Category Archives: tour

a great email to receive

subject: your old surly long haul trucker

you'll have to pardon the bad scan, but this is me at the end of my
trip this summer.  after riding santa cruz to los angeles i got super
stoked on touring and flew out to seattle a week and a half later.  24
days after that i was back in santa cruz and then came back to la to
ride to the border to top it off.  your old bike has seen 1902.6
glorious miles of the coast this summer =)

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New Zealand 3-day bike trip

Ever think ‘This is a really bad idea. We shouldn’t do this. There is still time to back out.’? Usually, I would do so. A voice in the back of my head this time (which was slightly mumbled and maybe British) said, ‘Come on, it’s an adventure. What’s the worse that could happen?’. It was boxing day, a strange Kiwi holiday the day after chirstmas, and Matt Pro and I were suppose to leave the next day for a 3-day, 300-mile bike tour from Christchurch to Nelson (a beach town on the northside of the south island). The problem was, we had one road bike, one fixed gear (49×16, mind you) and a broken single-speed mountain bike. No racks. No panniers. Bonnie, one of Matt’s friends I had met, was planning the trip, but we did not know the other two guys. Neither had bike toured, one didn’t really ride bikes. Yeah. We managed to scrape together four panniers and a rack and Matt bought another rack. We decided to take the fixed instead of my broken bike.

(unfinished post!)

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Great Divide: Week 1

The first day was hot and dry; we rode through the remains of a big fire that hit here in the not to distant past. The road quality is poor in that there are big holes, washboards (it is like riding on that strip on the side of the road that is suppose to wake you up if you fall asleep while driving) and dusty/soft sections. We don’t mind much though. This day is unique in that the temperature topped 90 degrees Fahrenheit and we ended in a town. Columbia Falls has a grocery store with a good bit of ‘health food’. We stocked up and headed to a nearby park to eat dinner and scope out camping. Steevo had ridden through Montana on his cross-country trip and had some memory of this town. We relaxed in the park and started to wrap our mind around the next four weeks. Warm weather, grocery stores and parks would not be usual part of this trip.

Riding on the second day we ran into a guy on a mountain bike heading in our direction. He was over 70 and told us stories for a good 45 minutes while we climbed a dirt hill into the Montana wilderness. He carried a 357 magnum and bear spray. ‘One is for humans and one is for bears, but it doesn’t really matter which is which.’ Had lived in Montana for 13 years, but was still a California to everyone here. Claimed he did one of the first iron-distance triathlons in 1979. He turned off at a fork and wished us well with some advice on the upcoming route. Steevo and I would talk about him the rest of the trip.

That night was sketchy. We spotted Peck Lake on the map and thought that would be a good place to camp. Camping on a lake in Montana, sounds great, right? It was creepy in an odd, illogical, difficult-to-explain way. We were in the woods, off of a small dirt trail off of the main dirt trail and it just didn’t feel right. We were tired, so we decided to go to the lake to get some water. Unfortunately for us, it was like a lake surrounded by a Marsh. We didn’t realize this till we both stepped into and sunk in to our ankles! Fatigue and lack of calories will make you crazy. We both leaped, the best we could, out of the mud as we yelled in our excitement. For the trip Lisa from Sweet Pea Bakery had given me some flip flops for the trip, my first pair. I lost one in the swamp and sent the other to be with his counterpart. Thanks anyway, Lisa.
After Steevo climbed out over the lake on a fallen tree and proceeded to clog up the water filter, we decided it was best to move on. Glad we made that decision easily. We camped at Jim’s creek after cooking/eating in the dark (not fun). We also had a ton of trouble trying to hang our food (stupid bears). Steevo even climbed a tree! Eventually, we were off to sleep in our bicy sacs, listening to the sound of running water, to tired to be concerned about bears.

