Summary – day 15 – Further Tales from the City … (Friday 9 September, San Francisco) Posted by Matthew
We’ve been enjoying San Francisco’s gay and lesbian heritage today in the Castro. We dropped our bicycles in to a cycle store for a quick tune at the American Cyclery on Stanyon and Frederick, (americancyclery.com). It’s a really lovely old bike shop, (established in 1941), with a very nice range of machines and some beautify classic cycling jerseys hung on the wall. We were attended to by a helpful guy called Brad – who’d been to the Condor bicycle store in London and recognised Mike’s bicycle brand! He quickly checked our bikes and arranged for everything to be serviced before the end of the day. If only we had such efficient service in the UK – we normally have to book our bikes in for a service at least a week ahead.
We wandered from the bike shop through the Cole Valley, past Mount Olympus and into the Haight Ashbury district and then over to the Castro district – the most obviously LGBT quarter. It’s pretty special when you’re welcomed to a neighbourhood by a gay welcome committee! Just beside the metro station in Harvey Milk Plaza two guys were sitting behind a table with leaflets, maps and guides to the area. They gave us a warm welcome, a map with the local attractions and directions to a nice place to eat. We checked out the LGBT museum and then had some lunch.
While we were eating I noticed Razor’s barber shop opposite and decided to see if they could give me a trim. The answer was yes – at 4pm (a 20 minute wait), so we walked around the corner to see the Harvey Milk memorial outside his former camera shop. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in the UK. He was assassinated in 1978.
After the 20 minutes I was in the seat being trimmed by a very friendly gay hairdresser called Everett. My hair, beard, nose and ears all received a trim, (ready for the anticipated heat as we ride south) and we were given lots of advice about beaches to stop at on the trip tomorrow, (including some nude ones!).
We strolled back from the Castro to pick our bikes up. Mike had been a little worried about the hub on his front wheel, which had squeaked a little and leaked grease on some of our faster descents. The cones and bearings were replaced on the front for $65 – a good price. Matthew’s bike had the cables tightening up, as it’s new – they tend to stretch a bit at first, and stores will normally do this for free a few weeks after a new bike has been bought … a little difficult with Cheltenham being 8490 kilometres (5270 miles) away! The American Cyclery shop also had a lovely friendly resident dog, so as well a beautifully smooth riding bike we also got to pet the dog.
We cycled back through the Golden Gate Park past the beautiful Dahlia Garden, flower glass house and the Stow Lake. We finished our ride at the Green Apple second-hand book shop before heading back to Heidi and Martin’s house for our last night in San Francisco.
We have a long ride tomorrow, around 120 miles including a rather alarmingly named hill called the Devil’s Slide. If we get past the Slide ok we should be in for a good ride with coastal views all the way, but hopefully with no more fog!
We’re staying in the Richmond area of San Francisco, very close to the Golden Gate Park. We’re going to explore the park later today after we’ve visited a local bike shop to ask them to give our bikes a bit of tender love and care.
Richmond is fairly close to the sea, so when the fog rolls into the SF bay, (as it quite often does), then Richmond becomes a bit grey and overcast too. There has been fog since we rode over the Golden Gate Bridge on Wednesday, but as SF is quite large you can go to other parts of the city and be in beautiful sunshine. Yesterday we walked into downtown and had lovely weather almost all day.
We started our tourist trail at the Yerba Buena Gardens, impressive fountains in memory of Martin Luther, beautiful planting and live music all on offer. We stopped and had some tea and a bite to eat.
We continued over to the SF MoMA, past the museum of contemporary Jewish History and on down Mission Street to the Ferry Terminal Building, which has been converted into a bit of a foody heaven with nice outlets, stalls and restaurants. We picked up some ‘artisan’ bread to take back for dinner and had an ice cream, (quite indulgent on a non-cycling day). The ice cream stall had an amazing range of flavours – I eventually decided on caramel and buttered pecan ice cream, while Mike had pear and blood orange sorbet. Delicious!
Still on with the SF tourist trail. We visited the Trans-America pyramid building, it’s no longer possible able to go to the top of this iconic SF skyscraper (the tallest building in SF), as it’s been closed since 9/11. It’s nonetheless very impressive from the ground.
Next stop, Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower. We climbed up to the tower via a very long set of twisting steps, some were constructed of wood and wove their way through the most lovely private gardens. It was all very reminiscent of Barbary Lane from Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books.
The top of Telegraph Hill affords a wonderful view across the city – Golden Gate Bridge is still shrouded in fog. We didn’t go up Coit Tower itself as the queue was quite long and in any case the real beauty of the tower are the wonderful murals inside the room at the base that were painted in the 1930s and depict working life in California at that time. The work was undertaken by left-leaning artists, influenced and sometimes taught by Diego Rivera. Beautiful. They were branded ‘communist propaganda’ by some newspapers and critics and one mural had to be removed.
We then walked down Telegraph Hill to Lombard Street, reputed to be the most crooked street in the world. It’s a very steep section of road that has eight sharp turns to help drivers navigate the 40 degree slope. It’s a huge tourist attraction, so lots of people were around taking photos. It’s not a street I’d like to live on as there seemed to be an almost constant stream of motor cars going down the street (it’s one-way) to test their driving skills. We saw a few cyclists too and even a skateboarder testing it out – neither of which I’d be too keen on trying.
Finally we caught a cable car for a very short ride down towards Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason Park and Ghirardelli Square. The square was once home to the Ghirardelli chocolate factory, (since relocated) and has been converted into shops and restaurants.
We stopped for a hot chocolate and a chocolate brownie each in the Ghirardelli Café, before taking a bus back to Richmond (via Safeway, of course), for more wonderful hospitality from Heidi and Martin.
Today we’re off to the Golden Gate Park and the Castro (SF’s gay village) – but first a visit to the American Cyclery bicycle shop that we didn’t quite make it to yesterday.
Summary – day 13 – Sea Ranch to San Francisco (Wednesday 7 September) Posted by Mike
Estimate: 113 miles, actual: 111.0 miles Avg. speed: 13.8 mph Cumulative distance: 1,117.41 miles
A long hot day today, but also the best day’s riding for scenery and just sheer beauty of the ride.
We had a lovely, leisurely breakfast with Bob and Sophia and after photographs on their veranda we set off from Sea Ranch a little later than planned at about 9.00. It was a little cold and foggy at first, but there were patches of blue in the sky and so we were hopefull that it would turn out fine.
About 15 miles from Sea Ranch puncture #5, (Matthew, rear – a small hole in the tube near the valve). We’d had enough of these punctures on Matthew’s rear wheel by now – well I had – and as we were expecting quite a long day of cycling, we decided to change the tyre AND the tube. Matthew’s bike is new and I fear that perhaps the tyres are are a component where money was saved! So fingers crossed – no more punctures.
While we were replacing the tyre, a young woman cycled by towing a Bob trailer. She stopped to help and we found out that she’s called Sarah and that she has a degree in public health. Sarah is touring 6,000 miles in a giant u-shape from NW USA south, then east along the border and north up the east coast – amazing. She’s visiting schools to talk to the children about growing food, eating healthily and taking exercise. This is a brilliant project, (and her cycling trip puts our 1800 mile journey into the shade!) We talked a little about Jamie Oliver’s school dinner campaign and she said that she had written something for his website. Sarah really seemed to be an epitome of the USA American spirit – a ‘get up and go’ attitude, coupled with a desire to help others – really admirable. She hopes to come to Europe to examine school food in different countries … I really hope that she gets to do that. It’s important work. Sarah’s website/blog is at: www.schoolfoodtour.org
Tyre replaced, we redoubled our pace and decided to skip the normal break after 30 miles or so and head straight to lunch in Bodega Bay. The sun came out and the coastal views were breathtaking, high cliffs, sweeping coastlines, inland forests and fields – and all very quiet. We passed by Fort Ross, the southernmost Russian outpost in North America from 1812 to 1841. The wooden stockade and some of the buildings have been reconstructed. The Russian graveyard with its characteristic Russian orthodox grave marker crosses in a field next to the fort.
