Introduction

Five years ago, I invited two friends to bike with me 300 miles from Eugene, OR to Olympia, WA. I had startled myself to realize that, hey, if I wanted to do cool things on my bike, like ride very long distances and maybe even bike camp… I just needed to make it happen. So I did.

However, I will never claim that it happened well or gracefully. Buoyed by the unexpected fun of successfully completing a century (a 100 mile ride) the year before, I looked at a map and thought: “Well, I just started a new job, and I don’t want to take a lot of time off right away. I also enjoyed riding 100 miles. Therefore, taking three days to bike 300 miles to Olympia should be totally doable and three times the fun!”

While the former was reasonably true, the latter was most certainly not. Due in part to my sudden over-enthusiasm for my own capabilities and a thorough ignorance of things that would make long-distance, self-supported bike camping easier, each day of that trip was a study in suffering. I and my companions became thoroughly lost each day; there was a plethora of mechanical failures for all of us; and we ended up rolling into both campgrounds (before our final destination) between 1am and 3am each morning, only to rise a few hours later to repeat the grueling exercise.

All this is not to say that the journey, overall, was not without merit. I certainly felt cool as shit afterwards, especially because we succeeded in rolling into Oly in daylight surrounded by the fireworks of July 4th, despite all the things that had gone so wrong each day prior. We conquered the hell out of that fucking trip with sweat, tears, and pure grit, and it felt like I had come out on the other side of some sort of purifying fire. On that other side, I found I had acquired a new sense of self, confidence in my body and mind; and an itch to do it again.

The next year my two friends and I — all of us a little wiser in the ways of bike touring — spent a blissful five days traversing the Old West Scenic Bikeway. In addition to getting a lot of things right that we had definitely gotten wrong the year prior, we also made a wonderful new friend that we will never forget. RIP, Ron Roy Horsman.

The summer after that trip I convinced my new, non-bikey boyfriend to join our trio, and the four of us biked down the beautiful Columbia Gorge and circled around Mt. Hood on our way back. We were pretty good at this bike camping thing by now and it felt like it was becoming easy.

However, the following year, what I nebulously refer to as “my personal problems” began. Or more accurately, they manifested to the point where I could no longer ignore them and maintain my health or relationships. My mental health spiraled downward, out of control, past a place where I could return on my own. It took me the next two years to seek help.

In each of those years, I planned new bike trips for me and my friends in an effort to motivate myself out of my mental hell, but ultimately failed to follow through on all of them due to both my mental status and an overuse injury (which I had sustained only in a panicked effort of trying to force myself to be happier through excessive exercise).

This year has seen a healthier, happier me. I have learned tools to work with my mind and emotions rather than against them. And while I have acquired a few more recurring injuries than I would have hoped to see myself have at this age, I have at the very least become more practiced in listening to my body and knowing my limits. With all this knowledge in mind I knew that this year, finally, I would be capable of returning to my annual summer bike trips.

 

The Best Laid Plans

I made myself wait until around Christmastime of 2017 to begin my daydreaming in earnest. There are several bike tour ideas I always have tumbling around in my mind, all of which would have been good options for this year. But when I saw a news article proudly announcing that Idaho had just officially designated its first Dark Sky Reserve, I knew I wanted to bike camp through it.

Dark sky reserves are a sort of national park, but not (always) parks in the sense of pretty scenery; they are zones where the amount of light that domiciles and cities can emit is regulated to curtail light pollution, in an effort to keep the area as dark as possible so a person can view the pure night skies. Many state parks are still too close to big cities for you to see the night sky in all its glory — if you think going camping brings out the stars, well, give a dark sky reserve a try someday. I only have pictures and fervently enthusiastic word of mouth to go on, but by all reports they are stunning. (Click here for more info on the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve.)

The next six months involved studying maps, clicking through lots of Google Street View, and emailing members of cycling clubs in the area to inquire after things like the shoulder width of roads, and wind patterns. I mapped out where we could fill our water bottles, grab beers, go on short hikes, our last chance to buy provisions each day before camp, etc.

As they say about the best laid plans… We did not end up going to Idaho. A variety of unforseen personal emergencies intervened, and one of my friends discovered at 10pm the night before we were scheduled to leave that he would be unable to go.

Continuing as planned with my one remaining compadre would have been totally doable. However: after many weeks of existing in essentially a permanent panic mode at work (may hell take all software conversions), as excited as I was to have meticulously planned an elaborate destination bike trip… My first thought was, well, we’re down a man and I don’t want our missing friend to miss out. We can do Idaho another year. Let’s plan something simple for this year. Simple is good. Simple is ideal. In the end, bicycling is really very simple, even if you’re planning a trip like this. Ultimately, you’re still just going to hop on the bike, pick a direction, and go.

My friend Erin and I began to brainstorm where we could bike the next day, for the next week. Over drinks and with the clock slowly ticking towards midnight we perused all of Oregon’s scenic bikeway routes and looked at some coastal and central Oregon routes.

I forget who brought it up first. “Why not just bike to Oly again?”

Almost the minute we finished biking to Oly the first time, five years ago, I wanted to do it again — but successfully. Without nearly dying of exhaustion and frustration, without 1,000 pounds of extra gear I never used (I might exaggerate… But seriously, I brought two giant Jansport backpacks stuffed full of unneeded things), without getting so lost we couldn’t enjoy the ride.

Five years is a good number. It seemed like enough time for us to repeat a ride and still have it feel new. We essentially already knew the route. We would take five days instead of three, aiming for an average of 50 miles a day. Our destination would be Erin’s home in Oly, and there was exactly one train ticket left that would accommodate my bike for my return journey. We decided to do it. We quickly plotted a route, I hastily packed, we finished our drinks, and I went to bed dreaming of the comfortable familiarity the route would have to offer, as well as the promise of redemption. To Oly or Bust — The Return of the Cyclists!

 

Day 1: Eugene to Albany KOA, 44.3 miles

Bikesin front of house

*Lens flare for drama. Or because my phone camera was dirty. Your choice.

Day 1 was planned to be a short day because I had some errands I needed to run on Monday morning (replacing a lost driver’s license for one — I needed to be able to buy beers on this bike trip!), and also because there weren’t very many camping options around the 50ish mile mark from Eugene.

We took off from my house around 1pm. The way we took out of Eugene was new to me — we took the new bike path along the 1-5 to Coburg. It was loud because of the freeway a stone’s throw away, but we were surprised by blankets of pink roses and other pink flowers on the shoulders of the path. Whoever’s idea it was to plant flowers there, I applaud you. It is a beautiful touch.

We passed through Coburg, and right around leaving Coburg is when things became unexpectedly difficult (for me at least). My knee began to ache, far earlier than it normally does at that mileage. And I was forcibly reminded that the wind in the Willamette Valley blows north to south in the afternoons; meaning, even though the route to Albany was more or less flat as a pancake, we were pointed into a headwind the entire time we rode. The combo of the wind plus the flatness of the roads meant there wasn’t ever really a moment where we could coast — which my knee definitely did not appreciate.

