Bike Nielsen 2014 Prologue, Santa Barbara to Portland, Oregon
Today’s mileage: Countless effortless miles on the train
Total bike mileage so far: 8 miles to get to the train station
Local Gas Prices: $3.95 in SB
Weather: Humid and cool most of the trip
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: minus 2
Animals for the day: Shorebirds near Salinas, cattle and horses all over, and three animal statues in a field near Paso
Train tracks describe the back alleyways of towns. When we are on the train, instead of seeing the pretty facade of Main Street, we see the windowless barn-sized backs of industrial parks. Sometimes there is graffiti, oftentimes there is patio furniture where it looks like workers take their breaks outside. This perspective is very different from what is visible to the drivers out on the road. As we left Santa Barbara on the train, the first views were very familiar because we lived for years right near the train tracks at Castillo Street. For the next couple of miles after the old homestead, the corridor next to the freeway is recognizable because we drive that often enough. Before long, but still in our hometown, we lost track of where we were exactly. The golf course near Fairview and Hollister comes right up to the train tracks, which we didn’t realize, so we thought we might be farther out near Sandpiper. But wait, Sandpiper doesn’t come right up to the tracks. This feeling of disorientation continues as we get farther from home. As we passed by what we thought was San Luis Obispo, we commented about turning inland and how pretty it is up by SLO, only to hear about an hour later that we were in San Luis Obispo.
Around Paso Robles, there are farmland, pastures, vineyards, and oil fields. We looked out at a ranch house surrounded by fenced-in pastures where some person with a good sense of humor had installed statues of a bobcat, a coyote, and a small black bear walking on his hind legs. The bobcat and the coyote faced us and the bear walked in the same direction as the train. The display was clearly for the entertainment of train passengers.
Upper Klamath Lake goes for miles and miles where shore birds in large flocks fly up as the train rolls by. There are white pelicans with black tipped wings who slowly lift off in small groups. The lake is about twenty miles long and eight miles wide. According to a person on the loud speakers, “in the summertime, if you are six feet tall, you could walk to the other side of the lake with your head out of the water.” According to Wikipedia, “The lake depth fluctuates due to regulation of its water supply, averaging between 8 to 60 feet (2.4 to 18.3 m) deep.” Uh, we think we will go with Wikipedia.
As we pulled in to the train station at Klamath Falls, an Amtrak employee took to the airwaves to tell us that we were stopping and please gather your belongings if this is your stop. Oh, (BTW), we are supposed to get a new crew here but they haven’t slept enough, so we are going to stay for about an hour. Thank you for travelling with Amtrak! It turned out alright because while we were waiting, we listened to a really interesting guy describe a big piece of machinery over on a side track. John was taking a photo of Berta in front of the Pandrol Jackson Model 6700. We heard a man ask if we wanted our photo together in front of “this beauty”. This guy, who might be in his early sixties, has relatives who worked on the railroad, so when he was eight he worked on one of these machines in Milwaukie. It is a big piece of yellow-painted machinery that rolls on the rails. Its wheelbase is at least 20 feet long and it has so many hydraulic lines that it needs a 120 gallon tank for the fluid to keep them pressurized. It rolls on the good portion of track and does most of its work out in front of itself. It is mostly used to lay new track or repair old track. The long slanted metal ramp was sometimes loaded with new ties. Seven or eight guys manned this machine. He said at the end of the day the workers were covered in the creosote from railroad ties.
We talked to this guy for a little while longer. He told us the railroad runs locomotives forward sometimes and backward other times to reduce wear. The locomotives are diesel engines that power electric drive motors. The motors don’t care which direction they go, so the railroad reverses them and all cars “all the time” to reduce wear on the bearings and the wheels. After we had chatted for a while, our train expert saw his wife walking over and introduced us. She said hello and immediately they both said goodbye and walked away. Not too long after that, the replacement crew appeared and the train whistle sounded. We still had a few hours to get to our destination. It seemed like forever until the train finally rolled into Portland.
The last time we were in Portland, we remembered the bicycle infrastructure being good. That was in 2000. It is even better now. We put the bikes together and needed to ride about three miles to the La Quinta Inn we saw on our GPS. We ended up riding another couple of miles at least because it isn’t a La Quinta Inn anymore, it is a Quality Inn, so we passed it up the first time. The maps on the GPS are up to date as of last week. Wrong. We thought we would evaluate our other options. So we pedaled past some big festival that probably was about beer, but they didn’t want us to know that so they didn’t have any big sign. We rode around a little while longer and decided to go back to the Quality Inn. This whole time, every street we wanted to ride along had a bike lane. Some of the main streets had the bike lane separated from car traffic by big planters in the roadway. Many of the bike lanes were painted green and all of the cars were careful around bikes. It was super special.
Prologue part deux
For this trip, we decided to land in Portland because it was the last stop on the Coast Starlight train that allows for baggage (bikes) to get off the train and is still early enough to put the bikes together and ride to lodging. So we needed to get ourselves up to the route in Port Townsend. From the Quality Inn, we called around for a one-way van rental. No luck. Plan B was a U-Haul truck like we did last year. It works pretty well except for the gray hairs it gives John. They never have the smallest truck, which would be perfect. We rented a 14 foot U-Haul where a person had spilled two liters of soda in the back. After ten minutes failing to avoid sticking to the floor, we had the bikes tied up. We chugged off, ready to hold up traffic for a few hours.
The landscape in Washington State is so much greener than back home in droughtville. As we drove up the east side of the Olympic Peninsula, pine-covered mountains towered on our left and most of the time a still bay was to our right. It isn’t Puget Sound—there is another strip of land between this road and Puget Sound. All along the road are wild berries and pink flowers. The grass at the side of the road is a little brown because they have had a dry year too, but that is all relative. There is “waterfront
property” all along this route, crammed in the ten yards between the road and the water. Much of it was for sale.
We made it to the U-Haul dealer at our destination where John pried his sweaty hands off the steering wheel and gladly gave up the beast. The woman at the desk warned us about riding in the heat (it was pretty hot and humid, but only for the Northwest, not for anyone else). We fired up the GPS and looked for our friends’ house. Luckily, we did not find a Quality Inn at their address. Instead, we rode just a few miles. We would spend the next two days laughing until our faces hurt.
Port Townsend is a thriving little village with a lot of well-kept Victorian houses, bustling restaurants, nice little local shops, and a big marina. They are known for having a big scene for boatbuilders, with an emphasis on wooden boats. We took the nickel tour that lasted all of five minutes. It might have been shorter if we had found parking on the first loop. In this small area there is a ton to do, especially in the beautiful early evening. We had dinner on a restaurant deck suspended over really still water. Some otters swam by during our meal while the stand-up paddle boarders and the sailboats went by.
While we were visiting in the greater Port Townsend area, we took a quick test ride along the first stretch of our route. Originally, we were planning on this trip to head east from the Seattle area to midstate Washington and then south to Mount Rainier. But wildfires have changed our plans. By the time our ride starts, the fires may well be contained; however, there are hundreds of people who are out of their homes along our planned route. So even though the smoke may not be a problem, it seems unlikely that we will find lodging consistently. So now we are planning to head West around the Olympic Peninsula. The first stretch of the new route is thirty miles of paved bike path. We scouted half of it today, partly to get the legs working. We travelled over two neat bridges, one that was the original train bridge on this line, the other a beauty of a bridge just for walkers and cyclists made with that fake wood that is so nice and smooth to ride over.
There was a sign on the path alerting us to a bald eagle nesting area. It was just a stand of maybe ten big pine trees between two pastures. The sign asked us not to linger under the trees, as presumably it would unnerve the birds. We read the sign, looked way up, and there was a big bald eagle, full grown
with the white head and everything. Of course, we had to linger then, trying to get a good photo despite the distance and the grey sky behind the eagle. If they hadn’t placed a sign there, we never would have known there was an eagle so far overhead.
We rode for a mile with a man and a small boy. The little guy had a bike with twist-grip shifters and he actually used them. The first time we saw them, we had to wait as the boy made a miscalculation and ended up making a big lefty loop to turn right. “Sorry!” he said sincerely. We went up some small slopes where he downshifted and stood to climb. The man said things like “There you go, Scooter!” to encourage him along. We passed them, but stopped ahead to read about this railroad line so the two of them passed us again. We overtook them on the next hill, where junior was still chugging along, riding on the grassy edge to stay out of our way but also looking over his shoulder to watch us go by.
Day One, Jamestown to Port Angeles, WA
Today’s mileage: 28
Total bike mileage so far: 36
Local Gas Prices: $3.83 in WA
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 0
Animals for the day: Snails, slugs, and sea birds
We Live in Drought and Vacation in Rain
It was really nice to have seen the beginning of our route today. Even though a day on a bike path is a cinch compared to one on the highway, it was comforting to know what was ahead. And by “know”, we mean that we remembered things like the eagle nesting place (none there today), and the hotel that we don’t need today but was gloriously right on the route if we had needed it. We didn’t remember other details like how we got to the restroom in the county park we went through. For those decisions, we had to stop, discuss, and guess about the next turn. It doesn’t make a good acronym, but Stop, Discuss, Guess is kind of a bike trip catchphrase.
It was raining lightly when we awakened today. This is the first rain the area has seen in weeks. “It should blow through,” our friends commented with optimism. By the time we started out, it was pouring. We donned our rain jackets, pants, and some rain bonnets that look as goofy as they sound but do a good job. They are waterproof hats with elastic to stretch out over a helmet. They are perfect in cold rain. Today it was pretty cool (60 degrees), so they were good. In hot rain (like we have seen in New York State), not so good. We need new ones, the inside is flaking off giving us a bad case of dandruff; put that on the list.
