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Old 06-18-17, 08:00 AM   #1
lyrictenor1
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Mini Touring Ideas (Day Trips off of Amtrak Route)

I'm planning on visiting a friend out in Ohio this summer, and wanted to take Amtrak across the country from Los Angeles. I plan on getting a rail pass.

My club is having an intramural race a few days after I return (fun team trial, really), and I've already committed to it. What I was thinking of doing to keep my fitness up and see some sights along the way is to do some short day trips on the bike as I head across the country.

I'm a road cyclist, and not really a tourer, so stops will be via credit card. I'll have a CX bike with 28mm tires.
  • My first idea is to take the Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle, and then take the Empire Builder towards Chicago. I was thinking of hopping off the train to see Glacier NP on the bike, and then hop back on the train the next day (perhaps get off at West Glacier, and then ride east to the East Glacier station (~55 mi).

  • Another idea is to either hop off at the East Glacier station and work my way west to the West Glacier Station, or hop off at West Glacier and explore and work my way back to Whitefish, which looks like it has more lodging options

  • Or, take a few days and explore inside Glacier Park, and then hop back on the train, heading East

Any other ideas? I was thinking of riding from Chicago to Cleveland, but that seems a bit longer than I would like to do on this trip (371 miles). Day trips would be preferred.

Thanks!

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Old 06-18-17, 08:46 AM   #2
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A day trip to see Niagra Falls?
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Old 06-18-17, 09:02 AM   #3
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A lot of Amtrak stations do not handle luggage. Historically Empire Builder only carried bikes in bike boxes that were checked luggage. But Empire Builder is now set up with storing bikes in a luggage car unboxed. But I do not know if they only do that at luggage stations.

Whitefish is a luggage station. Not sure about the others. Whitefish lodging is not cheap, I stayed at a motel called cheap sleep or maybe it was sleep cheap, about a mile and a half from the Amtrak station. They fill, you would want a reservation.

There may be a few lodges in the park or just outside on the west side of glacier where you can get a room for a nite or two if you wanted to ride Going to the Sun road, but I do not know about availability. I camped there, did not stay indoors. There are some time restrictions for cyclists on Going to teh Sun Road. Check the park service website. I stopped twice on the downhill to cool my brakes, but I was carrying a load of camping gear.

If you do not box the bike, I do not know how the transfer works at Chicago. When my bike was in a box, Amtrak took care of transferring my checked luggage (including bike box) from Empire Builder to Capital Limited train.

I marked my box that I would return on a specific date, fortunately Amtrak still had my box for me at Whitefish so I did not need to buy a second box. But they are cheap so if they gave my box to someone else, it would not have been a big loss.

My luck with Amtrak staff at their 1-800 number of actually knowing anything is not good. You may need to call individual stations to find out how things actually work when you do your research.
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Old 06-18-17, 09:24 AM   #4
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There's some recent discussion on this topic in the Southern California regional sub-forum near the top of Bike Forums. You're probably thinking of the local 'commuter' option where you can bring a bicycle on board to do a bike-train-bike commute. I looked into that for a trip up to San Francisco, then bicycle back, but the 'commute' option is only available as far north of Los Angeles as San Luis Obispo; I'd have to check my bicycle as baggage for the trip from L.A to SFO. (and that option is off the table right now due to the landslides and road closure along the central coast). Like is mentioned above, for long-haul trips you have to pack your bike and it goes to your destination as checked baggage, so popping out for side trips is really going to be a hassle, if not altogether impossible if you're going cross-country with Amtrak (and Amtrak doesn't have the greatest on-time service reputation on long routes).
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Old 06-18-17, 10:04 AM   #5
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The Empire Builder would be a good choice for two or three nice segments.

Clearly, Going to the Sun Road is unbeatable.
The challenge would be lodging - since many places will be sold out and/or expensive.
Eastbound the EB makes three park stops - West Glacier, Essex, and East Glacier.
I know all three - you could either do a full loop via US 2, Eastside Rd. and Going to the Sun -
Or you could do one-way with different stations. I suggest E-W rather than W-E.
Why? #1 - Sun behind you in the morning climbing up to Logan. #2 - Fewer bike restrictions.
(Bicycles are banned on certain sections between 11a and 4p.)

