August 28, 2015

August 2015: Cycling the Washington Coast

     Last year's CA Coast ride taught us a few things. First, 100 miles per day, with major elevation gains, is too strenuous. 70 is a more reasonable distance. Additionally, our fitness is insufficient for such long days. We need to train for our touring. Lastly, our bikes are not well suited for heavy touring. A stronger steel-frame bike is better.

     Considering these points, we plan to ride 350 miles from the USA-Canada border to Astoria, Oregon, along the Washington Coast, in five days. We'll average 70, with a couple longer days, and one short one to finish.
     I've never been one to train for adventures. I simply let each adventure keep me in shape for the next. This year, it's different. I begin riding in January, starting at just 15 miles, mix in some 30 minute runs, and slowly work toward a riding fitness level I've never before reached. By May I'm riding 250 miles per month. In July, I push it further, and farther. I ride a 40 one week, then a 60, then a 40 in Tahoe (6000'+ elevation), then in early August, I add a 75 in the mountains, then 70 around Lake Tahoe.
     After 1300 miles on the bike, another 150 running, and stretching every day, I finally feel ready for a tour.
     Remembering the struggle of a beaten down bicycle, broken spokes and bad pumps, I update my gear. I start with a new touring bike, and add a few tools to the bag. It's a heavy set-up, but strong, stable, and sturdy.
     Let's ride!

Day 0: the night before.
    In contrast to me, Nate hasn't been training, and hasn't even repaired his bike from last year's breakdowns. We find his wheel is still bent and missing a spoke. It's too late to have it repaired, so we'll ride until we find a shop.

Day 1: Bellingham, WA, 7:00am.
    We load the car and then notice a flat tire. The irony can't deflate us.

     Blaine, 9:00am.
     We straddle the border before we head south.

     Bellingham, 11:30am.
     We find a bike shop to repair Nate's wheel while we treat ourselves to a celebratory lunch. If we're going to break down, might as well stop at the brewery for cold beer and hot food. Soon enough, it's time to ride.
     Mounting my camera on the bike, and using a remote trigger, I capture photos while we ride.

     Deception Pass, 5:00pm.
     We cross the Deception Pass bridge, and just outside the State Park, we find a market with beer and ice cream.

     At camp, we spread our food pile and eat a delicious freeze-dried dinner (just add boiling water!), supplemented by peanut butter and nutella, of course.

     Beer in bottle-cage, we ride the short distance to the beach where we catch up on the events of the past year, and enjoy a Pacific sunset.

Day 2: Deception Pass, 9am.
     With only 70 miles to ride, there's no need for a pre-dawn start. We hit the road at our leisure.

     Soon enough, however, we hear a sound we all now recognize: Crack-ping-ping-ping-ping... Without looking, I know Nate has lost another spoke. I pull over and wait for him to walk his bike to the grass.
     Using our new tools, we disassemble the wheel, replace the spoke, pump the tube and true the wheel. We're getting good at this.

   Checking the clock, we hustle the last few miles to Coupville, where a ferry will take us across the sound to Port Townsend. We're the last to load the ship, just in time, and we eat while we can: peanut butter bagels, jerky, dried fruit, trail mix. It all pairs perfectly when we're hungry.

     Port Townsend, 12:30pm.
     I tell Nate that we need to stop in a bike shop, get our tires to full pressure, buy more spokes, and see about perhaps replacing his rear wheel with a stronger one. We locate PT Cyclery, and owner Bob Chung acutely describes our situation. In regard to Nate's broken wheel, he says we're "using bandaids when we should be performing surgery."
     Lucky for us, Nate is now a surgeon. The unintentional joke is perfect. We laugh together, tell stories, share experiences, and somehow we convince Nate to buy a new wheel (against his wishes). Our mutual interests in cycling create an easy camaraderie, and after many stories, Nate's wheel is ready to roll.
     He doesn't seem too happy about the forced purchase, but I am smiling ear to ear.

     After 20 miles on the new wheel, we stop for snacks, and he's much happier.

     Dosewallips State Park, 5:30pm.
     Throughout the trip, Nate and I discuss future adventures. Mountaineering and cycling are tops on the recent list, and Mt. Rainier has our full attention. It's only fitting that we stop near camp to buy Rainier Beer, and chips. Definitely chips.

     We claim a beautiful site under the trees, split a few thousand calories of chips and beer by the river, and then eat a full dinner.

Day 3: Dosewallips, 9:00am.
     Typical of the northwest, the morning is foggy and damp. It's not raining, but the roads are slick, and cars kick a cold mist into our faces. We're still having fun, enjoying these easy miles along the Hood Canal.

     We stop in Hoodsport for first lunch, where a stranger gives us sandwiches. We eat bagels and peanut butter (again), fruit, avocado, jerky, a donut too!, and our mouths still water at the sight of deli sandwiches: chicken salad for Nate, and pastrami on rye for me.

