Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Day 89: The end of an amazing adventure

Day 89
Seaside to Astoria 17miles

So this was it. The final day of an amazing journey. I packed up Whiskey one last time and set off on the short journey to Astoria. Also turned out to be a pretty flat journey so it didnt really take me very long at all. But it was nice to be able to think back over everything I had accomplished in the last three months, and not have to worry too much about the cycling today.
My faithful steed, ready for one last day of action

Pretty soon I was approaching Astoria and crossing the long bridge into town.

Made it!

Since I was quite early, I stopped for a bit of breakfast and then went to check in at the hotel. My girlfriend wasnt due into town for at least another hour, so my plan was just to drop my bags off and then kill some time. But thankfully I was able to actually get a room (they werent very busy last night). Went to the bus stop and met Clare, and then we went back to the hotel before heading out for a bit of a food a bit later.

Astoria is a nice little town. There is a path all the way along the river, which is actually shared with a old trolley car route. Even had time for one final, funny road sign!
Thankfully this never happened to me out here!

So we walked into town for a bit, and scoped out the river bank for potential wheel dipping spots. Astoria is at the mouth of the Columbia river, as it empties into the Pacific. So the river is huge – the bridge over to Washington State is over 3.5miles long to get across to the other side!

After lunch we went back to the hotel, and then I changed back into my bike gear for the last little bit of the journey. They official finish point of the route is the Maritime Museum in Astoria, which was about 0.8miles from the hotel. I ditched all my kit for the last little leg, mainly because this would make the wheel dipping a bit easier!

Soon got to the museum, and took a few photos outside by the anchor. I cant believe that I had finished. Feels so weird. Whenever you seem some sports person on TV being asked about winning something, they always say “It will take a while to sink in”. I always used to think that was a rather bland cliché. Not anymore. I think it will take a little while for me to really be able to think back to all the places I've been, all the people I've met and all the things I've seen. But for now, I was glad to have finished what I set out to achieve.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a little beachy area which I climbed down to (carrying Whiskey on my shoulder) and dipped my front wheel. Such an amazing feeling. This was the final act of the trip.
The final act!

My achievement preserved forever. Or at least until the tide comes in

Altogether I cycled 4,332miles on the route. Seems like such a ridiculously large number of miles for a bike!

In the coming days I'll try putting down my feelings in a bit more detail. But for now, I'm just very glad to be able to say I made it!

Monday, 29 August 2011

Day 88: Rating the States

Day 88
0 miles

Quite a tiring day off today! After pottering round the hostel for a bit, I went on a bit of a hike. There is a trail at the south end of Seaside which you can take all the way to Cannon Beach, around a coastal headland. It was actually about 2miles from hostel to the trailhead – if I'd known I probably would have taken my bike! But it was a nice walk along the beach. And then I did about 1.5miles of the trail before heading back. Probably walked about 8-9miles today in total!

When the sun came out in the afternoon I hit the beach and went for a paddle in the sea. I can see why Seaside is a much bigger resort than Manzanita. It might only be 20miles up the coast, but the beach is much less windy and the water temperature was probably about 8-10c higher! You could actually play around happily in the surf and not feel cold. I even did about 10minutes of barefoot running on the wet sand – got a half marathon 4 weeks after I get back to the UK so need to start training for that soon!

But in lieu of any cycling action today, I though I would start to wrap things up with some of my thoughts on the trip as a whole. And to start with, I'm going to attempt to answer one of the most common questions I've been asked (apart from “Are you from Australia?”) - which has been my favourite State. Now this is a personal opinion, based on my feelings, experiences, people I've met, things I've seen etc. Just to try and give an idea of how each State influenced me – good or bad!

