Category Archives: Bigger Adventures

Bigger adventures needing more than a weekend away from Portland

When all else fails, camp in a vault toilet!
(Or, bike travel’s more ridiculous moments)

When I travel by bike, one of my favorite things is being able to find amazing places to camp. Without a car, I’m pretty darn maneuverable and can finagle myself into some fairly remote and beautiful places, without anyone ever knowing I’m there.

Colorado River camping(on the Colorado River in Utah)

Swift Reservoir camping(overlooking Swift Reservoir in Washington)

Emigrant Lake camping(Emigrant Lake, near Ashland, OR)

McKenzie River camping(sequestered on the McKenzie River, Oregon)

California Coast camping(somewhere on the California coast)

Fremont River camping(tentless on the Fremont River, Utah) (for bonus points, see if you can find my bike in that picture:)

Lake Tahoe camping(Lake Tahoe, California)

Aside from the progression of tents represented in those pictures, my favorite thing about them is that none of those pictures is taken in an established campground (though at Emigrant Lake I was close to one). In none of those places did I overhear RV generators kicking in at night or unruly pets barking away at nothing. Not that I’m a total recluse, but stealth camping–feeling like I’m the only person in a super beautiful place, being able to strip down and skinny dip in the river without worrying I’ll be arrested, waking up to the sound of running water or birds and absolutely nothing mechanical–is one of my favorite things, ever.

And then sometimes, it all falls apart and I end up sleeping somewhere a little less glorious. Somewhere like this:

sleeping in a vault toilet

That’s right. That is my bike and my sleeping bag tucked away all cozy-like next to a vault toilet, the only place I could think to sleep one night near Canyonlands National Park.

Sure, I had my tent with me, but the wind was so batshit crazy and the landscape so exposed that even if I could have set it up I didn’t think it would survive the night without getting ripped to shreds in the gusts. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem–I’d just sleep out tentless, cinched tight into my sleeping bag, but aside from the wind, the sky was crazy ominous dark, threatening torrents of who knows what. When I saw it, a vault toilet, with its four wind-stopping walls and rain-stopping roof, sounded pretty darn good.

Monitor and Merrimac buttes(those skies did not bode well for me)

So in the vault toilet I slept. I locked myself in, put down my ground cover, blew up my sleeping pad, bungeed the locked door tightly so it would stop its violent banging in the wind, and snuggled tight against the cold that still found its way through the vents. It was a shitty (ha!) night’s sleep, but not because of the toilet. It’s just that even in a building, it was so darn cold I could never get comfortable, even in my puffy down jacket in my puffy down bag. The next morning when I’d had enough and finally decided to get out of bed, crazy early before the sun rose, I saw the snow all around me and was very glad to have been in a bathroom all night. At least there I stayed dry. And I’m sure I was way warmer than I would have been.

And, yknow, when I woke up in the middle of the night and had to pee, well, there you go.

Glorious? No. But a good reminder that bike camping is not always breathtaking scenery and astounding vistas and peaceful, riverside campsites. Despite all the gushing I do on this blog, it’s not always sunny skies and postcard experiences. Sometimes, when it comes right down to it, a toilet is the best option. It’s certainly not the most photogenic one, and definitely not the one you’d later brag to your coworkers about when they ask you about your vacation–but it all adds to the adventure.

I’m sure it’s not the last time I’ll sleep somewhere ridiculous, though I do hope it’s the last time I sleep in a toilet.

Family Adventure the Second:)

I realized today while I was running (I realize a lot of things while I’m running:) that I never followed up on the potential family adventure that I was hoping would transpire when I left for Utah. In a word–two, actually: it happened!

But first a word about family adventure. I’m super into it. It doesn’t have to be crazy hardcore–family adventure in Laos, for example, was not particularly strenuous but was absolutely amazing; having an urban, rainy-day-transit-through-Portland adventure with my mom is definitely not strenuous, but also super fun. The act of doing something new, exploring outside of the normal routine, building shared experiences–that’s what makes adventure awesome. And when it’s with family–and I definitely include my chosen family in that term, all the most important people to me–even better.

