Monday, 6 August 2012


On 1 August I cycled the last 50 km from St Helens into Portland, bringing my grand total to 6,681 km. I stayed three nights at the excellent Northwest Portland Guesthouse, where I used a hose at the side of the main building to wash soil and plant material from my bike, something I had to do to satisfy Australian Quarantine requirements. The next day I took the bike to the downtown branch of the Bike Gallery, where I had booked it in to be packaged for my flight home. Josh and Simon did a thoroughly professional job.

David and Klarice
Jan, a friend in Canberra, had put me in touch with her cousin Klarice, who lives in Portland with husband David. They looked after me marvellously well during my stay. Their many kindnesses included storing the boxed bike in their garage until my departure and driving me and all my baggage to the airport. I purchased a duffel bag at REI to hold my tent and three of my panniers The fourth pannier I used as my carry-on bag for the flight. 

At Portland airport, where I checked in at Alaska Airlines, my boxed bike was found to weigh 52 lbs (23.5 kg), a little over the 50 lb limit and a kg more than on the outward journey. I was, however, not asked to pay extra. After check-in, I took the bike to the oversize baggage area for loading. Given the damage caused on the outward flight, I was horrified to be told the box would be opened for physical inspection. I was permitted but not required to be present while this was done. The TSA agent removed much of the packing material in order to probe the depths of the box at several places with an explosives-detecting wand. Afterwards she put everything back in and taped up the box. The bike was in good condition when I reassembled it in Canberra. 

Canberra airport, 6 Aug 2012
To date, I have raised over $1,900 for Operation Smile through donations made via my blog to one or other of the two linked sites. That is enough to provide free surgery to six children whose clefts would otherwise remain untreated. I have been notified that the Australian donation site will be taken down 45 days after the end of my ride, so there is still time to contribute. [On expiry of the 45 days, the total raised was $2,205 (lumping Australian and US dollar amounts together), enough to treat seven children and equivalent to 33 cents per km cycled.]

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Summing up

TransAm Trail start point, 10 May 2012

I have accomplished what I set out to do and cycled across America coast to coast unsupported. I rode from Yorktown, VA to Astoria, OR as planned and a bit further at both ends. I began by cycling from Newport News to Yorktown. I finished by riding on from Astoria to Seaside. Total distance cycled between the extreme points of Newport News and Seaside was 6,484 km. Total time between these places was 82 days, including nine rest days when I did no cycling. Subtract one day and 52 km to get the figures for the Yorktown to Astoria section; or add two days and 197 km for the complete trip including the return ride to Portland still to be completed.

Chester, Illinois
As it turned out, I had ample time within the 90 day visa window and could have stayed on the TransAmerica Trail all the way without taking the shortcut on the Lewis & Clark Trail at the end. Indeed in the last two weeks I took unnecessary rest days and rode frustratingly short stages to fill the time remaining. While I regret missing the Oregon part of the TransAm Trail, I am glad I experienced the Columbia Gorge, which I would not have seen if I had stuck to the TransAm.

I was very lucky with the weather, which almost all the way was perfect. I had only a few days of headwinds and only a few of rain. I was never either too hot or too cold. The wind was important. There were times, notably in western Kansas, when I took advantage of favourable winds to ride double stages. If the winds had been blowing the other way, as they might have been, or if I had declined to exploit them, I would not have gone so far so quickly and would have had longer distances to ride in the final weeks.

I had no illness or injury throughout the ride except for a saddle sore in the first week that responded quickly to treatment and a shortage of energy on the first day of the second week probably caused by not eating enough. I found the ride physically less arduous than I expected. The training I did in Australia turned out to be adequate, which before I started I was not sure it would be. Mentally the ride was also less demanding than I expected. I maintained a positive frame of mind throughout and never experienced a psychological low point. I got so much into the swing of the ride that if the USA were twice as wide and my visa valid for twice as long I could happily have kept going for another twelve weeks.

