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Tour 2010: Riding Through

Monday, September 20th, 2010

” Single people, whoever they are, feel their lonliness most acutely when they come home from a trip. Everything is there just the way it was when they set out. The flower in the vase has dried up, but the desk itself hasn’t moved.”  -Santoka from his journals.

Reflecting on this tour I think it is fair to say that it was the most successful to date.  Sure it didn’t quite have the There and Back Again narrative of my 2009 tour to San Francisco but in pretty much every measurement it all went really well. It utilized the two weeks off that I had really well, it took me over a mix of new and familiar places, there were few problems, a good mix of sunny days to rainy and exquisite scenery. Returning from these trips there is always a bit of post-tour depression and while I can’t deny there has been some of that, its pretty mild. I’m still bicycling and wanting to do rides (which was not the case last year).  The worst thing this year has been a sense of restlessness, that you’d have thought two weeks of travel would have alleviated somewhat, but the root cause of that is I think a bit beyond the scope of this blog. Anyway Looking back at the tour there are a number of issues that are worth reflecting upon.

The Route

To begin with lets consider the route that I was worked out for this trip.  My initial goal was to ride the Sunshine Coast, the region of British Columbia north of Vancouver.  In riding to Vancouver I knew I’d want to stay there for a couple of days, so I knew I didn’t want to arrive there too early. I’d ridden there in two days a couple of years ago and even with a touring load three days is pretty reasonable.  I wanted to arrive there on day five or six so I fiddled around with Google Maps (the cyclotourists best friend)  and stumbled on the Mountain Loop Highway. In researching whether this has been ridden much I checked the Seattle International Randonneur’s permenant site and found several routes utilizing it. Randonneur’s ride all over a state and find many great routes so checking out routes they have ridden is essential.  I would later utilize rando info form my cross Vancouver route as well.  I was able to use Vicky Spring and Tom Kirkendall’s Bicycling The Pacific Coast books for routes and camping information from Birch Bay to Vancouver, The Sunshine Coast and the first day on Vancouver Island.  The cross island route I found in a combination of Bikely routes (another vital resource) and the Vancouver Island Randonneurs.  The Galloping Goose trail into Victoria and the Lochside out of Victoria I was familiar with and in the case of the Goose excited to fully ride for the first time.  Finally returning home I used the route I worked out on my very first self supported tour, but with a modified route from Edmonds to Bothell that Google Maps new Bicycle route feature roughed out for me. I often modified routes either sourced from Google Maps with bicycle club, brevet or my own experience.

My overall impression of this route was highly positive. The cross Vancouver and Mountain Loop routes, randonneur’s notwithstanding, are little bicycled routes and ones that people should definitely utilize.  It was not without some sense of irony that the two rainiest days were the days I rode those beautiful, wooded unique sections. There was however some improvements I would make to the route. The most immediate was the two 70+ mile days on the east coast of Vancouver Island. These were pretty dull riding days mostly on highways and could seriously stand to be broken up. Fortunately there was actually lots to see and do on those sections and it is quite amendable to being broken up.  This is how I would do this portion of the route again: Instead of Saltery Bay Park to Rathtrevor Beach Park, which was about~72 miles I’d ride to Denman or Hornby Island which would trim off about 35 miles. One could then ride one or both of those islands as one saw fit.  The following day I’d ride to Nanaimo, about 50 miles,  which was such a nice town that It’d be worth spending a bit more time there. There was numerous private campgrounds not too far from Nanaimo if one wished to camp instead of staying in or near the city. From Nanaimo to Lake Cowichan is about 50 miles of which only 20 or less would be on the highway the rest on much more pleasant Cowichan Lake road. Breaking the two days into three makes for three 50 mile days (more or less) which is pretty much how much I like to ride per day on tour. Plus the interesting northern Gulf Islands and towns would not have to be bypassed or blown through in service of grinding out miles.  So if anyway ever wanted to use my route, that’d be the one change I’d make.