In the pretty small town of Bodega Bay, we stopped at a deli in Pelican Plaza to stock up on supplies for lunch and ate on a bench next to a surf shop, with lovely views over the bay. Pelican Plaza is a slightly amusing name as my pet name for Matthew sometimes is “Mr P.”, which stands for “Mr Pelican” – from the rhyme: “Pelican, pelican. Eats more than its belly can!” Which sometimes can apply to him!!
While we were sat eating a few people came to talk to us; asking where we were riding to, saying that it was a lovely day for cycling … that kind of thing. One woman came to speak to us and she had two dogs – a huge oversized, white poodle – maybe 3 ft tall – all trimmed and looking rather regal on a leash, (I’m referring to the poodle now, you understand, not the woman) but she was also carrying a much smaller lap dog under her arm, (the woman, not the poodle). When she returned to her 4×4, she handed the big poodle’s leash to her husband, opened the back of the car, reached in and to our amazement retrieved a small set of 3 wooden steps, which she put on the ground by the open rear car door. The poodle used the steps to climb into the car. The wooden stairs were then put away, doors closed and she drove away. We were laughing uproariously by now.
Time to leave Bodega Bay. The bay itself is calm an very round with little crow’s nests on poles jutting out of the water like oversize reeds – we weren’t sure if these were refuges from the tide or fishing platforms … or had some other kind of purpose. Crossing the town took us out of Sonoma County and into Marin County.
Marin County is just north of San Francisco over the Golden Gate bridge. It has a well-known mountain bicycle brand named after it. Mountain biking was invented on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais (by Gary Fisher, among others – who went on to develop his on brand of mountain bicycles). ‘Mount Tam’ is 784 metres (2,574 ft) high and our route into San Francisco took us (on the road) over it – it was quite a slog with our bags, and there lots of racing cyclists whizzing up and down – saying “hi”, “nice day” and so on. A man leaned out of his car with his thumb up and shouted “riding strong”! There were fantastic views from the top – including our first glimpse of San Francisco in the distance, through the trees and across the bay.
We descended into Sausalito – a pretty little town across the bay from San Francisco – with a Mike’s Bikes bicycle store!
A bicycle track went along the waterfront to the Golden Gate bridge – the bridge was unfortunately shrouded in mist, so we could only catch glimpses of it. We rode over in the mist – it’s one and a half miles long. There were plenty of other cyclists and runners and tourists on the walkway. It was starting to get dark now as we made our way through the Presidio along Lincoln Drive to Heidi and Martin’s – our Warm Showers hosts for the next three nights/two days.
We arrived just as dinner was being served in their beautiful house. They had agreed to take in four other cyclists who were passing through that day, too: Pablo, Alex, Luciano and Mario.
So there were eight for dinner – including six hungry cyclists, I hope Heidi knows what she’s let herself in for!
Summary – day 11 – Miranda to Fort Bragg (Monday 5 September – Labor day) Posted by Mike
Estimate: 89 miles, actual: 81.4 miles Avg. speed: 13.9 mph – two epic climbs today and b****y hot! Cumulative distance: 935.79 miles
Breakfast at Miranda Gardens this morning could have been very nice for two greedy British cyclists. There was plenty to eat, but unfortunately the breakfast room was in part of the motel reception area and the receptionist was sat behind her desk and looking out like a rather stern teacher facing a class at lunch time. I felt a bit self-conscious about repeatedly getting up for more, although I did manage to pour two sachets of oats into one bowl and she couldn’t see because I had my back to her. When she left the room for a moment to refill a coffee pot, almost everyone in the room got up for more!
We didn’t need to set off too early this morning, so we cleaned our bikes and tightened up all the bolts.
Polly’s partner Dennis has sent us a message asking about our bicycles and if we’re riding on hybrid bikes. So now seems as good a time as any to introduce you to our trusty titanium steeds: Condor and Van Nicholas. (*If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the sound of Matthew groaning*).
You can skip the next five (!) paragraphs if you find bicycle talk a bit boring! This is for you Dennis – hope you don’t regret asking!
We’re not using hybrid bicycles. Hybrids look a bit like mountain bikes, with fatter tubes and tyres and often have carry racks over the front, as well as the rear wheels. Hybrids usually have a triple chain-set, (three chain rings at the front), to provide lower gears to make it easier to get up hills. Newer ones often have disc brakes, too. Hybrids are really suitable for long/distance touring, especially if there’s a lot to carry, (such as camping gear), as they’re strong and they really come into their own if the journey involves going off-road, because a hybrid bike will take wider, knobbly tyres to provide extra grip on uneven surfaces. But the fatter tube construction on hybrid bikes means that they are also relatively heavy and any additional weight slows a rider down, (of course this is not a particular issue for many touring cyclists). The wider tyres increases road friction too, which means they’re harder work to ride than a bicycle with narrower tyres.
We’re not carrying that much as we’re staying in people’s houses or in motels. Also we’re riding on well-surfaced roads, so we don’t need hybrid touring bikes to take us off-road. Although we’re not riding that fast – aiming for 15 mph, (compared to the 18 mph average that I generally aim for on my road bike), we have a target destination each day and 10-12 mph would mean unfeasibly long days in the saddle.
We’re therefore using titanium touring bikes. A touring frame looks rather like a racing bicycle, but it has some subtle changes – the whole bike will be slightly longer than a racing bike, (a more stretched-out riding position is more comfortable on a long ride and allows for easier shifts in position). Also the frame geometry is such that there’s sufficient space around the frame to fit mudguards. There are fixing points on the seat stays and at the drop-outs for a rear carrying rack, too. The advantage of titanium is that it saves on weight and it also makes for a very strong, yet flexible frame. Titanium is more comfortable on a long day’s ride than aluminium or carbon as it absorbs some of the uneven road surface. The strength of titanium was also a factor in helping us to decide to bring our own bikes, packed in special bags with us on the plane. We thought that they’d have a better chance of surviving intact in the baggage area and in the plane’s hold if something dropped on them. So they’re light, strong, reasonably fast and comfortable to ride all day.
I’m riding my Condor Gran Fondo. I’ve had this bike for about four years now and it’s a beauty! Condor is a British brand, the bike itself was made in Italy. I use it to ride to work if it’s raining or if I need to carry anything. I also use it on longer group rides such as ‘sportives’ (group rides of 60\+ miles) if I think that it might be wet. My other road bike (Litespeed) doesn’t have any real possibly of fitting mudguards, so if it’s wet, the wheels throw dirty water off the road and high up into the air, all over my back and into the face of anyone riding just behind me, (although obviously it serves them right for being a ‘wheel-sucker’ – someone who drafts behind another cyclist uses up to a third less energy). I use Shimano Ultegra compact gearing, (a double chainring on the front), that gives a reasonably good range of gears. Ultegra is Shimano’s second tier groupset – (Dura Ace is the most expensive, adding between £1500 to £2,000 to the cost of a bicycle! It’s very lightweight and mainly used by pros). Ultegra is not so expensive (about £900) but it’s very good quality – smooth, easy shifting – and hard wearing. My Condor bike has taken me over many, many miles – including to Hamburg and back from Bristol (1300 miles) on our test ride for this trip.
Matthew has a new bike – see previous post. We bought it specifically for this trip. It’s from a Dutch titanium bike specialist – Van Nicholas. His is a Yukon, it’s also built with Shimano Ultegra groupset. We bought it on interest-free finance from Leisure Lakes Bicycles in Cheltenham. Although it’s still very new, he’s enjoying the quality of the ride compared to his aluminium Trek road bike. So there you are … too much information about our bicycles!