That being said, physically strenuous family adventures are amazing for me, perhaps because the number of people who will take strenuous adventures with me is relatively slim (the result being that I usually do this shit by myself:). So being able to meet up with my brother, who is twenty million times in better shape than me, is pretty awesome–for once I don’t end up feeling bad at the end of the day for having pushed someone I love way past what he or she wanted and could comfortably do. (Yes, I do think that some pushing is necessary sometimes, but I feel bad doing it too much.) With Alex, if anything, I’m the one thinking “Really? We’re going to do what?” Which is awesome.

the three penguins(Alex and Cedar atop the Three Penguins. Yay!)

So. Family adventure. I met up with Alex and his cycling and climbing buddy Cedar Wright on my third day of travel through Utah, at Arches National Park. Actually, I biked into Arches and first ran into Sam Crossley, one of the awesome photographers who was with them, who I met last year at Mount Whitney. Alex and Cedar were climbing the Three Gossips–at least, that’s what Sam said. I only saw their left-behind bicycles.

Arches bike posse(guess who has the badass loaded bike? That’s right. THIS chica!:) Alex and Cedar had car support this time around)
 

One of the coolest things about having at least some semblance of baseline fitness? When your professional rock climbing brother gets down off whatever rock he’s on and says “hey, why don’t you come climb an easy desert tower with us?” you can say “heck yeah!”

Actually, at first I said heck no. Heh. I was imagining their last bike-and-climb trip, where they free soloed everything (that is, climbed everything without ropes), and whatever baseline fitness I may or may not have, I sure as heck was not going to free solo anything taller than myself. But once it turned out that he meant actually climb something, yknow, with a rope, I was into it. I may not be graceful or skillful or particularly strong, but at least I can haul myself up what the internet calls one of the easiest desert towers in the Moab area:)

owl rock(Owl Rock! Somewhere there exists what I’m sure is a super-cheeseball picture of Alex and me high-fiving at the top, but I don’t have it:)

So that was pretty awesome family adventure right there. How often do you get a few days into your bike adventure and then have your lovely little bro offer you a rad belay up a super fun desert tower? (And thanks to Cedar for lending me his harness and shoes:) I could get into climbing desert towers–yknow, once I got strong–just for the amazing views from the top.

Owl Rock is probably my favorite memory of that day. But a close second? Bombing down the hill out of Arches National Park with Alex going at breakneck speed in front of me, then reeling him in once the bike path back to Moab flattened out. “On your left!” I say, and zoom past him. Heh. Take that! :) (Oh, the small and petty victories;)

Alex and Cedar Potash Road(Alex and Cedar, biking off into the sunset… :)

I only hung out with them for another day after that before we went our separate ways, but we had a pleasant joint bike ride up Potash Road along the Colorado River as they started a 5-day climbing tour of the White Rim Road (which, with Alex’s urging, I’d ride when I got back to Moab near the end of my trip). And actually, whenever Cedar gets around to making a movie about their trip, look for the surely super awesome 5 minutes of GoPro footage taken from the back of my bike. Heh. That’s my claim to fame here and I’m sticking to it.

GoPro Cedar(it turns out having a GoPro attached to your seatpost is actually really annoying. Cedar’s about to take it off here, but not before he photobombs my picture of it:)

Even though we didn’t hang out for all that long, it sure was nice to meet up with my bitty bro in the middle of the Utah desert. As our separate bike tours played out and whenever we both had cell reception, we kept in touch and traded biking stories, which felt very friendly–it was also nice, when the weather was at its shittiest, to later be able to commiserate with other people who’d experienced it much the same way I had, from the top of a bike.

Oh, and while I was just touring around and sightseeing, Alex and Cedar in fact ended up in northern Arizona and helped install a bunch of solar panels in Navajo land. Maybe next time I’ll do something helpful for the world too;)

(more pictures–sorry, mostly not of Alex and Cedar;)–here)

The Things I Carried (with apologies to Tim O’Brien)

Probably the thing that takes the most amount of thought before I leave for any bike trip is what I’m going to bring with me and how I’m going to pack it all. And as I was biking through Utah, it was the question that people most often asked me: what do you have in all those bags?

So in case you, too, are curious, I spent part of a rest day in Moab taking pictures of all the material possessions I had with me–everything I needed for three and a half weeks on a bike, though I’m confident it would have served me for as long as I wanted. The difference between three weeks and twenty is not so much, so long as you keep washing your clothes and buying more food:)

*

Before I get into the details, this is what my bike entirely loaded looked like (picture courtesy of a super awesome woman I ran into at the top of the Burr Trail switchbacks):

touring setup

So that’s how it looked with everything packed up. It came down to this: two panniers, one extra bag strapped on top of my rack, a little saddlebag with my tools, a frame pack, and my handlebar bag. It weighed sort of a lot, but once I was biking the weight didn’t really matter, since as long as it was even remotely well-balanced, all it did was make me slower going uphill.

