Pacific Coast Tour Days 1-3, Seattle to Portland

Day 1: Seattle to Olympia

seattle to olympia

Aiming for the 8:30 ferry from Seattle to Bremerton, we got up early, hopped on the bikes and pedaled toward downtown Seattle. We pulled up to the ticket booth at 8:31 and forlornly watched the 8:30 ferry pull away from the dock. Shoot! With an hour and a half to kill before the next ferry, we pedaled over to Uwajimaya, our favorite Asian grocery, for some food and coffee.


We returned to the ferry dock and waited for the 10:00 boat. This time we arrived early, with plenty of time to spare.  Even though we’re from Seattle and we ride ferries often, we still enjoy the novelty of ferry rides. We relished the crossing, relaxing, reading and looking out the window.

After unloading in Bremerton, we walked over to the Poulsbo passenger ferry for a quick trip across the bay. This short crossing allowed us to skip pedaling along traffic clogged road that skirts the Bremerton Naval shipyard.  The folks who run the passenger ferry are super nice! They even helped us load our giant bikes onto the boat.

From Poulsbo we pedaled the back roads to Shelton passing through small towns and clear cuts all afternoon. At Shelton, the route followed Hwy 101 the last 8 miles to the outskirts of Olympia. We’d ridden 101 last summer on our Pacific Coast tour and got used to the highway traffic. Even with some 101 experience under our belts, it still took us a few miles to get used to riding on a busy highway. The boy wasn’t happy about big trucks and cringed every time a truck passed.

Our plan was to camp somewhere in Capitol forest near Olympia that night but during a brief rest stop, Tim checked the weather forecast and saw that it called for rain. We didn’t want rain to dampen our spirits and gear on the very first night of the trip. We decided a hotel in Olympia was a better choice.

Miles: 67
Route: Bremerton ferry, Poulsbo passenger ferry, Shelton, 101 and some back roads near Olympia
High: No rain!
Low: Missed the Bremerton ferry by 1 minute, next ferry 1.5 hours later
Sleep: Red Lion Hotel in Olympia

Day 2: Olympia to Castle Rock, WA

olympia to castle rock

We got a late start the next morning. I tell you, hotels delay early rollouts in our family every single time. Even though we don’t have camping equipment to pack up; showers, hotel TV, and comfy beds all contribute to lingering longer than prudent.

We finally started pedaling after a stop in Tumwater for groceries and coffee. Our destination: Cedars RV park, the only camping we could find within a 5 mile radius of Castle Rock, 67 miles away. We called the RV park before we left Olympia to make sure they had a tent spot available. The nice couple who owned the RV park said their regular tent spot was booked but they did have a small patch of grass suitable for a small tent. We knew we’d arrive late and just planned to sleep there. So a small friendly patch of grass was perfect.

We pedaled all day on the relatively flat route that meandered along the back roads near I-5. It rained sporadically throughout the day. Typical NW June weather: downpour, brief period of sun, downpour. We can handle that kind of rain. We arrived at the RV park, ate a quick dinner on the grass, set up our tent and went to sleep. We were all exhausted and sore and ready for sleep.

Miles: 67.8
Route: Followed Google bike directions (basically the Cascade STP route)
High: Arriving late to soft grass at the RV park
Low: Long day! We’re out of shape.
Sleep: Camped at Cedars RV park near Castle Rock

Day 3: Castle Rock, WA to Portland, OR

Castle Rock to PortlandWith no reason to delay our departure, we woke early in the RV park, packed our sleeping bags and tent, loaded the bikes and started pedaling toward Kelso. We planned to have coffee and breakfast in Kelso before we began our final 67 mile ride to Portland.

After our one stop at a grocery store in Kelso for coffee, breakfast and lunch food, we were on our way.

