It has been 335 days since I took a ride in a personal motorized vehicle.
Yes, it’s true, and in another 30 days I will have hit the one year mark.
I’m sure there are a lot of other people out there who have gone for just as long or longer still, and I would love to hear their stories!
Here’s how my year has gone so far…..
December 13th, 2015; Four months pregnant, ran a couple errands with my dad’s truck before he headed north to Canada.
The rest of the winter was spent walking with the girls in the stroller, or riding my bike with them. Once spring hit, we did a lot more cycling, going farther and spending more time outside around the neighbourhood. We started clowning around a lot too, becoming a regular at one of Olive and Dingo’s weekly Story Times.
My dad flew through a couple times, but he has started taking transit from the airport. When my mom and little sister came up for end of my pregnancy to help out, us girls took the bus and train out to meet them. See? No cars needed.
Trista’s birth went perfectly well, and three weeks later we were back on the bike for short rides. Our first one was Peddalpalooza’s Monster Ride, which just happened to start three blocks from our house.
Through the summer I did have a hard time trying to get the girls out to have fun, but not overly exert myself, which is kind of hard to do when hauling 200 lbs of bike, kids and gear. But we did it!
Last month Seth took the Blondies (Marin and Elita) out to Maine to visit his relatives. During that time, I had multiple vehicle offers, both to borrow a spare, and hitch rides to far off places. But with only two months left to hit my one year goal, I painfully had to decline. Oh the places I could have gone with a vehicle in those two weeks!
Now there is only one month left.
For the most part these last 11 months have been easy. I started from a lifestyle that made it so. We do not own a vehicle, so there is never one easily at my disposal. For most people, a year car free would be a huge challenge. For some it would be logistically impossible. For me, I was already four months in before I decided to stretch it to a year. I guess with that said, it really isn’t that much of an accomplishment. Oh well, I’m still glad to be able to say I did it!
Now the question is, how shall I end the year? Shall it be with a car ride? Or just throw myself a little party and see how much longer life takes me without a vehicle?
Ideas? Suggestions? Comments? Anybody in a peanut gallery?
Where do I start? The awesomeness of the scenery? Difficulty of hauling a couple hundred pounds up a mountain pass on loose gravel? The thrill of seeing our little girls play happy and content with anything they find on the forest floor? Or the difficulty of the logistics of getting us and our gear to where we needed to be?
I guess the story of our trip should start at the beginning. How do you get 2 children, 3 adults, 2 cargo bikes, 1 mountain bike and 1 trailer moved 167 miles to the start of a trail? Well, momma and kids take the bus to the train station and catch the big train to Tacoma, WA, while daddy and aunty get a rental truck to move the bikes and gear. They drive it to the station that mom and kiddos get off at, unload gear, drop off truck, start cycling.
We followed the Cedar River trail south, camping between a river and the highway the first night. I was surprised at the number of late night/early morning bike commuters that used the trail we were camped beside. Nobody seemed to pay us any mind though, which was quite nice after a long stressful first day.
Day 2 found us riding to the end of the paved section of trail and slogging along with big smiles on our faces over well packed gravel, stopping only when we got to locked gates in a park. What the heck? Where did the trail go? We spotted a fellow working at one of the park buildings and went over to ask him about the trail, and he very nicely gave us the low down on the situation we had unwittingly gotten ourselves into.
The Rail to Trail that we were following (Cedar River), was the continuation of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail that was our ultimate goal for our vacation. Our problem, was that the trail went straight through 90,638 acres of watershed, used by the City of Seattle, and the whole space was closed to the public after September, 2001, and very few trail maps of the area have been updated since that time. We would have to go around the watershed.
Danaka’s bike was lightest when unloaded, so I rode it to the closest town (Maple Valley) and rented a moving truck to get us around this big glitch in our trip. The only other option was to cycle with the little girls along 20 miles of highway with virtually no shoulder, and it was halfway through the afternoon already, so with our slow pace, we would have to find a place to camp right beside the highway. Didn’t like that idea.