Although I still have 50 km to go before Portland, I think I can say that my bicycle has been wonderfully reliable. I have had one puncture in each tyre and did not use the spare tyre I carried with me. I did not need the spare brake pads either. The only maintenance I conducted was to pump up the tyres every few weeks when I came across a floor pump. I checked the brakes and the firmness of the tyres every morning and occasionally checked the tightness of the bolts. I lost the rubber foot from my kickstand and was able to replace it a couple of weeks later. A metal contact broke off inside my rear light when I was changing batteries and it is probably broken permanently. I had a spare rear light with me. My GPS receiver broke at the end of the first week and was not missed. The Rohloff hub is due for another oil change, which I will do when I get home.

I used my tent only three times, at Colter Bay and Grant villages in Wyoming and at Powell in Idaho. In all three places I could have stayed indoors if I had booked in advance, which I deliberately did not do. If I had stayed overnight at West Roosevelt, WA on the Lewis & Clark Trail I would have had to use my tent as there is no indoor accommodation on that stretch of road. I used my sleeping bag more often than my tent, in a variety of halls, hostels and other accommodation (Glendale VA, Hindman KY, Sebree KY, Farmington MO, Everton MO, Guffey CO, Jeffrey City WY) as well as in my tent.

I have been asked which part of the trip was the highlight for me. I find the question difficult to answer. I have been living so much in the moment. Each day has brought its own new wonders and challenges. I haven't had time to think back. Later I will read through my blog and perhaps that will enable me to see the trip as a whole and identify the best parts.

Undoubtedly, however, one of the main things I will take away from the trip is the memory of the many people I met, cyclists and non-cyclists, Americans and non-Americans. I experienced countless instances of friendliness, generosity, and helpfulness. I feel privileged to have met so many good people and thank them all sincerely. Motor vehicle drivers too were almost always courteous and gave me as much room as they could on the road. I appreciated their consideration for a slow and vulnerable cyclist.

I am very grateful to the many people who have supported my ride by making a donation to Operation Smile, the charity I have been raising funds for. I urge any reader who has not already done so to consider making a donation now, however small, through the links on this blog. The donation pages are not under my control and with the ride over they are likely to be taken down soon. Your contribution can make a lasting difference to a child's life and I hope you will help.

View 2012 USA route in a larger map

(Today I cycled 110 km from Astoria back to St Helens with a stop for second breakfast at Rainier. Average speed 19.4 km/h.)

Monday, 30 July 2012

Seaside, OR

Detail of Lewis & Clark statue, Seaside

Astoria was my goal but not quite my turnaround point. With a day in hand I set off this morning for one final half-stage south to Seaside, where the other ACA route I have been following, the Lewis & Clark Trail, has its official finish. Since I was returning to Astoria the same day, I left the bulk of my luggage behind. I expected this to make me jet-propelled but the bike didn't go any faster. It rolled along at its usual pace, worn out perhaps by its exertions over the weeks.

I came to the Lewis and Clark River, where I had to press a button to set some lights flashing. This alerted motorists coming behind me that there was a cyclist or pedestrian on the shoulderless bridge.

Fort Clatsop
Fort Clatsop was not yet open on my outward journey so I visited it on the way back to Astoria. It is a replica, built in 2006 on the original site, of the wooden stockade in which the Lewis & Clark expedition passed the winter of 1805-06. There is a visitor centre where I watched a 20 minute documentary film. A fully-loaded touring bike was parked outside but I didn't spot its owner.

Lewis & Clark Trail endpoint, 30 July 2012
After all the highway riding from Portland onwards, it was a pleasure to cycle on traffic-free roads today. Perhaps because of the quietness around me, I had more of a sense of an ending today. Coasting down the final 100 m hill and then riding along the beachfront promenade towards the Lewis & Clark statue I could see in the distance, I felt that the journey was complete.

Lewis and Clark look out at the ocean
Today's ride was 35 km each way. At the turnaround point in Seaside, my total distance from the start was 6,484 km.

