Like so many great ideas, the hobby Evan Siroky calls "epic transit" started with poverty.
"I was unemployed and hanging out at my uncle's for like a month," recalled Siroky, 25, of Tacoma. "I had my bike with me, and Amtrak didn't have their cars with the bike racks."
So, to avoid the headache of disassembling his bicycle, Siroky mapped out a trip from Portland to Seattle using C-Tran of Vancouver, Wash., Lower Columbia CAP shuttle of Longview, Intercity Transit of Olympia and, finally, Sound Transit. It took less than seven hours. It cost, at the time, less than $10.
That's the thrill of epic transit: self-planned, dirt cheap, and almost secret. But last month Siroky, an HTML tinkerer who also helped start the project that became Seattle's ubiquitous One Bus Away family of cellphone apps, launched a new project that he hopes could one day spider across the country by documenting America's secret network of rural transit agencies: a wiki called EpicTransitJourneys.com.
So far, he's timed and priced trips from Seattle to Salem, Vancouver, Victoria, Ocean Shores and Tillamook, Ore.
And the idea is spreading. Ask Ryan Hashagen.
"We just got off the Metrolink in San Diego," Hashagen, 28, panted into his cell phone Oct. 14. "Now we're about to catch the bus from Oceanside to San Diego. Tomorrow we'll cross the border and start catching buses to Mazatlan."
This winter, Hashagen, who operates a pedicab and ice-cream tricycle company during Portland summers, is making his way from Bellingham to Puerto Varas, Chile, by a combination of municipal transit agencies, jitneys and regional buses, filling in the gaps with hitchhiking. With him is a friend who is Chilean, Lale Lorski.
Speaking by phone, Hashagen said he'd reached San Diego in one week by way of Seatac, Lakewood, Olympia, Aberdeen, Naselle, Astoria, Seaside, Cannon Beach, Tillamook, Pacific City, Lincoln City, Newport, Florence, Brookings, Crescent City, San Francisco, Pasadena, and Oceanside. Only from Crescent City to Pasadena were he and his traveling partner forced to resort to hitchhiking and Craigslist. Price: $55. The most expensive leg was his $15 rideshare from San Francisco to Pasadena.
Hashagen's first epic transit trip, at 14, took him from Seattle to Victoria. For his senior project at Western Washington University, he produced a zine documenting the same networks that Siroky would later tackle.
"You could make it as far north as Lund, B.C., and you could make it as far south as Yachats, Ore," he said. "The rural transit agencies are awesome. It's, like, a dollar to get from Olympia to Aberdeen, which is like a 60-mile distance."
Hashagen said he's not sure how much of the trip through Central and South America they'll be able to make by local agencies. But for safety's sake, he said, they'll rely less on hitchhiking on the way through Mexico. And they'll be microblogging all the way down on the web site of Active Right of Way, a Portland-area transportation group's web site. (He was writing from Zacatepec, Mexico, on Nov. 1.)
Whatever Hashagen finds, it'll be a transit epic Siroky, now a transportation model forcaster for PTV America, doesn't expect to follow.
Despite his years of work on the idea and the constant stream of emails he gets about it, Siroky's more interested in planning trips than actually taking them.
"I've only done the Portland-to-Seattle," Siroky said. "After that, I pretty much had a job."