With the truck we were able to get all of us around the watershed and up to North Bend, where we checked out the town a little bit and ended up crashing for the night in the back of the truck in a corner of a grocery store parking lot. It was a ten foot box truck, and remember it had all our big bicycle gear already in it! So Seth’s and my bikes got tied in place along each side, over the wheel wells, Danaka’s got suspended in mid air at the back of the box, and all the panniers were stuffed into any crevasse we could find. It left just enough room for Seth, the little girls and I to sleep shoulder to shoulder across the back wall with our feet funnelled toward the front where Danaka slept at an angle in front of the door, which we pulled down part way but tied so it could neither be opened from the outside, nor closed and us get locked in!
The nice part about camping beside a grocery store, was that we were able to get nice hot food for dinner, and fresh fruit for breakfast!
Okay, so we finally found the trail we wanted, just outside town, where we unloaded everything, and then I had to drive back into town with Danaka’s bike to do the whole “dropping off the truck” business, and find a bike shop to tighten one of the cranks on the bike. I was directed to SingleTrack Cycles and received wonderful friendly service, advice and local knowledge of the trails. They were a breath of fresh air after a rather stressful night of moving truck shenanigans.
We got rolling finally around noon and went pretty much without stop all on an up hill grade until we reached Rattlesnake Lake, where Marin and I went down and played in the mud and tree stumps for quite some time. It was just too much fun to stop!
But we had to keep rolling, so we did, and found a camp spot with an amazing view! Oh yes, and we got to watch some rock climbers too. And a person gliding past in a motorized para-glider!
With awesome views and only intermittent rumbles from the highway further down in the valley, we finally worked our way up to the top of the mountain pass, topping out half way through the Snoqualmie tunnel, which is 2.3 miles of hard packed gravel and dirt, with long, shallow, narrow ruts from bicycles grinding through the sporadic puddle caused by water dripping (or full fledged trickling) down from the ceiling. Of course in over 2 miles of tunnel, you need lights, even though the path is straight and you can see slivers of light from each end. But once you’re in the middle and turn OFF the lights, you can’t see diddily-squat. It’s been a long time since any of us were in darkness of that kind. We did try the “hand in front of our faces”, but to no avail. Only when looking at the light from one of the entrances could you then see, not your hand, but rather the absence of that light when you passed your hand between yourself and the entrance. There was no outline of things or anything! After a while of riding, I would think I was halfway through, only to look back and see the entrance was still large and I was far from halfway. Around mid point the tunnel became almost disconcerting. I couldn’t imagine going through by foot and taking 100 times longer!
Once we passed through and filled up our water at the parking lot, the trail turned sloppy real fast. Our tires sunk down in the loose gravel and I think all of us fish tailed a couple times before we made it to the camping sites on the south end of Keechelus Lake. Marin really liked the lake, as the shores were steep and a mix of rocks and sand. We spent a long time sitting on a tall outcrop, throwing rocks over the edge, listening for the splash.
That night we seriously discussed goals, miles, energy and expectations. It felt like we had been going for over a week, instead of having just finished our fourth day on the trail. We decided to cut the trip short, keep the camp set up the next morning and just do a quick day trip, then head home.
With only bare necessities and enough gear to get us un-comfortably but safely through the night if we got stranded somewhere, we headed out the next morning down the loose trail, with hardly any weight and a downhill grade. Eventually things levelled out and we passed through fields and farmland, swamps and over clear creeks. Our turnaround point was the “BBQ place” in South Cle Elum we had heard rants and raves about from multiple people. I guess there must be two places, because the one we went to had me wishing for Clay’s Smokehouse back in Portland after only three bites. Seth too. Not saying it was bad, it just didn’t come close to anything we were expecting.