     After lunch, we depart south again on Highway 101. It's the same road we've traveled in Oregon and California, but only now on day three does the traffic in WA start to resemble that of the previous rides. Trucks pass closely, cars whiz past, but the shoulder is still wide, so we don't worry.

    We veer onto back roads after an hour, to avoid traffic. It's bumpy, but empty. We stop for snacks in the shade, then push 20 miles into a headwind.

    Elma, 3:30pm.
    The visitor center is a welcome sight, or maybe a welcome site. The shaded picnic table is just what we need, because it's time to eat again.

    Lake Sylvia State Park, 5:30pm.
    Our schedule is easier this year. We finish riding in time to buy chips and beer, enjoy them among the trees, then prepare another full dinner, and get to bed before 10.

Day 4: Lake Sylvia, 9:00am.
     It's cold when we leave the lake, but it warms when we see the sunshine in Aberdeen. Snack time is only mildly diminished by the smell of .... um, let's just say the old concrete structures make a nice place to...uh, ... well, I'm grateful to have toilet access on these bike tours. It's apparent that not everybody has access.

     Bay City, 11:00am.
     I've never eaten oysters. I like clams, calamari, and other seafood, but the prospect of sucking the slime out of a shell, raw, just isn't my preference. Nate disagrees, and we stop at a shack to buy a half-dozen shots of cold goop.

     He insists they're great.

     I'm skeptical, but I'll try it. I vow to eat two.

    What a mouthful. It's cold, salty, but with hot sauce, and damn, it's a huge mouthful. Wow.
    Nate tells me it's two oysters per shot, and they're large, so slow down and eat 'em one at a time.

    I finish my 4 (two cups of two, I guess), and leave the remaining 8 to Nate.

    I imagine an ice cream bar would taste better.

    Yes, much better. We need to find ice cream, soon.

     Tokeland, 2:00pm.
     We stop in the shade for another snack, since we haven't eaten in at least an hour, and find a patch of blackberries. We forage for a while, then continue on our way.

     Raymond, 3:00om.
    We stop for water, and finally find ice cream bars to satisfy my craving.

     Bush Pioneer County Park, 6:00pm.
     We arrive at camp, shower, and celebrate our last night of the tour by going out on the town. We always eat out the last night, and tonight's choice is easy. There's only one restaurant in Bay Center: the Dock of the Bay.
     We say we're looking for fish 'n' chips and beer. The bartender replies, "we have all three of those."

     There's still a bit of light, so we rig the slack line. Nate is chipper, energetic and coordinated.

     After 85 miles, a huge dinner, and a couple beers, my slack line skills are lacking.

     We meet another group of cyclists, heading down the coast to the Bay. The three are touring for a few weeks before school starts. They're young and fit, and with a tandem bike, they ride fast.

Day 5: Bush Pioneer, 8:00am.
     We depart before the tandem, but they catch us within an hour. They're beyond fast. They haul ass. They fly past us, and we drop into their slipstream. We chase for a half hour, before pulling off for a snack. We're ahead of schedule, riding down wind, and if we stayed on their tail, we'd be to Oregon 3 hours before our support vehicle arrives.
    We take the last 20 miles at an easy pace, stopping for early lunch and to enjoy the scenery of the Columbia River. We see the Astoria bridge stretching in the distance. It's over 4 miles across, and it marks the last miles of our 2015 trip.

    The bridge is the crux, with no shoulder, a steep hill, heavy traffic, strong winds, and distracting views, but we pass the Entering Oregon sign and descend to town, where we park the bikes and remove our cleats one last time.

    We celebrate our success at another brewery, with more beer, more fish, and more chips.

     Our 70 mile pace was just right. We were tired each day, with sore bums and stiff legs, but we weren't as completely drained as last year.
     My fitness level made the riding easier too. I still had mild knee pain on the steep ascents, but nothing like the Big Sur hills in 2014. It was a hard ride, but my legs have recovered in only a couple days. Last year, it took quite a while before I wanted to even look at my bicycle.
     After replacing Nate's wheel on Day 2, we had no further mechanical problems. It's amazing what proper equipment can do. There was a bit of noise in my crank, and a rather annoying squeak in Nate's drive train. It reminded me of a flock of parakeets, trapped inside a beach ball: a high pitched sing-song of confused and upset birds. Next year, I'll bring some chain lube, as Nate probably won't fix it before the next tour.

Route Maps
Day 1: 70 miles, 5:18, 13.3 mph average, 3500' elevation gain.
Day 2: 70 miles, 5:01, 14.0 ave, 4500' gain.
Day 3: 78 miles, 5:59, 13.0 ave, 4600' gain.
Day 4: 86 miles, 6:13, 13.8 ave, 3600' gain.
Day 5: 44 miles, 2:56, 14.9 ave, 2300' gain.
Total: 348 miles, 25:25, 13.7 ave, 18,500' gain.