Monday, July 30, 2012

Bike Camping with Kidical Mass

Kidical Mass is a family cycling organization; the local Portland group schedules rides about once per month, where a short, easy route often starts and ends at a park, the better to encourage families to ride together, and to get kids comfortable and enjoying themselves on bikes at any age. This month, instead of a brief daytime ride, the planned ride was actually an overnight bike camping trip! The KM leaders carefully selected a campground, scouted out the route and printed directional "cue sheets" for everyone, sent timely and informative emails about logistics and timing and cost and everything...generally being incredibly considerate and anticipatory of the needs of all the families and kids of all ages that would be on the trip. Since this was actually our first experience with the Kidical Mass group, we were really impressed with their depth of preparation. One of the important notes they included was that since the ride would take us on some fairly busy roads and swift downhill descents, they did not recommend that children ride their own bikes (and at around 22 miles, the journey was probably not one that many kid riders would want to undertake).
On Saturday morning, the cluster of about 22 bikes gathered at a park in Southeast Portland. While the adults scoped out one another's rigs and made introductions, the kiddos expended some energy on the playground before the trip commenced.
Our son Alton was right around the average age of children on the trip: there were quite a few three, four, and five-year-olds, a handful of one-year-olds, and just a couple age eight and up.
Since we were meeting the group about 20+ miles from our home, Andy, Alton and I elected to pack up our Brompton folding bikes for this trip and use the MAX light rail train to get that much closer to the rendezvous point. We loaded them up with the Brompton Touring Bags and our backpacker's packs, similar to our local camping trip by Brompton earlier this year, but without all the rain and cold weather gear!
This touring setup on the folders is modeled after that of Russ and Laura, co-authors of the cycling blog Path Less Pedaled. Imagine our excitement, then, when we learned that these two experienced bikepackers would be attending the trip as well, sans kids, to film and photograph it for their website (I've included some of their photos here--denoted with copyright watermark). It was really nice to meet them in person (in the picture below, from left: Laura, Russ, me/Katie, & Andy), and you can read their account of this campout here.
Our group in motion! Longtails and tandems and trailers, oh my!
Kidical Mass Bike Camping Trip
One of the KM leaders was heading up the charge with his Surly Big Dummy proudly waving an American flag (above), and the other leader's family brought up the rear with a jaunty banner (below).
After wending our way through some residential neighborhoods, we hopped on the Springwater Trail, a paved path that heads east out of Portland into the next county. Much of the trail is edged with overgrown wild blackberry bushes, so once or twice we stopped to rest and stretch and indulge in tart, juicy berries.
Our lunch break landed us in the outer Portland metro area in the town of Gresham. We "parked" at this downtown city park to sit in the shade, eat lunch, fill water bottles, and use the bathrooms.
Alton and his hi-vis shirt give this park a thumbs-up.
Back on the bikes, we soon turned off the Springwater Trail and onto country roads. Drivers were quite courteous to us and passed our long cycle-train with plenty of room, so we responded in kind with road decorum and rode single file--the environment was happily still quiet enough to carry on a conversation with the folks to your fore and aft.  In Path Less Pedaled's photo below, we have nearly made it to the swift descent that made up our last several miles of riding down into the campground; it's hard to see, but we were actually climbing a steady incline and I am in the green shirt at far left, trying not to pant with my mouth open since my picture was being taken!
Made it to Dodge Park! Time to unpack these bikes.
After often being surrounded by gigantic RVs when we camp at public campgrounds, we took notice when most of these Kidical Mass families had very compact tents to keep their loads on the bikes manageable. Summer is the perfect time to experiment with bike camping for the first time since temperature isn't much of an issue; we even saw that one family brought a very small tent to accommodate the mom and two kiddos, while the dad elected to sleep in his bag under the stars.
After the tents were pitched, we all wandered down to the river to splash, dig in the sand, and/or throw rocks. Then it was time to start that campfire, down some food, and move on to the most important part of the evening: roasting marshmallows!
Alton preferred his s'mores to simply be chocolate squares, hold the marshmallow and graham cracker, please.
We chatted around some and turned in early, then dawdled a little over breakfast before packing the bikes back up and grouping together for a posterity picture, thanks once again to Path Less Pedaled.
Those swift downhill miles down into the campground made for a slow climb out on our way home! After touching base with the group and stopping for one last bathroom break, Andy, Alton and I took up a faster pace to begin our long ride home. We made it to the MAX station and got on the westbound train for home...then Alton crashed out cold in my lap!  He slept heavily all the way to our destination, where we shuffled all our packs and bikes off the train, and Andy agreed to let me sit on a shady bench with my little napper and the gear while he quickly rode his unladen bike the couple miles home, got the car, and picked us up. Alton was so tired he even slept halfway through a trip to the grocery store, which was our errand on the way home to ready ourselves for the coming workweek. It's hard work being an attentive passenger on the bike!
This trip was a very educational and fun experience for us. We got to visit a new campground, meet other bikey, camping families, check out others' gear and bikes, meet two of our favorite bloggers, and further hone our own bikepacking abilities. We hope to get in a few more bike camping trips soon, bring some more local friends along, and continue to broadcast this kind of two-wheeled fun to as many families as we can!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tour de Parks 2012

