Saturday, August 29, 2009

On the road again

I'm back in Australia safe and sound and happy to be home despite still having strong wanderlust. My bike survived the two flights home, thanks to the meticulous packing by Walnut Creek Robert and beautiful box decorating by Jennifer, Irby and Victoria.

When I discovered last month that I couldn't extend my stay in north America, I decided that if work was still quiet (it is), I'd extend my adventurings on my own home turf by cycling in an area I'd always meant to - northern New South Wales. This coincided perfectly with Uwe's arrival. A German cyclist, who I met briefly at the hostel near Jasper, Uwe wanted to cycle from Brisbane to Sydney on his brief visit to Australia. What better excuse than to play local guide to an equally fit cycle tourer ...and he might provide some diversion for the territorial, nesting magpies along the road!

I've got just over a week before I want to be home in Brisbane and hope to reach beloved Bellingen, near Coffs Harbour before I have to turn around.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I made it!!! 4600km cycling from Fairbanks to Eugene, tired but ready to celebrate

You might just make out the numbers on my bike computer above - 4500km this morning.

At 5ish, after what seemed like almost a whole day of climbing or headwind (6.5 hours pedalling), from the Oregon Coast, I cruised into town along one of Eugene's waterway cycle paths with a mixture of sadness, relief and pride. I've never cycled so far in one trip before - 4600km (or less impressive sounding 2,760 miles)!!! My body could do that again....after a few day's rest from the last two epic days (153 km and 130km) but a slow train to San Francisco and a long flight home soon after will probably be welcomed by my muscles.

Random tally:
  • Hours in the saddle - 242 hours (based on guestimate of 19 km/h average, which gradually increased)
  • Cohousing visited - 8 in USA and Canada and hopefully another to come in Oakland
  • Punctures - 5
  • Tyres - 1
  • Swiss army knife - 1 - left on roadside at dinner stop in Alaska
  • Lots of wildlife - big and hairy or blubbery and small with feathers or scales
  • Coconut oil chain lube - survived 1200km on one application with 4 days and nights of drizzle and rain
  • Tangoed in San Francisco, Vancouver, Victoria, Portland and perhaps tonight in Eugene
I found a great cafe venue to end my journey in - Cosmic Pizza and Theo's - organic vegetarian pizza, drinks and internet - to recharge my body and my touch with friends and family. I will endeavour to fill in the gaps in my blog over the next few days and weeks and will have a few more to come about my last few days in the US. I have a welcome party of at least three on the 24th at the train platform to be followed by a celebratory breakfast and a ride over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Columbia Gorge 18th August 2009

Riding along Columbia Gorge to the east of Portland had some appeal but on a hot day and with time running out before our bus to the coast, Toni and I had a car tour up through the mountains around the west of Mount Hood, through some great forest (not all logged forestry monoculture) past a lake warranting more than a drive-by, tranquil Timothy Lake, where the crayfish are famous and people boat and swim.

The winding forestry roads would make for fantastic cycle touring. They are barely one lane wide but traffic is rare and the views into the forest and to the dramatic Mount Hood make the sweat worthwhile. Descending to the Columbia Gorge, if I'd been on my bike I would have gorged myself on the fruit from heavily-laden trees - pears, peaches, nectarines and berries - as well as the wild ones growing on the roadside.

Unfamiliar with long-distance car travel, I found myself dozing off often and was sluggish when we stopped to hop out and photograph the many sights. We saw salmon swimming up the fish ladders and past the underwater fish windows at the Bonneville Dam hydroelectric station, saw rainbow trout breeding amongst immaculately kept gardens and historic buildings and found lunch at the historic Multnomah Falls, another lodge created in the Great Depression time.

Our last main stop was the Crown Point Vista House, a grand octagonal stone building constructed on a dramatic point of rock way above (733 feet) the broad Columbia River. With elaborately swirled window glass, stone and plasterwork, it fell into disrepair and was vandalised but now, restored is a popular stopover, as originally intended (also was built as an observatory). The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in the National Geographic Society’s 2001 “Save America’s Treasures” book.

Although the road was fantastically scenic and travelling by bike would have offered more opportunities to stop and enjoy the views, I felt very safe in the car. The road is extremely narrow and is very popular with big vehicles, like the mucle truck we were in.

