How to Inspire Brand Loyalty

Here is a question that everyone who owns a business in the service industry should be asking. “How do we inspire loyalty to our brand/products?”

Until the “Future Shop Model” came along, the way to inspire loyalty to your products was with the best service experience possible. “Huh? Service! What’s that?” Employees had to buy into this and perform consistently. The good ones were rewarded with higher salaries, those not so, well…they looked for other jobs. What ever happened to that? Now, most employees in service industries, even the best employees, are treated like cheap appliances, miss-use them, then get a new one.

But I digress… What was the “Future Shop Model” you ask? In a nutshell it was, “We don’t care if you like us, or if the service sucks, you will buy from us again and again because we have the cheapest prices”. It worked for a while but you know, customers are a fickle bunch. When other businesses followed suit, there was no brand loyalty for Future Shop. And, you don’t see them around anymore. Now Amazon amply fills that promise on-line.

So how do you inspire loyalty to your brand with the constant barrage of tricks from both new and existing competition, with on-line or physical storefronts? Two things, one that’s tough to achieve and one that’s much easier:

  • First: Manage expectations – this is the tough one.
  • Second: Provide an experience – this is much easier.

One caveat: If you are trying to compete with Amazon, your days may be numbered. But remember, there is no brand loyalty to Amazon, just good prices. If someone can do better, well, good luck to Amazon.

Why is managing expectations so tough? To start with, everyone has expectations and to complicate things everyone’s expectations can be slightly different. Human beings are funny this way. Some may want personal service and some, to be left alone. Some want a good price and others don’t care. Therefore, no matter what you do, some will be satisfied, some will not. It’s that simple.

How do you manage your client’s expectations? It has to happen before they enter your establishment, or as soon as they walk in the door. Some stores do the latter quite well, by greeting every customer at the door to let them know what’s going on in the store at that moment. Whatever expectations your client walked in with are now refocused on new information. Now the hard part, you need to meet or do better than the new expectations you just established. This, more often than not is where failure occurs, leaving your customer with dissatisfaction. They may never come back. Your employees and guidance from you, the owner, are most important.

How to manage expectations before your clients arrive? This unfortunately takes a long time. Think of Walt Disney, where everything they did “Was for the whole family” or “Welcome to the happiest place on earth”. Disney delivered consistently, not always with the very best product but that didn’t matter. Expectations were consistently met or exceeded.

 

Why are people so loyal to Apple products? Steve Jobs was a genius at bridging both managing expectations and providing an experience. Apple products were consistently sold as an experience. Look at all their advertising. You are having a memorable experience when using their products. What Apple is missing more and more today is what Steven Jobs provided, passion, vision and the cool factor, a.k.a. “managing expectations”. If you never had an experience with an Apple product, how can you resist someone who is passionate, cool without trying, and has a vision of connecting everything they build? He singlehandedly, managed client expectations, much like Walt Disney. But, we all don’t have a Steven Jobs or a Walt Disney in us or in our store to inspire us.

Let’s take the easier path and look at providing an experience, especially for industries that don’t have an Amazon creeping in on the price side. I often reflect back to my experience at  Vancouver, BC’s first street pizza joints. It was small hole in the wall downtown on Robson Street called Pizza Ricos. When you walked through the door you were greeted, expectations were established, and for the next five minutes while your slice of pizza was baking, you were entertained either as an active or passive participant, your choice. The owner and staff carried on a humorous banter, always oh-so close to going over the line, but never quite. When you left and bit into that slice of pizza, you tasted not only the ingredients but that experience. The two paired together is why Pizza Ricos was voted Vancouver’s best pizza 10 years in a row. It was eventually sold to another couple, who still serve the same recipes but sadly miss on the experience factor. It’s now merely one of many street pizzas to choose from.

If you are a winery or a brewery, what do you do when a new competitor moves in next door, makes better products, or offers similar products for a better price? If you don’t have brand loyalty, you may not survive.

If you are puzzled about how to provide “an experience” find any winery who provides tours or tastings by appointment only. Book an appointment and spend the 1-2 hours they are more than pleased to share with you. You will often be served by the owner, winemaker or head of promotions. Whoever it is, they will share their passion for the products they make.  They will also make you feel as if you are THE most important customer they have at that moment in time. You will taste the wine, learn their philosophy on winemaking and exchange stories of your experiences. When you open a bottle later, even years later, you aren’t just enjoying the flavor of the wine, you are reliving that experience all over again. Given a choice, I will always purchase a product where I remember a positive experience, even if I have to pay more. In fact, it makes it taste better too!

