Deschutes River Trail with Cargo Bike and Pets

Last month I took my second trip along the Deschutes River Trail. I’d been for the first time in May: Riding the Deschutes River Trail, as well as caught glimpses of the trail and developed a love for the area in March: Dalles Mountain 60 with Pixie. There might be people who bike all the way to the area, but my three trips have involved hitching rides in cars (an hour and a half from Portland or four hours from Seattle).

* All the pix! Deschutes River Trail with Jolene – October 13-14, 2017 – 143 photos

* Strava maps: Deschutes River Trail to Bedsprings Camp, Deschutes River Trail: Bedsprings Camp to the water tower and back, Deschutes River Trail back from camp.

* Great resource for this trail on Oregon Bikepacking: Deschutes River Trail: An introduction to bikepacking

The aforementioned two trips were both on my Surly Straggler with slick Compass Tires (Barlow Pass, 700c x 38mm) and it was perfectly fine, but I wanted to take my mountain bike this time to have even more fun bumping over the gravel. However, carrying stuff for camping on a full-suspension mountain bike (an old one that doesn’t have the option to lock out the shocks) when you are short enough that there’s not a lot of air between saddle and rear tire makes it difficult to load it up with a bunch of gear. I learned that in January when I came down to visit Portland Snow with Pixie.

These days I mostly only use my mountain bike for riding in the city snow once a year. I wish I could trade it for an equally old hardtail mountain bike so I could also take it bikepacking. Anyhow, I couldn’t figure out fitting all my stuff on it, especially with wanting to pack water, so I reluctantly gave up on the idea. I had nearly resigned myself to the idea of riding my Straggler again, but then I remembered: I HAVE A SECOND MOUNTAIN BIKE, and a fully rigid one at that! It’s just that it’s also a cargo bike so I mistakenly think of it as a kid hauler and grocery getter. I measured its length and Jolene measured the back of her van and we were both delighted to learn my Surly Big Dummy would fit!

I have flat-resistant Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires on the Big Dummy which aren’t knobby mountain bike tires, but I still thought they’d feel fun on the gravel. And the best part is that I could carry Pixie in my front basket and have room to carry Jolene’s awesome new rescue cat, Houdi Joe Pye, on my back Xtracycle FlightDeck in his new backpack.

Had I been on the mountain bike, we would probably have each worn our pets in backpacks. Houdi has a basket he rides in on Jolene’s folding bike, but she worried about the low derailleur mixing with the gravel. I got to take a quick spin on her mountain bike, a Salsa El Mariachi, and it was really fun!

I want to learn to pack less stuff when I camp and bringing the Big Dummy makes it easy to overpack. I decided that since this was my first time camping with no water source I wouldn’t try to pack light water-wise, but I’d practice in other areas. There’s water at the Deschutes River State Recreation Area so we refilled our water there–I had water bottles in my four water bottle cages as well as a growler full of water. I got the growler and velcro-on growler cage from the MiiR store in Seattle.

I also brought my water filter because while the water in the Deschutes River isn’t safe to filter due to agricultural run-off, there’s a stream around mile marker 12 we could have filtered. And we would have had to do that had we stayed a second night, as we went through all the water. However, my food would have been different had I been trying to pack lightly and not need lots of water for cooking. Thanks to the Big Dummy I brought my usual meals that required boiling water (pasta for dinner and oatmeal for breakfast) as well full coffee setup. I ended up packed doubly heavy since we decided at the last moment to just camp one night rather than two and I figured I may as well keep my camp kitchen bag packed up with double the food for just in case (Just-in-case food is admittedly part of my overpacking problem). So I also had my no-water-needed can of chili and can opener, double the oatmeal (which I gave to our camp neighbors who didn’t have enough and were camping for two nights), and snacks for days and days and days and days. However, I took a moment to remove my no-water-needed canned coffee (hadn’t decided if I would heat it or drink it cold) which would work for saving both equipment and water space. I’ll try that on some future trip. Maybe. Real coffee is pretty important.

So I guess my only light-packing concession was bringing one of my folding Fozzils Bowlz. I don’t like to use plastic for warm or hot stuff (and hope to someday avoid it for all stuff), but this thing is pretty nifty and my friend Marley has it in the top spot of her 5 Must-Have Camping Gear Items. Mine is part of a three-pack from a gifted three-month subscription to Cairn which delivered a lot of cool stuff.

Before I knew for sure which bike I was bringing, I had loaded up my frame bag with the things I might need to quickly access. It’s a great bag, but my bikes are so small that I can’t easily fit it on them (I’m 5’5″ which isn’t that small, but it’s small enough to feel jealous of tall people and their many options…like the whole saddle bag bumping the rear tire of my mountain bike thing).

Seeing my idea of “most essential things” might be a window into my need to learn to pack better:

Oveja Negra 1/2 Pack™ Frame Bag with:

I also took advantage of the cargo bike and brought a full-sized pillow and a second sleeping pad because I was experiencing quite a bit of temporary back pain. The second sleeping pad was also for warmth as I’m not normally a three-season camper and was pretty scared about being cold overnight. It was heavenly! I might need to figure out a way to do two pads in the future. One of the pads belonged to my eight-year old so I only have access to an extra if I don’t bring the kids along. I see a lot of friends with Therm-a-Rest Z Lites so that looks like a good one to add to our stable. Note: our current camping gear is all listed in my Family Bike Camping Primer.