Last year, the We Go By Bike crew (my/Katie's family, and Fabi's family) participated for the first time in the Hillsboro Tour de Parks. Here in our suburb of Portland, Oregon, the local county bike non-profit (Washington County BTC, a worthy group) plans a family cycling event to coincide with a day-long downtown Farmers' Market extravaganza. As you can read in my description from last year, the event is free with suggested donation, and you can choose to ride with your two-wheeler-ready kiddo around two parks, a quick toodle around town through six parks, or a double-digit mileage (about 15 miles) by seeing TEN parks!  After zipping too quickly with our small passengers through six parks last year, we decided for this year that cruising ten different parks was the way to go.
But wait, what's this! With the Tour de Parks cycling event not commencing until early afternoon, our family decided to do a little local berrypicking by bike first. We'd scoped out a nearby family farm (around 5-6 miles away) with "u-pick" blueberries at a good price, and weighed our longtail cargo bikes down with buckets to arrive just a hair after morning opening hours.  In no time at all, we had 35 pounds (!!!) of blueberries! Home by bike.
With berries safely stowed in the fridge, we scarfed down some sustenance and zipped a couple miles to Downtown Hillsboro to meet up with the other half of We Go By Bike (Fabi's family: Fabi, Gabe, and kiddos Dani and Matthew) and be ready to hit Tour de Parks. And we're off!
For this event, Fabi chose to ride her Brompton folding bike, the inaugural trip with the homemade kid seat supporter that Andy fabricated for Dani so that she could join her Mommy on the Brommie.
Our whole group at 53rd Avenue Park: (from left) Dani on Fabi's bike, Matthew on Gabe's bike, Alton on Andy's bike, and me (Katie!) on the far right.
Once the ride was over, we hit that downtown market celebration and got Alton a gigantic chocolate ice cream cone in the sweltering heat. Below, he communicates, "Can you just stop taking pictures and let me eat my ice cream now?"