Back to today’s ride. It was baking hot when we left Miranda Gardens. We continued through the Avenue of the Giants then rejoined Highway 101, following the course of the Eel River as it meanders south-west. The roads were all very quiet today, as it’s Labor day.
In Garberville, a rather odd souvenir store – The Legend of Bigfoot – a large wooden carving of Bigfoot dominates the entrance and the storefront is strewn with redwood carvings,including Paddington and bear friend (bear friend carrying a shotgun!).
We rode past Piercy and about 5 miles from Leggett, we caught up with two other cyclists: Cleveland and John. We’ve spotted more cyclists on the road since we came into California than we’ve seen on the whole of the rest of the journey so far, (if the cyclists in the cities of Vancouver, Seattle and Portland are excluded). Cleveland and John are nos. 16 and 17! They’d been camping for the weekend … “Where’s all your camping gear?”, I asked? “Our wives have it in the ‘sag wagon’ – we’re riding along until they come and pick us up!” what a great idea! I said: “We don’t have any wives, unfortunately!” John works in insurance and Cleveland is completing a PhD in environmental business. That sound great – it’s good to meet people on bicycles like Cleveland and Christie who are working to help the environment.
We’d thought about having lunch in Leggett, but it was further off the road than we expected, so we called onto a service station to refill our water bottles and have a snack.
We were standing in the shade with our bicycles, when a man asked us where we were headed. Matthew said “Fort Bragg”, then he asked where we were from. Matthew said “Bristol, in south-west England.” Really? said the man, “You sure don’t sound like you’re from England”. “What do we sound like?” I asked. “You sound like you’re goddamn French” he said. Well what do you say to that? Apart from the absurdity of suggesting that we sound French, there was an insult – right there – at the ‘goddamn French’. Now I happen to love France and I think that the French do a pretty good job of making their country one of the most beautiful, prosperous and pleasant in the world. The French also have a very positive relationship with the bicycle – most of them ride for pleasure and they are usually very courteous to other cyclists on the roads – slowing down and giving lots of room when driving past, so it’s a real pleasure to cycle in France. The French also run the best, most prestigious and most exciting cycling race in the world – the Tour de France. An epic feat of sporting endurance played out against a backdrop of fantastic and dramatic scenery. What’s not to like about the French? I decided not to pursue this conversation any further and started to pack our bag to leave. Then the man continued; “Do you use weed?” I was a bit shocked by this. I know that we’re in California now, but that takes the biscuit, (or should that be cookie?!). I’m a bit naive about illicit drugs to be honest Believe it or not, no-one has ever offered to sell me them before. Do I even look like someone who smokes weed? I don’t even drink! I replied: “Certainly not. We’re clean-living guys!”. “This here’s weed-growing country”, he said. “It’s cheap”. Hmm … we said goodbye and set off.
The last leg of the journey involved two huge climbs along Shoreline Highway 1, through wooded hills to reach the Mendocino Coast section of the Pacific, (hence our low average speed today).
Once we reached the coast, the temperature dropped a little, but it was beautiful, undulating quiet coastline through Westport to Fort Bragg. The ocean was very calm and it would have been amazing to have seen some whales – they’re out there, but we didn’t spot any. We did spot the glass beach – what was the town dump and where the sea has smoothed the broken glass that was tipped there.
We arrived early in Fort Bragg and had time to get our laundry done while shopping for dinner at a lovely supermarket, with loads of good things to eat. Market Fresh even had solar panels on the roof. Back to the Surf Motel and Gardens in Fort Bragg for a feast and a rest.
Surf Motel and Gardens truly has some extensive and rather lovely gardens and a poster for the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route in the window :)
Summary – day 10 – Klamath to Miranda (Sunday 4 September) Posted by Mike
Estimate: 131 miles, actual: 122 miles Avg. speed: 15.2 mph Cumulative distance: 854.39 miles
Our first night in California, the ‘sunshine state’. Perhaps inevitably, it’s foggy, damp and rather cold at 6 am. Ah, well – at least it’s not windy!
When they wake up in the morning, the first thing a cyclist thinks about – before anything else – is their legs. How are the legs feeling today? Muscles? Joints? Good legs = a strong day; riding will be easy and fast. Pretty good legs = a comfortable day… a reasonably easy day’s riding, but don’t over-exert Not good legs = stay in bed!
So, after two days in the wind, I was expecting to want to stay in bed, but a hot bath and an early night had worked its magic and I was feeling ok. There was even more good things to come. Breakfast at Ravenwood Hotel was quite a lavish affair – oats, bagels with strawberry jam, fresh fruit, freshly made coffee … and they had soya milk in the refrigerator! The first hotel/motel that we’ve stayed in who had any. Good old Gary and Perry!
Today’s ride was sheduled to be the longest we’d be doing, (we figured that we’d have found our cycling legs by now and would be unlikely to be tired out yet!)
I was a little nervous about doing 130 miles, especially after a couple of difficult days; so we were up at 6.00 am, eating breakfast as soon as we could at 7.00 am, wrapped up against the weather and on the road by 7.45.
The fog seems to be very localised – mostly in low-lying areas near the sea. We started to climb out of Klamath and it cleared, (but still cold). We had a nice start to the day as we rode off Highway 101 and through Prairie Creek State park – a quiet wooded valley. We spotted two cyclists ahead and caught them up.
Christie was cycling from the Oregon/California border to where she lives in San Diego – all this to celebrate her 30th birthday. (Perhaps big cycle rides and round number birthdays just go together! I wonder where I shall want to go when I’m 60 – anyone fancy cycling across Australia with me?!). Christie works for an energy company in San Diego on energy conservation measures – it’s really pleasing to learn about that sort of work. She was being supported and paced on her ride by friends and family. For three days it was Dominic, a friend who is a firefighter in San Diego and a colleague of Christie’s fiancé – Matt, who was driving a support vehicle along the route too.
Dominic told us about his work and the effect that public sector cuts were having in the USA. I had no idea, but in California all firefighters must also be trained paramedics – so it takes quite a while to qualify. They usually work shifts of 10 days on (24 hours a day) and 10 days off. Firefighters can retire at 50-55. Dominic was well travelled – he’d been all over Europe and to Africa. Dominic had another day riding with Christie, then Christie’s father was joining them. One thing I was puzzled by, (so Christie – if you’re reading this, maybe you can tell us), Christie was pulling a little Bob trailer along, which seemed odd with Matt in a support vehicle that could have transported her stuff for her! Anyway, they all made a fantastic team. Matt would drive ahead for a mile or so and pull in while Christie and Dominic caught up. We stopped to take picture and gave them our blog address. After we had ridden away Matt overtook us and pulled over a little way ahead, as we passed him he called out: “Good riding. That was fast.” that cheered us up somewhat!
We passed through Humboldt Lagoons State Park – several large lagoons separated from the sea by an isthmus along which the road passed – so there were large lagoons on our left and the sea on our right. We noticed some cars parked by some dunes up ahead with people looking out with cameras and binoculars. We stopped to look too and there were a herd of elks grazing and not minding the people at all! Amazing – almost the Magic Moment of the Day.
We thought that we’d stop in Trinidad for a second breakfast, but we were going well and chatting with Christie and Dominic had made the time go by, so we continued on to Eureka for lunch. The road to Eureka curves around Arcata Bay; the water was incredibly flat and calm. Mist was rising and billowing off the water at its edge, almost like steam. It was a little eerie. We saw some herons and some similar-looking wading birds, that were all white, (help with that anyone?!)
Eureka is a beautiful historic town, with extraordinary buildings – some huge, elaborate detached wooden houses – painted in bright colours. Matthew had read that they were built on the profits of the local rich dairy industry and were colloquially known as ‘buttermilk mansions’.
It’s a public holiday tomorrow – Labor day and we rode past the ‘Blues on the Bay’ music festival – sounded brilliant – a violinist was playing Country and Western or Hoedown music as we rode into the old town. That seemed fitting. (I’ve no idea if there is any difference between Country and Western or Hoedown and if there is, what it might be).
