Developing Bike Legs

A crash course in bike touring (Part 1)


Crossing a bridge on a small sidewalk
A nervous selfie before passing over a bridge with a narrow sidewalk in Oregon

With no previous experience or prior training, the first two weeks of a solo cross-country bike tour are more than a little daunting. Going into it, I knew I was going to be tested. I knew it would take time to build up strength and stamina, and I knew that I was going to push myself further out of my comfort-zone than ever before. I knew it was going to be difficult, but the challenges of the first two weeks pushed me nearly to the brink of surrender.

After three flat tires my first day, I set off from Neil’s house into the rain, but feeling that the stroke of bad luck was behind me. It wasn’t, I was very wrong. Only about a half-mile into my day and I already had my first one. Three flats a day was going to be the average for the first week rather than the exception. Four flat tires in less than 24 hours of riding didn’t seem normal. I thought I must be incredibly unlucky or perhaps there was some sort of ongoing problem with my bike that was causing this epidemic. Being only a half mile from where I started, I decided to head, tail tucked between my legs, back to Neil’s house and fully assess the situation.

Out of the rain and back into Neil’s garage I looked at my rear wheel. My inexperience and lack knowledge left me unsure. Was I hauling too much weight? Perhaps there was a problem with the rim? Maybe I was over-inflating or under-inflating the tube.

I needed someone who knew what they were talking about – a professional who could look at my bike and diagnose the problem and help me with a solution.

There was a bike shop near Neil’s house, however they were closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays – and of course it was Tuesday. I called Neil for some guidance and he said I was welcome to stay with him for another couple of days, but that there was another bike shop in Cannon Beach just nine miles down my route. Since it was only my second day on my trip, I didn’t want to take two days off already so I decided to pedal on.

General store to inquire about a non-existent bike shop
General store I stopped at to inquire about a non-existent bike shop

I made the trek to the next town without any flats, but the bike shop that Neil described was nowhere to be found in the one-road town. I asked a local general store clerk about the shop and found out that it had closed down. A little disheartened, I pushed on hoping that I would find a shop in one of the towns ahead. I had no plans of where to stay for the evening, but the local store clerk mentioned a place to camp another six miles down my route. He showed me where it was on my digital map and said it was a beautiful “local’s only” spot on a cliff overlooking the ocean.

It would be another short day, but I wasn’t in a hurry. With nothing else planned, I was sold. After another flat tire I made it to the overlook, it was just as the clerk had described. A little dirt path led off the main road about 25 yards off to a beautiful cliff overlooking the ocean. A small ring of blackened rocks, where previous campfires had warmed their makers, and trees secluded it from the nearby road. It was perfect, except the glaring NO TRESPASSING sign that was perched at the entrance.

View of the Pacific Ocean
Cliffside view of the Pacific Ocean

I wasn’t really sure what to do. I didn’t have other plans for the night, but it was early enough that I could push on and look for another place to camp. I wouldn’t likely find another place as serene as this. The store clerk had told me about it and that seemed like enough permission for me. I wouldn’t be there for too long and I would leave no trace, no one would even have to know that I was there.

Tent Pitched
My tent pitched in the “Local’s Only” camp spot

I pitched my tent, took in the views and made a box of macaroni and cheese on my portable stove. I wondered whose land I was on, and if I was the first person to ever enjoy some mac’ n cheese in this spot.

Enjoying some mac n' cheese dinner with a beautiful view of the ocean
Enjoying some mac n’ cheese dinner with a beautiful view of the ocean

It was still early, but I decided that if I could get to sleep early, I could get an early start on the day. There was no sense in having a fire or doing anything that would draw attention to my illegal camp spot. I curled into my sleeping bag and shut my eyes, the day replaying in my head. It wasn’t long before I heard noises outside my tent. My heart raced as I peered out of my tent window. The ruse was up. A Park Ranger exited his vehicle and called out, “Is anyone home?”

There was no sense in trying to pretend I wasn’t in there. It wouldn’t have taken much for him to look in or open my tent flap. I got out of my tent and tried to make the case that the store clerk back in Cannon Beach had given me permission to camp there. The ranger was friendly, but told me the owners requested they patrol the land and that I wasn’t allowed to stay there. He suggested that I continue on and find a real campground further along. I mentally prepared myself for continuing to ride for the day and broke down the camp that I had recently set up.

With everything loaded back onto my bicycle, I headed back down the dirt path to the main road, where upon arrival I noticed my third flat for the day. I laughed. It was all I could do. I wasn’t sure what I did to deserve this awful luck, but I had no choice but to unload my bicycle, patch the tube and move on hoping that it would be the last of the flat tires.

Looking ahead into the endless roads can be daunting
Looking ahead into the endless roads can be daunting

Another 10 miles south brought me to Manzanita and the nearby Nehalem Bay State Park. It was 9:30 p.m. when I finally pulled in, but I was in a sanctioned camping spot and for just $6 I had a piece of land to set camp and a hot shower in the bathroom. The day was long, but I was in heaven for now.


Author Bio: Sterling Stowe is a 26-year-old Colorado native and journalist with a passion for the wild. Follow his solo bicycle trip across the United States in his blog: America at 10 MPH


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