Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rambler Ride Report and Review

Road Gravel Trail
Up down all around on a 
Right Proper Ramble

Yesterday I finally got out on my Ocean Air Cycles Rambler for a "real" ride. I built this bike up in October, and since then have put nearly 1K miles on it. It's broken in and kitted out, with the fit dialed in. But nearly all those miles have been on my 24-mile round-trip pretty flat commute, and I've been itching to see how the Rambler handles what it's made for and what I most love riding; mixed terrain with a fair amount of "profile." The verdict? It's everything I hoped it would be, and a wonderful machine, with the perfect balance of lively feel and stable handling. 

I got a late morning start in cool calm weather; we've been locked into a pattern of fog, low clouds, and temps in the upper 30's for days. I threw some food in the handlebar bag (dates, an apple, and a sizeable bag of Christmas cookies and a dark chocolate bar) and was off. My loose plan included some quiet climbs in the West Hills of Portland, ending in Forest Park before crossing back over the Willamette River on the St. John's Bridge and heading through the east side to home. 

My route headed over the south shoulder of Mount Tabor, and I decided to head up to the top to check out the view and test out my legs. 
Tabor is in my neighborhood, and between running, walking the dog, and riding, this was my 4th trip up in 5 days. Nearing the summit I took a short steep gravel pitch rarely used by bikes, and with the White Industries 44/28 crankset and an 11-34 9-speed cassette, the climb was smooth and the Soma B-Line tires hooked up just fine. I dropped off the hill on fast gravel and didn't even think about the Rambler's handling; it went where I wanted with little input and no twitchiness.

I meandered through southeast to the Eastmoreland neighborhood, joining the Springwater trail at 42nd. I crossed the Willamette on the Sellwood bridge and headed up the 2nd climb of the day through Riverview Cemetary. This is one of my favorite climbs, and the Rambler felt comfortable and light as I meandered up the hillside to the top. 
I still felt fresh at the top, which was good because Next up was Council Crest - at about 1100 feet the highest point in Portland. A traverse along Terwilliger brought me to Westwood, and the narrow winding route to Fairmount Drive, which circles the hill. In places the old concrete roadbed resembles cobbles, and I passed one rider patching a pinch flat on his skinny tire - a fairly common sight on this popular climb and descent. After checking to make sure he had what he needed, I continued up, entering the fog near the summit.
 With no view and the temperature near freezing (though fortunately windless) I grabbed a quick snack and started down the first real "bomber" descent of the ride. With its sweeping turns and long drops, it's easy to reach speeds in the mid-40s on Vista, and I let the Rambler go as much as I dared. My braking had nothing to do wth the bike's handling, but my own hesitation on the damp pavement. It was here I really appreciated the performance of the Paul centerpulls with Kool-Stop salmon pads. The brakes have plenty of stopping power, but with no grabbing or squealing, and modulation was excellent; it took minimal effort to keep my speed in check, and I was soon downtown and rolling through the bustling shopping district of Northwest 23rd, trying to regain some heat after the chilly descent.

 I warmed up soon enough as I climbed Thurman to Leif Erickson Drive, the wide gravel route that traverses the west hills for nearly thirty miles through the heart of Forest Park. On a Sunday, Thurman is lined with cars for blocks before the gate at Leif Erickson, the most popular entry point to the park, which gets heavy use by runners, dog walkers, and mountain bikers heading in to ride the Firelane 5 loop. The crowds thinned the deeper I got into the park, until by the mile 3 marker I felt I nearly had the park to myself, and the only sound was the occassional train whistle from the tracks along the Willamette at the base of the hill. 
Leif Erickson is pretty rocky in places, and I was gettting a litle jostled and was tempted to bleed some air off my tires - I was definitely riding more pressure than I needed. But knowing the path smoothed further in, I decided to keep riding, and I soon left the roughest sections behind and  continued on gravel, wet leaves, and light mud, with no traction issues at all. After six miles in I reached the junction with Saltzman road, and turned left to climb this gravel route to the top at Skyline Boulevard. 