Pam and John got us to the train station in time to secure our bikes and luggage for the bus ride with time to spare to share a final drop at the Noble Rot.....

Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood

I just visited one of the most fantastic building projects on my travels - Timberline Lodge, one of the US's National Historic Landmarks, on the flank of Mount Hood. With crystal clear skies and views way beyond distant Mount Jefferson and the Sisters beyond (see above), it was the perfect day for a visit to this amazing, creative and inspiring solution for severe unemployment during the great depression. The building is like a piece of elaborate jewellery. Everywhere you look, inside and outside, there are encrustrations of tastefully crafted elements - carvings, mosaic tiles, textiles, ironwork, stone, glass.An initiative of Franklin D. Roosevelt, under the Works Progress Administration, Timberline Lodge was a breakaway from the bridges, roads, dams and other major public works of this government section. Construction of the ski lodge created jobs for artists, designers and carpenters and the project was completed ahead of schedule in 12 months from breaking ground (involved digging down through over 2 metres of snow first) to final curtain hanging. All workers, of average age of 56, were paid 90cents/hour and worked 4 weeks at a time on the remote site, throughout the year until the building was completed in 1937, for US$1 million.

Thanks to the guiding hand of head designer, Marjory Hoffman Smith, all materials for the construction and decoration of the building were sourced from within a 500 mile radius. Marjory was also responsible for tying all of the trades together - stone masons, carpenters (who learnt new skills of carving, furniture-making and woodworking on the job), blacksmiths (Mr Dawson and his wheelchair-bound coworker), weavers, artists. Everything for the building was created by hand - the furniture, light fittings, locks and hardware, upholstery and curtain fabric (hand woven or appliqued), rugs and carpets, timber shingles....

Watercolour paintings of wildflowers within a 1 mile radius of the building inspired the internal colour schemes. Unique painting on carved linoleum form wall panelling in one of the large meeting rooms. In the Blue Ox Bar, originally destined for wood storage but much more appropriately a cosy subterranean drinking hole, colourful glass murals line the walls designed by a woman artist.
Maybe we can talk to Kevin (Rudd, our PM) about building creative structures employing all talents - architects, designers, textile artists (weavers and rug makers), blacksmiths, artists, carpenters, wood carvers and furniture makers - instead of more highways as job creation in difficult times.
Having walked up the mountainside for a view over the roofs, to see the wildflowers and watch skiiers descend the small remaining snowed gully, we returned to the Ram's Head Bar on the upper floor of the double-height central dining/lounge space for a delicious early dinner and drinks. The main central space is of such a massive scale. Timber poles and beams and the central stone fireplace column made me feel like a hobbit. Here is the link to the slide show of my photos

If you fancy a stay at this great spot, check out their website

Toni, my new cycling chum, arranged to meet her blacksmith friends up there who have worked on some of the metalwork reconstruction and new works who gave us a more personal and fun tour of the grand building. There was a week long blacksmithing event in the nearby town of Government Camp so it was perfect timing. Lisa and Andy are a young blacksmithing couple, recently released from apprenticeships with star blacksmith, Darryl (the lodge's head smith), and now have their own business, Firelight Forge -

Off to Portland via the Columbia river tomorrow (in the mega truck) to catch a bus back to Astoria to resume the ride south. I've got a train booked from Eugene so I wont even get to tip my toe over the border into northern California, but I will catch my flight home before my visa expires. I hope Toni can keep up with my tight schedule. She's been enjoying lots of time off the bike and is a little worried about the rumours of steep undulations along the stunning (so we've been told) coast.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Beauty at Nehalem

Some time along a grimy, roughing-it bicycling journey, a girl likes a bit of pampering. With the extra motivation of turning one year older but not wanting to feel or look it, a particularly woolly head of hair, some birthday money in the bank from Mum and my sister and being in female company, Toni and I checked in to Mirror Images Hairdressing, under the care of platinum blonde, Vicki, and her side kick, Pam.

Amidst a large space encrusted with Marilyn Monroes - magnets, posters, photos, glazed porcelain and a road sign, I was sat in an historic (and very comfy) barber's chair, quietly awaiting its next victim.

