Day 1, May 9; Vancouver BC – Birch Bay WA; 50 miles

Okay, maybe we should’ve trained. Today felt a lot longer than 50 miles (technically it was… keep reading) and was deceptively more hilly than the “no need for elevation maps” the ACA would lead you to believe.

We started early, 6:30 am to beat rush hour traffic. We had to ride 2 miles to the official start in the rain, which wasn’t nearly as cold as I was anticipating. The rain subsided and we had a smooth and easy ride through a really ritzy neighborhood with beautiful houses. Definitely some major wealth in that part of the city. Unfortunately, that’s where the smooth ended. Trying to find the pedestrian path to cross the Alex Fraser Bridge was a complete nightmare. The signs in Canada are less than helpful, especially when they point you in the wrong direction and leave you to wander a highly trafficked industry area for over an hour, tacking on useless mileage. Needless to say, I am not a fan of this Alex Fraser character.

Regardless, we made our way across and were greeted with Hill after hill. But, on a gloomy day, we found a Ray of sunshine. We set up to eat lunch in front of a strangers house, when that stranger pulled in not 2 minutes later. He came out to greet us and we had a little chat. He offered us to use his “washroom”, Canadians are too proper for bathrooms apparently, and wished us luck on our journey. Ray certainly showed why Canadians are considered such friendly people. He wasn’t the only person to offer a helping hand in a time of need. In search of a bathroom after many rejections, we stumbled into a supplement store with a really super friendly dog. We chatted a little with the owner who offered us a pre-workout drink to fuel our journey. Having to tackle a seemingly never ending hill, the drink is what got us over the hump.

As we approached the USA border, we stopped at a bistro cause I grossly underestimated how much food I need and I was ready to devour whatever I could find. To celebrate leaving Canada, we ordered the country’s signature dish – poutine. I can’t attest for how it tasted, cause I wolfed it down so fast, but I know it hit the spot!

Crossing the border was quite the experience. Wanting to celebrate our entry to the Motherlnd, we attempted to take pictures. Not realizing it was frowned upon, we were descended upon by a border patrol agent (live action picture below) and herded into the border patrol office. The guy who checked our passports was very friendly and wrote the offending officers a snarky note and took pictures of us in front of the border plaque.

The adrenaline of knowing we only had 10 miles left paired with the food we got at the border fueled a quick ride to the campground. So quickly, in fact, that we were literally going faster than a freight train. And eventually had to wait 15 minutes for it to pass so we could cross the street.

A few of the roads we rode on were relatively scary… no shoulder, heavily trafficked. However, the motorists were all relatively respectful and passed with plenty of room.

We’re staying at a state park in Birch Bay, and it’s extremely gorgeous. Due to the threat of rain and being the only ones in the campground, we decided to camp under a pavilion. It was perfect! We had dinner and set everything up. But wait, Not so fast! Here comes ranger Rick saying we couldn’t camp there and told us to move. Here it is, 9 at night, pitch dark, all of our stuff set up, and we had to move it. Not only up a huge steep hill, but now in the rain. Rules are rules and we did it without complaining, but man would it be nice to not have to break down a wet camp in the morning. Oh well.

But alas, the saga doesn’t end there! After moving everything, we went to get showers. We realized in despair that it was quarter showers, and we were quarter less. Sink showers it is!

All in all, surely not the greatest of days. But it can only go up from here on out!

The final countdown! May 8, 2018

Tomorrow we begin our journey from border to border and I am beyond excited. But also, I can’t lie, I’m a little nervous. I honestly haven’t ridden more than 20 miles since that fateful day 2 years ago when we ended our Transam journey. But, riding a bike is like… riding a bike. If you did it once, it’s a skill you never forget, right? Eh I guess we’ll find out soon enough!

So far everything has been going extremely smoothly. I wrapped up work and had all last week free to prepare for what I have in store for this summer as well as spend some quality time with Addie. Since I already have all the gear I need for biking, I focused mainly on preparing the the JMT. But alas Sunday came very quickly and I soon found myself on a flight to Denver. After landing, I met up with my cousin Julie and her boyfriend Adam. They showed me around the city and we visited a few cool spots, including the most massive REI I have ever seen (granted, I’ve only ever seen one other one). It was awesome catching up with them and exploring the city. I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t get a picture with them, I’ll blame it on the altitude sickness. Sheena made her joyful appearance later at night and it was great to see her after over a year of being apart.

