Monday, September 19, 2016

Seattle to Portland via Gifford Pinchot National Forest (Labor Day 2016)

I spent Labor Day weekend on a long, largely unsupported tour.

More after the break…

  1. Day 1: Seattle to Eatonville
  2. Day 2: Eatonville to Randle
  3. Day 3

    1. Part 1: Randle to Northwoods
    2. Part 2: Oldman Pass to Carson
  4. Day 4: Carson to Portland
  5. Day 5: Return Home

    1. Part 1: Portland
    2. Part 2: Seattle

Day 1: Seattle to Eatonville

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I wasn't looking forward to the predictions of rain on Thursday, but since I already had my reservations and vacation time lined up, I still packed up and headed out. I left at 05:00 like usual.

The first thing I noticed was the strong southerly wind hindering me, but it remained dry until well after I'd entered the valley around Kent.

It started to drizzle as I got into Kent, but I decided to hold out until Auburn.

It ended up being a good decision, as a thunderstorm passed through the area north of me after I hit the coffee shop.

Drizzle still made its presence known every now and then the further south I went, but I ducked out under shelter once or twice during the most intense parts. It was amusing how short some of the 'mini-downpours' lasted.

I went along the C Street Trail, Sumner Link Trail, and side streets to get to the Foothills Trail, then took it to Orting, where I picked up some energizing beverages. When I got to the Trailside Cyclery, I gave Brian one and consumed mine.

Sticking around the shop there for an hour or so ended up being worth it, as there ended up being much better weather ahead than I'd passed through before.

I took Oroville Road south out of Orting, and was hit by rain here and there to my detriment. By the time I'd actually gotten to Eatonville, it was only partly cloudy.

I had a bit of trouble getting a working key to my room. The first keys the receptionist made didn't work, so she told me to check back after getting back from dinner.


Craving salt and protein, I went to a restaurant I'd patronized before. After rehydrating, I also had a beer.

Amazingly, the keys also worked after I got back, so the rest of the stay was routine.

Day 2: Eatonville to Randle

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The next day didn't start off so great due to the poor sleep I'd gotten. I definitely needed coffee to get going.


Once I got my blood flowing, I started up Alder Cutoff Road, but not before pausing while I waited for some spooked elk (I think) to cross the it.

The climb started off fine, but as I got to the end of it, I noticed shimmy at low speeds, high speeds, and when out of the saddle. Since I knew there was a big descent coming soon and didn't want to deal with the danger, I took steps to try to mitigate it.

Unfortunately, that didn't work, and I had to hold my knees against the bike's top tube to prevent a horrible crash.

At the bottom of the descent, I made my way over to a gravel parking lot and rearranged my luggage. After all, low-trail bikes like a front load.

That seemed to cure it, and the bike handled quite well with that setup.

At Elbe, I got a coffee and some Gatorade before heading on to Morton.

The hills really weren't that bad out there.

But there was random drizzling that got on my nerves.

I stopped in Morton for some chips and Gatorade, as well as some nice conversation. One guy calmly rooted for me as he was on his way out of the store.

When I was in Morton, an older couple who appeared to be from northern Europe asked me why I had my panniers up front. I told them about the shimmy that I fought with said panniers in back.

Sun Sep 4 05:17:13 2016

From Randle, I headed east on US-12. I wasn't expecting much in the way of steep climbs, and I didn't get anything serious. Lots of long, slow stuff, though.

The weather continued to be unkind out there, with the familiar mini rainshadows.

After one last climb, I finally saw signs of my destination.

And with one last, long descent, I made it into Randle.

I started needing to fight with my camera's remote control to get the photo of myself from a distance. I thought it might've been the battery, but didn't have any spares on hand. Oops.


The food at the restaurant wasn't too bad, either. Got lots of protein and salt there.

Day 3

Part 1: Randle to Northwoods

I slept much better than I did the previous night, thanks to some sips of whiskey from my Clever Cycles flask taking the edge off.

Wow, my dreams last night could've been a few actual days at the office! It was all coworker socialization, though, rather than actual work getting done.

