So very wet: Meeting spiralcage in the Gorge, 22 July 2014

Robert points to where he came from.

Robert/Spiral Cage, the man behind the Rootless in Place blog, has been on a Tour Without a Goal since early this month. So far, he’s been following the Sierra Cascades route through Washington and then will continue southward through Oregon south to California. He wanted to come to Portland so I agreed to host him for a few break days in town. And since the day he’d be riding through the Columbia Gorge was my day off, I decided to meet him out in the Gorge and guide him in. I was itching for a long-ish ride and haven’t been out that way in a month, so it was a good excuse.

I had a few options on getting out there: I could ride out the night before and camp, then meet him close to Cascade Locks, Oregon, where he’d be crossing the Columbia from the Washington side. But this would mean leaving town right after work Monday night and hauling ass to get about 40 miles out. Turns out I wasn’t really in the mood for that. Another option was I could take the bus that goes out that way in the morning, meaning I’d only have to ride back in. A great idea in theory, the problem is that bus leaves from the eastern fringe of the metro area at 7 am which would mean about 15 miles of riding just to get to the bus stop. Waking up at 5 am or earlier wasn’t in the cards. So I decided to leave the house in the morning and ride out as far east as I could to intercept him.

I left the house around 11 am. I could have taken transit to get to Troutdale, the furthest east I could get to the Gorge, but it would most likely take about the same time as riding the 15 miles. And I was in the mood for adventure.

I chose a route that hugged the area around the Columbia Slough in the far northern reaches of Portland. Along the way I found Wilkes Creek, a small stream that flowed into the Slough. There’s a small natural area surrounding the creek, so I explored it for a few minutes. There’s a lack of streams on the east side of town, so it’s always great to find one, no matter how minor it may be. The rest of the way into Troutdale used paths paralleling the Slough and then Marine Drive paralleling the Columbia River itself. I got into Troutdale around 12:30 pm and had lunch.

While finishing lunch I got a text from Robert, saying he was at Multnomah Falls. I decided that we should meet at Crown Point, and then I took off on the Historic Columbia River Highway. When I started to climb, the much-threatened rain arrived. It had rained early in the morn before I woke up, and the forecast called for a chance of showers. So I was unpleasantly surprised when it started raining really good, and I lacked real raingear. Yes, we don’t always carry raingear in Portland, especially during the dry summer months when rain is the exception. And now I was facing the exception. I was getting soaked down to skin. The only good thing was that the temperature was in the low 70′s, so I wasn’t cold. But man, I was wet!

The rain ebbed and flowed on the climb to Crown Point, but it did not stop. I arrived to Vista House and quickly headed inside to wait for Robert out of the rain. He arrived shortly thereafter, equally soaked. We exchanged greetings and took off, as the rain had stopped. The dry spell didn’t last long, and we got more soaked on the descent. So stopping at Edgefield in Troutdale for food and drink was a good idea! Thankfully the rain stayed away for the rest of the trip back home.

Robert hung around my house for two days, taking a well-needed and well-deserved break from the road. He took off on Friday morning, headed back east to reconnect with the Sierra Cascades route. It was fun hanging out with him during the time he was in town.

Maybe you’ll stay with me when you pass through on your bike tour? Maybe I’ll even guide you into town! And if I do, hopefully it won’t be as wet!

When bike tours get combined with something more.

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If you’ve read the Urban Adventure League blog (TM) long enough, it should go without saying that I like the whole notion of bicycle touring. And I like it so much that I do such silly things like write a guide on touring or post things to the touring subforum of Bikeforums.net.

And I really like it when people make a bike tour something more than “just a bike tour”. Now don’t get me wrong, I love “just a bike tour” typed bike tours. In fact, I’ve done a lot of them over the years. Nor am I referring to “cause” bike tours, so to speak. There’s nothing wrong with bike tours that raise awareness for issues and try to do good in the world. But let’s be honest: there are quite a few of them out there, and while a particular cause may be unique, the whole idea of doing a bike tour in the name of a cause is not unique in itself.