Lunch was as Los Bagels in Eureka – lovely! We’d noticed a smart-looking tandem outside, too, so that was further incentive to go in. Turns out that the tandem cyclists were from Sweden – Barbara and Claus. They were heading to San Francisco from Vancouver! We had a really nice, interesting talk – our lunches often last longer than we intend when we meet nice people, and if they’re cyclists too they’re almost bound to be nice. Claus had been a stockbroker, but became somewhat disillusioned with it. Now he was working on a device for cutting wood safely to use in stoves. Sounded like like we could use one – might save me all that chopping! Barbara had done some welfare, charitable work. They were staying in Eureka for the night and it was a shame not to be able to spend more time with them. Maybe we’ll meet up again in Bristol or in Oslo! That’d be good.
Just outside Eureka on the last leg of the day to Miranda, puncture #3 (Matthew – rear, another piece of fine wire – this time it had pierced the tube three times, the holes weren’t close enough together to repair with one patch and two patches overlapped and leaked – so annoying. We ended up taking the wheel off and replacing the inner tube. The whole thing was a pain and wasted lots of time. But once we were off we were soon in the Avenue of the Giants – mile, after mile of great, soaring redwood trees along the Eel River, (31 miles in all). There was even a Butler Grove (my mother’s family name). The Magic Moment of the Day – just us on our bikes on a winding road, it was like cycling down the nave of a massive, ancient, twisted, high cathedral. Stupendous.
We arrived in Miranda at 7.30 – just as the local store had closed – so we ate the extra bagels that we’d bought at lunchtime with cheese and then some fruit. There was a huge log fire outside and we could hear people talking around it – but we were too tired to join them. In bed and asleep by 9.30 feeling safe and somehow protected by all those beautiful giant redwoods.
Summary – day 09 – Port Orford to Klamath (Saturday 3 September) Posted by Mike
Estimate: 102 miles, actual: 100.9 miles Avg. speed: 13.2 mph Cumulative distance: 732.39 miles
Today has been quite challenging. We didn’t want to hang about in Port Orford, so we set off at 8.00 am. We ought to have arrived in Klamath between 4 and 5 pm, depending on how long we spent on our breaks. In fact, we arrived at 7.30 pm. Why? The wind. The bloody wind. A headwind. It’s been a horrendously difficult ride today because if it. It was a strong and almost constant southerly headwind that dogged most of our journey. Managing more than 8 mph for long stretches of time was almost impossible. What’s worse is that today’s headwind followed on from yesterday’s headwind, so we were already pretty tired.
This. Was. Not. Supposed. To. Happen. We spent some time before the trip discussing and finding out whether it would be better to ride from south to north or vice versa. We chose north to south because we read that the prevailing wind would assist us that way. Hmmm.
Apart from selfish drivers, wind is cyclist’s worst enemy – there’s nothing that can be done about it, it can wreck schedules and turn what should have been a lovely day’s ride like today’s into a bad-tempered slog. Tailwinds can be nice, but sometimes they’re not noticeable and a rider will just think that they’re going particularly well! Headwinds are always obvious and on a longish journey like today, where we were always heading south and the wind was always coming from the south there was just no respite. So my knees are feeling a bit sore and we’re both a little demoralised. A few more days like this could really threaten the success of our trip.
Otherwise, today was an incredible day in terms of scenery; southern Oregon is sparsely populated and enjoys lots of long wide beaches – with no one, or almost no-one on them, high wooded headlands and beautiful mountains. Mist was clinging to the sea and the shore early on. At one point a deer wandered across the road in front of us, paused to look, then continued on into the forest. It was magical (but not The Magic Moment of the Day).
Puncture #2 (Matthew’s front tyre had a piece of fine wire embedded in it), so we had a break in Gold Beach – just a coffee and leftover pizza from last night. Mike wondered if the town’s name was anything to do with the codename of of the WWII Normandy landing beaches – Juno, Sword and Gold. We asked a local, who said that there was no connection and the name had rather more prosaic origins – gold was found here.
We sat outside a diner while Mike fixed the puncture. The diner was next to a hairdresser’s and we could hear the women chatting inside through an open door – they all seemed nice, but then we noticed a poster in the window of the hairdresser’s advertising a fundraising benefit for the Friends of the NRA, (National Rifle Association – a very influential pro-guns lobby). Eek, we scarpered pretty quickly then.
Next stop was Brookings for our lunch. We called at a Fred Meyer supermarket, but there was nowhere outside to sit and no bicycle racks – just an enormous car park. Depressing. Safeway’s always seems to have tables and chairs outside. We decided to pack the food into our bags and ride to try to find a little park or a square where we could eat. This was a mistake – there was just nowhere nice to stop and we kept riding for hours without having anything to eat.
We were feeling quite tired hungry by now, but our spirits were raised as we approached the Oregon-California border. The rest of our journey south will be in California – only trouble is, California is over 700 miles long! (and we’re not travelling in a straight line from north to south).
Just south of Brookings a cold sea fog rolled in, but at least the wind had dropped somewhat! The white mist remained for the rest of the day – sometimes we’d climb out, then we’d be back in it. As we descended into Klamath along the coast, we could see out to sea, only it wasn’t the sea that we were looking at, it was the tops of the sea mist – is was like being just above the clouds. The Magic Moment of the Day, definitely.
The route south of the border has also brought us into Giant Redwood country – high, beautiful trees with deep ridges on their reddish brown trunks – incredible. We should see the real biggies tomorrow in the ‘Avenue of the Giants’.
We arrived at the Ravenwood Hotel in Klamath, a bit the worse for wear. The owner came out to the reception desk with a huge blue and yellow parrot on his shoulder – a real one! Matthew had a bit of a shock and went pale … he’s not good with birds for some reason. Otherwise, the Ravenwood Hotel is lovely – with two very nice, if a little camp, gay hosts: Perry and Gary. That cheered us up a bit.
It’s going to be a long, hilly ride tomorrow – let’s hope that the wind has dropped, or that at least it’s doing what it’s supposed to and helps us along.
Summary – day 08 – Florence to Port Orford (Friday 2 September) Posted by Mike
Estimate: 98.6 miles, actual: 103 miles
Avg. speed: 15.7 mph – not bad, given the wind
Cumulative distance: 631.49 miles
Our hotel in Florence, the River Inn had a lovely breakfast room – with two big round electric waffle machines, alongside there was even an automatic batter dispenser! Matthew couldn’t resist and set about making two, (then ate one and three-quarters, I can’t think what happened to the other quarter!). Otherwise Captain Sensible (that’s me), had oats and toast for breakfast.
While we were having breakfast, I sat and pondered the Dilemma of the Day: short and horrible or long and nice? Now when faced with that sort of decision, what’s a cycling boy to do? Actually, this sort of dilemma must be resolved by touring cyclists all the time; shorter, flatter, faster routes are inevitably on roads that are ugly and choked with traffic, while the nicer, quieter routes are usually further. We were dealing with dilemma because Mr. Garmin was having an off day, (quite literally – when I realised that he wanted to send us on a 200 mile trip to cover the estimated 98 miles from Florence to Port Orford I turned off Garmin routing). I probably looked a bit odd sat in the Riverside Inn breakfast room, dressed in Lycra cycling shorts and poring over maps and web pages on an iPad AND an iPhone. Yes, we have an iPad with us, as well as our phones.
