Our second annual visit to Liepold Farms for pumpkins

We biked to the full pumpkin experience at Liepold Farms again this year! Here’s the recap of last year’s first-annual visit: Halloween Pumpkins ON A FARM by Bike.

This year was a bit different in that we biked just the three (well, four counting Pixie) of us–last year we rode over with the Portlandize family, but this year we met up with the Metal Cowboy and two kids at the farm.

The farm itself was terrific as always:
Corn maze!
Scavenger hunt!
Hay ride!
Dark maze (I didn’t go in and the kids thought it was a little scary, but they did it)!
Apple catapult!
So many pumpkins!

My kids are that much bigger and stronger that the ride didn’t feel like such a huge undertaking this year, but that was balanced out by the weather being worse than last year. I tried to conteract that by using a makeshift tow rope for fun. Note: there are real bike-to-bike tow ropes out there and I’m intrigued by the TowWhee, which I first became aware of thanks to the Acme Bicycles Instragram (Tim and his son always have the coolest bikes and bike accessories!). I emailed with Eric of TowWhee to ask if anyone uses two TowWhees at once because it’s hard for me to do anything with just one kid at a time. Apparently some people use two TowWhees in a train-type orientation, but I was hoping to pull the two kids side-by-side behind me since they often ride side by side and chatter together to begin with.

Taking turns towing the kids with a cargo strap was an interesting experience. It taught me a lot about their different pedaling styles. My older kid is not a very consistent pedaler–which I had already learned from trying to ride our tandem with him once, and towing him was just as hard on me. I feel like we should do more tandem riding to work on our communication with one another, but oof it’s hard going! Meanwhile my little one was a breeze to tow and it was exactly how I had hoped towing would work in that I expended a little bit more energy than normal while he saved a bit of effort. Now that I’m not carrying them everywhere, I can afford to work a little harder and would love to translate that into them working a little less hard so we can go farther, more easily. So still working out the kinks on this idea. The TowWhee is only for use uphill, by the way, and is considered a tool for mountain biking.

Here’s my Strava recording of this year, 2:16 to get there versus last year’s 3:36 less business, more exploring (and doughnut stop) voyage.

The ride home was even more different because my kids deserted me to catch a ride home, gasp! Pixie and I had an extremely pleasant 1:22 ride home towing the two kid bikes and two big pumpkins (a 25-pounder and a nine-and-a-half-pounder).

I wrote about various local pumpkin patches in my weekly BikePortland column: Family Biking: It’s bike-to-pumpkins season! Here’s where to go and the comments section yield some good new ideas if you’re in the market for various places around Portland. I think Fazio Farms is closer to us than Liepold Farms, but it’s not as flat and simple to reach…but I hope to visit it next year if the weather cooperates.


Mount Rainier’s Westside Road

I found a great car-free biking spot nearish Seattle/nearish Portland: Westside Road, very close to the Nisqually Entrance of Mount Rainier. I didn’t have the kids with me for this trip, nor did Joe “Metal Cowboy” Kurmaskie, but it would be really fun to take kids on all or part of it.

Here are all my photos: Mount Rainier’s Westside Road – October 12, 2018 – 45 photos
Here’s my Ride with GPS route for the trip
And here’s my Strava recording of our ride

Map of Westside Road (starting from Nisqually Lodge)

Elevation profile of Westside Road and back (from Nisqually Lodge)

Here’s a bit from Visit Rainier:

There was a plan once for a highway that would encircle the mountain, a road through the high alpine wilderness, a dream of twentieth-century engineering that never quite materialized. Budgets, priorities and simple topography combined forces to kill the idea, but parts of the vision were actually completed, and one of the key portions is this spur road from the Nisqually River to the Puyallup River.

It doesn’t take too long after leaving the parking area for the feeling of wilderness to take hold. The road follows Fish Creek at first, before a major washout and a log crossing, then climbs along a little copper-colored stream, another tributary of nearby Tahoma Creek. Over time, volcanic flows of water and rubble have scoured the surrounding area and the ghost forests in the flood path provide ample evidence of the power of the mountain.