Our ride back to camp was long. We were getting tired, and Danaka was having that mental struggle that anybody who has set out on a multi day physical challenge has experienced. Thinking you can’t make it, you’re too tired, your knee hurts like hell, but knowing that you have to make it cause you have no choice, and you still don’t have the energy to keep pushing through. “I can’t do it”. It’s a hard spot to be in. Fortunately Seth and I have both been there multiple times before. Once I figured out what was sort of happening, we were able to make some changes, pull together and get us all safely back to camp in time for a late dinner.
Next morning, we all felt a little sad that the trip was coming to an end and we were heading home, but there certainly was a lot of excitement and giddiness as well!
Heading back toward North Bend, we made great time. I mean, heading downhill with heavy bikes is a heck of a lot easier than trying to fight gravity with those same bikes going uphill. What took us two days for us to go from North Bend to Lake Keechelus, we accomplished in reverse in less than one full day. We had time when we got into North Bend, to find the library and use their computers to figure out what bus routes the girls and I would need to take to get us back to Seattle so we could catch the train home to Portland the next day. Once that was figured out, our next task was to find a place to pitch our tents for the night. We headed north out of town and found a pretty good stealth site completely out of view from the trail. It was a little stressful, trying to keep the little girls quiet as we made dinner and set up the tents with the light fading and them just wanting to play, but we did it! There were no surprises in the morning. No cows wandering through, or rangers knocking on our poles. Yippy!!!
Breaking stealth camps can be kind of awkward, as my family usually wakes up hungry right away, but you gotta get everything broken down as fast as you can and out of there so there is no evidence of what you just did. That’s where I found easy to grab snack foods come in handy. Namely, dehydrated banana muffins. The girls loved them and it gave all of us something to settle our bellies as least temporarily.
Back in town, we eventually found our bus stop. Scrounged up a few baked goods from a local café, and said our goodbyes as the bus arrived. It was back to the girls and I taking public transportation home and Seth getting yet another rental truck. Here’s where we made our last big blunder. Instead of calling the rental places first thing to make sure they had something available before we got on the bus, it wasn’t until after the girls and I were already on our way before Seth found out that he would have to catch the same bus to a neighbouring town to get the only available truck. Two hours later he was on the same route that we had just taken (bus only ran every 2 hours). At this point we were just rolling our eyes and shaking our heads, dreaming of simply being home.
There’s not a whole lot to tell about the rest of the trip. The girls and I received an escort from a very nice person through the confusion of Seattle’s transit centre and construction. The girls had a grand time chasing each other through the wide open spaces of the train station, making people simultaneously smile at them and jump out of their way. On the train home I finally had a chance to look in a mirror and figure out what had been making my head itch like crazy for the last three days. Lice. Oh boy! When I found those little critters, all I could think of was the nit comb stashed in our cupboard. That, and try really really hard NOT to scratch! Literally, as soon as we got home, I kicked my shoes off and went straight to the bathroom to comb my hair without saying hi to anyone. Seth, by the way, got the truck and they (Seth and Danaka) had a safe drive home, beating us by half an hour. Just enough time to unload everything from the back and come meet us a couple blocks away for the final drag of the trip.
Next day, Seth dropped off the truck and came home with “our” beloved dog Lorax to keep the girls entertained for the day while we unpacked and cleaned our gear. Danaka helped out a ton too, with reading a kazillion books to Marin and keeping an eye on Elita.
Whew! It’s been almost as epic trying to get this all typed out, as it was to do the trip!
If I left out any important stuff or simply left you wondering about something (besides the reason I hadn’t gotten this posted sooner), please leave a comment and I will rectify things.
There’s this amazing book called “Monsters Under Bridges” by Rachel Roellke Coddington, about some of the resident monsters here in the Pacific Northwest. Our favourite monster from the book is Louis, who lives on the St. Johns Bridge in northern Portland and likes to travel a lot, just like one of our awesome neighbours.