Now as for what was inside all those bags.

pannier 1(Pannier 1: clothes and food)

So this pannier was the heaviest one. The grey stuff sack was filled with food: dehydrated dinners (bought in bulk at People’s Co-op in Portland), oatmeal, nuts, dried fruits, energy or granola bars, veggies, whatever I happened to have on hand. The weight and bulk of that varied according to how much food I had at any given time, but other than water, food was probably my heaviest thing.

Aside from food, I stuffed most of my clothes in this bag. From the top left, I have one short-sleeve shirt (I’m wearing the other one), booties, long underwear, one sports bra, three pair wool socks, one pair normal pants, two pair underwear, two pair biking bottoms (one shorts, one 3/4 length), and my water-resistant layer. Plus, to take this picture, I was wearing (aside from the short-sleeve shirt I mentioned), a sweatshirt, another pair of socks, some shorts, and long underarmor. I did have some other clothes-type stuff too, but I put that in different places.

pannier 2(Pannier 2: randoms:)

This pannier was much more scattered. My sleeping bag took up most of the room, but stuffed in around it I had most of my pragmatic things as well as my entertainment things. From the left, I had my puffy down jacket (so glad to have had that on this trip!) as well as a quick-dry towel. The rolled-up blue thing by my puffy is my water filter. I didn’t use that too much, so I was glad I brought this super small and sort of annoying one instead of my usual MSR pump filter. In a plastic bag, I have a spare tube, a pink rag, and lube for my bike. Underneath that, my headlamp. Next to that, and this is a weight extravagance for sure: my maps, my journal, and two whole books.

Above my literary stockpile is my Jetboil, which is how I made anything warm to eat or drink (the fuel cannister for that fits into the Jetboil itself). Then I have a bunch of little things. A stuff sack with my camera and cell-phone chargers, plus four extra rechargeable AAA batteries. An orange stuff sack into which I put all my toiletries: biodegradable Dr Bronner’s soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, rudimentary first aid (consisting mostly of neosporin and bandaids), chamois cream, toilet paper and baby wipes. The black square thing next to my sleeping bag is actually some leg warmers that I’d cram around everything else if it wasn’t cold enough to wear them.

rack bag(rack-top bag, held in place by three bungee cords)

This was a fun one. The green bag is just some cheap Eagle Creek bag I bought at REI–it was convertible between a duffel bag and a backpack, but since I wasn’t going to be using the duffel function, I just cut off the straps for that. But why I liked it is because I could take it off my bike and use it as a backpack for dayhikes, but when it was on my bike, I could zip the straps into a compartment and get them out of the way. It was also the bag I used as a carry-on when I flew to Grand Junction (I checked my panniers in a giant duffel bag).

Anyway, this bag carried another random assortment. The blue stuff sack is my tent; the long bag underneath it is the poles and stakes. I liked having those in this bag because then my shelter was super readily accessible when I stopped to set up camp, without having to dig through all the stuff in my panniers.

The other stuff sack is my sleeping pad, a NeoAir that I splurged on before I left because it packs up so darn small and light. Then I’ve got two collapsible liters of water storage–I’d fill those if it would be a long time between watering holes and leave them empty if I didn’t need them. I put layers that I thought I’d want super accessible on top–my beanie, gloves, arm warmers, and some baggy shorts I’d pull over my bike shorts when I stopped in towns where I thought spandex might not be appreciated. My hiking shoes (really just old, dead running shoes) fit right on top of the bag but strapped under the bungee cords for super easy access.

Finally, I had my three relatively little on-bike bags:

bike bags(A Novara saddle bag, a Jannd frame pack, and some random velcro-attachable handlebar bag. Plus two water bottles in cages and a bike lock I kept coiled around my toptube)

bike bag contents(close-up of what’s in those three bags)

My saddle bag was just for tools: another spare tube, electrical tape, patch kit, tire levers, multitool, and spoke wrench.