After nine miles of mostly uphill gravel, I was glad to reach pavement and the end of the climbing I had planned for the day. After climbing to nearly at the same elevation as my high point on Council Crest, I was back in the fog, and since Skyline is narrow and has relatively heavy traffic, I switched on the Luxos U headlight/Pixeo taillight for my short traverse to Germantown Road and the second big descent of the day. A fast, chilly, swooping descent soon brought me to Highway 30 and the St. John's Bridge, where I took the lane for the crossing back over the Willamette. 

At this point I had planned to meander along the bluff on Willamette Boulevard past the University of Portland and get home through inner east Portland. But I was feeing surprisingly good after the big climbs. The Rambler really had disappeared under me and it was nice to not be thinking about comfort or mechanics. I just wanted to put down more miles on this ride. So I grabbed a cup of coffee and refilled my water bottle at Burgerville, and turned left instead of right to head out to Kelly Point Park, where the Willamette joins the Columbia River, and the big container ships pass on their way to dock or sea.
After a quick couple of photos, I finally pointed east toward home and the long flat ride out Marine Drive along the Columbia. 
I was getting a little tired and had some difficulty finding a good flat cruising gear. (Warning: it's about to get even more bike-geeky) With my current gearing, I stay in the big ring except for long and/or steep climbs. and on the flats I'm almost always in the 17 or 20 tooth cog. So I float between about 57 or 67 gear inches, and I need something in the low 60's like an 18 or 19 would provide. This ride had some fairly stiff climbing, and I don't think I ever used the 34, so a closer spaced 11-30 or 12-34 cassette should work fine for most of my riding.

I ended the ride with the sun finally peeking beneath the low clouds as I climbed beside the future home of the Gateway Green bike park. 
I gave brief thought to a detour west on Prescott for the pumpy climb up Rocky Butte. But my legs were getting noodley, my throat parched, and the sun about to set. I put off Rocky Butte for another day and pointed for home.
Here's a map of the ride:

And the link to map data is here.

Final thoughts: Before building this bike up, I had a nagging fear that a 650b bike would be slow and clunky, despite all I'd read to the contrary. But the Rambler has been a dream to ride, putting all my fears to rest and fulfilling all I hoped this bike could be. This is my first foray into the world of 650b. Before building it up and taking it for that first test ride I had never swung a leg over a 650b bike. I saved for several years for a bike like the Rambler, considered going with a custom bike, and was almost dead set on a 700c road bike. But the more I read and talked to others, the more I realized that for my size (I'm 5'8") and style of riding, a 650b Rando-style bike could truly be as close as I could ever get to the One Bike To Rule Them All. Talking with Rob Perks at Ocean Air, first by email and later in person, only confirmed my desire to go with the Rambler. The bike is thoughtfully designed, light and comfortable, and noticebly more springy and "alive" than my Soma Double Cross or Lemond Poprad, both built with oversize tubing. It makes me smile every time I ride it.

Some notes about the build. I've been wanting to build my own set of wheels for awhile, and my wife gave me a wheelbuilding class at Sugar Wheel Works for my birthday. Jude was a great teacher, and I had the wheels made before I had the frame in hand. I used Pacenti PL-23 32-hole rims with a SON generator front hub and a White Industries T11 rear hub. Inspired by Rob's commitment to keep the Rambler U.S. made (by Zen Fabrications here in Portland), I went that route where it made sense as well, most notably with the White crankset. Other build details include Nitto 44cm Noodle bars that I wrapped in a Harlequin pattern with shellaced brown/yellow cloth tape, My old Brooks Pro saddle mounted on a Ritchey-branded Nitto seatpost, Chris King red headset, SKF square taper bottom bracket, and Dura-Ace downtube shifters. The front rack is a Nitto Mark's Rack, the handlebar bag is an Acorn Boxy Rando bag transferred with the saddle from my old Nishiki Riviera GT touring bike, and I mounted Berthoud stainless fenders. Another great touch with the Rambler is the clean internal routing for the wiring, and I followed Rob's directions for running the wiring inside the front and rear fenders as well, protecting the wires from snagging and making for a very clean look. This is also my first entry into generator lighting, and the Bausch and Muller Luxos light is amazing. Most of my daily commute is on an unlit bike path, and this time of year I'm in the dark both directions. Having my route clearly lit up without blinding oncoming riders is nice.