The Westside Road is a gravel road just one mile past the Nisqually Entrance. The first three miles of it are open to cars (we only saw one car driving, and four parked) and then it’s nine miles of car-free gorgeous scenery. There’s a parking lot just before the gate so the easiest ride with kids would be to drive into the park and as far up the Westside Road as possible before getting on bikes. This is probably also cheapest: Mount Rainier entrance fees are $30 for a vehicle and its passengers or $15 for each bicyclist. For this trip we stayed at Nisqually Lodge (which I found via the BringFido website), just five miles from the park entrance so we left the car there and biked over. There’s lots of lodging there in Ashford and a decent shoulder for biking along, though I don’t generally ride on roads like that with my kids.

Most of the Westside Road is uphill so the easiest thing to do with kids would be to ride the first four miles past the gate before it heads downhill. At this peak before the real peak is a clearing and the Marine Memorial Airplane Crash Monument, making it a fine turn-around point.

After the memorial the trail goes downhill for two miles and then uphill another three to reach Klapatche Point.

View from the top, Klapatche Point

A lot of the trail is gravel, but some is dirt which meant for some muddy spots. None of the mud was too squishy for either climbing slowly or descending quickly through, during this visit anyway. I can imagine the mud might be a bit of a problem during and after rainy spells. The elevation at Klapatche Point is 4140 feet so we didn’t get to see any snow or marmots up close.

Speaking of animals, I let Pixie out of the basket to stretch her legs on the outside of the gate and then kept her cooped up for the entire “No pets” part of the trail, which I think is OK per national park rules since her feet didn’t touch the ground.

The road crosses several hiking trails upon which bikes aren’t allowed, but at least one goes to a waterfall and there are backcountry camping areas along them. It seems like it’d be safe to lock a bike at a trailhead and add a hike and/or campout to the bike ride.

The trail that continues when the road ends at Klapatche Point

Thanks to my friend Deb who rides Rainier often for the route advice! My original plan had been to ride up to Paradise again, but this was such a different experience and so fun! It was reminiscent of riding to Ipsut Creek for the 2016 Swift Campout, but much smoother than that gravel.

Happy Walk + Roll to School Day!

Yesterday, 10/10, was International Walk to School Day! …which in recent years has turned into Walk + Roll to School Day to include all active transportation…and come May when we celebrate what was originally Bike to School Day, that’s also Walk + Roll to School Day so active transportation is celebrated twice. Or celebrated every day of the year if you’re like me. But having a big party to celebrate other kids actively transporting themselves with us is fun to do on a couple special days.

This year I hosted a party in the park adjoining our elementary school (grades K through 5) to keep things close and easy. It worked great! I’m so impressed that people made it out earlier than normal–we had nearly 100 participants, starting at 7:30 a.m., for a school day starting at 8:15 a.m.

We gathered at the picnic table area, which is conveniently under tree cover to protect from drizzle. Luckily the skies were drizzle-free and grey, which keeps things warmer than blue skies this time of year. We couldn’t have asked for a better day. Our party featured prizes, snacks, and music, then at 7:50 a.m. the 42 walking and scooter riding participants (and three dogs) set out for a 0.23-mile parade along the curving path through the park to the front door of the school. As soon as this first parade took a left towards the front of the building the biking contingent of 47 set out for a slightly longer pedaling parade around the back of the school to end up at the bike racks, utilizing the wide-open school yard rather than the busy sidewalk in front of the building. It worked great! I hung out at the bike rack for a short while, handing out prizes to last-minute-arriving walkers and bikers. Some had forgotten about the party and some hadn’t known to begin with. There’s always room to work on promotion and advertising, it seems.

Here in Portland we’re lucky that we can get free prizes to hand out! This year the prizes came from the City of Portland, but in previous years they’ve come from The Street Trust. We had stickers, temporary tattoos, sunglasses, reflective emoji key chains, pencils, and front and rear bike lights! They also provided four color posters we hung around school with details about our event.

Our PTA voted to allocate $100 to us for supplies this year which we used some of for snacks. Last year I paid for everything out of pocket so this was really nice! I went with my co-organizer, Carolyn, to Costco last week and we selected big boxes of individual serving gummy fruit snacks and goldfish crackers and I have a lot left for future events.

Leading up to the event I was very worried about coming off as un-cool because I said there would be music and I have no idea what kids listen to these days and never recognize any of the music at school events. Fortunately, I checked in with a friend who has two teenagers and he told me about the “Teen Party” playlist on Spotify. I listened to it and deemed it not peppy enough, but it gave me the idea to search Amazon Prime and I found the “Good Morning, Tweens” playlist which was perfect!