The frame pack held two more liters of water (I always kept that one full–yknow, until I drank it) and, annoyingly, a shoulder strap for one of my panniers that I hadn’t meant to bring with me but forgot to take out of my pack. I also kept any trash I had in there, easy access for throwing it away whenever I came to somewhere with a garbage can.

My handlebar bag was for snacks and other things I wanted super easy access to: sunscreen, pocket knife, lighter, watch (the band broke, so I just kept it in my bag instead of on my wrist:), hair ties, sunglasses, lip balm, cell phone, and money.

And that was everything I had!

I probably had more clothes than I needed. The underarmor, for example, was sort of redundant with the leg warmers, and I probably could have done with two pairs of socks–but clean socks is such a luxury for me when I travel that I made room for them:) And my tent, which is a two-person tent, is bigger than I really need. But mostly, I had exactly what I wanted and exactly enough–a great feeling.

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After a few days, I figured out my packing scheme so that I always had everything in the same place–that not only made it easy to find things when I wanted them but also kept me from leaving anything behind, because it would be super obvious to me if I was forgetting anything.

So that worked really well for me. If you asked anyone else, they’d of course have their own packing scheme entirely different from mine. So if you’re anyone else and have any ideas, feel free to chime in:) The Jannd pack, for example, was an idea from Urban Adventure League, and I was super happy to have gotten that little tidbit before I left. So I’d super love to hear other ideas for improving the rig for next time:)

Southern Utah by bike: an exercise in containing my constant need to explode with happiness

Wow. Just wow. Southern Utah is no joke. For 25 days, I have been biking and hiking through one of the most amazing places ever.

This, for example:

notom-bullfrog scenic backway(the Notom-Bullfrog Scenic Backway)

Do you even see that road? Can you believe that shit?? Every single day, something like this but spanning the whole spectrum of landscape would reduce me to a puddle of happiness, so crazy amazed that this exists in the world and that I was lucky enough to be biking through it. Gosh. I spent a lot of time feeling like there was no way I would be able to keep myself from exploding with joy.

 river road(River Road–aka Hwy 128, which eventually follows the Colorado River into Moab, UT)

Canyonland Needles District(The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park)

Goosenecks State Park(The San Juan River as seen from Goosenecks State Park)

Island in the Sky overlook(Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park, La Sal Mountains in the background)

I’ve been composing various blog posts and stories and anecdotes in my head for about 3 weeks now, so I’m sure I’ll have more details to come, but in the meantime some stats:

  • Number of biking miles: somewhere in the vicinity of 1300-1400 for the whole loop, including side trips (see my map, below. It doesn’t have all the detours, but it’s a good overview)
  • Number of hiking miles: I have no idea, but I went for some pretty epic hikes:)
  • Number of days with snow: 3
  • Number of days with crazy wind: oh my gosh. Almost every day
  • Highest point: 9600 ft above sea level on Highway 12
  • Number of times someone offered me a ride: 4
  • Number of times I accepted a ride: 2–one because I literally couldn’t bike into the 50mph, sand-everywhere wind to get back to Moab; the other because I’d just dropped off my bike to be shipped back to Portland and the shop mechanic gave me a ride to the airport (super sweet!:)
  • Most ridiculous campsite: inside a vault toilet on the way to Island in the Sky. More on that later;)
  • Worst road to bike on: Highway 191. No shoulder and lots of trucks! Even the few miles I spent on Interstate 70 were better, since at least there was a giant shoulder on that one
  • Best road to bike on: basically any other roads in Utah:) But maybe the White Rim Road (see picture below)
  • Bike issues: Only one flat tire. Super good luck!

I started in Grand Junction, Colorado, since it’s the closest somewhat largeish airport to where I wanted to be, but most of my time was spent in Utah:

And now here I am back in Portland. I really didn’t want to leave Utah, but now that I’m back everything is so lush and green and exploding with spring, James is here, I’ve been riding my super-light, unloaded racey bike, and I remember all over again how much I love it here, too.

I’ll be working on getting pictures up and, yknow, remembering what “normal” life is supposed to be like (what? showers??;), so stay tuned for more epic craziness:)

mountain biking stasia(heck yeah–on a mountain bike I rented in Moab:)

White Rim Road(the rented mountain bike, White Rim Road. Seriously, this was almost way too much. I’m a lucky, lucky chica :)

EDIT: Pictures are up! Find them here! :)