Vintage Post: Tour De Parks 2011

I'm calling this one a "Vintage Post" because it was originally published on my family blog in October 2011.
Yes, it's October, but it's a beautiful sunny day, and this puts me in a mind to thinking back about some of the things we did this summer that I haven't yet posted about. So let's go back in time to July and a dazzling Saturday afternoon! This day was Cousin P's birthday, so after helping her celebrate at a pizza 'n play place, we went to Downtown Hillsboro for a fun family event: the Tour de Parks! This is the fourth year that they've held this kid-friendly bike ride, where families can choose from three different lengths of courses that take you all around Hillsboro and through the city parks. We ended up on the medium-length route and saw six different parks while we rode through town. First order of business, we got our son Alton settled in his child seat on the back of my longtail bike with a water bottle and snack--I have made small "leashes" to tether his water bottle and snack cups to the straps of his seat for trips when he'll need them. In the picture below, you can see him holding his water bottle while the snack cup (with spillproof lid!) is the small white circle dangling just above my left heel. The stretchy leashes are just long enough to give him freedom of movement with munching or sipping, but not so long that they actually get in the way of my pedaling. He likes to drop whichever item he's currently not using to the side, then tells me that he's "going fishing" when he reels his eatware back up.
Andy held our small digital camera to take pictures on the ride. Here you see us riding in line with some good friends, the Zawalski family. The orange child seat is mounted onto my friend Fabi's bike--she has an extended frame bike, like mine, also equipped with bags so that she can haul gear, groceries, and more! Unlike my bike, however...she carries two kids on hers! One child seat mounted behind her for her daughter Alton's age, and one smaller seat balancing the weight by being mounted to her frame in front of her seat for her younger son. I ride ahead of her with Alton in his blue seat, and Fabi's husband Gabe takes the lead in front of me in his orange t-shirt. We were quite a parade!
Here you can see the two "big" bikes riding in a line!

Through Walnut Street Park.
Turning off of Baseline Road, one of my favorite major streets to ride in Hillsboro because it has a dedicated bike line and runs East-West through the whole city. It can get me many places!
At the end of the ride, the City of Hillsboro was hosting an awareness event on Main Street about environmentally-friendly choices. Information was dispersed about green power choices, saving water, etc. There were also food vendors and free popcorn for kids. Alton was happy to sample!
After some relaxation in the shade beneath the trees to eat our snacks, it was time to load the kids onto the bikes again and head home. Below, Alton and I pose with our Xtracycle "Radish" next to Fabi's Surly "Big Dummy" (no, I don't know where the brand came up with that name, although it's a honkin' big bike frame) with her two kids. Matching bike baskets and all! A fun day to ride with friends, and we're so glad that we have buddies to share our hobby with.

