In honor of the last of the year’s Disaster Relief Trials [bikes saving the world after mock disasters–yeehaw!] wrapping up last weekend in Eugene, I’ve finally gotten around to sharing pictures and words of my experience in Portland some three months ago. Like everything awesome and bike-related, DRT was founded in Portland, with the first–and only 2012 DRT–occurring last Pedalpalooza. This year there were a bunch of them: first was Seattle, then Portland, Boulder (which turned into actual disaster relief when it coincided with the floods), Victoria, and Eugene.

I helped organize the Seattle DRT, which had the convenient side effect of making me ineligible to participate in the hard part of riding the event. Actually, I’m sure I could have participated in the Seattle event had I wanted to–ours wasn’t a race, but rather an expo event as part of the Bicycle Urbanism Symposium with a marked route so my having chosen that route didn’t give me any advantage–but it was fun to camp out at the water crossing with the kids (plus, where would I have put the kids?!) and photograph the event.

Watching Seattle DRT

I wasn’t planning to take part in the Portland DRT, but when organizer Mike Cobb said competitor Mark Ginsberg, a bicyclist attorney would sponsor me in order to get more women on the course, how could I say no? So I registered and sent in my rider profile and bio and I few weeks later, the kids and I had our first cargo-bike-on-Bolt-Bus experience!

Our first DRT-related event was the Joe Bike Grand Opening/5-Year Anniversary/DRT Kickoff Party Friday night. I followed Katie and Dave of A Most Civilized Conveyance over. This would soon be a familiar sight for me, by the way–Katie’s back as she led me over Portland bridges.

Riding over the Hawthorne Bridge with Dave and Katie

There were so many cargo bikes at the party! But the most amazing thing was watching DRT competitor Cory Poole arrive on skateboard with his daughter in/on on the cargo trailer he towed and managed with a hand-held brake.

DRT bikes at Joe Bike

I was a nervous wreck the morning of the event. It’s not often I can participate in events without the children in tow and on those rare occasions I generally have them with me until the last possible moment…like for last year’s Girls of Summer Alleycat. But Mr. Family Ride flew in late at night the eve of the big day and played at the hotel pool with the kids so I could fly solo. Arriving alone and on time made for a lot of time with nothing to distract me!

I was antsy, under-caffeinated, and under-water-bottled–the day was shaping up to be hot and I only had one water bottle–so I asked around for nearby coffee and bike shops. I thought I was unprepared, but when Sterling heard I was hitting a bike shop, he gave me some cash to pick him up a new tire. A purpose! So off I went to Water Avenue Coffee and River City Bicycles for two more water bottles and a fancy new 20-inch tire for Sterling. He was in the e-assist class so I was not at all tempted to sabotage him. Mr. Family Ride and I had just watched a show about the last 100 Tours de France and I was intrigued by the footage of long-ago riders wearing spare tires crisscrossed on their backs. Would a 20-inch tire fit over my head? It did! Wearing a tire sash made for a much better entrance than shoving it in my cargo bag.

To the rescue!

The Bullitt seemed to be the bike of choice–though there were other cargo bikes, bikes plus trailers, and of course, Cory’s skateboard. That’s Austin Horse on the left, movie stunt double and eventual DRT winner. Big time!

Bullitts at DRT

Austin and the rest of the Open Class took off first and then we Citizen Class riders hit the road. Our goody bags contained important stuff like after-party drink coupons and a DRT-logoed stainless steel Kleen Canteen pint cup as well as many local bike maps, Yuba cargo straps, and a laminated checkpoint map with clip for attaching it to our handlebars. Here’s a bit of a peek at Katie’s map as we made our way over the St. Johns Bridge.

Peeking at Katie's map on the St. Johns Bridge

Beautiful bridge, by the way:

St. Johns Bridge

This was after a long flat ride alongside train tracks during which we exchanged waves with train conductors (the kids have trained us well), the first checkpoint at which we had to uninflate and reinflate a tire, and a big climb to the start of the bridge. I thought Portland was supposed to be flat!

Heading to Checkpoint 1

And we traveled so far, to “North of North Portland”, for our second checkpoint to fetch a long, empty box.

Slow ride through No No Po

Katie calculated we rode 36.6 miles. The shortest route for Citizen Class should have been about 30 miles, but we made a bonus stop at Checkpoint 4. It wasn’t on our manifests, but it wasn’t listed as “Open Class Only” on our laminated maps so we played it safe. Checkpoint 4 was the fun offroad section and mybagisbigger took this excellent photo of me there so I’m happy for our extra stop:

Photo courtesy mybagisbigger

Photo courtesy mybagisbigger

Also contributing to the extra mileage was riding too far along the Columbia River for Checkpoint 5. We weren’t the only ones to do so. This guy is shouting, “I’ve only got my babysitter until 2pm!”