This might be an appropriate point for me to eat a little bit of humble pie, as I didn’t want Matthew to bring the iPad. In fact, I may have said that bringing an iPad was ‘ridiculous.’ Any of you who are reading this that know me well (“Hi Mom”), will know that I tend to take the view that I’m always right. However, very rarely and occasionally I might be misinformed about something and in consequence discover that someone else is responsible for my making a mistake. So I am usually prepared to concede, that while I may not always right – I am never wrong! It’s taken Matthew quite a while to accommodate himself to this fact, but after 17 years of extra-marital bliss, he has more or less learned that trying to argue with me is futile. It is therefore extremely difficult for me to suggest that bringing the iPad might, just, possibly, maybe, have been quite a good idea. We’ve watched movies on it, checked emails on it, faffed about on the blog with it, found out a little about some of places that we’re visiting on it and sorted out some of our route dilemmas on it. We could do all those things on the iPhone, of course, but it’s easer with a bigger screen and being able to compare two pieces of routing information on a phone and a pad is really useful. So there you are, I admit it – bringing the iPad might have been a good idea!
Unsurprisingly, we decided to take the long and nice route. Essentially following the well-marked Oregon Coast Cycle Route.
In the morning this route took us through the Oregon Dunes. I sometimes find that as an Englishman in America, I run out of superlatives to describe the things that I see … so much is beautiful, amazing, the most, the biggest, etc. Well the Oregon Dunes are difficult to describe – they’re huge! They must stretch for at least 40 miles and sometimes occupy a really wide area. They’re the biggest sand dunes that I think I’ve ever seen … some are 150 meters (500 ft) high (and I write as someone who’s been to the Sahara!) Occasionally a dune spills into the road and it was necessary for us to slowly negotiate our way around the massive drifts of sand spilling across the carriageway. The dunes are a popular attraction, and we could often hear the buzz of quad bikes in the distance. As well as towing boats, lots of cars here were towing trailers with fancy-looking quad bikes in them. Between the dunes, the roads were tree-lined with pines and there were quite a few inland lakes, making for a very pleasant morning’s ride.
We passed a couple of touring cyclists, who were very heavily loaded. She was pulling a little single-wheeled Bob trailer with their camping gear in it, while he was carrying two panniers at the front as well as two on the rear. They were from North Carolina and had taken 9 Greyhound buses to the start of their cycle trip in north Washington. It had cost them only $100 and they said that they’d seen lots of drop-outs en route! She was planning on returning to college to train as an art teacher and he had just finished college, he was a sociology major – yay! We cycled away from them, (they were going quite slowly and aiming for Coos Bay that night – Matthew said, “Oh, we’re heading there for lunch!” Ouch!) Afterwards Mike remarked, “A sociologist on a bicycle? Result!” Matthew replied rather sardonically: “Oh, that? They’re everywhere.”
Just before North Bend a huge inlet fed by the Coos River is crossed by Super Scary Bridge #3: the Conde B. McCullough Memorial Bridge. This bridge is 242 m (793 ft) long and is about 50 m (150 ft) above the water. The main bridge is connected to the land at each end by a series of high arched sections that make the whole thing over 500 m (1700 ft) long.
I find these bridges so scary for all the usual reasons, they’re extremely high up, but also because either the balustrades seem to be so low, (compared to those on European bridges) and because we are forced by traffic into cycling very close to the edge. It’s very easy to imagine coming off the bicycle and falling over the balustrade off the bridge, (well, I find this easy to imagine!). Roads usually narrow on bridges and either there is no sidewalk, or it’s very narrow too. This all means that there’s not much room for vehicles to pass in both directions and drivers don’t seem to slow down on the bridges. I’m reminded of what happened to poor Johnny Hoogerland and Antonia Flecha in this year’s Tour de France – a car nudged them as it tried to pass and sent them flying – Hoogerland went into barbed wire fence – it was horrible. If you want to see it for yourself, go here:
The Conde B. McCullough Memorial Bridge has a button at each end for cyclists to press, a bit like the one at the tunnel outside of Florence. The button sets off big flashing orange lights and reduces the speed limit on the bridge to (a still too fast) 35 mph. There are big signs for drivers warning of cyclists in the roadway. We approached the bridge rather nervously and pressed the button. To our surprise, delight and amazement a driver behind us in a big Winnebago slowed down to our cycling speed and kept well behind us all the way across the bridge. I wanted to hug him – and my ardour increased even more when we heard horns sounding from some frustrated drivers behind him who couldn’t see that we were on front – he just ignored them. When we came off the bridge we pulled over to wave to the driver and gave thumbs up signs. As the line of traffic streamed past us someone in a red car yelled some abuse about #*<$¥+•! bikes on the bridge. That spoiled things a little – cyclists are explicitly allowed on the bridge, it’s part of a state-wide official bicycle route and the next bridge upstream was miles away.
The wind was blowing an absolute gale around North Bend, so we decided to take a break and headed to Safeway’s for lunch. I’ve been trying to work out why this particular supermarket has more or less become our second home on this holiday. I don’t think it’s because Safeway’s is like Waitrose, as Matthew has suggested – that’s just silly. It’s more that they’re pretty ubiquitous, fairly reliable, not expensive, usually have free wi-fi and that we can buy food in small-ish quantities.
While Matthew was picking up our freshly-made sandwiches from April who was working on the counter, she told him that her father is a State patrolman and that they’ve been clamping down heavily and fining people for speeding on the bridge. Good. There’s a sweary man in a red car out there just itching to be caught!
After lunch we continued south on much quieter roads – it’s amazing how soon off the main highways the traffic dwindles to virtually nothing. Barview then Charleston – small hard-working fishing towns by the looks of them. Not especially prosperous. In Charleston we rode past several huge piles of shells. There was a very strong smell of off-fish – yuk. Once away from Charleston the road pitched up and there was lots of climbing through wooded hills for a while. Spectacular views for miles from high up – but the wind has been a real trial today – coming at us from the west, (our right and in front of us), gusting so hard that causes our bicycles to wobble a bit alarmingly sometimes. Matthew almost ran over a squirrel on the West Beaver Hill Road, it ran out in front of him from the grass on the verge, stopped in front of him, seemed to do a little dance as it wasn’t certain which way to go next, then it jumped back into the undergrowth. We wondered if there was a squirrel equivalent of the children’s ‘chicken’ game being played!
On to Bandon, a beautiful little seaside town, with some very nice modern housing developments on a high cliff overlooking the sea. Through Langlois, a place-name that sounds a bit Welsh to me – but perhaps it isn’t. Then a tiny little town called Denmark, (a hilarious name) and on into Port Orford down a long straight descent, (which I was grateful for after all that climbing and buffeting by the wind).
I was rather looking forward to Port Orford, it sounded like it would be nice. Orford and Orford Ness on the Suffolk coast are beautiful … so it seemed to follow logically that Port Orford would be nice too. Unfortunately it’s a complete dump, a five lane highway runs through the centre of town and I saw lots of houses for sale. Shops are boarded up and there didn’t seem to be much going on.
We stayed in a hotel called Castaway-by-the-Sea, another romantic-sounding place. The sea views are wonderful, but the place is horrid – black mould on the walls in the bathroom, a hook coming out of the ceiling – perhaps someone hung themselves when they saw the mould? And strange notices forbidding the cooking of crab in the room! (This is doubly odd, as the room doesn’t even have any cooking facilities!).
The most famous eatery in town is the Crazy Norwegian’s Fish & Chips Shop – but there wasn’t much there for vegetarians, so we walked for ages into a headwind to find somewhere to eat. Everywhere seemed to be closing up for the day, so we had to act fast – always a mistake! We went into a diner. It smelled quite strongly of disinfectant. The seats were sagging and the black vinyl covers were all patched with lengths of black electrical tape. There was lots if fish, clams, crab etc on the menu … I asked if I could have a plain omelette with French fries and our waitress looked doubtful. ‘That’s on the breakfast menu and we don’t have the breakfast chef in right now, but I can go and ask’. She asked and the ‘not breakfast chef’ said he couldn’t make an omelette, so the answer was no! I’ve never heard of a chef, (breakfast or any other kind who couldn’t make an omelette – so there’s a first! We ended up with giant pizzas and walked back to the hotel in the dark.