No, I’m talking about when people incorporate something that isn’t generally associated with a “bike tour” into their bike tour. Like incorporating performance into a bike tour. Yes, that’s right, performance touring via bike! Why not?

9334811229_a5a2845a37_kAnd here’s the latest example of this, which I learned courtesy of the CBC Radio “World at Six” program, er, programme:* There is an opera company in Ontario (called, appropriately enough, The Bicycle Opera Project) that has been touring ’round the province by bike! And this is the third year that the’ve done it! I don’t remember all the details of the radio broadcast, but co-founder Larissa Koniuk was a cyclist who was also into long-distance riding, and wanted to combine both of her passions, and found some willing compatriots to go along with her. And three years later, they are still at it!

This year, they’re touring from July 4 to (about) August 10th around southern Ontario. And the whole “touring bike opera” idea is novel and worthy, but what makes me really appreciate what they’re doing is that they are self-supported, meaning: no one is trailing them in a big van with all their gear.

This is a big deal, at least for me, because I don’t get that excited for supported touring, no matter how big or grandiose or interesting the idea of a particular tour may be. For example, there was a bike touring documentary crew out earlier this year that was trailing Oregon’s favorite lone wolf, OR-7, as he (supposedly) rambles across the state. But they had a van for all the gear. And remember back in 2006, when the folky duo The Ditty Bops did a bike tour/performing road show across the US? Well, it was just the two of them on their bikes, the rest of the band, gear, etc. followed in “the van”.**

9334720757_c951db5217_kNow please don’t interpret this as saying that both of the above examples are somehow invalidated by being supported, or that they weren’t worthy in their own right. But to me, it just feels like a bigger deal when folks do something “crazy” like combining performance and bike touring, and do it without the help of a motor vehicle.*** It’s just more impressive watching the performers and musicians of the Bicycle Opera Project haul all their stuff down the rolling Ontario roads, two trailers weighing about 100 lbs each behind them. No roadies needed.

And while The Bicycle Opera Project is the latest example of performance-with-bike touring to catch my eye,**** there have been many other examples over the years. The one that is strongest in my mind is the tour the B:C:Clettes, Vancouver’s bicycle inspired dance troupe, took in the summer of 2008.***** And for good reason: I was on it! The “Wheely Fun Tour” was great fun, but unfortunately not repeated. Of course I documented it in a comic!

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*This is a habit I picked up from the Cross-Continent tour. Plus, the local NPR affiliate (OPB) simply replays the 4 pm broadcast at 6. Do I really want to hear it again?

**I saw their Portland performance on this tour on the night before I embarked on my tour down the Pacific Coast. And jeez, was it really 8 years ago? Time flies.

***Yes, I realize that motor vehicles deliver the goods that are stocked in the stores along the way, etc. Let’s not go down that road, please.

****Well, in this case, caught my ear.

*****And another Canadian performance tour? Must be all that arts money they got going around there. ;-) (And jeez, was it really 6 years ago?)

Sunset Burrito Club at Ricky Point (16 July 2014)

Sunset over the Columbia River.

Yes, yes, I have done a number of Sunset Burrito Clubs since spring. But they all happen at “the spot”: the Horseshoe Curve on N Willamette Blvd, overlooking Swan Island. A nice spot, yes. But I wanted something different this time. I wanted more water. And this was important: it reached 91F/33C on Wednesday July 16th. Hot outside the house, hot inside the house. Somewhere on the water meant cool. So I chose Ricky Point, that little obscure “is it a park or is it not?” spot at the very east end of Tomahawk Island in the Columbia River.

And it was a good choice. After snagging a burrito at Acapulco Grill on N Lombard St at Albina Ave, I hightailed it to the quasi-park, and had just minutes to spare before the sun sank below the West Hills. Everything was perfect: Ricky Point was near deserted (there were a few people down on the sandy beach), the breeze kicked in, cooling things down, boats plied the Columbia River, Mount Hood loomed over everything in the dying light, KMHD played Mississippi John Hurt, and yes, that burrito was good.