Friday, July 20, 2012

We Go By...Plane

This summer, my (Katie's) family embarked upon an unusual kind of bike trip: one that involved flying with bicycles to our destination! With a friend's wedding scheduled in sunny Southern California, we planned to fly from our home in Portland down to San Diego, attend the wedding, and then utilize public transit and our folding bikes to travel to a campground and relax on the coast for a week.  We spent quite a while preparing for this trip, including a practice camping trip with the Brompton folding bikes, to ensure that our small-wheeled rides would be able to carry all three of us plus camping gear. We made sure that our small stove and fuel bottle were empty and dry to comply with TSA regulations, carefully selected which items to check and which to carry on, and assembled the necessary tools for small bike repairs or flat tire changes.  It was our first time traveling by plane with the Bromptons. Months ago, we'd caught wind online of a cheap plastic bag sold by Ikea that was large enough to fit the bikes all folded up, and had sturdy nylon handles to hoist the bag over your shoulder (we think they are intended for bed comforters?), so we bought two. These bags made the bikes easy to carry, protected, and also slightly disguised as you move through airport check-ins.  In the picture below, Alton and Andy pose proudly (and blurrily, sorry for the poor photo quality) next to the two bike bags after we've passed through TSA security.
"Slightly disguised," you ask?  Well, having never traveled with bicycles before, Andy and I were made anxious by the stories we've heard of airline employees eager to slap you with extra fees. In most cases, airlines will require that bicycles checked as luggage be partially disassembled, boxed, and charged a one-way fee of $50-100 extra.  In order to try to avoid these fees, Brompton owners who carry-on or gate check their folding bikes will not refer to it as a bicycle, and will instead call it "mobility equipment," "exercise gear," "camera cargo carrier," etc. Since Andy and I were checking our large duffel bags, but bringing our bikes on board the plane as carry-on luggage, we did not want to pay bicycle fees on top of checked baggage fees, so we disguised our bikes by placing them in pouffy plastic bags and removing the seats and pedals with a wrench. We practiced our party line a couple of times before entering the airport: if asked, we'd refer to our bags as "sports equipment," and if really pushed, as "bicycle parts," a label that was technically correct since the Brommies were unrideable without saddles and pedals.
Once at the security line, we were momentarily split up, and I found myself alone as I hoisted my bagged bike up onto the conveyer belt to the X-ray machine. "What is that?" asked a TSA agent. "Sports equipment," I robotically answered. "Oh," he said, "I thought it was one of those folding bikes." His undertone hinted at admiration of this type of transport, and I was not so paranoid that I thought he was trying to trap me into admitting that I was packin' a bike (and I know he couldn't charge me a fee, anyway), but I moved on. To the gate and airplane we went, where the bikes fit easily side-by-side in the overhead bin.
To attend our friend's wedding north of San Diego, we rented a car for two days, wisely deciding that cycling around semi-rural roads in the wee hours on a Saturday night post-nuptials would be pretty dicey. But after returning our vehicle to the SD airport, we hopped up on our bikes and rode a few miles to a depot station, where we collapsed our gear as much as possible and purchased our tickets for a commuter train headed north, up the coast.
Once on the train, we shuffled all of our stuff out of the aisle and squeezed in together: one seat for Alton, one for me, one for Andy, and one for all of our stuff! Plus more on the floor.
We disembarked at the end of the line in a town called Oceanside, a coastal city that is the gateway to a very large military base. The military owns much of the immediate surrounding land, including the beach bluffs, so the way for us to continue north to our campground destination was actually to display our civilian driver's license I.D. and ride on the roads through the base itself. We saw very few other vehicles, one or two other cyclists, and an amusing sign that you don't see every day.
We were besieged by headwinds and uphill climbs as we pedaled slowly through the base, making terrible time and causing me to worry that we'd arrive at our campsite after dark, still needing to set up the tent and eat some dinner. Luckily, I'd printed out all of the pertinent bus and train schedules ahead of time, and we happened upon a bus route going in the right direction with a pickup time in only ten minutes. Done! Our friendly bus driver was glad to help us get our bags on board, did not charge us a fare for the ride, and even drove us a little ways past the stop to get us right to the gates of the campground. He saved us a lot of time and what probably would have been a very late night for our arrival and dinner.
We had made it to San Clemente, CA, which is technically Orange County, but an environment more similar to San Diego area, where sandy desert scrub pervades the land almost right up to the ocean--no lush orange groves in sight here!  Our campground was in a dry little gulch, with a dirt bike/hike path going right up and over the surrounding hills and down to the ocean. In the picture below, we are at the highest hill summit on the path looking down into the campground; our tent is the little orange blob right in the middle of the picture.
Once we were at the beach, the trail ended with a few porta-potties and a bike rack, a perfect spot to lock up our bikes and head onto the sand. We always rode our bikes from camp down to the beach, because it was an easy 10-minute pedal with some fun downhill coasting, instead of a 30-minute walk while giving Alton a piggyback ride and carrying beach gear.
