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.


  1. Good Job! I made the ride from Hillsboro to Netarts on August 8, spent the next several days slowly riding south to Newport, then rode back to Corvallis on August 13.

  2. Glad that we could provide some inspiration. Touring is certainly addictive!

  3. Hey, just came across this now by chance. Glad you got out. I'm actually heading out for an S24O in 2 days, the first of the year. Should be fun. I'm planning on multiple bike overnights in July when my wife is out of town.

    --Leaf S.