We flew into Seattle extremely early in the morning which was fine cause both of us were miraculously able to sleep on the plane. After picking up our bags, we decided to use the Light Rail system to get to the bike shop since an Uber was ridiculously expensive at rush hour. But what we saved in money we spent in effort. Sheena was smart and packed all her gear in a roller luggage bag. Me, being the genius I am, packed a huge duffel bag. Coming in at a whopping 42.5 lbs, carrying it the 1/2 mile to the train station was a struggle. And apparently it was an obvious one because a kind soul driving an airport taxi stopped and let us hop aboard for a lift to the station. After the train ride we had another 1/2 mile walk to the bike shop. That, too, was a bear. Even more so. Seattle is a pretty hilly city, so walking with an awkward duffel bag with pot and pan handles poking you with every step of the way was pretty brutal. And here I was last blog post saying that hiking the JMT with a 40 lb bag wouldn’t be a huge deal…. maybe I should reconsider that brazen statement. But regardless, with frequent rest breaks we managed the harrowing journey and were reunited with our bikes at Velo Bike Shop.

Should you ever find yourself in Seattle with any bike needs, get your butt over to Velo Bike Shop. Even prior to arriving, they were very good at communicating with us when our bikes arrived and when they were assembled. But once we got there the manager Lloyd let us literally dump every piece of gear we had (including clothing) in the middle of the shop and organize our panniers. They offered us helpful advice for sights to see and ways to travel around the city, and even let us keep our bikes and gear in the shop while we explored the city on foot. Talk about amazing customer service! Cannot speak highly enough about everyone who works there.

Luckily for us the bike shop is in the middle of all the action in Seattle. We were able to visit the space needle, Pikes Place Market (we missed the fish throwing unfortunately), and the ever popular (and highly disgusting) gum wall. Along the way we strolled along the water and saw beautiful snow capped mountains. Both Denver and Seattle didn’t feel like major cities, at least so far as what I’m used to. There were no police sirens screaming, no ambulances wailing, and no car horns honking! Maybe it has to do with west coast mentality or the legalization of a certain something that was definitely wafting through the air, but it was so much more quiet and “chill” than what I’m used to.

After returning to Velo to pick up our bikes, we geared them up and did our first fully loaded ride of the trip! After a somewhat rocky start (with much laughing and ‘oh my god we should’ve actually trained for this’ moments) we made our way 1.3 miles of pure downhill bliss to the Amtrak station to catch the train into Vancouver. Seattle is an extremely bike friendly city and we had no fear of getting hit by a car or pedestrian.

The train was the first hiccup of the trip, and a very minor one it was. It broke down 45 min into the ride, but with some help of the engineer, it was up and running in no time. Plus where we got stuck, we had a gorgeous view of the sunset over the water.

But alas, that was not the end of our Amtrak woes. With only 15 min left in our trip, we came to a complete stop. The conductor came on the PA and announced that a freight train was stuck going up a hill and needed an additional engine to give it that extra push. This discouraged me not only because it was already midnight and we were stuck for an undetermined amount of time, but also because there was a hill so big even a train couldn’t make it, and we were headed the same direction only a couple of days later (great!) But after about an hour (I think, I fell asleep) we pulled into the station. We grabbed our bikes, went through customs and it was official, we made it to Canada and the start of the PCHT!

Being as late as it was, we were unsure whether to take the train or ride to the hostel that was only 1 mile away. Since it was warmer outside than in the train (it was freezing in the car) we decided to ride on over. Plus at 1:30am, do we really have to worry about traffic?? After a beautiful ride in the city, we arrived and checked into the Cambie Hostel in Vancouver, BC. We have to haul all our stuff up 2 floors (past a very noisy cat), but we have our own private room in which to store our bikes and gear. After all, on the ride over to the hostel, a motorist told us that Vancouver is the “bike stealing capital of the world”, so we better be careful.

