Book Review: Washington Cycling Sojourner

edit: Book Party! Book-Release event for Washington Cycling Sojourner at Washington Bikes in Pioneer Square. 5:30pm May 1. Details & RSVP at WA Bikes. 

The  family just returned from a spring-break, car-camping trip to Yosemite National Park. While the park was beyond beautiful, the amount of time spent in the car (and in close proximity to other car campers and RVers who don’t exactly share our “don’t bring everything you own” ethos), had us longing for a another bike tour.

As you may remember, we rode the Pacific Coast Bike Route over the course of the past two summers. The big adventure was, well, adventurous, and highly recommended, but this year we’ve promised the kids we’ll stick close to home for the summer (they mentioned something about friends and beaches and lemonade stands. Hmmm….).

cycling sojournerLuckily, we’ve got loads of awesome bike touring and camping starting right outside our door and extending through out the state. In fact, there’s so much good riding here, that it’s easy to get overwhelmed with dreamy but vague potential, and fall back to the standards (our usual Mukilteo-Whidbey-Port Townsend-Bainbridge loop is always enjoyable, but getting a tad long in to the tooth). That’s why the timing of Ellee Thalheimer’s, (kickstarter funded!) new bike touring guide, Washington Cycling Sojourner is so excellent.

For just about anyone hoping to bike-tour Washington, Thalheimer’s guide is sure to contain a ride matched to your skills, interest, and available time. She even includes a route finder grid aimed at helping you choose the most appropriate tour.

Packed full of routes covering the hyper-local (our blog-pal Josh Cohen‘s Taste of Touring chapter on the Snoqualmie Valley/Tolt River area hits home. My Cub Scout troop helped build that back in the pre-technology 1970s — I better get out there this summer!) to state-spanning (Mount Vernon-North Cascades-Twisp), Washington Sojourner covers the state with nine multi-day tours. I’ve done at least part of a few of these routes on tours with the family or solo and am accordingly impressed with the amount of research and detail that has gone into devising, accessible, organized, fun and safe tours for the guidebook.

New Routes we’re Planning to Try

Tolt camping. Info at KingCo parks

KingCo Parks Tolt Campground Photo

Taste of Touring: Tolt-River Snoqualmie Valley: As I mentioned above, I helped build the initial park as a Cub Scout. (I’m sure us scouts were virtually of no use, but in my mind at the time I was central to the wooden suspension bridge going up). And I used to ride this route for “training” back in the early 90s when I was thinner, faster and had more spare time to just hammer. A lot has changed in (in my life, the area) but I’d sure love to head out there for a leisurely 2-day, one night S24O (sub-24 hour overnight bike tour) with whichever is my favorite child that day. We can even use public transit to shrink the return distance if needed.

Walla Walla Ramble: In and around Walla Walla Wine Country: This one comes to mind as a perfect, parents-only tour. Lovely open roads, beautiful scenery, camping close to the middle of the tour route — allowing you to drop your gear and do day rides, and of course the start of the show: wine.  I really appreciate the homework Thalheimer did in Walla Walla as I know absolutely nothing about the area. We just need to get the grandparents on board and take off for a date-tour!

Pedaling the Paulouse in Southeast WA (by contributing Editor Katherine Widing): Admittedly, I know little of the Palouse beyond a hazily remembered, but beautiful car-camping trip when the kids were infants.  I’ve had it on the list of places to go back via bike, but planning a trip out in the middle of nowhere has just seemed like, well, a lot of effort. Thankfully Widing’s tour lays out all the details and presents a route most moderately experienced bike-travelers can experience with little planning hassle.

7721122740_67e0f765dd-1Escape from Seattle: Iron Horse Trail over Snoqualmie Pass: This one has been on the family list but never completed. I’ve ridden sections of this trail back when it wasn’t really a trail yet, in the early days of NW mountain biking. I even bungie-jumped off one of the recently restored bridges (In the dark!). And we’ve driven parallel to the trail en-route to skiing in Wenatchee about a zillion times. So it seems kinda silly that we haven’t packed up and fled the city for an easy roll over (through!) the pass.  With the commitment to stick around town this summer, Escape from Seattle should prove to be a brilliant midweek destination (I’m a little doubtful about finding a camping spot along the actual trail during a summer weekend. So I’ll make sure I have a back up plan. More on that below) for the whole family!

Those are just starters. What about you? Please chime in with a comment with your family touring plans!

Notes On Guidebooks in General


A small collection of wisdom and advice

I’ve been reading and using guidebooks, maps, directions scrawled on REI receipts, and so on for  (gulp!) 35 years. They all have their own strengths, weaknesses, idiosyncrasies, and general vibe. From Fred Becky’s Classic Cascade Summit Guides (you want a place to sleep? Good luck with that), to the cutesy Wheedle-inspired drawings in early editions of Mountaineer’s Press-published Biking Puget Sound, to the heavily formulaic but very usable Lonely Planet Books, they all have their place.

Thalheimer presents information in her own style and makes no apologies for including the things she cares about when touring — food, beer, and yoga, to name three: “This book is entirely opinionated and slanted to my value system. Word.”

I can get on board with the beer and the like, but feel like the words spent on yoga are the 2014 equivalent of guidebooks 20 years ago telling you where to find the closest Internet Cafe, and are especially annoying in the absence of some stuff I wish the book did  cover. For example, I’d apply more emphasis on the need for advance reservations (way way in advance, in some cases; if you’re hoping for a weekend San Juan tour you may already be too late) at more popular camping locations and times. Even with the best guidebooks, I’m afraid, you still should do some homework.