The bike path put us on residential streets for about a half a mile where some construction was happening to install bulb-outs. If you don’t know what this is, you may have a libertarian municipal government. You may know these as (according to Wikipedia), “A curb extension (or also neckdown, kerb extension, bulb-out, kerb build-out, nib, elephant ear, curb bulge,”curb bulb” and blister) is a traffic calming measure, primarily used to extend the sidewalk, reducing the crossing distance and allowing pedestrians about to cross and approaching vehicle drivers to see each other when vehicles parked in a parking lane would otherwise block visibility.” An Elephant Ear! That’s someone with too much time on his hands. And if you are going along the lines of blister, carbuncle or bunion might be more appropriate. We decided that three groups like bulb-outs: city planners, curb construction crews, and tire alignment guys. It is only a matter of time before these pristine curbs will be covered with tire rubber from all of the cars that smash into them.
We arrived in Port Angeles around 1 pm. It was exactly when a big ferry let out all of its passengers in an unruly stampede of cars and walkers. We survived that and made a mental note it was a bad idea to ride towards a big blasting horn.
Our route maps have very detailed instructions about how the bike path was supposed to become the main drag through the downtown area. We rode a course that didn’t resemble the instructions at all but included a few miles of neat foggy wilderness right at the water’s edge. Once we got into town, Berta spied the sign for the Port Angeles Inn, which she thought she remembered from the map was right next to the Quality Inn, our destination. Somehow we had gotten ourselves within yards of our destination. Yards away but possibly 150 feet below it. Standing on First Street, we looked up at a huge wooden ramp that made its way up to Second Street by switchbacks. John the Chivalrous offered to slog up the ramp to see if the Quality Inn was indeed at the top. Before long, he waved down to Berta the Patient to say that she, too, needed to climb that hill. It was a 15% grade of wooden planks with railings. Berta pushed her bike, hunched over and taking big steps, while a toddler pranced and chatted along behind with his father huffing and puffing. Later, we took a stairwell down that same hill to look for dinner. Then we discovered we could go up one block and over another block to use a much gentler hill to get to the same place.
It rained the entire time we were on the bikes. We are starting to think that white is probably not the best choice for sock color and that gray or black would be better.
Day Two, Port Angeles to Forks, WA
Today’s mileage: 70
Total bike mileage so far: 106
Local Gas Prices: $3.80
Weather: Fog and a little sun
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 1
Animals for the day: Spiders on the beach rocks
We knew ahead of time that today would be a long day in the saddle—there are nice mountain lodges on our route that have all sold out at this short notice. So we planned for an early start. It didn’t happen. Berta looked at the clock and to her horror it said 0633. Breakfast had been open for three minutes! “We need to get up, it is six thirty already!” she exclaimed as she flopped back down. Berta never gets right out of bed. John, however, is usually standing up by the time he wakes up. We had breakfast where we pocketed some little packs of Nutella and were on the road at 0820.
Berta out on a lake
We stopped in the little town of Joyce to get some juice. There was a two-pump gas station in front of a market/post office. According to the man behind the counter, this is the first post office in the state of Washington, in service before the time of Abraham Lincoln when the official U.S. Postal Service was established. Berta was outside, filling the water bottles. She had finished that task and waited for John to return with “grape juice or cran/grape juice or Hawaiian Punch”. After a while, she ventured into the store to find out if John was asleep on a cot in the back. No, he was standing slack-jawed, looking at an old chain saw that had a bar at least six feet long that was suspended from the ceiling. It turns out that the chain saw might be the first that was made in America. It was an exact copy of a German chainsaw that was captured in WWI. The Germans invented chainsaws that they used to make the “tank traps” that so confounded the English. Its engine was a horizontally opposed twin like you might find on a BMW motorcycle. The engine needed to stay upright to run because it had a gravity flow carburetor. In order to keep the engine upright, the chainsaw had a nob so you could adjust the angle of the bar. We learned all this in—what we were told—was the oldest general store in continuous operation in the state of Washington.
Now THAT’S a chain saw!
Our first lunch today was on a beach covered with large smooth stones. We sat outside a fenced-in area where several RVs were parked. A couple of guys took off from the shore in a small boat loaded with some sort of seafood trap. They worked to clear the waves with their paddles, then fired up the electric engine to get out to their fishing spot. The fog obscured them before too long. While we ate, Berta noticed there was a spider on a rock about three feet away. It was somehow a non-threatening spider: about a quarter of an inch long with skinny legs that stretched out front and back to give it an hourglass shape. Not sure why, but this to Berta is less scary than spiders that have thick legs out to the sides like a tarantula. This crossed Berta’s mind in a flash before she realized that there was a spider on each of many of the rocks around us. They crawled out when we sat still, then hid when we moved. This was too much for Berta, picturing all of these spiders on the rocks where she sat. She hopped up while John the Unflappable remained seated with multiple spiders close by. Berta tried to take a photo of this unnerving situation, but each time she got close to a spider, it crawled back under its rock.
We stopped at about thirty miles for a proper lunch, standing along the Armco at a turnout. Today’s meal, prepared at a Safeway yesterday, was Greek Orzo Salad with peppers and Kalamata olives, augmented by some of the Italian dressing that we got on the side for our salami sandwich. We asked the lady at the deli counter last evening to put the dressing on the side as we were going to eat the sandwich out on the road. PS, that is the way to get more dressing. She filled two whole containers, which we poured on the salad and the sandwich. We are saving the little packet of Tabasco sauce that we pilfered at the motel for another sandwich another day or for when company comes.
We saw a trio of people touring on foldable Bike Fridays on the road today. They were stopped at the crest of a big hill. We pulled up and peppered them with questions. Two of them have been on the road for almost eight months. They started in Key West in January and had just two days of riding left when they would put their toes in the Pacific Ocean. The third person had joined them recently—she was from Canada near here. While we were talking, her husband pulled up in a van conversion. He was their support vehicle and had driven up ahead and made reservations at a lodge for them. In the course of our conversation, we found out that the wife doesn’t like drafting behind the husband because he doesn’t keep a straight line nor a consistent pace.
We pedaled seventy miles today. Our destination was Forks, Washington, which happens to be the setting for the Twilight books and movies. Neither one of us is familiar with the story. The marquee for the motel where we are staying says “Welcome to the Twilight Zone”, the pizza place across the street has a Twilight menu, and the deli offers a Twilight wrap with ham and provolone. That must get old. We saw no vampires, only one guy who looked like a werewolf. Don’t tell him that—he thinks his wild facial hair is the kind that is in style.
The lady at the motel desk gave us a recommendation for a dinner spot. We walked three blocks or two Twilight references back into town to find a nice little restaurant. We both ordered exactly the same dinner (we have been married for twenty years last week), and it was very good. Salad with Thousand Island, followed by a burger. The owner of the place came by to ask how dinner was. He had been “out back, cleaning some fish” and his son was doing the cooking, so he wanted to know how it was. Our server, who reminded us of our cousin, also wanted to make sure our meal was good. These are people who care about what they serve.
We went to Thriftymart to get provisions for tomorrow. Berta stood at the deli counter and selected lunch. Pastrami (because yesterday we had Salami), pepper jack cheese (hotter is better), and on a Hoagie roll (softer is better). The girl at the counter asked what sauce we wanted. Berta says put it on the side, we are eating the sandwich tomorrow. The girl repeats the sauce choices. Berta repeats, all of it, put it on the side. Done. John is off in the store, looking for other stuff. The girl says to Berta that they have a new Cheddar Cheese that is much hotter than the Pepper Jack, here, try this. Berta munches and it is much hotter. Yep, put that on.
There was a Laundromat 200 feet from our room. It had a 22 minute wash cycle and dryers that went for six minutes for 25 cents. Four bits and the lycra was dry. We have a little cotton with us, so it has to hang overnight to dry completely.
Day Three, Forks to Kalaloch, WA
Today’s mileage: 36
Total bike mileage so far: 142
Local Gas Prices: $3.90
Weather: Fog and a little sun
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 0
Animals for the day: Blue jellyfish and crab skins on the beach
Our motel in Forks had a complimentary breakfast with no place to sit. We ate our cereal and toasted English muffin outside the office, standing with our food lined up on a railing. Later, as we walked back to the room, we saw that there were picnic tables under a popup sun shade between the office building and the rooms. By then it was too late.
It is always a little nerve-wracking to see construction signs out on the road. We see them up ahead and wonder what kind of sprint we will have to do to get through the construction zone. No worries, it turned out, today’s construction site was off the side of the road. We talked to a guy who was supervising a small crew running huge earth-moving equipment. We stood on the edge of the highway about forty feet up from the level of the Hoh River. This river makes a big curve that has damaged the highway a few years in a row, so they decided to do something about it. There were two hydraulic buckets and a big dumptruck that fed them rocks. They were excavating mud and rocks from the river bank, sinking big metal beams like posts into the earth, and covering those with huge logs, rocks, and mud to make protection for the highway. John stood with the video camera on for a few minutes. Berta talked to the supervisor who said they would be working for another two months. A fellow bike tourist rolled up and asked more questions. When he asked what the elevation is here, roughly, the supervisor guy said off the top of his head “184”. Then he walked a few yards down the slope to where the elevation was painted on the road. 183. Ya, he decided after he walked back, here is 184. Berta reset the altimeter on her bicycle computer. John reluctantly shut off the video camera, exclaiming, “I could watch that for hours”.
We turned off the road when we saw a sign for Ruby Beach. The side road was a very wet gravel, with potholes that made us wonder if the view would be worth it. It totally was. We could have walked down to the beach, but that would have meant leaving the bicycles, so we stayed on the bluff and looked out on a beautiful rocky coastline. We talked to the bike tourist we have been seeing all day. John asked him if he knew why this is called Ruby Beach. No. Berta read all the signs around. None of them explained why it is called Ruby Beach, although one gave instructions for when you see a cougar. Instruction number one: “Pick up small children”. Good idea, but it doesn’t answer why it is called Ruby Beach. John was desperate, blurting out to anyone: “Why is this called Ruby Beach?” A young man answered, “It was because of all the blood spilled here in the battle of…” before he started laughing. He had us going. That would have been good. According to Wikipedia: “The beach is so called, because of the ruby like crystals that get washed to the beach from the fresh water leaching onto the beach. These crystals are the byproduct of the glacier activity that used to happen in this area. (Source: ranger station).” That ranger station sure knows a lot.