The Issac Walton Inn at Essex would make a great base if you plan on two nights and a full circle.
You would get off the train in the morning - spruce up - then could ride up to St. Mary.
From St. Mary, you could leave early for the best possible GRRS ride - hike the CD trail some.
Then zoom down and get back to the inn in the evening and have a light meal and bev at the bar.
Plus, you are right there at the stop the next morning - comfortable if there are any delays.

<<<>>>

Another great ride - much further east - is in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin has some fab rail trails - a national leader - Elroy-Sparta Trail tops.
You get off in LaCrosse in mid-morning then ride to Portage - 120 mi.
Again, it would be 2-day - but there is plenty of lodging -reservations suggested.

<<<>>>

From Chicago you can take the South Shore out to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore -
Then ride a stretch of the historic Lincoln Highway across northern Indiana.
The 1928 route from Plymouth to Ft. Wayne has been bypassed by 4-lane US 30 so is very quiet.
Nice, classic Midwest towns along the way - plus downtown Ft. Wayne is surprisingly cool.
Two late evening trains to Cleveland from Waterloo, IN.

Here's the Indiana stretch which I did last summer.
https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/...id=472637&v=4E

Hope you have a great trip.

J
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Old 06-18-17, 10:48 AM   #6
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...
Or you could do one-way with different stations. I suggest E-W rather than W-E.
Why? #1 - Sun behind you in the morning climbing up to Logan. #2 - Fewer bike restrictions.
(Bicycles are banned on certain sections between 11a and 4p.)
...
One more advantage to this option for Going to the Sun Road is the east side has less elevation, if you climb on the east side, go down on the west you climbed less and went downhill more.

The attached is a screenshot of an elevation plot from my GPS data for the day I went from the East side down to Apgar campground on the West.

Gearing, most of it is about 5.3 percent grade, so gearing does not have to be absurdly low. But there are hills outside the park that are much steeper.
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Old 06-18-17, 10:58 AM   #7
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Consider a folding bicycle - Amtrak permits them as carry-on luggage, and you won't need to plan/reserve for their special/limited bicycle carriers, or check-in baggage. You might sacrifice rough off-road riding and a few % in terms of speed/efficiency. However, with the right folder, you can have a huge security advantage, especially considering Amtrak stations are going to cover the more densely populated locations.
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Old 06-18-17, 11:36 AM   #8
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I might suggest changing from Coast Starlight to Cascades train in Eugene, Oregon. Both will get you to Seattle but Cascades has a roll-on/roll-off baggage car you can reserve a space. Avoid STP weekend and you should be fine.

This gets you a few on/off riding possibilities, e.g. riding Eugene to Salem, Salem to Portland, around Centralia, etc.

Otherwise, I would get out the Amtrak itinerary and look for baggage stations. Not sure if you will find many other than Cascades or Glacier where two stations with baggage are within a day ride of each other. If the Empire Builder doesn't go to each station seven days a week, then you might need to be out for two days (another advantage of Cascades route was there were 4 trains a day at least a few years ago).
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Old 06-18-17, 11:40 AM   #9
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Capitol Limited from Chicago to Cleveland (and on to DC) has walk-on bicycle service, which means, unlike the Empire Builder, which, I think, limits their bicycle handling to baggage stops, you can get on/off at any spot with your bike as long as you have a reserved spot for the bike. There is a partially complete trail from just outside of Toledo to just outside of Cleveland. North Coast Inland Trail
It's about 120 miles from Toledo to Cleveland, but I think only half of that would be on the trail, and I've never ridden the trail, so I don't know what kind of riding it is. Sandusky is about halfway between (but not directly on the N. Coast Inland Trail) and also has a train station. Also in the north west Ohio area are some Lake Erie islands. I think they are a fun trip on bicycle and scenic, but not a good way to get high miles on a bike, as the islands maybe 5 to 10 miles long, so you spend as long on the ferry over as you do biking. If it were possible, I think it'd be good trip to bike from Toledo to the Miller Boat Line on Cawtawba, take a ferry to Put-In-Bay, and spend the night there, then take a ferry to Kelly's Island and boat to Sandusky. Problem is that, while I thought you could get a boat from Kelly's Island to Sandusky, I don't see it on the map. I only see a ferry back to the peninsula, which, thanks to Cawtawba Bay, and the fact that Route 2 is limited access, motor vehicle-only, the trip to Sandusky is pretty much another, full day trip if you went that way. Might even be easier just to backtrack to Toledo and get back on the train there. I've actually used the Route 2 bridge to get my bike between Cawtawba and Sandusky, but it's illegal and it certainly wasn't pleasant. I just didn't have the luxury of a 60 mile detour around the bay.

