6th February 2017

Cycling the Trans America Trail with Martin: Part 1

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Martin is a Bicycle Co-op fan and intrepid cyclist who cycled over 4,200 miles from the west coast of America to the east using the Trans America Trail and his trusty bicycle named ‘Lewis & Clark’. He shares the first part of his 70-day journey here.

Introduction

The plan is to cycle across America mainly using the Trans America trail from West to East, around 4200 miles, camping where and when possible and taking shelter elsewhere in dodgy weather.

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Inspired by a lovely American woman I met after completing the Camino De Santiago who said it was the best adventure she’d done in a long life of adventures.

My aim is to get to know America and Americans and have some fun along the way.

The blog title and writings are inspired by Steinbeck’s classic ‘Travels with Charley’ and as I don’t have a dog to tag along I’ve named my bike ‘Lewis & Clark’, a couple of earlier explorers of America!

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Day 1 (20 May 2016)

Above the Clouds

Edinburgh, Scotland – Portland, Oregon, USA

4Thanks to Scot for getting me to the airport for 4am! Nice flight, lots of food and films, even cried all over again at Brooklyn!

First impression as I landed in Portland was lots of green, trees and water but flatter than Scotland…good for cycling! While putting my bike together at the airports bike workshop it started pouring …just like Scotland!

Portland looks cool and trendy, lots of cyclists and trendy brew houses but the car is still king. If that’s the case in the cycling capital of America what lies ahead?

I was hoping to pick up a few maps in Powells, the biggest book shop in the world (including a map to find your way around the shop) but they only had one that I need so I may get lost soonish…watch this space!

Witnessed a lot of the American friendliness already, a couple of cyclists asking what I was up to and a guy advising on the best brew house to visit when I looked lost, Rougue, it was ok but they still sell cold beer, it’s not lager! Hopefully I’ll find my way out of the city tomorrow and start doing some proper pedalling!

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Day 2

The land cycles dream about

Portland – Fan Creek
Metro Train to Hillsboro
Cycled 50 miles
Portland Hostel 2 (5=Awesome, 1=Awful)

A great days cycling in perfect conditions but 50 miles with a 2000 feet climb up to McGuire Reservoir was a bit ambitious on my first day of cycling! The first half through rolling farmland and vineyards (no Crawf I didn’t pick up a 12 pack for you). The second half a 13 mile climb through woodland followed by a free wheel down to my campsite by the river at Fan Creek. No one else here apart from the warden who kindly said he doesn’t charge cyclists. No electricity just a loo and fresh water. A campfire would have been nice but all the wood is very wet.

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It was an early start at the hostel but trying to get out of Portland was a hassle, the Met train line was being worked on and no one knew where the stops were. After asking a number of homeless people (the only people up at 7am in Portland) I was saved by an angel who told me to follow her and she put me on the right path. Maybe she’ll appear again when I need her.

During my trip I’m going to try and ask real American people what they think about their country at present. I presume because of the current high profile of the election, Trump and politics will be the main issue but I’ll see how it goes.

The first victim was a nice guy called Zach who did the night shift at the Portland Northwest Hostel I was staying in. He came across as a very articulate and informed young guy who believed that democracy was dying in America as people don’t really have a choice as both the democrats and the republicans represent corporate business who fund them so all policies are geared to benefit them.

Interestingly he did think there was some hope for America as people were now becoming more aware of the situation and there seemed to be a mood for change. Zach had been along to see Bernie Sanders in Portland (along with 35000 others) and thought he had some good ideas on social and environmental change. Bernie won in Oregon.

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Day 3

At the Pacific

Fan Creek – Neskowin Cycled 42 Miles
Fan Creek State Campsite 4

A cold and wet night at Fan Creek but no bear attacks while I was in the wild woods. I was all prepared with my whistle, French knife and a sturdy stick but no animal disturbed me. Just as well the bears weren’t around as I’d left my pepper spray in my bike pannier and couldn’t be arsed to get out the tent in the rain.