Sun Sep 4 03:05:09 2016

However, I had to work on my bike a bit. This ended up being my first successful patch job, and saw me all the way to the end of my trip.

Woke up to find a 1 cm metal bar through my tire. Yep, the roads are America's trash cans.

Sun Sep 4 04:59:37 2016

I started off riding at 06:00 or so.

However, I ended up dinking around a bit with some fresh coffee at the local espresso stand. It was a nice chat, though.

Stopped to get coffee and chat at an espresso stand before leaving Randle.

Sun Sep 4 08:51:17 2016@Siler, United States

I ended up actually leaving at around 07:00 or so, heading south along SR-131.

The climb up the valley was hard, but my knees were amazingly not bothering me. I thought I might've finally gotten the saddle in the right place!

My knees aren't complaining. It's amazing!

Sun Sep 4 08:51:32 2016@Siler, United States

Best parts about getting away from people: few cars. People don't realize how much cars ruin their immediate surroundings for others until they spend a lot of time on busy roads.

Sun Sep 4 08:52:19 2016@Siler, United States

I stopped at the Iron Creek campground for my last bit of water that wouldn't need filtering.

And trudged my way up some pretty tough hills. I had to walk every now and then because I kept running out of strength. Maybe the saddle position wasn't so great after all, but avoiding knee pain is always good.

Wow, this is pretty hard! SR-20 has nothing on this!

Sun Sep 4 09:51:41 2016@Siler, United States

The bike was really easy to keep going straight up the long 5 MPH climb! I've never had such an easy time up a hill.

Sun Sep 4 09:52:44 2016@Siler, United States

I found some other cyclists heading the same way. We talked about fancy bicycle stuff for a while, as well as our plans. Their setups were much more modern than mine!

Met a couple of guys named Ben and Eric partway up this climb. They are riding from Kelso to Portland the long way. One was on a custom bike, the other was on a Lynskey-built Kona, both were titanium and shod with Compass tires.

Sun Sep 4 11:05:14 2016@Harmony Falls Landing (historical), United States

The ride continued with its difficulty, and at one point, my rear derailleur's cable pulled right out of its clamp. Since my setup was friction, fixing it wasn't too difficult.

At a trailhead's parking lot, I stopped to eat. Chatting for some time with a guy who was waiting for his family, I learned that I was almost at the top. He said it would be downhill from there…but that ended up not being the case.

It wasn't difficult or anything, but it was rolling hills atop a ridge.

I eventually made it to what was probably the most touristy part of the ride at Clearview, one of the Mount Saint Helens viewpoints.

Someone was kind enough to get a photo of me with my bike at Clearview.

Sun Sep 4 17:15:09 2016@Northwoods, United States

After quite some time, I finally hit the big descent down the other side of the ridge. Wow, that was quite a ride! The low-trail geometry allowed me to not need to slow down as much as I would've with my existing touring bikes, which I really enjoyed. However, my legs were pretty burned out at this point, and I felt like I'd really need a ride up the next pass. Also, my sit bone was extremely sore because I'd gotten a saddle position that worked for my knees, but one that also had me way forward on the saddle.

At the bottom of the descent, I saw a trailhead for river access, and headed out with my pump filter and Steripen to collect water.

Probably should've gotten water at something not called the Muddy River, but the water was clear.

Sun Sep 4 17:15:45 2016@Northwoods, United States

After chatting with some other folks at the parking lot, I learned that there was a ranger station nearby, so I headed that way.

I had to fight my camera's remote control here. Someone driving by asked if they could take the photo, but I didn't want to take up any of their time.

It turned out to be a bad lead, as the guy there wouldn't be off for quite some time. He suggested I try out Northwoods instead, which I did.

I talked to locals and the guy behind the counter. After pinballing around a bit, someone suggested that I try the sheriff who was parked at the other end of the parking lot. He was gracious enough to not only get me up to the first 4000 foot pass, but to the second one a few miles further on.

After asking around, a county sheriff was kind enough to give me a ride up Oldman Pass. I really shoeuld've planned a stay in Northwoods, but I didn't know there was lodging there.

