Cycling through Oregon and Washington- A month adventuring during the “winter” in the States

02/05/2018 (EU Date)

Landing in Seattle, fresh from a flight including a nightly layover in Portland I was in for a bit of a culture shock- Rain, rain, and rain was waiting for me ! As well as a fairly cold weather compared to what I had had until then in Mexico. And I was back into regulated country. A busy month was in store for me though.

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Getting over the shock of cycling in the rain and cold in a big city, after 4 months in (relatively) rural Mexico- Lack of sleep included.
I did not spend much time in Seattle. Landing in the morning I reassembled my bicycle at the airport before cycling to downtown. Not the best idea I have ever had, especially when I realized I forgot taking the train to downtown was quite cheap, and apparently possible with a bicycle. Roadworks were making a journey through industrial areas via busy roads even more challenging. I cycled for 30 minutes before having to detour through a road that send me almost all the way back to the airport- at least this time I was on the right side and made it all the way to Cascade Designs repair shop, to have my tent sorted out. Both zippers on the inner tent were getting consistently stuck. Not great when you are heading out to chilly and potentially mosquito country. In a few minutes I was set up with a new inner tent. Great customer service! Little did I know, I would be back again in Seattle, and to the repair shop again a few weeks later…

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Near Seattle main railway station- typical Seattle skyline.
From there I cycled through Seattle Chinatown which seemed huge compared to London’s or even Paris’. When I looked on googlemaps for grocery stores, only Asian supermarkets were showing up downtown. I then cycled/walked (thanks to a puncture) to my Warmshowers hosts in Seattle, Adam and Beth. After finally making it to my hosts and learning about their one-year trip, mainly on bicycle, from Japan to the UK, the following day I was off to Portland on the train, where I was getting a bikestand fitted and some other needed supplies from the bicycle shop before staying with another Warmshowers host, Laura.

Staying with Laura for a couple of days was great as I managed to shop around for some warmer clothes and other gear and get organized for the next steps. Upon arriving, Laura told me it was a little bit early in the season to cyclotour in Oregon. Indeed, the direct route I was originally planning to take -over a pass by Mount Hood- to Smith Rock was still snowy and potentially icy at the top. She helped me to pick a beautiful route through the Cascades Gorges, and then South. I also learned from the bike shop I stopped at, River City Bicycles (Surly dealers, a lot of the staff ride MTB trails around Oregon), that most bikepacking/MTB trails doable at this time of the year were quite south of Portland. Not exactly on my route this time… but I hope to be back in the area at some point to explore some of them. Bikepacking in April in Oregon is only possible if you are going in the South of the State, and carefully pick up your route. Most trails are only rideable in the summer (June-July-August, possibly September).

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Enjoying riding in bicycle-friendly Portland…
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…and taking my bicycle on the MAX (commuter train), though I’m supposed to hang my bicycle by the rear wheel. Not so with a fully loaded bike !

While in Portland I also stayed with Kyle, a fellow vegan met via Couchsurfing, who gave me an unique insight on Portland counter-culture, showed me around his favourite bookstore, and made me the gift of a small, pannier-friendly book on the birds of North America…

It was then time to be back on the road…

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New kickstand- Check. Climbing gear on board- Check. Warmer clothes- Check. Food- Check. Overloaded bicycle- Obviously, check.
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Following Highway 30 and then Interstate 84 along the Cascade Gorges.
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On the outskirts of The Dalles
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Away from the Gorges, and into the valley.
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Mount Hood from a distance
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Maupin
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Passing ranches riding along the road in rural Oregon. Trespassers not welcome !!!
Being early in the season also meant that a lot of campgrounds were closed. The first night, I ended up by the side of the road.

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The night of the ditch- Picture a fast highway on the left and a less busy road on the right.

The following day as I was headed to camp on a BLM, while I was cycling on the road, a very kind lady, Joan, living locally, stopped, and had a chat with me, before inviting me to her house, closer than my rather ambitious goal for the day… A great experience as her and her husband, Terry, are also cyclists and had plenty of stories about the area. Notably, I learnt that in that valley most fires are tackled by self-funded volunteers firefighters services, unless it is a major one which requires governmental help.

