Riding the rails west, after pedaling south

PORTLAND, Ore. – What began as an off-pavement bicycle trip along the spine of the Rocky Mountains, became a few days in Portland by way of Greyhound and Amtrak

I shipped my bike and most of my gear from Missoula and boarded an evening Spokane-bound Greyhound. In Spokane I changed to a 2:45 a.m. Amtrak Empire Builder train to Union Station in Portland, which arrived about 10 a.m. local time. 

From the sidewalk in front of the train station I called a few hostels to find a room for a few days, making a reservation at the second place, Traveler’s House on North Alberta Street. The idea for a diversion to Portland came while grinding up a gravel road somewhere north of Holland Lake on the way to Seeley Lake in Montana. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but Portland also seemed like an impossible distance away; and, I was supposed to be pedaling to the U.S./Mexico border

In addition, I was on a well-researched and published route, one with a guide book, detailed maps on waterproof paper and published GPS file. Navigation was easy and I didn’t have to think about where campgrounds or motels were, since they were all in the book and on the map. 

The route I first planned to Spokane, through Missoula, had no published information other than what Google Maps showed. The suggested route went over dirt roads as remote as what I had been on since Banff; but this time, I was on my own. It had the makings of a proper adventure. 

The Spokane station makes use of Amtrak’s roll-on service for bikes, which may be limited to certain trains at certain times. Other stations require bikes to go into cardboard boxes, while other stations don’t allow any checked bags at all (on or off). This route was also still in bear country, which was worrisome. Being able to roll my bike on a train and roll it off in Portland had a strong appeal. 

Portland is easy to get around with a bike and has no shortage of fun places to ride both in the city and in its periphery.  

Then another travel idea came up: ship the bike back from Missoula and head west from here, traveling light and easy. It seemed good also, but the lack of bike riding to Spokane echoed that concern about what I was supposed to be doing. 

But, I’m not racing. I don’t have sponsors or a team to appease. This was travel, an adventure that happened to be with a bicycle. The bicycle riding aspect is always secondary to the travel, the adventure. To me a bike a generally preferable to a car – especially for day to day commuting and errands – but being in a train or bus isn’t so bad either. I had already ridden about 500 miles/800 km (with a degree of havering) mostly off pavement, often redefining what I think of a hill. 

This was my first bike tour, my first border crossing on a bike. I did it on a single speed and started the whole thing two days after returning from Burning Man, near the end of the weather window, alone. When I consider all that, it doesn’t seem like I’m quitting – the psychological elements of the bike tour were the most difficult. I had to deal with not only being alone, but being really alone. There were bears and the howls of coyotes, owls and deer and a big moose. Strange insects occupied the air and the ground.  

I had mixed feelings about this diversion to the Rose City, but once the process was underway, I began looking at it with a wide aperture through lenses tinted with travel and adventure. That left me more at ease. 

I flew to Banff, rode a bike to Missoula, drove in a car with my wife to Glacier National Park. I took a municipal bus to a mall to get a pair of shoes, I rode a Greyhound bus to connect with an Amtrak train. 

In Portland I took a ride in a areal tram for no reason. I rode in trolleys, street cars and buses to get around (including a lot of walking). I took a red line MAX to get to Portland International Airport to fly to Texas. 

I couldn’t come up with any more modes of transportation, other than a boat tour which I’ll do with my wife in March. 

In that hostel, I discussed movies, travel, American politics (guns, Trump, health care, sports), and just the general bullshit people talk about when they gather from faraway places. That last night especially, the nations of Ireland, Australia (a few Aussies actually), England, New Zealand and the United States were all represented and discussed. 

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