That being said, it was a good first day. It was sunny and beautiful with just a light layer of fluffy clouds, and the wind kept us relatively cool even through our constant pedaling efforts. We stopped and took a water and snack break in the shade of a haunted farmhouse, which was enchanting in its silent aura of abandonment:

Old house

We spent some time conjecturing as to why the house had been abandoned, and peered in some of the windows. We didn’t get very far in our investigation though, before a woman pulled up in an SUV and began approaching us. I immediately assumed that the faded plastic sign declaring that this house was protected by some random alarm company was legitimate, and that we were clearly about to be arrested by the representative of said company.

“Are you here to see the house too?” she asked cheerfully.

Turns out, she was simply thinking of buying the house. She (clearly braver than I) took one look at the security sign, tested the front door (it was unlocked), and strolled into the house to have a look. She did ask us to get help if she didn’t come out. She emerged, alive and unharmed, after a few minutes, and we chatted a little bit about the pros and cons of buying the place (she probably won’t since there is no fence for her dogs). She wished us a good journey and went on her way, and we on ours shortly after.

The next bit of excitement came in the form of not just one, but two lanky farmdogs at two separate homesteads insistently ushering us from their airspace. It’s the first time I’ve been chased on bike by a dog, and I’m glad they decided to abandon pursuit before they got too close! Our loaded bikes certainly were not helping us make any sort of quick getaway.

That pleasant experience was succeeded by the following horror:

Fucking gravel

GRAVEL.

This is exactly the sort of unexpected development one should always plan on encountering if one insists, year after year, on using Google Maps to plan bike trips. This isn’t the longest stretch of gravel that Google has thrown in our path (that honor belongs to the the first Eugene to Oly bike trip actually!), but that didn’t make it any more cool.

Okay, so I don’t HATE gravel. I just… hate falling, don’t like picking grit out of open wounds, and I always assume the worst. Like, if I see gravel, I expect to wipe out on it. Even though it has never happened to me before. Because why not.

That being said, my Soma and fairly slick tires handled the gravel with grace and aplomb (unlike their rider). At certain moment I might even have had fun.

As the miles rolled on we continued to pass farms of varying sizes, and the related pastoral scenery. I squealed softly at each new farm animal I saw, maybe got a little loud when I saw fucking BUNNIES nibbling in the grass only a short ways away from the road, and definitely became supersonic when I saw a pair of shaky-kneed foals wandering clumsily in their mothers’ wakes.

However the closer we got to mile 44, the more perplexing the scenery became. We checked our route a couple times, but we appeared to be on the correct course for the campsite. Yet, rather than becoming more rustic, we seemed to be approaching the highway rather than biking away from it…

When we arrived at our campsite I learned why this was the case. Yes, the KOA is a campsite. Yes, they do have tent camping spots. However: they are a campsite for RVs. KOA (Kampgrounds of America) is a privately owned organization which primarily caters to motorhome camping.

Before I disparage them too much, I want to be very clear that the employees we met were very kind and helpful, even if the campsite was not at all what I was expecting. The tent camping sites were all full when we got there, and since it is a privately owned campground it wasn’t permitted for us to just set up camp in a free grassy area. But the owner was sympathetic to our cause, and kindly offered us the option to stay in an RV site (which did have grass to pitch our tents on as well as a fire pit and picnic table), for the tent camping price.

Back to the disparagement: when you’re “camping” in an RV, I would assume it’s really easy to ignore the cars whizzing past your campsite only 30 feet away at 55 mph.

44 miles worth of endorphins, however, do a lot to improve one’s outlook on any given situation.

KOA camp setup

After setting up camp and taking a blissful shower, we MacGyvered a clothesline to dry our kits (which had been given a decent scrub in the shower):

My Ingenious Invention

And got to cooking some dinner!

In case you did not know: any food eaten after a long bike ride is always the best version of that food you will ever eat. Now, you might say: Emily, it’s really not hard to level up from canned beans. But let me tell you: canned beans and (vegan) apple-sage sausages heated up over an open fire after a beautiful day of biking with a friend — even with trucks jake braking loudly in your immediate vicinity — is a priceless meal.

This Is How You Dinner

*No, observant reader, we did not add vanilla to the beans. We brought a few tablespoons of oil with us in an empty vanilla bottle.

After dinner I read and journaled until it was dark, and then snuggled into my bivvy (which is basically a sleeping-bag sized tent made to fit exactly one person and not much else) and tried to fall asleep reading a bit with my headlamp.

My sleeping setup is the remaining thing I haven’t figured out on these bike trips. I have a bad back and neck from a couple separate car accidents, as well as a bad ankle on one leg and a bad knee on the other. To top it off, I have chronic insomnia, and most nights can only sleep if I am medicated. I can barely sleep in my own bed, let alone on the ground.

I also don’t really like things that go over my head at all, and… While the choice of bivvy seemed like a good idea in terms of weight and size, I absolutely did not feel at ease with the way the solid portion kept falling down over my head. If I can’t figure out a way to hold the mesh portion up so I can feel air on my face, I don’t think I’ll be able to use it comfortably.

One good thing came out of my sleeplessness though — I had the luck to overhear a domestic squabble of RV-park proportions!

The combatants were just far enough away where I couldn’t make out the majority of what they were screaming about: but it sounded like Junior (while the young voice was shrill and squeaky, it didn’t seem quite as high as a girl’s voice would sound) wouldn’t let Mom back in the RV, and Mom was pretty okay with letting the whole freaking campsite know exactly how displeased with the situation she was. You’d think “camping” in what is essentially a hotel room, at a campground that not only has electricity but also wifi, a pool, and a movie theatre, would be enought to satisfy the most demanding of children… but Junior sounded to be very annoyed to have been brought on vacation at all. (This, my friends, is why I have cats.)

I heard what sounded like a few other people get involved but I’m not sure how it ended, because after what seemed like a very long time, my sleep aid kicked in and I finally did doze off.

…Until the next big truck went by, at least.

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Six years ago, I started this blog to record my first 30 Days of Biking challenge (http://30daysofbiking.com/). At that point I was living in Moscow, ID, and riding my first road bike.

Oh how times have changed.

I recall having failed pretty quickly in the attempt to bike all 30 days in April — but I did enough to catch a biking bug that I am deeply happy to say has never left.

Over the years I’ve accumulated miles, experience, additional bikes, and (increasingly expensive and specialized) equipment, all of which have added quality to my time spent riding.

Today as I kicked off this year’s 30 DOB challenge, I unintentionally returned to a level of simplicity more common in my early years of biking than what I normally do these days. I think it’s a good thing.

Since I live in Oregon now I have developed what I consider to be the perfect rain kit: I have a wrap-around waterproof skirt that can be worn over any outfit (from the genius designers at Georgia in Dublin), an indefatigable jacket from Showers Pass (five years old and still going strong!); in addition I have tall boots, waterproof gloves, fenders on my bike, and a tight-knit hat to wear under my helmet to keep my hair dry.

With all this well-designed and perfectly functional protection, sometimes I thinkI forget that I enjoy riding in the rain. In the wet months I’m usually so focused on showing up to work not looking like I tried to take a shower with all my clothes on, I forget that sometimes it’s okay to just… Get on my bike and ride.

