Before I wow you with bike tour tales, I’m gonna hit you with some backstory. Kapish? Back, that, story for me, back that story for me…
In 2009 I got my first job out of college. I was a janitor in Antarctica, and I made friends with a cook. He had recently ridden a bike across the country from New York to California. The idea of something as epic as that never left me.
In 2015 I jumped naked into the frozen waters of Lake Michigan. That New Years Eve I came out a changed man. I decided that from now on, I wasn’t the person that talked about doing things, I was to be the person that did the things. Sorry I’m not sorry for the overshare.
With my mind opened to all new possibilities I dug deep and remembered the bike tour. Perhaps it would be ‘cooler’ if I made it an international tour, so I opted to ride from Vancouver, Canada to Tijuana, Mexico. An established route, full of people and good camping, it would be a great first tour.
The planning process was really more just me looking to Amazon and REI to buy stuff. I had a bike, but I had to research and purchase the rest. Things like bike bags, bike lights, bike rack, tent, sleeping bag, panniers, sleeping pad, rain gear, helmet, tires, shoes, pedals, wool socks, etc. Some of it I had but had I taken them, well between the weight and size it would have looked/felt like I was riding within a passenger. No thank you.
Seven hours (the next morning) after photographing that final October wedding, I was on the road. South Dakota. Wyoming. Idaho. I stopped here briefly to pick up a friend. She would be joining me on this endeavor. Oregon. Seattle, Washington.
Here we prepped our gear, did a test run and got kicked out of a park for illegally camping. That was all we needed, and after a few short days we were dropped off in Vancouver, Canada. Right on to a ferry. Yes, we started our bike tour with a ferry.
We did spend a night in Victoria, on Vancouver Island. So Canada totally counted and that first morning we already wanted to spend more time there. However, Mexico was still an insanely long ways away and it wasn’t getting any warmer. After our first twenty miles it was back on another ferry to Washington.
This is a brief summary of the next adventures. Highs, lows, random things. You can find more detailed adventures and more pictures by following the following links. It’s totally worth it, and if you’re thinking about ever giving this a go, well it could guide you one way or another.
Washington – “A Waste Of Time”
Did I mention we started in November?
We met a guy in Canada that broke down each coastal state for us. Those are the titles of each section and while I don’t necessarily agree with him, he wasn’t completely wrong. Washington set the pace for us, broke us down, taught us some things.
Things we did:
- We treated ourselves to a winery tasting our first day, and almost didn’t leave.
- On a ranger’s secret recommendation, we stealth camped for a most perfect sunset overlooking a lake.
- Ran naked into the Pacific, after a really long many of missed years hiatus.
Things we learned:
- If you buy a cool mushroom book, don’t leave it in the rain the first day. They take years to dry out.
- Use a tent with a rainfly.
- Vehicles that park in parks after dark most likely aren’t cops, but romantic couples that want to hook up in nature.
We were wet, a lot. One morning we rode 40 miles before lunch, we were so wet the server at lunch had to mop the floor around us. We saw the home of vampires and werewolves in Forks. You know where ‘Twilight’, Edward & Bella are from? We checked out rainforest, in search of Big Cedar…I’m still not sure if we ever found it. Oh and leaving Washington was more than a little dangerous. I had one moment where I imagined I could die on the bridge to Astoria. I wouldn’t say Washington was a waste, however, I would say it made us stronger.
Oregon – “Best Part Of The Trip”
Not far from the truth here. I had heard so much about the Oregon Coast I was ready for mind-blowing views. But because November isn’t the best of months for coastal sightseeing, some of our best times were not found at your Cannon Beaches or Sunset Bay’s. Rather they were found at Pelican Brewing or our favorite, Rogue Ales, where they brew & distill amazing stuff in Newport. We went in just for the tour, and left with gifted frisbee golf discs, ideas on what to do in town, and our hearts full of gratitude.
Our desire to keep costs low and camp the entire trip got thrown out the window on days like our first day in Oregon. We crossed that hellish bridge, and went straight for a motel. Luckily it even had a hot tub and that might have been the finest soak I’ve ever had. I don’t say that lightly. From there knee pain kicked in, and we rested longer in cities we’d never heard of, let alone expected. The kindness of strangers took over and we found ourselves crashing in the home of a man who wasn’t even there. Or another gentleman that picked us up from the Tillamook cheese factory and watched the weather with us, imploring us to stay an extra day to wait out bad rain.
This doesn’t mean we were never out enjoying nature. We found a beach one chilly evening for an amazing sunset while sitting on our kitty litter panniers. The rules here stated you could essentially live there for a week or two at a time before you had to move on. Someone had taken that to extremes. I went exploring and found the most derelict of tents. It was as if a bedroom had exploded around it, stuff animals, clothes, computer parts, all strewn around it. Inside were wood pallets, with a mattress on top, and even a dresser. One day I’d like to go back and see what’s left of all that.
That may have been the coldest night of the entire trip. When I woke up I had freezing water dripping on my face, and I looked up at the tent ceiling to find it covered in frost. The puddles outside had frozen over. This had never been a part of the trip plan, my lofty goal had been to outrun winter as we went south. The one thing that really saved me I felt was my new sleeping quilt, a 20 degree Enigma from Enlightened Equipment. Obviously not just on this coldest of cold nights, but on all the chilly evenings. The fact that it packed down into a saddle bag and left room for more stuff was also a huge deal.
Seeing the sign for California was a welcome sight.
California – “It’s Ok”
This is a seriously long state. Maybe that’s why we didn’t finish it.
We didn’t quit without a little exploring first! The first stop in Crescent City was already enough to make us feel like we should slow down. Our host introduced us to growing mushrooms, and another of his guests was an interesting Luxembourgian who was hitching from the top of Alaska to the bottom of Chile. Even a trip into town to see Battery Point is something I’d do again, though I will time it with the tides so I can actually get out to the lighthouse.
Then there were the Redwoods. Oh the Redwoods. It is a whole different world in a forest of those guys With some them as old as 2,000 years, time takes on a whole new meaning. There was never enough time but we walked around them, rode through them, hugged them, enjoyed them as much as we could. Always expanding the list of places one should return to.
In Legget, Two Big Things Changed For Us.
For the first time, we left the Highway 101 in earnest, to continue down the now more coastal road of Highway 1. It was more of a mental shift and a marker for how far we’d come.
However, perhaps it was symbolic of the second change. We were now seeing our first fellow bike riders. Up until now we’d only heard rumors and seen signatures in guestbooks of other riders. I had believed with the popularity of the route they would be abundant, but only crazy people like us start riding in Canada in November. It was a wonderful, but short-lived change.
We decided to go home for Christmas
I’ve been told I’m an idealist, and my idea had been to ride top to bottom of this country in one fell swoop. However after being worn down, and my last family Christmas looming (my brother and sister-in-law would soon be leaving the country for awhile), we opted to stop in San Francisco. It would have taken weeks to finish and we both decided that pushing through would be less fun than going home.
Turns out my partner’s sister lived in the heart of the city. From there we accompanied her to Christmas parties, sought out karaoke, and got a little tour of the city. The hills are no joke but after weeks of hard riding my legs had never been so up to the challenge.
When we boarded the train for Seattle, I knew I would have to finish this journey. Didn’t know when, and didn’t know how. But it would happen eventually because I learned something about myself on this trip. I was more capable than I knew before. There were things I could accomplish if I set my mind to them. In hindsight, I can look back and tell you that I was right. The day would come that I would have a margarita in Tijuana.
But that’s another story.