Day 07 – Thursday – Neskowin to Florence Posted by Mike
Estimate: 87.8 miles, actual: 88.88 miles
Avg speed: 16.7 mph – our fastest day yet – I think the tailwind might have helped us today a little though!
Cumulative distance: 528.49 miles
Neskowin is magical and we really enjoyed our stay at the Proposal Rock Inn – something special about reaching the Pacific Ocean.
At the end of out first week, our first full day riding down Highway 101 along the Oregon Coast Highway.
We set off a little later than usual at about 10.30. But we knew it was a relatively short day’s riding and our accommodation was so nice, it was good to chill out for a while. Mike’s OCD-tendencies drove him to polish and oil our bicycles. There was a small, (but perhaps inevitably, quite expensive) general store and we bought some coffee, cereal and soya milk and brought it back to our room to have for breakfast. Our room had beautiful views of Neskowin Creek flowing past Proposal Rock and into the ocean.
The coastal landscape is obviously very different from what we’ve experienced so far. Still lots of pine woods on either side of the road, steep climbs followed by spectacularly fast descents. The highway sometimes runs by the sea (and it’s clear how much damage it can do, as the edge of the road is sometimes eroded and collapsing). Sometimes we’re cycling through woodland and then through lots of small, pretty towns with buildings painted in pastel colours and decorated with flags and banners. There are some very dramatic sections of coast with incredible views of rocky outcrops, cliffs, sandy beaches, and there are viewpoints, it’s very easy to linger and just enjoy,
After 10 miles, we arrived in Lincoln City and stopped to take on more coffee and fuel up on croissant. As we set off from Lincoln City, a man drove past and shouted: “Keep on riding!” Fantastic – made us feel really welcome and determined to do just that!
Next stop Newport, where we stopped for lunch. Today, we eschewed Safeway’s and opted instead for Fred Mayer – Roberto in Portland thought that they’d be more likely to stock organic products and soya – which was true. The fresh fruit has been amazing on our trip so far and we had some beautiful peaches, blueberries, strawberries and melon.
While we were eating, a shiny black BMW car pulled up with a rather amusing number plate: IAM007. I think that USA number (licence) plates look a bit odd to us Europeans. The man who stepped out of the car, was no James Bond, however! Mike took a photograph of the car, but didn’t have the courage to get a picture the man … just in case we’re wrong about the Bond thing!
Just to the south of Newport we had to cross yet another scary bridge. Not in quite the same league as the Lewis and Clarke Bridge in Longview, the Yaquina Bay Bridge is arch-shaped like the Sydney Harbour Bridge, almost 1 km long and 41 m (133 ft) high. Eek!
The final 30 miles or so was the most beautiful, along the coast and through the Siuslaw National Forest. By Sea Lion Caves, we saw seals swimming in the Ocean! We passed some beautiful big inland lakes and at one point the road passed through a short, narrow tunnel. As cyclists entered we had to push a button to reduce the speed limit and trigger flashing warning lights for other road-users – it was brilliant – we could definitely do with that sort of thing in the UK.
Finally, a long straight road into Florence – the River House Inn – the most select hotel that we’ve stayed at so far. It had lovely colourful flower beds against the building. We did our laundry and then headed into the ‘historic old town’ for dinner at The Bridgwater: a big diner with cream coloured wood walls, high ceilings with lovely old ceiling fans, huge windows fronting the street – so lots to look at. Mike ordered pasta and Matthew asked for a salad – we thought that we’d start with a serving of onion rings … when that arrived I nearly fell off my seat, it was a massive portion … we didn’t need anything else … along came the pasta and Matthew’s salad – both meals arrived on truly giant plates … we could hardly eat any of it, I felt rather guilty about leaving so much.
After dinner a rather romantic walk along the river in the moonlight and a good night’s sleep.
Day 06 – Wednesday – Portland to Neskowin Posted by Mike
Estimate: 97.6 miles, actual: 92.63 miles – result! Well done Garmin, (actually a little less than expected because we’re not cycling from Sauvie Island where we were originally planning to stay).
Avg speed: 15.3 mph – good – feeling that we’re getting into our stride now. Cumulative distance: 439.61 miles
The Magic Moment of the Day occurred very early on. We’d said goodbye to Roberto and Dave and were riding towards the city centre. Just as we approached the riverside cycleway entrance ramp on NE 1st Street and NE Lloyd Blvd, someone caught up with us on their bicycle and behind me I could hear them say: “Hi, Matthew. Where are you riding to today?”
This was surreal to say the least. We know – and could name by sight – precisely three people in Portland, (and we could account for all their whereabouts: Roberto was at work, Dave was at a garage having the tyres on his car replaced and Larry was probably still in bed with his boyfriend, but definitely in Seattle and not in Portland at all). In any case, this person was a woman on a bicycle … and we definitely didn’t know any women in Portland.
Matthew was completely thrown by this encounter. Who was she? How did she know his name? He said that we were heading to San Diego. “Oh, I know that,” she said, “but where are you going TODAY?” “Neskowin” he said rather meekly. It turned out that this was Lisa, a member of Warm Showers and she was someone who we had e-mailed to ask if she could accommodate us. (She had offered us a place to stay, but we’d already agreed that we’d stay with Roberto, so we’d sent her a message thanking her for her kind offer, and explaining that we’d already secured somewhere else to stay). But what are the chances of this happening? Anyone?! Almost 2.3 million people live in the Portland metropolitan area, thousands and thousands of them are cyclists. How on earth did she manage to be in the same place at the same time as us and how did she recognise us? Lisa? You must put in a comment and let us know, otherwise people won’t believe us! I imagine that if a movie were ever made of our trip, this would be the point where people would think that our story is unbelievable!
We had a nice chat with Lisa – who works as an analyst at a medical insurance company. She told us about her cycling trip to France using Warm Showers, but she was heading to work over the Steel Bridge – in the other direction to us, so we said goodbye and headed out of town on along the river to route 99 West.
As we left Portland heading south-west to the Pacific coast, we passed under a cable car over the river. Later we rode past a ‘Self-Service Dog Wash’ Matthew wondered, “How does the dog serve itself?” Mike found this laugh-out-loud, uproariously funny and it kept him giggling for about the next 20 miles. (Perhaps he’s been exposed to a bit too much sun than is good for a pale Englishman). There was also a sign for a ‘Psychic Reader’, someone who knows what’s in a book without opening it we wondered?!
The tone was set for the day now and I was reminded of one if the funniest stories I was ever told. It was at a Colston Hall symphony concert in Bristol with an academic friend who told me of the research worker who was visiting a university department to ask one of the administrators if they could have “a list of faculty staff, broken down by age and sex.” The administrator replied: “That would be all of them.” I laughed so much my sides hurt, face streaming with tears and I was still guffawing and stifling giggles all the way through Bruckner’s 5th Symphony, which is really quite a serious piece and hardly the stuff of mirth.
Perhaps it’s necessary to be an academic to find this story so funny. University administrative and clerical staff are special; they do an incredible job, usually for not very much money. As well as all the usual admin-type tasks, their work involves them guarding and protecting academics from students. Academics spend most of their time trying to avoid students of course, so the work of the university administrator is hardly inconsequential. I suspect that university administrative and clerical staff are not really appreciated by academics as much as they should be – they do their jobs with enormous professionalism and it’s not often that they let their guard down. So that’s why the story is so funny.
Anyway, it doesn’t take much to get Mike laughing, so perhaps some of you would like to comment with your funniest stories or jokes to keep Mike giggling on the road? If you want, he knows a couple of other very funny stories, (that is, he thinks they’re very funny, while Matthew just rolls his eyes). Anyway, Mike is happy to relate some other funny stories as we wend our way south – if people want him to, that is. (*pause while tumbleweed blows in the wind*).
