Cobble Hill, British Columbia: Some retrospective thoughts - Grampies Go Coastal - CycleBlaze

January 25, 2013

Cobble Hill, British Columbia: Some retrospective thoughts

The Coast in Winter

First off, this coast is surely one of the most interesting and spectacular areas in the world. Over its span there is a great range of ecological zones, and even the sea changes character dramatically as you go south. The single overwhelming attribute is the access to that sea, with the road running by or in sight of the water for a great proportion of the time. Further, and especially in Oregon, there is a greater frequency of great camping spots than on any other route we know.

But what about doing it in Winter? Mostly Winter only applies to Washington and Oregon, for in California while there are storms and cold, they seem to be much milder and any way applying to Northern California. But for Washington and Oregon, although we had an adventure it is not one we would recommend to any non-masochists out there. The storms were just too intense and the cold too troubling to make it much fun. It's expensive too, because while we know there are some that enjoy winter camping, motels are much more practical. But that throws away all the beautiful and well placed campgrounds in favour of pricey and sometimes dodgey motels.

So, we would not do it this way again. What we would do is to start at San Francisco and head south. That does miss the wild surf and the redwoods, but still gives hundreds (sixteen hundred?) of kilometers of coastal access and views, roads with much better shoulders than in the north, and an increasingly lush and pleasant environment.

Credit Card Touring

It was clear from the start that we would not be able to camp in the wet, cold, and wind on the north part of the coast. But we brought our gear, to use as soon as possible as we progressed south. When it became clear that to get south in any which way we would need to lighten the load in order to increase speed, we mailed the camping gear home. So that made the trip entirely a "credit card tour", which means using motels for sleeping and restaurants for any hot food (unless the motel room has a microwave).

This is the first time we have tried a credit card tour. While we did our first big trip, Grampies on the Go, without cooking gear, we retained the camping part of the experience and much prefer to both camp and cook while on tour. So what do we think of credit card touring now? We think, never again!

What is our beef with sleeping in a real bed, eating food not heated in a single pot, and not having to fight to find power for our electronic devices? It's a paradox, but those luxuries are actually a strain for us. That real bed is not "our" bed, and it changes every night. That hot food has mystery ingredients and the chef's skill is a gamble each time.

Most importantly, with a tent, if you find you can not make it to the next official campground, you only need a flat secluded spot, and soon it will be another day, to try again.

The final beef about credit card touring is that it uses, or rather uses up, your credit card. You are vulnerable to motel keepers who want $100 or more for their often shabby premises. On the food front, even two lame Egg McMuffins and coffee at McDonald's is starting to approach $10, two burgers with fries is close to $20. In our world, these are noticeable amounts of money, especially if the tour is something more than a two week vacation jaunt.

None of this is to say we won't ever again set foot in a motel or a restaurant. They are valuable refuges when used with discretion. But credit card reliance? Not for us.

The American People

During our trip we were greeted with nothing but courtesy and welcome from the people we met. More than that, we were often applauded, with calls of " Yeah, Canada". We have no idea why that would be- do they remember Lester Pearson (the father of Canada's now tarnished decent and peace keeping image), or do they like Stephen Harper (the father of give the Americans all the polluting tar sands oil they can swallow), or is there some other reason?

One thing is sure, the links between our two countries are strengthened not only by the fact that most on either side of the border have visited as tourists, but families are often spread between the countries. The bond of having visited a place or having family there makes any hostilities much more remote, and we like that - for all countries.

As on other trips, people offered us help of all sorts, including a place to stay. We have nothing but good thoughts for the people here, yes, okay, even including that Amtrak conductor!

The Android Tablet

The Android tablet was great for its compactness, but it found a way to extend the already long process of writing a blog into the ridiculous. It's chief tricks for doing that were:

Having a "share" function that scrambles the order of multiple files (photos) being shared.

Having no " undo" function, for when you for instance highlight a large amount of text in order to save or move it and inadvertently hit a wrong key, losing the selected material.

Like all touch devices, having an awkward, slow process for selecting and moving text.

I will be working to figure ways around these problems, becasue the compact size and low weight is such a big plus. However, if we had been camping I would not have been able to provide the battery time and off bike work time needed to complete the blog daily in the face of the inefficiencies.

Wool Clothes

Our brother-in-law Erhard introduced us to Merino wool as an athletic fabric. The premier brand here is Icebreaker, which is 100% merino. The claimed advantages are breathability, warmth when wet, resistance to odours, and non-scratchiness. We started last year with their lightest weight T shirts and found all the claims to be true, plus they dried super fast (even when washed and hung in the tent overnight, they dried by morning).

