July 6, 2015
These days, it’s easy to find yourself going to school until you’re 30, find a great paying job, and realize that you’ve lost the best days of your life to “success.” I was on this track not so long ago. In 2014, I received my bachelor’s degree in biotechnology and chemistry. Originally, my plan was to go straight to dental school afterwards and start making a living ASAP. Fortunately, due to my lack of planning, I was not able to apply until the next year leaving me with a gap year between schools. This gave me the perfect opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do. Using the few scraps I saved from working as a lab rat in a biotech startup and some help from my parents, I was able to load up my bike with everything I needed to go on a month long journey down one of the greatest routes on the planet, the Pacific West Coast.
*Fully loaded Trek 520 on the Willapa River near Raymond, WA
My goal was to bring everything I needed, but nothing more. Many people swear by having front bags, but I thought that having them would only enable me to over-pack. In the end, I was able to keep everything in 3 bags and a small handlebar bag in the front. Here is a detailed list:
Dry Bag – My camping and sleeping stuff
- Alps Mountaineering self-inflating air pad
- REI Camp Dome 2 tent
- Eastern Mountain Sports 0 degree sleeping bag
- Okabashi sandals
- Aeros Premium pillow – expensive, but one of my best purchases
Pannier 1 – Clothes and some other loose items
- 6x spare AAA batteries – for my headlamp
- Nylon rope – for a makeshift clothes line
- Camp soap
- 2x microfiber towel
Off the bike clothing
- 1x merino wool base layer
- 1x jeans
- 2x pair wool socks
- 2x pairs of quick dry underwear
- 1x pair of Adidas soccer pants
On the bike clothing
- 2x pairs of riding shorts
- 2x 100% polyester t shirts
- 2x pairs bike socks
- 1x Windbreaker
Pannier 2 – My cooking equipment, bike tools, emergency med kit, and everything else.
- .775L MSR stowaway pot – I put my stove, pan scrubber, windscreen, and a dry towel in here when not in use to save space.
- Small cutting board
- Soda can stove – home made, google it!
- Denatured alcohol – cooking fuel
- Emergency med kit – band aids, alcohol pads, medical tape, gauze, ear plugs, and allergy medicine.
- Toiletries bag
- Food bag
- Large freezer bag of dried pasta
- 1x Small can of Pesto
- 3x Vacuum sealed packaged tuna
- 12x small packs of oatmeal
- Various snacks
- Bike tools
- Pedro allen key set
- Craftsman retractable allen key set
- 3x Park Tool tire levers
- Multi width bike wrench of unknown brand
- 1x Spare tube
- 1x CO2 canister and nozzle
- Patch kit
Handlebar Bag – Contains all the items I use regularly
- Cell phone
- Neutrogena 55 SPF Sunscreen
- 2x 10,000 mAh external battery
- 3x micro USB cables
- Hand sanitizer
- “Bicycling the Pacific Coast.” My maps and travel guide
- Allergy medicine
River leading into the ocean on the way to Bay Center from Westport
With so many outdoor apparel and supply brands originating from Seattle, you can bet that Washington State has a lot of natural recreation to offer. I started my trip by taking the ferry service to Bremerton, WA from Seattle to get as close to the coast as I can. From there, I continued southwest around the Hood Canal finally hitting the Highway 101.
The first thing I noticed biking along the coast of Washington was the prevalence of wilderness among towns. Coniferous trees stand tall at every inch that wasn’t paved road or a body of water. Small cities seemed to barely escape from being consumed by its surroundings; it was as if the environment had made its way into the very culture of living in Washington. The locals all had a deep understanding of the geography. Every time I stopped and asked for directions, people would give me numerous options like the scenic routes, the shortest routes, or the popular routes around the whole state.
Some downsides to biking around Washington is the weather, as many would agree. Locals say that summer does not really start until July 5th; I started my trip in the beginning of May. Days ranged from overcast and cold to overcast and warm with the occasional hour of sunshine. Luckily, I was never really rained on during the day. Nights ranged from cold and damp to cold and rainy. During my time in Washington, my tent was never packed dry. Mosquitos are also a big nuisance. Due to the humidity, pools of stale water never evaporate allowing bugs to breed undisturbed. I learned very quickly (and painfully) that I needed to bring some kind of repellant.
The rural feel of the whole state, the excellent road conditions, and the local residents made Washington a treat to bike through despite the unforgiving weather. My only regret was that I did not start further north to see more of the state.