I hung out until 10 pm, before the moon rose. (I hoped to be down here on Saturday when it was the full moon, but a backyard barbecue kept me from going.) Then I high-tailed it home through the quiet backways in North Portland.

I get my first Warmshowers Guest!

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How many of you know about Warmshowers? Wait, no, it’s not what you think, you perv. Warmshowers is an “internet based hospitality exchange for touring cyclists. People who are willing to host touring cyclists sign up and provide their contact information, and may occasionally have someone stay with them and share great stories and a drink.” (And sometimes, a warm shower!) Think of it as couchsurfing for cyclotourists.

I’ve been a member of Warmshowers for four years, and have used the hospitality network dozens of times. But I had never lived somewhere that I was able to host touring cyclists…until now.

And I just ended up hosting my first touring cyclist on Monday and Tuesday of this week. His name is Joe and he’s from Nashville. He’s at the end of a coast-to-coast tour from Virginia that used the Lewis and Clark routing since Iowa. He’s been having a good time and all (though the headwinds through the Columbia Gorge had done a good job of pushing him back) and is now heading out to the Pacific Coast to finish his journey.

It was nice to finally get a chance to repay the Warmshowers community, and also, it was nice to be able to actually host someone. I had done my share of hosting friends and guests in Portland since moving here in 2001, but it has been in inconsistent waves: a lot in the first year, a few here and there. The last time I hosted someone was when I lived on NE Glisan in 2008. Since moving from there, I have lived mostly in places that hosting anyone wasn’t feasible. But my house in Woodlawn has the space, so I’ve set myself as “Available to Host” on Warmshowers.

Hopefully I’ll be getting more people coming through soon. It’s always fun hearing touring stories.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been doing a comic in Bicycle Times for like several months now.

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Hello, dear reader! I am sometimes pretty bad about self-promotion. Case in point: until right now, I have not mentioned that comics by myself have been regularly appearing in the esteemed Bicycle Times Magazine. And I’ve been appearing since issue 27 that came out early this year. (Issue 30, the latest, is out now and also features stuff about bikepacking in Europe by our friend Nicholas/Gypsy By Trade!) So yes! Every two months you can see comicky goodness by moi in one of America’s premier bike mags.

Below, for your enjoyment, are the first three comics I’ve done for them.

A summer’s ramble

A UP freight with Mount Hood in the background.

It’s been a fairly quiet time ’round this blog. I’ve been occupied with work, and haven’t had much in the way of adventures. And summer is now in full swing, with ample sunshine and warmth until…oh, September. While this is generally a good thing, it’s actually been a bit hot, and is going to get even hotter over the weekend, with temps in the mid 90′s to 100. And we’re actually going to get some humidity with all that too. Not anything comparable to what I experienced growing up in the East, but enough that we might see a thunderstorm at one point. Enough that I feel like taking two showers a day.

Still, I had free time on Wednesday so I decided to do a little ramble. I had a few ideas, but when the morning came, I decided on a fairly easy one: head north to the Columbia, then east along Marine Drive, turn south by 205, hit up Rocky Butte, and head home. Nothing too mind-blowing, nothing out of the ordinary (though I did discover a nice informal path along the levee just east of I-5), but still good.

I love Rocky Butte and never get up there enough. The best time to head up is on a clear day when you can see most everything, and Wednesday was a clear enough to see all five volcanoes: Hood, St. Helens, Adams, Rainier, and Jefferson. Mind you, I didn’t see all five at the same time (at best, you can see four at the same time), and you can only see three from Rocky Butte. But it’s still nice, and I don’t know of another American city where you can see five snowcapped volcanoes. (Correct me if I’m wrong.) While it was another warm day Wednesday (mid-80s), Rocky Butte provides just enough shade with its trees on the south end, so one can stay up top for hours without worrying about getting fried. I managed to stay up for about an hour, possibly the longest time spent up there in quite a while.

I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking, but my route can be viewed over on RideWithGPS.

