Archive for March, 2010

Matt is the author today with his take on how pedal-paddle came to be.  Enjoy!

How we discovered pedal-paddle trips.

Like most things, we more tripped over pedal -paddle trips than “discovered” them.  “Discovered” is a little too purposeful.  Last winter, Pam got involved with some kind of dance around exercise program like Jazzercise.  It may have been Jazzercise for all I know.  At any rate, the woman teaching the thing talked Pam into getting in shape to enter a local mini-ironman contest held each spring.  That meant bike riding, swimming, and running.  The next thing I knew, Pam had a bike, an exercise club membership and was planning to ride or swim every day.  This will surprise no one who knows Pam.

The swimming seemed harmless (if boring) enough, but biking seemed to me a seriously dangerous undertaking.  It’s not the bikes.  I’ve owned and ridden bikes since I was six.  It’s the riding alone on city streets or isolated bike paths that is dangerous because now you are talking about unstructured interaction with the public in isolated locations-never a good thing.  So I got a bike to ride with Pam, figuring I needed the exercise and two frumpy baby-boomers are a lot harder target than one.  We also still like each other’s company, but that’s phoofy stuff.

Be that as it may, we started riding bikes and enjoyed it.  About the same time, our neighbors, Suzanne and John (also frumpy baby-boomers),  got some kayaks and started paddling the rivers and estuaries around this part of Oregon.  That sounded like fun, so we got some kayaks as well and started taking day trips around the local area.  We put kayak and bike racks on the Ruby Slipper and my old pickup so we could use either or both vehicles to stage local kayak or bike trips.  Pam came to her senses and blew off the ironman event.

That summer, Pam’s sister, Jackie, and her husband, Will, were planning to visit the Northwest to scout potential retirement spots.  (You guessed it: they’re frumpy baby-boomers too).  Will was scheduled to attend a conference in Bozeman, Montana.  Pam planned to fly to their house in Marquette, Michigan, meet Jackie; and the two of them would load up their Subaru with dogs, camping gear, boats and the like and drive to Bozeman.  Meanwhile, I would load the Slipper with our dog, Jedi, and all our toys; and everyone would meet in Bozeman and then start visiting towns in Idaho, Washington and Oregon.  OK, well, that’s the way the trip evolved.  It isn’t like anyone planned it from scratch.

A week before Pam was to fly to Marquette, Jedi, our 14 year old Husky, had what the vet later thought was a stroke.  The dog was a mess.  End of life issues were right there in our frumpy baby-boomer faces.  So we rushed Jedi to the vet who gave him a massive dose of steroids-then we cancelled the flight to Michigan, called off the trip to Bozeman and settled down to watch our dog die.  But he didn’t die.  In fact, he got better and better.  By the time the Bozeman rendezvous date rolled around the damn dog was back to walking in the dog park and chasing squirrels in the yard.  On the spur of the moment, the day after I was scheduled to start for Bozeman, we decided to load up and head for Jackie and Will’s first Northwest port of call, Sandpoint, Idaho.

We spent the night just north of Walla Walla, WA in a tiny campground at the Louis and Clark Trail State Park on the edge of the Palouse country (where they invented contour plowing so they could have miles and miles of rolling hills covered with nothing but wheat).  Anyway, the park is right on US Highway 12.  Some of you will recognize Hwy 12 as the incredibly beautiful two-lane run across Idaho and over the Lolo Pass to Missoula, MT.  Long distance bicyclists, it turns out, love Highway 12 (just like real bikers, the ones with “colors,” love Highway 212 over the Bear Tooth Pass to Red Lodge, MT).  As a result, Louis and Clark Trail State Park is full of bikers (spandex, not motorcyclists) all summer.  The day of our visit was no exception.  It was impressive to see the heavily loaded bikes manned by skinny kids dressed in spandex uniforms crawling along the narrow two lane road.  Especially impressive given log truck traffic and half-crazed RVer’s racing them for the summit.  Pam and I made a no-bike-riding-on-highways pact right on the spot.

The next day, we called Jackie and Will to tell them we would catch up with them in Sandpoint.  That’s when we found out they’d called off the whole thing when we told them about Jedi.  They were working around the house in Marquette while the Ruby Slipper fully laden with kayaks and bikes roared up the western shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene headed for a campground (Round Lake State Park) just south of Sandpoint where we had a reservation for the night.  In retrospect, the fact that we needed to make reservations should have been a big clue for what we found.

It had been many years since I’d been in this part of Idaho, other than to blaze through on Interstate 90 headed for Montana.  Approaching Coeur d’Alene from the south along the lake on US Highway 95 and then north to Sandpoint is truly a trip from the sublime to the ridiculous.  Small towns and peaceful surroundings give way to the kind of suburban and exurban traffic, crowding, ugliness and shopping mall architecture almost unknown outside of California until well into the last decade.  Halfway between Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint is a giant amusement and water park with acres of parking and all the cars and people necessary to fill it.  The NASCAR refugees scene at the campground so scared us when we got there, that we cancelled the reservation and fled south again to a little town, St. Marie’s (pronounced Saint Mary’s) near the far southern tip of Lake Coeur d’Alene.