I'd been happy with my raggedy bob - a collaborative effort between a cautious hairdresser nervous about too dramatic a cut on elbow-length hair, and my friend Matt, unqualified as a hairdresser but skilled as a woodworker and cabinetmaker. What I'd hoped for from Vicki, was a shampoo, scalp massage and hip trim but what I got was something that made her coo with delight and me to hide my grimace at my new hairdo's niceness and conventionalism. Toni had the same battle on the other side of the big, central mirror. We both wanted more jagged styles - must be an architect thing.

I also decided to indulge in an eyelash tint to save on mascara, which can run in warm moments of tango or hot weather. Warning bells should have rung when Vicki kept saying "eyebrown tint" instead of eyelash. It soon became evident that she'd never done eyelashes before. What I ended up with was a permanent version of the running mascara. I ended up with lower eyelids and a few token eyelash hairs (maybe 5?) stained a soft brown.

Toni and I left Mirror Images feeling sleeker, tidier and only slightly lighter of pocket and more amused and delighted by the experience in the hairdresser than with our new looks. A few days later in Eugene, my sleek new 'do' fitted in perfectly on the tango dance floor. Neat bobs seemed all the rage in the younger tango-dancing scene. Noone could match my lashes and lids, though.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Big camper

John and Pam, Toni's Florida friends, sold their home and have spent 16 months so far, roving around the nation, seeking a new place to live. Their mode of transport is a bit bigger than mine - a mega Fifth Wheel - one of those enormous caravan trailers that lands in the middle of the truck trailer. I've wanted to go inside one since I first saw them in Alaska and here I am, surrounded by polished timber floor, rugs, ceiling fan, dining niche and sitting nook, large double bedroom and decent kitchen... and shower and vanity and toilet! With electric lights, gas cooker, big fridge and underfloor heating their home is fully equipped. It certainly doesn't feel anything like a caravan interior. Must have some Dr Who tardis technology.

The Fifth Wheel is quite a difference in weight to move around- 120kg of me, bike and luggage vs 17000 lbs with 8000lb vehicle (about 12,000kg). Having had some bad weather through Washington, I have to admit I can see some of the appeal of all comforts under a decent roof!

Below is a photo of transport and all gear needed for two cycle tourers to travel for 3 months and the truck and beyond is the more traditional American equivalent.

Here are some other examples of mobile homes:

Little cohousing - Peninsula Park Commons

Peninsula Park Commons was one of my favourite cohousing projects I visited in North America (and the last one) because it was of a manageable scale (logistically) easily transferred to home in Brisbane, made use of existing building fabric, incorporated artistic, sculptural elements and was well linked to parks, bike ways and public transport.

Developed in 2003 by two people keen to see cohousing happen, it was adapted, expanded and then sold on to interested parties - unique in all the places I visited. By a couple of people rather than the whole community establishing the design and construction, it sped up and simplified the building process.

Interesting links:
PP Commons home site

Friday, August 14, 2009

First impressions of Portland

Beyond the industrial edge of railway yards and space-centre-like gas plants, Portland seduced me as I knew it would. Cyclists everywhere, beautiful old buildings, a bustling real farmers' market (local produce, wine, preserves, very temping baked goods).

The Natural Capital Centre (or Ecotrust) sat beside the markets in a grand, gold LEED-rated refurbished wharehouse. Adapted 10 years ago, it is still a thriving and up-to-date mecca: cafes, resource libraries, information centres and a Patagonia store. I'll be back in the morning.

Riding through busy main streets, filled with jammed but courteous-to-cyclists car commuters, I had the strong feeling I may need more than the planned 2 days to get to know the city better.