For anyone else considering a Rambler, or entry into the world of 650b road bikes, I say don't wait. This bike really is a companion, the kind of machine that makes me want to explore backroads and roll for miles and miles.

Lots more pictures here:

Monday, November 25, 2013


Here's a few Baiku I wrote recently, just lying around on scraps of paper. All composed and recited while riding. Yeah, I get funny looks. I don't care.

Indian summer
Ends with whiskers rimed in frost
And forecast for rain.

Pumpkins carved last night
Front walk blanketed in leaves
Our invitation.

Pavement, gravel, yes
On my Sunflower yellow
Ocean Air Rambler.

Count the syllables
Ram-bler, Ram-bl-er, who knows
Either way I ride.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Riding Going-To-The-Sun Road

Some roads call to me
across years and distance, like

My love affair with the western National Parks started when I left high school 2 weeks before the end of my senior year to take a job as a cook at Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone. That summer changed me forever. A couple years later I found a National Geographic book about the national parks and first read about Going-To-The-Sun road, the engineering world wonder that bisects Glacier National Park, crossing Logan Pass at the Continental Divide. If ever there was a road that just begged to be ridden, it was this road. Even the name - Going-To-The-Sun road - calls for riders. 

Last week while vacationing with my family I got the chance to ride up and down the west (longer) side of the road, and it was without a doubt one of the most spectacular rides I've ever done. If you have done it, you know. And if not, put it on your list of must-do rides.

Like our trip to Yellowstone last year, and J-Tree earlier this year, I tossed the 1990 Diamondback Apex MTB on the roof rack because it's a reliable, go anywhere, comfortable bike that I'm not worried about hauling over hundreds of highway miles and leaving locked to the rack while doing tourist stuff. I picked it up a couple years ago for $5 as a CL divorce sale, and it's one of the best 5 bucks I ever spent. Only the WTB Rocket saddle and new rubber was added, and after an overhaul it's a pretty fun ride, if a bit ugly. I debated bringing a nicer bike, but in email exchanges with friend Chris B from Bozeman, who hoped to join me for the ride, we discussed the gravel sections (construction) and the benefits of a front triple for climbing. In the end, I ended up going solo (more later), the "gravel" was fine, and I rode almost the whole 12 mile climb on my middle chainring. I was comfortable on this bike for the 46 mile RT, and it was one of the longer rides I've ever done on a MTB.
Going-To-The-Sun road gets a crazy amount of traffic during the height of the season; it's the Old Faithful of Glacier NP, the center of tourist activity. The road is narrow and windy and hugs a cliff face thousands of feet in the sky for a good part of it's length. As a result, bikes are excluded between Apgar Village (west side) and Rising Sun (east side)  from 11 A.M. - 4 P.M. daily. So riders have to plan accordingly and get an early start or be willing to ride at night. I had been told that if you were heading down by 11, you were probably OK since you would be going (at least) as fast as any other vehicles. But I also noticed a couple riders get pulled from the road down in the flat McDonald Creek valley by shuttle Bus drivers. Apparently one of the duties of the shuttle drivers during peak hours is to pull over and load up late cyclists. The shuttles are equipped with fold down front bike racks, and I noticed the drivers keeping a seat or 2 open on "full" shuttles for this possibility. I was determined to avoid this indignity.

We were camped at Sprague Creek campground. I read to plan on 3 hours up from Avalanche, and to add about 45 minutes from Sprague. I hoped this was conservative and I'd be at least a bit quicker. I knew the descent would be much shorter. I hoped a 6 A.M.wake up would have me back near 11, and I ended up real close.