8Another early rise, a quick face wash in the river, packed up the damp tent and I was off to Beaver for what I’d imagined would be a twin peaks diner with dam fine coffee and pancakes with maple syrup. In reality I found that Beaver was a 2 shop town, one selling petrol and the other a general store with Firearms! I had to make do with a microwaved packaged omelette and some not so fine coffee. The woman was friendly enough and will be my ‘state of the states’ chat tomorrow.

I did see a couple of deer as I left the campground and then a herd crossing the road a bit further on. The road was traffic free following the river and pretty much downhill all the way to the coast.

Today’s state of the states chat was with a woman called Cherrie who looks after the Cherry stall in Beaver. She was the first person I’ve met who had no smile or pleasantries about her. She’s a single mother who’s moved back to the area to live with her parents and said she had  concerns about the American economy but despite her sign ‘lets get back to American values’ didn’t have any views on the current political situation, she wasn’t for chatting. Maybe Zach was a one off.

I was planning to cycle a bit further to Lincoln City but was attracted to the beach at Neskowin and then the heated pool and jacuzzi at the RV site who let me pitch for $22, bit steep but nice. As I headed down to the beach I met Nancy who has a house on the beach and plans to start AirBnB ing it soon for cyclists. She was kind enough to take my obligatory ‘back wheel in the Pacific’ shot …hopefully followed by front wheel in the Atlantic.

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Got a takeaway pizza for dinner and sat down at the beach watching the sun go down. The pizza came from a great place called the Beach Club run by Mike who’s really into his wines and tried to tempt me into his bistro with a bottle of American Tempranillo Grenache at $25….he didn’t seem offended when I went for the takeaway pizza, bottle of IPA and $2 mini bottle of Chardonnay!

Back at camp I got chatting over a campfire to a couple of young surfers from Portland. They had similar views to Zach’s so maybe the young Americans are the saviours of the nation…or just young Portlanders…more research required I think.10

Day 4

Disaster at South Beach

Neskewin – South Beach Cycled 47 miles Neskewin RV Park 3

A wet start to the day but by the time I found a coffee stop the rain stopped and the sun came out. Met some nice people along the way including Emily from Lincoln shitty (local name) and Omaley who liked living out of Lincoln with nothing to do.

Then an old guy called John in Depoe who ran an antique outlet and found a foot pump for my tyres, he also gave me his brothers details in Eugene and told me to contact him when I got there. I then ran into Kaley at Cape Foulweather (twinned with Edinburgh!), a keen cyclist who was enthusiastic about doing the Trans Am.

I had great pics of these people but no more. I had planned to cycle onto Beachside campground as advised by Kaley but it was windy and wet again so I went into South Beach campground instead. It seemed OK and after setting up and having dinner on the beach I went to the toilets to brush my teeth and charge my phone while I was there. I got back to my tent and realised I’d left my phone, went back and it was gone!

Felt physically sick as I realised the nightmare if it had been stolen, all my trip plans and details were on it as well as all the usual contact and personal stuff. I immediately went to the volunteer warden who by then was off duty and just told me to try and find someone with a phone to ring my number and walk round the large park to see if I could hear the phone ringing, thanks! There was a fellow camper with a tandem (on his own!) who rang my number but I realised I actually had my giffgaff sim in and didn’t know the number….disaster. I went to bed but didn’t sleep much!

Day 5

Moving On

South Beach – Carl G Washburne Cycled 50 miles
South Beach Campsite 1

Was up very early but no warden was around until 8 when they confirmed that my phone hadn’t been handed in and allowed me to phone the police. One warden did say the phone had been handed in but then came back and said that had been a different phone and iPad found in the ladies, great!11

I went off to the police station in Newport to log the case but the policeman just took my details and said if they found it they’d let me know. He did say that there were homeless people living in the woods by the campsite and they use the site facilities, his guess was that they took the phone and would pawn it somewhere non local, but without any evidence he wouldn’t be able to do anything. I went to the local pawnshop myself but they hadn’t received anything, whether they’d tell me anyway?

