Bike Apocalypse

Saturday morning started out with hot tea, coffee, and hot chocolate followed by washing the dishes from the previous morning that I hadn’t wanted to attempt in the dark. Gigi, Auggie, and I took a walk around the campground afterwards, looking for a designated place to toss out our dirty dishwater. Turns out there wasn’t such a spot, since it’s assumed everyone has an RV with a sewer system. We did, however, discover a pretty great playground for the kids.

Unfortunately, our trip to the playground was cut short by sprinkles followed by showers. So we raced back to our campsite. Or, rather, I staggered with a struggling toddler in my arms who just wanted to continue playing at the playground, and Gigi caught up with me a few minutes later after she played with the playground’s zipline. We packed up camp quickly, drying things off as best as we could, and headed into Kennewick for lunch. (Indian food. It was delicious!)

After Kennewick, we continued onto Coeur d’Alene, which was our next overnight stopover. About an hour and a half out of CDA, someone in a car waved at us as they passed and pointed to the back of our trailer. We pulled over and discovered the trailer’s hitch, to which we had attached a bike rack, had bent, collapsing the rack and dragging the front wheels of all four bikes on the ground at approximately 65 mph.

The wheels were trashed, but the bike frames still seemed to be intact. Ironically, the bike rack itself was perfectly fine. When I was shopping for one, I knew that putting a rack on the back of a trailer was somewhat risky; there were reviews for some bike racks in which people complained that their rack bent and destroyed their bikes when attached to a trailer. To which someone replied: the description says explicitly NOT to attach to trailers, dumb ass! So I got a rack that explicitly was rated for trailer use. It never occurred to me that the trailer itself would not be up for the stress. (Aaron thinks, nonetheless, that the trailer itself is probably okay. The part that had the hitch welded to it is bent, but the rest of the crossbeam seems to be fine. We will keep an eye on it.)

We managed to pile all the broken bikes into the trailer (they all fit, amazingly), and I called ahead to bike shops in Coeur d’Alene, finding one that was going to be open when we arrived, that had replacement wheels, and that had a roof rack since I didn’t want to keep stashing the bikes in our trailer on top of all our sleeping bags and clothes and all that kind of fun stuff. The early morning rain had ensured that we got out of our campsite just early enough to make this all possible; if it hadn’t rained, I’m sure I would have let the kids play on the playground for at least another hour, and then the bike shop that we found would have been closed…. and would not be open again until Monday, when we were scheduled to be in Glacier.

At the end of the day, we had two new roof racks and new wheels for the adult bikes plus an installed kid seat for Auggie on one of them (which I had been thinking about getting done anyway before this whole fiasco happened). Unfortunately, they didn’t carry replacement wheels for the kids’ bikes (did I mention that we had JUST purchased Gigi a new bike right before we left, and she hadn’t even used it yet?) and neither did any other shop in town. They all said they could order one for me, to which I had to reply: That would be great… “except I’m going to be leaving for Glacier in the morning.” I felt somewhat like an asshole, but a cool asshole.

Afterwards, we headed to Camp Coeur d’Alene, which was another RV park. As an RV park, it was great… free firewood. Great bathrooms and showers. A fantastic outdoor pavilion with cook tops and sinks with running water for communal use. Laundry facilities. Free wireless Internet access (which is how I was able to publish my last post online). And tons of other stuff that we weren’t going to make use of such as paddle boats and canoes, a pool, and some fun play equipment for the kids. But it was still an RV park, with the sites right next to each other without any pretense of privacy. People played music during the day and hung out next to their fire pits right next to the road. It was really great for what it was, and just what we needed as an overnight stop, but it’s not my favorite kind of camping.

We skipped setting up our camp kitchen and used the communal facilities to save time. Gigi wrote a description of all that happened in her journal while we waited for Aaron to cook dinner. (She drew a page with black broken bicycle wheels.) I did some laundry, which somehow needed doing even though we’d only been out of Portland for two days. And our stay was otherwise entirely uneventful. The kids’ bikes are still broken.

Goodbye, Portland!

Friday was full of last-minute packing, cleaning the house, and loading up for our trip. I woke up at around 6am and worked pretty much continually until we left the house at 6:15pm. It was that kind of day. Driving away was really a bit of a shock. I’ve been planning, making reservations, organizing, and buying stuff for this trip for a solid 9 months. And now this new baby is born, and there are suddenly a whole new bunch of stuff to do that’s totally different but equally demanding.

Our first stop was Crow Butte campground, which is in the Eastern Columbia Gorge, on the Washington side. It was chosen just out of convenience. Glacier is a big push from Portland, so we’d have to do it in three legs, and making this the short leg made sense, especially since we always have a hard time getting out of town.

