Tour 2011 Reflections – Put your travel behind

Written by robert on September 12th, 2011

At various points in a day of riding songs run through ones mind.  I mostly listen to instrumental music these days so the songs that come unbidden into my mind are often from my teen or college years.  A number of songs ran through my mind on this tour – the Talking Heads Heaven was one that frequently played. But numerous songs from R.E.M.’s Fables of the Reconstruction became the real soundtrack to this tour, with Good Advices perhaps being the song that would play over the closing credits.

When you greet a stranger look at his shoes
Keep your money in your shoes put your trouble behind
When you greet a stranger look at her hands
Keep your money in your hands put your travel behind
Who are you going to call for, what do you have to say
Keep your hat on your head home is a long way away
At the end of the day, I’ll forget your name
I’d like it here if I could leave and see you from a long way away

What really appeals to me about cyclotouring is that for certain periods time I become completely in the moment.  Keeping an eye on the road ahead, the road behind, the surface of the road, one’s own self while at the same time allowing the scenery all around you to flow through you in such a way that you experience it but don’t dwell on the continuous beauty.  This is the absolute best part of touring for me. Which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy most of the other aspects: the small towns,  a cold beer after a long days ride, talking to strangers about bicycle touring, reading in the tent, mountains, streams, wildlife and all the countless other things you see. But those moments when you aren’t thinking but are perfectly aware of all around you and fully experiencing all aspects of ones surroundings are just without compare.

 

And yet on this tour, I found that state hard to achieve.  Perhaps all those issues I went over in the previous post are to blame, but it was harder than normal to be in the moment. There were plenty of times where I did slip into that state, but I felt distracted, thinking too much about what was to come.  I felt a certain impatience with aspects of the routine as well – dealing with things like food and camping and all of that was somewhat of a trial at times. This was primarily around the issues of being in camp, which in Eastern WA I was reaching early as I was riding as much as I could in the cooler morning.  Frankly at most of these campsites there just wasn’t much there.  Fishing seemed to be the primary activity going on and the campgrounds were just a place you’d sleep and cook. Being around rivers and streams was of course excellent and I enjoyed exploring them but usually that was all there was.

When you greet a stranger, look at her shoes
Keep your memories in your shoes, put your travel behind
Who are you going to call for, what do you have to say
Keep your hat on your head
Home is a long way away
At the end of the day, when there are no friends
When there are no lovers, who are you going to call for
What do you have to change

 

That being said I shouldn’t oversell these points. The route was really stunning and found me riding in places and situations I hadn’t experienced much of.  Four mountains passes (five if you count crossing Rainier which was as much climbing as all but the highest of the passes), the transition from the Puget Sound to Mountains to the high scrubland of Eastern Washington. Countless lakes, rivers, streams, creeks and waterfalls, forests, desert and all in-between.  I saw a bear, I got as close to deer as I’ve ever been, I saw elk crossing the road in the fog and an owl ghosting through the trees. I took many hikes – one of my tricks is to walk on getting to camp; it seems to prevent cramping and other leg pain that I find happens if you come to camp and just sit around. Plus I love to hike anyway and usually at campgrounds hiking around is the thing to do. The days I spent at the Mount Rainier National Forest was an excellent conclusion to a highly varied tour.

So like everything else in life the tour had it’s highs and lows. I’ve mentioned the route at several points and it really was stunning.  But I feel that I need to say a bit more about Old Blewit Pass. This was hands down my favorite bit of riding on the tour and a section that I think Adventure Cycling should make the official route.  When you get your route maps from ACA they also send you a list of errata with current updates, changes and the like. On the Blewett Pass section there was a number of addenda most of which were designed to get you off the highway. The Old Blewett Pass was described as an option to get off the highway but was poor surface and winding.  But man it was great – zero traffic, roads that the flora and fauna was encroaching upon, more shaded against the hot sun and of course endlessly scenic.