We pulled over at a scenic stop where a big fifth-wheel trailer was parked. In front of it was a big idling Nissan truck. John immediately started talking to the woman. Her husband was kind of holding back, walking around his rig, doing a systems check. He eventually joined in the conversation and blurted out, “This is what happens when a person has too much money!” The couple invited us to look inside the trailer. It had a full-size bedroom, a stove, an oven, an actual kitchen counter with sink, a bathroom, and more. They love it and contend it is easier to drive than their last trailer that was much smaller. This is day three for the behemoth.
We ventured off the route to look at the Big Cedar Tree. This was a pretty big tree, but to quote a man standing there, it was “not very tall”. True, but it was gnarly. It was difficult to tell if they were roots coming up from the ground or branches drooping from the tree. We talked to a couple whose children were peeking out from holes in the tree. The woman asked us, “When do you shower?” It seems like a
goofy question, but to answer it in case you also wondered: “At night”. She must have thought we camp all the time, but even then they also have showers at campgrounds. We did our own systems check and decided that we didn’t bring on the question ourselves, she was just curious.
Now THAT’S a big cedar!
Many of the place names in this region look different than they sound. Take Sequim, for instance. For all of you people who want to make that two syllables: don’t. It’s Squim, with not even a moment’s hesitation after the S. Today we headed for Kalaloch, which has a similar forgotten first vowel. Clay-lock. We stayed at the Kalaloch Lodge where an average room goes for big bucks because it is a national park inn. The room had a five-star view and a very new bathroom, but other than that, the place acted like it knew its concession wasn’t up for review for ten years. They have “Green” rating for their environmental practices, which means they can charge $3.50 for Fair Trade coffee at breakfast where they put a cocktail napkin under every item they deliver.
We walked out of the lodge, past the cabins, and to the beach. This beach is strewn with big weather-beaten logs that fell in the mountains, splashed downriver to the ocean and then were tossed up on the sand. It is such a phenomenon here that they have signs in the rooms and things in the gift shop for sale that say “Beach Logs Kill”. Why you would want a pint glass or a ball cap that explains that, we don’t know. Anyway, on the beach we spied a ranger giving a presentation. We walked up and Ranger Li welcomed us right away. The audience included a couple who probably drive a Prius (insert your own stereotype here), and a man wearing a polo shirt with a logo that said “Norwich Croates” or something like that in embroidery that was too hard for Berta to decipher, even though she spent at least 3% percent of her attention for the whole presentation trying to figure it out. Any inaccuracy you read here is due to Berta’s indiscriminately enquiring mind. The last pair in the group was a grandfather and grandson. The grandson was waist-high tall with reddish-brown hair, ears that stuck straight out from his head, and the perfect skin of a child. He was a smart enthusiastic kid who wanted to contribute. When he talked, he held his arms straight over his head and punctuated his comments by throwing his hands forward like he was at a rock concert or a Texas Longhorns football game.
Li told us that they have proof that these trees fall in the rainforest above here and float out to sea before they come back to land. While they are floating in the ocean, barnacles and clams hang underneath them in little seafaring colonies. After the logs wash up on the shore, after they have done their murderous deeds, they are home to weasels who are sneaky critters who will steal your unattended sandwiches. Other detritus on the beach includes crab shells and little blue jellyfish. We don’t know how we got to our combined advanced age without knowing that crabs molt; however, all of these crab shells aren’t dead crabs, they are crab skins. PS, spiders shed their skin too. We didn’t know that either and add that to the list of things to develop a compulsion about. The little blue jellyfish float with a kind of sail up in the wind, so they are susceptible to getting tossed up on the beach in a storm. That has happened recently and the beach is littered with skeletons of jellyfish lost. The whole time we were listening to Ranger Li, the large waves crashed on this long wide beach in quick succession similar to the waves at Pismo or up in Morro Bay.
Since we have a drought at home, we are used to rushing through showers. But this is the Northwest, where there are puddles at the side of the road all day. Even so, there is an hourglass in our shower tonight to challenge us to take a five-minute shower. We had a late lunch and prices in the dining room are ridiculous, so we had chips and salsa for dinner.
Day Four, Kalaloch to Montesano, WA
Today’s mileage: 81
Total bike mileage so far: 223
Local Gas Prices: $3.85
Weather: Fog and a little sun
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 2 (81 miles is too far)
Animals for the day: Horses and cows only. We heard a howling dog.
We stopped at a gas station/grocery store in Humptulips where we purchased some fruit pies, cranberry juice, and cran-grape juice. Yes, we did say the town name is Humptulips. We were chatting with the store cashier, a pleasant woman, who said she wanted to win the lottery and to ride a bike as long as the money lasted; but looks like she hasn’t been on a bike since childhood. She says that the Internet erroneously shows that there is a ferry down the coast from here. Cyclists take that wild goose chase all the time. She gave her blessing on our route up and over the mountain to Montesano. “It’s not too far, a nice ride,” she said about the 32 miles we had yet to ride. “We get hundreds of bicyclists here each year and I like to talk to them.” We filled our water bottles from a tap outside the building that was almost on the ground and the water was sweet.
As we were talking, a big dump truck pulled up to the gas pumps. Out jumped a guy you would describe as a fireplug. He eyed us with insolence. He went into the store and the cashier followed him. Before we knew it, the guy came out to greet the guy who stopped at the other pump. And by “greet”, we mean he ran out like something was on fire and got the other guy in a chokehold while spewing language that would make a sailor blush. They seemed like friends, though. For a few minutes, they had as private a conversation a person could have at the top of his voice standing only feet from strangers. Then he turned his attention to us. “Do you have a pistol?” was one of his questions, as he explained that there were a lot of crazy #$@% around here. Somewhere in his monolog, he used a word that was only crass, but not profane. “Pardon my language,” he said to Berta, as he continued with worse. He told us that people are bad drivers (him excluded, of course), and that he got a speeding ticket in California just a few weeks ago. He was going 97 miles per hour. John explained to him that 100 miles per hour means jail in California. This guy looked at his female companion. “Hey, woman! You were beating me to go fast in California! Three mph faster and I would have had to yell: ‘look at her, she has a GUN!’ ” The woman wasn’t paying attention to him at all. She looked at Berta and asked how far we ride per day. Berta said we did 70 then 30 miles in the last couple of days, but we were having to do 80 plus miles today. This woman, who was really pretty in the eyes, dressed in upper body underwear and really fit, threw up her callused hand for a high five from Berta. The short loud guy reminded us to look out for the bad drivers—especially his friend here, “he’s a crappy driver!” We rolled away while he was still fulminating.
The rest of the day wasn’t bad because we knew what to expect. We knew at the end of our ride we had reservations in a motel at a gas station in Montesano (rhymes with Draino). Berta had done Google Street View and thought it looked okay, especially since it was the only game in town. John walked in to the Chevron Food Mart to get our room key while Berta chatted with a guy outside who was also staying in the motel. He was touring on a recumbent bicycle with a full fairing made for making a land-speed record. It had 27 gears like a regular bike, but also an internal hub that multiplied that by three. He had a huge top gear that meant he could fly down hills; however, he had a heavy rig that was a bear to pedal uphill. His wife just left on a two-week cruise in Alaska, and he thought he would pedal around for a while. He hollered out when we rolled in, “they have one room left in case you don’t have reservations!” He doesn’t realize that innkeepers always tell you they have only one room left to make you feel
desperate. When we made reservations yesterday, they only had one room left. The room we got was fine: nice and large for bicycle parking.
We ate dinner at the Bee Hive restaurant and were immediately recognized as tourists and, as such, subject to fleecing. Yes, the dinner consisted of a Ruben sandwich and a Patty melt. With two slices of Rhubarb pie, the total came to $38.00. John couldn’t leave town fast enough.
There is a Trike Rally somewhere in these parts right now. There are three-wheeled motorcycles all over the place. Most have the two-wheeled axel in the back, but some have it in the front. There is a big red chopper trike with a VW engine parked outside. Next to it are two “standard” Harley trikes.
It is expensive to drink in Washington. According to laws that went into effect in 2012, “All spirits are to be taxed at 20.5% on the shelf price in addition to a flat spirits liter tax of $3.7708/liter.” This makes John’s tequila round out at about $24 for an amount that would cost $15 in California. Ouch.
Day Five, Montesano to Yelm, WA
Today’s mileage: 64
Total bike mileage so far: 287
Local Gas Prices: $3.65 on the Chehalis Reservation
Weather: Fog and a little sun
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 1 (all flat riding today)
Animals for the day: Alpacas, goats, lots of cows
We rode on the Chehalis Reservation today, along the Chehalis River. We heard someone say Chehalis like there is “hay” in the middle of it. Not sure if they are authoritative. We left the route to go into Oakville for food. The town was pretty shuttered except for a fast-food looking building with a local name on the sign. The door proclaimed that the credit card machine was not working so John asked if we could pay with a credit card. This question was answered with a stare. We were greeted by one of the two young men in the place. They both looked about 25, although that is hard to say because other people are getting younger every day. One took our order and the other fixed our food: eggs with hashbrowns, bacon and toast. Now, this has to be the very first thing any cook learns, but we were wondering how Bucky and Junior were going to do. Breakfast was spot-on. With so much bacon John felt guilty. You just cannot judge a book by its cover.
Some of our ride today was on a nice bike path. We are climbing steadily now as we get into the mountains. In Tenino, we followed our route instructions to the start of the bike path at a county park. There was a car show in the park. At first we (Berta) was very irritated at the sign that said “No bikes”. But there were many really nice cars and we (Berta) can see how they don’t want people pushing or riding bikes next to the fancy paint jobs. We locked up the bicycles, brought out our ball caps and pretended we fit in with all our bright lycra. Which we didn’t. Clearly, we were aliens.