Vancouver is much more like the cities I’m used to. Honking is abundant and everyone is in a hurry, pushing and shoving their way to wherever is so important that they’re going. Today we mainly did shopping for food and checked out a little of the city. We’re both super tired from having a 21 hour travel day yesterday, so we’re taking it pretty easy.

Public transportation in the pacific north west is extremely easy to use and navigate. We’ve taken light rails and trains just about everywhere so as to avoid biking in the city.

Right now we’re sitting at the Mexican restaurant under the hostel anxiously waiting to devour some tacos to celebrate taco Tuesday. We’re planning on going to bed early for a super early departure before rush hour hits. It’s looking like rain on our first day, very similar to the start of the Transam. So I’m taking that as a good sign! Can’t wait to get back on the bike and let the adventure begin!

Sheena’s Corner:

Common theme when I travel to other countries: “What part of Mexico are you from?”

There’s a cat at the hostel named Ding Dong, so now I have two Ding Dongs! *editor’s note: Sheena’s nickname for her boyfriend is Ding Dong*

2 Weeks!

I cannot believe it! Wow, how time flies when you’re genuinely and truly excited to embark on a new journey.  In just over 2 weeks, Sheena and I will be starting our tour down the Pacific Coast.  As the previous blog post highlighted, we will be starting the trip in Vancouver, BC and will be hugging the coast all the way down to San Diego, CA.  Starting on the whole other side of the country — scratch that — in a whole entirely different country has definitely presented some issues with planning the logistics of getting the bikes and ourselves to the starting line in one piece.

Well actually, the bikes will not arrive in one piece… GASP!  Ol’ Bessie (my beloved and loyal Surly Long Haul Disk Trucker) is presently being disassembled to be boxed so she can easily be shipped to a bike shop in Seattle, WA.  Seattle? I can hear the doubt rising in your brains now, but, yes. Seattle.  Apparently, if you ship your bike to another country, you are liable to be charged with brokerage, duties, and other completely asinine custom fees weeks later.  These can cost up to $200 and are entirely dependent on the customs agent who receives and processes the bike.  If that particular agent has a thing against bikes with purple handlebars (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?), I will be on the receiving end of a hefty bill that I’ll be forced to pay.  Not privy to gambling OR bills from government agencies, I was not willing to take that chance.  So it was either shipping the bikes to Seattle, or checking the bikes on the plane.  After much debate and running the numbers, shipping the bikes to Seattle ended up being the economically best choice. Also, schlepping an awkward and heavy bike box around a crowded airport was not my idea of a fun old time.

tires

Here is the manual labor I put in myself to get the bike ready: changing the tires. After going over 5,000 miles on the same pair of tires with ONLY ONE FLAT TIRE (Guinness World record, anyone?), I decided it might not be wise to test my luck any further. I bought the same brand of tire and after what felt like an eternity (okay it was only an hour) of wrestling and sharing some unkind words with Bessie, I managed to successfully get those puppies on.  Mind you, I have had practically zero practice changing tires “in a field setting”, so I’m gonna go ahead and give myself a pat on the back for not breaking anything on the bike OR myself.  The engineering gene skipped me and I do not have a mechanically inclined brain… just ask my father.

So anyways, here’s the break down of our plans:

April 16th: After getting a thorough and pricey tune up at REI (she literally needed every moving piece replaced… I apparently have an abusive relationship with my bike) I dropped off ol’ Bessie at what I hope to be the capable hands of Danzeisen & Quigley.  These folks are going to break her down and box it.  On April 23rd, Bike Flights will pick up the bike and ship it to Seattle by April 27th, giving the shop there plentyyyy of quality time with Lil Bess to fix her up like new.

May 6th: I leave Philadelphia and arrive at Denver, where I will meet Sheena later that night.  Any Denver friends want to show me around the city for a few hours??  Sheena and I will be staying in a hotel right next to the airport because….

May 7th: EXTREMELY early flight from Denver to Seattle.  From there, we will be reunited with our fully assembled and fitted bikes at Velo Bike Shop. Depending on time, maybe we’ll stop for a second to see the world famous Space Needle.  After getting a taste of the Seattle culture, we are catching a 7pm train (bikes will be checked in with cargo) to Vancouver BC, arriving at 11pm.