The trail was much like my last visit, except it was too cold to see any rattlesnakes this time, yay! Dispersed camping along the river was new for me (we camped at the recreation area last time) and we shared our site around mile marker 8 with two backpacking women. They referred to the campsite by its name, Bedsprings Camp, rather than mile marker which lead me to find this link, Deschutes River Hike, with all the campsites listed by name. I’m not sure the bikepackers know these cool names!

On day two Jolene and I pedaled on from camp to the Harris Homestead and I was glad to see the farmhouse is still standing…though probably not for much longer.

This is the spot at which Chele, Kelley, Kelly, and I turned back last time so I was extremely excited to hit some new territory this trip. The trail is still pretty easy to ride to the water tower, but past that is when the gravel gets rougher and there are probably many tire-puncturing goatheads. We discovered more buildings to explore and the creek makes for a pop of green amid the mostly yellow landscape.


Biking from Portland to Oregon City

On World Car-Free Day (September 22nd) I joined eight other women to bike to Oregon City. I’d heard that it was fairly close and fairly flat so this seemed like a perfect test run to see if it would be a good trip to make with the kids.

My photos: Flickr: Oregon City ride with Women Bike/The Street Trust – 46 photos
My Strava: Strava: Oregon City with The Street Trust Women Bike

The ride was organized by Women Bike, a program of The Street Trust–an Oregon transit, walking, and bicycling non-profit based in Portland. I found it via their Facebook group.

I nearly didn’t make it to the ride; as I rode to the meeting point, a squirrel darted across the street in front of me and smashed into the side of a car coming from the other direction. It lay twitching in the road as I pedaled past. I’d noticed the squirrel on the sidewalk, before it started across the street, but the woman driving the car who killed it didn’t even register the small bump. I had to staunch the urge to turn around and head back home. Obviously, the squirrel didn’t represent a squirrel, the squirrel was everyone and anyone lost to shoddy implementations of Vision Zero.

Anyhow, I sucked it up and continued along to Grand Central Bakery in Sellwood where I met seven awesome women (one more joined us en route) and we soon took off for Oregon City.

We sort of knew what to expect from this great Bike Portland guest post: Trolley Trail tour: You can now ride Portland to Oregon City nearly carfree…except it turned out being a lot quicker than we thought it would be, both because it was fewer miles than we had estimated and because we traveled faster than the advertised “brisk-but-still-leisurely pace of about 10mph” given the makeup of our group. The route wasn’t completely straightforward and our ride leader, Lise, stopped briefly a few times to check the map and keep us on course. I’ll turn my Strava recording into a Ride with GPS route I can easily follow before going on my own.

The first cool thing we saw was early in the trip, along the Sellwood/Milwaukie 17th Avenue Multi Use Path, when we came face-to-brush with a tiny street sweeper! I read about this four years ago on Bike Portland: Portland buys a new, bike path-sized street sweeper (and Seattle was supposed to buy one, too, but I don’t think that ever happened: Seattle Bike Blog: Seattle will purchase skinny bike lane sweeper machine). It turns out this one we saw belongs to the City of Milwaukie, and the kids and I got to see it up close two days later at Sellwood-Milwaukie Sunday Parkways where it was parked next to a full-sized street sweeper for a dual naming contest.

Next up, halfway to Oregon City we discovered the perfect restroom/drinking fountain/playground stop: Stringfield Family Park.

As we approached Oregon City I saw a billboard for the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive & Visitor Information Center which I can’t wait to check out with the kids. We didn’t ride by it in the group, but it looks bike accessible as I look at the map.

The last bit of the Trolley Trail wasn’t done, but there was an arrow spray painted on the road directing us towards Oregon City. A guy working on the site also gave us directions.

Our plan was to hang out in Oregon City for an hour, exploring the area and finding a spot for lunch. One of the women on the ride had been to Oregon City recently for an Oregon Trail themed 5K run and told us about the elevator and trail up on the second terrace so we headed for the Oregon City Municipal Elevator.

I love the elevator! It’s older than Seattle’s Space Needle and is the only outdoor municipal elevator in the US (and one of only four in the world). Bicycles are allowed in the elevator so four of us squeezed in with the operator for the first run. The remaining five opted to carry their bikes up the stairs. They were very quick to arrive and meet us, but I’ll use the elevator for future visits, even if I have to wait because it’s quite the walk. The observation deck is full of lenticular images (two-in-one holograms) and educational signage.

We walked and biked along the McLoughlin Promenade a ways for a lovely view of the Willamette Falls. One of our group was an architect who recently had a project in Oregon City and told us about the three terraces.

We split up for lunch, half of us at Oregon City Brewing Company (which is large indoors and out and looks good to visit with kids and dogs!) and half somewhere with vegetarian choices.

