Feb 162020
Seattle to Spokane Train + Bike Tour Concept: Do I Want to Ride This?

I’ve started noodling on a concept for a long self-supported bike tour to experience a different part of Washington than those I’ve already explored. While I’m at it I could check off at least a couple on my #BikeIt lists of Washington trails I intend to ride and counties I haven’t yet biked in.

I’m throwing this draft out to the world so you can tell me the good, the bad, the ugly, the painful and the “it really won’t work that way” challenges of this concept. This is so long that I’m breaking it into three posts: This one with the parameters; another post covering Seattle to Dayton; and a final post with the three potential routes from Dayton to Spokane.

My sources and inspirations:

  • A pile of bike travel books — including, of course, Cycling Sojourner Washington by Ellee Thalheimer since I was involved in bringing that book to life when I headed Washington Bikes
  • Adventure Cycling Association information on their Lewis and Clark route; they mention “sparse services” in some stretches and I’ve definitely hit some of that
  • Google Maps and associated searches to piece together distance, climbs, food and lodgings in manageable chunks. Search tips:
    • Important discovery: Use “food” as your search term, not “restaurants”! This turns up little mini-marts, truck stops, and other places you can fuel up. Not fancy, but when you’re fueled by calories you have to plan to top up the tank when and where you can. Learning this enabled me to fill a couple of holes.
    • Always break your route into chunks to identify options. I learned that if I plug in a multi-stop route all at once Google gives me one route for the whole distance. If I break it down into stages I get more options for each leg. It appears that you may find a quieter road with lower traffic volume or a different climbing profile if you’re not indicating to Google that you’re doing a long-haul ride.
  • Journals and posts on CrazyGuyOnABike (although #WeAreNotAllGuys), where a lot of touring riders post maps, pictures, and the agonies of headwinds and flat tires on various routes

Requirements:

  • Sheets and showers. I’m not proposing to haul camping and cooking gear and sleep on the ground. Such a trip is awesome for those who want that and I’m not opposed to camping in general. This simply isn’t that trip.
  • Scenery. This doesn’t have to be 100% jaw-drop factor, to quote Cycling Sojourner; I find the rolling hills of the Palouse and the colors and textures of agricultural land pleasant to look at too.
  • Sit-downs. I know from experience I can put in more miles if my legs get a rest around every 12-15 miles. Ideally that rest isn’t just stopping by the side of the road and chewing on calories. I’d rather sit down in a coffee shop, use their bathroom, and contribute to the local economy as I fuel up.

The questions I haven’t yet answered for myself:

  • Now that I have an e-bike, would I want to take that on a tour? I’d have to haul a couple of extra ounds of charger and I’d be pushing a lot of weight when I wasn’t using the e-assist, since Zelda weighs about 49 pounds before I put any bags on her. On the plus side, given the climbs on some segments of this route I’d be mighty happy to have the help, and I know rolling downhill with this much rolling mass is a big “Wheeee!”. I don’t yet know the total range on a fully loaded bike so this requires a weekend trip to test my range before committing.
  • How many miles a day do I want to cover on either bike? On our trip through a bit of western Washington and the San Juan Islands that I designed, I discovered there’s a real art to balancing the length of the days and the places you stay that you might want to explore a bit vs. the ones you’re only stopping at to get rest and food. Some of our days actually had too little mileage, while one day had far too much when coupled with the climbing, and we sometimes had an awkward afternoon to fill in places that didn’t have much to do. As I look at ways to break up the mileage I’m thinking about whether a small town that has some lodgings and a place to eat also has things to do, see, explore, experience. It doesn’t need to be big and fancy, just something interesting. With coffee.
  • Am I really determined to stay in Washington state for the whole trip? So far I have a couple of unavoidable overnight stays in Oregon simply to hit the mileage/food/rest break points. The Historic Columbia River Highway on the Oregon side where they’ve turned a stretch of old highway into a bike trail sounds wonderful, and I actually got to experience one piece when it hadn’t yet opened to the general public thanks to a “Pedal with the Politicians” ride. But that’s only a few miles. We’re discussing a possible US Bicycle Route through some of the area I’d be riding so I could check out the conditions on the Washington side.

So there you have it. Some uncertainties and unknowns and the first sketch of a tour plan. I’ll publish Part 1, Seattle to Dayton, and Part 2, Dayton to Spokane. If you’ve ridden anywhere near this general route let me know what you think and drop links to any additional resources I should check out. My sweetie also asked about going back to the Olympic Peninsula so I’m roughing out another option too. We loved Lake Crescent.

Bike touring route map from Vancouver, WA to Dayton, WA.
Route map Vancouver, WA to Dayton.
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