Denouement

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Tour 2011 Reflections – Put your travel behind

Monday, 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

Tour 2011 Reflections – Just how unexpected?

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

It’s been a couple of weeks since I returned from tour but frankly I don’t really feel like I have much of a grasp on this experience. I billed this as an “unexpected tour” and I have to say that’s not entirely accurate.  I don’t want to get too much into the whole exiting of employment but basically there was a certain amount of time where I kind of knew it was a possibility.  I was actively involved in moving and due to this uncertainty had not secured a new place.  My plan at this point was to put everything in storage and set off on tour, perhaps even a more epic long term tour.  There was a problem though, my parents were coming up for a visit that had been planned before all of this. So I arranged to stay with my friend in Olympia for a few days and then with my parents while they were here. At the same time I was trying to work out a future living situation. A lot basically was going on.

So I did end up being laid off and I had a bunch of stuff to deal with from the lay-off (severance, insurance, retirement – all that sort of stuff) which made setting off on an epic tour difficult, especially at such short notice.  So I managed to find a place to live in Seattle but couldn’t move in until September 1st, which means I now had nearly three weeks to kill before this new phase in my life.  So a tour was definitely in order.  I planned this one in about three days, deciding on my final route only the day before I left (I originally was thinking of riding to Mount Rainier and then down to Crater Lake, which I’d still like to do).

Strangely enough the first seed of bicycle touring was planted in my mind from reading a book on through-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  I was in my early teens (maybe 13/14) and was with my parents visiting some friends of theirs for a weekend up in Canada. I didn’t really know these friends, they were older and I was pretty much on my own.  I ended up reading most of this book, which was a sort of day by day description of the entire hike. This sounded like something I really wanted to do (and frankly I still do) and as a pretty avid cyclist at the time I wondered if you could do something like this on a bicycle. Flash forward twenty years later, several tours later still thinking about the PCT and I discover this book:

The Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail

Which I immediately buy a used copy of.  This book from 1990 is of course woefully out of date, but this actually is of great appeal to me.  Using old books is an interesting experience in that landmarks disappear, once major attractions become hidden curios, routes change or sometimes are completely gone.  I began thinking about doing this as a forthcoming tour and almost did it last year instead of the tour I did do up into Canada. But I wanted to do it right and it needed more time than I had that year.  A bit later I find out that the Adventure Cycling Association (of whom I’ve been a member for 8 years) had used this same book as the basis for a new route: The Sierra Cascades Route.

Now having time, though with the constraint of needing to be back before the end of the month, and a desire to return to Mount Rainier which I haven’t been to since I was 12 I decide to do a chunk of this route. As I said above I was originally thinking of riding to Rainier, spending a couple of days there and then riding the route to Crater Lake.  I wasn’t sure how much time that’d take so I ordered the first two sections of the Sierra-Cascades route maps which run from the Canadian Border to Mount Rainier and Mount Rainier to Crater Lake.  I began to have second thoughts though; Eastern Oregon can be quite hot in August and I like to ride loops when I can – getting back from Crater Lake would either take too much time or involve the train.  Being newly unemployed I was trying to keep expenses down and a pure riding tour would help with that.  So at nearly the last moment I change my mind and decide to ride the route from Sedro Wooley to Mount Rainier.

This would necessitate getting to an intersection with the route in the small town of Sedro Wooley which had two advantages as I saw it. First off I would complete a section that I ended up not doing on my Olympic Peninsula tour due to miscalculating the amount of days that trip would take. The other is that after that bit I’d be in Port Townsend/Whidby Island/Fidalgo Island/Mount Vernon which is the part of Washington State I grew up in, know very well and absolutely love. I’ve ridden in these parts on most of my tours and never get tired of it. These areas also have bicycle shops, stores and other things that at about day 2-4 in a tour you often find you need. I find it is a good thing to not be in the wilderness on day 2.  So the route settled, I worked out the sections I had no maps for and packed up.  I had put all my touring gear in my car when I had put my stuff in storage and was good to go.

