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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