I’m thankful to have found this great resource. Two women knew each other from before, but the rest of us were all new to one another. Also in our group was a woman from the Portland chapter of Black Girls Do Bike. Portland has a lot of great resources for women, see Bike Portland: Portland’s network of bike clubs for women is thriving. I look forward to exploring more of the area with more of these groups!

Halloween Pumpkins ON A FARM by Bike

Ohmigosh we can bike to a pumpkin farm from our new home! Liepold Farms in Boring, Oregon is just half a mile off the Springwater Corridor Trail and about 16 miles from our house in southeast Portland.

My kids had never biked 32 miles in one day before, but our previous big rides in Seattle were hilly and this trip is mostly flat so I figured they’d be OK with taking time for resting and snacking along the way.

Here’s my route with some points of interest called out.

The trip there took over three and a half hours (3:36 total, 2:05 moving time) including doughnut stop and the ride home was just about the same: 3:38 total including dinner stop and 1:55 moving time.

I took a test ride alone during the week, mostly to see what the portion on Richey Road in Boring was like as well as to check out the trail-side encampment situation. Multi-use trail shoulders make for safe camping spots (versus anywhere near cars, say), but sometimes encampments encroach on all or part of the trail and I wanted to know what to expect before bringing the kids through. On my Tuesday test ride there was a spot close to home where one guy had his stuff covering half the trail. This was close to where a group of people lived barely visible from the trail and he had cleared the stuff away by the time I went back by a couple hours later. Under I-205 a group living on either side of the trail had a branch stretched across the trail, I figured as a makeshift speed bump. That was gone on the way back, too. Come the weekend, the entire encampment had moved to a different spot. And once I got out of Portland there was just one lone tent visible from the trail. In Gresham I saw a serious looking vehicle talking to a homeless guy near some stuff strewn under a bridge. So while encampments tend to move around, I think there are rarely trail blockages, or even any tents, outside Portland proper.

As for the half mile of country road, that sucked. Richey Road starts at 35 mph and goes up to 45 mph and there is a very small gravel-strewn shoulder. However, the farm looked so cool–even during my quick peek during the test ride–that I deemed it worth braving. I’m glad we went with friends because I wasn’t sure if I’d rather have the kids in front of me so my bigger, more visible bike was at the back (assuming they’d be game to ride ahead) or if I’d stick to my normal lead position. As it was we sandwiched the kids: parent, kid, kid, kid, parent carrying kid, parent. Best of both worlds! Plus the road had been swept by the weekend so we were OK in the shoulder, even the parts where it was pure gravel…though I rode to the left of the white line for some of the way. I think everyone behind me stayed on the shoulder. All cars passed us safely, but this is definitely not the type of road I like riding, with or without the kids.

On the big day we met with Portlandize’s Kath and her family at Cartlandia, one of Portland’s many food truck pods, and the spot where we enter the Springwater Corridor Trail. The children were very excited about the Voodoo Doughnut truck so we waited a few minutes for it to open (at 10:30 a.m.) and eat doughnuts before setting out.

My eight-year old got hungry again a mile and a half later (seriously?!) so we stopped at one of the many trail-side benches for him to eat a sandwich. Lots of these benches are at trail heads, this one at Beggars-Tick Wildlife Refuge. I need to ask around and see if it’s considered safe to leave bikes locked up alongside the Springwater Corridor Trail because there’s some great wetlands hiking to be done here. The trail also features an entrance to Powell Butte Nature Park.

Water and restrooms
About halfway there we stopped at the Linneman Station Trailhead building, only to discover it temporarily closed, with even the water fountains shut off.

The next water fountain I saw was at Gresham Main City Park, by the baseball field right alongside the trail. I didn’t see a restroom, but I bet there’s one deeper into the park. Either way, it’s a good spot to stop for passengers to run around and stretch their legs or pedalers to collapse on the grass for a bit. UPDATE: There are restrooms at Gresham Main City Park, next to the baseball diamond (thanks, Caitlin!)

The best stop is at the end of the trail: Boring Station Trailhead Park. It has everything! Water fountain, extremely clean bathrooms that “smell like a swimming pool,” and a play structure. We topped off our water bottles, used the facilities, and let the kids play on the play structure for a bit before tackling the crappy road.

Note: the edge of the park, by the stop light is where you’ll find the “Welcome to Boring Oregon” sign if you want to take a photo with it.

Even if you don’t stop for wildlife area hikes, there’s a lot to see from the trail:

Snakes! I saw one little snake during my route test ride and my 10-year old saw one during our big ride.

Caterpillars! Once it was warm out (for my test ride on the way back and for our weekend ride on the way out), we saw lots of fuzzy caterpillars. We make a habit of dodging them and during my test ride I saw evidence of other caterpillar lovers: a dog walker stooped to move one off the trail to safety and a mom and toddler crouched to watch one crawl past them.

Horses! People ride horses on the Springwater Corridor Trail, and many intersections have crosswalk buttons set at walker/bicyclist height and at horse rider height. Sadly, the horses we followed across a street on Saturday were at one of the rare non-horse-height button intersections and one of the riders had to kick our short button with her foot.