View Week Twelve in a larger map

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Astoria, OR

Leaving Clatskanie, early morning

The sky was grey but my heart was light as I set off on the last leg to Astoria. After a warm-up flat section, the road climbed to Clatsop Crest (elevation 200 m) then descended in an up and down kind of way to Knappa where I ate my second breakfast.

Natalie and Dan, eastbound
Soon afterwards, I met Dan and Natalie, the first cyclists I have spoken to in more than a week. They are at the beginning of their trip, heading east on the Lewis & Clark Trail as far as Missoula, MT, where they will move across to the Northern Tier, leaving it in turn as they approach their destination in the New York area.

They were riding a cool Co-Motion Speedster tandem with a conventional chain and derailleur on the rear and a belt like mine transferring power from the front pedals to the drive. S&S couplings allow the frame to be split into three parts, packable into two cases.

TransAm Trail endpoint, 29 July 2012
The road continued to undulate. The Sunday morning traffic wasn't as bad as yesterday's and in time I came to Astoria. There is a column here somewhat similar to the one in Yorktown. It's at the top of a steep hill overlooking the town and the ACA have kindly not made it their finish point for the TransAm Trail, nominating instead the Columbia River Maritime Museum on the riverfront. I visited the museum later in the day and learned a lot from it.

Astoria Bridge, across the river mouth to Washington
This morning's ride was 58 km, bringing my total since the start to 6,447 km. I still have three days' cycling to do before I wrap up in Portland on Wednesday.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Clatskanie, OR

Industry in Washington

No drizzle this morning but a bit of a breeze early on, blowing off the ocean into my face. Either it moderated later or I got used to it and ceased to notice it. The entire 52 km into Clatskanie was on the shoulder of US 30, a busy, noisy road with little to recommend it except that the shoulder is reasonably good. There was a big hill after Rainier, about 150 m high according to the profile on the map. The descent into Clatskanie was 6% for 4 km.

Nature in Oregon
It looks as though there is one more hill of similar size before Astoria and several smaller ones. I should make it there tomorrow as planned. 

Friday, 27 July 2012

St Helens, OR

Bike path by the Columbia

A reason for my lingering in the gorge was that the region between Troutdale and the Pacific coast tends to be cool and cloudy with lots of rain. That's how it was today except that the rain was only drizzle and lasted only an hour or so towards the end of the stage.

PDX airport from the bike path
The first half of today's 76 km ride consisted in getting to the far side of Portland, the city I will fly out of when all is done. Portland is centred on the Willamette River not the Columbia, so I was able to skirt around its northern edge by sticking close to the Columbia, squeezing between it and the airport on a route that was sometimes bike path and sometimes shoulder. I worked my way across the city from one river to the other, on bike lanes most of the way, and crossed the Willamette by St John's Bridge.

At the far end of the bridge, I saw the first road sign for Astoria, my destination, and got on the shoulder of US 30, which will take me there. The flat road turned inland, out of sight of the Columbia, although parallel to it. I stopped for second breakfast at the first place I saw then cycled on in the drizzle on the good quality shoulder, my camera packed away.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Troutdale, OR

Bike path out of Cascade Locks

I'd been looking forward to today's 59 km ride because I knew it would be particularly beautiful, climbing up high and passing spectacular waterfalls. The route starts on a state trail (bike path), continues on the I-84, then goes for 40 km on the HCRH, which I wrote about three days ago. Work has begun on extending the bike path to eliminate the need to cycle on the I-84.

The state trail out of Cascade Locks ran for about 4 km until it reached a fish hatchery. Where to go from there? I explored every road and path around the complex junction except the correct one. At last I found a local person and he told me. Silly me had failed to notice that the freeway exit ramp with its large and prominent 'Do not enter' and 'Wrong way' signs carried a subsidiary sign saying 'except bike'. That was the way I had to go. It's obvious once you know.