* Posters. I already mentioned the four big color posters from PBOT. That was my only paper advertising this year, but I’m allowed to use the school staff black-and-white copier to make flyers so I could have designed my own posters or flyers and printed them for free, too.

* Newsletter. I posted a blurb in our weekly PTA newsletter for three weeks leading up to the event.

* Announcement. We have a Friday Morning Meeting in the gym every week. It’s the first half hour of the school day and many parents stick around for it, so making announcements is a great way to reach all the students, all the teachers, and some of the parents. Most announcements are done in skit form so I might need to up my game come May because to date I’ve only stood and talked. I spoke to the crowd the Friday before our event, but leading up to and during May I tend to speak each week.

* Sidewalk chalk ads. I love using sidewalk chalk to advertise my events by the bike rack and various entrances to school. This year a group of “student leaders” took care of it for me during the school day on Monday. Our weather wasn’t completely cooperative and some of the ads got washed away.

The sidewalk chalk was also great for marking our two routes. I wasn’t sure how I’d lead the two different groups until the morning of the event. One of the student leaders came to help distribute prizes and I tapped her to lead the walkers after doing a quick test run along the well-marked path during the party.

What about middle school?
I can’t speak for all middle schools, but ours didn’t seem to do any official event. There are some bikers, some walkers, and some school bus riders, but most kids seem to arrive by car. Our middle school starts an hour after our elementary school so I brought my older kid along for the party and then he and I biked four miles to middle school, arriving half an hour early so we had time to stop at a bakery around the corner for a celebratory pastry.

Another day in the life during summer break

Well, I learned nothing from Monday and my plan to keep our days short while we acclimated to the long summer days. Yesterday we biked 16 miles over 7.5 hours…well, my 11-year old and I biked 16 miles, but my eight-year old biked almost 11 miles before hopping on my bike. My 11-year old has become such a little workhorse, that I might ride the tandem with his little brother for our next big day and feel safe that he won’t need to be carried at all. I used to pull him behind the tandem on a trailer bike, but he’s a bit big for that now.

The temperature would hit 90 degrees so we needed to play in water. There’s a small spray park by our house, but it’s not all that exciting, plus I really wanted to support the Occupy ICE PDX crowd. We brought our lunch to eat outside the building and discussed current events. One doesn’t need any sort of personal history with Nazis or immigration to appreciate the current horrors, but I was able to explain to my kids that while we personally don’t need to worry about being separated, my grandparents fled Nazi Germany and my mother’s first memory was her father hiding in he attic of their home in the Netherlands. These memories haunted her for her whole life — when her breast cancer metastasized and moved into her brain two years before she died, she began reliving their whispered conversations.

I made the mistake of posting to Twitter about our visit and had my first brush with Twitter trolls.

It’s hard not to feel hopeless these days; several things in my own life feel tough and out of my control and adding the news (I read the weekday emails from WTF Just Happened Today?, but try not to read too many duplicates on social media lest I get overwhelmed) can make it feel like living under a cloud. After seeing the amazing response to RAICES’ Reunite an immigrant parent with their child fundraiser and adding what I could, and making the decision to visit Occupy ICE PDX, it felt important to share more publicly, on Twitter, but I’ll stick to more quiet support again. However, I’m incredibly grateful for the more outspoken fighters out there.

After lunch with the protesters we visited Poet’s Beach. I’ve been a few times myself, though never when the river was low enough to reveal the sand, and the kids had never been before. They loved the poetry. Actually, too much. It was so hot out and they had to stop and read every rock on our way down the trail before I could run under the shade of the Marquam Bridge.

A guy walked his Big Dummy down to the sand to keep it near him, but we locked up at the racks above the beach and our bikes were undisturbed. The racks were in the shade for our whole visit, too.

Since we had a long ride home and it was still hot out, it seemed wise to swing by a spray park to remove all the sand next. The kids remembered Salmon Street Fountain from the Kidical Mass PDX bridges ride two years ago. They still love it.

Since we were just a block away from Mill Ends Park, the smallest park in the world, and it has a new sign, we stopped by there to visit.

The kids were hungry again so we opted to take the Hawthorne Bridge and go to Cartopia Food Truck Pod. Food truck pods are so convenient when we have Pixie in tow. And when the kids are so hungry they end up eating from two different trucks each–options! I was relieved to find water at Cartopia as we hadn’t happened upon any drinking fountains and were just about through our six water bottles by then. I don’t usually ride the Hawthorne Bridge with the kids, I try to stick to Tilikum Crossing and the Steel Bridge since there are no cars. But they did great and my little one loved the bike passing lane on the second half in the street…though he didn’t utilize it to pass me.