I’d also put a reward notice up in the toilets $50 no questions asked. I then cycled to Walmart (by this time there was the biggest downpour going on) and bought a new phone. By the time I got back to the campsite I was soaked through but determined to move on, away from my nightmare.

I headed off around 2ish for what was the best cycle yet, down the coast with little traffic and with the wind behind me and the sun shining. I met a nice green cycle shop guy who gave me a foot pump for my tyres (it makes a huge difference if they’re pumped up to the max) and recommended the Carl G Washburne campground to stop. It was a nice site but despite being by the coast road was actually in the middle of woodland.

I’d seen a couple of other tourers for the first time, a guy going from Vancouver to San Diego and an American touring the coast, neither were that chatty, maybe too knackered! Thanks to Susan and Roberto for sorting out some phone stuff for me. A better nights sleep!

Day 6

Down to the Creek

12Carl G Washburne – Whittaker Creek Cycled 48 Miles
Carl G Washburne Campsite 3

Off early again at 7ish and a nice cycle in the sun, was happy to head to a recommended campsite at Whittaker Creek but when I got there the site was closed. The warden suggested wild camping about half a mile down river where there was a gravel site. I got there and found Denny and his dog Sydney staying next to the river in a camper van. I asked if it was OK to camp beside him in the woods next to the river and he welcomed me with a fresh cup of coffee.

Denny and his dog have been travelling round the Oregon area in the van for 7 years, moving on every week or so, living off benefits and handouts. He told me all about his interesting life and how he had fallen on hard times, separation, unemployment, alcohol, family bereavements. He helped me with my fire, made me more coffee and it was good to have my faith in human nature partially restored. He had a coffee ready for me when I got up at 530 and wished me well on my travels. I left $20 for him as a contribution for flea tablets for his dog but wished I had been in a position to help more. He wasn’t too healthy and feared he didn’t have much longer due to the hard life he lived.

As well as missing pics from my phone my state of the states has fallen by the wayside but as a catch up, Janie from the grocery & firearms store was my first Trump supporter, “because he knows about finance and will bring money into America”. I’m not sure about Denny but he was brought up with guns and hunting and had a few choice words about Hilary’s plans to improve gun laws.

Day 7

Luxury in the big city

Whittaker creek – Eugene Cycled 37 miles
Whittaker Creek Wild Camping 3

Although it was another early start I stopped down the road a bit at Walton to charge my dead phone and have some breakfast. I was 2 hours too early for breakfast but they opened up, let me charge my phone and made me a great breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast and fried potatoes, carb loading.

The cafe was the only place in Walton and provided all meals and acted as a music venue, amazing album covers around the walls including the Bay City Rollers, although he didn’t seem too impressed when I told him I lived round the corner from them! A fairly short cycle into Eugene and I booked into the Travellers Inn, recommended by Adventure Cycling. Time to dry out, destress and prepare for the mountains ahead. Went to a great cycle shop called Collins, they didn’t have the map I needed but phoned round a number of other shops until they found one. They also recommended the great Falling Sky brewhouse for more carb loading! Heading out to the hills and back to wilderness for a few days so unlikely to be in contact for a bit. Hopefully all my troubles are behind me.

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Day 8

Finally on the Trans Am

Eugene – McKenzie Bridge Cycled 61 miles
Eugene Travellers Inn 3

A late rise at 6, got gear together, breakfast at MacDonald’s (big breakfast and as much coffee for $5) for an 800 carb load! By the time I’d visited a couple of bike shops I didn’t leave Eugene until after 12. One of the bike owners told me about 2 great river bike paths that would get me through Eugene and Springfield with no traffic.

