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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  11/1/2005

Coasting Along with Ranger Rick

I first met Rick Madden a few years ago when he and his wife Sarah started leading "Bucolic Sunday" rides for Almaden Cycle Touring Club. "One cow sighting guaranteed," they promised the 20-40 riders who showed up on those scenic outings.

I knew he was a park ranger, and that his job took up many of his weekends. But still he managed to lead those Sunday rides, to enter quite a few races, and to get in long miles on other club rides. What I didn't know: He was a closet long-distance tourist. "When I was a kid I saw an article about someone who walked across America," he recalled recently. "Can you imagine how stupid that would be?" Still, he longed for that kind of adventure. "I get seasick, so sailing around the world wouldn't work," he said. A few years ago he chose pedaling across America as his goal.

Reality check: Setting out across the country would take too much time away from the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District, from Sarah, and other grown-up responsibilities.

"I'll do it next year," he promised himself, and instead pulled into his Willow Glen driveway on October 1 after riding home from the Canadian border. And none too soon. Since his return he's been working 60-hour days draining some 1.5 million gallons of water from an old stock pond that harbored predator species of the California red-legged frog.

First ride of a lifetime

Rick spent 21 days pedaling down the coast, riding a total of 1200 miles, "on the nose," he told me. He spent 117.3hours in the saddle, averaging 5.6 hoursand 57.1 miles a day at an average speed of 10.2 miles per hour. Hey, he was riding fully loaded and there were some real HILLS on the way. In fact, he climbed a total of 55,560 feet, with a daily average of 2,650.

Those mind- (and bottom-) numbing statistics are courtesy of Rick's riding companion, Jerry Schonewille, a dedicated bike tourist if there ever was one. Last December, when Rick announced his plans for this trip, Jerry hopped on board right away.

A decade or so older than Rick, "Jerry likes his maps, his GPS, and especially camping," Rick found out. "I think he'd be very happy sleeping outside every night."

The original plan was to spend a couple days in Victoria, B.C., then ride down to Port Angeles. But the ferry ride would cost them $80 "just to set foot in Canada." So they started in Bremerton and got two extra days on their schedule.

Initially Rick's first touring adventure felt "kinda like a job," he said. The pressure to be back at a certain time took its toll. As they rolled south, time became less of an issue. "After a couple of days it all started to run together. I didn't wear a watch or know what time it was. I felt kind of lost, like, what day is it?"

Instead of following the Washington Coast, they stuck to Adventure Cycling's inland route, which Rick described as "very scenic."

They ferried across the Columbia River into Oregon on the fourth day, the only day they had any rain -- just two to three hours of drizzle. The rest of the ride was sunny and clear, with a great northwesterly tailwind. It was downright chilly, though, especially at night.

The scenic Oregon Coast that made Rick want to linger. "Oregon is beautiful," he enthused. "If I'd do it again, I would try to keep to 40 miles per day. It would be fun to go without having to push forward every day, with more freedom to wander around."

The drivers were great, he added. "I want to debunk the myth of the rogue lumber truck driver. Those guys are real pros."

They also enjoyed Oregon's hiker-biker campgrounds. "Four dollars a night and a hot shower," Rick reported. "And you don't have to feed them quarters either."

They did take a few breaks from the campgrounds. Of the two hostels they chose, the Grays Harbor Hostel in Elma, WA, got two thumbs up. The one in Seaside, OR didn't please them as much.

The best indoor overnight was in Petrolia, in Northern California's Mattole Valley. "Lost Coast Lodge was a good find," Jerry said. The nearest campground (about 10 miles away) had no showers, an absolute necessity after the ride up from Ferndale, the toughest part of the trip.

Right on schedule all the way south to Marin, Rick and Jerry got to Samuel P. Taylor Park and realized it was only 87 miles to home. "We got the feeling the trip was really over," said Rick. They had planned to spend a night in Half Moon Bay, but "we knocked it off in one day."

Neither Rick nor Jerry felt the need to do any special training. They were both riding hard through the summer. But they did do about five " tune-up" tours to places like New Brighton State Beach in Capitola.

Those fully loaded tune-ups gave Rick the chance to put "Mother Trucker," his new touring bike, to the test. It's a stock Surly Long Haul Trucker purchased a from Robinson Wheel Works in San Leandro. "I had it built up with the Ultegra and XT components I preferred, a Selle Italia saddle, ITM parts, SKS fenders." He was quite pleased with the Tubus racks and Ortleib panniers he got from TheTouringStore.com.

Yet his favorite equipment turned out to be his microfleece tops and bottoms because "it was COLD!" Rick also praised the Adventure Cycling maps they used. "They did a great job keeping us away from steep grades, and off Highway 101."

Since it was the standard popular route on the Pacific Coast, "we'd typically meet five or six other riders in the campgrounds," Jerry added. It was great to share campfires and pool laundry for the campground Laundromats."

The third rider

It wasn't always just Rick and Jerry on the road, either. Leo Jedd started out with them from Bremerton. In Coos Bay, OR, Leo had an unfortunate encounter with a rut in the road and went down. He hurt his shoulder and suffered some road rash. He also bent his bike's top tube. "We were having trouble communicating by cell phone," Rick recalled. "We thought it was over for him but doesn't he show up in Eureka with a brand new bike!"

Leo turned out to have a different riding style. "We were focused on staying on schedule," said Rick "Leo was slowly working his way down the coast, taking his time and smelling all the roses. I called him the 'Butterfly' because he just flitted along. He liked to talk to everybody. The last we heard from him, he was staying with some local people he had met in Ferndale."

What next?

Rick came back fired with plans for future tours. "I changed my mind,"he told me. "I'm not going across the country. The idea that I must dip my rear wheel in the Pacific, go across and dip my front wheel in the Atlantic doesn't work for me anymore. I've always been a linear type of guy. Now I'd rather focus on having fun rather than pushing to a linear goal. Next year I might go from Eugene to Denver, a shorter trip to more interesting places."

Or he might go to Turkey. One fellow traveler they met in camp, Kiara Raazi from San Diego, had ridden throughout Asia. They joined up at Cape Lookout and rode together all the way to Bodega Bay. Kiara's tales of Afghanistan and Turkey tickled Rick's wanderlust.

Plus he wants to ride Adventure Cycling's Great Rivers Route, San Diego to El Paso, and the East Coast. "Eastern Europe sounds really interesting, too," he mused.

"Jerry was worried Sarah wouldn't let me go on any more trips," he laughed. "It's because he didn't shave," Jerry confessed. The truth is that Sarah has encouraged Rick to pursue his wanderlust. "I'm one lucky guy to have her support," he said proudly. Besides, he shaved when he got home.

Photos courtesy Jerry Schonewille

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net

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