Paris by Bicycle

I'm currently sitting on a balcony in Paris overlooking a boulangerie, sipping on French wine and eating a fresh baguette that I bought for 1 Euro. I have to pinch myself every once in a while to remind myself that this is real life and I'm not dreaming - I really am in the middle of a "business trip" to Europe, with a weekend interlude to Paris. What a life!

Truth be told, Paris has never been on my bucket list of cities to visit, so when the conference in Stockholm was booked and my boss said "Let's make good use of our time in Europe and contact the account management teams to see who wants to talk with us," I was mildly excited. I was more excited to try and get to northern Sweden to do some backpacking, but then Paris got booked to visit some important customers, so now, here we are! The timing worked out such that after our week in Stockholm (for the conference), we flew to Paris on Friday evening and don't have work until Monday. We'll return to the states early on Tuesday morning.

So, with a whirlwind 48 hours to explore the City of Lights, I did what I do best, find a bicycle and explore!

Yours truly under the Eiffel Tower

Yours truly under the Eiffel Tower

 

Paris has a great bike sharing system Velib, which has over 1000 stations and nearly 24,000 bicycles. I'm traveling with my boss, who is turns out used to race road bikes in college. I told him of my plan to explore via 2 wheels and he said he was up for the adventure. From our hotel in the 16th arindossment early on Saturday morning, we walked to breakfast near the Arc de Triomph, where we quickly found bicycles and were off for the day!

From the Arc de Tromph, we pedaled 10 minutes and were at the Eiffel Tower. Did you know you can ride nearly undernearth it?! Holy amazeballs! So much better than being in a tourbus!

Our next intended destination was the Notre Dame Cathedral, but, if you've ever been to Paris, you're probably laughing at me right now. There are literally hundreds of amazing sights between the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame- it was silly to think we would make it from one to the next in 30 minutes! 

Velib Bike Share in Paris. Look at those baskets!

Velib Bike Share in Paris. Look at those baskets!

 

The Seine River has a beautiful bike and pedestrian path that leads you past many of the landmarks, including the Musee Orsay (didn't go in, but we got cool pictures) and the Lourve! Turns out, you can also bike right up to the Lourve pyramid and through the big buildings! (Sorry I'm not describing this well. Basically the Lourve is a big complex of buildings and when you're on a bike, you can basically go anywhere. It's a little strange how little you're restricted.) 

It was right around the Lourve that we realized that we were close to the 30 minute time limite and needed to switch bikes. The app thankfully works on a limited basis without a data connection, so we could see the location of the stations, but not how many stations or bikes were available. There were a number of times when we got to docking stations to find them either all full and couldn't exchange, or empty and in need of rebalancing. I guess Pronto had that going for it.

The Lourve!

The Lourve!

Throughout the day we switched bikes 8 or 9 times, and eventually got good at navigating the system. It was relatively easy to use and had instructions in many languages, including English. The most frustrating thing was ending up with bikes that had low tires, bad gears, or seats with bad posts so your knees were in your face. Once I ended up with a bike that had a nearly flat back tire and couldn't find a station that wasn't full for nearly 2 hours. Lots of fun on those cobblestones.

The most fun/exciting/scary part of riding bikes around Paris is the hodgepodge of signage and bike streets. Often there will be lovely bike lanes that will just disappear into a giant traffic circle, such as the one at the Bastille. We took the lead of the people on bikes in front of us and just rode boldly into traffic, weaving in and out of taxis, buses, and scooters. I was frankly surprised to be alive on the other side.

My boss leading the way

My boss leading the way

 

Other times, the bike lane was shared with tour buses. While I wanted to gawk at the gorgeous buildings and historic surroundings, I was also a bit afraid for my life.

Today, I had the opportunity to ride a bike again, as we had another free day before work begins. While it was a great way to see the city, the frustration of finding open docks and fear for my life led to me to choose the metro.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

 

 

Gals at the Dalles

There's something about rolling hills, farms and open prairie that just does it for me. I absolutely love it. Add gravel roads, cows, a challenging climb with a screaming descent, the opportunity for dispersed camping and you've got my perfect ride.

Two years ago, I was introduced to the Dalles Mountain 60. This route is typically ridden in one day on the second Saturday in March, with whoever shows up. When I did it in 2016, a mixed bag of cyclists showed up, but primarily roadies with really fancy bikes and spandex. Most people seemed ready to test their mettle on this early season ride and go as fast as possible - up and over Dalles Mountain, down Maryhill Loops, and over Old Moody Road. Scenic photos be damned, they were going for King of the Mountain!

My style of riding is quite different. I'm in it for the journey- photos, fun stops, and whatever may come my way. The problem with doing this ride in early March, however, is you're battling daylight. It's a long, challenging ride with some decent elevation gain. If you don't hustle, you won't make it back to the city before sunset and it gets COLD and DARK out there. 

So after my first experience in the Dalles I knew that I wanted to go back. I was in love with the scenery and wanted more, but wanted to do it on my own terms. And that's how Gals at the Dalles was born.

If you've ready my blog post about my trip last summer with Komorebi Cycling Team, you know about the magic that is biking with all women. So I'm not going to rehash that, but suffice it to say, I was intentional in planning this trip to be all women.

I put the call out on social media that I was doing this trip to Oregon, open to rad women, gave them the route, and to meet at Holstein's Coffee on Saturday the 20th at 10am. In the end, 18 women ended up making the trip to Oregon - 2 from Montana, 2 from Oregon, and 14 from Washington! A pretty damn good turnout!