14I met Lauren who’s travelling from San Francisco to Portland. He’s on an old BMW foldable bike that you use to get free in the back of a
BMW! We had a good state of the states chat about the homeless issues in both Portland and Eugene, it really is like a zombie apocalypse,
all these people shuffling about and meeting up in certain areas. Lauren had chatted to a number of them and wasn’t as apprehensive as I am. This is maybe just my phone issue although I do feel intimidated by the increasing number of young homeless in Edinburgh who come
across as quite aggressive. In the ‘olden days’ I use to give money to the old tramps round Edinburgh but I don’t to with these young people.

There’s definitely an increasing number of people outwith normal society that we should surely be doing something to help. It makes me appreciate the upbringing and society I was brought up in and wonder if its all just a result of the increase in globalisation and greed from those who have the finances to control everything for their own gain?

After clearing Springfield (no Homer sightings) I had a great cycle along the McKenzie river, a visit to the Organic Rednecks farm where I bought some carrots and honey sticks to alleviate my MacDonald’s guilt. Further down the road I found a nice campsite by the river, ready for tomorrow’s climb up McKenzie pass!

Day 9

Bloody Nora

McKenzie Bridge – Sisters Cycled 46 miles
McKenzie Bridge RV Camp 4

A very tough cycle from 1000 feet to 5324 feet!15

The day started well meeting a cool guy called Lonnie, the only other person up at 6, he’s at one with nature and builds things, including the campsite I stayed in last night, he was missing the crows that usually come to meet him for breakfast in the morning and told me about the winds in the area and the climb I had ahead.

I seen my first Blue Jay then headed back to Takodas for breakfast, a great twin peakish diner that was only missing a Norma, dam fine coffee. I pottered around delaying the inevitable climb but at 10ish had to get on with it.

Probably the hardest cycle I’ve done, never ending elevation for 20 miles, with that weight on the back. I used the whole road (closed to cars ATM) veering to the short cuts and lower elevations, I stopped for drink and jellybeans but I was still struggling doing 5-6 mph going
nowhere fast. Then 2 great guys pulled up beside me, John and Bob, told me I was doing well and cycled with me for a few miles.
John is a college lecturer who used to race but now is still as fit as a fiddle and does this route regularly in under 1 hour, respect. We had a bit of a state of the states chat and they were as concerned as I, they liked my zombie apocalypse take!

After my pick up from John and Bob I reached the top with lava craters, snow and great views of majestic mountains. From the top it was a 25mph freewheel for 13 miles down to picturesque Sisters, a lovely campsite and a cool brew house close by!

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Day 10

Panning for Gold

Sisters – Ochoco Lake Cycled 46 miles
Sisters City Campground 4

Apparently I’m now heading through original gold mining towns like Prineville, John Day and onto Baker City. I didn’t really want to leave Sisters but feel I need to keep moving, I really need to stop and smell the pines a bit more but its difficult with the bike and I’m still apprehensive about leaving anything unattended. There was a nice short walk to some waterfalls this morning but, I decided not to leave the bike in the car park and rode on, hopefully this will change.17

It was quite a flat and generally uninteresting cycle today with the highlight a chat with a lovely older couple who were collecting for Monday’s memorial day outside the supermarket in Prineville. Bob will be leading the parade on Monday with the band of brothers; they were a really nice content couple who had moved here from LA for a quieter and safer life.

I loaded up with crisps and wine for dinner at my campsite 7 miles down the road at Ochoco Lake. It was a nice site, reminded me of Cashel at Loch Lomond and was busy with weekend holidaymakers. The site was full but the manager allowed me into the empty hiker/biker area for free, they like cyclists here! I managed to light a fire without Denny’s help and had my carton of cab sav with my chilli crisps, watching the fishing boats come and go while the sun came down.

I’ll need to write about the campsites in America sometime, a great variety.

I haven’t really mentioned Lewis & Clark much who’s been great, a good companion and so dependable, I rewarded him with a bit of TLC today, a clean, adjusted gears, pumped up tyres and a scoosh of oil, he doesn’t ask for much! He’s a great advert for the Edinburgh Bike Coop and all the bike shop guys are impressed.

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