We fled in that direction because on the way north we’d stopped at a rest area along Hwy 95 near Plummer, ID.  Completely unbeknownst to us, Plummer is the western terminus of the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, the longest paved bike trail in the country.  We didn’t even know there were such things, but while Jedi stalked ground squirrels (they were in no real danger), we read all about how these nasty mining companies had been forced to give their railroad right of way to the government as part of a settlement for polluting this part of Idaho with heavy metals.  The government paved the right of way and turned it into a bike path.  Ain’t that America?

According to the rest area signs, the thing runs for more than 70 miles from Wallace, ID down to Plummer.  Along the way, it runs along the Coeur d’Alene River and the lake shore-over old rail trestles and through little towns.  It sounded really neat and we agreed we’d check it out when we got a chance.  We didn’t know “the chance” was later that same day when after wading through hours of urban traffic and development we ended up in that overcrowded campground filled with big RVs, bump-out travel trailers, portable satellite dishes, screaming kids and noisy power generators that apparently make up the general camping experience for many.  Yes, we fled.  We fled all the way to the little town of St. Maries.  Fifty miles from Coeur d’Alene and a world apart.

North of St. Maries, we found a little forest service campground (Benewah Lake Campground, Chatcolet) at the very southern tip of Lake Coeur d’Alene.  It was small and half empty, quite bucolic, idyllic, peaceful-well, maybe it was just a little campground enough off the beaten path to afford some sense of refuge.  Whatever, in St Maries we soon found a great hamburger and biscuits and gravy restaurant to supplement our Slipper fare (I know, I know, but in my mind, at least on vacation, I’m still 17 and, for a day or two, can eat as I please).  We began to relax.

We found another forest service campground (Shadowy St Joe) on the St. Joe River-and we found pedal-paddle.  It was right there to trip over.  The river and the end of the lake were wonderful kayak places.  The lake there was too shallow and weed-choked to be of interest to power boaters.  The St. Joe had long since been forgotten by all but local fishermen.  Birds loved the place.  So did we.

We only had a couple of days.  And we still had an old dog with us.  So we’d kayak for a couple of hours a day.  Then we explored the area.  We took our bikes down to the place where the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes crossed the tip of the lake on an old railway trestle and rode up along the lake to the little town of Harrison, Idaho.  We ate ice cream cones sitting by our bikes looking out over the lake.  It was nice.  The ride back along the lake shore on the paved smooth uncrowded trail was a joy.  That afternoon, we threw our kayaks in the lake for a short paddle.  Literally hundreds of swallows shared space with osprey and Great Blue herons-and us.  It was a perfect blend of discovery, activity and contentment.

That night we started to talk about how we could take pedal-paddle trips all over the United States once we were retired.  We started to think about traveling logistics:  how to find kayak and bike places in one locale; shuttling kayaks and bikes without outside assistance; multi-day excursions or mini-trips of a few hours.   We headed home the next day with a mission:  put together the equipment and techniques that would allow us to leap-frog along any waterway and/or bike trail with the Ruby Slipper as our base camp as we travelled.

Yet to come: the first pedal-paddle trips and the Baby Bootie.


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Hi all! I just learned something new about this blogging stuff that I will pass on.  If you click to make a comment, at the end of the comment box there are 2 little squares you can check if you want to be notified when a new post (or new comment) is present.  It’s called an RSS feed, and with that, you don’t have to keep checking to see if I’ve added anything since your last visit.  Isn this a great world or what!?

Matt and I biked the Bear Creek Greenway www.bearcreekgreenway.com/ from Ashland, OR to Medford, OR and back 2 days ago in weather that just couldn’t be improved.  Along the way we saw Red-tailed hawks in full mating display.  We turned around at the northern trailhead where the Jefferson Nature Center www.jeffersonnaturecenter.org has a bird feeding station.  There we watched western bluebirds dance and twist through the riparian shrubbery.  We ate our first (but certainly not the last) Nestle’s Crunch ice cream bar of the season at a little quick mart just down the street.  On the return, we paused to watch and listen to two downy woodpeckers flirt and flit around the towering dead tree stumps along the creek’s edge. 

All was well until I became annoyed at a repetitive click that I thought was a small stone in my front tire.  I stopped and picked off what was actually a large thorn, which resulted in an immediate audible and palpable HISSSSSSSS from my tire.  Matt told me to ride as fast and as long as I could, and he would catch up; so I took off, pedalling as fast as my tired old knees would go.  Fortunately I was able to reach the Walmart store in Talent right next to the bike path.  We found pressurized tire sealant in a can, and it actually worked!  It was a little messy, but it got me back to the Ruby Slipper without further mishap.  We are now equipped with a patch kit, tire inflator, spare tube and, most importantly, not one but two cans of pressurized sealant.

