the year with a bunch of bikey friends. Having had solstice fall on a weekday these last couple years has been great because the Loyal Heights Community Center is open so we have access to restrooms before the ride. Potties at the start and end of a ride are very important, but not always available.

We ended the ride at Grumpy D’s Coffeehouse as usual and learned that Wednesday night is open mic night, oops. It was pretty crowded and the stage took up the play area, but everyone was happy to have all the kids there. We found space to play in the back hallway, purchased snacks, and it worked out well. And I see next year’s winter solstice is on a Thursday so that will be just like old times.

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Read recaps of Olympic Manor rides past: 2015 recap | 2014 recap | 2013 recap | 2012 recap (Critical Lass)

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Portland with bike and dog! And Amtrak Coast Starlight vs. Amtrak Cascades

So much new! Amtrak Coast Starlight recently started allowing roll-up bike service (previously bikes had to be boxed) and while I’ve heard from lots of people that the Coast Starlight often runs late, I couldn’t pass up a chance to give it a go because all our past trips have been aboard the Amtrak Cascades line. Also, PETS CAN RIDE NOW! Just small pets, but my pet is small! LOOK: Pets are free if you book in the next few days! Otherwise it’s $25. So I packed up bike and dog and headed down to Portland for a weekend recently: Coast Starlight on the way down, Cascades line on the way back up.

Main take-aways about Amtrak Coast Starlight versus Amtrak Cascades:

Amtrak Coast Starlight Amtrak Cascades
Usually runs late Often runs late
Loooooooong train Short and sweet train
No Wi-Fi Patchy Wi-Fi
Observation car! No observation car
Stairs! All one level
Restrooms are down a flight of stairs Restrooms at end of each car
Seatmates are traveling to Los Angeles End of the line is only Portland or Eugene
Tons of legroom, seats recline Bus/airline amount of legroom

My loaded-up Surly Straggler:

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All my stuff is in my two big panniers (Swift Industries Roll Top Panniers), Pixie’s in the front basket, Timbuk2 Muttmover Backpack is bungeed atop my rear rack.

How dogs ride
Pixie was required to be in a carrier while moving around the train, but it was OK for her to sit on my lap–though not directly on a seat–so I used the backpack for boarding and walking around the train (to and from observation car, restroom, and cafe).

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The long walk from the baggage car
The first thing I noticed as I wheeled my bike halfway to Tacoma to reach the baggage car at the front of the train was that this was a loooooong train. Amtrak Cascades is short with the baggage car at the back, right by station. I’m not sure this is intentional for passengers with bikes, but I’ve always been seated in one of the closest two cars. I upgraded to business class once when it was really cheap, but after having to lug my heavy panniers the length of the Amtrak Cascades train I realized it wasn’t worth it. This train was sooooo much longer than that. I really don’t like carrying my panniers around, but stronger people, or those with lighter panniers, might not think this is worth consideration.

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Wi-Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum
Coast Starlight only offers Wi-Fi in business class. I’m not sure if Cascades’ patchy Wi-Fi is better or worse, though. I always think I’ll get tons of stuff done aboard the train and spend most the time frustrated at the Internet connection. I’ll admit it was relaxing leaving my laptop off, but it might keep me from using the Coast Starlight unless I’m going farther than Portland.

Observation car
Look at all those windows!

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Amtrak Cascades has additional seating in the cafe and dining cars, but I’ve only once scored a seat. This observation car was huge with plenty of available seating.

Double decker!
It’s like a real train! There are stairs! Very narrow stairs. And the restrooms are all downstairs so you don’t get to stay up top once you’re up. There’s some seating downstairs, but it looked pretty dark and lonely.

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Really reclining seats
There is tons of legroom because the seats almost fully recline. There are sleeper cars, too, and were I traveling all the way to Los Angeles with the kids (which I think would be fun, but exhausting), I’d want to splurge on one of those, but a lot of long-distance passengers opted to ride in the cheap seats. It was neat sitting with people embarking on such a big trip. The woman next to me was on her way to LA and said they wouldn’t arrive until 9pm the following night (or probably later considering we were over an hour late to Portland).

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One last thing
One cool thing about having the baggage car at the front of the train is that there’s a great view out the back. The view of one’s bike hanging in the dark baggage car at the back of Amtrak Cascades is cool in a different way, but this view is out-of-a-train-movie cool, right?

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The weekend itself was really fun and I’ll try to write it up soon(ish), but in the meantime, all my photos are here: Portland with Pixie – October 21-23, 2016 – 269 photos