As I said, Chris was hoping to do the ride as well. But he and his family were pulling in Saturday and we were all leaving Monday, which really only left Sunday, and the girls had hike plans.... Plus the weather forecast was deteriorating later in the week (it ended up raining steady from early Friday morning through early Saturday morning - the most rain they had all summer so far.) On Tuesday I ran into Trey, one of my teammates from BRM! I was super-surprised since I had no idea he was there. He was staying at the lodge for the week with his wife and daughter before heading to Canada. He said he was planing on riding Going-To-The-Sun the next morning. I thought about inviting myself along, but we had family hike plans up at Logan Pass. It ended up being a beautiful day, and he had a great ride. That fueled my desire to get up there before the weather turned; it looked like needed to be Thursday or bust.

After breakfast and ride prepping I was on the road at 7, shortly passed by one cyclist on a road bike, and just past Avalanche watched him catch the tail end of a short line of cars following the pilot car through the construction zone while I was flagged for a 10 minute wait. This construction ended up being a good thing. I was worried about traffic on the ascent, but it was surprisingly light in the morning so I had the road nearly to myself for the whole way up. But also, because of the flagger, the cars would come in small waves about every 15-20 minutes, between five and a dozen vehicles, and then silence until the next wave with virtually no one coming down at that time of day. The forecast was sketchy with possible morning showers and high chance of thunderstorms later. In camp I stepped out to look over the lake and it looked pretty good to the west. But when I mounted up and got on the road heading east, clouds were already building over the mountains and I was afraid I wouldn't finish or get back to camp dry. But as it turned out, it was cool, a little breezy at the top, with a headwind the last couple miles as I approached Logan Pass, but the weather stayed dry.

Past Avalanche Campground the road follows McDonald Creek for about 6 miles of gradual uphill before it leaves the creek and begins the steady 12 mile climb. About 3 miles and maybe 1K up is "The Loop," the only switchback on the west side. There's a bathroom and a main trailhead for the Highline Trail and Granite Park Chalet. From here, it's 9 miles of steady climbing. The valley drops off to your immediate right, and the views just keep opening and you enter alpine meadows and slowly pull level with glaciers that earlier loomed above. 
The climb is relentless, but never steep. The road is a marvel, really. About half way up this stretch is a curve called Big Bend where you can see all the way up to Logan Pass, and the rest of the road ahead. it's breathtaking and a bit daunting. The last 1-1/2 mile, from around Triple Arches up, I started relly feeling it, and the headwind picked up. But it's also when I knew the weather and clock would not turn me back. On the last curve approaching Logan Pass there were a couple mountain goats right there to greet me as I topped out. I snapped a quick picture at sign, then headed to the visitor center for a little sit down and a summit muffin.
 I greeted three other cyclist on top; two who had just come up the east side, and the guy who passed me way down by Avalanche. He didn't seem to have been there for very long, which felt good. I arrived on top about 9:45, and was heading down and opening it on the descent by 10.

Traffic was still pretty light coming up, and NO ONE passed me going down until I hit the valley floor. I hardly touched the brakes, and had one of the funnest smooth and winding descents I can remember. In minutes I was back at the construction zone for another wait, and then rode the final miles back to 

  McDonald Lodge was one mile before camp, and I happened to glance into the parking lot as I rode by and saw my car! I pulled in and there was my wife and daughters walking across the parking lot from the general store. We walked to the lodge together and I enjoyed a coffee on the porch looking over the lake. It was 11:20.

Note: On leaving Lake McDonald, I got on my bike and stood on the crank and "ping" - broke a drive side spoke. The wheel went wobbly, of course, and I had to open the rear brake to get back the last mile. I almost never brake spokes, but not too surprising on a $5 bike, I guess. Good timing, that.

This bike doesn't have a rack, and only one water bottle cage. I felt like I needed more than I could carry in a seat bag (jacket, food, water bladder, etc) so I wore a Vaude pack, which I hardly noticed. I wore a light Patagonia LS wool shirt and Gi shorts, with Keen sandals on platform pedals - no "bike" clothes at all. 