Crow Butte is a pretty standard RV park. In fact, I think it’s in rules that you have to have an RV. They don’t want tent-only campers, although plenty of the RV people have tents for overflow people, and that’s perfectly fine. I’ve come to understand that there is a different culture in tent-camping and RV camping, and it goes beyond the equipment. In RV parks, people are squished together a lot tighter, and there’s a lot less “outdoors” in their outdoors, and there’s way more comfort items. Tent camping is much more rustic.

In a teardrop trailer, we’re in a weird in-between place between these two cultures. We don’t have most of the amenities of the RV world, but we’ve got a trailer with us that sometimes doesn’t work in tent-only spots. But we look a bit funny wedged in between huge RVs in an RV park.

We didn’t roll into Crow Butte until around 9:30. It was dark, and the campsite was full except for our little pull-through spot next to the Columbia River (or one of its channels, actually). A small sliver of moon hung above the hills on the other side of the water. We watched it slowly set as we made camp. Since we were only doing an overnight at this spot, we set up as little stuff as possible. Just the propane stove on the site’s picnic table in order to boil water for pouch beans and rice and a wash station for the dishes.

We discovered the place was full of (non-biting) bugs that swarmed when we turned on a light of any intensity. Gross. So we ate dinner and set up the kids’ tent mostly in the dark with a dim headlamp, although the bugs mostly disappeared after the first hour or so of darkness. The night was warm with a strong breeze, the stars above our heads were vast and bright, and we spent the first night of our trip comfortable and snug in our trailer.

The Trailer

When planning this trip, I decided I wasn’t really looking forward to sleeping on the ground for 9.5 weeks. On the other hand, we also had no interest in dealing with a huge RV that we’d have to park at the campsite, leaving us without transportation to local sites unless we also pulled a vehicle behind the RV. So we decided that we wanted a trailer, and it needed to be small and light enough to pull behind our minivan. I eventually discovered Purdy Trailers, a local manufacturer who makes teardrop trailers out of Silverton, Oregon. And so we bought the Blue Bug last fall, when they were clearing out their yearly stock. Unfortunately, we bought it just after camping season last year, so it stayed in our driveway all Winter, taunting us, until Spring Break came around and we got to try it out for the first time.

The Blue Bug is a 5 x 10 ft teardrop trailer with a galley area in the back.

The inside is basically just big enough to fit a queen-sized bed, which is a million times more comfortable than an air mattress. The mattress folds up when not in use (as shown below), giving us space to haul around the rest of our camping gear.

This trailer doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but that was part of the appeal for us since it was also a LOT cheaper than some of the fancy hipster teardrops that you will find out there. The galley allows us easy access to our kitchen gear. The trailer both gives us place to store and haul stuff as well as allowing us sleep fairly comfortably. And we can haul the whole thing behind our minivan.

Aaron had a good time adding a couple of solar panels onto the top of the trailer, giving us a good source of power. We don’t have a lot of gear that needs electricity, but this will help us keep our phones powered up and allow us to make posts (such as this one) from my laptop.

The Plan

I have been lucky enough in my life to have traveled to many great destinations around the world including Canada, Europe, Argentina, Brazil, China, Singapore, Australia, and the Canary Islands. And I’ve even visited most of the great American cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, San Diego, Salt Lake, New Orleans, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, Nashville, and Savannah (to name some of the biggest ones). However, I’ve only been to a single national park, Crater Lake, and that was back in the dark ages when I was a teenager.

I’ve always wanted to visit places like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Canyonlands, but my parents didn’t take me as a child (although we went on many other great adventures), and then, as an adult, it’s hard to find time to travel to places both remote and not work-related in the slightest. So when my husband and I figured out that he was due for a lengthy, much deserved, sabbatical from work, we decided to plan a trip around the country (or at least the western part of it) in which we would visit as many national parks as we could with these conditions in mind:

  • Staying 3 nights as most places
  • Traveling no more than 4 hours a day
  • Visiting family San Diego in mid-July (plus Comic Con!)
  • Leave after school gets out. Get back before school starts again.

And so I created the following journey: starting from our Portland home, we’d go up and over to Glacier National Park, down to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, down further to Utah and the Grand Canyon, over to San Diego, up through California with a slight detour to visit family in Lake Tahoe, and then to Crater Lake before heading home.

There are a few places where we’re only staying 2 nights, and I lengthened our stay  in Yosemite to 5 nights. I also had to extend my daily travel limit from 4 to 5 hours and eliminate hoped-for stops at North Cascades and Mesa. That said, it’s a pretty impressive trip:

And so, the plan is for my husband and I to visit 15 national campgrounds plus San Diego Comic Con, Disneyland, and Lake Tahoe in 68 days with our three kids:

Des (age 7)
Gigi (age 5)
Auggie (age 2)