The Lewis and Clark bridge, a massive structure spanning the Columbia River stood between Kelso and Hwy 30 in Oregon. We dreaded crossing that giant bridge. Tim has ridden the bridge several times during STP and knew what to expect. He prepared us in advance for an unpleasant crossing. With a steep climb to start, a narrow shoulder and numerous logging trucks on the bridge, we knew we just needed to grit our teeth and endure the crossing. Neither of the kids were looking forward to it but they steeled themselves for 15 minutes of unpleasant riding. As we pedaled up the bridge approach, the boy was getting worried. After the recent bridge collapse near Mt Vernon, he no longer trusted bridges.


At one point he asked for permission to swear under his breath:


The crossing proved just as stressful as we anticipated. With narrow shoulders littered with tree bark and other debris, we didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver. Each time a truck passed, the bridge shook and vibrated. Stressful to say the least.

Once we crossed the bridge, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief! So glad that was over!

A couple of miles down the road, we stopped at a Lewis and Clark marker on the highway. The kids had both studied Lewis and Clark in school and were interested in seeing where the explorers traveled and camped.


We stayed at the marker for a while, eating lunch on a bench in the sun and watching the Columbia River roll by. As we were getting ready to ride back to the Hwy, we saw some dark rain clouds in the distance. Soon enough, it started to rain. Not just any rain, but a huge deluge. We sat under the picnic shelter and waited for the rain to pass.

After about 20 minutes the rain let up and we were ready to get back on the bikes. We were feeling pretty smug that we were so smart to wait out the rain.

Well that didn’t last long!

After a brief reprieve, the rain began to fall. And not just any rain, but a downpour that continued all afternoon and evening. What followed was the worst day Tim and I have ever experienced on bikes.


It rained. And it rained. And it rained. So much rain. We were drenched. Soaked to the bone. Sodden. Miserable. And still 25 miles from Portland. And did I mention, we were riding on Hwy 30 being passed by huge trucks every few minutes? Miserable.

After riding in the rain for an hour or so, we pulled over in Scappoose to warm up with coffee and hot chocolate. We stood under cover in front of a Grocery Outlet for at least an hour drinking coffee and waiting for the rain to let up. Still it rained. Still wet, but ready to tackle the last 20 miles of the ride, we started pedaling again.

Could this get any worse? Yes, yes it could. About 10 minutes outside of town, Tim got a flat. Seriously? Is this really happening? Tim fixed the flat on a grassy patch dotted with mud on the side of the highway.  I helped as best I could gazing longingly at each passing pickup.  I imagined flagging down one of them and asking for a ride to Portland. But I didn’t. Because that would be lame. And weak. And we are tougher than that, right? It was so wet and our bikes were so dirty with road grit, Tim wasn’t able to find the source of the puncture in the tire. So he replaced the tube, and hoped for the best.


The flat was fixed but the rain still hadn’t let up. We started pedaling down the highway again. At this point I couldn’t hold back anymore. I burst into tears, hoping the rain streaming down my face would hide my stricken face. But kids know when their parents are uneasy and it wasn’t long before our daughter noticed. “Are you crying, mom?” Yes, I am. She smiled sweetly and kept pedaling.

The rain kept coming down. Sheets of rain. Buckets of rain. So much rain.

We kept pedaling. I had stopped crying but now Tim was laughing hysterically. Uneasy maniacal laughing. The kids pedaled silently, huddled behind the parents trying to protect themselves from the wind and rain. And probably secretly hoping their parents weren’t having a breakdown on the highway 20 miles from Portland.

Not more than 10 minutes later, Tim yelled back, “I have another flat” My heart sank? Seriously? What next? Are we ever going to make it to Portland? He rode the flat for a couple of minutes before pulling over and walking the bike. He was hoping to find a dry spot on the highway to pull over and fix it.


After rejecting the idea to try to cross the busy highway in order to fix the flat under cover at a gas station, Tim spotted a bus shelter a hundred feet ahead and set his sights on that. A dry bus shelter! He pulled off the panniers and tent, removed the wheel and finally located the source of the flat after cleaning his rim and tire with water from one of our bottles. He threw on his spare tire just to be safe.