It brought me to the infamous stairwell, where six flights of steps have to be climbed. There is a grooved ramp for bike wheels but pushing a fully-loaded touring bike up a 45 degree slope is beyond me. I removed the four panniers, carried them up the steps two at a time, then pushed the bike up and reloaded.

Multnomah Falls
As I rode along the I-84, I could see the first part of the bike path extension alongside. It is already usable for some way. Once on the HCRH, I wound my way slowly up the hill past one waterfall after another, each with its car park, viewing points, and walking trails. The highest is Multnomah Falls, with a drop of 189 m. It has a visitor centre, cafe, gift shop, and restrooms as well as the standard amenities.

Bike rack at Vista House
The road started to climb more seriously and took me into cloud. At Vista House, a 1913 rotunda near the summit celebrated for its views, there was no view at all.

The view from Vista House
The descent took me away from the Columbia. A new river, the Sandy, appeared on my left and I followed it to a crossing at the entrance to Troutdale. This is regarded as the endpoint of the gorge.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Cascade Locks, OR

I've added a stop at Cascade Locks to take up the day that I gained by riding a double stage into Clarkston last week. This puts me back on track to reach Astoria on Sunday. I'll have time to ride on to Seaside on Monday before turning back to Portland. Astoria is an official endpoint of the ACA TransAmerica Trail and Seaside of the ACA Lewis & Clark Trail.

This made for a very short day today, just 32 km of which half was on the interstate highway. Whitecaps were on the river from the start, something the windsurfers had watched for in vain yesterday. There was one hill, after I left the I-84. It was steep enough for me to drop down to gear 4.

Bridge of the Gods, Cascade Locks
The Pacific Crest Trail crosses the Columbia River at Cascade Locks. The trail's lowest elevation is on the bridge.

Total distance cycled this week, with its two rest days and three short days, is a paltry 339 km. That is, however, enough to bring my total for the whole trip so far over the six thousand km mark to 6,200 km.

View Week Eleven in a larger map

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Rest day in Hood River

Stand-up paddleboarders

Hood River (pop. 7,100) is sometimes described as the windsurfing capital of America, thanks to the winds that almost constantly sweep up the gorge. Kiteboarding, kayaking, mountain biking, skiing, and hiking are also key to its appeal as a tourist town. The area has some high-tech industries too and is known for its pear and apple orchards.

As usual, I enjoyed a thoroughly lazy rest day. Hood River being the sort of place it is, my breakfast eggs and coffee were organic. I browsed the bookshops, visited the bike shop, and strolled down twice to the waterfront to watch the windsurfing action. There was a competition due to start from the event site at 9:30am but hours later it had still not begun due to an uncharacteristic flat calm.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Hood River, OR

As I inch my way west, the gorge becomes less arid. Today saw the return of trees. Perhaps because of that, today's short and hilly ride (43 km) impressed me as stupendously beautiful. A local cyclist told me it was the best part of my entire trip.

The road now called the Historic Columbia River Highway (HCRH) was built in 1913-22 and ran for 120 km west from The Dalles to Troutdale. Cost and the needs of commerce were secondary to the desire to build a scenic boulevard as good as any in Europe. The road was routed so as to take in all the best views. Gradients were limited to a maximum of 5% and turns to a minimum radius of 100 feet. The road was superseded by, and partially destroyed in the construction of, the later interstate highway I-84. The authorities are now in the process of linking the parts that survive with 'state trails', their name for bike paths.

Today I cycled one of the road sections of the HCRH and one of the associated bike paths. I climbed 150 m to Rowena Crest on a road that folded back on itself to maintain the maximum 5% grade. It was a lovely traffic-free ride up through the forest, far from the highway noise and sheltered from the wind. At the top were wonderful views up and down the gorge. The snow-capped tips of Mt Hood (3,429 m) to the south and Mt Adams (3,743 m) to the north peeped over the intervening hills. Apricot and cherry orchards flanked the road.