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Great Divide: Getting to the Start

I had asked Jack and Megan to help out with getting my stuff packed because I had to give the final to my class and would not be home till 9pm or so and needed to leave for the airport around 4am. Unfortunately, even after years of knowing me, they were unprepared for the lengths I was going to go to save the $75 excess baggage fee. Most of the night was spent with Budge getting drunk, Megan enjoying the alpha-male contest for her attention from two boys and myself cutting and taping three boxes (always under 62 inches, length plus width plus height!) that would fit a complete bicycle, a bob trailer and all of my gear for the entire trip. With some ingenuity, it worked and southwest was none the wiser.

Roll into Portland with no sleep, but Lisa, Vmaas and myself head over to Laurelthyrst for a great breakfast of pancakes, potatoes and other vegan goodness. We need to leave the next day for Montana and I still have a ton of shopping and other things to take care of. We hit Food Fight!, Whole Foods and the Veloshop (a vegan bike shop run by Molly Cameron) to stock up on food and bike parts and of course to check out the stuff I love here in Portland. Lisa, owner of Sweet Pea Baking, a vegan bakery, donated some treats for our trip and some sugar and oatmeal for our camp breakfasts. A good friend from the East Coast happens to be in Portland to do a BMX photo shoot and we all meet up for dinner. Rob Dolecki and I have managed to meet up all over the country since we are both traveling and it is usually over some excellent food.

At night when I am putting my bike together I can’t find my pedals. I remember that Jack took them off…and he put them down on a table and they never made it into the box. Also find an extra item that Budge slipped into my bivy sac when I wasn’t looking. Very funny.

Off to Montana with Vmaas! It wasn’t that long ago that him and I left Pennsylvania on a snowy day in January of 2001. He was moving to Texas and went with and flew to Central America from there to spend two months in Belize. Was that really almost six years ago? The drive to Montana was uneventful, we mostly ate cookies and muffins and listened to the old-school rap station on satellite radio. We roll into Whitefish and it looks if west-LA was transferred to a rural mountain town. Fancy people with fancy cars and dress playing cowboy in Montana. Cell phone-less Steevo was chillin on a bench talking to some dudes when we found him. Fuck yeah! We find a place to camp and call it a night.

The next day we went into Glacier National Park, did some hiking, sorted out getting to the start of the ride, and just chilled. I went for a swim at dusk in Lake Mcdonald after, with Steevo and Dave’s help, I got my bike running properly. For this trip I got a complete Surly Long Haul Trucker that I’ve only ridden once. It is a touring bike that can fit the 700×42 tires we are running. Most cyclocross bikes can’t run tires that wide. After a camp dinner of canned Indian food, we all get to sleep just after dark.
In the morning we load all of our stuff into the car as Vmaas is kindly driving us up to the Canadian border on mostly unpaved roads. In Lisa’s car. Steevo and I are silent. The roads suck. Is Vmaas pissed? He doesn’t seem to mind and we thank him profusely when we get there. Since our time is limited we are starting at a point not on the route; it is slightly east of the rec’d starting point, but it is still on the border and it is actually closer to the actual Continental Divide. This border crossing is closed, but there is a landing strip and we are not there long before a border agent appears. He’s friendly and he knew about what we were doing. Vmaas hops back into the car and just like that it is only Steevo and I and our bikes. Before he left we did get this photo of Vmaas holding a sign we actually found on the Canadian side of the border.

