Matt O'Donnell
Pacific Coast


Vancouver, BC to Bremerton, WA

Vancouver, BC to Bremerton, WA

This grand old adventure started out as a wet one. I got to Vancouver on August 29th, landing smack dab in the middle of a huge storm that had knocked out power to approximately 500,000 people. Coming from drought ridden California, this was massive. I had arrived early with the intention of spending a couple days exploring Vancouver, but the crazy storm kept that to a bit of a minimum.
September 1 rolled around and it was time to hit the road. Luckily, the rain decided to subside and give me a bit of a break that morning. Leaving Vancouver saw me traveling through some very nice neighborhoods, but they all had unmistakably been hit by the storm. Trees were downed everywhere (sometimes coming to rest on the hoods of cars) and the streets were littered with debris. Occasionally dedicated bike lanes would be completely obstructed and I would have to cross through parallel parking lots until I could find my way back onto the path.

I had gotten a much later start that first day than I had anticipated to it became a long push to make it across the border and to camp at Birch Bay State Park. I finally arrived in the dark and rain. I managed to get camp set up and made friends with Max, the only other cyclist there and then just collapsed in a very tired pile in my tent.

The following day was spent riding with and getting to know Max, my compatriot from New York City. He, like me, was out to do the entire PCH. He had a rad Surly Cross Check with a triple ring crank set and the middle ring would give him trouble when trying to shift into it. He is younger and sprightlier (translation = faster) than me, so I’d often find myself behind him as we started climbs. I’d be in position to draft him up the hill, but then as he’d go to shift into that middle ring it would skip and miss, killing his momentum. I’d either have to swerve or hit my brakes so as to not run into his rear wheel which of course shot my momentum as well. When this would happen I’d tell myself, “don’t sit so close to his rear wheel next time you’re coming to a climb,” but of course I’d forget and find myself in the exact same position next time.

The second day highlight was Deception Pass Bridge. It was the first awesome bit of natural beauty on the trip. It was also the moment I made note to really soak the views up mentally because no iPhone picture was ever going to do it justice.

After just a couple days riding with Max I realized I wasn’t enjoying my original plan of doing 60 miles a day every day for a month with only a couple days off to rest. It was bugging my right knee which I had injured the previous holiday, and I didn’t feel like I was really getting a chance to do much more than ride, sleep and eat. We had flown through Bellingham, WA and I thought it seemed like such a cool town and I would have liked to spend some time there. So after a wet, cold, and kind of cranky third day I told Max he should continue on with his aggressive schedule. My plan is no longer to make it all the way to Mexico in just the month of September.

The next day (4) it was wet, yet again when I woke, but it quickly looked up. I embraced my new found “relaxed” approach to the trip and as the skies cleared, I realized it was really starting to look lovely around me. Paradise Bay and the Hood Canal were lovely. The bridge over the canal was up as I approached and so a long line of cars stood waiting. The timing worked perfectly for me: I passed all the cars and just as I reached the drawbridge it lowered, as if it had been waiting for me. When I got off the 3 around Kitsap State Park I was ready for lunch and had resolved to eat at a gas station when I noticed I had one bar of service. So, just for kicks I checked Yelp and found there was a small family owned restaurant just a mile off course. I think this may have been the best lunch of my life. I had a massive plate of pasta and a pot of hot green tea. The 24 year old waiter had been working there since he was 11.

Once I hit the outskirts of Bremerton I found a small cupcake shop. All they did was cupcakes, so I knew I had to try one. The owner was a trip. She had amazing stories. Her son had left to hike the PCH but called her crying and asking for a ride home two days later. Her mother was murdered in San Francisco in the 1970s and she had gone back to investigate herself. She also kindly pointed out to me that I was right next to Seattle. I had no idea. It’s not on the ACA maps and I was just kind of off in my own little world. Befitting my new outlook on the trip, I made a quick change of plans and hopped a ferry across and found myself in Seattle. I took a whole day exploring which allowed me to dry out my tent while I made friendly with the local bartenders.

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Matt O'Donnell

Gear List

- My Ride -

- My Blackburn Gear -

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Matt O'Donnell
  • Genesis moment? A year ago I started a new company with a friend here in San Francisco. It’s been successful and I feel blessed because of that, but the hours were long at times, the stress high and I found that my fitness and riding is what took the biggest hit. I went from regularly riding 200+ miles/week to being lucky if I got in 40. When the holiday season came around I found myself with a week off and a huge amount of excitement to get back on the bike. I went for broke and rode over 300 miles in the six days I was visiting family out in Tucson, AZ. What did I get for my effort? A knee injury, seemingly caused from overuse; meaning I jumped back into the deep end too fast. I should have waded into the kiddy pool, I guess.
    I’ve spent some time in physical therapy and the knee is feeling good. This trip is going to be a great opportunity for me to get reconnected to my functioning body and to allow my head some time and space away from work, to reevaluate priorities, tell some stories, and to just ride bikes and sleep in tents.
  • Have you traveled in the past? My previous experience traveling distance by bike is pretty limited. I’ve done a few overnighters, but this will be my biggest trip BY FAR. I look forward to learning primarily by making mistakes and then trying not to repeat them.
  • Goal for the route? My biggest goal is to find some great characters and stories to share along the way. So much of the fundamental basis of American cycling culture spawned from the West Coast and I know there are going to be great examples of it along the way. In addition to that I hope to keep all my fingers and toes attached to my body.
  • What do you hope to get out of the journey? It sounds hippy-ish, but I’m hoping to come away from this with a bit of perspective. The sort of insight and calm that only many miles, the open road, and no cell phone reception can bring you. I’m also aiming for some real nice, crisp, tan-lines.
  • What's in your bag? #1 my Fallkniven F1 survival knife is my favorite camping knife. Seeing as how it is a fixed blade, I (for legal reasons) don’t want to “conceal” it. I tend to actually mount it right on the bike with zip ties holding the plastic sheath in place. Getting it through customs will be interesting.

    #2 My Coffee & Tea Collective tin mug. This was given to me by a good friend who hails from San Diego for my 30th birthday. I’ve never spent any time in San Diego, but since this route is going to take me right through I figure I should swing by and fill this baby up straight from the source. I will then immediately begin an epic burrito sampling to settle once and for all who has the best, San Diego, or San Francisco.

    #3 my GoPro Hero 4 Black. I have a variety of accessories from mounts, to filters, to nifty time lapse doodads that will allow this camera to do some heavy lifting for the mini documentaries I intend to produce while out on the tour.


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