 

I haven’t really changed my touring gear in years now and for this tour I only changed one, the Trangia Cookset. The bicycle on the other hand I recently changed the following: the brakes, the brake levers, the shifters and after all of that had rewrapped and shellacked my handlebars. As I outlined in my day 1 report this did lead to my one bit of mechanical failure but it was luckily discovered and fixed on day 1. It is however a testament I think to my touring setup and experience that I can just set off on a tour with nearly no planning.  No planning, not all that much riding this year with few longer rides, no home to return to, no job, no certainty.  This was the essence of this tour and would color all aspects of it.

Tour 2007 – Denouement

Friday, September 14th, 2007

Today was the first day back on my bicycle after the tour. I knew I’d need a couple of days off after so much riding, but the knee was still giving me a bit of trouble so I extended it another two days. Well the knee is still a bit tender but it felt good to be back on the bicycle. Additionally the patched rear tire continued to hold, which is nice and means that whatever caused those punctures must have shaken out. So I felt I was due to post some impressions, lessons learned and thoughts from the tour.

First off I should explain about the posting’s I did here during the tour. Normally what I do on tour is I get into where I’m staying, generally a campsite, setup, make dinner then do some sightseeing until dark. At this point I’d get into the tent and write out the days events for an hour or so and then read till I wanted to sleep. Well I decided this tour that instead of keeping a paper journal I’d post directly to the blog using the iPhone. So those posts are pretty unfiltered and are meant to have details that I’d want to draw upon when I do a real journal. I keep my journals at Crazy Guy on a Bike but I make an attempt to make those more like a travelogue with a sense of narrative. You can read my last journal, to see how that differs from these posts. I did edit all of these posts upon my return to fix typos, misspellings and to add some links but no content was changed.

So why has it been three years since my last fully loaded, self supported tour? Well I had another tour planned at one point, but scrapped it on the day I was supposed to set out. I just wasn’t feeling it. I ended up spending 5 days at the Washington coast and I did a series of day trips. In fact I cycled almost everyday on that trip but it wasn’t what I consider a “tour”. You can see pictures (with comments) from that trip over on my cycle trips page. Apart from that I went to New York city two falls in a row for a music festival and I went to Ireland last summer in a non-cycling vacation. My job only offers me so much vacation time and it was hard to dedicate a big chunk of it to a tour. Luckily that has changed and I now have twice as much vacation time. I should be able to do a two week tour almost every year, and up to a  month long tour if I find I want to spend all my time on a more epic event.

On to this tour in specific, thinking about training, planning, routes and so on. First off I decided to do it pretty late, not much more then a month before I set off. I had been reserving time off for two potential music related events that ended up not occurring. So I put in for five days off around the Labor Day weekend giving me ten days of riding time. I tried to pick up my riding during this time, but I never really did any “training”. Also I bought a bunch of new equipment as I intended to do this one a little differently then the last time. Most of this equipment arrived the day before I left and several key pieces did not arrive in time. Whenever I do a trip anywhere I compile a document of restaurants, places to stay, things to see, routes, references and so on. A bit of that can be seen in my Tour 2007- References post. For this tour, once I established the route I was going to take (I almost did a loop around the Cascade Mountains but was uncertain if I was physically up to that much climbing) I really didn’t expend much effort on mapping out exactly where to stay, what to do and so on. I had the Kirkendale and Spring book so I knew I could fall back on that if I had to. But mainly I just wanted to be out there and to make my way as it came.

So about that equipment I mentioned above, what was I doing differently? Well I decided that instead of using the four Arkel panniers I used last time I’d use a large saddlebag and front panniers. Why you ask, well mainly in that I wanted to carry less.  This tour was much easier for me even though I arguably was in much worse physical shape. I’ve put on pounds since that last tour and as I said I did much less training. I do of course have three more years of cycling in my legs, but still I feel I was much less ready. So carrying less would be beneficial I thought and also force more interaction with the places I was going. The things I changed in order to carry less was I used a smaller tent, I carried less food and less clothing. I figured I’d eat out more, pick up dinner on a daily basis before camping and wash my clothes more often. This all worked out very well barring to the two nights I pretty much had no food for dinner.