We didn’t get far after eating and took a rest break in Ladd’s Circle.

Then just as we started our slow ascent I got the “Mama, I need a lift!” request. I’m pretty sure a headwind hit us just then, too. Or maybe I was just tired. Or both.

I’m relieved it’ll be cooler for a while now and I’ll try again to work on gradually building up our summer hours.

A day in the life during summer break

Yesterday was a fairly typical bikey day for summer break (or a weekend any time of year). I have a small list of things to do/places to visit over summer which includes the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. We live very close to it and haven’t been yet, and it’s free on Mondays! (And only $5 for adults on non-Mondays.) And dogs are allowed! If I were biking there without the kids I’d just take the most direct route — the bike lane on a busy street, but we zig zagged through the neighborhood and then cut through Reed College. It made for a very nice ride, and I let Pixie out of the basket to run through Reed, starting at the “Dog Exercise Area” field where we enter the college.

The gardens were lovely, though past bloom time. It turns out people visit the gardens year round to see the ducks…which I realized when we ran into one of my younger son’s classmates hanging out on the nice lawn at Reed College whose mom said at least there are still some adolescent ducks in the pond. Fortunately she was wrong and there are lots of babies, too!

We saw a ton of bikes at the racks when we arrived (a summer camp?) but didn’t see a ton of people inside the park.

We also saw this smart idea: squirt bottle in drink cage. It was pretty hot today so I had water on the mind all day. The kids each had one water bottle and I brought two. But I should have filled all four of my drink cages so we’d have more backup. I don’t think there’s a drinking fountain at the rhododendron garden, and I think the only restroom are the three porta-potties out by the bike rack and parking lot.

Just visiting the garden didn’t seem like enough of a day so I combined it with lunch. Rather than climb back up through Reed College to get to a lunch place near home, it seemed to make sense to get over to the Springwater Corridor Trail and take that to the Cartlandia food truck pods. I didn’t bother pouring over route options at home like usual, but the default Google maps one wasn’t bad. We stuck to sidewalks for the fast streets and had to climb some small hills, but we discovered a new-to-us [small] playground on the way!

The Springwater Corridor Trail is terrific. The north/south section is closing for a while soon, but we usually use the east/west section.

And we popped out on the trail conveniently close to the restrooms and drinking fountain so I filled all our water bottles since Cartlandia has no water other than small plastic water bottles for purchase.

Once we got to the part with the gravel side path I let Pixie out again to run alongside.

We left her out to cross one road and roll into Cartlandia with us. Good girl!

Cartlandia is downhill from our house, but there are two ways to get home with very gentle grades. We chose the one that takes us by a playground to stop and play more. Barely on the way there my eight-year old developed a tummy ache and needed to be carried, but he was all better by the time we arrived at the park so Pixie and I hid in the shade while the kids played on the play structure and rode their bikes all over the park.

Unfortunately this park has no water (I think it’s broken and hopefully will be replaced at some point) so we ran out during our lengthy play break and stopped at another park to fill water bottles on the way home.

All in all it was a great way to kill six hours in only nine miles. Here’s our day in map form. It proved to be a pretty tiring day and we were all dragging today, especially Pixie and the eight-year old. I think our stamina will increase as summer break drags on, but in the meantime I might aim for shorter outings on the hot days.

New weekly family biking column on BikePortland

Hey! I’ve got a new Family Biking column on BikePortland, sponsored by Clever Cycles. It’s a weekly column, posting each Tuesday, but with some extra posts if events warrant.

So far there’s:

And the archive is here.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop posting here. In fact, perhaps it will get me more organized and I’ll post more often! Hopefully I’ll finish that post about Gateway Green I started weeks ago more quickly now.

The Trouble with Long Loads

Two months after my inaugural trip to Portland IKEA by Bike on the I-205 Multi-Use Path I made a second visit.

This time I didn’t get lost off the I-205 Path at Glisan, but I still think it needs one more sign. Below is my photo I took and shared last time: the bike arrow on the left is accurate, but there should be a second arrow indicating to use the crosswalk immediately beyond this sign. I think there probably used to be one. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if it was easy to recognize the trail across the street, but it’s tucked next to the freeway and winds out of view quickly so it’s hard to spot from afar.

