Category Archives: Bigger Adventures

Bigger adventures needing more than a weekend away from Portland

Coming down off the adventure

It’s always hard to come back from adventure to normal life.

When I travel, when I bike, when I run, I feel so alive to everything. Part of that is seeing new things and pushing old, tired boundaries. But part of it is simply the act of being in the world, being outside, feeling part of something amazing and large and beautiful. Traveling or being in new places always reminds me how much I love life, how lucky I am to be part of this world.

Of course, I do often feel that way at home: an excellent run through Forest Park, say, or a bike ride snatched from the clutches of daily routine, or hanging out with a dear friend do wonders for being excited about life.

Often I come home from adventure to these kinds of things–to my Portland community–and am so very excited to be back.

Right now, though, I’m having a hard time. Perhaps that’s in part because this is my grumpy time at work, the time where there’s just enough work just poorly enough paid to make me wonder why I bother. (Of course, come summer, I’ll hardly be able to believe that I have such an awesome job:) The darkness in the mornings and evenings, too, is getting better every day now but makes me a little sad when it’s still dark at 7 and already feeling like evening at 2. (Good thing I don’t live in Alaska right now!)

Perhaps there are many things conspiring to stick me in my grass-is-greener adventure mode, where I wonder why life needs to be settled or what it would be like to be constantly in motion. Of course, I know enough to know that this is mostly a matter of the grass seeming greener–it sounds good in theory, but it turns out that I sure like Portland and my friends too. How long would it take before I missed normal life?

If there’s anything I learned last year, it’s that many small trips help me feel sane in the face of routine (yes, I’m aware that sane for me may at times sound fairly insane for others;) So I’m heading out for a mini trip this weekend, just a small nod to spontaneity to help me get back into things here. Ironic, I suppose, that to feel better about Portland I’m going to leave it for a few days, but I think it’ll help.

Into the shitty weather I go! :)

A month of cruisers: borrowed bikes in Laos

As you may know, I’ve been in SE Asia for much of the last month (which explains my absence from this blog;) It wasn’t a biking trip–that is, I didn’t go there for purposes of bike tourism or anything–but there was certainly a fair amount of biking that transpired.

Most of it was on rented or borrowed single-speed cruisers like this one:

Nong Khiaw biking(though this one was much fancier–i.e. newer–than many. And check out how it matches my sweatshirt! :)

It seems like most of Laos is single speed country–which at first doesn’t seem to make sense (there are so many hills! don’t people want gears?), but it does mean fewer moving parts. Which I think is clutch, ultimately: Functionality, not performance, is the key word here.

And it’s a pretty big word. Everyone rides bikes in Laos. (Okay, maybe not everyone, but a huge huge number). Check out what the school in Nong Khiaw looked like:

Nong Khiaw school(And that’s not even all of them!)

Every day, four times a day, the streets would be mobbed with kiddos of all ages riding to school, home for lunch, back to school, and home again. Seriously, mobbed. Often they’d ride two to a bike, which James and Sarah did a nice job of demonstrating on our super shitty rental bikes in Vieng Xai:

Vieng Xai tandem(though generally the back person would ride sidesaddle)

But seriously, bikes and motorbikes were by far the dominant means of transportation.

biking home(and when the hill got too steep, everyone would push)

Of course, transportation is a much different thing in Laos than it is in the US. In many places, there’s just the one road, often not even wide enough for two big cars, much less a bike lane. Traffic “laws” are more like an unspoken understanding that people (and livestock) might be anywhere on any road moving in any direction. And I don’t think that most people go all that far. In general, the roads aren’t that great, and I got the sense that most people stick close to home.

Vieng Xai biking(not the main road in Vieng Xai, but not atypical, either)

We weren’t biking much for real transportation either, but I had a fantastic time riding around as often as I could, rocking the single speeds. When we first got to Laos, Sarah reminded me of something I’d written earlier this year about how the kind of bike I have, especially when I’m somewhere new to me, is less important than the fact that I have a bike at all. (You can read that initial post here if you’re interested.) That’s definitely how it felt in Laos. The bikes were, on the whole, pretty rinkety, but it was so rad to be able to ride around and take everything in. Even more than that, it was awesome to ride around on the kind of bike that basically everyone else in the whole country was riding.

I’m super thankful to James and Sarah for hooking us up with loaner bikes in Phonsavan and then being willing to rent bikes with us through the rest of the country. Laos is definitely a place I could imagine going back to with a slightly more tricked-out (with gears!) bike for some super beautiful touring.