Most businesses don’t have the luxury of greeting clients by appointment only and instead rely on volume of walk-ins. How do you ensure those customers leave with some loyalty to your brand? Be sure you provide them with an experience while you have their captive attention. You only have one chance to make a first impression. Make it count, it’s as important as the quality of the product you provide. It’s worth your brand loyalty to provide both equally. Once they have your product at home or at a friend’s, it will always taste better than your competition.

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Living The Dream: White Rock Beach Beer Co

Welcome to the White Rock Beach Beer Company!

WRBBC Sign

“Hon!…a funny thing happened on the way home from school on Friday…ah…we…ah…opened a brewery.” Pete’s wife did a double take and stared, giving him that look, the triple razzulli. He thought that maybe, this might be a good time for some additional details. Recovering from the razzulli, his wife asked, “and just where did you open this brewery?”

“Umm…in White Rock!” Pete replied.

Hmm, White Rock, land of the big stone, the pier, the warm, silky sand beaches with the forever sand bars. Summer tourists and fish ‘n chips. The city now plagued with a virus of train horns. Where BC seniors, that don’t call Victoria home, settle on the mainland.

But I digress…

Let’s turn back a few pages. Bill Haddow, Pete Adams and Rob Kwalheim are school teachers. Pete and Bill, also blessed or cursed, depending on your perspective, with an entrepreneurial spirit, had shared conversations over the past few years about what they could do outside of their day jobs. But, what possessed them to get into the brewing business!?

When enjoying a cool one, Bill had long since moved on from Carling Black Label to Shaftebury Cream Ale and beyond that to the dark side, ale wise that is. Pete had moved on from Okanagan Springs Pale Ale to Fat Tug IPA and both had secretly wondered to themselves about other quality beers out there.

After school classes one day, they both talked about BC’s rapidly expanding craft beer scene and thought, hey let’s talk to Rob, he’s a home brewer, maybe he has some ideas. Knocking on Rob’s door and the mere mention of the phrase “brewing beer”, Rob’s chair flew in the opposite direction as he leaped up and headed to the blackboard. The three had a discussion, realized their skill sets were complimentary, threw some ideas on the board and voila! The yet to be named, White Rock Beach Beer Company was born!

But where to set up shop? Bill, being a long time resident of White Rock, pitched the city by the pier, representing a great opportunity to be the first in the game on the peninsula. Despite the attraction to Vancouver and it’s craft beer vibe, Bill’s points won the day;he does teach marketing after all, and the name fell into sync with the place.

Next was finding a spot to brew and serve, no easy task as “location” has stalled many aspiring nano brewers. White Rock has two major landmarks, the pier (with the city’s founding “White Rock” beside it) and the Whaling Wall on Johnston Road. “Being on the beach would be ideal”, but development on that stretch of Marine Drive comes with a serious premium and a scan of potential properties revealed nothing suitable for neither a start-up nano, nor a potentially expanding micro brewery.

White Rock Whaling Wall

So uptown it was. Despite feeling tucked away in White Rock’s “uptown”, it’s easy to find the brewery. A drive to uptown White Rock, on 152nd street (a.k.a. in White Rock as Johnston Road), finds you face to face with the famous “Whaling Wall”. A quick turn alongside that Whaling Wall, and you are at the door to the White Rock Beach Beer Company – 15181 Russell Avenue, where the sun always shines on anything named “White Rock”!

White Rock Beach Beer Co

While it sounds like this came together quickly from ‘let’s do this to…OH! we’re open!”, those who have gone through the process know it requires patience and persistence to maneuver through multiple levels of government, the local health department and potential landlords. There is no “by-the-book” for local city regulators to regulate a brewery that produces and serves alcoholic beverages. Bill replied that it didn’t hurt that some of the local council members were enthusiastic supporters of their project. He added that Fraser Valley Health was a tad picky but, considering the business, we must get this right!

After what seemed like a slice of forever, obtaining licensing, supplies and piling a lot of their finances into the business, our three newly minted White Rock small business owners opened their doors on the weekend of April 25th, 2014. Their opening was a bit of a mystery to the lower mainland’s craft beer crowd adding some mystique and charm to the tiny brewery. And I do mean tiny, which requires a new classification. I’ll call it “fractional-nano” for their start-up system.

