Cycling the West Coast with Marie-Gold

Cycling the West Coast with Marie-Gold

Our team ambassador Chloe Pilon Vaillancourt (also known under the artist name Marie-Gold in Montreal) shares her experience of cycling along the legendary American West Coast.

Trip Summary

  • Departure point: Olympia-Lacey, Washington (40 km south of Seattle)
  • Arrival point: Oakland, California
  • Number of kilometres: Approx. 1700 km
  • Elevation: Approx. 1, 000 metres
  • Duration: 16 days of cycling and 4 days of rest/work
  • Number of flats : 0 (I still can't believe it!)
  • 11 nights camping
  • 9 nights at Warmshowers (the cyclist equivalent of "Couchsurfing"),
  • 30 protein bars
  • 3 raccoons attacking bike panniers at night
  • 4 lifts by motorists due to difficult road conditions or mechanical problems
  • 11 other out-of-season cyclists met on the road
  • 1 big cramp in my left leg that lasted
  • 2 days
  • 1 night of wild camping
  • 3 pick-up drivers yelling "GET OFF THE ROAD!!"
  • Far too many tiny shoulder strips (when there were any)
  • 300% increase in physical and mental strength
  • 5 rainy days
  • 1 10-kilometre bridge (Astoria's bridge)
  • 1000 magnificent landscapes and encounter

What were the objectives of your trip?

The realization of a dream, the surpassing of oneself, the action of being in nature and the desire to visit San Francisco to meet with the tech community there.

10 years ago, after a revealing bike trip in India, I wanted to tackle the famous American West Coast. But something came up and my Montreal-Vancouver "lift" was canceled at the last minute. Eager to start pedaling, and still being a student with the bank account that comes with it, I decided to pedal the East Coast instead. I left Montreal the next day, and rode 4000 km from Montreal, to Cape Code, to Halifax, the Gaspé and back to the metropolis. It was a missed appointment, but a pleasant one nonetheless. The idea of going to California on two wheels has stuck with me ever since. In the meantime, it was dissipated by studies in engineering physics, touring and concerts, a career in France and so on. This summer (leap forward in time!), I had three weeks free between two shows. I really wanted to visit the MIT Plasma and Fusion Center in Boston. Seeing the distance, I said to myself "Bah! Why not go by bicycle". Just when I thought my years of bicycle touring were behind me, I quickly got back into the swing of things. I was immediately plunged back into the state of well-being, confidence and adventure that had gripped me on my trips to India and the East Coast. When I arrived at my destination, I was staying with a fellow cyclist (Allô Carol!) who told me about her trip to the West Coast. She lent me a book on the subject, and I said to myself "That's it - if I don't do this trip this fall, I'll never do it".
So I contacted Arkel and Vélo Rosemont, who agreed to equip me properly for this adventure. Even after I'd bought my plane ticket, I almost canceled at the last minute. I was thinking : "But what am I going to miss in Montreal?!" “Shouldn’t I stay in place like everybody, find love and a proper job and have a family ?!”, or “I’ll miss Halloween with my friends!”. In the end, I'm terribly happy and grateful to have gone ahead.

What stood out for you during the trip?

The physical challenge - I'd been warned it was a tough route, but I wasn't expecting this! As I've traveled by bike in India, I thought that nothing could impress me. But these were different challenges. I've never been in better shape in my life than at the end of this journey - I even completed a half-marathon trail run the day after arriving in San Francisco.

Also, the feeling of being part of the landscape is incredible. The scenery was magnificent and a bike trip means that, unlike everyday life, you're outside 90% of the time, especially when you're camping. It's a very special and energizing feeling. My thoughts were constantly occupied by the road, the scenery, adjusting my gears, having to spend 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening dismantling or assembling my camping setup, etc. This is meditative, and anchored in my mind. This is meditative, and necessarily anchors me in the present moment.

What are your favorites of the trip?

In terms of places, the "Hiker/Biker" camps and their concepts top the list. These are spaces reserved for cyclists and hikers in Washington, Oregon and California state parks.

My favorite: is Cape Lookout, which I shared with 3 other cyclists, in a magical little forest overlooking a sunset over the Pacific Ocean. I also fell in love with the small town of Mendocino, Oregon, which reminded me of Montreal during a comforting morning: Cute coffee shops, nice grocery stores and a warm atmosphere.

Finally, Route 1 between Fort Bragg and Sea Ranch was spectacular: some of the most beautiful rock and seascape on the coast. The weather was perfect (clear skies, 18 °C on average) during this period. I felt like I was in a cycling touristic brochure.
In terms of people, the list is long! I met so many wonderful and stimulating people. I'd like to thank the car drivers who sometimes "gave me a lift", when I had a problem with my brakes or the road proved too dangerous. My heart goes out to all the members of the Warmshowers community who welcomed me. Mary and Mark were kind to me at the very beginning of my trip to Vancouver, Carol in Trinidad was there for me when my body and heart needed rest, and Andy and Debbie welcomed me for a week in Oakland, California - to name but a few. And finally, my favorite decision: to travel with my huge 1-foot-thick inflatable mattress. Very glamping: Sleep first!

Would you have any advice for a woman who's on the fence about going solo?

I like to think that courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to go ahead despite fear. I think we learn and understand better by doing: So I urge any woman to take the plunge, to experiment and learn! And this applies to many areas of life. In any case, on a cycle tour, you're never really alone: you meet lots of people along the way.

Which Arkel bags did you choose and why? 

Dauphin 48 L: Because they're waterproof, and because I LOVE being able to compartmentalize my luggage, as opposed to a simple "pocket". It helped me organize my days better and made the process of setting up camp much smoother and more enjoyable.
The handlebar bag: Having a huge handlebar is a "game changer": not only does it distribute the weight on the bike a little better (if you only have rear panniers), it also offers a large, easily accessible storage space. In my case, I put my essentials, which I wanted to be within easy reach - phone, wallet, headlamp, etc. - and my bathroom essentials. - and my bathroom essentials.

Your level of appreciation of your gear?

Exceptional. It was really reassuring to travel with such high-quality equipment, and it clearly contributed to the smooth running of my trip. In the past, I've traveled with bikes in poor condition, equipped only with low gears, which made climbing difficult, and with grocery bags stacked on top of each other on my rear rack… So, let's just say I really appreciated this experience. In particular, I was travelling with my laptop, and I could be sure it would stay dry. I had some trouble installing the Rollpacker initially and had to use some ingenuity to adjust its installation and feel confident during the run. In the meantime, Arkel has posted a product installation video on his Instagram and YouTube, which answered all my questions!

Anything else to declare?

Best trip of my life !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!