Keep Portland Wild

As in most cities, there are a multitude of critters that live in Portland. But most of them are the standard issue critter that makes its home in most American cities: squirrels, raccoons, rats, possums, and the like. (And yes, many type of birds.)

But over the years, animals not typically associated with “urban” have made their inroads into Portland and a lot of other places. Namely, coyotes. As wolves have been extirpated from much of North America, coyotes have come to fill the void left from their retreat. At first, coyotes stayed in more wild areas, then moved into the urban fringes. And now, they have moved into urban areas just like any other hipster. And why not? There are plenty of places to hide, and plenty of food. Coyote sightings in Portland, while not super common, are more and more typical. (Heck, I chased one down the road one dark winter morning.) And don’t just think that coyotes can only thrive in a city like Portland, with abundant natural areas and lots of detached single family houses: researchers estimate that there are two thousand coyotes living in metro Chicago. Two thousand.

But coyotes are a bit old hat. I’ve been waiting to see reports about even wilder, even bigger animals in Portland. Namely: bears and cougars. And over the last month, we got both.

portlandbearThe first was the bear on June 14. A 2 year old black bear was spotted in the vicinity of NE Killingsworth and 35th, about two miles from my house, early that morn. It was finally found in a tree, where someone from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife shot him with a tranquilizer gun, captured him, and released him in the wilds somewhere in the West Cascade Mountains. The bear was definitely the news of the day (and also warranted the creation of a twitter account in his name). No one knows exactly how it got into this residential neighborhood, but it’s just a mile from the Columbia Slough, with its wild areas interspersed with industrial could act as a wildlife corridor. (There was a reported sighting of a bear swimming in the Oregon Channel, an arm of the Columbia River between the Oregon mainland and Hayden Island, but that’s about 5 miles from where the bear was captured.) Still, I would have expected the first bear sighting to happen in an area like Forest Park, which seems like such prime bear habitat.

portlandcougarThe cougar sighting, was much more interesting and played out. Over the course of the last week, there have been a few cougar sightings in East Portland, that big ol’ post-war suburban area of town stretching from about I-205 to the Gresham line. (This includes a cat suspected killed by the cougar.) Friday morning alone there were three sightings in the early hours of the day, all close to the I-84/I-205 junction. Then Friday afternoon, the cougar planted itself into a tree at the 2900 block of N.E. 121st Ave, as the occupants of the house were having their Fourth of July barbecue. The police and fire department were summoned, the neighborhood cordoned off, neighbors told to stay in their homes, and yep, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) came to tranquilize it and take it away.

This time, there’s a sadder ending: the ODFW decided to euthanize the cougar, for reasons of public safety. “It had become habituated to the city,” ODFW spokesperson Meg Kenagy said. “It had lost its fear of people…When cougars are seen during the day they have lost their fear of people.”

eastportlandcougarmapBut I wonder: how many cougars are in the area? South of the area the cougar was sighted are natural areas like Powell Butte, which would make good cougar habitat. The map of this week’s cougar sightings, however, show a circle of sightings with Glendoveer Golf Course sort of in the center. So maybe it lived there? While a golf course is not as rustic as Powell Butte, it is pretty wooded so there are hiding places. While cougars are solitary animals with large ranges that rarely overlap, Portland is a big enough place that there could be more hiding out. But if there are, they probably keep a low profile unlike the hapless specimen found in the tree.

Now I just hope we get a marmot sighting like they do in San Francisco.

So Damn Hot: Bike Camping at Battle Ground Lake, 1-2 July 2014

Entering Washington.

June turns into July in Cascadia. Or more accurately, Junuary turns into July. Junuary, it’s spring’s last hurrah. Despite nice weather for the first half of the month, the second half saw more cool (sub-70s) temps, and periods of rain, some periods downright intense. Just a few days ago we were looking at those sub-70′s highs with occasional downpours.

And then July hits. The rain goes away, and the “highs barely scraping 70F” turn to “highs scraping 100F”, the century mark, triple digits.* Yes, it does get that hot here, it is not a freak occurrence. (Mind you, it’s not a frequent occurrence, either.) Of course, the hottest temperature (so far) of the year has to hit on the day I’m leading a camping trip.