Portland is an amazing place to live, because we also have the Fremont Flixies on…. you guessed it! the Fremont Bridge!
Just a little while ago, on one of the amazingly nice days that we get sporadically here between douses of rain, we as a family went on a trip to see if we could find Louis and the Flixies. Of course, we went by bike. All the way from here in the inner SE, up to and across the St. John’s Bridge, then down the west side to cross back over on the Hawthorne, making stops along the way to play, eat, read the map, smell the roses, look at the view and discuss what our odds were to actually be able to spot the monsters. Marin was pretty sure that we would find the monsters’ homes (the bridges) and that we would find the monsters themselves.
The St. John’s Bridge felt very BIG, going across on bicycles. I think it is the second largest I’ve ridden across. Surprised we forgot to take any pictures.
We didn’t see Louis, so he must have been visiting friends. Probably Ronoh, who lives in the water under the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge in Vancouver, BC. Louis does love to travel!
Having had no luck finding Louis, we continued to Portland’s down town area for dinner, then passed a ton of bridges and underpasses, looking for the Fremont Flixies and any other monsters that might have come visiting the bridges of Portland that day. Alas, we had no luck.
After a long day of cycling, we headed home, crossing on the Hawthorne Bridge, with eyes pealed for any sign of monsters. On our ride up SE Stark St, Marin kept telling me that we didn’t find the monsters, so we needed to go back to the bridge, to see the monster’s home and find the monster. With sweat dripping down my neck, and fire burning in my thighs, I had to tell her that finding the monsters would have to wait for another trip, at which time we might be more fortunate in finding them.
As I’m sure you have read in the previous two posts here, Seth’s Surly fat tire was stolen, then found and returned to us by a couple park rangers that Seth had showed a picture of his bike to! The news version of the story is here.
Having it stolen was a learning curve for us in a number of different ways. There are different things you can do to try and find your bike after it is stolen. For us, pounding the pavement, asking if people had seen it, worked out best. For other people, posting your lost bicycle on different sites and forums works best. We did both.
Last year around Thanksgiving, Seth was out for an early morning neighborhood walk with the dog and found a bicycle abandoned at the skate park. The brakes were so loose they were practically undone, the handle bars were twisted around and the tires were flat. It was most certainly and definitely an abandoned “free for the taking” bike. So Seth dragged it home and wrote down the serial number, then did a search on all the local and semi-local stolen bike sites. According to his search (and I searched for it myself as well) the bicycle was not stolen, simply abandoned. So Seth fixed it up and got it in nice working condition, then used it as his commuter bike for work.
Once our Fat Tire was stolen and we posted on Bike Portland and Stolen Bike Registry, Seth thought again of his commuter bike and started doing a search for it once more. This time, using a different search technique, he found the bike, and yes it had been stolen as we had first suspected.
Contact was made with the original owners, and delivery back into their hands was made within the week. They of course were absolutely thrilled to get it back, as it had been stolen months before Seth had found it and they had given up hope on ever getting it back.
It was a good week that found our stolen bike getting returned to us and our being able to return a bike that we had found back to it’s owner!
Then, just last Sunday, while Seth and I were at the gym rock climbing together, our bicycle lights were stolen. They were nice lights, and we probably would have been pretty pissed if it were not for the fact that our bicycles were still locked up and waiting for us to ride them. It put things in perspective for us, and though we shook our heads, we laughed and smacked ourselves in the forehead, saying “why did we leave our lights on our bikes?”
When the Portland Police take a stolen bike report, they don’t give you much optimism as to ever expecting to find it again. That’s just the way it is. Bikes are a big thing in Portland, and just as it is the choice of transportation for many commuters, so is it the premium choice for the homeless community who neither have space under their chosen bridge to park a car, nor do they have the money to put any gas into it.