A couple of words on the Adventure Cycling Maps. I have to say that while I’ve been a member of the ACA for 8 years this was the first time I’ve used their maps.  I tend to like to use books, especially out of date books like I mentioned in the previous post, or make my own routes from Google Maps and randonneuring routes. I’ve always felt that with the ACA routes you are sort of riding someone else’s tour.  But having actually got their maps I have to say they are pretty great.  The maps are divided into sections that are usually 30 to 40 miles each and simply list all the services on or near the route.  So you can ride as much or as little as you want each day, picking where you want to stay. They try to stay off the main roads and will always route you onto side roads even if they are hillier or less direct (which they invariably are).

All this being said, I still think making ones own routes, if one can, is the way to go.  With only a couple of exceptions the only time I really saw other tourons was when I was on their more major routes.  I overlapped with the Northern Tier for a couple of days and it was there I saw the most other tourons, including the only pair that I’d classify among the tour rats I saw in California on my 2009 tour. On two instances in this tour I shared campsites with other tourons, on the first day and in the Mount Rainier National Park.  Both of these experiences were good and I enjoyed talking with my fellow tourons.  But in the main I avoid other cyclotourists like the plague. Not unfriendly like but I just feel like one always falls into the same routines if you spend your time with other tourons. For the same reason I always avoid expat bars or backpacker destinations when I travel internationally – expats and backpackers all talk about the same thing, travel, and always seem removed from their immediate environs. Again I enjoyed my time I spent with the other tourons, Tim especially had some amazing stories to tell.  But of course touring is all we really talked about.

 

There really was no major issues beyond that initial brake failure, not even a flat tire (second tour in a row with no flats) – cheers to my Marathon Plus tires. I really do have a touring setup that works well for me and I have to say that the one new addition, the Trangia cook set was fantastic. It was far more efficient than my previous cooking setup (which had served me super well and is a lighter and smaller way to go) and thus my use of fuel was a lot better. In previous tours I would often have periods without fuel where on this one I kept myself stocked better and used less overall. I also did a bit more ambitious cooking, though not quite as ambitious as I’d initially thought I’d do. The one downside to my touring setup is that I don’t have much space for food.  So its hard to grab food for the night, especially when the nearest store was many miles before the campsite.  I’ve been working out a system where I’d have basically a foldable bit of netting on my rack below my rear saddlebag, where you could stick groceries that you’d use that night. That would solve pretty much the one constraint of my current current setup.  Spending more time in camp cooking would I think also be a good evening activity as well.

 

All tours are a learning experience and this one was no exception.  There are several things I’d do differently from this one I think.  First of all this is going to be the last tour that I blog as I go.  I felt I was a total slave to my iPhone, constantly trying to keep it charged, spending time sitting around while it did so, always trying to find WiFi and better signals.  I keep a pen and paper journal as I go as well though my journaling is always a mix of the blog, the physical journal and notes on the iPhone, but for my next tour its going to be the paper journal only.  In fact I think having the internet readily available on the phone is also somewhat of a downside, not allowing one to fully sink into where one is.  In a way that has been useful – it has kept me from feeling totally isolated, but I think now that it isn’t worth it. I was out of service areas quite a bit on this tour (AT&T seems to suck outside of cities) and I usually found that completely fine.  I’ll probably take a cheap cell phone with me for emergencies but I’m of the mind that the technology is too distancing. Plus journalling on the iPhone kills ones fingers and other solutions just seem to be upping the technologies with all the worries that causes.  Tim, the Portland touron who camped with me in Rainier told me that he has come to even forgo bringing a camera (which I also recently heard the great travel writer Paul Theroux say he has also done) which perhaps I’m not quite ready for, but I can understand the reasoning. Perhaps taking a film camera and limited amounts of film is an option worth considering.

As I said in the beginning of the last post, this tour is still something I’m chewing over.  I sort of think that taking it during this time of transition was perhaps not the best idea.  I was already thinking a lot about my new life in the city and sort of wanted to get on with it. It certainly was a good use of the time I had but mentally perhaps not the best. I mean I wasn’t cut completely free which I think would be the ideal touring circumstance and yet I also didn’t have a home to return to which frees a lot from ones mind.  Too much to think about outside of my current activities. This is sort of hard to explain so I hope this makes some sort of sense. But really this discontent was almost always just for a small period of each day, usually in camp.  Most of the day, whenever I was riding or exploring the areas I was riding through it was a wonderful rewarding experience.  So I’m glad I did it and will certainly be back touring again.