I'll do it in the same order I cycled them, so starting back on the East coast


Ahh, Virginia! Where I set off 12 weeks ago as a callow, in-experienced cycle tourer. Unsure of what lay ahead of me. And overall Virginia was quite a baptism of fire. After just 5 days I was climbing the Blue Ridge Mountains and thinking “I hope it gets easier”! The Appalachians were generally very scenic, the Blue Ridge parkway especially, but man were they tough. It took me 2 weeks to get through my first state, and it was a hard introduction. On the plus side, I felt a tremendous sense of satisfaction on that first day of climbing. Charlottesville was also one of the nicest places I visited. Its a shame it was so early in the trip, as it would have been a good place to spend a day had I encountered it later on. Damascus was also a cool little town, and the ride into it was an early highlight. But it also contained Hayters Gap. Enough said. So overall Virginia scores a fairly middle of the road score


The problem with doing this is that there is going to be a loser. And I'm sorry Kentucky, it's you! But let's start on the positives. I spent most of my time in Kentucky riding with Sam and Cory – definitely the best riding buddies of the trip and a couple of great guys. Dave at the historical society in Hindman was a great host, as was Albert and his family in Hardin Springs and Bob and Violet in Sebree. Kentucky was also the scene of my first 100mile day. All good things. But sadly outweighed by quite a few negatives.
The roaming packs of wild dogs. The fact that everywhere was dry so I couldnt ever get a beer. It still had some tough hills, but the scenery wasnt very nice. Anywhere that would have been scenic had been turned into a strip mine. The fact that I could barely understand what people were saying. I'm just glad I got it over and done with early – it wouldnt be a great place to get too near the finish.


Illinois is like that footballer who comes on as a sub with 10minutes of a game left, when the result is already beyond doubt. It's difficult to judge the performance in context. By some margin the state that I spent the least time in, and rode the least miles in, I don't feel like I got a sense of 'identity' for Illinois. I did have one of my best nights out there, when I met up with Cory and Sam in Carbondale. But overall dont really have a lot to say about Illinois – nothing wrong with it, but nothing stood out either as I simply wasnt there long enough.


A few times on this trip people have told me the nickname for Missouri is 'Misery'. Now I didnt have to put up a deranged woman trying to break my legs with a slab of wood and sledgehammer, but it wasnt far off! I guess the worst thing I can say about Missouri is that I'm struggling to remember much about it at all. My most vivid memory was of the 30mile stretch between Ellington and Alley Spring, which I would say was one of the hardest sections of the entire route, maybe even the hardest. The Ozarks were quite pretty, but nothing stands out in my mind. It was also where the hot weather really started having an effect on my ride.


Now we're talking! After the less enjoyable Eastern states, things tended to improve as I got further west. Kansas scores highly for it's people, it's lovely flat roads and it's sparse beauty. Some of the nicest people I met were in Kansas. Becky, who took in cyclists in Eureka was lovely. And Jerry, Steph and their friends in Hutchinson were great people to spend some quality drinking time with! Just hope Jerry has actually gotten to drive the new car he had to buy! Hutchinson was also a good place to spend a day off. And the riding in Kansas was generally great. Nice and flat, I was able to consistently put on some big days to get myself ahead of schedule. And I did enjoy the scenery. It was very flat, but the vast expanses made a nice change from the hills of previous states.
Where Kansas loses marks is the weather. The one-two jab of heat and humidity often made riding really tough, and sometimes simply impossible. Often I would have to finish by 1pm as it was just too hot to carry on without feeling like I would be putting my health at risk. In the UK, if the temperature reaches 100f it usually makes the front pages of the national papers. Illustrated by some page 3 wannabe on Brighton beach in The Sun, some wholesome looking middle class girl in The Telegraph and a crackpot theory about Princess Diana in The Express! In Kansas 100f heat was a daily occurrence. Usually by about 11am! And with the humidity it often felt hotter still. But overall, a definite improvement on what had come before, and a good sign of things to come.


I imagine if the state of Colorado was a person, they would walk around with quite a smug, self-satisfied look on their face. And to be honest, it would be justified! Colorado was a great state to cycle through. It had the flat prairie lands of the east and the stunning Rocky Mountains of the north and west. It was also the home of few notable achievements on my trip. Longest single day – 113miles from Eads to Pueblo. Highest elevation – 11,500ft as I went over Hoosier pass. In addition it also had 2 more of the 4 highest mountain passes of the trip. The climbing was always enjoyable since it was never too steep for too long, and there was usually some great downhills to reward the efforts. Also gets extra marks for being the home of Fat Tire – now the “Official beer of Transamerica 2011”! Downsides? Probably one of the most expensive states I visited. And some of the roads were not always the best quality. But those are minor quibbles.