The majority of today passed in a haze of staying inside in my pajamas, knitting, and recovering from eating too much junk food on Saturday. My blinds were open but the rain was a fine enough drizzle (and, okay, I wasn’t wearing my glasses) that I didn’t realize it actually was raining until I stepped out onto the porch with my bike. For a moment I considered going back inside and getting my rain gear out from whatever box it’s all currently hiding in from the move, but then I thought… Fuck it. The jacket I already had on is water resistant, it’s not cold enough to be an icy rain, and it’s really only a fine drizzle. So I biked off.

A drizzle does add up over time — even though I live close to the store, by the time I got there my hair was damp in what I would graciously describe on someone else as a “90’s boy band gelled flop” look. But overall I looked for the most part none the worse for my time in the rain. The roads were just warm enough today where I caught a delicate whiff of wet pavement smell. The new greens were bright on branches that were bare last week, the air felt fresh and cool, and I loved being able to pass through it all without layers of rustling plastic separating me from the elements.

A 2 mile ride for cat food is nothing to boast about. But there is one thing biking has taught me, that I re-remembered today… Sometimes things don’t have to be impressive or complicated to be worth cherishing.

As I sat down to write a post about the first ride on my new Austro-Daimler, I remembered that I hadn’t written about my first brevet either. It’s funny how bicycling can have so many firsts.

There’s a first ride when I get a new bike. And then there is the first time I ride that bike to my favorite places. Or the first ride with a new component, like a saddle that fits or brakes that aren’t finicky. Or the first long ride. The first rain ride, the first picnic ride, the first hill ride…

Even after I’ve had a bicycle for a while and true firsts are fewer and farther between, it settles into a different kind of firsts. The first ride after a breakup. The first ride with a new soulmate. The first ride after a friend dies.

The firsts are endless. Like the bicycle itself, they just keep going. 

Thoughts when I have been up since 12:23, and it is currently 2:55: Bikes.

  • I could be riding right now, but a lady just survived an attempted mugging on the bike path behind my house last week so maybe I should at least wait until 5am.
  • My fleet is more or less a bicycle representation of WWII… Current members being:

    America – Soma Buena Vista

    Germany* – Austro-Daimler-Steyr-Puch (say that five times fast) Michelle

    Japan – mystery make and model

    France – Motobécane Mirage

    *The accurate reporter in me would like to note for the record that the Puch bicycle is ACTUALLY made in Austria, not Germany.

    To fill out the roster, I think I need an Italian bike? And a British one?? At that point… Probably also a new boyfriend? 😥

  • Which bike do I currently hate the most to try taking apart and putting back together again to better my mechanical knowledge? I look over at the corral and they huddle together, trembling in fear.
  • It’s hard to balance a desire to progress to a 300km brevet with a violent passion for burritos.
  • Some people buy clothes, I buy 25 lbs of happiness potential. And then I drop the bag of cat food off at home and go for a bike ride.

My mother is sitting in her mechanized wheelchair. Tucked securely into a variety of arms and pads to keep her paralyzed body upright, she reminds me of a beetle snugged into the petals of a flower.

She’s an unhappy beetle, though. The flower’s steel-and-foam petals are a matte black. Most days she cries and moans almost constantly, plagued by terrifying hallucinations and the uncertainty of where the border between delusion and reality lies.

She is moaning right now, shifting uncomfortably, on the verge of tears. She is near the end of her life, and has been refusing her pain medications for days now because she “doesn’t recognize them”. My heart hurts as I think of spending the next eight hours here as her caregiver, able and willing to give help – but unable to convince her that anything will help.

I start to daydream about riding. My bicycle makes me happy. It is a simple machine with many meanings.

Sometimes it is an escape; it enables me to put physical distance between me and my problems. I can take any road out of town and away from my dying mother, and my own doctors that I am avoiding, and the fact that I haven’t cleaned the cat box in three days… All those things fall behind me when I ride, and it’s just me, my bike, and the road. After a few miles, in the endless up-down-up-down circle of the pedals, I can examine my worries from a calm distance.

I click into Craigslist to see if any interesting bikes have been posted for sale. If I had endless amounts of time and money, I’d spend a considerable portion of my life restoring, riding, and loaning out vintage bicycles. Since I do not have this option, I ogle bikes on Craigslist instead.

My mother moans again, and my thoughts return to her living room. It suddenly occurs to me to ask a question:

“What kind of bike did you have?” I vaguely recall my parents’ pair of bicycles in our garage growing up, but all I remember is that they were almost as tall as me and got in the way of the mop hanging on the wall.

“A Motobecane,” she says.

Given that it is a French word (my weakest language) and I have never spoken to anyone in person about the brand, only read things about it online, I’m not surprised that she pronounces it differently than I say it in my head. I say “MOE-toe-bee-cane”, but she said “moto-bee-KHAN” (the spelling of “Khan” here is a nod to my mother’s lifelong fondness for Star Trek).

“What color?” I ask.

She has to think for a moment. “Blue?” she says hesitantly, “A turqu- no, not turquoise. Just blue. And Renee had a…” she trails off into a worried repetition of no’s, and when I ask her what she was going to say about her cousin’s bike, she gets scared and says she can’t tell me. The question or response triggered something in her hallucination that she doesn’t want to get into.

I look up “Motobecane” on the bike page of Craigslist. The third listing is a beautiful, diamond-frame, fully restored blue Motobecane. The decals are in vivid red and gold. It’s also my size, 50”, and for an astonishingly cheap price. I play with the idea of buying it. I consider offering to trade my racing bike (which I already have on Craigslist), despite the $700 difference in prices. I wonder where I would hide from my boyfriend if I bought it (I don’t really need to add to my pre-existing bike fleet). Unable to come up with an idea and considering how much of an impulse buy it would be, I mentally file the Craigslist Motobecane away and return my mind to the conversation. Distracting my mother from her pain with words and memories seems to be helping a little. Just a little.

“Did your bike have a name?” She shakes her head no. I have always named my bikes.

“When did you get your first bike?” Her expression doesn’t change, and I’m not sure she heard me. “Just that, my generation at least, most kids I knew had bikes,” I say, “I was just wondering if it was the same when you were growing up. Did you always have a bike?”

“No,” she says, so quietly I wonder if she is responding to me, or something else she might be hearing. “I was…six.” I ask if it was my Aba, her mother, who gave it to her. She says yes, but as though she is not sure that it is the correct answer.

“What was the longest ride you ever went on?” I ask next. She suddenly looks nervous. “Why are you asking these questions?” she says, fearfully.

She doesn’t like people asking her too many questions. She things that people who ask too many questions (doctors, social workers, caregivers) are reporting on her to “Them” – an organization of constantly shifting identity, but always constant threat.

Oops. I want to continue this conversation and distract her, how do I ask these questions without upsetting her?

Thinking quickly, I say with a smile (she is blind, but you can hear a smile in someone’s voice when they speak), “I am trying to figure out where I got the love-of-cycling gene.” The shadow of a smile, more like a lightning-fast relaxation of facial muscles rather than a smile, ghosts the implication of amusement across her face. She nods, and then thinks for a while before responding. There are long pauses between each sentence when she finally does speak.

“I don’t really know. I could ride for hours. Stopping for breaks of course. I’d just ride.”

That pleases me. It sounds a lot like what I like to do: just ride, for hours.