The ride put a grin on my face that lasted for days, I think. And even before it was done I started thinking about doing it again. After all, I only rode half of Going-To-The-Sun road. Next time I'd like to go up and over. Maybe have lunch on the east side, hang out, and return after 4 P.M. I've also read that it's a fantastic ride by full moon. That would be spectacular!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Arctic Stella

Back in the Bike Boom
Arctic Cat sold bicycles
Imagine that now!

A couple weeks ago I picked up a scrappy fixer-upper bike from my LBS, Oregon Bike Shop.
James had the bike out on the curb for our neighborhood's "First Friday" celebration in April and I was kind of intrigued, but didn't think any more about it until I returned for the May "First Friday" and noticed it was still there. Beer in hand and with a live reggae soundtrack I gave it a closer look. Just parts-wise it piqued my curiosity with Sylvan pedals, Weinmann concave 700c rims and centerpull brakes, and Suntour deraillers I suspected were upgrades.  I left it there, but returned Saturday morning and brought it home.
Pretty rough, for sure. The paint is rattle-can, and poorly done at that. But notice the chromed fork and stays?
Those are Campy dropouts, btw.
fairly distinctive lugs.

And wrap-around seat stays.
I suspected it was French based on the Nervar Star crankset
and the Pivo stem.
I posted to bikeforums and got some additional pointers about possibilities; I thought maybe Peugeot or Gitane, but Stella came up more than once. After going at the seat tube with some Goof-off, I discovered this:
The bottom rectangle, unfortunately, lost all lettering in my removal or the rattle-can painting. But the top triangle is a Columbus tubing decal used to ID the main tubes (triangle = main "triangle." Full Columbus tube sets used other decals). Looks like this bottom one, but silver:
The large white rectangle would have said "Stella" based on a photo one of the bikeforum members posted.
Or perhaps something else...
Based on this blog post I found from Paul's Bike Shop in Shakopee Minnesota, it looks like I've got an Arctic Cat bicycle, sold by the snowmobile dealer possibly in the late 60's (?) and definitely in the early 70's. Made by Stella bicycles of France. Louison Bobet won the Tour de France in 1953 and '54 riding Stella bicycles. It looks like Arctic Cat carried several models, including green ones like this:
 And cruisers like this:

Arctic Cat also sold some pretty cool mini motor-bikes. It's hard to imagine how pervasive bicycles were during the "bike boom" of the 70's. Maybe more bikes are out there today - I don't know. But for sure the market has become more specialized. Some of the bikes sold back in the day were pure crap, for sure. But you could buy a decent bike at your local hardware store or, apparently, snowmobile shop. Now you need to go to special bike shop to get a decent bike, where trained bicycle "associates" will sell you a bike identical to that ridden in Le Tour, even if all you want is to get out with your kids on Saturdays. My guess is Arctic Cat did not sell the lycra the associate will try to convince you is necessary for efficient and comfortable riding, though I wouldn't be surprised if they did carry wool shirts, which are more practical and comfortable for most riding anyway. We've come a long way, but not necessarily all for good.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

May 3

Forty-five degrees
East wind and rain in my face
This is May? Really?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Velo Cult Grand Opening

After a couple of weeks of pretty nasty weather - lots of rain, wind, a bit of snow - it looks like spring is finally here for real. I started my spring break one day earlier than most ("Budget Reduction Days" they call them) and got out for some nice non-commute riding around town. Lots of bright green buds, and the cherry and plum trees are in full glory. Good cruising.

Portland-made wood helmets
Friday evening I rode out to far NoPo to help set up for the PDX Bike Show. It was mostly chatting up vendors and volunteers, with a little banner-hanging and carpet-taping to justify my presence. I made another ride out there Saturday morning for the show. Honestly, it was mostly stuff I'm only mildly interested in, a mix of expensive bikes I don't really want to ride, niche gadgets I don't need (upright bar extensions, cycling skirts, race-changing backpacks) and a couple intriguing items (the retro-shift system designed for cross racing, and wooden helmets (I suppose to go with the local wood Renovo frames and wood Sacro Bosco rims, both of which were also at the show.)