Sheep! There are some sheep on the north side of the trail near Powell Butte (marked on my map). Fun joke opportunity: we headed home later than expected and I chastised the kids for trying to count the sheep as we biked by lest it put them to sleep.

Goats! There are some very friendly goats near the end of the trail (marked on my map). One will amble towards you if you make eye contact.

Bunnies! Our late return meant the bunnies were out in full force. We saw quite a few of them on the side of the trail near blackberry brambles. But it was too dark for my picture to be interesting so here’s a loose bunny we saw on our way to the trail in the morning.

Beavers. We didn’t see any beavers, but there’s a nice interpretive sign about them. And a good beaver lodge (marked on my map)

Nutria. We didn’t see any nutria, either, but there’s a sign about them. My kids would have loved to see one and spent a lot of time talking about nutria and beavers.

Cows. Somewhere near the start we passed a field of cows. Not as exciting as the other critters, but they still count.

Liepold Farms
I don’t know what to tell you for bike parking. I asked around during my test run and no one knew where I should park. I figured there’d be more staffers, including parking attendants, on the weekend and it wouldn’t be confusing. However, there’s no dedicated bike parking so I suggested I just put the bikes off to the side near the info booth and they were fine with that. Kath and I both have sturdy double kickstands so we played bike racks for our families’ bikes. Tippy bikes could find a building to lean against.

We bought complete passes and had a blast on the hay ride and in the corn maze. The price was reduced on account of some of the corn maze having been flattened by high winds, but it felt plenty big to me…in fact, the little kids made it through to the end while the rest of us gave up and backtracked out. We didn’t stand in the long line for the pumpkin/apple slingshot, but it looked awesome.

The pumpkin selection was great and we left with three extremely big pumpkins ($20), one adorable tiny $1 watermelon-looking pumpkin, and a bag of apples for $5. We admired the “frickin’ huge” (apparently they say that a lot on MythBusters and I’ve failed to notice) $1-each Hanner apples.

There’s barbecue on the weekends, including a good selection of kid options and a large, covered dining room next to the kid pavilion (which my 8- and 10-year olds found fun to play in, though it looks sized for toddlers).

Perhaps the most exciting thing is that dogs are welcome! I didn’t realize that until seeing the sign during my test ride. So Pixie came along and had as much fun as the rest of us. A lot of other visitors brought dogs, too. We were the only visitors by bike that day as far as I could tell, though.

I heard one of the food servers mention a bike race at the farm on November 11th. Turns out it’s a cyclocross race, Corn Cross 2! I didn’t realize there was cyclocross within biking distance of us. PIR and Alpenrose both seem way too far to bike to with the kids. My littles say they want to come back to Liepold for Corn Cross 2 to do the kiddie lap.

Other Portland pumpkins

Portland Nursery. In Seattle we couldn’t bike to a farm, but we enjoyed visiting Swansons Nursery’s “Fall Adventures” by bike. There are similar experiences in Portland, such as the Portland Nursery Apple Tasting and Kid Activities. We visited on a very rainy weekend and had a great time choosing big pumpkins and painting little pumpkins. I was very impressed by the amount of bike parking. We’ll look for future activities here.

Rossi Farms. Rossi Farms is close to the I-205 Bike Trail so I did a test run there while on the way to IKEA (I can bike to IKEA!!!! Blog post coming soon), but I didn’t like the default route given by Google Maps once I left the trail so I’d have to do some experimenting (at least using Google Street View and possibly riding over alone again) before bringing the kids here. This is closer than Boring, but it’s more of a pretty wedding venue than an actual working farm. However, it has lots of pumpkins and free tractor rides so it’d be fun to visit next year.

Bushue’s Family Farm. This farm is also in Boring and was my first choice for our big trip, but once I saw how far off the trail it is, I didn’t even visit for my test run. It looks like an awesome farm and has tons of farm animals (though no pet dogs allowed), but four miles of country roads felt like way too many.

Sauvie Island Pumpkin Patch. Sauvie Island seems to be the most popular pumpkin patch in the area and some people bike to it, but most people drive there. I hear highway 30 is horrible for biking so I don’t plan to ever visit, plus it’s farther from home. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it when talking about area pumpkin patches.

Have I missed any? Let me know in the comments!

Biking to a New School

Our move from Seattle to Portland happened two weeks before school started so we had a good amount of time to explore our neighborhood and beyond before settling into our new daily schoolyear routine.

Our school has so many bike staples!

It’s not entirely fair to say Seattle is hilly and Portland is flat since Seattle has some flat neighborhoods and Portland some hilly ones. But I think it’s safe to say that in general Portland is flatter than Seattle. I’m happy to say we landed in a neighborhood that is flat as far as the eye can see. Versus our old neighborhood in Seattle which a biking friend referred to as “living on the side of a cliff” (which is an exaggeration, but other than two flat blocks to the east it was a steep two- or three-block climb or descent in all directions).

Our biggest change is that school is no longer a two-and-a-half-block walk from home (it took longer to put on helmets and bike than to walk so we only bothered with bikes on Bike to School Day). Now school is 15 blocks away–a legitimate bike-distance from home, and I’m pretty excited about that.