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The Great Divide

I’m not sure how the idea of riding the Great Divide, a 2500-mile, mostly off-road, bike route from Canada to Mexico along the Continental Divide, came about. Were Steevo and I joking about it in chat? He had mentioned it and I have had it in the back of my mind since I first heard about it years ago. Seemed like a great way to see states like Montana and Wyoming and really appreciate some parts of this huge country that most people will never see. Next thing I know I am ordering the maps……..
This route is extremely remote, some people carry satellite phones and the route creators, Adventure Cycling, recommend no fewer than three people. The weather is also extremely variable. These two issues = more gear. More gear = more weight and a tougher time getting up hills. This guy claims 191,000 feet of elevation gain. But there is a race and the winners do it in as few as 14 days. We have about 30 days because I am teaching till the end of August and have to be back in late September for some classes I am taking. Is that enough time? We plan on using cyclo-cross bikes as these will be much faster and the route is not too technical. Steevo is a cat-2 road racer and a cat-1 cyclo-cross racer, which is good, but makes me nervous. Him and I rode cross country the same summer, as our first bike tour, but we rode the opposite way (him with a group east to west, myself alone west to east). We both have touring experience, both have bike handling skills and both are strong riders. This trip is more like a backpacking trip because of the remoteness and all the time in the mountains (read: unpredictable weather), but we both have some experience there to.

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Bike Winter Art Show

For the bike winter art show I put up some photos of my trip to Belize. Unfortunately I do not have any of them in digital form, but I wanted to post my ‘Artist Statement’.

California to Belize by Bicycle.
‘Belize was my introduction to Central America. After spending two months there in 2001 I decided that next time I’d ride the approximate 3000 miles from California to get there. Justin Cummings, a long time friend from BMX, and I were free of girlfriends and jobs in the summer of 2002 and decided to make it happen.

Deserts, rain forests, small villages, huge cities, mountains, flat sections, rain, heat; this route has it all. Fully self-contained, we were under ten dollars a day and made everyday activities, like eating and sleeping, an adventure. Quit your job and ride south.

Thanks Justin!

(you can read the reports from this trip in the 2002 archive section )

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SF to LA, 477 miles, 3.5 days

Self-supported ultra-touring. Or fast touring. Whatever. I tried to cover a lot of ground over multiple days fully self supported. Rear rack with small panniers; no tent, no stove; only a tarp, sleeping pad/bag, warm clothes, food and tools. Fun!
I stand by California being one of the most beautiful places in the world. Road down the coast the whole time; except for minor detours inland when no route stayed on the coast. 150 miles on Saturday to Big Sur (road into the night on a cold, drizzly day). 123 miles on Sunday past Pismo beach to a campground in Oceano. 129 miles on Monday past Ventura to a little state campground outside Oxnard. 75 miles on Tuesday into LA by 3pm.

Sleep deprivation killed me. Could not get up earlier enough any of the days; slept till 830/9am when should of been riding by 8am. Probably not recovered from last week’s cold. Met some transcontinental riders (one Brit, one Basque countryman) doing Alaska to Argentina. Hung out with a great couple from Montreal one night at a campground. Road hard each day and still enjoyed the scenery. Sorry this is short, but am writing this about a week after while I prepare for the next adventure: Olympic distance triathlon this Sunday. Oh shit!

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Alaska/coast trip summary

Here we go with some numbers.

Time gone from LA: 75 days

Miles on bike: 2150

Miles ridden while bike touring (fully loaded with gear): 1661 (500 in Alaska in 10 days, and 1161 Vancouver to San Francisco in 19 days)

Times paid to camp/sleep: 11

Total spent on camp/sleep: $45

Oddest place camped: A pumpkin patch in Garberville, Ca

Coldest nights: Denali National Park, (single digits) and Nora/Themba’s house without heat in Olympia (low 30′s)

Longest consecutive time in sleeping bag: 14 hours (On the Sunday night after two days of straight rain)

Time spent on internet while away: Unfathomable

Longest time alone straight: 13 days

Longest period w/o being inside a motor vehicle: 21 days

Estimated weight of bike plus trailer plus gear and food: 100 pounds

Packages of little debbie donuts and peanut chews consumed: Unconceivable

Top 3 camp stove meals: 1. Ramen noodles with tofu, broccoli and peanut sauce 2. Rehydrated beans and rice w/ tortillas 3. Pasta with olive oil and nutritional yeast

Flat tires: 1 (seriously, only one fucking flat tire in 2100 miles!)

