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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


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).

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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


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!

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