Bicycling Touring in the Northwest
This may be the only stop we saw in the Northwest that did not have an Espresso Sign
These are some refection’s on what I learned during my July Tour in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. I have done most of my bicycle touring on the Atlantic Coast from Labrador to Massachusetts, the Southeast, and along the Mediterranean form Corsica to Croatia. I intellectually knew that the distances would be bigger and the conditions more extreme than what I was used to but I still had some surprises coming.
1. I didn’t realize how important watering the grass is in the West. In fact one experience that we had with all of the bicycle tourists we met was that our tents had been watered at night in the Federally Controlled campgrounds.
In Plymouth at a Corps of Engineers Campground we went to a local bar for dinner (the only place you can buy food in Plymouth) and came back a little late to find our tents filled with water. This is their system they water the campground at night. I called the Supervising Ranger and found that he was on leave for a year. I guess after New Orleans, I am not surprised to find out this is the way the Corps of Engineers does things and that there is no way to complain.
2. The impact of distance was greater than I thought. Riding out of the Maryhill Campground there is a 3 mile climb and at the top of the climb is a sign, “No Gas for 82 Miles”. This is a scale much bigger than I am used to. The impact on my psyche was greater than I expected; I was quite disturbed by these distances in a way I can’t quite explain. They made me feel very vulnerable.
3. The effect of traffic was also outside of my experience, especially truck traffic. There just aren’t as many roads in the West and everyone has to use the few roads there are. So traffic on secondary roads can be a bigger problem. I now understand why I hear so much about Bike Paths in the West. They really need them.
There were several days when the continual close brushes with trucks left me rattled. The first day and the ride into Walla Walla were the worst. The trucks would give me room when there was room but if there wasn’t they weren’t slowing down.
I was also surprised that riding through the Columbia Gorge on the Historic Road Bike Path that every 20 miles or so we were routed onto I-84. I had never ridden my bike on an Interstate before and it is not something that I don’t want to repeat. There are no shoulders on I-84 on the bridges and where there is a rock face next to the road. My approach was to look down the road to be sure it was clear before I would ride onto the road, but almost every time before I could cross the bridge two tandem trucks would come racing down the hill, next to each other, one in each lane so the truck in the inner lane could not move. The tandem truck would pass within what felt like a foot of me. This is a jarring experience that I don’t want to repeat.
4. The Heat, the Sun – The Heat, our timing was not the best, July is always hot. But this was an unusually hot July. I am from New Hampshire and any temperature above 85 degrees is considered inhumane for riding. We had days above 95 riding the STP Route from Seattle to Portland and West of The Dells it got hot. One night in Randolph at 5000 feet, it was a 104 at 10PM. We had a week of 100 plus days.
We would meet riders coming from the East and they looked like zombies 100 plus temperatures across the west and the then they hit the head winds in Washington. All they could ask was when the do the wind stops.
The temperature profile of the day was a surprise to me. The mornings were cool most days and if we had started early we could have avoided riding in the worst heat most days, but we didn’t. I expect the day to start cooling around 5PM but the temperature seemed to keep rising until about 8PM. I would usually do fine except the the hottest of days until 3 or 4 PM but after that I would start to boil over. My body could only handle so many hours of the heat and sun. Once I got out of the sun for a while I could recover but the result was I bonked 3 of the 10 days we rode.
5. Environmental issue were much more obvious. Large areas that had been clear cut had lost their top soil and because of the size of the views were much more obvious than in Maine. Plants spewing out clouds of pollutants and fouling the water also seemed more abundant. Probably because they have gone West where there are fewer rules and cheaper energy. Large chunks of bark bigger than my leg seemed to cover the roads. In general the roads sides looked like they were never swept.
Western Touring bicyclists are definitely a tougher breed than I am and I agree they need those bike paths.