Broken/worn out parts: 1 chain, 1 seat bag, 1 spoke, 1 gear (broke two teeth riding at a skate park in Alaska)

Major mechanical problems: Twice my rear axle came loose and separated from the frame.

Total money spent on transporting bicycle on 4 flights: 0

Money spent on mailing things to/from myself: $55

Total sets of non-riding clothing: 1 (1 shirt, 1 pants, 1 fleece)

Number of new warrantied frames waiting for me when I returned: 1 (!)

So that’s it for this trip. Send me an email, leave a comment. Peace for now, see you in real life.
Matt

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Portland, OR to San Francisco, CA

It seems now, after this trip, that ‘bike touring’ has become more about the traveling then the traveling by bike. Seeing this part of the world was my priority, I just happen to do it by bicycle to add to the experience. And what an experience it has been; probably one of the most spectacularly scenic trips I have ever taken.

Getting to the coast from Portland was uneventful, but immediately the beauty of the Oregon coast was obvious. Coming from the east coast and living in so cal my idea of ‘ocean views’ involves boardwalks, sunbathers and surfers. Not in Oregon. Huge rocks line the coast where angry waves crash against what can hardly be described of as a beach. The road I was following rolled right along this coast most of the time, occasionally drawing inland, but soon retracting back to the coastal views and the undulating hills.

Traveling in the fall has definite advantages; the first and most obvious being decreased traffic. Campsites were at maybe 10% occupancy. An occasional RV passed me (but almost always too closely). ‘Vista points’ were deserted. The drawback was the short days (dark by 430-5pm) and the cold, sometimes rainy weather. I knew what to expect and was preparing myself for the rain. It’s not the riding in the rain, it is the camping that is difficult. Previously, when it rained I was paranoid about any water in my tent or if any of my stuff was wet. Those days have been long gone since I have spent DAYS in the rain. Like when you set up your tent and there is already a puddle inside from packing it wet that morning. It is absolutely impossible to keep things dry. My (expensive) rain gear worked fantastic, but when you have to put it a garbage bag in your tent when you wake up and put it on the inside is wet; there is no way to avoid it. Sometimes you cannot find a covered place to cook dinner, so there you are, in a downpour, firing up your stove and measuring out rice. I left Portland on a Monday morning and it didn’t rain hard until that Friday night, but it rained through the weekend and into the following Monday. News of a coming storm persisted through all of last week, but thankfully never came. It was not until the end of that week that all my stuff finally dried!


Another change about this trip was my use of state campgrounds. The Oregon and Cali coast are covered in state parks that offer hiker/biker tent sites for $2-4! This includes picnic table, water, restrooms, shower and (most importantly) a flat, level place to put your tent. If you are familiar with my previous trips I never paid to camp. 3300 miles cross country without spending a dime! Also it was worth the ambiance of the sites. I camped in forests 1/4 mile from the beach and in redwood groves. And of course I was the only person in that area. It added to the beauty of an already fantastic trip.

And this is the part I have the most trouble describing in here. How can I convey the beauty of riding through a forest of the largest trees in the world? Or riding on a narrow road 200 feet above the edge of the continent? In a car you see it as you pass by, on a bike it absorbs you for hours. In a car you could dose off and miss the environment it took me an entire day to ride through. So, I will leave the descriptions at that and maybe in person I can get into it more.

Meeting other travelers rules. Like the kid from Germany who confronted me at the golden gate bridge, my final destination, and said, ‘Great time from Portland’. I looked at him perplexedly and he told me he saw me south of Portland and then two more times in the next 13 days while he hitchhiked down the coast. And the walking guy (who has a website, but I don’t have the link). He left Florida in March and was heading to Canada. He had a trailer, the same one I had attached to my bike, but attached to his pack. He has done all the long distance trails in the USA. He was not as insane as he may seem, but was still a bit crazy. We shared our mutual disdain for RV’s and the people who drive them and exchanged some stories. He told me a guy from Alaska was a couple days ahead of me! When you are bike touring it is really exciting to meet up with someone headed in the same direction.

