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Friday, May 10, 2013

Those Tour Planning Stresses

It's just two short days until I depart on my next tour. This Sunday I'll be heading from Portland eastward through the Columbia Gorge and going as far as I can. Sounds simple enough, no? But my neuroses can't handle simple, so things get complicated.

First off, there is the whole business with the length of the tour. When I initially planned it I had about a week to play with. This meant that I could get out to Pasco, Washington, about 230 miles away. Pasco works as an end-point because there is an Amtrak station there, so I could take the Empire Builder home. But there is a problem with this plan: the Empire Builder departs around 5:30 am. While a very early departure is not much of a problem in itself, the problem is what to do the night before. Last time I used Pasco was after my 2010 Trans-Oregon tour. Rather than foot the bill on a hotel room I opted to spend the night in Denny's. I never want to do that again. So let's look at hotels! There are a few motels near the train station but when I read reviews online the common themes coming up were "crack dealers", "blood stained sheets", and "noise all night." Scratch that. The motels with better reviews were all over on the other side of the Tri-Cities, in Kennewick and Richland. These places were about ten miles away. While this wouldn't be a problem if my train left at say 11am, I didn't relish the idea of riding 10 miles across town at 3am, nor did I want to spend even more money on a cab. There are also Warmshowers hosts in the Tri-Cities, but like the better motels, these all were on the opposite side of the metro area, running into the same problems. It would also be awkward to show up for a Warmshowers stay to inform them I'd be leaving at 3 am.

Then a new wrinkle entered the planning process. Originally I thought I would have to be back to work on Monday the 20th but then I found out it would be Wednesday the 22nd instead. I now had nine days to play with rather than seven (I would want to return home on Tuesday, obviously). And just like gas expanding to fit the container its contained within, I like to expand my touring time to the maximum amount of time I could. The trip from Portland to Pasco was already stretching things, as I could ride it in five days if I wanted, so I "padded" it with a few side trips. I didn't want to pad the trip any more so what to do?

This is where I had the notion of radically altering my plans and choosing a whole different tour. This is nothing new to me, as I've had to scuttle my planned 2009 Trans-Oregon tour due to crap weather and go up through the Puget Sound instead. What could I do that would take nine days and be accessible from Portland? Maybe I could something in the Puget/Georgia/Inland Sea region. Originally I planned on exploring this area on bike towards the end of September this year. But due to my bosses' paternity leave at that time, that plan is scuttled and I'll be doing a tour of the Central Oregon Cascades in July instead. I could do a pretty good circuit in this area and take in some of the islands as well. This would definitely be fun...but it just didn't feel right just now. I've seen my share of this area over the past few years, and it's always accessible. Heading east through the Columbia River Gorge would explore some lands I haven't explored on a bike yet. I would get to see a different side of the Northwest, the dry side (which also means more reliably better weather for May.) Plus, I want to really explore the Inland Sea area, something that I feel needs a couple weeks to do what I want to do. A little over a week would just scratch the surface, a tease if you will. A little over a week isn't enough when I want to spend several days in cities like Vancouver. So I will shelve that for another time.
Beautiful. But will have to wait for another time.

So back to the original plan, with some modifications: instead of ending at Pasco, a city that I don't like, I would ride all the way to Spokane, a city I do like. This would add on almost 200 more miles to the total length of trip, but with nine full days I have enough of a window to pull it off. And I would get to see another region of the Northwest that I don't have much experience, the Channeled Scablands territory on the Columbia Plateau. The big challenge for this territory is: Where do I go? Unlike along the Columbia River and up though towns like Walla Walla, Washington, which is on Adventure Cycling's Lewis and Clark Route, there is pretty much no bike info for this info. And there ain't much else, it's a region with few towns, all of them small. There is a "bike trail" that runs from Pasco to Spokane, the Columbia Plateau Trail. It follows the former rail bed of the Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railway. The big problem with this rail-trail is it's mostly unimproved, simply the old rail ballast beneath the now gone rails. If I was touring on a Pugsley it would be okay, but I'm not, sorry. Plus a few of the trestles and tunnels are closed off. But there are roads that approximately parallel the trail, so I'm going to follow those instead of taking much busier US 395. It's going to be exploring some uncharted territory, but that makes it all the more fun, eh?
The Gorge beckons.

So the plan is set. Now I just need to get through the next few days, as I have busied myself with other "distractions" that need to be attended to, stuff like art, the Train Day Ride, work, and other stuff. But come Sunday I'll be on the open road.


  1. Out of change comes'll have great time on the road.

  2. It's all worth it once you're rollin', but I don't have to tell you that.

    Is taking the train to Pasco and riding back from there an option?

    1. Doug (and Annie): I know once I get on the road it won't matter...unless something bad happens, of course.

      Doug: Taking the train to Pasco and riding back can sort of be an option to some, but I wouldn't consider it for one big reason: the prevailing wind in this area (really, on the entire ride through here) is blowing from the west, which would mean I'd be riding into a headwind the whole way. You know how they warn cyclists about riding north on the Pacific Coast because of the headwind? Well in the Gorge it's even worse than that sometimes. No thank you.

      Also, as I sort of pointed out: Pasco is a destination of necessity rather than desire. If I took the train to Pasco it would get in around 9pm which isn't as bad as 5:30am, but I'd still be confronted with riding 10-15 miles cross-town to get somewhere decent to stay for the night, in a "town" I really don't care for. I spent about 15 hours there three years ago, and that was plenty for me.

    2. Ah, yes I remember the winds in the Columbia Gorge when I was there a year ago. Lots of windsurfers on the river that day, and very strong winds blowing up river.


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