The bike path went for 14 miles and stayed within earshot of the busy highway we were avoiding. There was a lake off to the other side where people got off the path to fish and picnic. We saw about twenty other cyclists, including a couple of touring cyclists who sounded Austrian to us. As we passed a man who was futzing with his bike, John asked if he had everything he needed. He didn’t, so John stopped to possibly assist. It turned out that his bike had just been in the shop, but it was grossly out of whack with the back wheel. It was a “fixie” or a one-speed, and the wheel wasn’t centered in the dropouts. The tire was rubbing so badly that it was like the guy had his brakes on. When John tried to help, he realized that the rear axle was secured with bolts, not quick-release skewers, so he was no help at all. The guy said he had pliers, which were probably going to be useless, and he needed two
wrenches no matter what. John described to the guy what needed to happen and we rode away thinking the guy had a long slow ride home ahead of him.
We stayed on the path through the small town of Rainier. It was here that we got our first glimpse of Mount Rainier. The mountain is so huge that it is visible from Seattle on clear days, but as we get closer it is obscured by the nearby mountains. And then there is the weather around Mount Rainier, which is notorious for hiding it. So we got a few fleeting glimpses today while riding, and then it is visible from the parking lot tonight. It is awesome.
Only once before have we made reservations for lodging on a bike trip. We have made six this week. We look on web pages, sometimes see if Google has a more accurate photo of the place, agree to pay whatever ransom they require, and take a chance that the place may be a bummer. It really is difficult to anticipate the quality of lodging in small towns. Today we headed for Yelm with a confirmation number in hand for the Prairie Hotel. It turned out to be an awesome bike trip stop. It is a reasonably-priced business-class hotel with a big screen TV, three chairs as alternatives to sitting on the bed, very nice details in the room, and a convenient guest laundry. We walked five hundred feet to an Italian restaurant where we had spaghetti (yeah! Great bike trip food) and could have walked across a parking lot to get to a multiplex theater. We decided not to spend some hours watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but we thought about it. In the morning, there was a diner close by in the other direction. It doesn’t get better than this for lodging on bike trips.
To top off an excellent day, the local paper in the hotel room had a Cabela’s insert. It had night vision optics, rifles, compound bows and camouflage that John wanted.
Day Six, Yelm to Ashford, WA
Today’s mileage: 46
Total bike mileage so far: 333
Local Gas Prices: $3.75 in Yelm
Weather: Sunshine with a gentle tailwind
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 2 (all uphill today)
Animals for the day: A bison, geese, chickens, and a steel giraffe
We asked the server at dinner last night how a small town supports the really nice hotel we occupied. She said, “Ramtha”. We didn’t know what/who that is, so we asked. She whispered something we didn’t hear and then said, “Ramtha, Google it.” According to Wikipedia, “JZ Knight is an American mystic teacher and author, and is known for claiming to be channel of a spiritual entity named Ramtha”. This is evidently a big bucks topic. Later, John asked the people at the hotel desk this same question. They mentioned dog shows and hydroplane races. We don’t know if Ramtha is a fan of hydroplane races. But then we looked at the map and realized that Yelm is a bedroom community to the state capitol Olympia as well as the big military base Fort Lewis. Ramtha Shmamtha.
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The little town of Elbe is dominated by the Hobo Inn and Restaurant, which occupies several cars of an old train sitting on the tracks beside the highway. We stopped at the grocery store for some juice and chocolate milk. The chocolate milk contained 900 calories and the grape juice container had at least 300 calories. We finished them. After that, we rode over to the little Lutheran Church of Elbe, built in 1906 by Germans who settled in the area (www.elbehistoricchurch.com). The docent told us that the first pew on the left and the organ are original. We chatted for a little while, then headed back outside.
When Berta lifted her phone to get a photo of the church, the docent and John both turned away and tried to get out of the picture. Both were worried about their hair presentation. The Lutherans would be proud.
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We climbed steadily for the whole day, at usually less than a three percent grade. Berta has an altimeter in her bike computer, and she pays (sometimes too much) attention to it. Even when the percent grade didn’t register today, the elevation was increasing a little. We had reservations in Ashford. As is common, the “Entering Ashford” sign preceded the town by at least two miles. We passed a market, some houses, and a couple of lodges before it started to look like the town was done. There was a downhill ahead so we started to panic that we had missed a sign (you don’t want to go screaming downhill only to find out you have to come back). John made a quick U-turn to ask for directions. He talked to an artist—that’s what her signs proclaimed—who said we should ride another quarter of a mile. She had on a red sequined hat to go with her red mumu. She told John she is seventy years old. John noted that she offered plaster casts of Bigfoot footprints for $47.50. We continued for a half a mile and found our destination.
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This is expedition country. We are just five miles from entering Mount Rainier National Park. For once, our quick-dry lightweight flimsy pants and special purpose shoes are in style. Everyone has on hiking boots and is carrying walking sticks, a backpack and a camera. We checked in and looked for some Sherpas to hire to carry our bikes to the second floor. No luck, we lugged them ourselves to our spacious comfortable room. As we normally do, we showered right away because the combination of sunscreen and road grime is unfair to any public surface. We took our clean selves down to the desk and reviewed our options for dinner. Unfortunately, we had to get back on the bikes to ride back into town. We had a serviceable dinner (what cut of beef was that supposed to be and did you ask for well-done?) and returned. At the stroke of five-thirty, we walked down to the lobby to claim our free wine. Yes, that was a selling point at this lodge: free wine. John pretended he drinks red wine (he doesn’t). As we stood at the desk, a fellow lodger was also holding a glass of wine. We just had to ask her, “What’s your story?” We had watched her earlier in the parking lot, cleaning a white road bike that she had up on a bike stand next to her SUV. It turns out that a few days ago this woman completed her first half-Ironman triathlon in Seattle and that white road bike is a recent big purchase so she wants to keep it nice. Her name is Chris. We talked for maybe ten minutes, standing at the front desk of the lodge. Another lodger chimed in from the couch over by the fireplace in the lobby. David is a retired professor who, with his wife Terry, was enjoying the beautiful wildflowers while day-hiking near Rainier. We sat down and Chris sat down. The group looked for common experience. David rode a bike on the Blue Ridge Parkway, like we did. He also had some connection with UCSB in our hometown. Chris and David have traveled in Africa. We exchanged some stories. When there was a lull, we returned to our room.
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A little while later, we decided to walk downstairs and see what else was happening. Everyone was still there, planning for going out for food in a bit. As we had already had dinner (bike trip schedule), we continued the chat. It turns out that David and Terry have been married for a year. They went to Antarctica (David said “Let’s go South”). Read the next quotes with a New Yorker accent: Terry recounted that they told her “there would be a lot of penguins around the next bend. What? Could there be thirty or fifty? No, there were TWO MILLION. That movie you wonder how they got the penguins to come over? No, they ALL come up at you.” We cracked up at her description. We talked with Chris, who is deciding about her future. It is hard not to sound like evangelists about bicycle
touring, especially to someone who is tough enough to finish a half Ironman. That is a 1.2-mile swim, a 56- bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run. We don’t need a lot of encouragement to describe the places we have pedaled. Since her family is in New York, we told her about the extensive bike route network there. We always try to get bike maps from the states where we travel, and New York mailed us a big package. Nine different official bike routes through the state.
Day Seven, Ashford to Paradise, WA
Today’s mileage: 26
Total bike mileage so far: 359
Local Gas Prices: No gas stations on today’s route
Weather: Cool, breezy, cloudy
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 2 (all uphill again today)
Animals for the day: Horseflies
Most mornings on bike trips, we are at breakfast before everyone else. We have the place to ourselves, doing that dance everyone does at a complimentary breakfast bar. Have you seen the sugar? Spoons, hmmm, where are the spoons…. We normally forage alone. By the time we are finishing up, other patrons start filtering in, looking for coffee. Today, it is different. When we walked downstairs, half of the rooms we passed had the door standing open and the cleaning crew had already stripped the beds. We joined about ten other people in the breakfast room. People here meant business because they were clearly headed out for a serious hike. There were two people waiting for each station of breakfast items. The person at the little refrigerator grabbed a yogurt and rotated out while the next in line planned his attack and lunged when the opening came. There was no talking here, either. We are people who need to fuel up and get going. All of a sudden, in a cloud of creamer dust, the place cleared out. We were alone in the breakfast room again.
The terrain hasn’t changed in the last few days. We continue to have a helpful little tailwind and temperatures cool enough that we wear lightweight jackets for about an hour in the morning. The road is going up, sometimes so subtly that Berta’s computer readout is the only way we know about it. There is usually a grassy margin between the road and the dense forest. The road is straight for long stretches and then makes sweeping turns. This is a good road to cycle because drivers can see us from a long ways back and can make a clean pass when they know the road ahead is clear. Washington drivers have been very polite.
After about five miles, we arrived at the gateway to Mount Rainier National Park. So many people were posing in front of the big sign that we gave up waiting to be alone in the image. We are all back at our computers looking at strangers in our photos.
Berta at the Gate with Strangers
Touring bicyclists are rare birds around here. When we pull over to observe a natural phenomenon, just like Ma and Pa in the pickup, we are stared at like we are some kind of bizarre specie. We stopped at the Longmire museum, where John inquired about being a junior ranger. He doesn’t qualify. We were standing at a display of a big cross-section of a tree that had small markers on the rings highlighting events in its lifetime. It started growing in 1293 (we know how they count rings, but how can they know that so specifically?), and was cut down in 1963.
That’s a Big Tree!
We didn’t have enough food packed for the trip today and John got hungry. That is never a pretty bike trip sight. John tried to sound casual when he mentioned it and then it took ten minutes to get to a good spot to stop. We ate the last of the corn tortilla chips and six Fig Newtons. The food faux pas was exacerbated by us hitting some unexpected extreme terrain. We started the day thinking we would be riding 18 miles, but it turned out to be 26 miles. We knew it would be uphill, but it turned out to be really uphill for the last several miles. So the chips and the Fig Newtons were grossly inadequate. But that is a bike trip. Sometimes it is just a slog.
We were struggling up a steep section when we were strafed by a blue-green Mercedes sedan. We really have been pleased with drivers in Washington State, and in the National Park here where the speed limit is 35 mph, it has been very nice. So when this Mercedes whizzed by and made us jump, it was an extra affront. We decided a few years ago to avoid hand gestures at drivers. So we normally yell something at the driver. If they happen to look in the rear view mirror, they think we said “Thank You!” and we feel better. John had a few choice words for the driver and everyone is glad he didn’t have a hand gun. When we arrived at the Lodge, there was the Mercedes parked in the handicapped parking. We needed to wait for more than an hour for our room key. During that time, Berta looked up at three-minute intervals hoping to see who drove that car. She practiced what she would say, working on variations in her mind. Before the owner appeared, our room was ready and we will never know.