As luck would have it, about a week later I ran into him at a small coffee shop in an extremely small town. He’s 47, has lived in Alaska (the southeast) for over 40 years and had not spent anytime in the continental US. An avid cycle tourist, he took 4 months off of work, took a boat to Northern Washington and is heading down the coast and then across the southern US. We shared stories over coffee and then did 5 or so miles together before he pulled off and called it a day. He told of grizzly bears in Alaska and of the 38 miles of paved roads in his home town with one stoplight. I told him my parents were from NYC and that I hadn’t slept in a tent till I was 19. So here we are, from completely different walks of life and we came together based on our mutual love of traveling by bike. As you can imagine he was extremely nervous about riding through SF and LA. He told me that he thought there were so many people in Northern Cali! The same place I went to to get away from people. I told him about how bike friendly SF is and how I can meet him in LA. We swapped info and I went on my way.

Now I am sitting in Los Angeles, it’s sunny and warm, I am on a laptop eating vegan cupcakes and listening to muskabeatz. I have only been back 24 hours and already riding 60 miles a day in rural California and sleeping in a tent seems so far off. It is easy to feel like nothing has changed but I have so much to take with me from this 2.5 month trip. I will update with more quantitative info soon (like 1 flat tire in 2100 miles ridden!).

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Olympia, WA to Portland, OR

Look at me, firing out journal updates the day after I arrive! DSL rules. Olympia = cold, Portland = not as cold. But, like the guy in the bike shop told me, ‘What did you expect touring this late in the year?’. True indeed. I wasn’t expecting snow on the ground south of Olympia, thats for sure. My first day out was pretty perfect. Early start, sunny, no wind, flat, low traffic, some small roads that winded through farm communities. I put in 69 miles before doing my ‘arrive in a small town’ routine. It goes something like this: 1. Arrive in town, ask where the grocery store is. 2. Buy tofu, broccoli, ramen noodles (dinner), and bananas (breakfast). 3. Ask the cashier where there is a park with picnic tables. 4. Go to the park, cook dinner, set-up camp, ignore the bewilderment of passer-byers. 5. Go to sleep at some ridiculously early hour. The Thursday night town was Castle Rock and I settled in next to a monument dedicated to Harry Truman. Now if anyone ever asks what Harry Truman has done for me I can say that his monument in Castle Rock, Washington gave me a place to put my tent and sheltered me from passing cars.

My day into Portland was not quite as smooth. It started raining early in the morning; the clouds never lifted, but the rain stopped pretty soon there after. I had to decide where I was going to cross into Oregon, either on the freeway just north of Portland or on a small highway 50 miles to the north. I chose the small highway and I don’t think I made the correct decision. Construction, no sidewalk, no shoulder. Shitty, to say the least. After that drama I had a straight shot on one highway the 50 miles into Portland. I’ve said it before: This is the type of riding people who have never bike toured imagine. 4 lane highway, very few towns, very little to look at. Just me pushing along slowly counting down the mile markers. So in two days I had both extremes of what you experience while touring. Funny. Oh, but to get into Portland I had to cross another bridge. Same circumstance. I just got behind a bus and hammered across. There was enough traffic that the car behind me really had no reason to pass.

Finally get to my friend’s house and chill. We went out to see a skate video premiere and almost every road had a bike lane. This is the Portland I heard so much about. We stopped in a pizza shop and Ryan knew the kid = free vegan pizza. Loving it. By then, of course, it is raining, but we managed to ignore it and happily pedal home. It’s Saturday morning, it’s not raining, and I am stoked to get out and see all the bike and food related things I can do in this city that is well known for its abundance of.

After here it is a 12-day straight shot ride to San Francisco. After this weekend this hang out trip is going to quickly turn into a bike trip.

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