Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lessons Learned: Portland, OR to Portland, ME

Portland, OR
As mentioned in my pre-trip Lessons Learned post, I'm a fan of post mortems. Not only do they provide closure, but they also allow for continuous improvement by enabling reflection on the things that went well and the things that didn't go so well. Identifying, reviewing, and incorporating learnings from my bike trips helps pave the path for even better tours moving forward.

Portland, ME 
In the spirit of post mortems, here are the learnings from my recent bike trip from Portland, OR to Portland, ME. This will be a "living post," meaning that I will add to the list if additional lessons come to mind.

  • Bike touring is less about the bike and more about the people.
  • If you want to be a first-hand witness of amazingly generous people, travel by bicycle.
  • Sometimes you just gotta pull up your big girl panties.
  • Predators do exist in Canada. 
  • It's fun to take an outdoor shower in the middle of a big city.
  • You know it's time to do laundry when strangers start offering you money.
  • Callusses can develop anywhere. Even on the lady bits.
  • Though the mountain passes in the east are not as tall as those in the west, they are twice as steep.
  • When in doubt, play hookie.
  • Long-distance touring is not about strength; it's about endurance. And endurance is 99% mental.
  • Just as you should never trust a skinny cook, never trust a fat man for biking information.
  • Showers and ice cold water are luxuries we too often take for granted.
  • Detour signs can be ignored.
  • Deer fly bites are amazingly wicked.
  • Take care of your bike, and it will take care of you.
  • Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires are the bomb. (Zero flats!)
  • Cycling long distances day-after-day can do wonders to a naked body. (Which can sometimes mean dropping a bra size.)
  • It's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission (particularly with respect to finding a place to sleep for the night).
  • Energy begets energy. 
  • A body without movement quickly becomes sore.
  • Trust your gut.
  • Supposedly, in the interest of wind, it's ideal to bike across the country from west to east. In reality, this is pure hogwash.
  • Having access to Google Earth is extremely helpful for stealth camping reconnaissance purposes.
  • When selecting a stealth camping spot... 
    • Forget the picnic pavilions, and go straight for the dugouts.
    • Check for the presence of sprinkler systems.
    • Wait until nightfall to set up camp.
    • Take the time to blow up the air mattress; concrete is not comfortable to sleep on -- especially for stomach sleepers.
  • The best stealth camping spots have electrical outlets and drinking water.
  • Even though my trip has ended, I cannot help but scope out parks and other spots for stealth camping.
  • Should an assortment of urine samples ever be needed, one can simply collect pee bottles on roadsides (except for in Vermont, where pee bottles can't be found).
  • The shade is a lifesaver, particularly on days when the heat index is 104 degrees.
  • Pay homage to the mountain.
  • The time spent on this trip felt like an eternity; each day seemed to last a week. 
  • Lawn mowing must exceed baseball as America's favorite pastime. (Imagine the wonderful things we could accomplish in the world if we traded our time maintaining lawns for something more meaningful.)
  • Mail delivery people are, undoubtedly, the best people to ask for assistance with directions -- they know the roads inside-and-out.
  • There appear to be more miles of ATV trails in northern Wisconsin and Michigan than actual roads.
  • With respect to Warm Showers: On most days, taking a "warm" shower didn't sound too appealing. At the same time, I understand that "Cold Showers" doesn't exactly have the same warm-n-fuzzy ring to it.
  • The feeling of brushing with an electric toothbrush, after 2+ months of going without, is amazing.
  • The bike route down the Pacific Coast is far more challenging than the route across the country, primarily in terms of elevation and riding with traffic.
  • I can feel when my chain needs to be replaced.
  • The most common roadkill were porcupines and turtles.
  • There was no roadkill in Vermont.
  • It's wonderful to ride in states that outlaw billboards.
  • Pooping in a plastic grocery bag is humiliating.
  • Climbing hills far beats riding on flats.
  • While chocolate milk is the ultimate replenishment drink, ice cold Dr. Pepper is the ultimate thirst quencher.
  • Biking can result in some pretty silly looking tan lines.
  • You can get a decent tan line, even through SPF-rated clothing.
  • Traveling solo is wonderful. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, and be whoever you want, whenever you want.
  • I have no interest in rest days if they don't involve biking.