The following day, after riding under the rain for several hours I was also lucky to stay with WS hosts in Madras, a semi-retired couple, fitness enthusiasts, who had plans to take on a big trip soon…

And the next day, after a short-ish ride in headwinds and… some hail, I made it to Smith Rocks !!!

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“Scenic bikeway” sign, often spotted in Oregon.
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IMG_1630[1]Smith rocks is a rock-climbing mecca. On tuffstone and basalt, you have bouldering, some routes which can be set up for top-roping as well as single pitch and multipitch sport climbs. Also some trad. An awesome climbing site with stunning views, which also has a lot biking and hiking trails. Even if you are not into rock-climbing, I would highly recommend it. It is also very compatible with cycling to and from the crags, as Terrebonne, the nearest town, only a few kilometers away from the Park, has shops you can get food from. Redpoint, also in town, serves as a climbers’ meetup point, cafe and sell some climbing gear. There is a main campground with showers and picnic tables tables, as of 2018 8 USD a night which is called the Bivy, very close to the climbing especially the Rope De Dope area which is easy top-roping. There is also a freecamp further from the Park which I have not been to.

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Great views from the Bivy
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Some easy climbs we top-roped on Rope-De-Dope
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A boulder we top-roped.
While I was there the weather changed a lot – cloudy with some drops the first day, very sunny most of the second day and absolutely horrendeous the third day (raining heavily all day, with very cold winds at night). Which left me a day to spend at Redpoint refuelling on tea and trip-planning on the wifi.

In my last days in La Paz, I was lucky enough to, out of pure luck, have met Jesse who is from the area and was heading to Smith Rocks the same weekend !

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Jesse, next to my loaded bike
If you are coming on your own and staying a few days in April I would highly recommend finding a partner beforehand or looking on Mountain Project- All people I have met hanging out at the main campgrounds were already partnered and seemed generally happy climbing in their existing groups. You might get luckier if you come on your own and you hope to find a partner during the busier season in the summer, especially if you hang around a while (like, at least a week), but that said the busier season can get really busy. It was already difficult for Jesse to park his car on the sunny Saturday- it can get really crowded and maybe more difficult to get a spot at the Bivy if you arrive on a Friday or Saturday night during the sunny times.

After Smith Rocks it was time for a 5 days-cycle into Washington State, where another mini-adventure was waiting for me.

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Old carts for sale out of Smith Rocks

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Out of Smith Rocks I cycled a whooping 73 miles the first day- arriving at a very nice BLM in Clarno, a 15 miles detour off my route, in the dark. The side of the road did not seem super suitable for camping. I cycled past Antelope and climbed up a short hill, before a 8 miles downhill descent -not a very strategical decision for the next day.

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Beautiful camp…
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… but a bit of an effort to get back on my route
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Elated to be at the top again.
The following day I climbed back and into Antelope and Shaniko- Had I known, Antelope is not far from Prineville where the Trans America bicycle race passes through, and I met some friendly locals who told me there was apparently a park or someone’s backyard where cyclists could stay. Shaniko had some interesting old western buildings.

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Old abode in Antelope
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Shaniko western style buildings

20180417_164120.jpgFrom Shaniko via Grass Valley I crossed into Washington State and made it to Goldendale, a quirky city. Unfortunately being quite out of steam when I arrived -and very relieved to find a cheap RV Park to stay at- I did not take pictures. The town has a lots of churches from different movements, a strange looking Masonic temple, and a lot of shops and stores who don’t seem to have changed much since the 70’s or 80’s. At the RV park I met a few long-term residents.