May 8-9th: We both wanted to spend some time in Vancouver to explore.  Sheena found a really cool hostel for us to stay while we journey abroad.  A few of my patients have spent time in the city and gave me recommendations of places to see.  Will definitely have to check out a few of those sights (Buchart Gardens is at the top of the list).

May 10th: Ah, the date that will soon live in infamy! Alas, the day we will start our journey down the Pacific coast.  We will be back in America this very day, so much for an exotic experience.

map

After starting, we’re going to wing a lot of the planning.  Sheena got a great book highlighting the beautiful parts of the trail and places of interest to stop and see.  We will likely plan 2-3 days in advance to keep us on a relatively strict 5 week schedule because we both have to be back by mid June.  We plan on camping the majority of the time out there.  However, there are lots of hostels (or so I’m told) we can stay at to get a little more of the culture of the area.  There is also an app called Warm Showers in which people along the route offer a room or couch for you to stay in their house.  Sheena and I used it once in Portland in 2016 and it ended up being a really positive experience.  Along the way we’ll keep our eyes on the lookout for ones that don’t look toooo shady.

Another piece of the puzzle I had to figure out was how I was going to break news to work that I will be needing the entire summer off to pursue both this trip and the John Muir Trail.  I had a very eloquent letter of resignation ready to go, signed and everything.  It would be crazy for me to expect my boss and company to grant me the time off I required, so I was fully prepared to quit.  I met with my boss and explained to him the situation… boy did I catch him off guard!  Apparently threatening to whip out my letter of resignation letter (in the least threatening of ways) was a great bartering strategy.  After speaking with the HR department, I was granted a leave of absence until the fall when I am ready to come back.  My last day is April 27th, giving me just over a week to tie any loose ends I may encounter. Talk about lucky!  I couldn’t be more grateful to have such a considerate boss as well as work for such an understanding company 🙂 I also have extremely supportive patients and patient families that are cheering me on back home!

Gear

Finally, here’s a picture of the gear I’m planning to take! Really, nothing fancy.  I don’t know what weather to expect in the PNW (okay, yes I do.  Cold and rainy.  But I’m ignoring that for now… ignorance is bliss right?) so I’m packing a lot of warm clothes. Cold is my worst enemy. Anything I don’t need I’ll ship back home.  We’re going to be doing a lot of our own cooking (always mindful of the all mighty dollar), so Sheena is getting a camp stove, most likely the same one we used on the TransAm.  We can restock on fuel at any Walmart in the area, sure to be tons.  So mostly camp stuff, clothes, bike gear that I don’t know how to use so hopefully I’ll never have to use it, and food that we’ll pick up in Vancouver.  Although Addie is stealing the spotlight in the picture, she sadly will be staying behind back home.  My heart breaks when I think about it, but it’ll make the return home all the more perfect.  And where is the star of the show, Old Bessie? Well as I mentioned, she is in a million little pieces in a dark box somewhere.  Poor girl.

So there it is! Fingers crossed the next two weeks goes smoothly and we all (bikes included) arrive safely in Vancouver in one piece!

 

We’re Back!

bike

Since riding across the United States the first time didn’t traumatize us enough, we’ve decided we’re gonna do it again! Only this time we’re going vertically down the pacific coast.  I had been itching to get back on the bike and do another trip (even contemplated a solo trip – much to the dismay of my parents, I’m sure), so when Sheena texted me about maybe doing the pacific coast highway bike route this summer, I jumped on the opportunity!  Sure I would love to! I’ll just throw responsibility to the wind for one last hurrah!

Sheena and I are in the midst of planning this 2,500 mile bike journey from Vancouver, BC to San Diego CA.  We are following the Adventure Cycling Association maps for this route.  Much shorter and flatter than the TransAm, we are planning the entire trip to take a mere 5 weeks from May through June.  Offering beautiful coastal scenes of the pacific ocean and even riding amongst the giant redwoods in Oregon, I cannot wait to get on ol’ Bessie and explore! Considering I’m also hiking the John Muir Trail in July, this will certainly be a great way to train for that!

PacificHighwayBike.jpg

Check back soon for getting ready, including logistics and gear list!

(Don’t worry, we’re ending the trip in San Diego, NOT Tijuana.  Although… I could be convinced to keep going…)