“Where did you like to ride?” I ask next. “I can’t imagine this was when you were living in San Francisco… All those hills!” She opens her mouth like she is going to respond, then closes it and shakes her head no.

I wait a little while, then continue; “did you just ride around the city?” I wonder if my mom ever commuted by bike. I like biking to work. She says no. “Country roads, then?” Maybe she was more into cycling when she and my dad were together, living in the suburbs.

But now I have asked too many questions too quickly. She starts to panic, because she “can’t talk about these things”. She asks me why I’m asking, and I repeat my reason of just wanting to know about how she rode bikes, since I like riding mine so much. She tells me I don’t need to know that, and asks me to stop questioning her again. The tearful moaning returns. The moment is gone.

I look at the blue Motobecane on Craigslist and picture it and my mom, with her sight and mobility, alone on a California road bordered by golden summer grasses. The natural red highlights she used to have in her black-brown hair are gleaming in the summer sun. She is happy. It’s just her, her bike, and the road.

I draw a distinction between bicycle Rides with a capital R, and riding around town. The latter is usually an everyday thing, toodling around town on errands and to work and whatnot. Those times when I want to burn off some energy but don’t want to get too far from home will usually find me looping around the river, but since it is all in-city on bike paths I’ve been on many times before, I don’t categorize them as Rides either.

Rides, on the other hand – they involve longer jaunts typically more than 20 miles which require some level of planning. They usually begin with me looking at a map of places I’ve wanted to ride to, or going to RideOregonRide.com to see if someone has uploaded a fun route.

The date of this year’s first Ride was yesterday, January 28th. It had been too icy or snowy the first part of January, and then the last half of the month saw my weekends mostly allocated towards caring for an ailing parent. My weekend this week was unexpectedly free, so the boyfriend and I hopped on our bikes and rode out to Agrarian Ales in Coburg, which we have been wanting to bike to for forever! It was about 13.9 miles from downtown Eugene to Agrarian.

The weather was supposed to be rainless but overcast, with fog in the morning and evening. Between one thing and another we got a much later start than we had planned on, and left from downtown Eugene about 3pm instead of noon like we were hoping. We rode up Coburg Rd, which eventually turns into a two-lane highway with a moderately sized shoulder once you get past the city of Coburg on the outskirts of Eugene.

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It was about 40 degrees out with a chill wind. My boyfriend, Mark, defines his “leisurely pace” a couple-few miles per hour faster than I define mine, but we found a happy medium and arrived at Agrarian red-cheeked and only a little sweaty.

We were immediately greeted by a couple who were very impressed (but mildly concerned, as non-cyclists tend to be) that we biked from town to Agrarian. We mutually acknowledged that Mark and I are crazy bike people, and went in to grab our drinks and food. We were so hungry and eager for beer that I completely forgot to check the time, and I have no idea exactly how long it took us to get from Eugene to Agrarian. But I feel like maybe an hour and a half?

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I had a 20 oz of Grow a Pear (pear cream ale), a 12 oz of Dark Sparge (porter), half a veggie pizza and most of a plate of pickled veggies. There was also an egg pickled in beet juice, which was a lovely color as well as delicious… But I didn’t think to get a picture until after it was all gone!

We anticipated that it would be dark by the time we made our return home since we had left Eugene so late, and we were prepared for it with fresh batteries for our lights. But we didn’t consider that Agrarian Ales is out in the country and surrounded by damp farmland, and were taken aback by how quickly the fog rolled in, and how thick it was. After some discussion we decided to call Mark’s mother to come pick us up in her truck rather than bike on a dark and foggy high-speed country road at night.

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I enjoy riding at night and I would have liked to have biked in the fog as well, but I think we made the right choice given the lights we had on our bikes did not have the highest of lumens. The bartender was glad we made the choice we did too, and told us a story of how when she was driving home the other night she barely saw a cyclist in the fog until she was right on top of him.

The bikes enjoyed their speedy flight in the truck and recovered from their day’s toils in the warmth of our apartment while Mark and I used a car to grab Safeway Chinese food to celebrate the Chinese New Year. (I’d say “in honor of” instead of “celebrate”, but I’m not sure Safeway Chinese food can really be interpreted as an offer of honor!)

Till the next ride!

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a wordy person. (Ten adjectives are SO much better than just one, right?.) It’s rare that I encounter a scene or situation that I don’t have words for, but now I have seven days in my memory that confound me. This year’s bike adventure was wonderful. “Wonderful” is pathetically lacking descriptive power, but “transcendent” is trying too hard. So, instead of making an attempt to say how I feel, I will simply report what happened. I want to honor the details of what has, without a doubt, been the best time of my life. Cliché or no cliché, it’s true.

Summer Tour 2014, riding the Old West Scenic Bikeway, July 26 – August 1, 2014

Saturday, July 26th  – Eugene to Olympia to Eugene to Smith Rock

This day, no actual biking took place. Erin and Drew both had to work so I spent the morning getting ready all the things I should have gotten ready the night before, and the afternoon driving to Olympia to pick up Erin. I wish I’d taken a better picture of my bike’s setup, I was pretty proud at how little I packed compared to last year. I’m particularly happy that, except for a couple just-in-case items, I used everything I brought with me.

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Fortunately I don’t own a tent, so I didn’t have to pack one. The sleeping bag was a generous loan from an ex (I might have to just buy him a new one though. I don’t think Wal-Mart sleeping bags are actually engineered to go through as much use as this one has gone through now.), I had a yoga mat/cat scratcher for a sleeping pad, a set of surprisingly roomy saddlebags I found on Craigslist just in time for this trip ($10, booyah), and I sewed the cow-print frame bag myself. Well, I say “sewed”, but it was really quite a haphazard attempt. The last Velcro strap is only attached to the bag with sewing pins. But, heck, it worked, so whatever. My indestructible front handlebar bag is actually a camera bag I picked up at the Moscow Goodwill several years ago, but it’s got two roomy pockets that zip and hold on-the-go items and small items that I don’t want to lose at the bottom of bigger bags.

Erin and I zipped back to Eugene and drove over Drew’s to pick him up. It was at this point that we all decided that I had been perhaps a little optimistic about my car’s cargo capacity and that three people, three bikes, and gear were not going to fit. But conveniently enough Erin is basically the king of knot-tying, so his Bianchi was very securely lashed to the roof of my car, and didn’t budge an inch on either the way to our destination or when it was there again on the way back home a week later.

Given that we were leaving Eugene around 8 pm we planned on camping at Smith Rock, which is roughly halfway between Eugene and John Day (which is the start of the scenic bikeway). The drive was a blast. I love driving on fast country roads in the dark (holdover from visiting CdA from Moscow while I lived there), and the whole trip was a perfect mix of often hilarious conversation, good music (Black Keys, Buddy Holly), and good food: Drew is a cook at the Saturday Market, so he had brought with him container upon container of excellent Market food. There were stir fries, curries, Afghani food… pretty great stuff. Since I was driving I expected to not eat anything until Smith Rock. It was a bummer, given how AWESOME that stuff smelled once they opened the food.