Also, depending where in Cleveland you were going, you could overshoot by one stop and get off the train in Alliance (at 3am, unfortunately), and go west until you hit the Ohio and Erie Towpath which will then take you into Cleveland. The towpath will be largely unpaved, though, and if it's wet, it may not be great riding, but if it's dry, I think it'd be pleasant, and the surface is very smooth.
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Old 06-18-17, 11:40 AM   #10
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I can't believe this but I was going to have a similar plan for next year assuming the Empire Builder is still running. My plan is to leave from Portland and follow the rivver for a while then jump on and off the train as I go east.

Hate to hijack the OP's thread but were to get off of the train for Sun Road? Can it be done with no camping? I.E. motels every 40-60 miles?
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Old 06-18-17, 11:43 AM   #11
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Capitol Limited from Chicago to Cleveland (and on to DC) has walk-on bicycle service, which means, unlike the Empire Builder, which, I think, limits their bicycle handling to baggage stops,


I believe Empire Builder is now RORO at all stations. I had a bike booked for this year from Seattle but then decided to cancel the bike portion of my vacation this year for personal reasons.
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Old 06-18-17, 12:58 PM   #12
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I believe Empire Builder is now RORO at all stations. I had a bike booked for this year from Seattle but then decided to cancel the bike portion of my vacation this year for personal reasons.
That would be nice. If so, they need to update their website information. It currently lists Winona and West Glacier as exceptions to their baggage-only service, but even that info doesn't show up everywhere it needs to be.

Also it helps to distinguish between the kinds of bike service, because it may affect what you can get away with. Capital Limited has literal Roll-on/Roll-off service, which means no one else touches your bike, which means if you leave a little gear on it, it's unlikely anyone will care so long as it still fits in the rack.

Empire Builder (and the trains in my state) are listed as Checked Bike service. In my state they will still serve every station, baggage or not, but they do not let you in the baggage car. You hand the bike to someone in the baggage car, and they hang it up and hand it back to you at your stop. And they may let you know if they think you've left too much stuff on the bike. Of course they're often on a tight schedule and might not have time to argue with you.
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Old 06-18-17, 01:36 PM   #13
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That would be nice. If so, they need to update their website information. It currently lists Winona and West Glacier as exceptions to their baggage-only service, but even that info doesn't show up everywhere it needs to be.

Also it helps to distinguish between the kinds of bike service, because it may affect what you can get away with. Capital Limited has literal Roll-on/Roll-off service, which means no one else touches your bike, which means if you leave a little gear on it, it's unlikely anyone will care so long as it still fits in the rack.

Empire Builder (and the trains in my state) are listed as Checked Bike service. In my state they will still serve every station, baggage or not, but they do not let you in the baggage car. You hand the bike to someone in the baggage car, and they hang it up and hand it back to you at your stop. And they may let you know if they think you've left too much stuff on the bike. Of course they're often on a tight schedule and might not have time to argue with you.
Amtrak's Empire Builder requires the bike to be bare when handed up to the attendant.
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Old 06-18-17, 02:46 PM   #14
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I am going on a bikeless trip in a couple of months. I will take notes and report back in a separate thread.
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Old 06-19-17, 07:44 AM   #15
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Amtrak's Empire Builder requires the bike to be bare when handed up to the attendant.
There's bare, and then there's bare. We have the same requirements on the trains in my state, and I took the Silver Star (I think) out of DC with the same requirements. But I did not remove my little top tube bag of tools and spare tube. It never gets removed and no one ever says anything. Usually there's pump attached as well. On my most recent trip, I had a frame bag on the bike. I didn't remove that, but I did take most of the items out of it. I believe my pump and cookware stayed in the frame bag, and no one seemed to mind. Also still on the bike was harness for my handlebar roll and the harness for my seat bag. I've never had a problem handing them a bike that only had my standard gear on it. I just try to make sure that it's clear that I removed my actual luggage from the bike. No panniers, and I usually try to remember to take my water bottle as well.
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Old 06-19-17, 08:18 AM   #16
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There's bare, and then there's bare. We have the same requirements on the trains in my state, and I took the Silver Star (I think) out of DC with the same requirements. But I did not remove my little top tube bag of tools and spare tube. It never gets removed and no one ever says anything. Usually there's pump attached as well. On my most recent trip, I had a frame bag on the bike. I didn't remove that, but I did take most of the items out of it. I believe my pump and cookware stayed in the frame bag, and no one seemed to mind. Also still on the bike was harness for my handlebar roll and the harness for my seat bag. I've never had a problem handing them a bike that only had my standard gear on it. I just try to make sure that it's clear that I removed my actual luggage from the bike. No panniers, and I usually try to remember to take my water bottle as well.
I suspect that they want to make sure nothing heavy is on it and nothing can easily fall off of it if they hang the bike from hooks. Thus, empty harnesses and frame bags that are small but attached with lots of straps might be deemed ok by individual Amtrak employees. I would expect that pumps that are strapped on are ok, but frame fit pumps that only are held in from spring pressure might not be.