Unfortunately, this is also where a overly cute and playful kitty decided to jump on my tent, making a small but consequent tear on the outer…

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The culprit, seemingly sniffing out his surroundings…

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From Goldendale I cycled to Yakima. Past the small city, all of a sudden there were much more pine trees than before I crossed into Washington…

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Entering an Indian reservation, after a loooong and nice downhill I cycled quite a while, a bit disappointed not to see the landscape change much more. Until…

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Mule deers
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I also started being hit by flying bugs coming out of nowhere, seemingly drawn to the only cyclist on the road. This bugs-flying-in-my face pattern would follow me all over Washington state into Canada. This part of Washington being Apple country, I was still surprised to encounter a big load of red apples dumped by the side of the road…I then passed a mountain range where strangely there was a sudden change in color.

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I stopped overnight in Yakima, where it is said 50% of the county is from Mexican origin. This was an occasion for me to pick up fresh corn tortillas from a small tortilleria and tiendita-style shop. “Que te vaya bien” said the cashier as I left. A welcome reminiscence of my time in Mexico. Out of Yakima I followed the backroad to Ellensburg. More winding than the direct highway, it had the advantage of avoiding 6 successives very steep hills and being quite scenic.

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After a long day in the saddle and a late arrival at Stacy and Doug’s place, it was time for an Earthship weekend party! Their family was hosting a great event where people would come, learn about and help out on the construction of a tiny one. If you are not familiar with the Earthship concept and want to learn more, have a peek at the Earthship Biotecture website. This is the official website of Mike Reynold’s (a New-Mexico architect who invented the concept) crew. It is now quite popular and at a stage where people build their owns with new ideas.

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A finished Earthship-like tinyhouse

While staying there I was lucky to be treated to delicious food, a vegan and GF pizza and my own tiny house to sleep in ! It was also great to meet a lot of people from different backgrounds who all had an interest in Earthships and natural construction, and self-sufficient living. I learnt quite a lot while there.

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After the weekend I was planning to take the most direct route to Wenatchee- unaware this was actually a steep and muddy dirt road which probably was not in the best condition at that time, and there was a possibility I could have gotten stranded in the clay mud pushing my bike. Super kindly, Doug gave me a lift to the next mountain pass on the highway, from where I cycled down, ensuring I would make it to Wenatchee in a day.

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My bicycle riding a truck !
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Cycling near Wenatchee- Orchards in bloom
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Seen in town

There, I stayed with Mark and Thea (again via Warmshowers), who very kindly hosted me while I was having a rest day. After a lot of cycling and not much downtime I was starting to feel one of my ankle a little bit. I got to relax in the nice town and get an insight into my hosts’ active lifestyle in Washington. Thea warned me than Leavenworth, that I was going to ride through the next day, would be quite funny to see as an European.

After a great stay with them it was time to head back to Seattle.

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View from the bicycle path, out of Wenatchee

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A beautiful forest I camped in
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Old style fuel dispenser in a remote village near Cole’s Corner
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Stopping at a lake in a state park nearby to enjoy the view
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On highway 2, just before Stevens Pass- Despite the good layer of snow by the side of the road, it’s really warm that day.

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Stevens Pass, 4061 feet.
After the high pass another welcome 8 miles downhill send me into a valley again, and the landscape changes a lot. I pass waterfalls, streams and huge cascading rivers along the road, until I make it to Index, a beautiful little town. There is a marked free camp in Index- a great place by the river where you can camp… for up to 14 days apparently. I would not leave tent or belongings unattended there though. I also discovered there is quite a bit of bouldering and also some trad and sport climbing nearby. I had made other plans and the weather was changing rapidly so I kept going. A threatening sky and some chill in the atmosphere escorted me to Everett, with the occasional light shower.

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Free camp by the river in Index
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Pretty Index
After Index I encounter a few interesting little towns and villages, with funny names and quaint scenes. Time for a lot of pictures.

