Archive | March 2021

Bike touring with a dog as practice for pandemic touring?

First of all, I haven’t done any bike trips in the last year. Heck, I’ve only peed away from home a few times during long bike rides recently! But when I think about eventually leaving home again, bike touring with Pixie in the past seems like it was perfect practice for bike touring now. Exactly two years ago, March 2019, Pixie and I biked from Portland to Eugene, Oregon and having Pixie along made for a mostly outdoor and distanced trip. While I’m totally down with the Path Less Pedaled’s bikes means business take on bike touring and think it’s a good thing to support local businesses of the places I’m passing through, having Pixie along meant I didn’t go inside anywhere or interact with many people over the four days of travel.

I tend to bring all my food and supplies along to begin with, but had Pixie not been along I probably would have supplemented my food supply with grocery and cafe stops. I wish I’d made a note of exactly what I brought along for future reference, but it was pretty boring: a bunch of avocados, a bunch of hard boiled eggs, lots of cheese sticks, tons of chocolate covered peanut butter cups, coffee, and dog food. I’ve always overpacked dog food on shorter trips so this time I packed a more reasonable amount, knowing Pixie doesn’t like eating kibble while camping. And I shared my avocados with her.

As always I took a gazillion pictures and recorded my route:
Portland to Eugene – March, 2019 – 351 photos

And the whole route on Ride with GPS.

As for the trip itself, my main takeaways were:

  1. All Scenic Bikeways are not created equal. My first Scenic Bikeway was the Cascading Rivers Scenic Bikeway (my pix here) in 2018 and I figured all of them were beautiful and quiet. The Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway…not so much. There were a few awful spot–some possible to route around, some not. Which leads me to my other takeaway…
  2. I need to stop treating my solo trips as test runs for trips with the kids. I consider every single bike ride I take without the kids an opportunity to imagine making little changes, if necessary, to turn it into a family ride. The awful spots of the WVSB made me realize I need to stop doing this. Plus I should get to enjoy these solo (sorry Pixie! not really solo) trips as just for me. ALTHOUGH, my 11-year old said in passing he’d like to do a big bike trip with me and now I can’t stop thinking about a redo on our tandem bike!

I think most people would have done this ride over two days, but since I was in “practicing for doing it with the kids” mode I had planned to stretch it to five. I would have stretched it even longer, but I couldn’t find sufficient spots for camping. Not all campgrounds are open for business in March, but there also aren’t many spots to stop and camp along the way. As it was, I had to pay for fancy camping twice–at a KOA in Albany and a Hipcamp in Brownsville. If you’ve been doing the math and noticed I did it in four days, not five, that’s because it was raining on the Monday I meant to leave, plus I had to work all morning, so I decided to just add days one and two together. What a convenient side effect of planning small days and not needing a reservation until day three!

Things I’d change for next time:

  • Route my way to the Oregon City Municipal Elevator to save myself from some of the hill climbing in Oregon City.
  • Leave Salem through Minto Park instead of River Road (thanks for the tip Maria!) because that was one of the worst spots.

My other general takeaways were:

  • The roads were very clean! The sucky parts of the WVSB were gritty as well as too busy, but the quiet parts were surprisingly clean and free of litter (when I biked down from Seattle to Portland in 2016 I was appalled by the amount of litter!)
  • There wasn’t much in the way of roadkill! This, compared to the highway out to Snoqualmie Falls which is a veritable pet cemetery. The biggest dead thing I saw was a beaver, the smallest was a snake, and the middlest was what I thought used to be an opossum. And other than that, just a handful of squirrels.
  • Highway 99 (18 miles into the trip on day one, for two miles) was awful. The initial uphill part had the smallest shoulder I’ve ever seen…though that made the flat part with normal shoulder seem not as bad as it otherwise would have. This one stretch makes me think I’ll never take my kids to Champoeg State Park.

Day One
My original plan was to stay at Champoeg State Park (hiker/biker $7, 33 miles from home) for the first night, but since I combined days one and two I simply stopped there for lunch at a picnic table by the visitor center. Normally one enters the park via a trail, but it was closed so I entered via the road. There weren’t a lot of cars so it was still pleasant.

I also rode through Willamette Mission State Park which wasn’t open to camping for the season yet. It’s huge! It’s also right next to the Wheatland Ferry which Pixie and I rode across the Willamette River and back just for fun.

Our night one campground was the Independence Riverview Park Biker/Boater Campground ($10, 78 miles from home) which was a weird little spot right in the small town, but it did the trick!

Day Two
Another ferry! The Buena Vista Ferry is just like the Wheatland Ferry, which means it’s awesome and totally worth doing, even if you just rode the Wheatland Ferry 24 hours earlier.

And one of the highlights of this trip was passing through Albany, Oregon. Having grown up in Albany, California, it’s always great to visit the next closest Albany. It started raining as we arrived so we stopped for lunch at a covered picnic table. The rain never let up, but I had to explore a little bit and in front of the historic Albany Carousel I encountered a carousel volunteer who had reported to work early and had time to listen to me excitedly tell her I’m from the other Albany and take a picture of Pixie and me.