Having a look in the back, and trust me most wouldn’t believe the brewing takes place in the back of their space, you have an idea of their current capacity!

Fractional-Nano brewery

Given that scrubbing and cleaning is 90% of making beer, “wouldn’t it be nice to put the same amount of work scrubbing a 400 litre tank as we do with a 40 litre tank?”

Bill ensures me that the mystery and lack of information about the brewery and its build to opening was mostly accidental! Now just past their 6 month anniversary I asked what was the biggest surprise between opening day and 6 months later? Bill responded that how fast it’s grown and how soon we began to talk about upgrading and expanding. We need more equipment and more space. We have discovered that there is a growing market of suppliers for brewery equipment in BC so there are a lot of local options. We have already checked out a few but the expansion space we are looking at will dictate what gear we can purchase.

So how about that opening weekend?

Bill and Pete shared the emotional roller coaster just before they opened the doors. Thoughts like; I couldn’t believe it. Why am I doing this? I have a good career already! Apprehension, nervousness, excitement… A big question mark as to how we’d be received. And finally, it was a relief to finally open the doors after all the time spent obtaining licenses, equipment and supplies.

“Then we sold out right away” First we were so pleased, but then we were stressed that we had no more beer to sell! It was a bit tense worrying that clients would come in looking for beer and we had none to sell them! We were wary about building demand and then…whoops…no more product to sell! We had to put up our closed sign and tweet that we were sold out. This happened frequently in our first few weeks especially being attached to the hub of White Rock’s popular Sunday farmers market. During the summer things were better, we had more time, we brewed every day and didn’t run out so often.

But, our clients are understanding and pleased that we have been successful. The City Is happy we are here and if feels good being accepted by the community. Restaurateurs’ and bar owners regularly ask us for kegs for their taps. I mean, what local establishment wouldn’t want a tap or two of locally brewed White Rock beer to offer their clients? “This is one of our goals with expansion”.

A good business plan to start a business is a must and our three have a comprehensive plan which they are following and updating as things move along. A small start-up was planned and expansion as demand warranted. Bill was enthusiastic when he stated “An important part of our business plan is to be a good community partner.”

We want to be involved with local clubs, teams, events, etc. Despite our limited capacity we were involved with “Party on the Pier” in August and it was an excellent event. Being music lovers, we were thrilled to be one of the sponsors for the Trooper concert which kicked off the successful summer Sea-Fest in White Rock and recently we had a blast being a part of a Blue Frog studio concert featuring Barney Bentall. We were also involved in the 54-40 recording sessions at Blue Frog, which was unbelievable as we’ve all been big fans of the band for years.

How about the beers?

Counter aat White Rock Beach Beer Co

With small capacity, 3 beers would be the opening day maximum until a phase two expansion made sense. Rob brewed 6 beers, they invited friends and family for tasting and after a survey, three beers were chosen for opening. Happily it was consistent with their goal of something light (A pale ale), something dark (a porter) and something in-between (a nut brown).

As self described traditionalists, don’t expect any extreme flavors or fruit bomb infused brews. Balance and moderation are key to serving the White Rock/South Surrey demographic and to date, their main client group has been the 40-50 age demographic.

They brewed a summer Hefeweizen, rotating out the porter during the warmer weather and plan for a Christmas brew to be ready shortly. So far based on popularity, the nut brown, can be considered their flagship brew. And just how did they arrive at those names?

Well, White Rock’s East and West beaches are legendary. Anyone who has spent some time here, especially if you attended the local high schools, have added their own legends to West Beach. It’s a place where driftwood beach fires became a “quasi-illegal” gathering zone, haunted old houses have long since vanished and is bordered by the pier on one side and several ravines on the other. So the American Pale Ale has become White Rock West Beach Fruit with centennial hops providing the citrus balance.

The East beach, bordered by the same pier and the other side by the Semiahmoo First Nations reserve, Marine Drive, is legendary for it’s fish n chips row as well as many festivals that have worn a path through and around Semiahmoo Park. The Nut Brown became White Rock East Beach Nut Brown.

White Rock and South Surrey locals love the wordplay on the beach names. Pete and Bill are happy to share stories of both beaches and want you to drop by to share yours! Anyone new to the area, be sure to ask Pete about the legend of “The White Rock”!