A tough one to judge. No state which contains Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks can ever really be given a low score. But take those out of the equation, and Wyoming would be struggling. Just because of the headwinds. God, I shudder just thinking about them. The 20mile stretch at the end of a long day into Rawlins, and the 18miles into Jeffrey City the day after, were two of the hardest, most soul destroying sections of the entire trip. To be putting in so much effort and still only be going 7mph down a hill is not a nice feeling at all. Just doesnt make for nice riding. The other problem with Wyoming was the lack of people. It is the least populated state in the US, and second only to Alaska in terms of population density. Kansas was spread out, but at least there were farmhouses dotted around on the roads in between towns. In Wyoming there was nothing. In some ways the isolation was nice, but would be re-assuring to see the odd person. And it also tended to mean that riding, and lodging, options were limited. Which again tended to make things expensive.
But on the plus side, it does have those parks! Dirt cheap hiker/biker camping. Amazing scenery and wildlife. Simply stunning.

5.5/10 (without the parks) 7.5/10 (if you include them)


As surely as you have a loser doing this, you'll have a winner too. And Montana just pips Colorado and Oregon. Overall it was simply a great place to spend some time on a bike. It had the mountain scenery of Colorado, but also some nice forests. It also had Missoula – my favourite place I visited on the trip. I guess the fact that the Adventure Cycling Association HQ was there helped. It was great to go inside and be treated a little bit special. Got my photo on the wall as a permanent record of what I was doing. The hostel I stayed in was also great. Since it was so close to the ACA there were lots of cyclists and other road trippers staying there, so you could meet like minded people. Also had another top night out, including a pub quiz! And it was just a very nice city overall. Cycle friendly, relaxed attitude, nice surroundings. But generally Montana was great, and a worthy winner.


The surprise package? I reckon so. Didnt know much about Idaho, or what to expect. And actually, when I first looked at the maps I though I only cut through a thin section of it like I did in Illinois. Didnt realise I would be there for almost a week. And what a great week it was. Such a diverse range of scenery. The amazing lushness of the Locsha river (great day of downhill riding that was), to the high deserts further west. Also had the fantastically twisty descent down from White Bird hill. And then finished off with Hell's Canyon. Did find the heat quite tough going in Idaho – more so than in some of the previous western states. But definitely a good one overall.


The final state on the trip. And a lovely one to finish with. So glad I went east-west and not the other way across! Initially Oregon was pretty arid and hot, but the further west I got the greener it became. The climb up to, and then down, McKenzie pass was fantastic. The strange lava fields at the top, followed by the 3,000ft drop through a twisty, tree-lined road was superb. And obviously Oregon has the coast, which has been my goal from day 1 so it's bound to get some points based on the emotional feeling of finishing. The last 200miles or so of riding have in some ways been a bit less fulfilling than they might have been. But that was because I was ahead of my schedule, and could take it easy. In a way it would have been nice to have finished with a flourish and a long ride, but it has been relaxing to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the coast over a week or so. The coastal route was definitely one of the best for meeting other cyclists too, and had some great hiker/biker campsites. So definitely a good place to end in.

So there we are. Stay tuned tomorrow for the finale of my epic cycle ride. And then over the course of the next week I'll hope to put down my thoughts on a few other things. Maybe a few best/worst style lists. And just reflections on what I have learnt, what I've enjoyed and maybe even a few tips for anyone who has been inspired to try something similar (I overwhelmingly recommend it!)

Until tomorrow...

Day 87: Oh I do like to be beside the Seaside

Day 87
Manzanita to Seaside 26miles

Another relaxed start. I could get used to this! Spent a bit of time in the morning chatting to a ouple of cyclists, Bob and Noreen, who lived in Washington. They were cycling some of the Pacific coast before driving back up north to get home. They were very friendly, and even offered to let me stay on their boat if I was in the area once they had finished their ride!

Packed up camp and eventually set off at about 11am. It was a pretty cold day today, at least by the standards of my trip, so my long sleeve top was making a rare appearance.

Another pretty easy ride today, couple of small steep climbs aside. The road seemed very busy today, as I guess a lot of people were starting to make their way home after the weekend by the coast. There were some lovely views over the coast, and I stopped to take a few photos.

Haystack rock in Cannon Beach. Not to be confused with Haystack rock in Pacific City!