Unfortunately, my camera battery had died since our last outing, so I have no pictures of the bike trail.  Also, we had just had our bikes serviced, and although they shift and run like a dream, my bike computer is not functioning, so I don’t know how far we travelled.  We think about 22 miles.  If you’re starting to wonder about my competency with technology, you have good cause-I’m a dunce. 

The trail has a couple short segments that are dominated by the I-5 expressway but most of it is quite lovely as it follows the riparian corridor.  It is fully paved but there are a few rough spots.  Someone has thoughtfully outlined all the bumps in bright green paint so they are highly visible.  Traffic was light with a few pedestrians, a few more bicyclists and even a horserider.  I love the way everyone smiles and says hi or nods as they pass us by.  I love it even more when I pass them-it doesn’t happen often.

We spent that night in the Valley of the Rogue State Park www.oregonstateparks.org/images/pdf/rogue_full.pdf  between Grants Pass and Medford on I-5.  Most of the campground was closed yet for the season but what was open was nearly filled by dark.  The I-5 road noise is moderately annoying but not so loud as to keep us awake-especially after that bike ride wore us out.   Bathrooms and showers were great! 

Thanks for all your comments and great support!

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As Matt and I neared our 60s, Matt said to me one day that he no longer enjoyed camping on the ground in a tent.  That immediately caught my attention as our backpacking trips have always been one of my favorite things to do.  I had to agree that carrying 30+lb backpacks any reasonable distance and sleeping on the ground, even with pads,were becoming  increasingly  less physically realistic; so we began to explore alternative ways to travel.  Much as I hate to admit it, compromises become inevitable as time goes by. 

 Since road trips have always held an allure for us, car camping seemed a logical next step.  Several previous boat charters had convinced me that life could continue in a confined space (for a limited time) so we began our search for a small self-contained RV/van that could serve as our camping base but also double as our primary or secondary transportation vehicle.  We found the perfect combination for us in the hightop Dodge Sprinter van converted by Sportsmobile. 

My dad had helped me build a bed frame in my beloved Chevy van during my skydiving years (eons ago), and now I had a van again!  It’s a joy to drive, and I am even comfortable driving and parking around town.  I’ve always avoided parallel parking like the plague and continue to do so although Matt is up to the challenge.  The only restriction is our height, so no parking structures.   However, the high top allows Matt (at 6 feet) to easily stand up throughout the length of our Ruby Slipper.  Sportsmobile builds the interior by modules so one can pick and choose the amenities one desires <www.sportsmobile.com > 

TheRuby Slipper transports us to far away places and returns us home again, safe and sound..

It wasn’t long before we had bike racks on the back and kayak racks on top.  We found beautiful, lightweight (40lb) Delta kayaks www.deltakayaks.com  that have been a delight in tidal estuaries, large rivers such as the Santiam, the Willamette, and the Columbia, and small lakes.  Matt lifts the kayaks to a roller bar on the back roof edge, and I pull them into their cradles and tie them down.  Last summer we began our explorations around the northwest and soon felt the lack of a shuttle vehicle confining.  Half our time was spent returning to our vehicle instead of continuing down unexplored (to us) territory.

Initially we thought to buy motorcycles (dirt bikes would also expand our off road capabilities), but, believe it or not, I could not find a legal forum in which to learn how to ride.  The logistics of using bikes to return us to the Slipper, then backtrack to pick up the kayaks, were unwieldy.  Then we found the SmartCar4Two:  small and light enough to tow and darn if it doesn’ t look like a baby Slipper (hence The Baby Bootie aka The Ruby Bootie).  It was the obvious choice to complete our travelling rig.  Matt is working on the remaining piece: the racks to carry the kayaks.  No one makes a kayak rack and, in fact, they say it can’t be done; but of course we know that isn’t so.  Just about anything is possible if you have a Matt.

next post: discovering Pedal-Paddle

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Hello world!

Sprinter RV and Smart Car loaded for touring

Hello world!  This is the beginning of our quest to seek out biking and kayaking combo trips in the US and Canada.  (Sorry, Mexico, but we need ultra low sulfur diesel to fuel our Ruby Slipper.)  Maybe in the near future we can expand our horizons to Mexico and beyond.  We are a couple near retirement but not quite there yet, so our journeys will be short: 1-14 days.  We live in Oregon so most trips less than 1 week duration will center around the Pacific northwest and CA.  Our goal: to find opportunities to bike on Rail to Trails and similar non-motorized paths in combination with kayaking quiet rivers or picturesque lakes.  I figure we’ll manage both upper and lower body fitness while having fun and discovering new places and friends in the process.

With each little adventure, we will share our discoveries, our trials and tribulations, and any tips and treasures we have learned along the way.    I will post photos of our travels as well, once my digital camera and I come to accept each other.  Matt and I(Pam) have a steep learning curve so you may find both humor and pathos in our commentary.  I hope relevant comments and helpful advice from readers will add depth to our site as we learn and explore together.

next post: events leading to the creation and possession of The Ruby Slipper

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