I took a couple days off for an extended 4th of July long weekend, and headed down to Portland with two friends on our bikes. It was my first long-distance bike ride, and in fact the story of how I got to know these two friends was pretty fortuitous. I met them at a dinner another friend hosted to welcome a Brown classmate to Seattle, and we got talking. These two girls, Kelly and Sharon, were about to embark on a month-long bike tour down the coast to California, where they both lived.
They extended an invitation for me to join them on a training session around Seattle the next day, and for the Portland leg of their trip a few days later.
A jaunt around Seattle
I picked Kelly and Sharon up at Sammamish and we managed to load three bikes onto my sedan (two on a rack, one in the trunk) and headed to Redmond City Hall. We started off at a pretty leisurely pace along the Sammamish River Trail, finding time for a short break at the lavender farm. The lavender was in full bloom and it was very relaxing looking at the flowers and sharing a pint of lavender vanilla ice cream.
We continued onto the Burke-Gilman trail from the Sammamish River Trail, and caught glimpses of Mt Rainier and Lake Washington along the way. It was a great, cloudy day for cycling and we didn’t even have to use sunblock.
We stopped at the University of Washington and I showed the girls the classic view of Mt Rainier with the fountain in the foreground. We even saw line of little ducklings following their mama!
After checking out the university, we left the Burke-Gilman trail and headed south to Capitol Hill, where we stopped and had a very late lunch of sandwiches. Then, it was more biking south till the I-90 trail and back across the lake. We rode through downtown Bellevue and onto the 520 bike trail, going past Microsoft (I excitedly pointed out that we were pretty much doing my bike commute), and back to where we started, Redmond City Hall.
The total distance was about 42 miles, and it was the longest I’ve biked till that point, but somehow it didn’t feel tiring enough. I wanted to experience more of the exhilaration and challenge of a longer bike ride, and decided to join them on the Portland leg of their Seattle-SF bike trip a few days later.
Seattle to Spanaway
The day of the bike trip, I woke up extremely early, and set off in the wee hours of the morning to meet the girls in Belltown. It was about 5:30am when we set off from Belltown, cutting across downtown Seattle along 5th Ave and across the International District onto Lake Washington Boulevard. The cool morning air and sweet views of the lake and Mt. Rainier made this initial part of the trip very pleasant.
We traversed the western shore of Lake Washington down to Renton, where we picked up the Interurban Trail and rode it southwards towards Auburn. This was my first time on the southern Interurban Trail (there’s another trail of the same name that runs north of Seattle; they don’t join up with one another) and it was a complete delight to bike on. We sailed past industrial parks framed with wild flowers and Mt. Rainier views, and made it to the southern end of the trail in no time at all.
Lunch was a leisurely meal at a small Asian restaurant in Puyallup called My Lil’ Cube. The proprietress was friendly and I had a great time relaxing in the A/C and eating a cheap but generously-sized and utterly delicious beef bowl. It was over ninety degrees when we had to set off again, but thankfully, we had already covered over forty miles up to that point. It was to be a recurring theme of this trip – we’d wake up early, set off and take maximum advantage of the morning cool to cover distance, preferring to pace ourselves slower in the hot afternoons. The weather during the trip was uncharacteristically hot for the Pacific Northwest – it got up to 96 degrees at one point.
When we arrived in Spanaway, the girls were exhausted, so we lounged under the cool shade of trees at the corner of a golf course for a bit, and decided to find a place to camp for the night. It wasn’t easy doing so – the parks in the area are said to attract unsavory characters at night, and the only campsite in the area was off-limits unless you were affiliated with the military. One of the girls ended up asking a family if we could camp out in their yard, and that was where we spent the night.
Spanaway to Chehalis
The second day of the trip was probably the least eventful. We were originally going to spend the night at Lewis & Clark State Park, but a friendly corner store owner offered to let us set up our tents on the yard behind his store. He even let us take a shower in his bathroom! We were entering STP territory, with many of the locals we passed asking if we were doing the STP, a 1-2 day race from Seattle to Portland (maybe next time!)
Chehalis to Portland
We’d been going at a pretty leisurely pace on the trip so far, and the terrain was mostly flat, so I hadn’t found it challenging until the very last day. We started off early in the morning and I got a flat just as we were pulling out of our campsite. We fixed the flat, but it made me paranoid whenever my bike started making weird noises afterwards.
Lunch was at a cheap teriyaki place just before we crossed the Washington-Oregon border. After a heaping plate of sweet and sour chicken and chicken teriyaki over rice, I snoozed off in my seat for a little bit. We must’ve relaxed in the patio outside the small restaurant for at least two hours before we finally managed to set off again.
We crossed a very tall bridge across the Columbia River, a pretty harrowing experience because of the narrow shoulder and debris at the side of the road.
Not too far from the bridge, we saw a sign for a beach park and decided to head there.
It was a pretty good beach along the Columbia River, and since the day’s temperature was in the 90s, the water was warm enough to swim in. I enjoyed a good swim, while everyone else lounged around and just relaxed by the beach. We had already biked 50+ miles that day, and there were just 40 miles to go before we arrived in Portland.
Feeling recharged and gung-ho after the break, we decided to continue onto Portland. By then, it was already 5pm so it was a pretty long ride into Portland. But we decided to do that anyway. In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t such a great idea. My bike continued to give off strange noises and I was truly afraid that we’d be stranded at the side of the road, especially since we had no air pump at that point.
We made it to Kelly’s friend’s place just before midnight. The most awesome thing was that her friend, Avi, lived on a sailboat in a marina. We officially had the coolest digs in the whole of Portland for the next couple of nights.
We woke up the next day and made a breakfast of bacon and eggs. I usually eschew bacon, but giving in to crispy strips of fried fat never felt so good – especially after biking 200 miles. It was the Fourth of July and the day couldn’t be better. We went to the beach that afternoon and later hung out with Avi’s friends in a park in downtown Portland, before ending the evening with beers and a spectacular viewing of fireworks from the deck of the boat, set to electronic music and a refreshing river breeze.
The next day, it was time for me to head home. I biked to Union Station (and realized that Portland was super bike-friendly!) and took Amtrak back to Seattle.
I was very impressed by the Amtrak Cascades line on the west coast. It was uncrowded and clean. Most importantly, it was super convenient to just hand my bike over at the baggage car and retrieve it at the end of the journey for just $5. I'm definitely looking forward to more train-and-bike journeys in the future.