In the back room they had a section for used vendors, and I finally found a 26.8 Suntour XC seatpost for the 89 MB-2. I've been looking for three years, so I was pretty happy;  it's past time to get that bike on the road (and trail). Another guy had a pretty nice 700c rear wheel. Deore LX hub laced to a Bontrager asymmetrical Fairlane rim with a nearly new 11-28, 9-speed cassette. $15. I'm getting ready to build up a new (to me) Soma Double Cross to replace the Nishiki Riviera GT as my commuter/tourer/all-purpose bike (It's getting too hard to find and maintain 27' wheels/tires and 126mm spacing w/freewheels.) Because the Double Cross has 132.5 rear spacing, it can take road or mountain hubs, so while I was mostly just looking for a 9-speed cassette, it's kinda like I got the whole wheel as a free bonus. The guy who sold it to me said it came off his recumbent, and was built by the guys at Sunset Cycles. Nice guy, nice wheel.

But now my "problem" was that I had already scheduled a stop to look at a wheelset for the Soma on my way home. A fellow OBRA member had built a set of XTR hubs up with Ambrosia rims and Phil spokes for his Surly LHT, which he was now selling. It seemed like a perfect wheelset for $200, but I'd spent part of my wad and needed to make a bank run on my way there. Short story: they were gorgeous wheels, I had a good talk with the builder/owner - a great guy, and he accepted my offer of $180. My neighbor took a picture when I rolled up with a grin on my face and wheels strapped on my back.

Later that evening I rode back into the Hollywood district for the grand opening of Velo Cult. It was kind of a re-opening, I suppose, as Velo Cult has, well, legendary cult status in San Diego and SoCal bike circles. Jonathan at bikeportland has background info on the move and opening here, here, and a grand opening recap here. Suffice it to say, the legendary status already seems deserved, and I think this is going to be my new favorite bike shop - and not just because I can get coffee AND beer there.

The space is big and beautiful - the former home of an antique mall. Hardwood floors, lots of wood counters, benches, and tables. The ceiling is open beams with a skylight/cuppola in the center. One thing I like is that you don't walk in the door to a rack of merchandise or the need to negotiate a maze of new bikes. Instead, you step into a large and inviting open space. To your right is the shop area, a wall of tools (like a mural, really) topped by a display of vintage road, track, and cyclocross bikes, with benches and tables for sitting and chatting. to the left of the work area is a retractable drawbridge - a stage to be used for performances and guest speakers. To the left of the entrance is a long beautiful counter with more benches where the beer and food are served. This space is topped by a small collection of vintage mountain bikes. All the merchandise is actually in the back half of the store, with the new bikes against the back wall. All steel, I think. I saw Surly, Raleigh, and All-City Cycles, but they may carry more. No carbon anywhere. Component selection leans heavily towards touring and vintage-y stuff, with a a lot of Brooks, Nitto, Velo-Orange, and On-One (who also just opened North American operations in Portland.)

I had a chance to talk with a couple of the employees, as well as owner Sky Boyer, and all seem truly happy to be in Portland. The grand Opening started at 6, by the time I left at 7 the place was packed. It looked like most of the vendors from the Bike Show had migrated to the opening, and I saw plenty of others from Portland's bike glitteratti, including Martina from Clever Cycles, Kiel "Mr. Bike Train" Johnson, Chris King, John Howe and most of Team Beer, and plenty of others.

Cunningham designed roller-cam brake. Cam plate unhooked so bike could be mounted on display stand
There was a lot of eye-candy to check out, but a couple of Velo Cult branded bikes caught my eye - they looked fully rando-ready, were obviously getting used, were almost certainly employee rigs on display. and they were quite different in several respects. I didn't get pictures of the one in the center of the display, but closer inspection of the head badge showed it was one of Mark Nobilette's frames - in 650b. The other had a couple odd features I recognized - a beefy unicrown fork and a rear roller-cam brake mounted beneath the chainstays. Many years ago I bought a new 1987 Trek 850 mountain bike and it came with a beefy seatstay mounted U-brake. I also know the spacing isn't right to replace them with cant brakes, but you can use roller-cams, which are IMHO awesome brakes. I suspected something and asked Sky about it. Turns out it's a powder coated Diamondback MTB he built up for his wife's first overnight tour. And it's now her favorite bike. Another vote for the awesome and comfy mid-late 80's MTB's!