Viewing Trip Planning Through a Family-Touring Lens


As family-biking parents, our needs are a little different than the average bike camper or credit-card tourists (people who ride from inn-to-inn carrying little gear). We need to know EXACTLY what options are available for food (groceries) and camping. How much does it cost? Per-person? Per-site? Per-tent? Per-person camping rates are no biggie for a single rider or couple, but can shock a family out for multiple days (a couple times we have been charged *more* than had we driven a car or RV).

Another example: what’s the protocol for arriving at a primitive non-reservation site (on the Iron Horse trail, for example) and finding it full. Single or small group riders may elect to “squeeze in” and share a site or keep moving. But a family isn’t likely to push on. So what do we do? Cramp the style of that cute couple having a romantic, kid-free weekend, or turn around and freewheel back to Issaquah? We tend to plan tour nights with a backup plan in mind (what do we do if we can’t make it to the park or it’s full or ….) and then make adjustments on the fly. I’d love to see Thalheimer provide guidance for new bike tourists and set expectations (for the arriving riders and those already there) accordingly — especially because (in my experience) a large number of riders you’ll meet in camp on these tours are likely to be there because of the book.

When your child screams “feed me!”

Pacific Coast Tour Groceries

Sometimes you eat what they have!

Food is the issue for touring parents. Friends can tell each other to “suck it up” until the next grocery or snack stop, and even make a meal of gas station beer. But from experience, I can tell you that doesn’t work with child pedalers. They need normal foods and normal intervals. One of our favorite things about the Adventure Cycling maps is the way they list pretty much every food or bike shop service along the route. Why carry dinner and the next morning’s breakfast all day long if there’s a grocery stop in the last couple miles before camp? Thanks to those great maps, we never got skunked on finding groceries close to camp in nearly 2000 miles of touring (though once or twice we had to make flexible nutrition choices). On the flip side, our early days of touring gave us a couple close calls on the San Juan islands where we nearly ran out of food so we know that area is especially tricky.

photo of PacCoast Awesome General Store

The Perfect General Store

In the absence of ACA-style maps, we adopted a practice of “pre-riding” our route in Google Maps Streetview, just to make sure we knew where we could get the kids fed. The book does list some grocery stores and cafes, but not at the level of detail that would make that prep unnecessary; luxury lodgings and yoga studios (which I imagine are generally easier to locate online than hole-in-the-wall grocery stops) get top billing instead.

Growing Bike Touring in Washington State

Mostly I’m nitpicking (that is what you’re supposed to do with a review, right?) about issues that only matter to us in the family way. The book is chock full of useful information we personally plan to use this summer and beyond.

Touring the Bunkers, Whidbey

Touring the Bunkers on tour, Whidbey Is.

Besides even these perceived shortcomings shrink when struck by the dual nature of Washington Cycling Sojourner. This isn’t a guide solely targeted at dirtbag, low-budget, family-bike, campers (say it proud, Tim!). In addition to serving us locals, the guide aims to grow Washington as a bike touring destination by showcasing our beautiful scenery, topography, roads, and people to riders from outside the state and beyond.

I won’t go far into those details for our generally local readership, but the Sojourner does a great job providing resources to outof-area tourists, too, such as from airport connections, train, rental car, and Uhaul options — a great idea, btw, if you’re transporting multiple touring bikes or tandems to/from the beginning of your route — things to do in town, ways to extend your tours and see more of the state, and so on.


Because even us dirt-bag bike campers know growing bike-tourism in Washington state is a great plan. More bike tourists means more bike-friendly businesses and local drivers who welcome us on their roads,  not to mention fewer of those giant RVs or  bring-the-kitchen-sink car campers we grew so tired of in Yosemite.

Overall the book is an useful resource to get new local bike tourists started, help more experienced riders expand their stale range, or introduce bike tourists from beyond Washington to our wonders. Welcome out-of-state visitors!

Just don’t stick around too long (said my best Emmett Watson, lesser-Seattle KBO croak).

tent at night

The book was sent to Carfreedays as review copy. While it was free, we would have purchased it, used it, and blogged about it anyway. Our opinions are our own, and certainly not something we’d trade for a $15 book. PS: the FTC wants us to tell you this, as obvious as it may be. 

  – Tim

7 responses to “Book Review: Washington Cycling Sojourner

  1. “Packed full of routes covering the hyper-local (our blog-pal Josh Cohen’s Taste of Touring chapter on the Snoqualmie …”

    I will Taste Your Touring any weekend, Tim, with one or more of my favorite children.

    But you have to wear your Scouts kit.

  2. Fred Becky doesn’t worry about trivial things like sleep.

    I enjoyed the companion book for Oregon… used it it planning a tour last summer. Nice to read that the same is available for WA.

  3. Thanks Andy! And so true about Beckey. Have you read “The Good Rain”? There’s a Beckey chapter — great stuff.

  4. Say, let’s talk about you writing a family touring book for WA state…. or at least some tours done at the level of detail you describe.

    Thanks for coming to the book launch party–great to meet you!

    One point I’ll mention that I’m especially glad you picked up on: Washington Bikes helped fund the production of the book because we know the bike touring potential in the state is so much bigger than is currently understood.

    By growing its profile as a contributor to Main Street jobs across the state in a lot of small and rural places, we expect to grow the base of support for our overall advocacy work.

    We also benefit from royalties on the book (taking care of that FTC mention), so its purchase gives you the chance to make great memories and the chance to feel good about supporting work to make bicycling better for all kinds of riders.

    If you’re curious about our work check out, @WAbikes, and

    Barb Chamberlain
    Executive Director
    Washington Bikes.

    • Thanks Barb for the comment and for all the great work you do. And yes, let’s talk about family bike touring. It’s another place for a potential state tourism “spark” as well as an opportunity for other people on the roads to see bike riding as “normal.”

  5. Here in MO we have one guidebook… for the Katy trail.

    That’s why Washington is awesome

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