But I have seen that different Amtrak employees have very different opinions on what the rules really are and what the rules mean. I had one Amtrak employee tell me that I was violating a luggage rule, I told him to look at their website and check the rules because I was in compliance. He then told me that since it was less than 45 minutes before train time, he could prevent me from bringing my luggage on board. I then reminded him that I had been waiting for him to sell me a bike box for over an hour already and that he said he could not help me an hour earlier because he said that he had to go to make a phone call. He was the only Amtrak staff person at this station, so I could not get help from others. I and my luggage got on the train, but the lesson here is that what works at one station and one employee might not work elsewhere. He cited some other rules that I knew were false, but I let them pass.
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Old 06-19-17, 08:24 AM   #17
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But I have seen that different Amtrak employees have very different opinions on what the rules really are and what the rules mean.
I've had that as well. Maybe 1 time in 4 on my in-state train someone would tell me that my bike was incompatible with their rack. I couldn't understand why. They said something about the fender or front rack. It was never quite clear to me. Also it wasn't clear why 3/4s of the time, my bike was fine. They never turned me away, thank goodness. They just told me my bike wouldn't be racked, and would be leaned against something in the baggage car.

Then one day I tried to take my folding bike on, and the baggage guy said it needed to be checked. I pointed out that Amtrak's own guidelines said differently. We looked it up, and he gave me a pamphlet with the relevant part highlighted to show anyone who tried to stop my from carrying my bike on.
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Old 06-19-17, 09:09 AM   #18
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Then one day I tried to take my folding bike on, and the baggage guy said it needed to be checked. I pointed out that Amtrak's own guidelines said differently. We looked it up, and he gave me a pamphlet with the relevant part highlighted to show anyone who tried to stop my from carrying my bike on.
Since you have experience with folding bikes and Amtrak, I have a question. Do they want the bike in a bag or not in a bag. Or do you know if they care?
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Old 06-19-17, 09:52 AM   #19
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But I have seen that different Amtrak employees have very different opinions on what the rules really are and what the rules mean.
I think that can be reasonably expanded to every type of transportation employee. It is why I ALWAYS approach them in a friendly and respectable manner: even if you are in the right, they can make your trip hell if they so choose. May not be right, but it is reality.
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Old 06-20-17, 01:51 AM   #20
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Thanks much for the responses, all!
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Old 06-20-17, 01:52 AM   #21
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I might suggest changing from Coast Starlight to Cascades train in Eugene, Oregon. Both will get you to Seattle but Cascades has a roll-on/roll-off baggage car you can reserve a space. Avoid STP weekend and you should be fine.

This gets you a few on/off riding possibilities, e.g. riding Eugene to Salem, Salem to Portland, around Centralia, etc.

Otherwise, I would get out the Amtrak itinerary and look for baggage stations. Not sure if you will find many other than Cascades or Glacier where two stations with baggage are within a day ride of each other. If the Empire Builder doesn't go to each station seven days a week, then you might need to be out for two days (another advantage of Cascades route was there were 4 trains a day at least a few years ago).

Some nice ideas! Riding northbound in Oregon: Is it nice and scenic? Prevailing winds an issue going north?
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Old 06-20-17, 01:56 AM   #22
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The Empire Builder would be a good choice for two or three nice segments.