The Bicycle and other Equipment

This is my third extended tour with this basic setup and I have to say I pretty have this aspect nailed.  There always is a couple of tweaks here and there but my core touring setup hasn’t changed for these three tours.  The main change this year was on the bicycle which I’m happy to report performed the best yet. I had no flat tires, no serious mechanical, in short the bicycle was just how one would want it to: a part of the tour not the focus of the tour.  I described in an earlier post all the changes I made to the bicycle so no need to rehash them. But it was of course my first tour with the Schwalbe Marathon Plus and I have to say I think I’ve found my tire. The 700x38s fit perfectly under my fenders and are pretty much my preferred size. No flats might be due at least in part to luck, but I have to say I rode on punishing roads, over much broken glass, dirt, gravel, horrible pavement, in heat, rain, everything but snow pretty much with no issues. I was checking air pressure regularly and the REI tubes I was using never lost much pressure even with pretty wide temperature changes from day to day. My new rear wheel from Rivendell was also rock solid, which was a relief: my last two tours were marred by worrying about the wheel.

The most useful addition I made to my kit this year was a Musette Bag.  Rivendell used to sell these and I bought one prior to my very first tour, but had misplaced it since then.  On last years tour I sorely missed have a bag and ended up buying one in San Francisco where I really needed a way to carry stuff around.  The Musette bag is perfect: it takes up little space, carries a camera, book, journal with space for a few incidentals, weighs nothing. Its a pity that Rivendell doesn’t still sell these, but someone must sell something similar. Anyway my highest recommendation for the touring cyclist.  Archival Clothing seems to sell the closest thing to the bare bones cheap Riv Musette bag (and read this post for images of the Rivendell Reader and Bob Gazette with the articles on them.)

As for the rest of my gear, as I said the primary components remained unchanged. The key trio of tent (Eureka Spitfire), sleeping bag (Kelty Light Year CD 25) and cooking geat (Brasslight Turbo II alcohol stove and Snow Peak Trek 900 titanium cookset) continue to really serve me well, I can’t really recommend this gear strongly enough. I did bring a few other things this year which warrant a bit of a mention. Recalling a lack of potable water at some Provincial Parks in my Gulf Islands tour I brought a Nalgene collapsible bladder which proved its worth on numerous occasions. I bought a large Irish Strap from Rivendell (I’ve long used the small ones for strapping the tent poles to my frame) which proved itself well worth having, I’ll probably add another of these for future tours. I used this to last the full Nalgene waterbottle to my saddlebag, to tie down my bicycle on the numerous ferry rides, to secure groceries to the front rack and numerous other examples I’m forgetting. Beyond mixing the clothes up a bit that’s really about it for equipment changes (minus the power recharging change I discussed earlier).

The Tour

The ride beyond the previously discussed technical aspects of the route and the performance of the equipment, for me covers everything else. The timing of this tour was partially based on work (I had a project that run though July pretty much) and by a desire to tour after the kids had gone back to school.  My initial plan was to start on Labor Day weekend, using that day off from work as a bonus day. Due to how the project actually ended at work and the fact that the next project would be (theoretically) starting up early in September I decided to change the dates slightly so as to end on Labor Day weekend. I also chose to end the tour on Sunday so that I would have a day of recovery (labor day) something I’ve learned from previous tours is essential. This turned out to be rather fortuitous as, especially north of Vancouver, I was right about at the limits of my temperature range. That is to say I was right on the edge of being too cold at night.  It has been an unusually cool late summer so in other years this wouldn’t be the case. September is pretty much my favorite time to tour and this doesn’t change it. It was a lucky break for this year, but it does mean that the campsites were often pretty full. I ended up not having any issues with this though I worried about it to some degree.