We were now 10 miles from Portland.

The rain had finally let up. By now our nerves were really frazzled from such a stressful afternoon. We all rode silently, counting down the miles with each pedal stroke.

On the outskirts of Portland, we turned off the highway onto a street in an industrial area in Northwest Portland. We heard tires screeching and smoking from a muscle car up ahead. We passed a group of twenty somethings laughing, drinking beer and watching  their friend doing donuts and skidding all over the road up ahead. There was no one else around. It was a completely deserted section of road. And I was all out of hope, thinking, this is it. After plodding through this horrible day, I’m going to get run over by a muscle car on the outskirts of Portland. We passed the group silently, not making eye contact and hoping their friend wasn’t going to run us over.

It wasn’t until we turned on to a familiar street in NW Portland that I was finally able to relax. And joke a bit. And tell my family how proud I was of them. The kids didn’t once complain nor shed a tear throughout the entire day (we can’t say the same for the parents.) They definitely displayed some serious grit. Mountains of girt. And I couldn’t be more proud.

We were all starving. And cold. And decided to stop for dinner at 5th Quadrant before heading to our friends house in NE Portland.


After dinner, we pedaled 5 miles to NE Portland and were greeted by our lovely friends. Relief finally washed over us as we unloaded our wet gear and settled in for the night in their warm dry house.

Miles: 70
Route: Mostly Hwy 30, then local Portland streets
High: Stopped at a Lewis and Clark Marker along the Columbia River.
Low: Torrential rain, 2 flat tires, more torrential rain, and riding on Hwy 30 for 48 miles
Sleep: Friends house in Portland!

Next up: Driving to Oakland, Rest days in the Bay Area.

16 responses to “Pacific Coast Tour Days 1-3, Seattle to Portland

  1. Pingback: 2013 Pacific Coast Bike Tour: Seattle to Portland | Car Free Days

  2. you guys are tough!

  3. Damn. Rock on. I hope I raise my kids to be that tough. Good job, Tim & Anne.

    • They’re tough when they need to be! But as soon as we got in the car to drive to Oakland, the complaining started. : )

  4. Ugh! Dirty Thirty is bad on the best of days, but that sounds beyond miserable! I hope California is sunny and warm and perfect the entire way 🙂

    • The dirty thirty is a perfect description. Yuck!

      Happy to report it’s sunny here. We’re taking a risk and leaving our rain pants here to be sent home. Let’s hope for sunny skies from here on out.

  5. All part of the adventure! Some of it is not fun but it will make for great stories in future weeks and years. This will become part of your family narrative and look– research! that proves that it will make your kiddos more resilient.

    Hope your stay in PDX is fun.

    • Thanks for the article, Sara! Reading it made me tear up. I guess those memories of riding on the Hwy are still a bit raw. I’m certain the kids are stronger for it though. They really did amaze us, didn’t complain at all.

      Short one night stay in Pdx because we had a rental car reservation the next morning.

      We spent the weekend relaxing in the Bay Area and head South today.

  6. Thank you for sharing your journey!

  7. Whew, you guys are tough as dirt! I am loving reading your installments. So far you have enough harrowing bits to make for thriller-styled family narrative.

  8. Pingback: 2013: A drive to Oakland and rest days in Bay Area | Car Free Days

  9. Great story. Sorry to hear it was all true.

  10. Yo! That photo in Tumwater is just a couple miles from our house! We got through all the hard times last year and are back in Oly, keep us in mind next time you’re passing through 🙂

  11. Pingback: Pacific Coast Bike Tour Day 22: Leo Carrillo State Beach to Palos Verdes | Car Free Days

  12. Pingback: Pacific Coast Bike Tour Day 24: Doheny State Beach to San Elijo (Part 1) | Car Free Days

  13. Pingback: One Day at a Time (an Alternative to 30 Days of Biking) | Car Free Days

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