While Seth was out riding around on Thursday asking people if they had seen a bike with bad-ass tires, one fellow of a shifty character explained it to Seth in a simple way that made a lot of sense. “If you live in a city, you never actually own your bike. You just get to use it for a while before it’s someone else’s turn.”
After talking with and showing a picture of the bicycle to a Parks and Recreation ranger, Seth felt that for his own safety it was time to head. The threats were starting to get forceful and there is no reason to risk your well-being for any type of bike. He continued on home while the ranger got picked up by his partner in a pickup and they headed through the downtown area of Portland. Shortly after crossing the bridge, the ranger spotted a bicycle matching the description and pulled over to ask a few questions of the shifty looking rider. The fellow got off the bike right away, leaned it against a wall and took a step away. It was his brother’s bike he said as he took another step away. With further questioning he just turned on his heel and walked from the scene.
The funny thing? He was caught with the bike barely 200 feet from where it was stolen!
The rangers confiscated the bike and contacted Seth. Over the phone they asked him to describe the bike, specifically the reflective (Seth puts reflective tape in strange places on all his bikes). He passed the quiz with flying colours and was able to quickly cinch proving he was the owner byproducing a key and unlocking the u-lock that was still securing the seat to the frame.
Then the real questions started! Why are the tires so big? What is the purpose of such a fat tired bike? Where do you get them? etc.
The rangers even got a group picture taken of themselves with Seth and his bad-ass fat tire Surly Pugsley bike.
Seth was quite the happy camper that day, but it wasn’t over yet. He had ridden his cargo bike to pick up the fat tire on his was in to work, but they were too big and bulky to fit through the narrow staff door, so he had to pull it in through the front doors and move everything one at a time through the store to the back for safe keeping. The morning staff got the whole story at that point, then at the end of the day the evening staff got the story as well as he pulled everything back out of the staff room and back to the front where he strapped the frame and tires of the Surly into the cargo bay of his load pusher. Customers thought it was pretty awesome too, and one asked if he could take a picture of the “Fat Tire in a Cargo Bike” and send it to Bike Snob in NYC. Seth refused, saying it was enough of a day to have gotten his beloved bicycle back after having it stolen, and putting it in his cargo bike was the only way he was able to manage picking it up and getting to and from work all at the same time.He didn’t want to deal with the Bike Snob using it as ammunition against Portland on top of everything else! Fair enough.
This week has had some ups and down. Seth’s Surly Pugsley Fat Tire bike was stolen on Monday from in front of his work at Mountain Hardwear in downtown Portland.
As you can see from these pictures, the bike has insanely HUGE tires on it! Bigger than most people have ever seen on a bicycle. In fact, the Surly frame had to be built special for the big tires.
There is a reward for getting the bike back. So far what is known, is that a guy and girl who are known drug addicts were seen dragging it (the wheels were locked to the frame) looking to sell it cheap. Any further information is appreciated.
Today is Seth’s regularly scheduled day to go help out his friend Tom building cargo bikes. Usually I drive him there and enjoy some conversation with the two men, learning what I can about the bikes they build, then drive home for the day and then pick Seth up in the evening. But today has not turned out to be your typical day.
It is snowing here in Portland and by the wonderfully slow moving traffic on the roads, everybody is heading home and it’s just after lunch! Honestly I wish I could have stayed home all day after dropping Seth off, but schools got out early today due to the weather, so after a short break at home I headed back out into the weather to pick up my niece. Truly the roads are not very friendly right now compared to yesterday! The snow had gone from drifting across the pavement, to sticking and getting packed down hard. The van was having trouble starting up from stops, but thankfully braked perfectly every time.
One thing I am exceptionally grateful for, is the caution that other road users were employing. It’s the scariest thing to be driving through less than prime conditions and see other drivers going along as though it were the middle of summer! But today there was none of that. Caution was the name of the game and for that I thank all the drivers here in Portland!
As for Seth over at Tom’s bike building garage, we already agreed that he would take transit. Safest, keeps one more vehicle off the roads.