Posted on June 16th, 2017 by Broadway Bicycle School

Ellen here, writing in with a report on the first few days of a Pacific Coast bike tour!  Erica and I spent the first few days of our tour in Washington state (Seattle to Portland, which is a common randonneuring route in that part of the country).  It’s funny how working in a bike shop make you see the trees but not the forest – I am so used to being critical of uneven brake tension, poorly adjusted shifting, and finding that weird rattling sound from the bottom bracket, that I forgot for a second that I got into bikes because I like to ride them.  It’s good to be reminded to see the forest, both the figurative forest of riding bikes and the literal Pacific Coast rainforests that are gracing our eyeballs for the first time. Taking a month to ride from Seattle to San Diego is definitely going to do the trick.

For the weeks leading up to the departure date in early May, Erica and I had a lot of preparing to do. This was our first tour longer than 3 days, and we decided to go for 30.  There will be another blog post with our gear list and setup and patterns for how we made our own stuff.  But, suffice to say we had a lot of projects to do. Erica got a new bike for her 30th birthday (a Space Horse Disc! Custom painted!), and  we barely had any gear storage space, so we had to make a lot of our gear from scratch or modify it heavily to fit what we wanted. Get excited for that list, we got reeeal DIY crafty to make it all.

My 49cm / 700c Soma Double Cross and Erica’s 46cm / 650b Space Horse Disc

The night before our flight, Erica and I and our friend disassembled our bikes in our living room.  This is something I’ve done a million times at the shop. You can pick up a cardboard bike box and packing material for free at Broadway if you let us know ahead of time, or you can drop your bike off at the shop, and the mechanics will pack it for you for $60.  We’ll also ship it right from the shop for an extra $10 labor. If you book your shipping through Bike Flights, it’s usually a little cheaper than the cheapest rate on FedEx Ground if you give it enough time. Read more tips about traveling with your bike in my last post.

Without the use of bike stands, the packing took roughly two hours, during which we padded all the tubing, took off the front wheel and pedals, removed the racks and fenders, twisted the fork around, took of the handlebars, and stuffed sleeping bags, panniers, and rain gear into the boxes alongside the bikes.  JetBlue has a max weight allowance of 100lbs, and even with all that gear we maxed out at a 55lb box each.  Not bad!  Next time we’ll throw some extra wrenches in there.

Off to the airport we went, where we landed at our start point for the trip: Seattle!

Day 0: Boston to Seattle: 0 miles biked, 2,492 miles flown

  • Worst part: Waking up at 4am, and writing “This Side Up” and “Fragile” all over the boxes then watching them get tossed on their sides the second they went on the carousel.  Seeing this carelessness in person, I can only imagine what happens behind the walls of the baggage area, or in the shipping terminals of FedEx.  I’ve unpacked bikes that have been shipped to the shop that have dents in the frame, bent fenders, wheels out of true, and all sorts of problems because of bad packaging coupled with bad handling.  Broadway takes a lot of care to package everything that could break, and in the moment I saw my bike get tossed roughly onto the conveyor belt, I was thankful for that training.

  • Best part: Getting picked up by my cousin in Seattle who kindly let us explode the boxes in her driveway, reassemble the bikes, and repack our panniers with assistance of her curious black lab, Maddy. Have you wondered why there are so many dog photos on Broadway’s Instagram? That’s partly my doing. I’m a critter fiend.

Day 1: Seattle to Rochester, WA: 66 miles biked, 36 miles by bus.

  • Best part: Settling into the ride and seeing West Coast vegetation for the first time.  It’s all so LUSH out here!  We started off the day with a 2-mile long downhill, and carried a 16 mph pace all the way through Tacoma and Olympia because of the thrill, energy, and a nice tailwind.  And, Erica and I quickly solved our long-standing pacing issue: Erica is extremely strong and fast, and I average 10mph with all my birdwatching and rockspotting. So, to even us out, Erica graciously offered to carry ? if the weight. It worked!  We felt strong, and the nerves of getting started on something big quickly settled into a hum of enjoying each moment of the ride.

  • Worst part: Getting skunked on a snack run.  We realized we could stop at Costco along the way for free samples as mid-ride snacks. But, it was a Monday, so sadly there were none out and instead we soothed our disappointment by buying enough granola bars and dried fruit to last us for weeks. This extra weight turned out to be a big mistake in the long run, we carried about 1lb of extra, not-very-good snacks on us at all times.  The lesson after this was only buy what your body will be delighted to eat: food that will give you energy, lift your spirits, and make you poop.

