8 – 26 May 2014
My first leg from San Francisco to Seattle ended up being 2 weeks and 1,600k (1,000 miles) – a nice an uneventful trip except for numerous problems with my bicycle, c.f. the Equipment section below. Blue sky and burning sun the first week and overcast/rain the second though almost always with a strong headwind. Beautiful landscape along the rugged, hilly coastline and forests when the road took me inland. As expected everybody were really friendly.
Instead of commenting everything on the trip in timely order I have decided to write some relevant topics – the pictures shown are more in line with the trip timeline.
After a pleasant visit to Europe visiting family and friends it was time to begin this Summer's bicycle trip from California up to Alaska. I got a cheap flight from Copenhagen to Los Angeles from where I took a night bus to San Jose where my bicycle had been stored for the Winter with the parents (Kathi and Terry) of my good friend Mark. I arrived fairly battered early morning and spent the whole day getting the bicycle ready, re-organising my stuff and stocking up for the trip. In the process I found my small bag with toiletries (clipper, etc.) that I thought had been stolen in Cartagena, Colombia – a big apology to everybody in the dorm/hostel and very happy that I (now again) haven't had anything stolen in all my travels.
Brief description of actual itinerary
Last year I rode from San Francisco to San Jose and it wasn't very interesting so I planned on taking the train to San Francisco and start there; however Terry was kind to drive me to Golden Gate Bridge from where I started. After about 16k (10 miles) I went onto highway 1 following it for 400k (250 miles) before turning onto highway 101 that I followed 630 miles (1,000k) all the way to Montesano in Washington. The ride was equally divided along the coast and inland mostly through forests and only occasionally through farmland – very beautiful and occasionally quite spectacular. During the latter part of 101 I got some recommendations for detours but it didn't make sense with the low visibility in the often overcast/rainy weather. I had considered going around Mount Olympia but the weather and a brken rear wheel problems made me go straight to Seattle - from Montesano I rode back roads the last 160k (100 miles) to Bainbridge Island just outside from Seattle. Altogether 1,600k (1,000 miles) in two weeks – not too impressive but acceptable considering the many hills and headwind as well as being completely out-of-shape and heavy because of the weight I had gained on purpose the last 2 months before departure.
My initial plan had been to start bicycling mid April to reach Alaska Mid June but my visit to Europe delayed my departure until 10 May. Leaving San Francisco it was beautiful weather with about 80F (26C) and few clouds – but the fierce wind made it feel much cooler. Needless to say it was headwind as the wind almost always comes from the north in the Summer. The sunny weather continued all the first week and as I only wore a cap the first days my neck got a decent sunburn; the following days I wrapped an old t-shirt around my head which eliminated the problem. I appreciated the sunny days more as I came north and the day temperature dropped to around 60F (15C). Great for bicycling as long as I moved but the cold wind quickly became chilly when I took a break. When I reached southern Oregon after a week the weather changed and got a bit worse for everyday that passed – first some night/morning rain but later overcast and all-day rain...
Experiences and road quality
Having done no serious bicycling for 8 months prior to the start, it was tough riding with the many hills and the headwind. I had expected the coast to be all built up because of the proximity to San Francisco but after only 32k (20 miles) it was a beautiful rugged and fairly desolate coastline interrupted only by small fishing villages and a few bigger towns; not least because most of the coast is public lands. I rode along the beautiful coast for 3 days on highway 1 before turning inland to catch highway 101 - occasionally nice but mostly just a big road. I did a 50k (32 miles) very pleasant detour on Avenue of the Giants; new asphalt, flat(tish), quiet, limited wind and few tourists. Fairly big redwoods but not as big and impressive as the redwoods I experienced south of Yosemite last Summer. After a long, big and busy stretch 101 became smaller around Redwood National Park in Northern California where I saw many more redwoods but still not as impressive as last year. I continued along the coast through most of Oregon providing spectacular views particularly when the road took me over some big hills. Washington mostly comprised big forests and X-mas tree plantations.
In general the road quality was fairly decent except for a few stretches on 1/101 and many of the back roads through Washington; I guess it's the advantage of biking on bigger roads. On the wider road sections there was most often a shoulder but on the many narrow, winding sections there were no shoulders and sometimes cars - and especially huge logging trucks - came very close.
People and sleeping
After last Summer's experience l was not surprised that everybody was really nice to me though the large number of bicyclists riding south on the West coast (never north because of the wind) reduced the immediate interest somewhat until people heard I was going to Alaska. Close to San Francisco it was approx. 20-25 bicyclists per day dropping to approx. 3-5 per day further north; in strong contrast to only meeting 5-10 long distance bicyclists during my whole trip last Summer.