And the day before the trip the trip fizzles. Pretty much all the people who say they are going to go bail. And the weather forecast looks dire. I decide to scale back the more ambitious plans (bike to Cold Creek CG, 40 miles) and replace them with going to Battle Ground Lake in Clark County, Washington (25 miles). Seriously, I really thought about scuttling the trip, but two things prevented me:

  1. The two people still going, Hugh and Evan, are from out of town, and I didn’t want to let them down.
  2. Jumping in a lake and sleeping outside sounded a lot more appealing than hanging out and sleeping in my hot house.

In retrospect, scuttling would have been the smart option (and you’ll see why soon), but hindsight is 20/20.

*****
I met Hugh and Evan by the Cascades MAX station in NE at 11 am. From there we rode north across the Columbia River into Vancouver, Washington. The first half (12 miles) of the trip went fairly well. It was getting hot, already in the mid-80′s, but there seemed to be enough shade and a breeze to keep it manageable. We took an extended stop on the edge of Vancouver for lunch and supplies. And then we departed.

This was when it turned to shit. It was now 2 pm, the temp over 90F, the road shadeless, and no breeze to speak of. We got about four miles in, then Hugh called it quits. The heat was too much for him, so he snagged a ride back to Portland.

Then it was Evan and myself to solder the remaining miles. We were also feeling the heat (I was getting queasy) but we managed to push on without incident and make it to the park. At least Battle Ground Lake was a shady paradise, so even though it was about 99F at this point, it didn’t necessarily feel like it.

Battle Ground Lake was busier than I thought it would be for a Tuesday, the lake choked with day-use people** and the campground close to full. Still, we managed to snag a camping spot towards the back of the walk-in trail, which I knew from experience would be the quietest and most peaceful area of the park. And it was. We hung around the campsite until dark, and I snuck a quick swim in at sunset, when most of the day-use/family folk were gone. And sleeping outside overnight, tent stripped of rainfly, was indeed quite pleasant.

The next morn, Wednesday July 2, was quite a relief, cloudy and cool. While this day would still be warm, it would be nowhere near as hot, a high of only 81F, almost 20 degrees cooler. So making breakfast and riding out was pleasant. I opted for a more scenic albeit longer return route, one that brought us through downtown Vancouver (where we broke for lunch) and over the Interstate (I-5) Bridge. I got Evan to the MAX station at Expo Center and rode the remaining few miles home, where I decompressed from the trip.

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Overall, things worked out, but it got a bit scary for a moment. Hugh made it back safely, but in the future I don’t want to repeat this scenario. I’m not going to say that I’d never go camp/tour in the heat again (on a tour sometimes it’s unavoidable) but next time I’d definitely try to depart earlier to beat the hottest part of the day. Due to the circumstances of the event, it wasn’t possible, but c’est la vie.

If anything, this overnighter at least gave me an opportunity to test out the new setup on the XO-3 when it comes to touring. And it handled well, I find that I’m mostly in the big (46 tooth) chainring unless I’m climbing, then I drop to the small (26 tooth) ring. One thing I need to get used to is how large the drop is: When you have a triple or compact double, you’re only dropping maybe 10-12 teeth when you shift in front, so the gear shift isn’t so jarring. But on a 20 tooth difference, you really notice it, and all the sudden you move from pedaling a too-hard gear to a too-easy gear, pedals flailing. But I feel I’m going to get used to it when I do (From now on I might upshift in the rear before downshifting in the front.) And since I stay mostly in the big ring, it’s not going to happen often.

And those new Schwalbe Little Big Ben 700x40C tires are great. No complaints.

*This is one reason why I can’t be totally won over by Celsius. Saying “triple digits” or “hitting the century mark” makes it sound hot. Saying 38C, not so much. (I’m sure someone from A Land Of Metric Units is going to argue this point, but I stand by my opinion.)

**Evan thought there was something unique about this. I pointed out that anywhere in the Portland area that was remotely swimmable on a hot day was going to be overrun with people.

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