Then Drew suggested that we see if one of them could feed me while I drove. I was certain I was going to aspirate my food at some point – it was so funny, I was almost laughing too much to eat. There were baby jokes and airplane noises as Erin poked my face with the spoon (he was riding shotgun so he had the honor), and a few severely misjudged appropriate spoon portions. It was an all-around delicious experience.

Threeish hours later, we arrived at Smith Rock. The sky was so dark and the stars so bright that we had already seen shooting stars during the drive, and then once we were stationary under the open sky… it was so beautiful. Enchanting. We set up our tents in a field and hit the hay. Erin’s tent has a mesh roof, so you could still see the brightest of the stars through it – the night was warm enough, though, that we probably should have just bivvied it like Drew did. It was easier for him to see the shooting stars.

 

Sunday, July 27th – John Day to Dixie Creek, ca. 20 miles

The next morning involved a brief visit from a park ranger informing us we’d camped in a non-camping zone (he didn’t really seem to care though) and polishing off the Market leftovers for breakfast. From Smith Rock we drove through Redmond and got some coffee, and drove the rest of the way to John Day.

John Day was a little crazy – the information on the internet about the route said that we could leave our car at the Kam Wah Chung Heritage Site, but when we found the site it was overrun with a local swim meet at the pool next door and didn’t seem like the right place. We went to the pool office to see if they knew anything about parking at Kam Wah Chung, and met a lady named Christy Waldner. She is one of the people who was involved in popularizing the Old West Scenic Bikeway, and not only gave us directions to where we could leave the car but also told us about her by-donation bike hostel at her home in Mount Vernon, and invited us to stay there a night if it synced up with our route. She also gave us her phone number and told us to call her if we needed anything while we were riding. It felt so good to meet such a kind and interesting person, and we hadn’t even started biking yet!

We ended up going on the tour of the Kam Wah Chung General Store, which is a perfectly intact/restored Chinese store and apothecary shop from the mid-19th century, when Chinese were being shipped en mass to the West to work in mines. Unfortunately my phone was dead from GPS-ing at that point so I didn’t take any pictures, but it was a fascinating site.

We unloaded the bikes, packed things up, changed into our spandex… and then the pain began. For some reason, I had forgotten to remember that the first thing that happens when you leave John Day is a big-ass hill. That we were starting during the hot afternoon of the day. After a day of inactivity in the car. After a distracting/not-very-restful night (at least for me – too many stars!). Also, Eugene is at something like 85 feet above sea level, and John Day is at 3,000ish… Not cool. Not cool. Anyways, we took a break at the top of the hill under a mega-sized replica of a covered wagon, and met some people who were doing the Trans Am and were on their way through from Michigan with the plan of going down the western coast starting around Florence. Then it was a quick and fun descent into the Dixie Creek campground.

It unfortunately seemed like more of an RV kind of campsite (so all the flat spots that could have received a tent were graveled over for parking a vehicle), but it was nicely forested and the day use site was somewhat hidden from the main road, so we became little lawbreakers and camped at the day use site. Drew got out his awesome little camp stove and cooked us all some ramen (my ramen for this trip was kindly donated by my friend Katelyn, who keeps giving me food that her pregnancy will no longer allow her to stomach. My food budget is gonna go up when that baby is born.), which, after even a short day of hard biking, tastes like the best stuff on earth. We made a fire and filtered cold, fresh water from the creek, and I painted my nails (don’t judge. This was vacation, after all.)

 

Monday, July 28th – Austin Junction to Bates State Park, ca. 50 miles

After a relaxing morning of granola and instant Folgers coffee packets, we descended the rest of the way down the hill (an exhilarating way to start the day) and arrived in Austin Junction at exactly the time when the café there opened, 8 am. We met a very nice lady who served us huckleberry ice cream, cobbler, and good hot black coffee.  I also finally got an opportunity to charge my phone some.

From there, we headed out… and immediately took a wrong turn. I was kicking myself afterwards because I noticed as we turned onto the road that the sign was for Highway 7, which I wasn’t 100% sure we were supposed to be on, but I didn’t say anything because it sounded familiar so it must be right. Shoulda gone with my gut. It sounded familiar because it was supposed to be the one we didn’t turn onto.

It was a blazing-hot day, and I at least was still not acclimated to the elevation. In addition to this, we climbed three very steep summits. This is Drew at the top of the first:

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It wasn’t until three summits and 45 miles later that we realized we had gone the wrong way. We also knew we had to make it back to the bikeway – there was nowhere to camp where we were, and we didn’t have the time take a whole second day to get back…

It’s probably a sign of how tired we all were already at that point that none of us thought to top off our water at the road we’d stopped to look at the directions at. There was absolutely no water on the way back down Hwy 7. I knew I was already tired, and even on a good day I’m a far slower climber than Erin and Drew, so after I told them not to wait for me at the summits (like they had been doing so far) I checked into my easiest gear and started turtling my way back. But as the afternoon wore on and it got hotter and hotter I started feeling worse and worse. Eventually I didn’t have the strength to get enough momentum to keep my bike upright on the inclines, so I started walking up the last summit. I had about 8oz of water left after finishing my other two water bottles, I was dizzy, and I had a killer headache.

Then I saw Drew! He had come back to check on me. He gave me water that he had with him, and informed me that Erin was suffering from heatstroke and was resting further up, and that I probably had heatstroke too. He said some things that I don’t exactly remember but my general recollection of them was that they were encouraging, and then he pedaled off back to where Erin was.

If it’s not already clear at this point, Drew is SuperBikeMan. He has had 500 mile bicycle commute weeks. His bike was by far the heaviest and he probably had the most stuff, and he consistently beat everybody up every hill every time. While others get heatstroke, Drew has fun, because he is an effing badass :D.

So Drew pedaled up into the distance, and I was alone again. The water helped for a little bit but I didn’t seem to be feeling any better, and I was starting to feel really nauseous and more dizzy. Then I saw a car park at a turnout about 100 feet up the road from me, and turn its hazards on. I briefly held the hope that maybe they were stopping for me – sympathetic fellow cyclists, or something – but figured my luck couldn’t be that good.

It wasn’t that good; it was better. Mike did not turn out to be a sympathetic cyclist, but he was with Oregon Search & Rescue. He hadn’t been looking for me or anyone in particular, but I guess on hot days like that day he likes to load his Jeep with water and drive around checking that people aren’t going around being stupid, which he admonishingly informed was exactly what I was being by biking those hills on a day like that day. He filled my water bottles and filled them again after I chugged a bunch, packed me and my bike into his car, and drove me to the top of the summit.

Drew and Erin arrived shortly thereafter, and we descended right back to where we had started that morning. We camped at Bates State Park this time, which was much newer-looking and more sparse than the previous campsite had been. We camped next to a gentleman named Glen, from Montana, who had seen us earlier that day on 7 and had offered us some water. Drew made the saltiest (so therefore at that moment, the best) cream of potato soup that Erin had brought to share and added some pepperoni into it as well.  We washed our kits in some sprinklers and hung them to try on some small trees, and then I pretty abruptly passed out asleep around 7:30 or 8 o’clock, before the sky had gotten dark, while Drew and Erin talked routes over with Glen next door.