Velo Cult touring rig - a re-purposed late 80's Diamondback MTB
Comfortable seating in front of the shop area
Beer taps in foreground. Eventually tere will be mexican food as well. And coffee, of course.
Some of the comments on BikePortland when news first broke of Velo Cult's relocation were of the sceptical "another Portland bike shop?" variety, but I think Velo Cult will do well here. Surprisingly, there isn't another local shop like this. Most of our other shops cater either to high end racers or wannabes, or are fixie-oriented. We've got a Specialized concept store, a chain of Trek-focused stores, the big national P-chain, and some small neighborhood selling-a-little-bit-of-everything-everything bike shops. But Velo Cult is something different - It feels instantly comfortable, like the kind of place where you would plan to meet other pre or post ride (I hear they plan to open at 7 on Sundays - smart!) or just to get a bite or a drink and hang out. Of course it's a business and won't survive unless we buy stuff. But the emphasis seems first to be on celebrating the bike and cyclists and the riding life, and then on selling you the stuff you want to make that happen. I find that much more refreshing than the usual experience of stepping in the door to a rack of spandex and a smiling salesperson.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

First time Overnight by bike

in which seemingly dumb decisions turn out just fine...

I've been longing - for years - to do an overnight bike trip. I decided this was the summer but with the approach of the new school year, my window was narrowing, until last week when I reached the "now or never" point. To tell the truth, I was scared to go, and finding excuses why I couldn't/shouldn't. But T - bless her - kept prodding, and I knew I'd regret letting my fears of the unknown keep me from this dream. So with a good weather forecast and three days open, I finally packed the panniers. I had a lot of options and still didn't know for sure until the morning I left which I'd choose. I was intrigued by Leafslayer's recent Lolo Pass/east side of Mount Hood trip, but was a little worried it might get too hot on the east side, and frankly wanted a little less solitude for my first trip, especially since I'd be alone.

In the end, I decided to ride the Max light rail to the end of the line in Hillsboro, and head to Astoria and the Oregon Coast via Vernonia. That would give me a chance to ride the 20-mile Banks-Vernonia trail. And if the loaded riding and 1000' climb to Stub Stewart State Park did me in, I could call it good there and head home the next day. This was the route, from the Portland Bureau of Transportation's great bike route site.

Pictures from my trip are here, as well as day-by-day description of my route. I started writing that description here, and realized that where I went/what I did was not the essence that made this trip so special for me. In hindsight I probably rode too much and didn't stop and linger as much as I should have. But I know myself well enough that it doesn't surprise me when I push myself too hard - I ended up covering exactly 300 miles, driveway-to-driveway, in three days. And no, that was not planned, just a kind of freak round number coincidence. I realized that without company - someone to talk to and share the experience with - I was free to do whatever I wanted, and what I really wanted to do was ride. And without having to get home - or anywhere, really - by a certain time, I also realized that someone in reasonably good fitness can ride a lot in a day, even carrying a load. Yes I was tired at the end of each day, but it was a good tired, a satisfied tired, not a dropping from exhaustion tired. For the most part I was glad to be on the bike, and my destinations came when I was glad to get off the bike. In that way, this first bike camping trip was exactly what I hoped it would be.

One thing that finally got me out the door was deciding this first trip would be a learning experiment. Since I've backpacked and climbed quite a bit, I had the gear and experience to travel self-contained. I just hadn't done it by bike. I knew I could always turn around, and if I had some irreparable mechanical breakdown, it wasn't like I would be out in the wilderness. I could get home somehow. The hardest part - truly - was getting out the door. The rest of the trip just unrolled from that first pedal stroke, and it alll went remarkably smoothly for something with little real planning.

Here's a short list of what worked

My Bike: I took my regular commuter, a 1986 Nishiki Riviera GT. Friction shifting, 27" wheels. The ride was smooth, and I had no mechanical issues at all.