How did things go with the various bits of kit you ask? Swimmingly for the most part. The Eureka Spitfire tent worked very well, much smaller then the REI Half Dome Plus 2 I used last time, but still big enough to sit up in and to feel comfortable in. Its not a free standing tent which was fine but I bent its lightweight stakes pretty much immediately. When you are using the rocks and sticks at hand to pound these in it’s hard to keep them in good shape. A minor complaint though. The Paladin Saddlebag I got from Rivendell was up to their usual standards of quality – tough, spacious and handsome in appearance. My Arkel GT-30 panniers again proved their worth, they are the best production panniers out there. I used the same cooking equipment as before, a Brasslight Turbo II alcohol stove and a Snow Peak Trek 900 titanium cook set and they performed the same as last time – excellently. My sleeping bag was again the Kelty Light Year CD 25 which did its job admirably and the Therm-A-Rest® Backpacker ¾ Length again helped preserve my body from the hard ground. For the gear that was reused on this tour, my comments I wrote about them before are still vaild.

The major change for this year was the bicycle, instead of my Novara Safari I used a Rivendell Atlantis. While it may seem like I had quite a few bicycle issues, these were almost all related to the poorly built rear wheel. The bicycle itself performed flawlessly and I have to say I was in much better condition the whole ride. Barring the knee issue, which was caused by hiking, not cycling, I pretty much felt fine even with day after day of riding. Sure my calves would be sore after a long ride and my ass was pretty tender most of the time but that’s pretty normal for me. On my 2004 tour by about day 3 I could barely swing my leg over the top tube. Not having this kind of pain I attribute directly to the improved fit of the bicycle. When I’ve gone back to the Safari when the Atlantis is in the shop I experience this immediately. Its a fine bicycle but mine just doesn’t really fit. 50 miles on the Safari feels like about 80 on the Atlantis, it is that dramatic. Another new feature was my Schmidt Hub which proved to be very useful on this tour. The ability to have a real light, one you can use to see unfamiliar roads proved to be of use on several occasions.

I also brought a reduced set of electronics on this trip. Last time I had my camera, a cell phone and my Handspring Visor. This time it was my camera and the iPhone. I also brought a solar charging kit that I didn’t get to really fully test. In general the iPhone performed beautifully, the always available internet is such a boon. This really helped in my less planned tour where I could enter a city and do a search for bicycle shops, motels, routes and so on. I figured out my last days route completely using the the phone. Several times I was unable to get much by way of service, but I was way out in the sticks. Its ability to use both WiFi and the AT&T network was really handy. There are plenty, and I mean plenty of spots where there is no WiFi out in places like this. A WiFi only device would have been useless. Now of course some spots I couldn’t get Edge either, but usually I was able to each day. The only other issues I had with it was related to its 1.0 nature. It’s javascript is lacking so I wasn’t able to do much with my blog editor – no access to any of the HTML editing so I couldn’t put in pictures. Copy and Paste would really have helped as I could have written my posts in the notepad then pasted them into the blog and so on. I expect these issues to improve with software updates.

My other main bit of tech was cameras – I used my larger Canon S2 as the replacement for my shattered a70 had not arrived in time (ended up taking nearly 4 weeks). This camera is great if a bit bulky for out of the saddle shooting. I made do and we shall see how those came out. I’ve got 2GB worth to transfer over and need to free up some space first! I did take some pictures with the iPhone which I was able to email to Flickr during the tour. It certainly would have been possible to just use the iPhone camera, but I like to be able to zoom and such. I’ll put a few pictures up here when I start going through them, but keep an eye on my Tour 2007 set over at Flickr for the real goods.

Finally a few words on the overall experience. I find touring to be wonderful thing, seeing a slice of country at a sedate pace. It puts a lot of things into perspective stripping yourself down to the bare minimum like that. Ones focus completely changes, even with the increased connectivity I had on this tour. I love the Pacific Northwest and reveal in its beauties on pretty much a daily basis. But on a tour like this that becomes such a focus, the land you are moving through. Some of that is frightening or depressing but so much of it is glorious and revelatory. You learn a lot about a land and yourself when you are one tour and these are lessons I hope to keep with me. I thought about a lot of things on this tour and perhaps a few of them will make their way into these pages.