One huge bummer is that my 10-year old broke his arm four days before school started. However, that meant I didn’t need to figure out a kid-safe bike route to school for a month.

I have 3 types of routes:

  • me alone (and sometimes me alone in a hurry versus me alone slightly less direct, but more pleasant)
  • me with kids attached on tandem or cargo bike
  • me plus kids riding separately

They’re rarely the same.

Allow me to stray from routing talk for a moment and acknowledge that my beloved cargo bike is yet again a lifesaver. The kids have been riding their own bikes primarily for a while, plus I needed them to ride on their own all the time while I was biking with a broken foot so it’s been a while since I’ve carried them both. And yeah, just the one kid broke an arm, but apparently there’s a rule that if one’s big brother gets a lift the littler kid gets a lift, too.

I’m pretty sure the arrangement of kids we found ourselves in is the only way this would have worked. I keep only the left rail of my Xtracycle Hooptie on the top of the bike (the right rail is down low for stepping up to the deck) so my 10-year old with the broken left arm sat backwards at the front of the deck to hold the rail with his good arm. Then the eight-year old sat sideways or backwards to have adequate legroom. This put the heaviest part of the heavier kid at the closest spot forward and the lighter kid more forward than had be been sitting forward-facing. I think I would need an e-assist with throttle/boost button to get started safely if they were both facing forward with the little one in his usual front spot and the heavier one at the very back. Biking around our flat neighborhood was fine, as was the one decent block-long hill coming back from all points close in. However, I had to stop twice to rest briefly on the big half-mile-long hill between the hospital and home. We took the bus to get to a few appointments downtown, though that was more out of worry about the kids sitting in the cold for such a long time on my bike–there’s always a bit of adjustment as the seasons change. Next broken arm (ha!) we’ll be acclimated enough to bike to the orthopedist.

Now, back to school…

Portland has some awesome bikeways, but there are also quite a few busy streets that only have stop signs or stop lights if you’re crossing using another busy street. There are two busy streets (one east-west and one north-south) between home and school. Those intersections are OK for me alone or me carrying the kids, but I don’t like the kids riding through on their own bikes.

I didn’t do a ton of exploring and experimenting, but the day before the cast came off I carried the kids on my proposed kid-friendly route to school and the kids declared it a winner. It’s 50% longer and takes over twice as long (I phrase it that way to sound dramatic–it only takes 13 minutes versus 6 minutes when I carry them on the more direct route). It also has more blocks of gravel than I imagined possible even in this neighborhood of many unimproved roadways. Obviously, that’s a bonus in the eyes of the kids.

What I don’t consider perfect is that instead of biking in a door zone bike lane for one block (a BIG block, the length of three of our other blocks) we cut through a church parking lot (which is fun and safe, but not as ideal as using a quiet public street) to avoid half of that block and then we stick to the sidewalk for the other half of the block.

But we all love the route! Highlights include spotting a feral cat, Mr. Moo, each morning and afternoon, the kids learning the different contours of our six consecutive unpaved blocks as the gravelly craters fill with rainwater and become enticing puddles, and my pride as the kids confidently zoom home ahead of me as soon as we cross the second busy street.

We’ve Moved from Seattle to Portland

Let me start by apologizing that no, it wasn’t a bike move.
Also, you’re not the first to ask ;) I used a PODS (Portable On Demand Storage) portable storage container.

There are many brands of movable storage containers, some that operate only in certain regions, and I’m pleased to report I found my PODS very convenient. Choosing arbitrary dates for the container when booking it was the hardest part, but it ended up working out just fine. I had the container at our house for a week and gradually carried all our stuff into it…alone, because I was too stubborn to ask for help, which I don’t recommend. At one point while collapsing under the king mattress in the basement stairwell for the third time I muttered, “I wish there were two of me!” so do consider using a movable storage container, but also consider enlisting help. Then we camped out in sleeping bags for a week because that’s how long it takes the PODS to make its journey. I traveled down solo by train to meet the PODS and unload (with help for the few big items this time–I learned my lesson) in just a day.

I used the largest of the three container sizes (16 feet, holds 3-4 rooms worth of stuff). Fortunately, my many recent forays to the thrift store to give away years and years of accumulated needless stuff paid off and I was able to fit just about all of our belongings into the one container. I originally booked two, with the smallest of three sizes (7 feet, holds one room worth of stuff) to arrive right after the big one was picked up, but it was easy to cancel the second container as soon I could tell everything would fit in the first PODS.

While I thought I had put just about everything in the PODS it turns out those “just a few essentials” left out to use during the moving process somehow expanded. In addition to my train trip down to meet the PODS, I also took a trip down with my friend Michelle in her Westfalia camper van packed with quite a lot of leftover stuff.

One of the hardest things was deciding which bike to leave out. I wanted to get everything except for my new Brompton folding bike in, but I ended up not being able to fit my Surly Straggler into the PODS (not for lack of hefting, whining, falling, getting scratched, getting chain marks on a bunch of stuff, etc) so that was the bike I left out. That ended up working to my advantage because after the container left I borrowed a Haulin’ Colin trailer (I have the special hitch on my bike already) so I could make one last thrift store run. And then I took the Straggler down on the train (and the Brompton back up).