So … “Do pray tell us your hilarious joke.”(That line borrowed from Priscilla Queen of the Desert, just in case you feared that we were only interested in highbrow culture after the earlier Bruckner reference. Although, come to think of it, anyone would only need to read this blog for two minutes to know that high culture is, unfortunately all too rare here).
By McMinnville Municipal Airport, we passed the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. This looked fantastic from the road – they obviously have an impressive collection, some of it displayed outside – including on the roofs of the main exhibition buildings, which were cleverly designed to look like the planes were taking off from them. On one there was a Boeing 747 – it looked amazing. Mike would have liked to go in, but Matthew put his foot down, (quite literally, as he pedalled off and left Mike gawping at the planes).
At about McMinnville the west wind picked up and we were battling with it on an off most of the rest of the way to Neskowin. This made the 15.3 mph average speed particularly pleasing – some of the riding was hard work today.
As some (very small) compensation, we stopped for lunch in McMinnville. When I asked for an oat biscuit the sales assistant started laughing uncontrollably – I keep forgetting that they’re ‘cookies’ in the US, but perhaps someone can explain why saying biscuit is so funny – we asked her why oat biscuit was funny, but she was laughing so much, that what she said didn’t make any sense.
At McMinnville we turned onto Highway 18 and then passed through the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation – there were local election posters for seats on the Indian Council. Just after Willamina we changed to a much quieter route, the Little Nestucca River Road – it was stunning, we rode along a narrow, twisting, undulating road through the Nestucca valley. Pine trees, steep mountain sides giving way to open fields with grazing cows and fast-flowing streams cascading over waterfalls – it reminded us of Austria. The damp conditions are perfect for the moss that grows on almost all of the trees and branches. On some trees it grows so profusely that it hangs down like cobwebs – very dark green, quite eerie and beautiful at the same time. Matthew had read about these Oregon ‘rain-forests’, so to see them first-hand on such a lovely stretch of road was a bonus. We enjoyed a fantastic descent, crossing little single-lane bridges towards Highway 101 – the north-south coast road that we’ll be following now for most of the rest of our journey south.
As we approached Highway 101 we could see some high exposed rocks in the distance, that we assumed were part of the coast or in the sea.
It was so tantalising, to be nearing the Pacific Ocean ‘proper’, (the areas further north, was the Pacific Ocean, of course – but it was interrupted by islands and promontories). This time we expected to get an uninterrupted view of the Pacific. And then we saw it. Just before Neskowin. Matthew has never been to the west coast of the USA or seen the Pacific Ocean. It’s incredible and huge and thousands of shades of blue and white – a white translucent mist hovered just above the water near the shore.
A few minutes later we arrived at Neskowin and our accommodation. A third floor ‘condo’ – not a word we use in Britain, we’d call it a furnished studio flat I suppose. The windows and balcony looked out to the sea and an islet called Proposal Rock, (curiously, Mike resisted any temptation to propose). We checked in and went down to the beach, the sun was setting, the beach was beautiful and Matthew’s took his first paddle in the Pacific Ocean, (the water was bloody cold!).
While we were having lunch in McMinnville, (and after the oat biscuit incident), a women asked us where we were heading and recommended Oregon Pinot Noir, (we’ve been riding past lots of vineyards and ‘wineries’) and she also said that pizza at the Hawk Creek Café in Neskowin was good, so we went to have a pizza. While we were waiting another customer said that I had cool shoes – I wear my vivo barefoot running shoes when I’m not cycling – they’re very light and fold flat. We talked a bit about our journey so far. Ruth and her partner Glen are on vacation too – seeing where they end up each day. We were called to our table and had been there a few minutes, when Ruth came back over to our table say: “I just had to ask, how far are you going?” We said that we were going to Mexico and told her about our blog – she gave us her email address and I said that I’d send a link for my shoes too. So it’d be good to hear from Ruth about how her journey continued after we parted company.
Dilemma of the Day: Should Mike have some Oregon wine? Decision? No. He doesn’t really drink. Matthew had some though, he said it was lovely – cheers!
Day 05 – Portland (Tuesday 30 September) Rest day – no cycling Posted by Mike
We arrived at Roberto’s and Larry’s at around 6.30pm. They live in a gorgeous house in the Irvington district of NE Portland, (Downtown is about a 20 minute walk).
Matthew was enraptured by the garden, it has lush planting with huge bamboos, (which he was quite envious of, as ours are minnows in comparison). There are enchanting lights all around and a garden cabin that we could have slept in, (Mike wasn’t keen – although Matthew thought it would be quite romantic). We could see that many of the houses in the area have really beautiful gardens, too.
In front of the house opposite there’s a Gaudíesque statue of a lizard decorated with fragments of different coloured ceramic tiles. Roberto said that it was made by an artist who used to live in that house and that it has a bigger brother in the park around the corner.
Matthew was enraptured by the garden, it has lush planting with huge bamboos, (which he was quite envious of, as ours are minnows in comparison). There are enchanting lights all around and a garden cabin that we could have slept in, (Mike wasn’t keen – although Matthew thought it would be quite romantic). We could see that many of the houses in the area have really beautiful gardens, too. In front of the house opposite there’s a Gaudíesque statue of a lizard decorated with fragments of different coloured ceramic tiles. Roberto said that it was made by an artist who used to live in that house and that it has a bigger brother in the park around the corner.
Roberto works as a psychotherapist and Larry has a mail order business selling Chinese material through eBay.
They prepared a delicious dinner for us: fresh bean stew with courgettes, beet stew and brown rice with fresh melon salad. Lovely! It was so good to be in such a comfortable house with lovely company.
We’ve left Washington State now and it has been a joy to cycle through. The countryside is very green – lots of farms and woods with gently rolling hills. Along the coast there were dramatic Sounds – wide inlets with islands dotted about. In the distance to the east and on our left we often saw volcanic mountain ranges – high peaks with snow on the uplands: Mount Baker, Mount Rainier and Mount Saint Helens. When we were on the ferry from Vashon to Ruston a couple of other cyclists that we were chatting to told us that they’d just returned from a camping trip in the mountains – it sounded like it’d be really good to do that sometime.
The roads so far have mostly been superb – smooth and well-maintained. Signage is excellent and city street layouts, with their very clearly numbered roads, make it very easy to find our way. One thing that has taken a little bit of getting used to is the siting of traffic lights. It’s necessary to stop much further back from them than we would in Europe because they’re usually suspended on a cable over on the far side of the road that’s to be crossed. If we stopped just in front of a red light in the USA, as we would in Europe, another vehicle would come into us from the side! There are no advanced stop boxes for cyclists either. Many of the out of town roads have a wide hard shoulder, where we’re expected to cycle. In the towns and cities there are usually bike lanes, which as Europeans coming to the USA was slightly unexpected, to be honest. The hard shoulders sometimes have a bit of road debris: gravel, small stones and sometimes quite big stones or bark, that can make cycling a bit uncertain at times, but mostly they’re good quality. The junctions are worst for debris and they are also the places where we worry a bit about vehicles coming from behind and turning right into us. It’d be wonderful if the hard-shoulders were swept clear from time to time! I’ve not seen any road-sweeping vehicles on the roads.
Another surprise is that the speed limits seem to be universally lower than in the UK (20, 30 and 50 mph zones are common). Drivers are reasonably good at keeping to the limits and have been really courteous to us while we cycle – often slowing down and pulling out very wide as they overtake. The vehicles on the road are more or less what we expected: massive lorries with high cabs and curved bonnets, (sometimes sporting bright chrome or elaborate paintwork); there are lots of pick-up trucks, too. Some look very extravagant – highly polished with wheel arches that seem improbably high from the top of the wheel, so the whole vehicle is raised in the air. Many pick-up trucks look like the only things they’ve ever picked up are the kids from school or the grocery shopping! Big cars are still very common on the roads, although they tend to be older. We’ve seen several smart restored classic models from the 50s and 60s. There are plenty of more modern, modest cars too: Toyota Prius, Audi and VW Beetles seem popular. Then there are the recreational vehicles RVs – some of them are bigger than 70 seater coaches, many of them are towing smaller cars as well.