One challenge going into this ride was fighting my internal voice that kept saying "You're too slow to lead a ride like this." And on some levels, it's true. For the climb up Dalles Mountain (the first 16 miles of Day 1), I was the slowest. But, that doesn't mean I couldn't lead in other ways. To combat this internal struggle, I did the following:

  • Made sure everybody else was as prepared as possible to ride ahead with the route, cue sheets, and knew specific details (like where to get water)
  • Made it abundantly clear that there was no expectation for the group of 18 to stick together
  • Enjoyed my own pace and rode my own ride

My plan totally worked and I was pleasantly surprised when at mile 37, we came down a huge hill after Stonehenge (seriously, there's a full size replica of Stonehenge in the middle of Washington) to find the whole group! I have no idea how long they'd just been hanging out eating lime salted cucumber (you can read about that here on Adventure Cycling) but it was the BEST SURPRISE EVER!!

From there, we rode the final 5 miles into the Deschutes River Recreation Area where we had staged a car with all of our camping gear and a cooler with cold LaCroix and beer. After loading up our bikes, it was a stunning ride 8 miles down the Old Rail Trail to a dispersed camping site for the night.

DSCN1515.JPG

Day 2 started with a seriously stupid number of flat tires on the sharp gravel, luckily most of them easily fixable. We only had to boot one tire but it proved to be a good learning experience. Eventually we all made it off of the Rail Trail and back onto the main Dalles 60 route, where Old Moody Road awaited us. 

I think this road should be called Old Moody Mountain, and I honestly think it's the hardest part of the entire trip. This road is like a freaking wall and it's all gravel and so steep. Once we finally conquered that, it was smooth, beautiful riding all the way back into the Dalles.

Ending back at Holsteins Coffee we all collapsed onto the patio in the 95 degree heat. Happy, exhausted, accomplished. And excited to do it again next year?

p.s. This time, I took 600+ photos, and who knows how many the other women took. To see a small selection, search for the hashtag #galsatthedalles on Instagram!

with these THIGHS

I climb mountains.

I squat almost my body weight.

I bust out seams on jeans that were meant to keep for much smaller legs.

These thighs have taken me all across the world and I'm damn proud of them. They're strong. They're solid. They do exactly what I ask of them and more.

with these THIGHS.

Inspired by my friend Leah, owner of Gladys Bikes in Portland who originally printed these stickers, I have also printed these stickers. If you're also proud of your thighs, let me know and I'll get you a few.

Gear Reviews - Sleeping System

When people who only car camp hear that I'm riding my bike out to the woods to sleep outside for one night there is typically one reaction - "Girl, you're nuts. That's way too much work just to sleep outside for one night."

And, I think in their minds, they envision that I'm hauling as much stuff as they would typically take car camping: a cooler, camp chairs, a large tent, shelter, and all sorts of gear. I can't even tell you how many times this contraption has been posted on my Facebook wall:

Nope, sorry mom, not taking this bike camping.

Nope, sorry mom, not taking this bike camping.

 

When I show them pictures of my fully loaded bicycle, then the questions really start to flow. 

And y'all- this was a crappy packing job. I brought a 2 person tent, 2 sleeping pads, a stove, didn't compress my sleeping bag, and brought way too much food. Also, note where my front sleeping pad is- I don't recommend this. But, it worked. So, onto my actual gear reviews and camping hacks.

This post is going to cover my sleeping system. I've gone through a few iterations, and below is what I've found to be the most comfortable by far. Also, when I'm riding or hiking, I like to sleep and wake up well rested. Tossing, turning, and shivering all night do no good for getting in the miles the next day.

This system works in both my 1 person and 2 person tent. When I take my hammock, I ditch the z-pad and just do the inflatable pad as a level of insulation.

My Favorite Sleep System

I'm a cold sleeper. Even in July when it's 60 degrees at night, I'm shivering. I've finally landed on the perfect system that keeps me snug as a bug, even down to 30 degrees (the coldest I've tested it), but I'm guessing it would work even colder, since it's all rated for lower temps.

Bottom level: Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Sleeping Pad

This pad is the old staple of hikers and bikers. Super light weight, works as a seat rest for sitting on the ground too. This goes on the bottom of my setup and helps insulate the whole package. In the height of summer, I'll sometimes leave this behind (but not usually, as it's so light and perfect for sitting on the ground.) It can be strapped on top of the outside of your bike basically wherever.

Next level: Big Agnes Q Core Insulated SLX Pad

Inflate this bad boy about 90% of the way up and it's the best sleeping pad I've ever used. I'm a side sleeper and it provides awesome support for my hips. Love it. And it's rated down to 15 degrees.

Sleeping bag: REI Joule Women's Sleeping Bag

This is a women's specific down bag with a synthetic outer liner that is water-resistant. Helpful incase your bag gets wet (but I still always pack it in a dry bag just in case, as wet down is useless.) This bag is great as it's shorter so my feet stay warm, and the mummy hood is lovely for cold nights. This bag also accommodates my wide hips pretty well, as it is built for women! Nice job REI!

I also use a simple synthetic pillow, but sometimes depending on space, will just stuff some clothes up into the head space of my bag.

A Note on R-Values and Temperature Ratings

As you search for camping gear, you'll notice that sleeping pads have an R-Value and sleeping bags have a temperature rating on the spec page.

The R-Value will range from 0-10, and the temperature range will be indicated. This is a basically an indication of how warm it will keep you, with a base layer on. Scientifically, it's the capacity of an insulating material to resist heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power. 

You should pick one that meets your needs - consider weight, if you're willing to spend the time blowing up the pad, deflating, etc. And how much it weighs.  For me, I like being warm and toasty, and don't mind blowing up the pad to do so!

Next up: Cooking systems and coffee brewing while camping!