Saturday, April 12, 2008

Hawkins Family Bike Tour: Day 5

Dear Friends,

This last day of our family bicycle tour brings us from Battleground WA to Seattle, through Portland and vicinity. Our tales of adventure up to this point had only hardened the misgivings Claire's family have had about our trip and bicycling in general. Monique in particular stated on many occasions that she "would never, ever do anything like that". So I did what every cycling evangelist does. I put her in the stoker seat.

It turns out that she just loves riding and really had a good time tooling around the neighborhood. We also put some of her kids in the trailer and they had a great time too. You just have to try it. Once you do, you may never think the same way again.

We took off from Battleground at 10 AM after a leisurely breakfast and play time with the kids. The road into Vancouver was a delight with flat to downhill farm roads with wide shoulders marking our path. There was eventually quite a bit of road construction but I've found that road construction is nice for bikes as long as the flaggers believe that bikes belong on the road and well, around these parts things are pretty positive. In fact, every flagger we encountered made sure that we got through without stopping and smiled and waved as we passed.

This was also the first fully sunny day we've had. Friday was just a joy and our main concern was making sure that Thorvald wasn't overheating and that he had plenty of shade. Riding on these kinds of days makes you feel like you're getting one over on the world. I spend so much time riding in the rain at 40-50 degrees that I start to overheat myself when things get too sunny. Perhaps my blood has thickened into a higher viscosity that doesn't handle temperatures above 65.

Vancouver has beautiful bike amenities and we found our way to the I-5 bridge without a hitch but with some help from smiling people. Tandems with kids is the way to engender love and understanding.

Well, love and understanding only go so far when you get to the Oregon side and the signs to downtown are spotty to be charitable. We had a whale of a time trying to figure out how to get downtown and by following the Vancouver bike map and taking MLK south into Portland, we found ourselves on the least hospitable road of our entire trip. We even got honked at. I don't know what kind of cromagnon honks at bikes with kids, but we got our share and were nearly run off the road on an on-ramp by an Oak Harbor Truck Lines driver pulling two trailers. He also gunned his engine hoping that we would be scared and pull off. A little "peter principle" at work I'm sure but it also gives lie to the notion that Portland is some kind of cycling paradise.

Anyway, the Vancouver bike map was incorrect. We asked around after getting a little hot under the collar, ok, a lot hot under the collar, and found our way to Vancouver Ave where things were much more sedate. This road wasn't even shown on their map nor was Interstate Ave, the apparent super highway for fast north-south cycling traffic. Maybe next time. Maps are only as good as the committees that approve them.

We got to the train station after a nice stop in the park for Thorvald, dumped our non-essential stuff, and took off to see the town. We rode up Broadway, toured Portland State University, met a couple of my old professors, hung out in the Park Blocks, had a nice lunch, played some more, got provisions, and then went down to the waterfront.

Claire was pessimistic at first owing to Seattle's rather utilitarian waterfront style, but upon arrival, her heart was softened and we took another nice break. We then cruised around the Esplanade and talked to some other bikers, traversed some nice bridges, and had a good time. My opinion of Portland was elevated somewhat by workers installing the new green bike boxes and by the sheer volume of cyclists present, but I have to say that Delta Park and North Portland are a mess.

Now I have a technical question for all of you bike know-it-alls. The wonderful 35 mm Paselas that I installed have expanded enough that their undulations sometimes rub on the chainstay. I know I'm not within my warranty to do so, but do you think it proper to crimp the chainstays so as to garner more tire clearance on a steel framed bike? Your help would be very much appreciated.

Also you should know that with knowledge comes danger. The Portland Amtrak office charges tandems at two bikes and trailers as one bike. The Seattle office counts it all as one bike and a stroller that is not charged separately. Riding under the radar so to speak has its advantages when train employees don't know the rules because they don't have the constant experience. Count your blessings, dear Seattlites!

So we paid the surcharge ($5, don't tell them about the airlines!) and happily boarded the train. This was the biggest surprise of the trip. It turned a little long, but Thorvald had napped plenty and was ready to play, and play he did all the way home until 11 PM when we got him home. I love that boy, but he really liked riding and wasn't so involved in the train experience. It was shot in the arm that with children, you can't know what to expect.

So we covered 25 miles into town and goofed off another 15 or so just tooling around town. The day was sunny, and our dirty, road battered tandem looked a little out of place with much of the sleek Portland fare, but we had a great week and look forward to further adventures. The trains work well, allow you to play with your kids, and get you there eventually. Bicycle travel is surprisingly nice and and we'll be doing much more of it in the future.

Thanks for reading and let me know about crimping the chainstays. I could just go with 32mm tires but I'm curious.

Brad, Claire, and Thorvald Hawkins


Michael R said...

Riding MLK from the north on down? Ouch! I cringed in recognition at Brad's description - the signage from the I5 bridge to a reasonable bike path is woeful.

But next time Brad, check in with the Portland crowd before you ride and we'll map out a family friendly route for you.

beth h said...

Oh, honey -- MLK? A nightmare. Sorry it took you so long to find the bike path on N. Vancouver.
Next time, check out Portland/Metro's version of the bike map, which is MUCH more filled in on the Portland side of the Columbia. Happy riding --Beth