This town is called Paradise at 5400 feet at the base of Mount Rainier. We had reservations at the inn in Paradise. The furniture in the main lodge there is hewn out of whole trees. It looks impressive, but looked very unappealing after a day in the saddle. So Berta was off, wandering around the Lodge, while John was guarding the bikes through the window and trying to get comfortable on the high-backed bar stools around a small circular table. John was dressed as is usual in fluorescent green and spandex when a woman his age, with a Southern accent, said, “Sir, you look like an experienced hiker. Can you tell me how high the blah blah trail is?” John pulled out his park map and the two traced the recently conquered trail and its elevation. “Thank you,” she said. John pointed to the bikes and said, “That’s how I got here.” “My goodness, I expect you could hike that trail as well,” she said. A man at the adjoining table agreed.
Rainier and a glacial carve out
The room we are staying in tonight cost $230, which is a price we are willing to pay to avoid camping. We are not sure how much a room with hot water in the bathroom cost. At this price, we get water at about 100 degrees. Berta left the shower shivering. The acoustic ceiling tiles curve up at the joints making the ceiling appear tiled with pillows. There are two double beds crammed into the space so that we need to make a tight turn at the corner of the bed that is only twelve inches from the wall. Some of the dark wood paneling bows out from the wall about a half inch. Right now the footsteps of our neighbors above mimic the creaking groans of a tall sailing ship. The whole scene would be fine for a week at a cabin at a lake, but not for big bucks. What is even more amazing is that many of these people seem to be so happy about being here. There was a couple in front of us at the desk who say they come here every year on their anniversary. Maybe they got a better room.
Our Fancy Digs
Upon checkout, John announced that the room had lukewarm shower water and the clerk responded that he had written a work order to fix the problem. John asked that if they knew the shower water was not hot then why did they rent the room? The clerk just smiled. Other examples of the Inn’s largesse: $10.45 for a plastic-wrapped club sandwich with free soggy bread on the bottom, $40.00 for two Caesar salads for dinner (strange tasting chicken included), $40.00 for the breakfast deal (we found the pitcher of orange juice and tried to take our ransom), and then we bought another $10.45 sandwich for lunch, and a cup of brownie parts for $4.00. Hemorrhaging money like this made John blanch. But at least we weren’t camping.
Rainier with its summit obscured
Lest you think that the whole day was hunger pangs and hemorrhages, we should try to describe the scene outside. Mount Rainier is 14,410 feet tall. Our photographs are grossly inadequate. In person, the mountain looks huge in the distance and huger up close. In photos, it washes out on the horizon so that we can hardly see it and no Photoshop magic helps much. As we climbed towards the mountain, we would come around a bend and there would be a huge glacial valley carved out of stone. The mountain is dark blue-grey stone with snow pouring over it. Some of the glaciers looked pink, but that may have been the sunset talking. Where the glaciers used to be, there are large scree fields with glacial rivers cascading through them. Our route twisted through this area, finding as moderate a climb as the road builders could. We would make a switchback, and halfway through the next hill, we looked back in our mirrors and were slapped with the grandeur. Mount Rainier is awesome. When we arrived in Paradise, the slope was still green with grass and trees, but the stony mountain was not far away. We stood next to a couple who had binoculars. The man insisted that he could see a line of climbers on the mountain. We retrieved our monocular of modest magnification but alas, saw no climbers. We had no idea of the scope of what we saw. At home, we are used to “mountains” that are about 3200 feet. Mount Rainier is four times taller.
Standing with our backs to Rainier
Day Eight, Paradise to Cliffdell, WA
Today’s mileage: 65
Total bike mileage so far: 424
Local Gas Prices:
Weather: Foggy, cold, breezy
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 2 Climbing, 1 Descending
Animals for the day: Baby swallows in the eaves of the building outside
As previously noted, Paradise is at 5400 feet. Our route today will take us down about 3000 feet, back up a bit, down a bit, and then up about 3000 feet again. Berta wants super powers to build a sky tram from peak to peak. We left the lodge early, when the temperature was around 50. Berta was wearing just about every piece of clothing she has along, including her rain jacket, rain pants, a bandana around her chin, and Costco Large Surgical gloves over her bike gloves. We were in for a nine mile descent in
cool weather. Berta doesn’t mess around. John thought how cold could it be? He thinks that his Norwegian surname gives him insulation against the cold, so he left the lodge with bare knees and knuckles. Seventy-five seconds later, we stopped for John to put on his rain pants. Rain pants generally have bad airflow, so they make great cold weather gear. We flew down the hill for a few miles. John was still able to feel his fingertips a little when he decided to put on his surgical gloves. It’s amazing how those thin little gloves help, he says now.
It was really foggy on the descent. Who knows what spectacular views we missed? We followed a Mini as long as we could, but they didn’t have their lights on so we couldn’t see them if they didn’t brake. Finally, we descended below the fog line and had better visibility. That’s when the tunnels and the drainage grates happened. We knew from our route maps that we would ride through some tunnels. We were relieved upon seeing the tunnels that they were only fifty feet long. Nobody warned us about the grates. These are across the width of the road and maybe two feet across. It seems like they were at every 200 feet of road. It wasn’t clear approaching them at 25 mph if they are safe for a 25mm front tire. Berta kind of lifted up at the first grate, hoping for the best. It came so fast that she had no other option. After that, she tried to ride over the grates at a diagonal, but even that caution faded after a while. She was flying down the hill over grate over grate, past caring about it. And then the descent was over.
There was no meadow or valley road at the bottom of this descent. We went from full speed to full stop just like that. From hero to zero. Then we climbed about 600 feet and descended just about the same before we hit the real hill. Over the next hour, we climbed. We are still in dense forest, and water drips from the land at every chance. We went through two more tunnels, this time uphill. We stopped at a spot where the road widened to have our second soggy bottom sandwich from Ripoff Inn. The writing on the plastic packaging warned that the sandwich was at its expiration date, so the bread was soggy and also stale (and we feel fine). This is a job for Tabasco Sauce! We pulled out all the condiment packets we were carrying and slathered the sandwich on all surfaces.
Partway through the hill, we looked up to see the rock containment wall for a road way up at the top of the mountain. We recall Berta saying something like, “There is no way we can get up there from here.” She was wrong, there truly was a way to get up there from here. Mercifully for Berta, for much of the climb we were on the inside of the road, next to the slope instead of out there right against a puny rock wall that was our only protection from a major dropoff. John claims the height was disconcerting to him too, but he actually leaned his bike against the wall on more than one occasion to take a photo over the edge of the road below. Berta waited patiently on the safer side of the road and promised that she would “enjoy” the photos later. She thinks an eighteen inch wall at the edge of the road is almost worse than nothing—it just gives you something to launch over. At the top of this hill, at the Chinook Pass, there is a picturesque lake, a popular hiking trail and no elevation sign for Berta to pose with. It would have said 5430 feet.
Ack! That is a long ways down!
And just like that, the profile of the road pointed down. We surveyed a spectacular vista. Wheeeeeeeeeeeee! SCREEEECH! We stopped. About a quarter of a mile into the descent, traffic stopped where road work pinched us into one lane. We sat with twenty cars for just a few minutes before the flagman switched his sign from “Stop” to “Slow”. We always let all of the cars go first through construction. Often, we hear the worker on the two-way radio announce that the last vehicle is a blah blah, followed by two bikes. Within yards, that blah blah car was in the distance and we were alone on the hill. Since we were on a four or five percent downhill, we cleared the construction zone in no time with minimal effort. We passed the line of cars waiting to go uphill. Then, for a glorious hour or more, we flew down the hill with no traffic on our side of the road because it was bottled up behind the
construction zone back there. The gorgeous scenery was all around. When the traffic did arrive, it was still in a big clot, so we pulled off the road and let it rush past. Then we were alone for another big stretch. It ended up being ten miles of no cars and no effort followed by ten miles of some effort but still high speed to finish the day.
Drinking water is a constant concern when riding a bike. We need to be vigilant to resupply our water bottles. Our water bottles were almost empty when we saw a Forest Service campground. We stopped and cruised the campground until we found the Mother Lode: an old fashioned farm pump. The pump had a sticker that stated no bathing or washing within 25 feet. We gratefully filled our bottles with water and continued. Even though the water was heavily colored, we suffered no ill effects. We crossed the luxurious American River many times as the road and the river snaked downhill. This is a different American River than the one that flows through Sacramento. Eventually, we applied the brakes at the lodge where we had reservations in Cliffdell.
Our room was spacious and had a large window looking at the vigorous American River forty feet away. There were swallows nests in the eaves of all the surrounding buildings. In the nests were fuzzy baby swallows, anxiously awaiting their parents. The adult birds were surprisingly unfazed by living just feet from a busy entrance to a restaurant and a gas station. They dove at us a little while we were admiring the chicks, but swallows always look like they are dive-bombing. In the middle of the night, Berta saw that they had holiday lights in a small evergreen tree near the riverbank.
Day Nine, Cliffdell to Yakima, WA
Today’s mileage: 46
Total bike mileage so far: 470
Local Gas Prices: $3.89 big city
Weather: Sunny, hot, dry (92 degrees)
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 1
Animals for the day: Small ponies, donkeys, horses, and cows
We continue to reap the rewards of our earlier hill-climbing efforts. The elevation keeps ticking downward and to add to it we have a slight tailwind. We expect to hit a headwind when we reach the Columbia River Gorge and head west from there. But for today, all was going our way. For the first ninety minutes of our ride, we averaged 18.3 mph (our normal touring average is 12 or 13).
