Hugging Highway 1: Blind Pilot's Bicycle Tours Blind Pilot conducted its first tour on a pair of bicycles, riding from Vancouver to San Francisco. Though the group now tours in a van, its members look back fondly on their early days, which included campfires and unexpected attention from truckers.
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Hugging Highway 1: Blind Pilot's Bicycle Tours

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Hugging Highway 1: Blind Pilot's Bicycle Tours

Hugging Highway 1: Blind Pilot's Bicycle Tours

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The band Blind Pilot literally rode a pair of bicycles to success. Lead singer Israel Nebeker and drummer Ryan Dobrowski have taken two bike tours, playing their music all along the West Coast. Here's Israel.

Mr. ISRAEL NEBEKER (Lead singer, Blind Pilot): The first one was Vancouver, BC to San Francisco.

SHAPIRO: The tour was supposed to finish at the Mexican border. San Francisco became the endpoint when their bikes got stolen outside the Museum of Modern Art.

Mr. RYAN DOBROWSKI (Drummer, "Blind Pilot"): It was a fine ending to that tour. It was crushing.

Mr. NEBEKER: It was like the best thing for you to…

Mr. DOBROWSKI: It was crushing.

Mr. NEBEKER: It was depressing. Ryan was - Ryan took it a bit hard, and…

Mr. DOBROWSKI: Yeah, because you, Israel got his bike back. He found it on Craigslist for sale, and so he bought it back like 50 bucks, and I lost my bike forever.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAPIRO: They recently finished a second bike tour with a couple of band mates. They hugged Highway 1 down the coastline.

(Soundbite of song, "The Story I Heard")

BLIND PILOT (Rock Band): (Singing) I cannot tell. Oh, no, I cannot tell.

SHAPIRO: One of their most memorable scenes happened in the small town of Leggett, California. They showed up at a tiny grocery store and started to play. A crowd gathered. Ryan says it was a rare moment of harmony between truckers and cyclists.

Mr. DOBROWSKI: It was great, because all these truckers had said that they had seen us for the last few days, and now we were playing music and we're all having beers at this little grocery in the middle of the woods.

SHAPIRO: The played this song on a recent visit to NPR. It's from their album "Three Rounds and a Sound."

(Soundbite of song, "The Story I Heard")

BLIND PILOT: (Singing) Oh 'cause the story I heard, is the people are bored, and the measures you take, to wrestle with your Lord.

SHAPIRO: Blind Pilot is on another tour now, with six members. This time, they're going by van. It's a far cry from those first bike trips where they didn't even have a support vehicle to haul their gear.

Mr. NEBEKER: Everything was bike-powered. We had little bike trailers and carried our instruments. Well, some trailers were little, others were bigger.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAPIRO: You had a double bass on this tour with you.

Mr. NEBEKER: Yeah, Luke had made this incredible case himself. He's sort of the band carpenter and…

SHAPIRO: And bass player.

Mr. NEBEKER: …and bass player. Yeah. He calls it a treasure chest, but everyone else calls it a coffin, and it definitely got the most attention.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEBEKER: It was actually a pretty great way to meet people, because then they'd ask about what we were doing. We'd tell them we were playing music down the coast.

SHAPIRO: Did you have concerts lined up all the way down, or were you just kind of taking it as it came?

Mr. NEBEKER: No, not all the way down. We had some lined up in the bigger cities. It's pretty hard to plan exactly what date you'll be in what city when you're going by bike.

Mr. DOBROWSKI: We didn't even have maps, actually, to get out of Vancouver, BC.

SHAPIRO: Really?


Mr. NEBEKER: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOBROWSKI: We got really lost.

SHAPIRO: This is day #1 of your bike tour.

Mr. DOBROWSKI: Yeah. It really almost all ended before it got started. I wanted to get to Mexico…

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAPIRO: But you couldn't get to the United States of America.

Mr. DOBROWSKI: …pretty bad, and we eventually found our way. But even then, we were still getting lost and the routes were a lot different than we had planned.