I ended up renting cars twice for visits to Portland to look for housing with the kids (after a couple solo trips that were easy to do by train and bike). The first time we got stuck with an SUV. I always like getting the smallest car possible for better gas mileage and easier parking. Previously I’ve always refused the “For the same price you can upgrade to a larger vehicle!” thing, but this time it was paired with, “Oh, and your small car won’t be ready for a few hours” and that unexpected delay would have put a big wrench in our plans. At least that made it easy to bring bikes along so our weekend wasn’t all spent in the car.

After so much driving, I couldn’t stomach one more car trip so we made our final move by train. And surprise, surprise, I somehow still had a lot of stuff to carry. I had the Brompton with me and it played the role of luggage cart marvelously. Most notable was when a homeless guy on the last bus leg of our trip (after bus, walk, train, walk, light rail) took one look at me and said, “Wow. I’d been feeling sorry for myself with everything I have to carry, but look at you!” I’m happy to have brightened his day. It pains me that I’m sometimes mistaken for being homeless just because I’m on a bike, but I do like that having a bike along (even when it’s not overloaded) often makes me more approachable to homeless people. It’s not the most apparent way bikes unite people, but it is indeed a thing.

I’ve left behind some amazing friends in Seattle (whom I hope will all come down to visit!) as well as some great bike events that I’m happy to say will all live on in my absence: Kidical Mass with Familybike Seattle, Seattle Critical Lass, and #coffeeoutsideforher. We look forward to visiting Seattle to play bike tourist and see what changes and what stays the same. There are already new protected bike lanes going in downtown!

Swift Campout Kidical Mass 2017 Recap

Just a few weeks after our Kidical Mass Bike Travel Weekend group bike camping trip to Illahee State Park we led our annual Fay Bainbridge group bike camping trip for Swift Campout.

* All the photos here: Seattle Kidical Mass Swift Campout to Fay Bainbridge Park – June 24-25, 2017 – 193 photos · 1 video
* Details on timing and routing here: Swift Campout Kidical Mass June 24-25, 2017
* Our group numbered 44 humans and two dogs. Six kids were on their own bikes!

More detailed stats:

  • 6 kids on bikes
  • 10 regular bikes:
    • 4 regular bikes without attached stuff
    • 1 regular bike + Weehoo iGo trailer bike
    • 1 regular bike + Burley Piccolo trailer bike
    • 2 regular bikes + kid trailers
    • 1 regular bike + dog trailer
    • 1 regular bike + Burley Travoy cargo trailer
  • 2 Yuba Spicy Curry e-assisted longtail cargo bikes
  • 4 Xtracycle EdgeRunner longtail cargo bikes (3 with e-assist)
  • 1 Surly Big Dummy longtail cargo bike

Each kid-carrying bike carried just one kid (except for mine which carried zero kids). A couple younger sibling babies who aren’t on bikes yet joined us via car.

This was our sixth year camping at Fay Bainbridge Park and it was as awesome as always. We’ve done a lot of trips with groups and a lot of trips just the three of us and there’s always something new to learn.

Some neat new-to-me camping products:

Also new this year was a new route. It was kind of in between the two main routes we all use, the flatter highway route (my favorite) and the hillier scenic route. I still can’t decide if it’s the best of both worlds or the worst of both worlds. It’s definitely a third option, though! The route was suggested to us by the Bike Barn Rentals guy as we were waiting on the next ferry to bring some of our campers to us. This wasn’t his original suggestion–that was a bit hillier, though not the same as our regular hilly scenic route. I tried to explain that with 150 pounds of bike and gear I didn’t agree that a couple steep sections could equal a better route. He may not have agreed with me, but he did make some changes to the route. I took this new route on the way back, too, to see if that would help me decide if it was a keeper or not and I still couldn’t decide. I’ve since learned (thanks, Chris!) that looking at the grades of a given route are a good indicator of if I’ll like something or not. In general, I like things less than 6%, so the 6.4% of this new route is also iffy. I’m mostly torn on it because it still contains plenty of highway and plenty of shoulderless side roads, so it’s certainly not all good if you ignore the one big hill.

But there was some great stuff about this new route:

* We biked by the Bainbridge Island Blueberry Co. which has U-pick blueberries! I prefer rushing straight to the campground and settling in, but lots of families do stuff on the way to camp and this would be perfect for that.

* The Port Madison Lutheran Church where we turned off Madison Avenue had lots of shade, a water faucet, blackberry bushes, and a play structure! It was a wonderful spot to rest and snack at the five-mile mark (out of 6.3 miles).

* It was very nice to arrive to Fay Bainbridge Park from the south along a relatively flat section. The big hill (only 5.6% sez Ride with GPS but it feels steeper) at the end of the “flat” highway route is right at the end which makes it that much more unpleasant.

It was nice having the three reserved camping spots this year and not having to worry about space. It was also neat having the car parking spots that came with the three sites to allow a few families to do supported bike camping. We’ve been joined by car camping, or partially car camping, families in the past, but they had to find and figure out the car parking those years (though I’ll admit I don’t know if that’s difficult or not, not having car camped at Fay Bainbridge Park myself).