Berta on the Bridge
Agriculture is big in the area between Mount Rainier and Yakima. We passed miles of apple and pear trees today, many that were planted very close together and espaliered on trellises. They were loaded with fruit. There were wooden crates in between the rows, waiting for harvest time. A substantial aqueduct flowed right alongside our country roads for much of the day. By contrast, the high hills in this area are treeless and covered with dry dead grass and spotted with exposed reddish-brown volcanic rocks. We stopped at a spot where in the winter they feed the bighorn sheep that come out of the mountains. No bighorns today.
Drier hills today
We arrived in Naches around lunchtime or elevenish, which is close enough to lunchtime for bike tourists. We rolled down the main street on pass number one, surveying our options. We got through
town and it looked like the survey was complete with no clear winner. We asked a boy on a skateboard where to eat in town. He seemed like a good kid because he gave us two possibilities, one of which was Margaret’s. We rolled back up the main street on pass number two and only saw the other place he mentioned, which was a negative because it had no windows from which to attend to our bikes while we ate. Now we were back on residential streets. John asked a man in a delivery truck if he knew where Margaret’s is. He was confused whether we wanted a house (“What’s her last name?”) and didn’t know the answer anyway. We turned around to make pass number three at the main street. Bingo! Margaret’s Deli and Antiques on the right. Margaret needs to invest in larger print for her sign.
We walked past some antiques (don’t need anything to carry) to the Deli. Berta had been outside, grabbing her valuables and the video camera from John’s handlebars. By the time she got inside, John was in full conversation with somebody who was probably Margaret and two other locals. They had watched us go up and down and back up the street. The one lady thought we would like to hear her travel stories because we are travelling. She had a chance to go to Pakistan when her husband was offered job there many years ago. She told him he was welcome to go but she and the children were staying right here. We guess this makes her story one of not travelling. We both ordered the special (Navy bean and ham soup with a half Roast Beef sandwich) and talked more with the lady and then a man who grabbed a carafe of iced tea and sat down at the table next to ours. Meanwhile, Margaret would go take orders, leave the preparation to another lady, and return to knitting something white at the table.
While we ate, the hour got closer to noon, and the place started to fill. First to arrive was a trio of tall young women. They turned out to be English teachers and volleyball coaches at the high school. Classes have not started yet, and mandatory teachers’ meetings start next week. This week, meetings are optional but paid. So these three are back at work. Much of this we know because the conversation happened amongst people surrounding us in a big open room. Pretty soon, the deli was full of all sorts of people, many who acted like they hadn’t seen each other all summer. “Whatcha been doing?” type questions were all around. John managed to squeeze in and order a butterscotch malt, which was assigned to Don, the retiree looking guy who was in charge of all things ice cream. As we walked out of the deli, the women were telling people where we are from and what we are doing.
A man and his malt
We enjoyed a picturesque country road for a ways before we needed to leave the official bike route behind and point the front wheels toward Yakima. We faked it through some busy streets that took us to the beginning of a fabulous bike path. It guided us in safety alongside some big freeway interchanges and deposited us on the banks of the wandering Yakima River. On the map, the Yakima River looks like a loose braid, with several branches taking off and then rejoining the main river. As a result, some of the time we rode next to shallow slow water and some of the time it was big enough for boats. We saw a sign that proclaimed this is “Yakima, the Palm Springs of Washington”. It was only a matter of some miles before we identified suitable lodging just feet from the path. Our room looked at the path and the river, where more of the multitude of barn swallows in this area swooped over the river day and night.
We had Mexican food for dinner then walked over to Walmart to secure the five items we have wanted for days but couldn’t get in gas station minimarts. Tequila was back to a reasonable price here. Berta needed more sunscreen. We bought a 2.8 ounce tube of toothpaste which is huge by bike tour packing standards and we made a pact to use it at a prodigious rate so John wouldn’t have to carry it full the whole rest of the trip.
Day Ten, Yakima to Toppenish, WA
Today’s mileage: 26
Total bike mileage so far: 496
Local Gas Prices: $3.61
Weather: Sunny, hot, dry (92 degrees)
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 1
Animals for the day: Chihuahuas!
Cities can be frustrating on bike trips. While still in Yakima, we somehow lost the bike path earlier than we anticipated and spent miles riding down a four-lane busy street on the sidewalk because there was no bike lane and no room for a bike. During this time, Berta had one of the best laughs of the trip. The moderate wind was coming at our right shoulder as we passed a car dealership that had eighteen-inch diameter helium balloons tied to the bumpers of all the cars right at the sidewalk. As we passed, the wind pushed the balloons into our path right at helmet height. Berta was behind John, laughing hysterically as he ducked the moving targets. It was like a video game in real life.
We got our first flat tire of the trip today. The culprit was a surprisingly small thorn and of course it punctured John’s rear tire. Rear tires are more complicated to remove and replace on the bike. We pulled onto a side street that led to a big fruit stand and changed the flat in the shade. A guard Chihuahua came down a driveway to ‘splain who is boss. He stood there, yapping and shivering for a few minutes before somebody in the house called him off. We pedaled off past many more miles of apples. We saw a little fruit stand and stopped to see if they sold juice. When we saw they didn’t, we figured we should buy some apples. Good call. Berta had a Fuji and John had an unlabeled green apple. They were delicious. In retrospect, we should have had more. We talked to two ladies who were packing twenty pound sacks of Walla Walla onions. They chatted while they cleaned off the loose onion skin and added enough onions to get the right weight.
We had a forgettable lunch in the little town of Wapato, as in “Domo Arigato Mister Wapato”. We had a choice of several mama y papa restaurants or a Dairy Queen. We opted for a local place. It is normally fun to see how different people prepare chiles rellenos. This was not fun. The sauce was too acidic and inside the chile was what Berta thinks was pressed quesa fresca about the size of a fish-stick. It was strange. John understands the need to eat while exercising, but this swill tested his resolve. He ate all the rice, all the refried beans and had only two bites of chile relleno left when the gagging started. Berta took pity on him (she thought the dish was strange and lacking flavor, but didn’t find it gross) and finished the last bites. John must have been delirious when he left two dollars for a tip. We were shaking our heads when we got back on the bikes and turned towards our destination, Toppenish.
Toppenish is a small town dominated by agriculture. There are two motels to choose from, right next to each other. We chose the known commodity and got settled in. When we headed to the center of town, we were looking for the Thai restaurant Berta saw on Google Maps last night, but we didn’t find it. Instead, we were surprised by the nice city center this little community has. They describe themselves as “The City of Murals” and rightly so. Most buildings have a large beautiful scene painted on the side. The themes are all historic and each one had a plaque describing the topic. We passed an older man (John’s age) who was painting a mural. A lady his age sat in a beach chair under an umbrella nearby. He was working on the border of this particular mural, which had an angular design like you would see on an Indian blanket. We walked through a park in the middle of town where a man was describing the murals to two ladies. It was neat to hear him say they do not have a graffiti problem.
A small sample of Toppenish Murals
We walked into a store that sold reasonably priced Amish furniture and also had hundreds of plaques with catchy phrases on them. So many of them were funny that we cannot remember any of them. We ended up having dinner right next to the motel even though we had walked about a mile to check out the town square. All of the choices in town were Mexican food and it was too soon for that.
In the motel for the night, we watched as a big weather front appeared on the horizon and came our way. As it was forming, so was an impromptu classic car meeting in the parking lot outside. One guy opened a trailer to bring out his classic Mustang and everyone else just drove up. Over the next hour about eight old cars collected there and a small crowd stood around chatting. The rainstorm reached us, but didn’t seem to cause much concern for the car guys. It passed in maybe ten minutes and included such heavy rain that we went outside to stand under the motel entrance to watch it.
Car guys and storm front
Posted to here
Day Eleven, Toppenish to Goldendale, WA
Today’s mileage: 53
Total bike mileage so far: 549
Local Gas Prices: $3.85
Weather: Sunny, warm, with tailwind
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 1
Animals for the day: Llamas and wild horses
We left the motel this morning and were immediately out of town. We came upon a fabulous view of Mount Adams, which is Mount Rainier’s Mini Me from this distance. At the time, we thought it actually was Rainier, but a quick look at the map set us straight. It was a clear day, so we got a really good look at this mountain.
As we are without an official route description now, we didn’t know what to expect from the fifty-mile stretch of highway 97 from Toppenish to Goldendale. Since then we found out that Google Maps shows you a topographical profile of your route when you ask for bike directions. Maybe it does for car directions, too, but why would you care in a car? There were two long hills on 97 and the rest of it was pretty flat. We climbed into a valley and then climbed out of it. With no big downhills, we gained some significant elevation. We saw hundreds of horses out in the dry grass, spread out in groups of four or five at a time. They were small as horses go and all colors and patterns. A few of the groups were near the road and trotted away when we rolled past. Berta thought they were wild horses so now she is stuck on a different song.
Berta and pie. There are wild horses way up on that hill
This day was as good an example as any about how much open space there is in this world. Maybe it is easy to focus on the cities in a region and discount that there are miles and miles between them with few inhabitants. There were houses scattered in the land around the highway today. Most of the road was lined by fences to contain range animals, so people do live and work here. But in fifty miles, we passed buildings containing probably a total of one hundred people. The road stayed in the trough of this shallow valley, overlooked by brown grass-covered rocky hills.
The open road
We arrived in the small town of Goldendale knowing that there were two motels in town, separated by about a mile. We passed up the local motel and headed through town for the chain. Berta saw a fancy restaurant and noted it would be a good choice for dinner. The chain motel had no vacancy, so we made a beeline back to the other option. We learned that the county fair is close by and there is a big concert at Maryhill vineyard tonight. The proprietor of the Ponderosa Motel took pity on us, saying that she had one room left. She had turned down a few other potential guests so that she could have one room available “in case a reservation got messed up”, but she gave it to us because “you look desperate.” Good point. She said there were no more rooms for 50 miles. John got to chatting with this woman, who turned out to own the motel, about estate planning. This came up because John saw the plaque on the wall that said “Dear IRS: cancel my subscription.”