Clearly, Going to the Sun Road is unbeatable.
The challenge would be lodging - since many places will be sold out and/or expensive.
Eastbound the EB makes three park stops - West Glacier, Essex, and East Glacier.
I know all three - you could either do a full loop via US 2, Eastside Rd. and Going to the Sun -
Or you could do one-way with different stations. I suggest E-W rather than W-E.
Why? #1 - Sun behind you in the morning climbing up to Logan. #2 - Fewer bike restrictions.
(Bicycles are banned on certain sections between 11a and 4p.)

The Issac Walton Inn at Essex would make a great base if you plan on two nights and a full circle.
You would get off the train in the morning - spruce up - then could ride up to St. Mary.
From St. Mary, you could leave early for the best possible GRRS ride - hike the CD trail some.
Then zoom down and get back to the inn in the evening and have a light meal and bev at the bar.
Plus, you are right there at the stop the next morning - comfortable if there are any delays.

<<<>>>


J
This is very helpful; thanks!

For the second option above, do you mean:
Day 1: Get off train at Essex, then ride to St. Mary, lodge in St. Mary
Day 2: Ride back to Essex to stay the night and catch the train the next morning


What does GRRS mean?

Thanks!
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Old 06-20-17, 06:40 AM   #23
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This is very helpful; thanks!

For the second option above, do you mean:
Day 1: Get off train at Essex, then ride to St. Mary, lodge in St. Mary
Day 2: Ride back to Essex to stay the night and catch the train the next morning


What does GRRS mean?

Thanks!
Ummm - GRRS should be GTTS "Going to the Sun" - the "R" is next to the "T". Sorry.

<<<>>>

Yep - first night at St. Mary (or if possible Rising Sun Lodge). 59 miles (66 miles).
Second night back at Essex at Isaac Walton Inn. 77 miles (70 from Rising Sun).

The first leg has three climbs - Marias Pass and steep divides north and south of Kiowa.
And you may have a little less riding time on the first day - esp. if the train is late.
If you are super buff and have the time, Two Medicine is a great lunch break.
Sinopah Peak is simply lovely against the water.
Rising Sun is in the park - cafe, small store, lovely setting.
St. Mary is outside the park and mobbed - but has all services.

The second leg had one big, but gradual climb to Logan Pass.
98% of the crowds hike towards Hidden Lake on the boardwalk.
I much prefer hiking along Highline Trail to Haystack Butte - trailhead across road.
Remember, GTTS along Lake MacDonald is closed to cyclists from 11a to 4p.
Lake MacDonald Lodge makes a nice break - but I wouldn't start down until 2p.

If you left the lodge at 4p, that should get you back to Essex just after 7p at 12 mph.
I've biked every legal mile in Glacier N.P. - and hiked the backcountry.
I even cross the border at the remote North Fork crossing which has been closed since 9-11.
Fabulous park - worth every minute.

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/22312705

Pic - Sinopah Peak at Two Medicine Lake

PS - You will DEFINITELY need reservations at all locations.
Issac Walton Inn will be easiest - tougher at Rising Sun or St. Mary.
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Old 06-20-17, 06:50 AM   #24
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Also - - when are you planning on doing this?
GTTS is still closed due to snow - big winter this year.
The plows have reached Logan Pass but there are still avalanche chutes.
I would think they will be open in a week or 10 days.

GTTS road status report -
https://home.nps.gov/applications/gl...plowstatus.cfm

Photos of 2017 plowing -
https://www.flickr.com/photos/glacie...57682348882366
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Old 06-20-17, 05:30 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lyrictenor1 View Post
Some nice ideas! Riding northbound in Oregon: Is it nice and scenic? Prevailing winds an issue going north?
Winds along the coast most often come from North. In the Willamette Valley where Amtrak runs, it is more variable.

It is an agricultural area. There are some interesting sights along the way such as an airplane museum with the Spruce Goose. It isn't stunning awesome scenic like the coast further west, but I found it pleasant riding and did a number of "day ride down...train back" type rides when I lived in Portland. I also essentially rode Vancouver to Eugene each year but broken into different weekends - so definitely enjoyed the riding.

Portland is a larger and busier city. Portland has its own bike culture and events, e.g. Sunday parkway closures, a Bridge Ride, a Naked Ride, etc so depending on interests and timing would be a different type of stop. However, also a
lot busier.
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