  • It's not advised to wait 1,527 miles into a trip to get rid of dead weight; mail things home that aren't being used sooner-rather-than-later. 
  • I want to try touring with a fat bike on a snow or sandy route.
  • I want to try touring with a foldable bike.
  • When a gas station or convenience store owner tells you that the store doesn't have a public bathroom, just go ahead and pee outside behind the store.
  • Don't publish a blog post summarizing the day's events until the day is truly over.
  • Flat, straight routes are a bore; curves (either turns or hills) are sexy.
  • Boring routes can be made more bearable by listening to a soundtrack.
  • Of all the towns on this route, North Branch, MI had the absolutest, mostest, nicest, generous people.
  • Tennis racquets are effective for killing bats. (Who woulda thought it?)
  • Hurricane Irene did some MAJOR damage, very far inland.
  • Idaho is friggin' gorgeous, with it's beautiful mountains and rivers.
  • Vermont is absolute bliss, with its lush greenness, covered bridges, billboard-free roads, and hearty people.
  • Spending a night in the cottage atop Turtle Rock is far better than spending a night with a bunch of firemen.
  • Wakeboarding until 2am is a fantastic way to end a bike trip.
  • Naked boy bicycling butts are really cute -- even if only in the movies.
  • Road farts (the sound a vehicle makes when passing the center rumble strip) is music to the ears and tranquility to the mind.
  • It's easy to become entranced by the clouds.
  • Campgrounds can be expensive for cyclists traveling by themselves. The Provincial Parks in Canada are most guilty of this.
  • The chances of running into a biker traveling in your direction is pretty slim -- particularly early in the biking season.
  • Ospreys carry fish with one claw in front of the other.
  • If at all possible, do not lift the bike -- it's too mother f-ing heavy and can result in back pain.
  • Crawling out of the tent in the middle of the night to pee is totally worth it -- the skies are brilliant with stars.
  • If you need to be reminded of the Ten Commandments, you need not drive further than one mile along any road in Montana.
  • It is impossible to get comfortable for a good night's sleep in the coach seat of a train.
  • When traveling home from a trip, it's best for bikes to travel by train and people to travel by plane.
  • There are an ungodly number of ticks in northern Wisconsin and northern Michigan.
  • Loons have the absolute most beautiful call.
  • When traveling with friends, it's amazing how quickly you get comfortable around one another (walking around in underwear, peeing with the door open, etc).
  • The western and eastern parts of the country are beautiful -- the central part is considerably less so.
  • All in all, it's not worth biking through terrain that's not absolutely gorgeous. I'm glad I took the train from Whitefish to St. Paul. If I were to do this ride again, I would have taken the train all the way to Buffalo.
  • Rather than suggesting that someone ride across the country, I would suggest they focus their rides in the western and/or eastern states.
  • If you sit for long enough in a McDonalds, with your packed bike outside, someone will eventually stop by your table and offer you a place to stay.
  • When crossing a two-lane, gusty bridge, take the lane -- the cars and trucks can wait.
  • It tickles me pink when people ask if I just graduated from college.
  • The thing I love best about Warm Showers is hearing hosts share stories from their travels and adventures around the world.
  • The thing I love least about Warm Showers is hearing hosts share stories from their travels and adventures around the world -- their stories can be dangerously inspiring.
  • I've never been one to have confidence issues, but doing this trip has been a huge boost to my confidence. I feel as though I can do anything I set my mind to.
  • It feels really good to have honored my compass.


  1. WOW! What a wonderful trip, Sarah! Thanks for sharing it. I really loved reading all about it and learned a lot. Best wishes for the next chapter! xo

    1. Thanks, Mary Jo.

      I'm looking forward to the next chapter as well. It's very likely I'll be chronicling the next chapter here on this blog. So, stay tuned! :)

  2. I enjoyed reading this entry very much. Your insights are interesting and amusing.

    I was going to ask you how much weight you had lost over the course of this trip - your before and after pictures look quite a bit difference.

    Glad to have met you. Hope to see you again. Gary & Gerie

    1. Thanks for your note, Gary & Gerrie. I lost about 15 pounds over the course of the trip. As I'm assuming I would have gained some muscle weight, I probably lost even more than 15 pounds! Fortunately, I've gained the weight back pretty quickly. :)

  3. okay, I stumbled on this page & whoa you're awesome!
    Great post mortem, I'll have to back up & read more....


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