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A tree nursery/ski rental place.
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A colorful boating/fishing shop
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I had a great stay with a couple, Warmshowers hosts in Everett, who helped me with a puncture and made sure I was ready to set out to Seattle on the interurban trail the next day. Unfortunately I got caught in the rain and the interurban trail, interrupted by roadworks ( a recurrent theme) meandered into busy roads. I ended up getting lost, but made it to Jessica, my Warmshowers host in Seattle. While I was a bit disappointed by my first short visit of Seattle, where I saw a lot of industrial areas, cycling through North Seattle and especially on Montlake bridge was a completely different experience. I had actually met Jessica at Smith Rocks, and she had noticed me carrying my bicycle to lock it by the climbing area. She told me she was a Warmshowers host in Seattle, and after I knew I was going back to Seattle on my way to Canada I contacted her. We talked about touring as women and about our upcoming adventures- Jessica completed a cross-country ride accross Canada last summer with a friend and it was very interesting to hear about her experience. I also enjoyed a rest day where I saw the Seattle Art Museum and hanged around Pike Market- a very animated place. It was interesting to learn that Seattle has several city bikes rental systems- but instead of getting them from docking stations like in London or Paris, all of them are located and booked through an app and people let them wherever they finish their ride.

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Limebikes in Seattle by Pike market
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Pike market
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Seattle Art Museum
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Native art at the museum

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Jessica, my Warmshowers host in Seattle, ready for a commute!

From Seattle, after stopping at the Cascade Design repair shop (yes, again!) and working out a long-term solution for my hastily-patched outer tent I took the ferry to Bainbridge, on the Olympic Peninsula.

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Bye Bye Seattle
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Cycling to Port Townsend
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Arriving at the hike and bike campground in Port Townsend
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After a long day I made it to Port Townsend for the night, from where I cycled to Port Angeles, mainly following the Olympic discovery trail from there, a beautiful bicycle path.

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A mule deer by the side of the road…
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Following the bicycle path out of Port Townsend
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A flying bug curious about the passing cyclist…
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Olympic discovery trail through the woods
Port Angeles was my ultimate destination in Washington State. I was then taking the ferry over to Vancouver Island, before taking another ferry to mainland BC where I was stopping for some time. I was still wondering how everything would turn out- finding accomodation there for the time I had planned to stay was proving difficult.

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Views of Port Angeles
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Beach kitty…
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I regretted not having time to hike or cycle to Hurricane ridge in Port Angeles- a famous viewpoint on the Olympic mountains. Cycling to planned mini-adventures on my route was definitely motivating but the tight schedule I had created for myself made me want to relax and take my time more for my time in Canada- my route plan and agenda there is much looser.

I also wish I had taken more pictures of my hosts ! If you have hosted me and/or helped during this part of my trip I am very thankful you did- I certainly would not have had the same insight into Oregon and Washington and the same experience otherwise- I voluntarily shortened up our encounters to keep this blog a manageable size, but know I keep dearly all the memories and what I’ve learnt through you with me.

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My bicycle on the passenger deck of the ferry to Victoria

Some tips if you are adventuring through Oregon and Washington:

  • July and August seem to be the best months to be able to experience all that the area has to offer- That said, I was pretty lucky with all my various experiences while I was there in April. If you are touring early/late, connect with Warmshowers hosts to check the road or trail you are planning to take is open/in good condition/not icy at the top.
  • http://www.oregonbikepacking.com/ and http://www.bikepacking.com are good resources for MTB/gravel/bikepacking trails in the area. you can also google “scenic bikeways Oregon” as the state advertises its best cycling routes.
  • There is plenty of rock-climbing areas in both states, smaller or bigger, including around Index and Leavenworth.
  • You can take your bicycle on most Amtrak routes with some limitations but will have to reserve in advance and taking the train can get quite expensive. Greyhound buses take bicycles as well but you will need to have it packed in a box and check/reserve beforehand.
  • Grocery Outlet is a supermarket chain present in most cities in those 2 states, who has good deals on various things, from fruits and avocados to Clif bars packs.
  • Goodwills are usually good to get cheap warmer clothes- limited choice if you wear XS women clothes though. https://nextadventure.net/ is a gear shop in Portland who has a good-sized basement where you can deals on second-hand gear. Some outdoor stores downtown also have bargain or sales sections where you can find branded outdoor clothes cheaper.

 

 

 

 

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