(Soundbite of song, "The Story I Heard")

SHAPIRO: How many flat tires did you get?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEBEKER: Too many. Man.

Mr. DOBROWSKI: So many on this last one. I feel like it was brutal.

Mr. LUKE YDSTIE (Bassist, Blind Pilot): Remember that time when you got, what was it? Five flats in a row?

SHAPIRO: That's Luke, the bass player with the trailer shaped like a coffin.

Mr. DOBROWSKI: It was horrible.

Mr. YDSTIE: And I got maybe three or four (unintelligible) in a row, like we're just having these flats over and over.

Mr. NEBEKER: And we just gave up. We just stopped and ate cheese and bread and…

Mr. YDSTIE: Yeah.

Mr. NEBEKER: …kind of threw our bikes to the side.

SHAPIRO: I've got to say, this sounds a lot more appealing than the cliche, like, drugs and women in the back of a tour bus.

Mr. NEBEKER: Yeah, it - well, it's more appealing to us. I'm sure a lot of people still want the drugs and the women and the tour bus, but I don't know. We like our campfires and our lakeside biking friends.

SHAPIRO: Although the band's based in Portland, Oregon, Ryan and Israel wrote many of the songs in Astoria. It's a coastal town where the Columbia River meets the Pacific ocean. The two friends spent a summer living in an old cannery building with no plumbing. It's a sort of landmark locals call Big Red.

Mr. NEBEKER: They used to make and repair nets there and repair boats. It was built in the late 1800s, and it's just standing on pilings, actually, in the river. So it was great just to be out there. It's like private, the only sounds are the water and the wind and the birds and the pilot boats going back and forth and some of the big ships coming into the mouth of the Columbia there.

SHAPIRO: That's where they came up with the band's name: Blind Pilot. Ryan and Israel spent their days writing music and painting. Ryan did the cover art for the album. This is one of the songs they wrote at the loft. It's called, "Go On, Say It."

(Soundbite of song, "Go On Say It")

Mr. NEBEKER: (Singing) I know I wake up, forgetting which box this is in. How I will keep you…

SHAPIRO: Israel's father bought the cannery building years ago. The winter after Israel and Ryan lived there, a huge storm swept in off the ocean.

Mr. NEBEKER: The place where Ryan and I were recording and spending most of our time, the top floor, is what got sort of lifted up and blown out into the river. And I cried when I first saw it. It was really tragic just to like see it with its top blown off. But I also feel really lucky that we went out there and made what we did while we still had the chance.

SHAPIRO: You guys want to play another song?

Mr. NEBEKER: Yeah. This is called "Oviedo."

SHAPIRO: Ryan and Israel met in college at the University of Oregon. Israel spent his last semester in the city of Oviedo, Spain. That's where he wrote this song. It's full of images from his time there.

(Soundbite of song, "Oviedo")

Mr. NEBEKER: (Singing) The thrill here is quicker than you'd think, the way some jet-lagged bar kept pouring the wine, from over their heads, then sit back down again.

That was a song that a friend of mine just was, like, really excited that I was traveling. And he just wanted me to write him a letter and tell him about the city and what it was like there, so I started writing it. But then it turned into a song.

SHAPIRO: Can you describe the difference between playing a concert where nobody expected you to be there that night and nobody's ever even heard of you, and playing, for example, a sold-out venue at South by Southwest where people are singing along with your songs because they know them?

Mr. NEBEKER: Yeah, it's way different.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NEBEKER: It's a way different tour this time. I mean, even on the last bike tour that we did, we played a lot of places where the crowd would really not know quite what to make of us, and eventually, they'd usually warm up. And that was always a great feeling, to win over people for the first time. But it's also really fun to have people singing along.

SHAPIRO: That's the band Blind Pilot from Portland, Oregon. They joined us here at NPR, and you can a video from their performance in NPR Studio 4A. Please visit

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

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