Ride Every Mile?

The loaded Bantam, “cheating” on the return from the Milo McIver overnight. 15 April 2021. Camera: Olympus Pen EES-2. Film: Kodak Pro Image 100.

One of the great things about my time working at the hostel was the bike tourists. As someone who loves traveling via bike, it was always fun interacting with fellow enthusiasts. I always made sure to let them know I was available for help with touring information.

Usually this help involved routes getting out of town. Many folks would be starting a Pacific Coast Tour from Portland, as it’s easy to get here via plane or train. There’s lots of info regarding touring the coast itself, not so much about the “how to get there” from inland.1 So the tourists would ask me for advice. My tip would be to take the MAX light rail west through the suburbs and get off at the end of the line in Hillsboro. From there, the riding would be loads easier than navigating the suburban roads on the west side.

This advice was often received poorly. The tourist wanted to start their tour “in Portland.” This meant riding the whole way from the hostel, not “cheat” and cut off the first 20 miles through suburbia. How can I say I started my tour in Portland if I start in Hillsboro instead? My reply was that most of us who live in Portland and want to go to the coast get on the train. We’ve tried every different route up and over the West Hills and found them to be fairly lacking. We’d rather just get to the good stuff rather than navigate six-lane arterials.

This still wouldn’t suffice for the would-be “Coast Tourist”, so I’d pull out the map and show them the two “best” ways and leave it at that. Hopefully they managed to navigate the mess OK.2 And hopefully they had a good time once they got out to the coast.

As someone who’s toured a bunch, I get it to an extent. If I’m going to “bike tour”, I want to be riding my bike, not using alternate means. There is also the fear of being judged by others. That definitely loomed over the head on my big Cross-Con tour ten years ago when we hitched a few rides, either because it seemed better than hypothermia or we were just so burnt from riding sub-optimal roads. Will folks think we’re “fakers” because of it? Turns out it didn’t really matter, even if this attitude didn’t jibe with others. Sometimes we asked our super-cyclist friends if there was transit to get us to the edge of town rather than riding those six-lane arterials. We’d get blank expressions instead. Because to them they’d never even think about not riding, whether it be a tour or just in general.

But where one starts a bike tour is pretty arbitrary. What’s the big difference in saying you start a tour in Portland or start outside of Portland? As I grow older, I’m more about enjoying the touring part of the ride and cutting out the noise. I’ve got no qualms about hopping on the MAX or on a bus and starting my ride at the edge of the metro area than the center of town. When it comes to the Portland metro area, I’ve ridden around this area a bunch over the past twenty years. I know what it looks like. I want to get to the stuff I’m less familiar with, the quieter roads and paths through the countryside.

I was thinking about this during my first overnight of the year. The ride to Milo McIver is passable at best, and will remain that way until they finish the gap in the Cazadero Trail. Myself and others have tried different routes out there, there is no great way. As I was leaving the town of Estacada, I was thinking about the next time I ride up the Clackamas River into Mount Hood National Forest. After all the times I’ve ridden to Estacada, it would be nice the next time to just take the city bus and start here instead. No having to navigate okay-to-dangerous routes though exurbia for several hours to get to the good stuff. It’s a moot point for this year, as the Clackamas road is closed due to damage from last year’s fire. But maybe next year?

I’m also thinking about the next tour I am going to do, a four day loop around the Willamette Valley. After two years of no tours, I wanted my return-to-touring trip to be easy. Flat-to-rolling landscape, short days, staying indoors so no need to lug camping gear. Originally the idea was to take that MAX to Hillsboro and start from there. But the first few miles would be on crappy busy TV Highway/Baseline, a route I’ve done many a time before. A route that I grit my teeth when I do. But why do it? I can easily hop on the bus to Forest Grove and start there, shaving off the hairiest bit of the route. I’ve avoided that in the past since I would be touring pretty loaded, and having to strip a bike and lug all the bags inside the bus is a chore.3 But if I’m going to travel light, I’d have a couple bags at most to remove, making hopping on the bus much easier. So that’s what I’ll probably do.

There will be times when I want to Ride Every Mile on a tour. But right now, I want to make my miles the good ones.

1 The original edition of Bicycling the Pacific Coast (Spring/Kirkendall) basically told people to ride either US 26 or 30 to get to the coast. While both are more direct, they are busy highways with sometimes awful shoulders, sometimes no shoulders. The new Cycling the Pacific Coast (Thorness) has much better directions over roads I would take, though this book has only been out for a few years.

2 Nowadays with the abundance of smart phones and mapping apps, I’d be less concerned of folks getting lost. This wasn’t the case ten years ago or earlier.

3 Wheeling a loaded bike onto a train is a lot easier. Often I don’t have to remove anything.

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