  • Mechanics: Erica started getting a pain in her right tricep, which she suspected was from too short of a reach.  We decided to give it another day to see if her tricep just needed to strengthen up.

  • Lodging: That night we stayed with our very first Warm Showers host.  Warm Showers is like Couchsurfing and AirBnB, where it lets everyday people open up their homes (for free!) to touring cyclists who just need a place to sleep and a warm shower.  Our host John was a Seattle-area randonneuring junkie who knows Jan Heine and all the geeks from the internet. He cooked us noodles, and we stayed up late chatting before we retired to our hammock, which we set up in his backyard in a field of dandelions.

Day 2: Rochester to Castle Rock, WA: Biked 51 miles

  • Best part: Sandy, John’s wife, made us lavender mochas in the morning as we talked about black holes and gravitational waves. Erica and I decided that we officially were spoiled by an excellent first Warm Showers experience.  We rode the rest of the day along a beautiful ridge that gave us views of snow-topped Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens.

  • Worst part: The sun came out, and we quickly got hangry and stopped in a convenience store for giant freeze pops. I got the first sunburn of the trip.

  • Mechanics: Erica discovered her bike shimmied when she hit 20 mph, and her tricep still hurt.  Now we started to wonder if the tricep pain was caused by trying to dampen the shimmy constantly.  My Brooks Saddle felt as comfy as a sofa cushion.

  • Lodging: As we were taking a pit stop 10 miles away from our campsite, a woman struck up a conversation with us and offered us a place to stay that night.  After seeing that the 10 miles between us and a campground were all uphill, and smelling our smelly clothes that could do with a good washing already, we readily agreed.  We learned her name was Melissa, and we had pizza and watched “The Voice” together while talking late into the night. Blog post with the full story of Melissa and Bruce’s house in Castle Rock to come, because experiences with kind strangers like this are the most precious things we take away from adventures.

Day 3: Castle Rock to Ridgefield, WA: 45 miles biked.

  • Best part: Melissa made us eggs Benedict for breakfast (so kind), which fueled us all day for a hard ride.  Our legs felt really strong, despite being tired from getting used to the weight of touring and the hills of the Pacific Coast.

  • Mechanics: Erica’s derailleur hanger bent for a mysterious reason, but I was able to bend it back well enough to get back on the road. This was just the beginning of our mechanical issues for the trip, and there will be another blog post outlining all of those predicaments and their respective fixes.

  • Worst part: We climbed Magic Mountain, which rose 1,500 ft in just 1 mile. There was no way around it, because it’s one of the only routes to get over the Columbia River into Portland, which is notoriously difficult for cyclists in Washington/Oregon to cross. It was definitely the most absurd climb of the trip so far, and I walked most of it.

  • Lodging: Laurie’s house, our friend’s mom. We stopped at a nursery along the way where we bought an aloe plant as a thank-you present, but before we gave it to her we broke off a stem or two to rub on our still-sunburned skin.  Turns out that the roll-top Ortlieb panniers, when un-rolled, are great plant holders!

Day 4: Ridgefield, WA to Portland, OR: 16 miles biked and 16 miles on a bus

  • Worst part: This was the lowest day of the trip, for sure.  It was the first day of hard rain, and our mechanical issues only intensified. Only 12 miles in, Erica saw a piece of hardware fly off her bike, which turned out to be one of the two essential bolts holding her brake caliper onto her fork. At this point, her front brake started chattering, her low gear shifting still sucked from the bent derailleur hanger from the day before, and her tricep pain was debilitating, so we decided to take the bus downtown rather than toy with our lives and our sanity.

  • Best part: Seeing all the bike shops in Portland for the first time (we stopped at River City Cycles and City Bikes) and getting tortas. But that was kind of it.

  • Mechanics: See above.  Everybody’s had that moment where, in the pouring rain/the dark/the woods, you think, “Man, this sucks, maybe biking really isn’t for me, it was just this stupid thing I picked up when I was 11, and now look where it’s got me.  F*$% this.”  That was how that day felt.

  • Lodging: David Wilcox’s couch! He is a friend of Erica’s from Bikes Not Bombs and used to be a Worker-Owner at Broadway, and he lifted our spirits that evening over cones of very hip fancy ice cream.

And, just like a dark serial mystery where we leave you hanging at the lowest point in the plot, I leave you here having ended our stint in Washington State.  Will Oregon turn it all around?  Can the trusty mechanics on the West Coast save the day?  Will the good riding and energy in the rest of the state carry us out of the emotional and mechanical ditch we fell into?

Obviously the answer is yes, because that’s how all biking works for those who find power in powering their steel machine.  But you’ll have to read the Oregon Ride Report to find out how.

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