 

Tuesday, July 29th – Bates State Park to Lone Pine, 53 miles

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We decided to get a fairly early start the next day to try to avoid the heat as best we could. Bananas, granola, Folgers, and more ramen all happened before 8 o’clock. I chatted some with a group of Trans Am-ers from Wisconsin who had gotten in very late the night before, even after the guys had gone to bed, who had suffered over the same three hills we had on Hwy 7 the day before. They’d gone over them in the night though, which Glen pointed out later couldn’t have been much fun, because long and fast descents in the dark are dangerous even with headlamps, so you can’t enjoy them at all.

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This was a beautiful day to ride. We followed the Middle Fork of the John Day River the whole time, which meant it was a fairly flat time. There were far too many cattle gates that we had to stop and walk over, but that also means that there were SO MANY COWS. Cows are my spirit animal. THEY MOOED AT ME. I was in heaven.

About halfway through the day we took a break on the side of the road and swam in the river. It wasn’t very deep but it was cool and wonderful. You could find a spot to anchor yourself against a rock and then just lie back and let the water flow over you. There were also some sizeable boulders did well as spots to dry on with the warm rock under your back.

At least, until some cows come along and low menacingly at you until you leave.

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The silly creatures stood there and mooed at us, and then immediately walked over and got in the river themselves after we started riding away. Hmph.

The day kept warming up and we got away from the hilly, ranch area we were in and started passing through beautiful golden farmland that reminded me of Moscow, ID.

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The road was still pretty flat, but there was zero shade. There was one long climb on the route for the day, and I met Glen along it when I stopped once for water. I was glad for the opportunity to say hi and chat with him, since I’d fallen asleep so quickly the night before at Bates. He made jokes about how he was getting too old for this stuff anymore.

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At the top of the climb, we all took a nice break in the shade of some unexpected trees.

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The end of our day wasn’t set in stone – we knew we needed to get past Ritter Butte, and from there we were hoping to find some vacant land or something in or near Long Creek (the next name on the map), but there was no information about any dedicated or recommended camping spots in the area so we weren’t sure if we’d be done after Ritter or if we’d have to continue a bit further.

But after getting down the butte and rolling into Long Creek, we heard a shout coming from the first house on the road – “WATER FOR CYCLISTS! Fill your water bottles here!”

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Ron Roy Horseman ought to be considered an adventure all on his own. He was raised in Long Creek. He’s a retired seaman, U.S. Navy, who served on submarines. His joke for that was: “just remember, there are two kinds of ships. Submarines, and targets.”

Ron goes and fells Juniper trees, and makes beautiful polished wood furniture from them that he sells on the road in front of his house. His front yard is a giant courtyard of sorts with wood furniture and a giant fire pit (which he said he would have lit for us, except there was an extreme fire danger warning in effect for the area). He had a giant saw that he built himself to cut giant logs, and he was in the process of building a stunningly beautiful 8-ft bar. He had a dog named Anikin Dogwalker, and another dog named Dumb As Bricks, ‘Masbricks for short. At first he offered us water, and then he offered us a spot in his backyard to camp, and then as a thunderstorm started rolling in with blasting winds, he told us that he usually sleeps in his armchair in front of the TV anyways, and that we were going to sleep inside his house. He’s the most generous stranger I have ever met.

After eating dinner at the café down the street (“You’d better get there quick, everything in Long Crick closes at 6”) we returned to hang out with Ron and his friend and neighbor Joe – an excitable redheaded man getting his life together after leaving behind a rather eventful past in Wallace, ID, who told too-dirty jokes about things you could do with sheep, and a wide variety of other topics. Ron sent Joe to the café, which was also the town store, to pick up his daily 30 pack of Keystone Light (he called ahead and told them to put it on his account), and he invited us to have as much as we wanted. We drank outside until the storm hit, and then we moved inside, to where Ron also kept an ice-cold bottle of Johnny Walker red label in the freezer. There was no bother with glasses or cups. It was a wonderful evening, there was so much laughter and good conversation. Ron got deeper and deeper into his drink as the evening wore on, and he started showing us pictures of his daughters and granddaughters, and the different submarines he served on.

Ron was such a gentleman. I was the only girl present (as Joe said, “there are no ladies in Long Crick – just women”), and he offered me blankets in case I was cold, and my choice of channel on the television. He also constantly referred to me as “sweetheart” and “darlin’” whenever he spoke to me (clearly, flattery is the key to my heart).

Many hours later, Joe went home and we all went to bed. The room was far too hot for me to sleep (unfortunately I require Artic levels of cool to be able to fall asleep), and I could hear Ron in the next room watching American Choppers or whatever that History Channel show is about fixing up old cars, and occasionally muttering unintelligible things to the actors.

 

Wednesday, July 30th – Long Creek to Lone Pine (or if you’re Erin, Lone Creek to Long Pine), ca. 40 miles

First of all, any day is going to be a good day when you take your first shower in four days. Secondly, when a nice old gentlemen says to you “wow, you are ten times more beautiful than you were yesterday.” Oh, Ron, you dear.

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Ron made us coffee and even went to the store and bought some creamer in case we wanted some. I fully intend to go back and see Ron someday – I know it won’t be the same as this wonderful, fantastic, chance of a first time, in the middle of what was already a wonderful adventure – but sometimes you just fall in love with somebody and you can’t do anything about it.

We left Ron’s, and enjoyed just a short climb through farmlands.

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We took a break in Monument and spent some time with a nice cat who was really interested in my saddlebags.

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That day had some crazyinsane decents in it. I don’t even know how much elevation we left. The land transitioned from farmland and prarie to beautiful red cliffs and volcanic rock. There were just tons of dizzyingly tall, rough walls that rose higher and higher as we went down faster and faster. I didn’t brake for miles and miles at a time. (And yeah, “I don’t brake for miles and miles” is my new idea for a parody video; my apologies to The Who.)

We passed some more ranches and the ghost town of Hamilton, and eventually got to our destination at Lone Pine. We never quite figured out which tree was supposed to be the Lone Pine itself, but we had a lovely, relaxing day – the whole afternoon – of swimming in the North Fork of the John Day River, which was much deeper and faster than the portion of the Middle Fork we swam in before.

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Also, we were able to supplement our ramen diet:

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I’ve been a bad vegetarian this trip. It started when my ex left me a bunch of frozen pork chops from when he moved away (I don’t turn down free food, period), and then on this trip meat just always was offered or seemed like a good, calorie-heavy idea…  I felt terrible when we started to cook/kill the crawdads. But then I remembered how one had been rude enough to pinch my bottom while I was just sitting in the river minding my own business, and I felt a little better about it. This is the only one I caught myself:

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Which, of course, was the crawdad with the gimp claw.

Sunset in a valley – so pretty.

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Thursday, July 31st – Lone Pine to Mt Vernon, ca. 45 miles

Thursday started off in a particularly feastful way, as we realized we didn’t need to conserve our food anymore.

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Yes, that’s 8 packets for a cup and a half of coffee. If there had been walls where we were, we would have been hitting them.

We also left behind a marker of our passing through the area, which I dropped between a tree and it’s protective wire fence around the base of it. I’d like to go back someday and see if it’s still there.