Luggage: I have a Bruce Gordon rear rack that carried 2 smallish "vintage" Overland panniers. On front I have a Nitto rack that held an Acorn handlebar bag. Other than strapping my quilt and flip-flops onto the rear rack, these carried everything I needed with room to spare. I forgot to weigh it all before I left, but I did when I got home, and figured that with the food I took and ate, I was probably just under 30lbs when I left home, not counting water.

Sleeping: I took my homemade Ray-Way 2-man tarp tent (left the bug net at home), a ultralight Thermarest 3/4 inflatable pad, and my homemade Ray-Way quilt (strapped on top of rear rack.) I had tons of room under the tarp and slept very comfortably. I had to scout sticks for the tarp the 1st night, but for the second I found a long piece of 1/2" pvc along the road and used the saw on my Leatherman to cut two 4' lenghts which I strapped onto the rack and took to camp with me. But that night I ended up stringing the tarp between 2 trees. For backpacking, I use walking poles to pitch the tent. For future bike touring I can see the value in getting about six 18" sections of aluminum tent pole to avoid the nightly stick hunt.

Cooking/eating: I took my Snowpeak Gigapower stove, which with the cartridge nested inside a Snowpeak titanium Trek 700 pot which nested inside a Trek 900 pot. I could use the smaller pot to brew a bunch of tea and have dinner going in the larger pot. Everything nested together in one nice light compact little bundle. For both dinners I ate Trader Joes Indian food retorts over Uncle Bens boil-in-a-bag rice. Both packages fit in the larger pot at the same time and took about 10-15 minutes to heat. Very tasty, very filling. For breakfast I went with Russ and Laura's suggestion of PBJ wrapped in a tortilla. I also brewed a big pot of tea first thing each morning. During the day I didn't really stop for lunch, but would stop late morning somewhere for coffee and a pastry, then throughout the day munch fruit/nut trail mix (raw nuts), whole wheat fig bars, and maybe stop and get a banana. I felt like I was regularly shoveling food in, which is why I really like handlebar bags.

Water:  I'm kind of a camel. I tank up on tea in the morning and sip throughout the day.  I consciously decided for this trip to only mount one water bottle. I had a pretty good idea I'd never be more than 30 miles from a store or park where I could refill, and only carrying one bottle would force me to get off the bike and maybe also meet some people. For the most part it worked. Surprisingly, the driest section of the ride was the last leg, between Yamhill and Hillsboro, when I was coming back into town. I leaned over the fence and filled up at a nursery irrigation sprinkler.

Clothes: I wore my Keen commuter sandals with light wool socks for riding and they were great. Off the bike I wore flip-flops. I decided for this ride not to dress like a cyclist. It was an NLR (No Lycra Ride). mostly this was an experiment in comfort, but I also had a theory that drivers would see me differently if I dressed like a tourist on a bike as opposed to a cyclist. most of the time I wore lightweight nylon Patagonia Gi II shorts and a puckerwear SS shirt. In the cool of the morning I wore a lightweight Patagonia R1 longsleeve wool zip shirt with my Marmot DriClime windshirt and some nylon running pants. I was as comfortable on my bike as I've ever been - this worked for me. I also had along my old Burley rainjacket; it stayed in the bottom of the pannier.

And I took Bagbalm and used it liberally. It worked - 'nuff said.

As an experimental ride, this was a roaring success. Getting this under my belt has given me a tremendous confidence boost to continue ranging out on overnighters. I scared myself away from returning over the higher and more remote pass up the Nestucca River, opting instead for the longer but more moderate Little Nestucca route. But already, a week later, I'm planning on how and when I can go back and ride that road.

I want to thank Kent (Mountain Turtle) Peterson, Michael (Leafslayer) Johnson, and Russ Roca & Laura Crawford (The Path Less Pedaled) who all, unknowingly, provided inspiration and encouragement with their practical and down to earth trip reports and touring advice, most of which can be summed up by saying, "Don't worry about the bike, don't worry about the gear, just get out there and ride." I did. I will.