Reflections on 900 miles on a bicycle




On the northern California Coast
On the northern California Coast



[I wrote this back in August of 2010]

Well, I’ve been back for a week, so it seemed like time to write reflections on my Portland to Berkeley bicycle trip.


Why did I do it? Was it turning 50, the old “mid-life crisis” reaction? Maybe, but probably only a small amount. I’m pretty satisfied with life (career I love, good friends and family, the body working pretty well). Was it “because it was there”? Probably a bit. I had started to think about riding up to the AAPT conference, but summer plans (and prevailing winds) pointed me in the direction of a return ride. And, hey, with two months off every summer, why not spend a couple weeks on my bike? In the end, why I did it is probably a lot like why I’m a vegetarian: “All of the above.”

Athletic accomplishment?

Many people are impressed with my ride, thinking it’s quite an athletic feat. I’m not so sure it’s that hard. One of the riders I met on my trip (Ineke, who is quite a commute/around town rider, but not a big cycle tourist) hit it right when she said “It’s not so much about the legs as it is about the mind.” Dalton, a 17 year old girl riding from Washington state to SF with her dad and 14 year old sister, also had a hint about what was going on when she asked me “Do you ever feel like just quitting?” I told her that I did often, and that seeing all the other riders on the Pacific Coast route is a great encouragement to complete my trip.

How much preparation did I do for the trip? Not that much. I rode a few 30-70 mile rides over the past year, and several 20 mile commutes home from work (in the fall I was great at 1-2 times/week, but this fell apart when it started getting dark early, when it was raining, and when I got a sore throat). Other than that, my bike is my primary means of getting around town, so I am on it almost daily for 2-10 miles of errands and commute from the subway to work. I think that being familiar with and comfortable on my bike, especially in traffic, is probably the best preparation I had for my trip.

So, can anyone jump on a bike and ride 900 miles? Probably not. But I believe that one doesn’t need to do as much preparation as many would expect, especially if you are willing to plan your days as not that long, and are willing to take each day “slow and steady.”


In Oregon, my first night
In Oregon, my first night

I tend to overpack for just about anything, and while my tour was not a complete shift from this, I did cut down from what I might have packed on another day. My bike and packs weighed in at around 110-120 pounds (depending on how stocked up on food and water I was at any give time). My bike with racks, fenders, kickstand, etc. weighs close to 40 pounds. Not sure of the empty weight of my bags (two sets of panniers, one rear rack, one handlebar rack), but I clearly was carrying a lot of “stuff” in my bags.

Tent: I only have one tent, a wonderful self-supporting two-person tent. I could have saved some weight here, but it was nice to have the extra room inside. I didn’t need it so much on this trip (no rain), but if it had rained, being able to put my bags inside is a great plus.

Stove etc.: I have an older MSR “Whisperlight” stove that burns white gas. The fuel bottle connects to the stove, so the stove itself is minimal in size and weight (you could easily put it in a small shoe). It burns hot, and can burn just about any liquid fuel you can find (although white gas can be found in almost any sporting goods store in the US). The stove does take priming (big flames at first), and I had a bit of “stove envy” when I saw other cyclists whip out their compressed gas stoves and have them give off nice blue flames on the light, but I’m trying not to replace good equipment I have just because there’s something “better” available. I have a “cook set” that contains two pots, a pan, and two plastic cups. The pan I never used, and I had another cup so the cups I didn’t need either. I have a stainless steel insulated coffee mug that fits nicely in my waterbottle cage (and holds drinks hot for hours!), so there’s another cup. I think next time I’ll leave the pan and plastic cups at home.

Clothing: I pretty much rode with just my wool outfit: long-sleeve and short sleeve jerseys, cycling shorts, and leg warmers. I had an extra pair of shorts and tights that I never used, but I think they were important to have (a cyclist needs to be able to care for her/his bottom in any conditions, and if it rains it’s great to have a pair of dry shorts to change into). Perhaps the street shorts, pants, and sweat pants were a bit much–but the shorts were great for swimming in.

Making friends and acquaintences

Highway 1 on the Pacific Coast is probably the most social bicycle tour one can take. You can find a state campground with hiker/biker campsites about every 30-50 miles, and during the summer there are plenty of cycle tourists riding southbound (and a few northbound). Nights turn into social gatherings for those so inclined. I met several people who I have kept in touch with over this past year [I’m writing this section in June 2011], and will have a chance to visit with Morris this summer when I’m in his neighborhood in Arizona for three weeks for a teacher training.

Beachcomber Cafe, Trinidad, CA
Beachcomber Cafe, Trinidad, CA

My blog from the trip

I blogged my trip on

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