Except for a few nights I stayed with people; mostly camping in the backyard but a number of times I was invited in for a shower, laundry and dinner/breakfast. People on the west coast perceive themselves as very friendly and accommodating and still I often had to ask twice (once even 3 times) before somebody let me stay; by comparison I had to ask twice no more than 5 times during the whole of last Summer's US trip. Except when I was invited in for dinner I went to bed when it became dark (9-9.30pm) and most mornings I slept late (8-8.30am) and left between 9.30-11am - partly because it was cold/raining early morning and partly because it's easier to ask for a place to stay late afternoon/early evening and this early on the trip I didn't feel like bicycling more than 6-7 hours per day.
Wildlife was not as abundant as expected. I saw deer, raccoon, seals, sea lions, whales and a few snakes as well as many birds including herons, vultures, falcons and bald eagles. At night I sometimes heard coyotes and owls.
To avoid mice and other rodents destroying my tent and bags looking for food, I always hang it in a tree at night. At this time of year I assumed all bears would be high up in the mountains but a few places people had recently encountered – or found droppings from - bears; in these cases I used my rope to put the food high up between two trees. However, animals was allegedly not the biggest danger along the way – in northern California everybody told me to stay on the coast because the marijuana growers are very protective of their illicit crops.
Food and health
From previous trips I know how important it is to be overweight when starting to bicycle because I burn so many calories every day that it is impossible to keep up the calorie intake. And from experience I know my performance is much better burning body fat than having to “survive” every day on “fast calories” e.g. chocolate and soft drinks, so I gained 15 kilos (35 pounds) the last two months before starting this trip. For eating breakfast and lunch were usually bread with ham or cheese and dinner a bowl of pasta/soup.
No health problem worth mentioning. My bad left knee (see health section) has been a bit swollen especially on my halfway day off but I've been careful not to push too hard particularly on the many hills.
Before starting this Summer's trip my bicycle had done about 40,000k (25,000 miles) over the last 3 years and consequently it was a bit worn being held together by bungees, cable ties and duct tape. The leather handle bars and saddle had holes in them but not being critical I decided they could do another leg of my trip – along the way I realised the saddle was halfway broken so I got part of an old tire in a bike store and put it underneath the saddle to support it; not ideal but it worked. The more critical parts chain and gears I changed before I began biking the USA last Summer so when I started this leg of my trip they had done 13,200k (8,500 miles) - any bike store would tell me to change them but I decided to take a chance and keep them for this Summer's estimated 6,400-7,200k (4-4,500 miles). It went okay along the way but the day I biked around Seattle a guy in a bike store tuned my bike for free and told me to seriously consider changing the rear gear and chain. I thought about it and finally decided to fix the bike - better safe than sorry in the middle of nowhere in Alaska or Canada. While doing so I noticed the very worn front gear rings especially the middle one that I changed hoping the other two will last until San Jose.
About halfway towards the Oregon border – just after leaving highway 1 for 101 in the middle of nowhere – my rear gear cable broke. Fortunately I had spare parts and tools but as I never changed this cable before it didn't turn out right; however good enough to get me 40k (25 miles) to the next bike store where the very friendly guy did a complete tune-up and only charged me for parts. The next morning my tire was flat due to a piece of gear or brake cable which must have been from the bicycle store. After fixing the tire it took a long time adjusting the rear brakes because the bike store guy had adjusted them without my luggage which is very different from carrying a load of 40-46 kilos (90-100 pounds).
When I got into Oregon – about halfway to Seattle – a spoke broke; I had the tools and parts to change it but the gear cassette was too tight so I had to ride 100k (65 miles) before I found a bike shop that could loosen it for me. 1½ day later another spoke broke which I changed, however I got a bit concerned so I consulted Mike's Bike Shop in Cannon Beach. He told me the wheel was 3mm to one side and had to be fixed or the spokes would keep breaking. 2 broken spokes in no time and none the previous Summer he convinced me of the necessity but it was not a good decision. I hardly got out of town before one spoke broke the hub (the spoke itself not broken) because it had been tightened to much... I considered going back but decided against it – he would most likely not admit his mistake and even if he did he would never give me a new wheel so I continued. I can ride with one broken spoke but when the next broke out of the hub after another 160k (100 miles) I got a bit nervous still having about 160k to Seattle. I rode carefully and pulled the bike up the steepest hills not to put too much pressure on the rear wheel. With 16k (10 miles) left a third spoke broke and the wheel began wobbling so I thought it would brake but miraculously I made it the rest of the way. Unbelievable I had more bike problems in this short distance than crossing the USA last Summer - if I didn't know better I would think somebody tried to prevent me from going to Alaska. However everything happens for a reason so more likely it happened to prevent me from breaking down in the middle of nowhere in Alaska or Canada.
Besides the bike I've had very few unexpected problems. I've had some challenges with the tent zippers not closing properly - I hope they will work better after waxing them with a candle. My old notebook is both slow and unstable so I bought a new in Denmark (I prefer the Danish keyboard despite the computer being more expensive) – however I left the new one in San Jose and brougth the old one this Summer. I'm on the verge on regretting as 6-7 keys only works occasionally creatng some frustrations; I hope it doesn't get worse.