This was my kids’ first time biking to Fay Bainbridge on their own bikes since I was biking with a broken foot. I was extremely impressed with them. Quite different from last year’s Family bike camping Bike Overnight to Fay Bainbridge with the tandem + trailer bike where I’m pretty sure I was the only pedaler. It was hard for me not to think back on my own trip last year for 2016 Swift Campout to Ipsut Creek with Swift Industries which was one of the biggest rides I’ve ever done and felt so unobtainable in my broken state.

I had planned on staying two nights so the kids could play all day Sunday (and I could rest all day) and have energy for riding home Monday morning. It’s always fun to watch the different groups take off when you’re the last to leave. However, after playing all day we all felt done with the beach and with camping so I cooked our dinner for a late lunch and we hit the road. I am so incredibly amazed that my kids made it without complaint! We took our time and met up with friends at the ferry which helped immensely. And we stopped for the spray park on the way home.

Happy Solstice!

Bike camping Vancouver Island/Salt Spring Island

I’ve been to Salt Spring Island many times, primarily as a kid in the backseat of my family’s car as we trekked our way north from California. We camped along the way, but once on Salt Spring we always stayed at my aunt and uncle’s house so I’ve never had the pleasure of camping there before now. I have, however, biked there once before: four years ago I borrowed a three-sizes-too-big bike and panniers and left early in the morning for a one-night journey to the island and back. It was quite the whirlwind trip, but very worth it to visit with my aunt and uncle before their health failed. The visits (by car) bringing kids of my own were rewarding, too, of course, but it was nice to have a very focused visit this one time.

I started a blog post about that trip, but never finished it. I don’t think I discovered anything that I won’t write about for this new trip other than: consider not doing a big trip on a bike three sizes too big because it might really hurt your back. And wash your old water bottle out well because you can food poison yourself–which is really not fun on top of an aching back. Here’s a photo from that trip. I also learned brown bikes with brown panniers don’t photograph well in woodsy settings.

Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada. June, 2013.

And back to the present-day trip. Photos are here:
Flickr album: Vancouver Island, Salt Spring Island – 7/28-7/30/2017 – 218 photos · 1 video

My friend Velotron joined me and it was awesome to have company this time. It was also awesome to do it on an appropriately-sized bike and with clean water bottles. Unfortunately, Velotron’s commuter bike was out of service so he was on his too-small bike he uses for hauling his cargo trailer. And I think his back was bugging him on account of that. By the way, Velotron is my friend from Bike camping in Iron Horse State Park, take two last year. I had been pretty bummed out we weren’t going to get a chance to do a repeat John Wayne Pioneer Trail trip, but with my broken foot still on the mend, I haven’t been much for planning big trips. I’d certainly call this trip big, but I didn’t need to do planning in the sense of deciding on a destination or date. My aunt died last November and my uncle the year before. This was the weekend of her birthday so on the Friday friends and relatives scattered their ashes at sea (unfortunately I couldn’t make it all the way to the island in time for that) and on Saturday we had a memorial luncheon.

Maps. Or, my love letter to Ride with GPS
I want to interrupt my trip report with a love letter to Ride with GPS. Four years ago I did my routing at home with Google maps and hand wrote turn by turn directions on a piece of paper. It was a nerve-wracking experience, wondering if I’d made the correct turns on the trails of Vancouver Island while racing the clock to catch my second ferry.

I still use Google maps as my initial route planner, but if I want to save a route, I use Ride with GPS. For this trip, I saved eight routes, one for each leg of the trip: Ride with GPS – My Routes. I’m too frugal to invest in an international data plan when I visit Canada so I downloaded the maps of those eight routes for accessing offline. Now what I didn’t realize ahead of time is that even in airplane mode, I could get turn-by-turn navigation! It didn’t occur to me that GPS is independent of internet despite having used my Garmin GPS bike computer to record rides (stored until I’ve found wi-fi and then transferred to my phone via Bluetooth and ported over to my Strava account).

So yeah, turn-by-turn navigation! In Canada! Impossible to get lost! Note: I have a Ride with GPS paid Basic account, but you can still do a lot even with the free account: create routes, download routes, and record a ride (I rarely record with Ride with GPS because I’m already used to my Garmin/Strava system for when I want to keep track of things, but I imagine I’ll do more Ride with GPS recording in the future). What the free account doesn’t do is turn-by-turn navigation. And I see the premium account (fancier than my basic account) also gives estimated times. I got estimated times from Google maps and included it in the name field–for example, “Ruckle Provincial Park to Twig and Buoy (1.5 hours)”–but for long field names like that one, I had to click to edit it in order to see all the way to the end of the title on my little phone display. Another note: I had a discount code when purchasing my Ride with GPS account for being a Cascade Bicycle Club Ride Leader.

Ooh, and I found the screen with elevation profile! I’m not sure if following my blue dot slowly climb the hill was all that helpful or if I was just punishing myself. Maybe Chris Froome Looking at Stems isn’t missing out on the experience after all, because I still had a great time even as I grunted constant reports about how close we were to the top and what came next.