The last beer (available in the cooler months) is based on another piece of White Rock geography. As a border town, the aptly named Border Porter is a great introduction to the darker side of beer!

The summer offering is for those of us who have hoofed our way up the 23% grade of what is commonly known as Oxford Street and the quickest route from the beach to uptown White Rock. After a hike up this hill in the summer, Oxford Hill Hefeweizen is an essential thirst quencher!

Winter is coming so cozy up to their new limited seasonal!

How about the future?

With their early success of selling out most every weekend, and being located in the hub of the Sunday White Rock Farmers Market certainly helped locals and visitors discover them, expanded capacity is on their minds. When asked if they could change one thing, Bill said “it would be that our new equipment would be already ordered and in the process of construction”. Pete added, “that there would be a warehouse style building in town where we could install bigger tanks!”

When asked about how to meet the demand that some craft beer enthusiasts always have for something new or different, versus locals who just want their “goto” beer, Bill recognizes this challenge given their current capacity. Our future expanded capacity will allow us to add additional seasonal brews but “we will never be a Parallel 49, who seem to launch a new beer every week.”

Both Bill and Pete, who operate the front counter, realize that “right now” IS the best of times! They serve the craft beer, fill the growlers, tell jokes, share stories and entertain clients. They know it won’t always be like this when expansion brings with it the need to hire others. So, during these best of times, come on down and share your own slice of Semiahmoo Peninsula lore or enjoy the accumulated stories from Pete or Bill over a glass of white Rock Beach Beer and grab a growler to go.
Be sure to check their hours as these three entrepreneurs remain dedicated to their day jobs meaning limited, but productive time at the brewery. You can check the opening hours by following on:

Twitter: @WRBeachBeer
Facebook: White Rock Beach Beer Company
The web: www.whiterockbeachbeer.com

 

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What is “Craft Beer”?

This is from the fly on the wall. Told in the first-person, as…well… the fly knows no other way;

So I’m seated and waiting at a recently opened brew pub for a friend who is really into beer. Myself? I switched to wine many years ago and have been happily journeying down the wine snobbery road. I haven’t drunk much beer since the 90s as I found it really didn’t have any enjoyable flavor, was kinda watery and, don’t tell anyone, made me all bloated and gassy.

I hadn’t noticed my beer drinking friend belching uncontrollably the last few times we hung out, so I figured maybe he was on to something. Either that or he never left home without his stash of Ovol.

The server asked if I wanted anything while I waited and I said “I’d like to see what’s on the beer drink menu”. Quickly sizing me up for how much of a tip I might leave, she pointed around the corner to a grayish black chalkboard, with what looked like a lesson plan for the handwriting school for doctors. The lighting wasn’t great in that spot and after squinting for a while, I gave up as I really didn’t understand what was written there anyway. So I thought, best to wait for my friend. Besides, the two ladies seated near the board began to cast suspicious glances at me and eventually tucked their purses between themselves and their table while motioning for the heavily bearded bartender to come over.

A few minutes later my friend strolled in, grabbed his chair and asked what I would like to try. Being fairly beer ignorant, I politely deferred to him. He ordered me a pilsner and I seem to remember they made pilsners in Germany, so I thought, good we are starting with an import, should be interesting. He said “I think you’ll like this one. It’s called ‘Pole-Vault your Bohemian’”. I thought yep, German…

Our brews arrived. He had something that looked like black death and appeared thicker than yesterday’s coffee but after a big gulp, he seemed to like it wearing an expression I often see after one’s first sip of coffee in the morning. I tried mine and a bit surprised said, “wow, the German’s do make good pilsners!”

He snorted a bit of a laugh and said, “actually the beers we are having are made right here. This is a craft brewery”. Puzzled I said, “I didn’t know that Kraft Foods has expanded to make beer at local brewpubs?” More laughter and it wasn’t just from our table.

He began to explain to me exactly what Craft Beer was. When he was finished I was a bit confused, so I asked “so if I want a craft brew, I have to come to one of these local brewpubs and drink it here?”

Seeing I had taken the bait and looking delighted, he explained further, “you can actually buy some of it in bottles in the Craft Brew section of a store. It usually, but not always, comes in 650ml bottles, or some breweries will fill a growler for you, as he pointed to one on the wall.” Whew, I thought he was talking about me and my aftermath of consuming a whole 650ml bottle by myself! So now I’m thinking that the craft beer industry is being built on the premise that it’s enthusiasts are consumers of large quantities – kind of like in high school all over again!

