Thursday, June 6, 2013


Back in the late 1990's, a few years after my divorce,  I decided to stop working so hard and spend more time traveling and riding my bike.  I hadn't been anywhere exciting for a while, and it was time to learn more about the world through my own eyes rather than through someone else's.  For months I flipped through various bike touring catalogs looking for a destination when New Zealand really jumped out at me.   This is a beautiful, English-speaking country that is known for its pastoral views, rugged mountains, multiple glaciers,  and a coastline that I would enjoy riding along.  Many companies had trips there, but most were out of my reach financially.    Finally, I read about a relatively new company that organized affordable bike trips for women, and biking for seven days down the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand was one of the adventures they offered.   Riding with only women appealed to me.  I definitely needed a break from men and wanted to bike in a supportive environment with no athletic competition and no macho comments.     Over the phone I gave Becky at WomanTours my credit card number and told her I would need to rent a road bike, but would bring my clipless pedals and comfy saddle.   

Riding the ferry to Whidbey Island, 1995

Up until this time the only multi-day bike trip I'd ever taken was with my ex-husband in the San Juan Islands of Washington State, and it was a dream come true.  I'd only been riding a year.  The first day when we rode from Anacortes to catch the ferry to Whidbey Island,  I whispered to myself I'm doing it, I'm doing it, and this has been my riding mantra ever since.   Maybe I mentioned this before, but even before I owned a real bike, I dreamed about riding.  Without having pedaled a mile, I contemplated getting in shape and biking from Montreal to Boston.  I was enthusiastic about riding on the backroads through my home town in New Hampshire where I used to ride my three-speed English bike and cruise with my boyfriend in his Chevy convertible.  We called them English bikes back then.  Mine was a three speed Huffy, definitely English.   Although the Montreal to Boston adventure never happened, it didn't stop me from dreaming.

For two months prior to the New Zealand trip, I made lists of things to buy and what to pack.  I bought a new suitcase.  I bought some new biking clothes too, but after looking at my pictures recently, I realize I wasn't into cycling fashion the way I am now.  To prepare for the trip, I lifted weights at the gym, swam laps before work in the early morning, and biked my ass off on the weekends.   I bought a map of New Zealand,  highlighted our biking route, and noted the challenging climb over Haast Pass.  I wondered whether I'd have to walk it.  

The riding each day was different, although the scenery was pretty much the same -- drop dead gorgeous.  Imagine riding with the Southern Alps on your left and the Tasman sea on your right.

Pam in New Zealand, 1999

The traffic was light, which was good for biking but made hitchhiking extremely difficult.  Hitchhiking, you ask?   Well, one afternoon when a strong wind came up,  I couldn't stay upright on my bike, let alone pedal any distance.  I was also far behind the others, so I decided to stick my thumb out and hitch a ride to our motel about ten miles away.  The crime rate in New Zealand was practically nonexistent,  so I wasn't scared.  Three or four drivers with good intentions stopped to offer me a ride, but when they saw my bike, they realized they had no  room.  I kept walking, occasionally riding when the wind abated a bit,  and eventually I got to our motel just as our guide came looking for me in the SAG wagon.  

Years before riding in New Zealand, as I was approaching the age of 50, my goal was to be in the best physical shape ever and to test it by cross country skiing over a three-day weekend in the Sierra Mountains.   Mission accomplished.   Fifteen years later, when I turned 65, I had the same goal:  To be in the best physical shape ever and to test it by riding my bicycle in the Pacific Northwest approximately 1500 miles for thirty days (with one day off per week to rest).   Cycling in a beautiful part of the country with 29 like-minded women appealed to me, especially when the average age of the riders was 61.  I also wanted to do a trip with WomanTours again.   

Northwest Loop Riders, 2009

We left Portland, Oregon on August 1st and biked east along the Columbia River into Washington State, down into Idaho, back across central Oregon to the coast and back to Portland.  The 1432 mile loop included approximately 60,000 cumulative feet of climbing.  The following are excerpts from my journal of what I still call one of the best trips of my life.  