I had planned to stop in Cannon beach for a late breakfast, but it was heaving. Friday and Saturday had seen the staging of the Hood 2 Coast relay which finished in Seaside. A 200mile running race where teams take turns in running legs of the course. Around 20,000 take part, so the whole area was very busy. It seems like each team has a support vehicle, and I saw many brightly painted SUVs and vans with team names on. But I was never going to find somewhere to eat without waiting awhile, so set off to Seaside which was only a few more miles down the road.

My last nights of my trip would be spent at a hostel in Seaside. Despite not arriving until almost 2pm, the staff were still busy cleaning up as last night was very busy for them with so many people in town. But I was able to dump my stuff, have a shower and go look round town. It seems like today and tomorrow are much less busy, so I actually have a whole dorm room to myself at the moment!

By now I was pretty hungry so decided to have a late lunch/early dinner at about 4pm. One of a group of cyclists I'd met in Pacific city worked in a seafood restaurant in Seaside, so I went in there and said hi and had a lovely big plate of scallops (I love seafood!)

Had a wander round town. Its very reminiscent of a typical English seaside resort with ice-cream stores, arcades and tourist trap shops. Although a bit differently, the main drag of shops actually runs perpendicular to the beach, whereas in the UK they tend to be on the promenade. It was still pretty cloudy in the afternoon, but the beach did look like a beach you could spend some time on. There were quite a few people there even in the cold weather – and it wasnt blowing a gale either!

Went back to my hostel and then bought some food for the next couple of days. When I got back I met a group of cyclists doing some of the Pacific coast route. Ended up having a long chat with them. I cant remember all the names, but lots of them began with J! There was a Julie, a Jerri, a John and a Jane. And one other J, and then Kent and Sam. Sam was riding a support van and, as I found out the next day, that was her job. So the 6 cyclists all knew each other, and then Sam was working by riding support and carrying their gear for them. Sounds like a nice job!

The riders were from Colorado, and were impressed by the fact I was drinking Fat Tire (as I was here for a couple of nights I treated myself to a 6 pack). Ended up going out for dinner with them (we were even driving into town!), although I just had a small plate of squid as I had eaten earlier.

All in all a very fun day. Tomorrow will probably do some walking, and hopefully spend some time on the beach if the weather is nicer. And might also use the day off to start to wrap up some of my thoughts on what has been an amazing trip.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Day 86: No room at the Inn (unless you're a cyclist)

Day 86
Tillamook to Manzanita 29miles

Another nice late start today. Although I was woken up very early in the morning today. But that was fine. My girlfriend had just been presented with a trophy for winning a local running league that we take part in, and I wanted to see her with her trophy before she set off to the airport to fly out. I was actually quite happy to come in the top 20 for the mens competition, despite not having run since late May! Anyone who enjoys running and fancies doing a free, friendly, well organised 5k run on a saturday morning should check out www.parkrun.org.uk for their nearest one. Definitely something I would recommend.

Anyway, after going back to bed at about 2.30am, when I woke up properly I spent some time having breakfast, watching a bit of football on my laptop and generally pottering around before setting out at 11am.

Again quite a short ride today, to the town of Manzanita. On the way I actually started to pass road signs that had the distance to Astoria on them! Including this one which puts me less than 50miles away. Clearly, if I had needed to I could have got there today. But I have till tuesday so can continue to take it easy. Hopefully the last few days havent seemed like a bit of an anti-climax for people reading this. There was no way I would want to have arrived into Astoria late, so I needed to get close with enough days to spare to know I would make it on time. And anyway, after riding almost 4,300miles I deserve a bit of an easy finish!
Getting close now!

Today's ride was pretty simple. A nice ride along the coast, and then a bit inland around a couple of small bays. Stopped at Rockaway Beach for some breakfast.

Even this late into my trip, I am still finding advantages to being a cyclist. Today is a saturday. Its summer and during the school holidays. And every town I went through today is on the coast. Subsequently, the “No Vacancy” signs were out in force today. I think every motel, hotel, campground and RV park I rode past today was full. The people who work there probably wouldnt be able to give a room to their own mother if she wanted one today!