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Pretty soon after we left Lone Pine we got into the John Day Fossil Beds territory. The colors in the rocks were spectacular – all sorts of different minerals and chemical weathering causing the painted effects. The blue color, the most common, comes from the chemical weathering of layer upon layer of volcanic ash.

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And then we stopped at the visitor center (where we ran into Glen again!) and saw REAL LIVE FOSSILS.

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Rather abruptly after we left the visitor center, the sun came out and the most almightly unbearable headwind started happening. I’ve never experienced such a constant struggle on a flat surface. I didn’t take any pictures the rest of that ride, despite some rather pastoral scenery, because you had to focus all your energy on just keeping going.

We did stop for a water break and photo op in the quaint metropolis of Dayville, however:

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We finally rolled into Mt Vernon and after a little search found Christy’s bike hostel. It was a cute little separated apartment on her property (which had CHICKENS AND GOATS AND BUNNIES AND AND <3), with a shower, kitchen, food in the pantry, comfortable chairs, a TV, and the most varied VHS collection I have ever seen. We biked to the closest gas station for snacks, with the intention of making hot dogs and s’mores, but – shame on them – they sold no graham crackers. For a moment, I panicked. But then, then… I saw a packet of Chips Ahoy. And my life has changed forever. FYI though, that shit gets pretty messy. Drew got marshmallow in his moustache, there was melted chocolate all over everyone’s hands, and I laughed so hard I cried, which is a difficult situation to be in when you’re still trying to eat the s’more.

And Glen showed up to stay as well! He chose not to partake in the s’more insanity, but he cooked himself some pasta and we all watched the Back To The Future trilogy… backwards. It’s kind of the only way to do it, really.

Bedtime was another life changing moment, because THIS happened (JO DON’T LOOK):

 

 

 

 

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I feel like God ought to grant us immediate dispensation to enter Heaven, no matter what else we might do with our lives, because singlehandedly capturing the Devil in a drinking glass has to gain you points somehow. This little guy was BIG (not kidding, about two inches long) and he was FAST and he wanted to kill us. Erin (its captor) figured that if he let it go outside before we left we wouldn’t be able to outrun its murderous rage, so he and Drew left it in its prison with a note:

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Glen left before we all got up, and left a nice goodbye note, which  enclosed with the summary of our bike trip that I wrote I the logbook Christy offers to travelers to fill out.

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And then it was home stretch… 8 miles left to the car at John Day.

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Where we received enthusiastic welcome:

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We took our time coming back to Eugene – I don’t think any of us wanted this adventure to end. We listened to some William Elliot Whitmore, Dessa, Scissor Sisters, G. Love and Special Sauce, and a variety of other things. We stopped in Sisters for a fantastic lunch and pitcher o’ brew at Three Creeks Brewing Co, and I dropped Drew and Erin off at the top of the old 242 Mckenzie Pass so Erin could get a taste of that awesomeness (Drew and I do that ride every year before the pass is open to vehicle traffic). Then it was home, and drinks at New Max’s Tavern, and sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep…

And half-formed dreams of next year’s great adventure.

I write this from the wings of Cottage Theatre – a place where I’ve spent the majority of my free time for over a month. Right now is the wedding scene. After this is the intermission. After that is Act Two, and when that is over I don’t have to be back here until Thursday. In that time between now and then, I plan to bike.

Finally.

I feel a little silly for buying a new bike (and a really good bike, besides) and then only riding it twice in the last four weeks. I have still been commuting and running errands on my mixte as usual. But when I get off work at 5, meet my carpools at 6:30, and then get home at midnight, five days a week… it does not leave much time for the long rides I’m craving. Needing.

Tomorrow is the first weekday since March that I won’t have to be anywhere after work. I’m going to ride home, put on my silly spandex, grab a map, and head out on my new bike as far as I can before the sun sets. It won’t be a fast ride, given the lingering tail end of a sinus infection. But it’ll be a good ride.

It’s been almost a year since the ride to Olympia — and after coming back to my own blog all summer to read synopses of some of my favorite rides, I’ve realized I want to start this blog up again. A lot has happened… but I should probably start with Olympia.

The trip ended up being A LOT more difficult than I imagined. I was right to worry so much about it, and I think that helped, but… there will definitely be a lot more planning next time. Having the experience of this trip should help.

For me the first day really began the night before the first day. I had planned on getting a good night’s sleep before the trip, but me being me I left my packing to the last minute, and sewing my backpacks into panniers took much longer than I thought. It worked in the end, but by the time it was packed it was already pretty late at night and I still had one more task to do: take care of my rats. Which, for one rat, meant cleaning the tank and leaving her three days’s worth of water and food. For the other, my sick rat, it meant saying goodbye.

I had learned years ago that euthanizing rats is an oddly inhumane veterinary procedure, and most vets will leave you with the option of either letting them stab your rat in the heart with a giant needle (the physical trauma of which usually kills them, painfully, before the shot does) or taking the rat back home to die a slowly painful death — in the end, the typical euthanasia procedure at your vet’s office does not save your rat from any pain and suffering. So, after days of research, I euthanized Rhodella on my own. Other than bugs I’ve never killed an animal before, and that combined with the added knowledge that I had killed my own pet (despite knowing it was for humane reasons; Rhodella was very sick, and in pain) kept me up for hours more and did not make for a good rest when I finally fell asleep.

Day One: Eugene, OR to Champoeg State Park, St. Paul, OR, 100 miles

The next morning was similarly difficult. I was an idiot and decided to ride into town to meet Erin and Drew rather than ask someone for a ride, which added an extra 12 miles onto the day for me. I also couldn’t find my cycling gloves, so I had to stop at a bike shop along the way and buy some (I have frustratingly weak wrists and I can’t ride without some sort of extra padding on my handlebars), which made me late to meet up with Erin and head over to Drew’s. Waiting for Drew to arrange his panniers, I finally started to relax — an 8-mile hard right releases all those happy endorphins, doncha know, and the guys’ excitement was starting to rub off on me. I couldn’t believe the ride was finally happening. It had seemed to fantastic the  months I was planning it and preparing for it — to actually be there, at that moment, standing on Drew’s lawn with everyone’s bikes all packed and ready, was a wonderful kind of weird.

The Minx all dressed up and ready to go! There was construction on Drew's street last summer, hence the fetching orange ODOT sign-on-wheels.

The Minx all dressed up and ready to go! There was construction on Drew’s street last summer, hence the fetching orange ODOT sign-on-wheels.

Then we actually started biking and things became very real very fast :D. I was impatient to get out of town — these were paths I biked on all the time, gosh dangit, I wanted to get into unexplored country roads — but once we got out of town and beyond Eugene’s big trees things abruptly became a) dusty b) hot and c) windy… and it was a headwind. Over this last year my memories have become fuzzy but I remember how hot and slow and dusty that first day was. But it was okay, it was still an enjoyable effort… until we got to Salem.

This was the first hint we had that perhaps Google Maps was not to be trusted. It told us to turn onto streets that weren’t exactly there, it was dark, we ended up in a poorly marked industrial area of town, and all the locals we stopped and asked for help seemed to know their city about as well as we did (which was not). In the end I think it was Drew who spotted the railroad tracks (which we knew we were basically following all the way to Olympia) — and there was even a bike path next to it! It was perfect!

