February 01, 2014
Last summer, my brother Spencer toured across the country by bicycle, following the path of Lewis & Clark through Iowa, the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, Washington, then down into Oregon through the Columbia River Gorge. It was actually a continuation of Spencer's previous tour, which started in Portland, ME in and landed him in St Louis, MO over the summer in 2012. Last year, joined by a friend, he picked up where he left off to complete his cross country adventure.
Check out this video of them trekking through a flood plain. He said his North St. Bags stayed bone dry.
They rode on Surly Cross Check Bikes, and Spencer was outfitted with a complete set of Route Seven Panniers - including a prototype of our new pannier hook setup which he was putting to the test for us. Road testing is a key phase in developing any type of new gear. As a small business owner, I don't personally have the time to take 3 months and tour across the country for testing, but luckily Spencer volunteered. We're confident in our new hook system, because we know that it can withstand the rigors of an extreme tour.
We're currently testing a new bag (using the same pannier system as the Route Seven Panier) - more details to come.
We caught up with Spencer and Grace after the tour - here's debrief with a few photos.
Where did you go?
We started in St Charles, a town outside of St Louis Missouri. The plan was to follow the Lewis & Clark trail along the Missouri river all the way into Montana, then the Snake and Columbia rivers to the Pacific Coast. We detoured in the middle however, so that we could visit national parks like the Badlands, Black Hills, Bighorn Mountains, Yellowstone and Glacier. In all we visited 11 states.
This tour was a continuation of a tour I did by myself last year from Portland Maine to Hannibal Missouri.
How long was your tour?
The last time I counted I figured the total was just over 3300 miles. It's difficult to be accurate, since some days we rode without bike computers or mis-calibrated computers. We started riding on 2 June 2013 and touched the Pacific Ocean on 18 August. That's 78 days, of which we took 1 rest day for every 4 or 5 riding days. We averaged 50-60 miles per day, with the farthest day being 92 miles.
What was the most challenging part of the trip?
Physically? The Columbia River Gorge. Before the tour I assumed the Rocky Mountains would be the worst, but honestly by the time we reached them we were in-shape enough to get over with little trouble. That and my mother supported us through parts of them (by carrying our gear in her car). The Gorge was a different beast though, because it has intense westerly winds, which cut our speed from 15mph to about 6 for a few days. Part of the problem was that we were so close to our finish line that we pushed harder and didn’t take any rest days.
Then consider the fact that parts of the Gorge only have one roadway: US-30, a major interstate. Parts of it had very little shoulder and having constant noise and danger only a few inches away made it very emotionally stressful too.
What advice would you give to friends touring together?
When we started the tour Grace and I were good friends. Over the course of the summer our friendship solidified significantly, but only because we put a lot of work into open and honest communication, patience, and self-awareness. One of the things that stayed near the front of my thoughts was the idea that whether or not I'm annoyed or frustrated with feelings, survival comes first. For instance, if we got into a fight and had to take alone time, we still made sure to stay in contact or at least to tell each other where we'd be and that we'd be safe.
What was the most unusual part of the trip?
One day, as we were trekking through the Black Hills I think, we would see roadside signs from time to time noting the age and epoch of the rock visible in the road cuts. As we got further into the hills the ages kept going up and up. I remember thinking "hundreds of millions of years! wow!" and immediately passing a sign stating "2 billion years old". That amount of scale was mind-blowing.
Similarly, the act of biking across the entire country lent this huge sense of scale to it. It takes less than 6 hours to fly from coast to coast, and I've known people who've driven across it in a week or less. It’s so easy to travel that people don’t notice all of the little places in between. As a society we’re so used to consuming the beauty in a landscape in a few minutes of driving by it. It seems rare to me that people ever spend hours, let alone days, staring at the same distant mountain range.
How did the bags hold up?
The bags were great. I had two prototypes of a Route Seven Large and a Route Seven Medium from last year's tour, as well as a prototype of a more recent Route Seven. From day one I put these bags to the test. The first week alone we rode through downed trees and floodwater. The bags also suffered countless brushes with gravel, dirt, hurricane-strength storms, mud, pavement and truck beds. Aside from one rip in the liner of the red prototype, these bags held up against any and all water (that rip occurred due to a construction flaw which was fixed after the bag was constructed).
Grace had 4 Arkel panniers, which as I recall had zippers down the sides so she could quickly get at stuff packed at the bottom. I didn't mind that my panniers didn't have this feature, especially since zippers aren't completely waterproof and I would often stuff gear inside, which would have strained any side zippers.
You can read Spencer & Grace's blog for more stories from the road here, and see a GPS map of their route here.
I was lucky enough to join the team for the very last stretch from Portland to Seaside, OR.
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