The weather also really turned fast this year, with the rainfall in September being well above average, so again lucky. The weather in the Pacific Northwest can be fantastic in September, but its always a bit of a gamble.  I did have three days of rain, one all day as I rode to Port Renfrew the morning rain as I left Vancouver and the half day of rain on the Mountain Loop highway.  Only on the ride to Port Renfrew did I get completely soaked, the other two days I got wet but had dried off by the time I got to camp.  The weather on the rest of the days was nice; often cloudy, but with a good mix of sun. No overly hot days which can also be a trial, in the main I’d say this was about as good as it gets weather wise in the PNW.

I tried to camp more this trip and to avoid hotels by staying in hostels. This was in part to save some money (I was doing this trip a bit on the cheap) but also to try to do things a bit differently.  I’d done hostels on my first self-supported tour and found it a bit mixed. For this tour I got my own room at the two hostels I stayed at ( HI Vancouver Downtown and  HI Victoria), which while obviously more expensive was about half of a hotel or B&B in those expensive cities. I did end up at a normal hotel in Port Renfrew (the West Coast Trail Motel) which while not specifically anticipated I do often end up in at least one hotel unexpectedly for whatever reason.

Final Thoughts

This tour was a really good time, a nice break from work and a nice exploration of areas I’d mostly not been previously familiar with. Things went really smoothly, I had some nice interactions with nature and various people I met on the route. I saw a few other tourons now and again but none of the tour rats I encountered on the west coast nor the crowds. The more “off the beaten path” areas I visited were the highlights for me, but I enjoyed almost every place I rode through.  I do have to say that I felt a bit detached on this tour, perhaps due to a general familiarity with the touring routine, or perhaps its just as part of the touring on a time frame experience.  Even with flexibility you have to keep moving, you can only spend so much time anywhere. So it it starts to feel like you arrive at a destination of interest, you get off your bicycle, look around a bit and then just set off again.  Rarely can your spend hours in an interesting area unless it corresponds with a short day or a rest day.  This aspect I find rather limiting and frustrating; I would love to be able to do months long tours with only vague agendas.  Anyway this aspect, which I’ve certainly noted before, tends to give me this sort of detached, “just passing through” sort of feeling.  It is this and also as a nod to the Jack Kerouac novel (collected in Desolation Angels) that I dubbed this tour “Riding Through“.

Tour2010 – day 5

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Its a serious juxtaposition, walking around the streets of Vancouver, one of the largest cities on the west coast, mere days after being in a campsite in the Cascades without even potable water. I’m staying at the downtown Vancouver hostel, which I have to say is pretty nice, with the exception of an ensuite bathroom I’ve stayed at worse hotels. The hostel is more or less right in the portion of Van I know best so I walked down to the Yaletown Brewery where I knew I could get a good, cold draft. For the days ride was hot, dusty and in traffic most of the day.

In my campsite
A woodpecker knocks for his breakfast
Water is all I have

I had run out of fuel for my stove the day before but I didn’t want to replenish it as I knew I’d be crossing the border and then staying at the hostel today. But that means no coffee this morning. Luckily there was a market just outside the campsite where I could rectify that. And again 8 miles later in Blaine after some beautiful country roads.

The Border wasn’t much of an issue (though they pressed me on handgun ownership) and I’m in Canada. The ride then mostly becomes somewhat of a slog: almost all on highways (with big shoulders for the most part), with lots of traffic. While there was nice scenery: farmland, coastal views, Mount Baker and other cascade range mountains I mostly had to pay attention to the road and the traffic. Still a lot of that filters in.

Hurrying along the road,
I can’t look back.
– Santoka Tenada

Once I got through the Geroge-Massy tunnel (which is done via a shuttle service) I was back on the route I took for my 2008 tour which one can check out for further details. Needlessly to say on this hot day at the end of summer all the beaches were packed and there were a lot of other cyclists. It all went well and once I crossed the Burrard bridge I was just a few blocks from the hostel and done.

Some pictures from the tour

Miles ridden today: 59.75
Miles ridden to date: 276.5

Tour 2010 – day 5 (interim)

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

An interim post from the Seaside Cafe in Blaine, WA just at the US/Canada boarder. I’m posting now in case Im not able to for a while. IIRC AT&T will shaft me if I use the cellular data network so once I enter Canada it’ll be WiFi only. So posting may be sporadic.