Day 1

It was 100 degrees in Portland when I met my new cycling girlfriends.  Many of them knew each other from previous WomanTour rides, so it felt like a sorority party, and I was getting rushed.  We sure turned a lot of heads as 29 women wearing matching bike jerseys pedaled out of the city.  After six months of mentally and physically preparing for this trip, I could hardly believe I was finally "doing it."

Day 2

Let's call today's 56 mile ride "the agony and the ecstasy."  Ecstasy because riding along the Columbia River with its incredible vistas was beautiful.  All I could hear was the swish of my tires and the occasional click of my gears.  Waterfalls spilled down sheer cliffs and snaked their way through serpentine ravines.  Eventually the river disappeared, and we were biking under a canopy of trees.  I'm not sure when the forests disappeared and the landscape turned to sun-dried grass, but when it did, biking was agony.  The sun was blazing hot, and the hills were steep.  There was one climb that made even the saintliest of our riders use vocabulary she'd never used before.  Some grades on that blankety-blank hill were between 15 and 18 percent.  In Hood River, the bank's LED display read 101 degrees.

Day 5

At 6:00 a.m. we were on the road with the truckers  It was 90 miles
The Truckers and the Bikers
to Umatilla, Oregon, and it would be hot.  At 7:00 a.m. it was 75 degrees and by 9:30, it was almost 100.  There wasn't a tree in sight, and other than the support van, there were no services for the entire 90 miles.  With the help of a great tailwind, I biked the flat road between 17 and 20 mph, but the heat was a bear.  If I were in a car, the scenery might seem boring, but on a bicycle I saw things up close and personal, like watching the wind spin small pieces of tumbleweed and blow remnants of sweet onions across the road.

Day 9
Making P&J sandwiches for lunch on the road

Yesterday and today were my personal best.  Riding 70 and 90 miles two consecutive days gave me some time to reflect on my first 400 miles of riding.  What struck me is that I have only myself and my bike to think about.  I don't worry about cooking dinner, paying bills, or feeding kitties, but I do think about my safety on the road, eating right, stretching, etc.  The people we meet are amazed to see 29 women with so much stamina and determination riding their bikes.  I continue to be amazed too.

Day 12

Riding in the Palouse of Idaho
I guess I was a little naive to think I might not get a flat tire on this ride.  Picture this:  I'm coming down a long hill at a safe speed.  Ahead of me on the road is a rock.  It looked menacing.  I kept looking at it.  Suddenly the rock smiled and said "Hit me."  So I did.  KABOOM!  Man, oh man, did my front wheel shake, rattle and roll  The result?  A front tire pinched flat of magnificent proportions.

Day 24

Penny, Nancy and Pam
For the last year I've been dreading the climb up McKenzie Pass taking us over the Cascade Mountain Range, but it was a piece of cake.   At 5,380 feet I felt like I was on top of the world with a 360 degree view of lava fields surrounded by snow covered peaks.  And then came the 22 miles of downhill on a smoothly paved road through sweet smelling cedar and ponderosa pine.  It doesn't get any better than this.

Day 28

We are now on Oregon's magnificent coast and riding the home stretch back to Portland.  Today's 55 mile ride was outstanding,
Pam Biking the Beautiful Coast of Oregon 
although the first five mile hill was steep.  Fifty yards from the summit, I saw a smiley face with the words "You are almost there" painted on the road.  When we reached the top, our support vehicle was waiting for us with ABBA's "Dancing Queen" playing full blast from the car stereo.  I love these awesome women.  They are so darn much fun.

Day 30

It was a one-hundred mile biking day from Astoria to Portland, and it was raining.  But we made it -- at least some of us did.  I hate that this amazing bike trip has come to an end.  There wasn't a day when I didn't want to ride.  This is "the stuff dreams are made of."

So, next year when I turn 70, I'd like to test myself again, but I'm not sure what I can do with my fragile neck which ended my dream to ride the length of the Mississippi River last spring.  However,  I'm feeling pretty good,  putting in some decent weekly miles, and crossing my fingers that I can keep doing it.


  1. You are amazing, Pam. I'm so glad you posted this. If8 were not in the shape I'm in, I'd get a bike!

  2. Pam, you did an excellent job bringing bicycle touring to life with your writing! I agree 100% with you about the joys of touring with other women and riding your bike day after day. If I could I would love to ride my bike around the world for a few years.