I also paid attention to the Burnside crossing over the freeway and noticed that while there is indeed a paint-buffered bike lane in the street (I noticed this after the fact in Google street view last time), there’s no curb cut to get down to the street from where the trail surfaces. One could wiggle a little bit out of the way to the left to find a curb cut and make a sharp turn into the busy street so it’s just easier to stay up on the sidewalk.

FUN STUFF! New this time: I cut through the Gateway Green mountain bike park which is alongside the trail. It’s easy to see (and shudder at) the jumps while biking by, but I was happy to discover a whole network of single track! Blog post about that coming soon.

Unfortunately, my U-lock bounced off the side of the bike while I was hotdogging through the park, which I discovered upon arriving at IKEA. I explained my predicament to the greeter and asked if I could park inside and she said yes! So I tucked my bike off to the side…and had a nice view of it while eating lunch:

I have friends who shop with their cargo bikes in big home improvement stores, using them as shopping carts, but this is the first time I’ve had my bike inside a store. I have to say it was really nice to have it tucked fairly out of sight while slowly and clumsily wrestling my items on versus at the bike rack by the entrance on full display. Especially so this time, when the size of my load caught me off guard (but I’m always a slow and clumsy bike loader).

Which brings me to the real topic of this post: LONG LOADS.

Now I know and won’t make this mistake again, but before this trip’s rude awakening I only paid attention to the weight of IKEA packages online when deciding if a thing is bikeable. As long as it doesn’t weigh much more than the kids (~140 pounds together) I deem it carryable. This trip was to get a sofa sleeper: 63 pound bed frame and 29 pound mattress. Totally lighter than the kids! Even if I had looked at the dimensions (30 x 3 x 79 inches and 58 x 12 inches) I don’t know if it would have given me pause. They’re just random numbers when you have no basis for comparison, after all.

Small and heavy (like the bookcases on my first trip) is manageable, but big and heavy is another story. I was much too stubborn to give up my task when I found my way to aisle 32, bin 02 and discovered the size of this thing. It was hard to get onto my shopping cart, but that didn’t get me too worried–pedaling a bike with heavy stuff on it is much easier than loading said heavy stuff onto the bike or shopping cart.

I’ve carried things a little bit longer than my FlightDeck (the flat thing the kids sit on) before, but never anything so much longer that more of it would hang off the back than rest in the bags. I discovered this is simply too long and heavy to attach and pulls the bike down backwards. Of course my first thought was, “I need to put something really heavy in the front basket to balance it out!” but I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have done the trick (though it probably would have helped with loading so next time I’ll borrow something small and heavy if I remember).

Now I understand what the Xtracycle LongLoader is all about! It’s a product made to use with the Xtracycle WideLoader (which isn’t on their website for sale currently, but here’s the PDF installation manual) that forces cargo out to the side at the front so it won’t hit you in the back of the foot while you’re pedaling. I have one WideLoader, but I don’t use it often because…well…it’s pretty wide. I got my WideLoader before the Xtracycle Hooptie came out and while I didn’t get one a Hooptie right away (since I had stoker bars for the front kid and Yepp seat for the rear kid), I got one early enough to get one of the older versions with easy-to-pop-off rails that I can put at the bottom of the bike where a WideLoader or Running Boards or U-Tubes would go to support big or heavy items. (Note: the newer Hooptie LT2 has removable rails, too, but they require a tool to remove.)

I don’t have a WideLoader, but I do have bar ends as foot pegs for my front passenger which totally did the trick–I stowed the sofa frame box on one side and the mattress on the other, both slid forward just enough to balance their weight and the foot pegs aimed them out away from my heels, preventing “pedal strike.”

I should add that my centerstand, the Rolling Jackass, plays a big part in my being able to carry loads like this. I’m not particularly strong so being able to clumsily load uneven cargo, knowing the RJ will keep the bike upright, is very important.

Here’s my Strava of the ride so you can see how nice and flat it is. Granted, there was a work truck with a cleaning crew blocking the trail at one point and I nearly wasn’t able to walk my bike through the grass around it, but the pedaling part was all terrific!

My next visit will be on a nice-weather weekend day with the kids. It’ll be a long ride for them, but I think it will be a perfect all-day excursion with lunch in the middle, mountain biking halfway there in both directions, and hopefully the perfect doggie window perch/bed as a result.