We had a longer ride than needed east to our Warm Showers hosts, Kate and Winslow (below), as I'd mislocated their block on the long, gridded streets. This gave us a chance to see the thriving Hawthorne Street, brimming with enticing shops, cafes and restaurants, bars, bike shops and groovy locals and too many cars. A dangerous combination and marked as such on Portland's cycling maps.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Dockside Green, Victoria, BC

Dockside Green is a new development in inner Victoria which has received the Platinum (best) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating. It mixes residences with retail and commercial spaces and features all sorts of green elements which I'd hoped to learn about first hand from the Dockside Green team at their very well setout but always closed information centre in town. While I didn't have any luck getting into the display room, I did wander around and between the buildings and along the internal wetland. I saw a few wind turbines (not turning) and some banks of photovoltaics (awnings in the photo above).I didn't find any Dockside Green staff on site but chatted to a resident who is grappling with the transition of downsizing from rural Yukon to an urban condo. Despite that challenge, she seems happy with the way her new home performed in both winter (extreme this last one) and the recent heat wave and its proximity to work and town (she walks to both).

Here are some of the interesting bits about the project...

Developer – Windmill West in collaboration with Vancity and the City of Victoria

Completed 2008

Eco building

New LEED platinum-certified building - first community ever to target LEED Platinum certification for buildings developed in a master planned community.

Green roofs

45-55% less energy than National Energy Code through low-e double-glazing, external sunshading, cfl lighting, solar-powered external lighting, individual unit metering

Eco infrastructure & services

100% fresh air HVAC

Highly water-efficient water fixtures (approx. 65% less consumption than conventional developments)

100% of its sewage treated on site and with the treated water used for flushing toilets, landscape irrigation and water features

wastewood biomass to produce gas that for heating and domestic hot water


Car share program

Bike trails

Bike racks in each building

Nearby ferry terminal

Transit and a mini-transit shuttle bus

Furnishing & Fitout

Carpet tiles to common areas

Bamboo floors and cabinetry

Cork and salvaged timber flooring

Low or no VOCs

Highly water-efficient water fixtures (approx. 65% less consumption than conventional developments)

To read more, have a look at the company website for Dockside Green

High Tea at the Empress and other treats

Food and drink, as mentioned before, are pretty important to me, especially when they are not only pleasurable but provide essential fuel to keep my legs turning. I've enjoyed some very basic and some delectable delights but here are a couple of highlights....

CHATEAU LAKE LOUISE, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada
After 6 weeks of camping, eating wholesome food and being humble, I'd looked forward to a fine high tea at the Chateau overlooking Lake Louise. Horrified by the price, I resorted to a more modest but equally delicious pot of vanilla tea with apple strudel (see above) and eeked out the experience for as long as I could keep diluting my tea pot and not get sunburnt by the hot sun through the enormous windows.
THE EMPRESS HOTEL, Victoria, BC, Canada
An early addition to my must-do list was tea at the super-grand Empress Hotel in Victoria. Liz, mum's school friend, insisted on treating me to the experience. I couldn't complain about that! Spare spots were sparse in the enormous, elaborate room dedicated to the enjoyment of tea and treats.
The pleasure of afternoon tea was apparently "invented" by the Duchess of Bedford, of 18th century England, who needed to resolve the sinking feeling she experienced at 5 o'clock each day. She started to nibble on sandwiches and cakes, with a good cup of tea, to tide her over until later in the evening. It took off. The Empress Hotel has been serving afternoon tea for 101 years and since 1939 in custom Royal Doulton china first presented to King George V in 1914. Only available at the Empress, the hotel shop must do a roaring trade in china with its fans.After a palette preparer of juicy sweet strawberries and sweetened whipped cream, we were presented with a huge pot of tea each (tea bags!) and tiers of goodies - sandwiches, scones with jam and cream and super rich sweet treat to top it all off. We took our time, enjoying the atmosphere, super-comfy chairs and the tasteful live piano music from the far corner.
A parting gift, possibly to soften the blow of the bill, we each received a fancy tin of Empress blend tea bags.

REBAR, Victoria
Rebar is reknowned widely (I've seen their cookbook in Australia) for fantastic vegetarian and vegan food (though somehow salmon has slipped into one of their dishes). Liz and I decided to test out their quesadillas for lunch one day, accompanied by juice smoothies as bright as the decor and were suitably impressed. No wonder queues are often out the door at meal times!

I ran out of eating time to try this out, tucked away in Market Square near Chinatown, but they offer a very extensive range of vegetarian (vegan, I think) food. Price of a meal is based on weight - great for light eaters but maybe not long-distance cycle tourers! I think more restaurants should consider this option to encourage people to eat and waste less when dining out.