Lessons Learned While Pedaling in Search of Steelhead

27 March, 2017

Words by Brian Ohlen a.k.a Spoke'n'Fly

I’ve spent the past ten weeks on my bicycle, pedaling from Canada to Mexico in search of steelhead trout. The goal was to catch one of these magnificent creatures in Washington, Oregon and California. Mother nature had different plans. While I did find time to fish in all three states, nearly constant rain storms in Oregon and northern California blew out most of the rivers leaving them high and muddy...unfishable. My luck changed in California both in terms of fish and weather where I found a beautiful, native steelhead complimented by the first sunny skies in weeks. Finding success in the 11th hour, on a gravel bar in NorCal was an experience I’ll never forget. What surprised me the most however, were the unintended lessons and adventures that happen any time one takes on an adventure of this kind.

  • The kindness of humanity expresses itself during a bike tour. One of the most unexpected parts of this tour has been how helpful, kind and generous random folks have been along the way. This has come in the form of a bed to sleep in, a hot shower at the end of a rainy day, a guided fishing trip, a beer in exchange for a story, or directions to a secret fishing spot. In everyday life, we often don’t see acts of kindness to this degree. There is something about being on a bike that interests people and encourages interaction. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that bike tourists are somewhat vulnerable. People simply love lending a hand, and it has been my sincere pleasure to let them.

  • Beware the skunk. He stalks at night, sniffs at tents, and helps himself freely to fruit pies.
  • The first mile is the hardest. For the first two weeks of the trip, I was joined by my brother and another friend. That moment when they headed back home in the truck, and I pedaled off alone in a strange, unfriendly town was mentally, the hardest part of the whole trip. The phrase, “what the hell am I doing out here” kept echoing through my brain as I pedaled into the wind and drizzle that day. Thankfully, the necessities of the road soon took my mind off this, and thoughts of camp and food soon took precedence. 

  • One day at a time. Before leaving on this adventure, the thought of the trip as a whole seemed overwhelming. There were so many unknowns I’d face in the next 10 weeks that trying to plan them all out ahead of time was impossible and a little stressful. Once I got on the road though, I found that thinking mostly in the present, and two or three days into the future was I needed to worry about. Using this technique, the challenges at hand were indeed manageable.

  • Never pass by a bakery without stopping. While it may come as surprise based on the heft of my touring rig (well over 100 lbs), I am fairly conscious about minimizing weight and bulk. Sometimes I catch myself passing up certain food simply because I don’t want to carry the extra weight. The nice thing about touring the Pacific coast is that there are plenty of opportunities to restock. This means it’s possible to purchase that second ham and cheese croissant for later in the day, and stock up again tomorrow. You won’t regret it!

  • Tubeless tires for touring? Absofreakinglutely! I’ve ridden over 2,000 miles on a single pair of WTB Horizon Road Plus Tires WITHOUT INSTALLING A TUBE!!!!! Yes, you read that correctly. I didn’t get a single flat on a 10 week tour from Canada to Mexico. Certainly, there were pieces of glass and gravel that cut the tire, but the TCS system healed them easily. On top of that, the tires are fast rolling, soft riding, and float over squishy terrain. I would without a doubt recommend the this system for loaded touring, gravel riding, city commuting, whatever. Trust me.

  • The Beach Boys were right. I spent three idyllic days in Santa Cruz. After an afternoon surfing I was ready to trade in my bike for a longboard and wetsuit. Growing up in South Dakota I wasn’t exposed to this beach lifestyle. I’m starting to see what so agreeable to this California beach living thing!
  • Bus drivers are worse than truckers. Seriously, school bus drivers consistently provided the closest calls on the road. Lame.

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