We spent the night at the Albany/Corvallis KOA (tent + dog $35, 45 miles from previous night’s camp). I didn’t like the highway 34 crossing to sidetrack to the KOA, but in looking at the official Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway route it looks like that crossing of 34 would have been even more uncomfortable with a bit of travel along the highway.

Day Three
The best day! Every stretch of road of day three was nice and quiet. I spent a little time exploring adorable Brownsville, where Stand By Me was filmed. And despite worrying my detour from the bikeway to my camp spot would definitely be up a mountain it was completely flat!

We stayed at the Sunset Farms Animal Sanctuary ($75–but now there’s a $50 option, 31 miles from previous night’s camp). This was my first time using Hipcamp since they tend to cost more than regular campgrounds, but with no other camping options it was a lifesaver. And the place was amazing! It was also nice to hide from the rain in the trailer rather than pitch my tent. Pixie didn’t take to farm life, but I had an excellent time meeting most of the 200 animals.

38 miles later I was done with my journey. Once in Eugene I wasn’t in bike camping mode anymore, though I guess it was still “practice pandemic” mode because I stayed in an Airstream trailer AirBnb, and had one outdoor conversation with the host. I visited friends outside, and mostly ate at outdoor places due to Pixie…though one restaurant let me bring her inside so that was one thing that wouldn’t fly now. Pixie and I hung out for two days and then took Amtrak home.

Bike, Light Rail, Train – Just Like Old Times

The kids, dog, and I took transit for the first time in over a year today! And the train for the second time. Before the pandemic we used to take the bus and/or light rail to Union Station and ride Amtrak up to Seattle once a month so the kids could visit their dad for the weekend, but nothing is regular right now. Our last train trip was in November and to get to the station we biked the entire eight miles from home. I knew that would be too hard this morning given our slow adjustment to daylight saving time, the fact that the kids have barely been biking lately, and the cold temperature. We haven’t been using transit, but not because it’s unsafe–it is safe to ride transit right now–it’s just that we don’t go anywhere. The bus that runs right by our house doesn’t operate early on weekends so we did the next best thing and biked to the light rail. We got up at 6:00 a.m., left home at 6:30 a.m., and biked 2.5 miles to the orange line which took us right to the train station with plenty of time to walk the dog and lock up the bike for our 8:20 a.m. train.

We only took two bikes–I carried my 11-year old on my Big Dummy and my 13-year old rode my mountain bike. Here’s the awesome part about sharing a bike with a kid: I locked the Big Dummy up with every lock we own (that’s my standard train station behavior) and took the mountain bike along to use for myself! The Big Dummy isn’t allowed on Amtrak (well technically it would be allowed boxed into two different boxes since it weighs more than 50 pounds and is too long to go as a roll-on bike), but I needed the cargo bike both to get the 11-year old to the train station and to get the 13-year old’s bike back from the train station at the end of the day. I should point out that cargo bikes aren’t supposed to go on the light rail so this was not a foolproof plan, but the MAX was very empty so I wasn’t in anyone’s way and we didn’t encounter the transit police (who sometimes but not always kick off cargo bike moms from what I’ve heard). And now I know my long bike fits in the Bybee MAX Station elevator without having to tipped it up vertical.

Rather than travel all the way to Seattle, today we only went halfway–to Olympia–which was the closest station to the kids’ spring break destination with their dad. This worked out great for me, because with five hours to kill before my train home I was able to bike seven miles to a friend’s new house for outdoor hangs in a covered carport. The skies were dry for the Portland portion of our trip and at the beginning of my Oly ride, but I was soon greeted with that typical Seattle (and apparently Olympia, too) very light, but very dense mist-that’s-not-quite-drizzle that slowly but surely seeps into everything, soaking you completely.

I didn’t get to see too much of Olympia, but I really liked going through two roundabouts with incoming bike lanes that seamlessly fed up to a widened sidewalk to prevent conflicts with drivers, taking two miles of the Chehalis Western Trail, and cutting through a park and finding some singletrack. It would have been nicer without rain, but it was still a beautiful woodsy day.

The beautiful day lasted a little longer than expected when my train was an hour and a half late to arrive. But at least the morning train was on time for the kids and me. And this was still better than last time when my train home from the Seattle drop off broke at Centralia and after a two-hour sit hoping for a replacement engine we were put on a bus. A bit into this evening’s journey the conductor clued us newcomers in that the train had a mechanical problem after leaving Seattle so they had to turn back to get a new trainset and that’s why they were late. Wow, sounds familiar! But the new train chugged along just fine and my Big Dummy was still at the rack when we eventually arrived (I’m always worried it won’t be! It’s never fun to leave a bike at a train station…or anywhere).

Pixie was a trouper, as always, and was great company for the 10-hour day. Leaving home at 6:30 a.m. to get back at 8:30 p.m. makes for a long day of travel, but journeys like this always make me think back to meeting the Pleasant Revolution and how they challenge the idea of inconvenience in transportation. Of course they speak of touring with big cargo bikes and heavy instruments and equipment, not getting up early to sit on a comfortable train, but I think there’s a bit of a parallel in terms of eschewing just taking a car.