(Okay, one last Lao bike picture because I can’t resist. This may be my favorite picture ever, from a school we stumbled across in Vieng Xai.

Vieng Xai school bikies(I also have many more pictures, not all of which are bikey, that you can see here.)

When I got back on my real bike in Portland a few days ago, it felt so bigĀ after a month of cruisers, like I almost couldn’t reach the pedals. Of course, it took all of about 2 minutes for it to settle in and feel just right again. I loved the Lao cruisers, but it sure is nice to be back on my own bike too:)

 

Biking in Laos?

Yes, please!

Phonsavang

Just another day in Phonsavan! :)

Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway! A covered-bridge-stravaganza!

I didn’t exactly set out with a goal of riding all the Scenic Bikeways in Oregon, but it does sort of seem like somewhere along the line I’ve gone in that direction. Perhaps mostly because they’re a good excuse to get out somewhere that I might not otherwise go (like Cottage Grove, for example), to explore roads that I might not otherwise know existed.

Whatever the reason, when I had about two and a half consecutively free days last week, I decided to make a trip first down to Eugene, which I’m quickly falling in love with, and then to Cottage Grove a little further south to ride the Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway.

This might be one of my favorite bikeways so far (though hard to say, really, since so many of them are so lovely:). The first 17 miles of it are on a dedicated bike path, totally separate from traffic except for a few road crossings. Though check this: unlike in Portland on the Springwater Corridor, say, you don’t necessarily have to stop when you get to a road crossing, just yield.

row river trail(big points for that one!:)

But lack of stop signs aside, the bike path is also totally awesome in its own right. It begins by simply feeling like a really nice, urbanish bike path, and then starts to feel increasingly like you’re somewhere remote in the beautiful woods. Despite the misty and somewhat gloomy day, the fall colors were beautiful, the world quiet and peaceful in the bedding-down-for-winter kind of way.

row river trail(still near the road)

row river trail(I guess you’re never actually that far from a road, but it starts to feel much more remote, especially as you get near Dorena Lake)

While I was on the bike path, I actually caught myself forgetting a few times that the main attraction for this scenic bikeway is the covered bridges–that’s how nice the bike path was, enough to actually forget how excited I was for all the bridges! :) But don’t worry, there sure are a lot of covered bridges that you either go right past or actually get to bike through.

Dorena covered bridge(the Dorena covered bridge is apparently a popular wedding site–at least, according to the RideOregonRide bikeway site:)

chambers covered bridge(and the Chambers covered bridge is the last covered railroad bridge extant in Oregon. Though no one actually uses it now except for tourists like me:)

After a short out-and-back section to Culp Creek park (mostly just a parking lot with a gross pit toilet), the bikeway returns to Cottage Grove via some lovely, rolling roads along the other side of Dorena Lake–though if you wanted to stay traffic-free you could certainly make it an out-and-back entirely on the bike path (though that means you’d miss the Dorena and Stewart covered bridges).

And then once you’re back at Cottage Grove, there’s one last little section that takes you through the city proper, to the Chamber and Centennial bridges and a cute little main street with shops, murals, restaurants. I actually did the main street part of the bikeway first since I wanted to get a sense of what Cottage Grove was like before I took off on the rest of the bikeway, though it turns out that the Cottage Grove inset map I printed from RideOregonRide didn’t exactly mesh with the real bikeway signs posted (though no worries; Cottage Grove is small is basically impossible to get lost in).

All told, it’s a pretty amazing ride–and at just under 38 miles, totally rideable in a super mellow day. (For that matter, it’s also rideable from Eugene, though that makes it closer to a 100-mile day;) There is public transit available between Eugene and Cottage Grove as well.)

And the extra super awesome bonus? On the cue sheet, there’s a random little side note when you get to the end of the bike path at Culp Creek. To continue on the scenic bikeway, you simply turn around and go back the way you came for a few miles. But the cue sheet also cryptically mentions “2 miles on Row River Rd to Wildwood Falls.” Wildwood Falls? I had to see what that was about–and sure enough, if you follow the road for about 10 more minutes (there’s also a marked left turn involved), you get to a waterfall!

wildwood falls(the 15 or so minutes I spent here were coincidentally also the only 15 sunnyish minutes of the day:)

So the Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway? 5 stars from me:)

This was perhaps the last adventure of the season that I’ll have (relatively) good weather, and I’m glad to have spent it on roads new to me, roads with covered bridges:)

(Interested in more pictures, both of the scenic bikeway and biking in Eugene? Check them here.)