“So” I asked “let me get this straight, craft beer is beer that is made locally, you can buy it in big bottles or have even bigger ones filled up for you?”

“Well” he said caressing what I just noticed was actually a fancy looking piece of glassware holding his black-death ale, “that’s only partially correct”. “Some craft beer also comes from other parts of the country!”

Sipping on my not-Bohemian but local pilsner and trying to process this new information I presumed further. “So, if I buy a craft beer, I’m not necessarily supporting a small local business owner, I’m supporting someone who has a bigger business with distribution networks and all that?”

“Right” he said.

Warming up even more to this pilsner, or maybe because of it, I probed further; “What if I find a beer that I like a lot and it’s from a big German beer company?” (I just couldn’t shake the imaginary German pilsner out of my mind).

He said “Well you shouldn’t drink it cause that wouldn’t really be craft beer!”

“I think I am beginning to see the light.” “Liking how it tastes is not really the point, they key is to buy it and drink it cause it’s craft beer and I’m supporting a local small business except when I buy a craft beer that’s not local and made by a bigger business in another part of the country.”

He gave me a gravelly look and said, “you have the general idea” and mumbled something mostly unintelligible about it’s finally getting to the right temperature to enjoy.

Meanwhile I’m warming up to the point where removing a layer of clothing is becoming a consideration, but those two ladies by the chalkboard are still casting some suspicious looks our way.

I’m also still a bit worried about whether I will become bloated and gassy after consuming this delicious pilsner, that I can only buy here at this pub and, which is only available in months that don’t have the letter ‘R’ in them.

Not sure I really understood what I summed up just a moment ago he added in. “I don’t mean to confuse you but some Craft Beer companies are not actually really considered Craft Beer!” Now it was my turn for a gravelly expression as I asked, “And just how exactly would I know this?” “Well” he said, “some craft breweries have been bought out by the likes of InBev and Molson-Coors. Some of us don’t consider those Craft beers anymore as they are just a piece of large business.” I asked, “what if they made really good beer or were/are local?” “Doesn’t matter”, he says,” you cross’em off your list!”

Looking at my glazing-over expression and changing the subject quickly, he said; “I know you had a problem with bloating after a beer and shooting off like an untied balloon, so the next one I order for you is from a cask. Its cask conditioned, dry hopped with citra and infused with lavender.”

Aha I thought, so Starbucks culture has effectively merged into the craft brew scene and you have to memorize certain phrases to order the type of beer you want! While I finished my pilsner, I began to consider this “cask” thing”. Fall is coming and maybe it’s some kind of craft beer tomb Halloween ritual?

Maybe it’s easier just being a wine snob…

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Anacortes Bier on the Pier – A great time for all – October 2014

Beerfest in Anacortes Washington on the first weekend in October. Ithas evolved to be a fun, and still relatively small event that can be enjoyed by just about anybody.

Anacortes is a shipbuilding town, evident by the fact that they built an America’s cup winner in 2010, the first US boat to win the prestigious race in 15 years! Right here in tiny Anacortes! How to describe Anacortes? Well it is essentially a 36 block strip along Commercial Avenue culminating in the shipbuilding pier which coincides with the location of their annual “Bier on the Pier”. We booked a room at the Anaco Inn at block 33 giving us a touring walk to and from the brewfest. Every room at the Anaco has a kitchenette and a gas fireplace for a most comfortable stay and great value! The town is a what’s what of festivals and activities throughout the summer and fall. During the brewfest, there is the largest free boatshow in the harbor near block 7. Next week is the Hedgehog show, I can’t wait!

Where else but Anacortes do breakfast omelettes at the bowling alley come highly recommended? Or how about Dad’s BBQ, another highly recommended eatery that is essentially a food cart, a stack of hardwood and a large gravel parking lot. Oh yeah, their pulled pork is fantastic! Dad’s BBQ seems to be everywhere in Anacortes, from their food cart parking lot (Dad’s Diner a Go-Go) at block 22, to a retro diner (Dad’s BBQ) at block 9 and, oh yeah they catered the beerfest at block 1! Here are pictures of some of their guests! Continue reading

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Oregon Brewers Festival 2013 – Proving bigger is not better!