Berta and steam engine
When it was time for dinner, Berta—being of a different generation (technology = best) than John (not everything on the Internet is true)—looked online for our restaurant options. John contends that incorrect spelling and bad grammar nullifies any review. Berta thinks you can gain a little information
even when “your not sure there very good at grammer and stuff”. After much hand-wringing, we chose Sodbusters because it was closest and John wanted to quote the cowboy movies where the “damn sodbusters are the root of all evil.” He went on long enough that Berta doesn’t want to hear the word sodbuster again. Dinner was fine: not the worst experience we have ever had, and not the best restaurant in the Western hemisphere. We would make bad online reviewers.
The concert at the winery tonight is Peter Frampton with Don Felder and Buddy Guy. The amphitheater and everything else at Maryhill is right on the Gorge, so the audience can look past the stage at a stunning view. Seems like a neat place to see a concert. Tickets were still available, but we chose to sleep instead of pedaling the thirty miles each way.
Day Twelve, Goldendale, WA to The Dalles, OR
Today’s mileage: 52
Total bike mileage so far: 601
Local Gas Prices: $3.85
Weather: Sunny, warm, with tailwind
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 0
Animals for the day: Wild turkeys, deer
We identified highway 142 out of Goldendale to get to the Columbia River Gorge. It would deposit us on the Washington side of the gorge about equidistant from The Dalles and Hood River, both in Oregon. We had already decided that we need to get to the Oregon side because it has well-spaced lodging that the Washington side lacks. The bridge at Hood River is closed to bicyclists and pedestrians, so we would go to The Dalles for the night.
Our first excellent surprise on highway 142 is that right out of Goldendale we had a good view of Mount Adams and Mount Hood at the same time. We could see them out ahead of us on both sides of the road. We enjoyed that vista on the clear early morning horizon. The road twists and turns a bit and had some small hills. Before we had much time to think about it, we were looking at a “downhill for 4 miles” sign. Berta let out with a “Woo Hoo!” Around the next bend, a sign said there would be no middle line on the pavement for three miles. What is going on here? It turned out great. We had only a little oncoming traffic during a steep curvy downhill for, as it said, four miles. We dropped into the Klickitat River valley. The road remained primarily downhill and close to the river all the way to the Columbia River.
We stopped at a market and John selected an amazing chocolate cupcake item for each of us. We don’t normally go into markets together because one of us needs to keep an eye on the bikes. As we walked into this convenience store, there was a guy sitting outside. How do you know if someone is trustworthy at one look? It might have been his baggy pants giving us an expansive view of his underwear or was it the baseball cap worn askew with tats on his neck? We can’t take the chance at leaving the bikes alone, so Berta peeked in to the store and pointed to something in the refrigerator that looked appealing. John appeared a few minutes later with something else. “That thing [you pointed at] had bacon on it,” he explained. “Oh,” Berta replied, thinking that bacon on it is a good thing, even for sweets. Any conflict dissolved when Berta saw what John handed her. You know how you see a chocolate dessert and you think it looks good but then when you bite into it you realize it is too foo foo for you? Too much cacao and not enough refined sugar? This was not like that. The frosting was fudgy, the cake itself was moist, and there was a chocolate pudding center. John is in charge of selecting dessert from now on.
The Klickitat River here is deep, wide, and rushing. John talked to one guy who claimed he once caught a twenty pound steelhead trout on this river. We saw many fly fishermen. We saw a guy running along the unpaved Klickitat Trail before we stopped for the previously described chocolate goodness and then saw him a few miles down the path, still running at about a 9 mph pace. Berta heard John say “Turkeys!” and sure enough, there were wild turkeys running away from us on the side of the rode. John tried talking to them, but his accent may be off. They disappeared quickly into the brush.
The view out of this river valley as it joins the Columbia River Gorge is spectacular. We watched the mileposts count down, knowing that when the posts said zero the highway would end at the gorge. The southern wall of the gorge rises up into view suddenly in the last mile of highway 142. We were still flying downhill when we approached the stop sign at highway 14. We pulled over to eat lunch before turning up river to cross at The Dalles. We sat in the shade on a bench at a nursery that was closed for the day. It was an old gas station, so we sat with our backs to the closed bay doors looking at big metal cattle troughs in the island where the gas pumps used to be. Our fluorescence attracted eyeballs from passing vehicles.
We spent a few miles with a nice tailwind, riding right near the water’s edge. Up ahead we saw construction signs and in the distance an unmistakable upward bend of the road. It turned out they had just chip-sealed our side of the highway. Chip seal has been described to us as “the bane of every Washington cyclist.” It is now the bane of at least two Californian cyclists. It is coarse gravel affixed with tar and is uncomfortable to ride on for any distance. If we are lucky, the chip seal was applied only to the car lanes and the shoulder is still smooth. If not, we have to bump along this rough surface. Okay, so that is chip seal. They were applying this on our route today and sending traffic one way on the other side of this two-lane highway. We got going and didn’t see the value in riding on the left of the road when the right shoulder was not chip-sealed. There were some tar drips to roll over, but not a lot and no gravel. So we continued for about a mile, climbing a decent hill, while people waited for us to clear the construction zone. It was going fine we thought until we realized what was happening to our tires. When we stopped, we found up to a quarter inch of tar and gravel stuck to our tires. We have fenders, so we are glad to say that no tar got on our clothing (unlike back in 2000 when Berta permanently tattooed her favorite lightweight jacket with tar near Aberdeen, South Dakota). We pulled in to a service station and John rummaged around in the garbage bin. He came back with heavy plastic wrap that we used to attempt to clean our tires. We pluck pluck plucked at a little section of the tire, then advanced it a bit and moved to a new section of the plastic to work on a new section of tire. We succeeded in removing at least half of the aggregation with this technique.
We wobbled away and left the highway about a half a mile later to follow the road that circumnavigates the tiny Dalles Airport. We rode along, contemplating our situation. Berta thought we may have ruined the tires—she told John that her dad would have the lighter fluid out at this point. Pardon the tangent, but Berta grew up in the seventies in Central California. The big oil spill in Santa Barbara happened January-February 1969. For her whole childhood, basically, any trips to the beach (there were many) included tar on the feet. We went anyway, and back at the van Dad would pull out an unnecessarily rough rag and—wetting it with lighter fluid—would clean the tar spots off our feet. Berta, who is ultra-ticklish in the toes, would strain to handle it. Somehow, it remains a fond memory. With our tires coated with tar, this seemed like a good time to get some lighter fluid, but since we were on a quiet country road, we had to improvise. We spotted a wooden stake lying in the ditch on the side of the road. We snapped it in half and each spent a few miles holding a length of one-by-two like a bumpkin holding a violin bow, dragging it across the front tire as we rode, scraping the tar as well as we could. We couldn’t do the same with the rear wheel while riding, so we got off the bikes and worked on them. Bikes with baggage are unwieldy. We rolled for a while forward, sawing at the tar, and then the front wheel would go all sideways and almost tip the bike over. Who knows what people thought about us as they passed.
The Columbia River is a big river. The bridge at The Dalles is easily a half mile long (in fact it is 0.63 miles long). We turned right off the airport road onto Highway 97 at the bridge. No cars were approaching behind us. We were on the bridge when a van came up quickly behind us. The bridge is two lanes, one in each direction, has no shoulder and only a short guardrail, and is slightly downhill in our direction. John rode in front, as fast as he can go. Berta, drafting John, was going as fast as she can go. With a slight downhill, we max out at about 28 miles per hour. The van held back, letting us ride well into the car lane. Finally, the roadway opened up when it reached land. We peeled off onto the newly generous shoulder and stood there panting. Berta gave a thumbs-up to the van. As they passed, she blew them an exaggerated kiss she was so thankful for their generosity. They had opened up their window and were smiling as they passed. They have NO IDEA what this gesture means to a person sprinting on a bike across a bridge. Especially for a person who has issues with bridges even there are no cars around.
The main street of The Dalles is divided across a block, so we rode one-way through town. We stopped at a bike shop and used their floor pump to tighten John’s tire. They didn’t have an official bike map for Oregon, which is why we stopped, but they did have some information about a local bikeway. We found the inn that Berta had identified (reasonable price, nice room) a couple of blocks later and pulled in for the night.
There is a stone marker in The Dalles that indicates the end of the Oregon Trail. The story goes that Berta’s relatives made this marker. Some years ago, we saw this marker in The Dalles, but we didn’t remember exactly where it is. Initial searches online showed that there are numerous such markers all over the upper Northwest. We asked the lady at the hotel desk. She had no clue, so we looked at the “history of the area” pages in the room to no avail. Finally, Berta searched online for images of “end of the Oregon Trail” and found a photo from a bike tourist who had stopped there. She clicked through to his page to find that the marker is just four blocks away at Sixth and Union. We walked over and got some photos of our own.
End of the Oregon Trail 1843-1906
Across the street from the hotel is a place where we ate during our very first bike trip in the year 2000. We returned to have the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Rings again. The last time we were here, we had to pedal away and stay in another town. Not today. Off to have a craft beer sampler at the brewhouse next door.
Day Thirteen, The Dalles to Cascade Locks, OR
Today’s mileage: 52
Total bike mileage so far: 653
Local Gas Prices: $3.89 they pump your gas for you in this state
Weather: Sunny, hot, with headwind
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 0
Animals for the day: Bird fight!
As is our custom on this trip, we buy lunch at a deli before heading out for the day. It was John’s turn to guard the bikes and he doesn’t care what we have for lunch so Berta went into the store. It turns out that John is a wacko magnet. Minding his own business (by wearing eye-popping colors while standing at two baggage-laden bicycles), John was approached by a young guy who was in line at the recycling
center attached to the store. Now John knows all the intricate details of recycling in Oregon. In this recycling center, one item is recycled at a time and the machine must be able to read the bar code of the bottle or can. Now you, too, are an expert on Oregon recycling. After a five minute explanation of the aforementioned procedure, John was starting to fidget. The monologue continued as the guy told of walking to a town eighty miles away and then there was mention of being chased by Bigfoot. John wished him good recycling and moved the bikes thirty feet away only to be approached by a goateed guy wearing a camouflage vest and a POW/MIA hat with an NRA pin. He had strong political opinions, few upper front teeth, and really bad breath. His agenda was lengthy and it was important to him to impart it to strangers. John might still be there listening had Berta not come out of the store.