A familiar face a foreign place I forget your name
I’d like it here if I could leave and see you from a long way away
Who are you going to call for, what do you have to say
Keep your hat on your head
Home is a long way away

 

7 Comments so far ↓

  1. Scott Bakke says:

    Beautiful. Thanks for taking the time for the thoughtful writeup.

  2. adventure! says:

    I hear ya. Bike touring can be (and generally is) a great thing. But if your mind is not in the right place, it might not be the best thing. Sometimes the simple act of getting out there on the road will put your mind in the right space, but not always. Sometimes it’s okay to realize that now might not be the best time to do a particular tour, or any tour at all.

    This happened to me once when I was going to do a short tour in the upper Midwest. My mind was not in the right place (dealing with some stuff at home) and I promptly got a flat not ten miles in. I’m not superstitious but I took it as an omen. I decided to scrap the tour. I realized that I couldn’t even deal with the flat tire, so I shouldn’t do this. (It was a good thing-it would have poured on me most of the trip and the temps were pretty cold.)

  3. robert says:

    Hey thanks for the comments. I definitely agree with what you are saying here. This tour was a bit odd and at a real transitional time for me which was a bit of a distraction. The real issue I think was that I was prepared for much more ambitious tour, one without much of a restricted timeline but circumstance delayed me for weeks and then I had to be back in Seattle by a specific time and there was a lot to think about for that and thus not as much focus on where I was at the time.

    Though as I say typically only when I was done with everything for the day and able to just let the mind wander did this come up. Most of the time I was pretty engaged with where I was and what I was doing. I think though that times of melancholy have come over me on all tours, but then again they do every so often in normal everyday life as well. It is a mistake to think that just because one is touring that one still won’t go through different moods. It’s just a matter of working through it all I think.

    At the very end (and the end of a tour one’s thoughts do tend to stray toward what’s coming up) when I was at Rainier for three days I sort of felt this turning around so perhaps what was really the issue was that I hadn’t really taken enough time off. This was a lesson I’d thought I’d learned from the tour to San Fran but I really just rode every day until Rainier on this one. In part because of how the time got compressed but also due to fear of Rainier being full. But one thing I’ve realized just in general is when one is overly tired it is hard to be fully appreciative of things. I’ve come now to reflect on my current state of restfulness when I find myself just dismissing things or not liking anything. More often than not I realize I am over tired and just try to suspend judgement until I’m better rested.

    So in thinking of tours for 2012 I’ve definitely taken note of these issues and am already looking forward to getting out there.

  4. adventure! says:

    Out of curiosity, what tour(s) do you have in mind for ’12? I’ve got a bunch of small tours I want to do, by myself/with April and with other folks. For longer tours, I’d really like to try to do something similar to your Sunshine Coast/Vancouver Island thing with lots more island hopping. I’d also like to do something in the central Oregon Cascades (McKenzie/Willamette Passes) and maybe around Crater Lake. I have no idea how my summer is going to look yet, though. A lot of it depends on work.

  5. robert says:

    I’m always a little hesitant to talk about stuff that only might happens, but if I’m still unemployed I’m going to do something much more ambitious and less planned. I too always had to fit tours into time off from work and I always chaffed at the constraint. Anyway it’s still early, but my thoughts will probably coalesce over the next month or so and I’ll start posting a bit about my plans.

    My very first tour was the San Juan and Gulf Islands along with a bit of Vancouver Island and some Olympic Peninsula. I loved riding the Islands especially the Gulf Islands which I hadn’t been to before (I more or less grew up on Fidalgo Island and have spent a lot of time in the San Juans). A tour up the Sunshine Coast, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands (and the San Juans on the way back if you have time) would be fantastic.

    This tour (that this post is on) continues down through the Cascades and goes by Crater Lake. That was my original destination when I thought I was going to have more time. Still would like to do that, hell I’d like to do the entire Sierra-Cascades sometime.

  6. adventure! says:

    Cool! It all sounds good!

    And hey Robert: I’ve been making a Cycle Touring Primer zine for the last few years. I plan on doing an expanded edition soon so I love getting feedback, esp. from those who’ve toured the NW. Drop me a line at urbanadventureleague@gmail.com if you want one!

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