Update (08.26.10): Well the hostel has WFi so there will be at least a couple more posts until I head up north.

Tour 2010- day 4

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Growing in my campsite
— wild blackberries!

Somedays, the best days really, things just flow into you and are with you and you don’t really think beyond the moment. This day particularly the morning was like that. These sort I’d days are hard to record so this entry is just some impressions and notes.

Wide open roads under blue skies, following the winding coast and then across open fields. Of course the wind: cross, head even tail at times. Over a bridge to Chuckanut drive — I’ve ridden here before. Tree lined rocky coast, out of the wind and cool in the days heat.

Just when I most needed a beer I reach Bellingham and head straight for Boundary Bay Brewery for a couple. Plus some lunch and cell recharging.. Across from me sat a girl with a tattoo so fresh it was still wrapped in plastic.

Wandering the city streets makes me feel strangely sad, so I hit the road and it is back to coastal and country riding. Not too far really and barring a couple of hills it was pretty good riding wit Spectacular views of Mount Baker across the fields. Soon enough I’m at Birch Bay state park which is pretty big and filled with people. Nothing like campgrounds to hammer home that it’s journey not the destination.

The sun has already set
Leaving only shades of orange
The ocean waves

Some pictures from the tour

Miles ridden today: 48.2
Miles ridden to date: 216.7

Tour 2010 – day 2

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Morning rain
the call of a crow
and ever-present, the river

Rain wakes me early from a fitful sleep and with not much to hold me here I pack up and leave. Now it is the case that for at least 35 miles I’m in this national forest which means limited services. It turns out there is nothing: no store, no water, nothing but trails, primitive campsites and pit toilets over this stretch. I was out of water but sensing this I had boiled two pots of river water so I had that, some GORP and granola bars.

Some days the story is the road and so it was today, with the weather adding some plot points as well. It was a heavy mist as I left camp and for twelve miles it’s uphill though mostly at a gentle grade. At the top is Barlow pass (2400′) and just past the summit the road becomes gravel and descends, sometimes steeply for about 5 miles. This was something riding this descent in the rain, which had quite picked up at this point,9 on this beat down dirt road. It’s tough riding, hard on the hands and you have to pay strict attention. It was amazing scenery though, following a rushing river, the moss hung trees creating layers of green. After the five miles or so of the descent the road starts to go up as well as down and that also was hard. Just as I was really tired of it all the gravel road ended after ~13 miles.

Just as it is —
It rains, I get wet, I walk.
– Santoka Tenada

The rest of the ride was fantastic, low traffic, on good pavement, along big rivers with that stunning glacial blue-green color and winding between vast tree lined hills. The drizzle came and went but right at the end of the ride it became almost torrential. Writing this at camp, the clouds are breaking up and the light of the setting sun is making the hills glow. It is suppose to be sunny and increasingly warm over the rest of this week.

Some pictures from the tour

Miles ridden today: 55
Miles ridden to date: 112

Tour 2010 – day 1

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

There wasn’t any cell or WiFi or even potable water at the Red Bridge Campground in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Park so I’m trying to post this from the Darrington cafe (no luck-ed.). My campsite was beautiful though, right on the river with it’s ever present white noise soothing me through the night. It made up a bit for the obnoxious bros blasting their stereos, wolf howling and traipsing around drunkenly at all hours.

As for the ride, it was pretty uneventful: the first half was on quite familiar roads and the second was on the Mountain Loop Highway which was fantastic and beautiful. It was mostly flat along a river except for one monster hill.

A hill looms in the distance
I bow my head and press on,

The weather was ideal, partially sunny with temps in the 60s(F). It was magic hour when I entered the national park and the setting sun along the river was glorious.

Some pictures from the tour

Miles ridden today: 56.9m
Miles ridden to date: 56.9m