At the beginning of the week on our first full day in town, we rode to the only major grocery store, which happened to be on the other side of both the city and some pretty steep hills. After pushing the bikes much of the way there and getting wind-whipped on the downhill on the other side, we found an alternate, less-steep route home that unfortunately had us cranking the pedals as fast as we could to stay out of the way on busy streets with no bike lanes. Here at home, we live in a suburb where the cycling culture is not as prevalent as in nearby Portland, and I often find myself grumbling at drivers passing me too closely on the street, seemingly unwilling to take the time to drive around me with ample space, and I mentally sulk that the Portland cyclists must have it so much better than I do. On our bike vacation in California, however, I put my pouts in check and realized that my hometown drivers are far more courteous and knowledgeable of how to relate to cyclists on the road than the car-happy Californians. It's not that the SoCal drivers were all incredibly aggressive or rude, but most of them seemed to not be paying very much attention to us (we paused at every intersection to ensure that we weren't cut off by someone taking our right of way and turning in front of us), and it appeared that they didn't know what to do with a cyclist that was (following the rules of the road and...) riding in the driving lane. You would have thought we were cheerily clippity-clopping down the street on Clydesdales painted green for all the "huh?!" attitude we got. Well, when in Rome, you do as the Romans do, so we followed the lead of most of the cycling surfer dudes we saw and rode on the sidewalk instead of the street. Most of places we needed to ride, we could hop onto an older thoroughfare street with wide, unused sidewalks, or ride parallel to the freeway on a street with a bike lane.  I have appreciated my local Oregonian drivers much more after this trip!
Despite needing to become accustomed to riding on sidewalks, we really loved being able to get around this unfamiliar city on bikes. We'd take the bikes to the beach on our daily visits, drop in to mini-marts for the occasional snack, enjoy a few meals out, and never, never have trouble finding a parking place in the super-touristy and busy downtown. Not only was this a slow-paced way to explore San Clemente, it gave us a chance to exercise amidst our beach lolling, and saved us money in rental car fees. Midweek during our trip, we perused a local newspaper to find details on where we could celebrate Independence Day and watch fireworks, and were pleased to hear an announcement that our campground was providing decorations for the campers to use in bedecking their bikes, scooters, and strollers, and then join in a parade around the park. We happily scurried over to claim our streamers and American flags, and pedaled slowly in a herd of kiddos while smiling, dinging our bike bells, and singing patriotic songs.
That evening, we headed into downtown for an early dinner before riding back to our nearest beach to watch the fireworks.  Concerned that revelers in the dark might feel emboldened about stealing our sweet little folding bikes off the bike rack, this evening we rolled them right onto the sand with us and propped them on rocks. We pulled on sweatshirts, watched the sunset, and waited for the sky to light up!
After a lazy blur of days sunning at the beach and playing at the campsite, we were ready to move on. The campground would only let us reserve our site for seven days, so for the last two days of our trip we relocated to a campground in San Diego, much closer to the airport when the time would come to fly home. My parents live a few hours away on the Central Coast of California, so they decided to drive down with my brother for a visit. After camping alongside us for a night, we all packed up to prepare for relocation to beautiful Mission Bay, San Diego. My parents offered to take our son Alton south with them by car, to spend extra time with him and to lighten the load that Andy and I would carry on our bikes as we rode to the next destination. So while Alton was taken out to lunch and to the Model Railroad museum in Balboa Park, Andy and I had a breezy, not-too-hot few hours' ride and train trip back down to meet up with them.  Below, we break for map check and water at a state park along the coast: you can see our bikepacking setup, which is a backpacker's pack on the rear rack and tethered to our saddles, and a Brompton-specific touring bag on the front mount.
A nice protected, paved road and beautiful vistas for half of the ride...
...then we passed through this tunnel to turn away from the ocean and inland toward the military base, where we had a very quiet ride and very little traffic passing us once again.
Once at our campground in Mission Bay, we had one more fun evening with grandparents and uncle before they had to leave to head home. The facility had lots of distracting recreations available, however, so we consoled ourselves with playground and pool time. Alton even decided that he'd see if he could ride one of our Bromptons! He can't ride a two-wheeler alone just yet, but had fun balancing on the pedals with the handlebars tipped waaaaay back.
Our final full day of camp was also our wedding anniversary, so we made plans for a decadent dinner out in downtown San Diego that night. We rode our bikes to a nearby bus stop and hopped aboard a city bus to get within a few blocks of the restaurant...and Alton fell asleep on my shoulder! He was out cold and we didn't want to poke the sleeping bear and wind up with a cranky dining companion, so Andy lifted both bikes off the bus and I hoisted Alton onto my hip to step down onto the sidewalk. With a little bit of walking to do to reach the address, Andy secured my folded Brompton onto the back of his unfolded one and rolled the two bikes alongside him while I carried the little guy. Now that's cargo biking!
The next day, we broke camp, packed everything up, went to the airport, checked our duffels, rode to the mall and watched a movie, then returned to the airport for our uneventful trip back home. The bikes fit on the plane again with no problem, and we learned that "we've put them in the overhead bins before" is a door-opener with airline staff. It was a great trip, so much fun seeing these cities from the seat of a bike, and really nice having no schedule and nothing to do but apply sunscreen. We'll definitely bring bikes along for future plane travel. Many thanks to We Go By Bike co-author Fabi and friend & neighbor Marinda for rides to and from the airport, dog-sitting our dog Minerva while we were gone, and watering our plants!