There’s no question that the popularity of micro and nano breweries has surged in the last 5 years. Oregon is considered a hotbed of unique small breweries and is why the Oregon Brewers Festival is referred to by many as the penultimate microbrewery event in North America. Held in Portland on the last week of every July, there are only two words to describe this 2013 edition, “major fail”.

This was the 26th annual event celebrating what Oregon is known for as a micro brew leader in North America. With 84 different brews being offered for sample and, following on 25 years of experience putting on this event, expectations were running high. Our visit was a sunny hot Saturday, the best type of day to work up a thist for a cold one! A short line at the gates for an ID check with no entrance fee was straight forward as was the purchase of the 12.8 ounce “festival glass” ($7.50) with a baggie of tokens at $1 per token.

For those of us unfamiliar with how brewfests usually flow, you purchase a glass, (or it comes with the entrance fee) and tokens are typically a dollar each. This entitles you to purchase a 3-6 ounce “sample” of various brews being offered at the festival. When it comes to a 6 ounce sample glass, let’s use “sample” a bit loosely. Having glass in hand, you wander around to keg stations for samples and then chill while chatting with the brewmaster or other enthusiasts. A game-plan of 10-20 samples over a few hours is easily negotiated with time for eats and longer topics of discussion. Group discussions in the beginning range from brewing techniques to various seasonal and experimental brews. Later in the day the topics…let’s say are more or less unfocused. Any game plan you might have had at the beginning gradually seems less important! But I digress…

Apparently the organizers of the Oregon Brewers Festival have other ideas for their brewers festival (hint; all they really wanted was that $7.50 each for 85,000 festival glasses. After handing over our money for the glass and tokens, we ran smack into this cluster: Continue reading

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Willamette Valley cycle tour – Day 8

Today’s ride – 38kM

The morning in Canby brought sunshine with cooler temperatures and a complete reversal in wind direction. But, the wind today out of the north was light.

It was time for another visit to Pappy’s Greasy Spoon for breakfast. Today was busy so the wait was longer, same great food! Canby has a touch of the mystic. At a local pub, they serve a Dechutes Black Butte Porter that is guaranteed, after the first sip, to form an image of a young child sitting on a log. I know, it’s hard to believe, but take a look for yourself!

It was another day for great riding conditions as we made our way back to Portland via Oregon city and Milwaukee. The generous bike lanes and bike paths from Oregon City to Portland are a highlight, one which was repeated in every oregon town we visited! Today was the busiest yet for meeting other cyclists en route, odd for a Tuesday morning!

Portland is a cycle friendly city. Along with the 90% of Oregon drivers, who show an unusually high level of respect for two wheelers, adding to the pleasure of cycling here. Portland cycle culture has brought some unusual devices to offer lock-up protection for your bicycle with a daily fee. Check out these fibreglass “tents” at one of the key TriMet metro stations.

As we neared the Silver Cloud Hotel, our final destination of the day, we cycled through Mayberry Park and paused for lunch.

Here in the park they pay tribute to the dog and what it takes to distract them from chasing cyclists!

We have reached the end of our 8 day cycle tour and 505 kM.

We will be adventuring in Portland for the next few days. Today we stopped by at Kobos, the Monkey King, Liner & Elsen, Lucky Lab and Slabtown. Stay tuned!

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Willamette Valley cycle tour – Day 7

Today’s ride – 78kM

80% chance of rain and winds at 30-50km from the southwest. Good thing we are heading northward but the valley route has enough turns to ensure we will experience the wind in all directions.

We wound our way through Salem. As the state capital, they have hired the golden boy to look after the city. Rumor has it that all the gold from Fort Knox has been used to construct this golden boy!:

Leaving town we were back in farmland. We cycled through massive “cut flower” nurseries, more shrub, decorative tree and hedge nurseries than you have ever seen. By mistake we took a wrong turn and stumbled across the official nursery in charge of growing trees for Dr Seuss productions!

We are on the last leg of the “official” Willamette Valley scenic bikeway. It’s length has been highlighted by the almost continuous hoots of hundreds of owls, the calls of hawks and eagles and today, the scavenging power of vultures. The red headed big birds were feasting upon an expired animal with many more waiting for the larger birds to have their fill and leave.

We have encountered many cyclists. Not as many as we thought, especially on weekends but, we did recognize one commuter today that we encountered on the way down, who cycles the route to work and back.