Since I had to bring my kids to summer camp at 9:00 a.m., I couldn’t catch the 7:30 a.m. Victoria Clipper ferry like last time so we took the 3:15 p.m. one. It’s a passenger-only (no cars!) high speed ferry–less than three hours to get from Seattle to Victoria. It’s pricier than Washington State Ferries, but it’s so convenient! Bikes are $20 (cargo bikes and tandems are $40) each way and they’re parked outside under a tarp, but still exposed to salt spray so some people don’t bring bikes for that reason.

The ferry to Salt Spring Island’s Fulford Harbour leaves form Swartz Bay which is two hours north of Victoria. I found a campground right next to Swartz Bay, McDonald Campground – Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, and was able to make a reservation over the phone–$27.20 CAD, $13 of which was the reservation fee. Our boat arrived late and we stopped for dinner in Sidney along the way so it was dark when we arrived. The campground has pit toilets and no running water (that I could see during our very short stay), but the location can’t be beat!

We set our alarms for 6:00 a.m. to roll out at 6:30 a.m. for a seven-minute ride to the ferry terminal and catch the 7:00 a.m. ferry to Salt Spring Island.

I couldn’t reserve a campsite at Ruckle Provincial Park ahead of time. There are only 10 reservable spots and 68 first-come, first-served spots. I called and was told they don’t turn bikes away so even if we couldn’t find a spot, we’d be OK.

UPDATE: We met a couple on bikes on our return ferry who had been turned away! They said there’s a new guy at the park who turns bikes away if it’s full. They found a place to camp in Ganges and paid $24 CAD rather than $20 and had RVs for neighbors.

Check out is at 11:00 a.m., but I wanted to try our luck finding a vacated spot at 8:30 a.m. so we could dump our stuff. Salt Spring is hilly and I wanted to ride to lunch and back without camping gear. We got incredibly lucky and scored an empty site right on the water.

Ruckle is gorgeous. People who arrive by car have to park in a parking lot and then bring their stuff in with wheelbarrows. So the campsite area is free of cars and despite being packed with tents, doesn’t feel overly crowded. A gravel trail runs through the campground and to get to our waterfront site, we had to follow a narrow trail through a couple other sites. I was worried about finding our way if we returned after dark, but it was still light when we got back.

Lunch was in Fernwood, 15.5 miles from Ruckle and our biggest leg on the island. It was hot and hilly, but we made it with some time to spare before noon. I was too tired to do any exploring of the small village, but just beyond Twig & Buoy was the water.

Twig & Buoy is usually just open for dinner, but this day they accommodated our special event and it was terrific. I heard many wonderful stories about my aunt and uncle and shared my own. Some of the old photos on display I hadn’t seen before, but my favorite will always be this one, from a bike tour they took all over Vancouver Island:

Our route to and from Fernwood took us past St. Mary Lake and I wish we’d brought suits for a quick swim after lunch.

Instead we biked straight to Ganges, the biggest village on the island. We had an hour to kill before dinner with my dad so I lazed in Centennial Park while Velotron explored. The Saturday Market had just closed up for the day, but it was still packed in the park and all over the village. Then despite needing to search around for a dinner place with seating, we were done eating and back to Ruckle before the sun was down.

Have I mentioned Salt Spring is hilly? I was exhausted and fell asleep before anyone else in the park.

Sunday was structured around us being back to Victoria in time for the 7:00 p.m. ferry. So as not to be rushed, we met my dad for breakfast at Rock Salt by the Fulford Harbour ferry at 10:00 a.m. and took the 11:50 a.m. sailing. We saw so many more bikes getting off and on the ferry as we had the previous morning! And then once we were back on Vancouver Island there were bikes everywhere! We kept crossing paths with the same people as we stopped for water, shade, and blackberries and had progressive conversations. The couple that had been turned away from Ruckle warned me off my plan to swim in Beaver Lake due to E. coli the last few years. And later they recommended our Victoria lunch spot: Tacofino. And we met the sponsors of the drinking fountain at one of the bike rest stations.

We ended up with tons of time in Victoria. So we immediately found ice cream.

And then we found Tacofino. I second my ferry friend’s recommendation.

After lunch we found a shady spot near the Clipper terminal and were so early we could watch the Clipper before our Clipper set sail. I don’t think I would have enjoyed rushing to catch that earlier boat and I didn’t have energy to do anything but rest and read, so hanging out in the shade with a view of water taxis, seaplanes, and the MV Coho coming from Port Angeles was just great. However, Victoria is a blast if you’ve got the energy–the kids and I had a terrific time three years ago: Victoria, BC with family bike and saw a lot of Victoria two years ago during our camping trip at Goldstream Provincial Park Campground: Spring Break 2015 Recap.

I’m not sure I’ll visit Salt Spring Island again. It is a beautiful place, but it’s just not the same without my aunt and uncle there now. If you haven’t been yet, though, I highly recommend you check it out. My whirlwind visits were well worth it, but know that one is allowed to camp at Ruckle for up to 14 days. Also, I have a feeling most people bike from Fulford Harbour to Ruckle Provincial Park and then stay put rather than go bike an additional 30+ miles. That seems like it would be pretty nice.