Riding too far along the Columbia River

With the help of some of our friendly competitors shouting “Turn back! We’ve gone all the way to the end and THERE’S NOTHING THERE!” we found our way. Ooh, maybe this was part of the disaster scenario, but the participant consensus was that the laminated map had the wrong street address. No biggie, I’m used to being lost and we eventually made it there and that guy got a backup babysitter lined up. All good!

Checkpoint 5 had FEMA volunteers providing helmet stickers for emergency information and empty buckets to fill with water from the river. Open Class filled their two buckets full while we filled them 3/4 of the way. I only have one Xtracycle WideLoader so I loaded both my buckets on one side at first and did a practice lap after shouting, “No one watch! I’ll probably tip over!”

Two buckets of water take one

It didn’t feel too tippy, but I decided to better distribute things and moved one bucket to my FlightDeck, fairly well secured to the stoker bars with cargo net and bungee cord. I feel I had a bit of an advantage at this point–a couple weeks prior my younger son fell asleep in his Yepp seat for the first time without his straitjacket (my snowboard jacket wrapped around him backwards to keep him warm) on and he flopped around like crazy. I haven’t appreciated how still he sits on a regular basis! The sensation was very similar to the 3/4-filled bucket of water riding behind me.

Two buckets of water take two

At this point, Katie and I joined forces with Joyanna, riding a regular bike plus trailer. Her setup was great for the buckets. Fortunately she didn’t make the extra stop at Checkpoint 4 because it wouldn’t have been very fun offroad.

Riding with Joyanna and her trailer

Katie was an awesome leader. I felt guilty just tagging along while she did all the navigating and pace setting. Heck, Katie has even done the navigating and pace setting for me in Seattle! Finally Katie showed signs of slowing so we took a much-needed water break on the side of the road–next to a blackberry bush as luck would have it. Somehow the story morphed into a folk tale of we three passing a bunch of other competitors, stopping to go blackberry picking, and then passing those same people again. Ha! I laugh because we were about ready to keel over.

Blackberry stop

But soon enough we were passing those people and picking up our three eggs (to represent fragile medical vials). The checkpoint staffers offered us water, which I sorely needed, but not until I checked, “Is there a time penalty if I accept some?” I didn’t realize I was so competitive!

Then we headed into Downtown Portland where we received specific routing advice to get to the finish line. We were instructed to ride along the waterfront, which I can only assume was to mimic navigating a zombie apocalypse.

And back at OMSI we discovered the six-inch-deep water feature and meter-tall barrier. Katie, Joyanna, and I unloaded our water buckets and eggs and helped each other bike by bike over the barrier. Then we growled at one another and sprinted for the finish line. We turned in our eggs–they all survived!–and emptied our water buckets into the Clever Cycles Dutchtub.

My DRT manifest

Ours certainly wasn’t the only teamwork of the day. The team from Joe Bike opted to take it slow and rode as a group, helping with bike repairs all along the course–fellow DRT participants and random stranded bikers alike. It was great to see them merrily ride across the finish line in a big pack shortly after us.

Naturally, it was the feats of the family bikers that had the biggest impact on me. The lovely and amazing Emily Finch was one of the event organizers and I caught her making a quick run home to drop off a bunch of stuff, including her husband’s Christiania, after which she’d ride back on her daughter’s 20-inch Gazelle to fetch her own bakfiets. I wish I had seen that! I can coast downhill to school on my son’s little bike, but I couldn’t imagine actually going anywhere real on it.

Emily Finch, DRT organizer

But I didn’t catch up with Emily again until the after party at Velocult. This is my other favorite picture of the day, from dontbecreepy’s Flickr. We’re arguing. Emily is claiming I’m awesome for having carried a box spring on my bike and I’m reminding her that I *didn’t* carry a box spring on my bike. However, I appreciate my friends’ selective memories on this.

Photo courtesy dontbecreepy

Photo courtesy dontbecreepy

I was so excited to see an Emily Finch slide show live in person! But there were technical problems…which I think might also be part of the live slide show experience. But I saw it later and it’s awesome. And I’m in it!

And a couple other fun family bikers–Andy and Chele–had just that afternoon returned from a family bike tour and since Andy’s Big Dummy was out of commission, having lent pieces to a tandem bike for the trip, he carried the whole family in Chele’s bakfiets. Quite impressive!

Full family bakfiets

Is it wrong to lump doggie bikers in with family bikers? I don’t think so. I’d seen pictures of Rando the pug before, but this was the first to see him in his “Pugeot” sidecar.


It was the best. Each and every part of it. As I told a few of the car drivers who pulled up alongside to ask what we were up to, “We’re saving the world!”

3 thoughts on “PDX DRT

  1. Saving the world! This is amazing; I can’t believe I didn’t know about this event. Though, I have often thought that we bikers would be ahead of the game in the case of disaster. Thanks for sharing your experience and photos.

  2. Pingback: On Writing & Riding: Family Ride | chasing mailboxes d.c.

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