After a descent to Mosier, I joined the state trail to Hood River. I missed the way at first and rode for a km up a ghastly, unsealed, washboarded road until I convinced myself I'd taken a wrong turning. The path was wide, having once been a road, and with an excellent surface. It climbed up high again, passing through a tunnel, before starting a great downhill into Hood River.

Mount Adams (3,743 m)
In the evening, I met retired Portland couple Ed and Karin, here to celebrate their anniversary, and enjoyed a good dinner with them.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Dalles, OR

Oregon Trail historical marker

Having cycled most of today's intended route yesterday, I allowed myself the luxury of an extra hour in bed this morning and waited for the motel's continental breakfast to open at 7am. As a result, I was on the road almost two hours later than I might have been, a delay that had to be paid for in extra pedalling effort.

The weather forecast was for the wind to strengthen by 5 km/h each hour of the day. When I set off it was already brisk. The first 13 km and the last 4 km were on the traffic-free US 30. The balance of the day's 33 km were on the interstate highway I-84. Sunday morning traffic was light and most vehicles moved over to the left lane as they passed me, perhaps afraid, as I was, that a sudden gust might blow me under their wheels. Sometimes a headland would shield me from the wind; then I would round a corner and be exposed to the full force of it. If I had stayed last night at West Roosevelt and attempted this stretch later in the day it would have been much harder. As it was, the short flat ride exhilarated without exhausting me.

Mount Hood (3,429 m)
The Dalles is spread out along a bend in the river, downstream of a major dam. The only thing I knew about it beforehand was that it is home to a Google data center. As I cycled through to my motel on the far side, everything was closed except for a stall in a car park, where I enjoyed a chat with the proprietor over a cup of hot chai and a muffin.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Biggs, OR

Bike path in Umatilla

I've spent the day in Washington state, cycled 138 km instead of the planned 82 km, and ended back in Oregon instead of camping in Washington.

Bike bridge across the Columbia at Umatilla
The weather forecast was for light and variable winds today with a return to the usual headwinds tomorrow. This suggested to me that I should go further today and less far tomorrow. I set off a few minutes after sunrise on a bike path that began close to my motel in Umatilla and took me through town and over the river bridge to Washington. The reason for preferring the Washington bank is that there is less traffic. On today's stretch in Oregon I would have had to ride the interstate highway.

There is a railway line next to the road on both sides of the river. On the Washington side the freight company is the prosaically named BNSF Railway, formerly the more evocative Burlington, Northern & Santa Fe. The land on both sides is essentially desert.

Columbia River
For the first 40 km the river was like a mirror. Not a ripple disturbed its perfectly flat surface. I made good time on the bike. Then the wind began to blow and the water started to get ruffled. My average speed dropped.

Michele and Steve, eastbound
The wind was still slowly strengthening when I met eastbound couple Michele and Steve from New Hampshire. They are cycling from Seaside, OR to Rye, NH and camped last night at West Roosevelt, WA. That was where I was due to stop if I stuck to my schedule.

The diner at West Roosevelt, WA
I reached West Roosevelt after 82 km just before 11am. The store there was the only open service place I passed today. It incorporates a diner where I enjoyed a large and nutritious meal full of protein and carbohydrates, ideal fuel for continued cycling. I drank a quart of Gatorade and bought another quart to carry with me.

Wind farm in Oregon
I had 56 km to go when I set off again after the half hour break. That would be slow and painful if I had to ride into a headwind. Happily, while I was having lunch the wind eased and didn't cause much problem. On the other hand the road now became much hillier and that had a similar slowing effect. My average speed over the day was 15.8 km/h.

A train in the dramatic setting of the gorge
After a final big climb, I turned off to cross the river back into Oregon. This time there was no separate bike way on the bridge and the shoulder was minimal. A sign warned of severe wind gusts. After a trouble-free passage I reached Biggs, which is a road junction and truck stop.