Ellee Thalheimer is an accomplished freelance travel writer, public speaker, and bicycle tourism proponent who believes there are few better ways to travel and transform than by bike. She co-founded the Portland Society, a nonprofit business alliance that connects professional women who are passionate about cycling; authored Lonely Planet’s Cycling Italy; and is a zealous lover of the Pacific Northwest. As the owner of Into Action Publications, her most recent projects include authoring Cycling Sojourner: A Guide to the Best Multi-day Tours in Oregon and co-authoring Hop in the Saddle: A Guide to Portland’s Craft Beer Scene, by Bike.
Stephanie: Hello, Ellee! Thank you for chatting with me today. Please tell me about your book, Cycling Sojourner.
Ellee: As the second title in my cycle touring guidebook series, Cycling Sojourner: A Guide to the Best Multi-Day Tours in Washington reveals hard-to-find information about exploring Washington by bike. The book gives advice on how to tour the state’s remotest ribbons of road in the Okanagan, bikeable berry stands in the San Juan Islands, Walla Walla wine country tasting rooms best reached by bicycle, and routes across the Cascade Mountains that I hope will convert folks into helpless lovers of the Pacific Northwest.
Like a cycle touring concierge of sorts, Cycling Sojourner takes care of the logistics and removes obstacles between riders and two-wheeled adventures. I want cyclists to be able to just grab their bikes and go. Each of the book’s nine tours lays out nuts-and-bolts details, including cue sheets, maps, and information about weather, difficulty levels, camping and lodging options, and the various ways of getting to and from the ride’s start and end points.
But the soul of the book lies in the authors’ voices, which use storytelling, local history, and humor to elevate the text beyond just an everyday guidebook. The jovial, casual tone sets this series apart. I really wanted this book to be an inspirational muse that draws out the inner adventurer.
Stephanie: What inspired you to write a guide on cycle-touring?
Ellee: I used to work as a guidebook author for Lonely Planet and was hired as the single author on the Cycling Italy title. That was an experience of a lifetime. Before that, I was a cycling guide for Woman Tours. I had a unique skillset to be able to write my own guidebooks. When I realized that Oregon didn’t have any appreciable source of cycle touring information, despite the popularity, I decided to create Cycling Sojourner: A Guide to the Best Multi-Day Tours in Oregon. And then I ended up making another one for Portland: Hop in the Saddle: A Guide to Portland’s Craft Beer Scene, by Bike. And because Washington also has world-class cycle touring, I was inspired to make another guidebook for it. When I started writing the Oregon book, I never imagined that I would become a publisher and continue producing titles like an addict.
Stephanie: Do you cycle yourself? Is this guide based on your own experiences?
Elle: I’ve been cycling for two decades. I’m an avid commuter, mountain biker, road cyclist, cycle tourist, and I even raced cyclo-cross one year (never again, ouch). I hope to get into fat biking and family biking with my new daughter, Ruby, this summer.
Every mile of this guide was ridden by me or by one of the other authors. In the case of many cycling guidebooks, because of budget and time restrictions, publishers have authors drive some routes. When that happens, the quality of the coverage suffers. Books in the Cycling Sojourner series are dedicated to giving information from firsthand experience, as if a good friend, who happened to be an expert, was giving you advice.
Stephanie: Was there anything challenging about writing a guidebook?
Elle: Where shall I start? People like to say, “Wow! You’re job is to tootle around on a bike. Lucky!”
And I am very lucky. This is great work. However, the actual riding is a small percentage of the overall work put into the book. Every nit-picky detail has to be meticulously researched. You have to master the art of word economy and balance inspiration and practicality. Plus, when you are researching on the ground, your day doesn’t end with the beer after your ride. You have to sit at your tiny laptop and produce content and create descriptions while experiencing physical exhaustion.
Stephanie: What is the number one advice you would give when cycling?
Elle: When cycle touring, if your goal is to have fun, the key is to start the tour prepared, then be flexible no matter what comes your way. The beauty of a bike tour is that it’s not a packaged vacation. You may end up meeting people, doing things, or sleeping in places you did not expect. Wrenches get thrown into tours by weather, road closures, flat tires, or an unexpectedly fabulous town where you have to stay an extra night. If you aren’t rigid about how things should unfold, you’ll enjoy yourself much more.
Stephanie: Have you written any other guides? Will there be more?
Elle: I’ve contributed to a number of Lonely Planet guidebooks and was the single author on their Cycling Italy title. For Into Action Publications, my own imprint, I wrote Cycling Sojourner Oregon, co-authored Hop in the Saddle: A Guide to Portland’s Craft Beer Scene, by Bike, and was the main author on Cycling Sojourner Washington (I had a number of contributing authors for this last title).
As far as the Cycling Sojourner series goes, there are many potential titles I’m mulling over for the future.
Stephanie: What do you like most about writing?
Elle: Writing helps me process my experiences in the world, so when I emerge from my Writing Hole, I have a more dynamic understanding. Also, there is nothing as satisfying as creating a muscular description that zings or cutting the fat out of a paragraph, even if you love the individual bits you’re cutting.
Stephanie: Are there pictures in your guidebook and did you take them yourself?
Elle: The photos were taken by me, the other authors, and friends of the book.
Stephanie: When will this book be available and where can readers purchase it?
Elle: You can buy the book on my website at cyclingsojourner.com and also follow my blog about cycle touring. In addition, readers can purchase this book where books are sold, as well as REI. The book will be available from my website in April and from other vendors in May.