It’s a little disappointing to report that we’ve not really seen many other touring cyclists out on the roads so far. Most of the bikes that we see are strapped to the back or on the roofs of other vehicles. It rather reminds me of a funny storyline in Rick Smith’s Yehuda Moon comic strip (www.yehudamoon.com). A fat man goes to the Kickstand Cyclery to buy a bicycle that he wants to attach to his car. When Yehuda asks him what sort of bicycle he’s looking for, the fat man explains that he doesn’t care, because he’s not planning on riding it; he wants it as a car accessory. The punchline comes when Yehuda persuades him to buy a helmet that he isn’t going to wear for the bike that he isn’t going to ride!
As we were making our way out of Ruston on Sunday, a young man on a nice shiny black urban hybrid bicycle and who was pulling a little covered trailer with a small child inside hailed us at a set of traffic lights. He asked where we were heading and was very impressed with our plans. As our ways crossed he shouted after us: “Keep the rubber down!” We’d never heard this phrase before, but it’s become a bit of a mantra for us – if I’m flagging a bit and slowing down, Matthew will say: “Keep the rubber down, Michael!” (and vice versa, of course). Well, so far – so good and we’ve managed to keep the rubber well-down!
When we met Bud in Kelso, he told us that almost 95% of Washington’s residents live in a narrow corridor alongside the interstate main road, I-5, that runs north-south through the state. This makes the population mostly urban, (and the state Democrat). Then there are the vast sparsely populated areas. Once out in the countryside the traffic levels dwindle to almost nothing … we have ridden for half an hour before anything has passed us. It’s wonderfully quiet and peaceful. There’s a beautiful rhythm to cycling and we can just talk, enjoy the scenery – it’s actually been really relaxing so far and we’re not in the least tired. I’d better give an update on that in a week or so! Overall, Washington State was really good and I definitely want to come back.
Back to Tuesday in Portland … and the Dilemma of the Day: to go for a run or not? Actually, this is not really much of a dilemma, I’d brought some running gear with me, so it was kind of inevitable that I would go running. You may have noticed that I tend to look out for and comment approvingly when I see runners and bicyclists when I’m out and about. It makes me really happy to see them, I suppose because they’re part of My Story. That’s the bit of my life where I started to cycle more seriously and go out running to help me lose weight – I lost almost 60lbs (4 st) a few years ago, (hence the “chunky monkey” remark at passport control in Heathrow airport – I don’t look like I used to). I’ve found that there’s a wonderful camaraderie about cycling and running, they’re both amazing ways to get about and see places and I can still eat lots without worrying too much!
Cycling and running are not really compatible though – they use muscles differently and one doesn’t particularly help the other, which is why I think that people who do triathlons are amazing sportspeople! I sometimes worry that running might hurt my cycling – I can be a bit stiff and sore after running in a way that I never am after cycling. But running in a new place is thrilling and I couldn’t resist, so my day in Portland began with a short 5 mile run down to the Steel Bridge, along the east side of the Willamette River – partly along some incredible floating cycleways, then over the Hawthorne Bridge and along the west side and back over the Steel Bridge to Ne Multnomah St, NE 9th Ave and to Roberto’s.
After my run Matthew and I headed out on foot to see some of Portland. We went to a coffee shop ‘The Morning Star’, which also happens to be the name of Britain’s Communist party daily newspaper, (a dreary, hectoring and badly-written read I’m afraid).
A little sightseeing in Portland – we came across two of the ten ‘animals in pools’ fountains – there’s a whole series of them with bronze life size animal sculptures made by Georgia Gerber in 1986 – we found bears and ducks. – they’re clearly very popular as they had shiny patches where they’d been petted.
We happened upon Director Park (officially Simon and Helen Director Park) on our way to the tourist information office.
At the tourist information office in Pioneer Courthouse Square there was a man working on the desk who was from Ayreshire, Scotland. He said that he came to America in 1950 after he had left the army. He’d worked as a draughtsman for most of his life, but he said: “I’ve waited 50 years to get this job. I’m paid to tell people where to go!” He gave us a really useful (and free) cycling map of Oregon that might well help us as we travel down the Oregon coast. (And I can always threaten Garmin with the map, when it starts playing up). He also said “I hope that you don’t think I’m being presumptuous”, as he proffered us an ‘Out in Portland’ booklet. “Not at all.” I replied, “You’re being perceptive!” (Perceptive? Who do I think I’m kidding?!) He told us that his son is gay, which was very sweet of him.
We made our way up to Washington Park, where there was a vast rose garden and a lovely Japanese garden – which is beautifully done and both much bigger than we expected. Roberto told us Portland’s climate is ideal for rose growing, so it’s famous for them. In the Japanese Garden the acers are looking wonderful and the colours must be really spectacular in the autumn. We bought a solar-powered Chinese lantern, that we thought might look good in Roberto’s garden. The park is high up and there lots of cyclists about, including Judy, who kindly offered to take our picture. She had a very nice-looking Trek road bicycle – we took her picture, too, and gave her our blog address so that she can prove to her friends that she was out riding uphill.
On the Warm Showers site, one of the questions to answer for people who might want to stay is the distance of one’s house to the nearest bicycle shop – this is in case a cyclist passing through needs spares or repairs. On one of the Portland listings, someone has written that you can’t swing a cat in Portland without hitting at least three bicycle shops! So it was very challenging not to visit as many as possible! We visited a few Portland bicycle shops and realised that we could easily have spent the whole day admiring ‘bike porn’ and talking bikes, (well Mike could). There’s a law of bicycle ownership which suggests that the ideal number of bicycle to own is n+1, where n = the number of bicycles already owned. In other words, Mike is always looking out for a new bike … His current four being at least one fewer than the optimum. Matthew has rather unilaterally introduced a ‘first amendment’ to the law: one in – one out. This is deeply unfair of course, and never seems to apply to any of his stuff.
The nicest bicycle shops in Portland included the Recyclery Bicycle Shop – with lots of renovated old steel frames from the 1970s and earlier, (I spotted a lovely old Holdsworth), fancy chrome and intricate lug work. They sell for about $800-900 – our friend Andy H could make a fortune here. They also had a yellow jersey signed by Greg Lemond hanging on the wall. Very impressive! Next, the Bike Gallery, with some funny bicycle-related t-shirts, socks and local club jerseys the Oregon Ducks and Portland CC.
River City Bicycles was the best bicycle store we visited and also the only shop in the US that sells the lovely Rapha cycling gear from London that is our cycle clothing of choice. If anyone likes the look of our cycling kit: visit http://www.rapha.cc – be warned, the prices are eye-wateringly high. Rapha is even more expensive in the US than in the UK, but one of the assistants assured us that it sold very well.
Finally, we saw that there a shop called Coventry Cycle Works. We couldn’t resist visiting as (a) Matthew is from Coventry and (b) Coventry Cycles are a famous old brand in the UK – sadly no longer being made. The shop had just closed when we arrived, but we took some pictures and could see through the windows that they specialised in recumbents.
All these bicycle shops, plus the fact that Portland is the home to Nike sportswear and we saw a HUGE Nike outlet store, made it quite difficult to resist the temptation to consume. I just had to keep reminding myself that I’d struggle to carry anything else in my one pannier bag, so managed to resist the urge to buy.
We headed back to Roberto’s and his friend Dave had arrived from Vancouver, while Larry had gone up to Seattle. The four of us went out for a Chinese meal – it was a good place to be vegan, (although Dave didn’t seem to be so sure that he’d enjoy it and was wondering about a beef fix). The food was fine and the bill was amazing: $39 for four! I thought there’d been an error – that’s £6 each – that meal would have cost about £20 each in the UK.
So back home to bed, after a very nice rest day in Portland.