Thankfully for me this isnt a problem. My destination today was the Nehalem State Park, actually about 1mile south of Manzanita. As I approached I saw signs saying “Campgroud Full”. I wasnt worried. They had a hiker/biker area set aside and so I was able to pay my $5 and get a lovely spot in the trees to pitch my tent. In a country where the car is king, there are some advantages to travelling on two wheels (or feet if you're a a hiker).

Set up camp, probably for the last time on this trip. Then went for a bit of a walk along the beach. Today I had encountered a few headwinds when near the coast. I think it's why everyone seems to do the Pacific Coast route north to south. With such short distances now, I dont really care about them. But if I was still doing 60-70miles a day then it be more of a problem. But if the winds on the road were strongish, the ones on the beach were ridiculous! They were so strong, that even small birds were having trouble flying north. As soon as they took off they were getting blown backwards! Definitely a beach for the kite-flyer rather than the sun worshipper. Although I had a lovely walk up and down, taking a few photos.
"So how far would I have to cycle to reach Hawaii?"

After that I showered and went into town for some food. When I came back the hiker/biker site was much more busy. I think there is 8 or 9 tents up at the moment. And its very sociable. Everyone talking about their different trips and where they have stayed etc. We even had a campfire going as it got dark. I guess that is the one thing I have missed on this trip. The TransAm route is so long, and probably only around 300-400 people do it a year, that you can go long stretches without meeting anyone to ride with. The entire Pacific Coast route is less than 2,000miles (although many people I have met are only doing shorter parts of it), and seems to have a lot more riders doing it. Since getting to Pacific City I must have passed at least 40 people who were doing some sort of bike tour, long or short. Throw in the huge number of State parks on the coast, and you can pretty much guarantee to meet other people. I'm very proud to be able to say I have cycled solo across the US, but sometimes it was a bit lonely! Maybe I'll do the Pacific Coast route one summer, with the winds behind me the whole way, and with a bit more experience, I reckon I could cover the 2,000miles in about a month!  

Friday, 26 August 2011

Day 85: Everyone say "Cheese"

Day 85
0 miles

Im getting a little antsy now! My girlfriend flies out soon, and gets to Astoria on Tuesday, so that's when I will be getting there too. But it feels like I could have actually finished now.
I was planning to head up a bit further up the coast today and back to another campsite by the beach. But it was actually pretty cold today. Very overcast and with some of the lowest temperatures of my entire trip. And there is nothing worse than being at the beach when its cold! The weather forecast is better for tomorrow so decided to stay in Tillamook and have a look round. Lots of people had told me I should check out the cheese factory. The town and its surrounds are a big dairy farming area. In fact whenever I've gone to the shops recently to buy food, its usually been Tillamook dairy yoghurts I've been getting.

So I cycled up the road to the factory for a look around. There is a self guided tour you can do looking at the factory, as well as reading about the history of the area. And there was also tasting samples to try of the different cheeses. Nice way to spend a little bit of time. Then popped into town to do a bit of shopping and have a look round.

Also did a bit of research for things to do after my trip ends next week.

So quite a quiet day all in all. Whilst it would be nice to finish soon, having waited this long a couple more days wont make much difference.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Day 84: Enjoying the coastal lands-cape

Day 84
Pacific City to Tillamook 36miles

Last night I was treated to an absolutely amazing sunset. It was almost nice enough to make the whole trip worth while.

I went to the Pelican for some dinner and a drink. I make no apologies for going there again. The beer is fantastic. They have won all sorts of awards from beer festivals all over the world, with lots of medals on display in the bar. The McPelicans Scottish ale I was drinking copious amounts of I think ranks only second to Fat Tire on this trip. And it's a close run thing between the two of them!

So I was sat at the bar having a very nice bit of salmon, when I got chatting to the people sat next to me. Turns out that Joey, and his girlfriend Caitlin, both worked at the Pelican, but had a night off tonight. They were really nice, and offered to buy me a beer which I gladly accepted! Joey was actually an ex-Marine, who had done 2 tours of duty in Iraq and was now looking to do something different. We all went outside to the patio as the sun was slowly setting, and were joined by a whole load more off-duty staff. It seemed like half the population of Pacific City must have worked at the place! But had a great night, and as the sun set behind Cape Kiwanda (the big sand dune) there were some amazing colours in the sky. It was a great night to finish the celebrations of reaching the coast, and I was more than a little tipsy by the time I had to make the (thankfully very short) walk back to my tent.