The Astoria-Megler Bridge into Oregon
Crossing the Megler-Astoria Bridge into Oregon was quite an experience, not necessarily one I would like to repeat though. If a narrow bridge full of distracted drivers and laughable shoulders doesn’t get your heart racing, I don’t know what will. During this stretch, I was almost hit multiple times by motorcycle clubs that didn’t seem to respect a bicyclist’s space. Had I been hit, it would have been my word against dozens of other bikers. I wish I had a Fly6 bicycle camera and tail light. Not only would it provide sweet footage of your ride, but it would provide clear representation of incidents that may occur. That being said, crossing the 4 mile wide Columbia River and knocking down one whole state had a tremendous effect on my morale.
Oregon was my favorite part of this tour as it really had all the elements of a great bike ride. To start, navigating through the coast was very easy. Signs indicating the direction of the Oregon Coast Bike Route lined the 400 mile ride every couple miles. During this stretch, I barely had to open my guide book and maps to look for direction which means a lot more time enjoying the trip and less time worrying about ending up in the middle of nowhere.
The state parks are also world class and incredibly bike friendly. Hiker/Biker campsites cost $5 everywhere and the sites are very well maintained. Hot showers are free and bathrooms are sometimes even cleaner than my own home. At the end of a 70 mile day, carrying a mobile home with you, the last thing you want to think about is whether or not you will get a hot shower and a clean area to eat and recover. I never felt that in Oregon, and every day I looked forward to my next destination.
The Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint
The scenery in Oregon is just awesome. From mountains to forests to wide open coasts, I enjoyed riding through it all rain or shine, but if I had to pick one favorite location, it would be the Three Capes Scenic Loop just south of Tillamook. Definitely one of the harder climbs in my trip, but well worth it for the breathtaking views of the coast. Cape Lookout also has a great hiker/biker site with a clear view of the sunset.
Sunset at Cape Lookout State Park
I grew up in Northern California and went to university in Southern California so I thought I knew California up and down like the back of my hand, but boy was I wrong. It turns out that there’s a whole other third of the Golden State that people just don’t talk about, and I can see why. Crossing the border into California, the rurality of Oregon continues. Trees still grow in abundance, and cities are very small. Redwood trees start appearing as you head towards Crescent City and take over the landscape until you reach Mendocino County 250 miles south. There really isn’t much commercialization until you reach San Francisco.
Highway 101 near the redwood forests in Humboldt County, CA
Riding along California left me with mixed feelings. All along the California coast are rolling hills and cliff sides which make the terrain very tiring and sometimes stressful to ride through. Unexperienced tourists in RV’s and cars line the whole coast during the summer, and the signs that indicate the direction of the “Pacific Coast Bike Route” are unreliable due to people stealing them off the road. To top it all off, California had cut the state park budget causing many of my destinations in my itinerary to be shut down.
Start of the Big Sur coastline
On the other side, California has the most diverse coast line out of all three states. You get gigantic redwood forests lining the north, beautiful marinas with great food further south, gigantic cliffs along Big Sur, beautiful historic missions everywhere, and the some of the greatest surf beaches in the world in southern California. Because there is so much to do and see, it becomes impossible to leave a certain area without feeling like you missed out on something. This is not a bad thing though, it just means you have to come back for more!
View of the northern side of the Golden Gate Bridge
Riding along the Pacific Coast really helped me understand myself a lot better. Physically, it was grueling. There were many times when I just wanted stop and take the next train back home, but I kept fighting through the pain and my body just kept adapting. Mentally, it was liberating. It felt good to live a simplified life with minimal societal obligations, where living in itself is a reward and everyone around you had the same idea.
Bicycle touring is really one of the best ways to explore any region. You get to know your surroundings very intimately as you slowly pass by every landmark and you get a feel for the geography as you pedal through every inch of your journey on pavement. You also have the mobility of a moving vehicle, but the flexibility of simply getting off and exploring on foot. For those of you that are even slightly interested in a journey like this, my advice would be to stop dreaming and just make the time to do it. Prepare well, but don’t overdo it as you will learn most of what you need to know on the road. Most importantly, ride safe and enjoy the hell out of it.
About the author
Derek Tow is a California native that has a yearning for adventure. He holds a degree in biotechnology/chemistry and has worked in the microbiology field for several years. After finding himself in a workplace rut, he decided to drop everything and cycle along the Pacific West Coast. His experience living so close to the border of society provided him with new sense of empathy for those who live just outside. Derek is going back to school for dentistry, but will continue to travel with his bike in the future.