Sun Sep 4 17:16:53 2016@Northwoods, United States

Part 2: Oldman Pass to Carson

I ended up forgoing the saddle position I'd set, and instead moved it forward (among other things) so I could sit on the touring saddle properly. With the Sun lowering in the sky, I started my descent.

My knees were not happy all that time, but I safely made it to the hotel.


The restaurant a short walk up a steep hill from the hotel was already closed, so I had to ride into town for food. It was very good, and I even had a couple slices left over for food the next day.

I definitely needed the sleep after such a hard day. I learned my lessons about both bicycle touring through the mountains and saddle positioning.

Day 4: Carson to Portland

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I started the next morning with food and coffee, then got my spirits up enough to head out at 07:00. I couldn't stick around for too long, after all, as I was meeting friends in Portland.


I fought my camera's remote control one last time after crossing the Bridge of the Gods before giving up and getting a timer photo instead.

And then cobbled something together with electrical tape and some aluminum foil from the wrapping around my leftover pizza.

With my knees still unhappy, I made my way along the trail paralleling I-84.

That included dealing with the staircase from last time.

When I got to the end of the trail, I took old US 30 only until I was able to get into I-84's shoulder. I had to stop once to acquire water from the Columbia River, which—despite filtering and sterilization—didn't taste that great.

Once back on the freeway, I ended up catching up to an older cyclist who was headed the same way, then passed him and 'towed' him along with drafting for a while. He was finishing up his cross-America tour in Astoria, Oregon.

We parted ways as I stopped to take photos, rest my knees, and adjust my saddle some more . I never saw him again

At Troutdale, I took the official bike route for a bit, but then decided to head over to the nearby Arby's instead, which took a lot of slow sidewalk riding because of how messy the local road layout was. Even though I grew up with it as my normal fast food, I hadn't gone there in several years. Imagine that, eating at one for the first time in so long, and it wasn't even in my home state!

I eventually made it back to the other side of I-84, then followed basically the same route I took last time for a while Eventually, I was directed in a different direction, taking the I-84 Trail all the way to I-205.

When I stopped to eat just before getting onto the I-205 Trail, I saw a U-Haul unloading the belongings of homeless people who were moving into the I-205 Trail area from the Springwater Corridor (which I saw last time). The locals were upset over the change, and the homeless people felt like they were being treated as subhuman.

I took the I-205 Trail to Burnside Street, then headed the same route as last time all the way to the hostel.


Thankfully, I had plenty of time to meet my friends after packing my stuff away. I rode my bike out to 26th and Thurman…only to discover that the address was actually at 16th and Thurman. This wasn't too easy to get to, though, as the freeways in the area really mess with the street grid between those two points.

I had a pretty good time with my friends at a Steven Smith shop. It's not often I get to spend time with people in person just for fun like that.


When I started on my way out, I discovered that my rear tire was really low on air, thanks to a staple in it. I decided that if I found a shop on the way, I'd stop there for a flat fix, otherwise I'd deal with it. I did end up finding a shop that was open, and they did a half-price tube replacement since I did most of the wheel removal and installation work.

Those guys were pretty cool, too: fun to talk bike with.

Once back at the hostel, I headed out to eat. After asking around about meaty food, I ended up at Dick's Kitchen, and got a plain burger with two huge patties and a couple of sides.

When I got back, I headed to the 'secret garden' of the hostel to take a couple swigs from my flask to finish the day and got a little more fun conversation in.

Day 5: Return Home

Part 1: Portland

The next morning, I stuck around for coffee to get me going, and then felt the need to rush packing and getting to the station. However, I got to the station early enough to relax there instead.


I got a business class seat again, and it was nice not needing to bother someone when getting up, nor waiting in long lines at the station.

Part 2: Seattle

I headed home the typical route from the station, stopping at FreeRange Cycles to request a set of large panniers I could dedicate to front loading, as most of my front racks require special hardware at the bottom due to the thicker tubing than normal.

And then I headed home to finish my trip.

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