The wind was a delight at our backs, but we also cycled into it’s force due to the numerous turns on the back country roads. The promised rain held off until we began our ride through Champoeg State Park. Suddenly we were caught up in a major windstorm just at prior to the exit from the park and tonight we are still picking fir needles out of our clothes and gear. The big gust of wind brought one major shower, otherwise the 80% chance of rain today was a bust!

Leaving the park in the rain, we made our way to Canby. The rain came in from the south as we cycled northwards and blew over us and beyond. It was short but spectacular on a bicycle!

We are checked in and walking about town. The local bike shop told us about the CAT, (Canby Area Transit). The local merchants have paid for a fleet of buses and drivers that will take anyone, free of charge, to the communities of Oregon City, Aurora, Hubbard, Woodburn and back! We’re not sure if it brings the merchants much new business but it is an innovative attempt!

Tomorrow we make our way back to Portland where we will be adventuring from Tuesday afternoon to Sunday.

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Willamette Valley cycle tour – Day 6

Happy Mothers Day!

Today’s ride – 73kM

This morning we left Albany shortly after 8am with overcast skies and a light breeze from the south. There is moisture in the air and the humidity is climbing. Rain will be here within 24 hours.

A bit of Albany’s history: In 1847 a pair of brothers, Walter and Thomas Monteith, settled in the area, after traveling by ox team over the Oregon Trail from their native New York State. In 1848, they bought the claim of 320 acres, plotting out 60 acres for the townsite, from Hiram Smead for $400 and a horse. They named the city “Albany”, after their hometown in New York. The city was once divided in two by a hedge and more. Republicans lived on one side and Democrats lived on the other. During the American civil war even as far away as Oregon, the republican side sympathized with the union while the democrats, the confederacy. Perhaps this is why the town seems to have no center!

Shortly after leaving Albany, we cycled through the town of Jefferson one of the most common city and county names in the US. This Jefferson seems fo be ruled by a “Dead End” Totem pole!

Cycling the back roads often presents a challenge when trying to find something to refuel. Most places are designed for the car and are on routes that are not very cycle friendly, sometimes dangerous. The alternatives for the backroad cyclist sometimes look like this!

Our route took us past orderly orchards:

And orderly vineyards:

The lower parts of the Willamette Valley are often flooded, so farmers build their houses on stilts to keep above the high water line.

Wendy was energized today, at one point zipping past me at high speed, going up a hill no less! At this point, I glanced quickly behind just to be sure some enormous multi-legged creature wasn’t in hot pursuit!

The traffic on River Road on the final leg, leading to Salem, was the busiest we’ve seen on our route to date. While most drivers were respectful, there were some portions where the shoulder was non-existent, making for some sketchy moments. The final herd of sheep we cycled past was guarded by a large llama. The look that llama laid on us would put guard dogs to shame. Pity the poor predator that tries to encroach on that flock!

At 1pm, we arrived at the outskirts of Salem and stopped for lunch at Bush Park. Today, this impressive park was home to countless Mothers Day events! We enjoyed a relaxing lunch and discovered that a hard wooden bench at a picnic table actually felt comfortable following a day in the bike saddle!

Soon we were back at our favourite Howard Johnson for the evening and a walk-about town.

Tomorrow we are off to Canby via Champoeg state Park. We are expecting rain, so bundle up!

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Willamette Valley cycle tour – Day 5

Today’s ride – 57kM

Today we began to retrace our way north. The morning was clear, warm with no wind. Traffic was non-existent for the first hour as the smell of farmers fields were thick in the air. Riding conditions were near perfection.

We stopped and chatted with one local resident who just happened to live across from yesterday’s crimson flower field:

He was happy to share some information about farming in the area. First, the humming red field is of Crimson Clover…who knew! It is destined for a seed crop and the associated honey produced by the bees keeps the beekeepers in good money. Now we have an image to go along with the classic by Tommy James and the Shondells!

We also learned that in the southern Willamette Valley, from Albany to Eugene, 95% of the land is used for growing forage or grass seed. At one time this portion of the valley (about 20 miles long by 20 miles wide) produced 97% of the world’s grass seed, amazing! The micro-climate here is unlike any other in the world for growing grass seed. There is a unique combination of rainfall, ground water, sunshine and temperature so no irrigation is required. While seed grass is now grown in other locales (with irrigation), this portion of the valley still accounts for at least 75% of the world’s grass seed.