For this coast tour in Winter, we added their next step heavier pants, hoodie, and socks. We found again that the claims were true, plus these pieces proved durable as well. The hoodie was heavier and bulkier than a maybe equivalent warmth thin down sweater, but it did offer that critical wet resistance (and a very valuable hood). The only catches with this stuff, the items are pretty pricey, and they are cut slim and clingy for real athletes, not old Grampies. We handled that a bit by buying larger sizes, and by trekking to Portland, where there is no sales tax.

Overall, it's thumbs up for merino and Icebreaker!

The Book and the ACA Maps

"The Book" refers to "Bicycling the Pacific Coast" by Vicky Spring and Tom Kirkendall, Fourth Edition, 2005. The first edition of this was in 1984, and we believe the fourth edition is the latest. We bought both the paper and the Kindle versions, but did not carry the paper with us. The paper version weighs just under a pound and has 272 pages.

The Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) five map set is variously dated 2011 and 2012 and the maps weigh together about 1/4 of a pound.

The book contains quite a number of general overview maps and otherwise is based on a mileage log account of the route. Several alternative ways to go are covered, especially in the northern sections. The hundreds of pages of words obviously convey more information than the ACA maps can. The problem is that you can not easily have these words in front of you while you are cycling, and you obviously also not remember even a day's worth of words. We photocopied the maps, and had those in one map case. The problem is, the maps are far too general to make turn by turn decisions with (especially in the southern sections). So what we ended up doing was to read a day ahead in the Kindle, for a general impression, and then we would follow the ACA.

The ACA and the book routes differ in several significant sections. We came to accept the ACA, and it generally worked out. For example, at San Diego, the ACA sends you on the ferry and down the Coronado, while the book sends you inland, and to San Ysidro. Of course, we do not know how the San Ysidro route was, having followed the ACA, but Coronado was a really lovely ride and a highlight of our trip.

If we had to use only one source, it would be ACA. Without it, passing through the major centres, especially, would have been a real bug.

One beef with both sources, and with every other bicycling routing source - including the wonderful Bikeline maps for Europe: They seldom declare their criteria for choosing the route. Are they taking you up a bloody hill because they think you will enjoy the view, to avoid a 1/4 km of traffic, to pass by a favourite winery? Who knows. Since we don't like hills or wine and don't mind traffic when there is a decent shoulder, we tend to stick to the main road unless and until we see a good reason to follow a deviation shown on a bike route.

This can lead to problems sometimes. For example, in Laguna Beach , where we have a photo of the "squeeze", neither the book nor the ACA had an issue with proceeding on the main road, but a "Bike Route" sign directed us to head for the hills. In that case, it would have been a good idea.

The Fridays and the Train

For travel in the U.S., tires that are as debris resistant as possible are essential. The Schwalbe Greenguards may not be up to it. We will look at teflon add in belts, and possibly either other makes or going back to the Marathon Plus model. We will say, however, that after almost 3000 km our tires have no really visible wear.

The rest of the Bike Friday components performed very well, except for the fenders that disintegrated (front) or had a cracked mounting bracket (rear). We would like to acknowledge Bike Friday for sending replacements, out of warranty, and instantly.

As for folding bikes and the train - we bought the folders to avoid the hassle of boxing full sized bikes for Amtrak. Now Amtrak (and PCL) has hassled us about the folded bikes. We still actually like and prefer the ride of the Bike Fridays, but we may give up on folding them, and give up on rear panniers. Instead for travel in the U.S. we could go back to bike boxes and to using the Bob trailers. Art Birkmeyer has shown that despite any demands a particular Amtrak agent may make, it is reasonable to fold and bind up a Bob trailer as a piece of unboxed baggage. Also, where Amtrak trains crossing the border do not have baggage cars, we will probably go back to bicycling across. For overseas jaunts our hardshell cases will probably be our first choice, with the problems, of course, of either finding a place to store them and doing an out and back tour, or shipping them ahead to our final destination and finding storage for them there.

What's next?

Next we will take the five year olds(twins Avi and Violet)across Idaho (July?), using the Wee Hoo recumbent trailers for them, on the Trail of the Coeur D'Alene. Then it's either Europe north to south or San Diego to Tucson and perhaps on to Key West. Watch for us! (and watch for our statistics page for this tour - coming soon).

See you next time! (Thanks to Christian Laszlo from our family in Irdning, Austria for this photo from 2012)
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