Get Lost!

This is a belated post about an organized ride in which Andy and I participated during Portland's Pedalpalooza, a weeks-long event each June where local cycling enthusiasts plan fun bike rides with extremely diverse and wacky themes. Amongst rides to specific destinations, like breweries or a farmer's market, there are costumed rides (the Dr. Who ride!), rides for groups of people (the "ginger" redheads ride), and the most (in)famous, the Portland Naked Bike Ride. And no, I didn't ride in that one, so don't ask for pictures.
On one evening in June, Andy's parents were in town and offered to spend the evening with Alton, so Andy and I scoured the Pedalpalooza schedule to see if there was a ride we could join. We found one that appealed to us: the "Get Lost!" ride. After meeting at a Portland bike shop, the group of riders would roll a pair of fuzzy dice right in the street to determine where we would ride. The total on the dice indicated how many blocks the group would travel, and the even numbers took us left, while the odd numbers took us to the right. "Snake eyes" or double numbers meant we rode straight ahead.  Below, Andy waits with our Bromptons in front of the bike shop Velo Cult.  We took the Brommie folding bikes for this ride because we wanted to be able to easily take the Max light rail out to the meeting point and home in the evening.
The ride commenced: the group would gather together in one spot and wait for stragglers...

...then folks would take a turn to roll the green fuzzy dice (you can barely see them on the ground in this picture) and we'd tally up their total and start riding right or left, six blocks, or nine blocks, or four blocks, etc.
The group charges ahead down a quieter residential street. You can see on the far left that we had a couple of skateboarders join us for the fun!
Here I am on my Brommie, pedaling steadily.
Some of the ride took us on pretty busy streets. We clustered together and I felt reassured by the safety in numbers that cars would find us highly visible on the road and veer around us, even if they were slightly annoyed at having to alter their courses. Below, you can see a vehicle passing us, and the lead rider is a guy wearing blue bunny ears taped to his helmet and a Utilikilt.

Many drivers, however, would wave, smile, and toot their horns when they saw our eclectic mix of cyclists swarming through, because bikes are very much part of the culture here in Portland, and because most folks realize when Pedalpalooza kooky events are taking place.
Eventually, our rolls of the dice took us all the way out to the Portland airport on the extreme east side of town!
We went up and down some large hills that allowed us to take in beautiful views.
The ride was just scheduled to last a few hours, so when our time limit was up and we were just toodling around some neighborhood, our leader asked if everyone wanted to keep riding, or start heading back toward our starting point.  The group consensus was that we'd keep riding for a few more rolls of the dice or the nearest bar. Although we Portlanders love cycling, we love beer, too. The ride ended up at a jovial dive a few blocks later.
Andy and I said our goodbyes and treated ourselves to a dinner out in Portland since our little son was occupied with his grandparents. We had a great time, thought that the mix of people (in the picture above, you can see a "tall bike" on the far left--two bike frames stacked double decker) on this ride was really enthusiastic and welcoming, and we'd definitely do it again!