There are numerous clover farms of varying varieties. These too are harvested for a seed crop. But there is an added industry. Sheep farmers from up to 1000 miles around bring their in sheep to fatten them up the healthy way on the local farmers clover fields, then they are returned for market. The sheep eat the tops of the clover which in turn helps the clover grow more bushy which then produces abundant seed for harvest. Last season, one clover farmer in this area alone received 10000 sheep from various locales for fattening up.

The views of the valley from the “scenic bikeway” continue to live up to their name!

While there are no facilities for cyclists along the bikeway, the route does pass by some city parks and today we enjoyed Bryant Park for a lunch stopover. On the southeastern edge of Albany, it provided all we needed for a relaxing lunch.

Heading out of the park and through town, the temperature once again hit 29 degrees C! A brief stop for tomorrows supplies and we were on our way to the Econolodge near the airport for our overnight accommodations.

Checked in, we checked out the local chinese food restaurant next door called the Lum Yuen. Turns out It has been named one of the top 100 chinese food restaurants in the USA. The food was delicious and fresh so perhaps whoever established this list, knew what they were doing. While it wasn’t particularly busy for a Saturday night, people were literally “flying in” for dinner! While we were eating our meal, a large cessna landed at the airport, taxied up the runway and kept coming closer, taxiing up a small lane at the end of the airport until it settled into the parking lot of the chinese restaurant. Out popped two guys who came in to eat! Maybe it is THE place to fly into for dinner! Later a Piper Cherokee taxied up and parked across from it.

Tomorrow there is some rain and cooling temperatures in the forecast for our return trip to Salem.

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Willamette Valley cycle tour – Day 4

Today’s ride – 56kM

This morning we sat down for breakfast at the hotel beside a table of construction workers dressed in their vests and ready to start their day. They were in serious conversation and the topic was one that is discussed often around Oregon breakfast settings. That is, who became the Green Goblin and why? At least two of the construction guys presented themselves as authorities on this matter.

After amassing new knowledge, and finishing our “included” breakfast, we headed out shortly after 8am. Our route took us through the heart of Albany. But as far as the eye could see were big box stores and fast food restaurants. So far, Albany is indistinguishable from any other freeway stop.

Leaving town, we cycled through an constant flow of houses and small hobby type farms. This remained unbroken for the better part of 20kM then finally gave way to expansive farmland. One constant feature we’ve enjoyed along our valley route are giant old oak trees, some gnarly, most majestic:

While we encountered none previously, today was also filled with sheep. Herds of varying sizes were constantly in view. There were even sheep in sheeps clothing! Amongst the sheep, we met up with the Willamette River once more before leaving it for good:

Today’s riding conditions were near perfect. No wind, bright sunshine and mid-high 20′s C with gently rolling terrain. We had to slow our pace to not arrive at our final stop too soon!

We began to notice something unusual. It appears that many valley farmers have given up growing crops and have given in to the clover side of life. Not only had clover just simply taken over, there were actually fields that had been planted in clover on purpose! One even had a sign celebrating the fact that they had planted white clover. Here is the field!

We thought we were cycling past a continuing version of our lawn. Maybe these farmers have it right, you don’t have to water it, it spreads uncontrollably and takes over everything. This gives me some ideas! Breaking up the clover fields was this field of red! None of the locals we asked knew what it was but, when we stopped to look, the field was humming and appeared to be moving in chaos. Upon closer observation, the field was home to hundreds of thousands of bees!

Looking to kill some time, we stopped for lunch in a State Park with a fully preserved Grist mill:

Here also stood the town of Boston in 1861. However, when the railroad was built, it bypassed Boston to the West so, all the buildings were packed up and moved to the tracks creating Shedd Station, which still exists today. Boston however, is no more. The Grist mill and the mill master house is all that remain of the town. While we chowed down, not a soul was to be found in the park.

Finishing up we headed out for our final leg to the Halsey/Brownsville area. While Brownsville is a town preserved for it’s history, the one and only B&B is full so we checked in at the Travel Lodge 6kM to the west in Halsey, next to I5. We have all we need here including the Pioneer Saloon!

We have reached our southern end point just shy of Eugene. Tomorrow we head north to re-trace our route. This time we’ll look at the other side of the road.

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