There is a really nice bike path that heads west from The Dalles for about six miles. After that, we rode on Highway 30, which is the Historic Columbia River Highway (HCRH). Portions of this road have been transformed into paths for bicyclists and pedestrians only. The portions that have been preserved for cars are really quiet and beautiful. The road leaves the riverbank and climbs to excellent lookouts, then plunges back to the riverbank. Of interest to cyclists, the climb has many switchbacks to keep a gentle grade—five percent at the max and only in the corners—so it is pretty reasonable. We climbed to the lookout at Rowena with a cyclist on the twisty road ahead of us. He was taking a break at the lookout when we arrived, sitting on the rock wall with his feet dangling on the side Berta wouldn’t look over. This bicyclist looked like he was in his fifties and had bulky hairless legs. He had a carbon fiber Fuji bicycle and claimed he didn’t know how little it weighed (less than John’s rear panniers). He is the one who told us that chip seal is the bane of Washington cyclists. He lives in Spokane and this is his week to visit the Gorge with his windsailing setup. Lucky for us, he is shut out this week. That means the wind is calm. Bad for him, good for us. The usual wind on the Columbia River Gorge is very strong out of the West, where it would be straight in our faces. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.
We pedaled off and found a portion of the HCRH that was closed to cars. We stopped to have lunch at a picnic table at the side of the path. We were retrieving lunch when one of us noted the ants. Red ants. There were several on only casual inspection. Even though Berta was past ready for lunch, we decided to push on to find an ant-free rest stop. The eventual lunch site had no picnic table, but it also had no ants. Lunch, check!
The bike path delivered us into some tunnels where people sheltered from a deadly snow storm in 1921. We saw this tunnel on our bike trip in 2000 when we were riding Eastbound. On the rock walls, people chiseled messages when they were waiting out the storm. We didn’t stop this time to read the inscriptions, but contemplate now what they were thinking when they were huddled here.
At the end of this section of the bike path, there is a ranger station. There is a parking lot with room for about thirty cars and a building with two bathrooms, drinking fountains, and a visitor center. The sign on the door pronounced that the center would be open two days from today, but the door swung open anyway and a ranger appeared. He said the hours of operation were only a guideline. What followed is a prime example of why to travel without an agenda. We talked to the ranger for thirty minutes, and then watched a DVD for at least an hour. This ranger seemed to want to do what we are doing. He also had an almost evangelical attitude towards the river gorge. When he found out that we don’t know about Lake Missoula, he went behind the desk to find a DVD, and dragged some chairs over for us to sit in front of a small screen. We transitioned from bicycle tourists to audience in a moment. The DVD described how 15,000 years ago the Columbia River was dammed with glacial ice and rocks so severely that a huge lake formed to cover most of the area between Portland and Missoula. When the dam eventually broke, all of the rocks, ice, and water stripped the big lake bed and carried all of the topsoil to the Willamette Valley where the vintners benefit from it today. We sat in squishy lobby chairs, Berta struggling to keep her eyes open, learning that a major portion of the North America was under water way back when.
The route from Mosier to Cascade Locks is on the Interstate. It’s pretty much like having a treadmill test in the cardiology department with a grizzly bear in pursuit. We had heard from a recumbent cyclist and the ranger in the station that a local woman had been killed yesterday on this Interstate while riding a bicycle. We pushed hard, sometimes with the loud road on our left and a loud train on our right, trying to clear this scary stretch. A few times, there was an offramp to the right. The only thing to do at freeway offramps is to maintain your speed look well in your mirror, look really well over your left shoulder, and to take off across the offramp. At one, we saw where that woman was killed just a day before. There were orange markings on the road. The driver was sleepy, it was 6:20 in the morning. We pedaled on, not talking about the markings. We finally saw an offramp we could take to deliver us from the evil. We left the cacophonous freeway and headed for the frontage road. The frontage road was not flat like it should be—it had two LARGE hills. Berta still complained a little, even though she was glad to be there. Later, we watched the local news and discovered that the cyclist was 42, a volunteer firefighter, and a loved member of the community. Too much reality.
There was a Best Western motel in Cascade Locks, which is a town right on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The PCT winds from Mexico to Canada, with mostly wild stretches and very few civilized stops. Cascade Locks is one of those civilized stops. There were young people in the conference room of the motel, apportioning a big pile of snacks for the trail ahead. Two guys on the street asked if we would use their phone to take a picture of them, all sweaty, dirty and hairy. John somehow recognized the one later after he had showered and shaved.
After dinner, John announced that he wanted a vanilla malt. Hours earlier, when we pedaled into town, we saw a line of ten or fifteen people waiting at a tiny burger joint. It turns out that this is the East Wind Drive In, known for its burgers and soft serve ice cream. We walked a few blocks and joined the current line. Half of the patrons were hikers, some of the rest had walked about thirty feet from their vehicles to the line, and three of us were bicycle tourists. We stood behind a guy who was wearing bike shoes, riding tights and a jersey. We asked him, “Where are you going?” to get the conversation started. His name is Matthew. He is a youngish man on a tired-of-the-old-job-need-to-take-a-break adventure. He started at the Mexico-California border and hiked the PCT northward. Then he got a bike and is riding southward. For a camper, he has remarkably little with him. He says that comes from the hiking part of his trip—he learned to do with less. His wife is back home, sending him supplies when he needs them. His bike is a beater he bought from a buddy. It has oldstyle shifters on the down tube. Who knows how it fits him; it doesn’t seem he cares. When we heard he might be in our area, we gave him our info and offered that he could stay with us. He laughed because he lived within miles of our house for five years during graduate school. Small world.
The East Wind Drive In closed while we were still in line, but they served all of us who were waiting before they closed. They specialize in an obscenely large soft swirl cone (like a foot tall, not exaggerating) with a “Flavor Burst”. That evidently adds flavored syrup into the swirl so that your vanilla soft serve has chocolate or whatever flavor all over it. We had to learn this from the Internet because the Flavor Burst was out of order when we were there. People were still getting the footlong cone and that was entertaining. John got a butterscotch malt, which was very good except he should have ordered a larger one.
Day Forteen, Cascade Locks to Portland, OR
Today’s mileage: 43
Total bike mileage so far: 696
Local Gas Prices: $3.75
Weather: Sunny, hot
Saddle Sore-o-meter reading: 0
Animals for the day: Millions of little salmon, an Osprey and possibly a bald eagle
In a shady spot at the side of the road this morning, we saw a van and trailer parked. Both displayed Trek Bicycles logos. We see rigs like this when we are on popular touring routes—they are support vehicles for fancy group tours. They normally are staffed by one or two guys. There is a table with lunch ready for the bike tourists when they arrive. The trailer is a mobile bike shop. The staff for the tour take turns driving the van and setting up the rest stops. Every other day they get to cycle. Not a bad arrangement. We noted right away that this was not an entry level tour. The bikes were top of the line Trek road bikes with electronic shifting. Most of these riders were planning to cross the continent, but some of them were stopping in Missoula. There were about 25 participants. Average daily mileage: 92. Cost for the entire trip across America: $17,000! We discussed later that we don’t know how much you would have to PAY us to ride for two months with somebody who could and would pay $17k for a bike trip. Over the next few hours, we looked for their carbon-colored frames, white seats, and no baggage. Only a few seemed like experienced cyclists. We talked to one of them at the Multnomah Waterfall. He was a major cyclist and he knew it. That would be at least $1000 extra to be with him.
Yesterday, we stopped at the Rowena lookout and enjoyed the view of the river gorge. At the time, Berta was thinking about our trip in 2000 and wondered silently “wasn’t there a structure up here?” Today she has her answer. The structure she remembered appeared today at a different lookout. From Wikipedia, “Vista House is an observatory at Crown Point in Multnomah County, Oregon, that also serves as a memorial to Oregon pioneers and as a comfort station for travelers on the Historic Columbia River Highway. The site, on a rocky promontory, is 733 feet (223 m) above the Columbia River on the south side of the Columbia River Gorge.” The octagonal stone structure houses an historical exhibit, a snack shop, and bathrooms. When it was built in 1918, it was derided as the “$100,000 outhouse.”
We rolled up to the outhouse and joined the multitude taking photos, using the facilities, and chatting. A young couple walked over and told us they had seen us earlier in the day on the road down by the riverside. She said, “I said, ‘Ralph, that’s those people we saw earlier!’” Ya Ralph, we were down there earlier. “Good for you!” and they walked away. Berta went up to pose with her bike in front of the colored glass windows when she heard a woman ask John if he wanted her to take his picture with Berta. “I could tell by your attire that you are together,” she said.
The snack shop in Vista House is just that—only snacks, no real food. The young man at the desk told us that there is a market in the next town “and it’s all downhill until then.” That is partially accurate. Vista House is not at the highest point of the road. Going west, the road turns inland and climbs a few hundred feet before it turns down in earnest. Don’t trust people who drive to give you accurate information about the cycling ahead. We enjoyed the descent for a few miles and grabbed the brakes at the market the kid mentioned. Their special for lunch was a TriTip sandwich, slow-cooked and covered with barbeque sauce in a soft roll. Mmm mmm good.
We needed to get somewhere near the Amtrak station in Portland so that we can catch a train heading home. Berta identified a turn before we got to Troutdale that would point us to a hotel at a good stopping point. We made the turn, climbed a surprisingly steep long hill onto a ridge, and then found our route into Portland. We were looking to go down Burnside and make a left on 99th. We spied a street sign and realized we were somewhere around 217th. This was the longest straight stretch of road on this whole stretch. We pulled up behind a woman at a stoplight. She was wearing street clothes. She turned to look at us, apologizing if she was holding us up. We replied that it was no problem, secretly thinking we would whiff her in the next block. That never happened. We spent the next hour behind her, not catching her, not passing her, watching her pull away from every stop. Burnside goes for MILES!
Fudge and sweet cashews
Sand Dollars stand up
731.9 miles at the Ramada
Bike Nielsen 2014 Prologue, Santa Barbara to Portland, Oregon