Had a great nights sleep, and then in the morning had long chat with Brian, who was camped nearby. He had just started the TransAm, and was heading all the way to Virginia. He actually lives in Farmington, Missouri, the home of Al's Place – the really good cyclist hostel I stayed in that used to be a jail. Spent quite a while chatting and packing our stuff up. I wasnt in any huge rush to get off today. It was actually quite chilly today by the standards of this trip, and when I did set off I was wearing a long sleeve top and had the light enhancing lenses in my sunglasses for the first time since I cant actually remember when.

Today I past a lot of cycle tourers. Everyone I spoke to was doing the Pacific Coast route to some degree or another. Some were just staying within Oregon, whilst others were heading down into California.

And today's ride was actually surprisingly tough. I spent almost the entire day riding on the Three Capes Scenic route. Which, as you can probably guess, took in a triumvirate of coastal capes. The first was Cape Kiwanda, where I started from. And each cape came with a bit of a climb. Kiwanda was by far the smallest, easiest climb. So I was soon my way to Cape Lookout. And this was actually a really steep climb. I was in my lowest gear for pretty much the entire ascent. The good thing was, none of the climbs are that high. So this one lasted about 3miles, but I climbed around 250metres in that time. Which makes it steeper than ones such as McKenzie pass. And I did have to stop at one point just to change in a t-shirt as I was actually getting very hot in my long sleeved top.

In some ways today was like a little mini-Virginia. As soon as you got to the top of climb, you got to shoot straight back down to the same height you started from.
Had a nice, if misty view, back down the coast towards Cape Kiwanda and Haystack rock when I did reach the top though. And then on the way down I could see across to Cape Meares, the third cape on the route.
You can just about make out the giant rock in this one!

Looking north up the coast to Cape Meares

I had been told that the road to Cape Meares was closed due to a landslide, but that also there was enough road left that cyclists could walk their bikes through without needing to take a detour.

And when I got to the spot, there did appear to be quite a big hole where a road used to be!

Whiskey and Wenlock living on the edge!

But soon I was bearing down on Cape Meares, and then had another tough little climb to get over it and down the otherside. Actually gained around 100metres in just over a mile. Glad it wasnt any longer than that! Then it was just a short, flat ride into Tillamook to find a place to stay.
Some more ocean-dwelling rocks

A close up of Cape Meares

Considering it was only 36miles, my legs were really quite tired when I finished. First time I've had to use my lowest gear and actually struggle with it for a while. On the way down from Cape Meares, I even one guy pushing his bike up the hill – that brings back some painful memories!

Finished today a few miles inland, but tomorrow should be back on the coast. And back on a beach to hopefully enjoy some more sunsets like last night's one.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Day 83: Life's a beach

Day 83
0 miles

Today I faced the steepest climb of my entire trip. It was probably something like a 60-70% gradient. It was also a sand dune!

The day started with Bryant and me getting breakfast at the Pelican bar (I'll feel like a bit of the furniture by the time I leave here tomorrow!), and then once he set off I hit the beach!

I'd estimate the sand dune was about 60-70metres high. Maybe even more. Climbing up it was clearly a very popular activity, as lots of people were making their way up. And quite a few were sitting down around half way to catch their breathe! It was steep, and even for someone who has cycled 4,200miles it was still quite a challenge. But good fun, and with some fantastic views from the top.
That's a lot of sand!

The view over the otherside - where I'm heading tomorrow

Still wasn't all the way to the top at this point!

After running down (much quicker than on the way up), I went for a walk along the beach. Met one of the surfers who I was chatting to yesterday in the bar, and might well see them again later.

After that, I spent the rest of the day relaxing either at the campsite or on the beach. I did actually do a second ascent of the sand dune in the afternoon. By then it was really quite windy, and it felt like I was literally being sandblasted when I was stood on the top.

I also got a huge ice-cream today! It took so long to eat it was melting all over my hands by the time I finished.

But a lovely relaxing day to take in what I have achieved so far. The coast is lovely, and definitely feels like finishing on the west coast is the right way to do things. Now I have a week of leisurely riding and also probably a day or two more of relaxing on various beaches. Just need to make sure I dont start putting on weight again now that my exercise levels are decreasing!