…But it was under construction! The bike path abruptly became gravel, which our road tires couldn’t handle. So we walked. For what felt like a long time. In the dark. With only one bright bike headlamp between us. I remember it being a very pretty night, but at that point we were all ready for that day to be over. My left hip and knee, which I’d injured doing tennis in high school, and continues to bother me on and off over the years, had started hurting too (it likes to choose the worst possible moments to flare up). We semi-seriously discussed spending the night in Salem under the most comfortable bushes we could find, but in the end decided to tough it out and get to Champoeg, especially since any miles we left undone today would just have to be done the next day.

It was soooo dark once we got out of Salem. I came to realize during this trip that state parks are generally more in the middle of nowhere than actually close to their adjacent city, and the route between Salem and Champoeg was pitch-black even with my little headlamp. I had fleeting impressions of small country houses and electric poles, and I thought I heard the soft squeaking and whooshes of bats overhead. Once something big crashed in the slightly darker mass on the side of the road that turned out to be bushes, but we passed it and left it behind in seconds. There was also the sensation that we were travelling between dense walls, or were in a tunnel of some sort… I was too tired to really give any thought to what it might be, but it was an oddly ominous feeling to know that there was something massive and silent on both sides of the road for miles at a stretch and not be able to figure out what it was.

Finally, we arrived at Champoeg State Park. I don’t even remember getting there. I remember trying to find our yurt in the absolute dark and not make enough noise to wake any other campers, and an ecstatic but tired attempt to snap a picture of dead-tired Drew and Erin to commemorate our arrival. We found our yurt, washed out our chamois, picked our sleeping spots (Drew on the futon, Erin on the bottom bunk, me on the top) and passed out. I didn’t get very good rest. Interestingly, I think I was too tired to sleep… it doesn’t make any sense to me: I knew I was exhausted, but I also felt wired, like I’d somehow exhausted myself to the point of not having any energy to sleep. It was also very cold, and I was sleeping in my sweatshirt with a beach towel wrapped around my legs (in honor of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy I had, on a whim, bought a cheap towel from Wal-Mart and brought it with me. It proved indispensible). Then Erin turned on the heater, and next thing I knew I woke up (I did sleep a little) sweating because it was about 1000 degrees inside the yurt, but I was also too tired to turn it off… I never have to wonder now what spending a night in a sauna would be like :D.

Day Two: Champoeg State Park, St. Paul, OR to Seaquest State Park, Castle Rock, WA, 104 miles

Inside of the yurt: Erin's bike by the back window, Minx in the foreground, one of Drew's panniers on the floor

Inside of the yurt: Erin’s bike by the back window, Minx in the foreground, one of Drew’s panniers on the floor

My body was/is used to waking up at the same time every day for work, so despite getting to bed around 3am I woke up around 8, if I remember correctly. Drew and Erin were still asleep but I wanted to explore, so I peeked out the window and THERE WAS A GIANT RABBIT SITTING ON THE GRASS STARING AT ME.

BUNNY FACE

BUNNY FACE

So basically this entire trip was worth it already. (Crappy picture because my phone doesn’t zoom well and I shot it through a screen.) In addition to awesome rabbits, Champoeg was also very pretty.

The view from our yurt's porch

The view from our yurt’s porch

We were all very hungry when we woke up, so we stopped for what I can say without a doubt was the most delicious breakfast of my life at that point.

Drew and Erin out front of the Buttleville Store

Drew and Erin out front of the Butteville Store

I had packed an army’s supply of Clif Bars (I ate the last one last month) but at this point my stomach was about as big as your mom, so I ordered a ton of food… A large Americano, a quarter of a lox, cream cheese, and spinach quiche (they called it “a slice” but either the definition of a slice is different at country stores or the lady at the counter understood the depth of our hunger), and a “slice” of Marionberry pie with vanilla ice cream. Ate the whole thing. No regrets. The Butteville Store was super interesting, too: It was historic site that used to be a station for a ferryboat dock or something, so there were tons of old photos and artifacts on the walls. The funniest curio was in the bathroom, though:

Moose Trap

How To Use Moose Trap

How To Use Moose Trap

As we were getting ready to leave we chatted with two ladies who were also there on bikes and traded cycling stories. I think they had ridden from Salem to Champoeg (I don’t remember exactly, but I remember thinking it was a good distance), and they were very impressed when they heard we were riding all the way to Olympia. We departed maybe around 11ish and that’s when I found out what had been menacing us in the dark the night before — the road leaving Champoeg was lined with fields of hops!

Hop vines!

Hops vines! They’re draped over wires running between the tall posts.

At this point in the ride I came to fully appreciate Drew’s knowledge of Oregon state history. He’s not originally from Oregon, but he loves finding out the local folklore and history of wherever he is. He was the one who identified these as hops plants, and told me a lot about the history of the area we were in (and did so the entire ride).

Portland was our next big stop, and I was really excited to reach it. It was the first time I really had a personal gauge for how far we’d come, since I knew the drive between Eugene and Portland well… Eugene to Champoeg was mostly on backroads and roads I wasn’t familiar with, but the closer we got to Portland the more I started to recognize names (Tualatin, Tigard, etc). We got a little lost and ended up on a major road right as we were coming into Portland, with cars screaming past us on the shoulder, but eventually we ended up at a partially-completed bridge, and the three of us and our bikes took an elevator into the downtown. To compliment the most delicious breakfast of my life, next we had the most delicious lunch of my life: a Chinese restaurant Drew knew called Good Taste.

Cool arch near the restaurant

Cool arch near the restaurant

As you came in the door there was a glass case that showcased that day’s meats — at that time there was a duck carcass still stretched out on a hook. The decor had the cliched cheap Asian restaurant look, but the food… the food was incredible. We all got our own entrees (you know how entrees at Chinese restaurants are typically to share? Well, we were three hungry cyclists. No judging.), and I ate a platter of shrimp fried rice and drank a pot of oolong. We also moseyed across the street to a cool textile/leather/drawing supply store where Drew found some fabric for a project he was working on.

Things became difficult again after leaving Portland. It was either my state of fitness or the weight of my bike — I guess it doesn’t really matter which — but I was always the slowest on hills (I’m definitely a plodder on hills, not a sprinter) and I kept falling pretty far behind the guys. That was the day that Drew taught us to draft, and it was MAGICAL. It also pushed me to do more than I thought I could — when you’re sandwiched between two people who expect you to not break the paceline, you come across surprise reserves of strength that help you keep the tempo mile after mile.

Things went terribly wrong once we reached Longview: in Portland, we’d looked at my map and decided rather than try Google’s directions we were just going to take a straight shot up the freeway and cross the river at a bridge we could see in Longview, which would put us right back on the road to Seaquest. What none of us realized was that the bridge at Longview is not a pedestrian bridge. According to Wikipedia is the longest cantilever bridge in the US, at 1.6 miles long. With a shoulder about 2ft wide. High over a river. With fast cars. And a dark tunnel portion that was under construction. At dusk. And, to top it off… I was unnerved by the conditions, slipped into too my granny gear too hard on the bridge’s incline, and my chain fell off. I had to stop on the bridge with the wind pushing at me and the draft from cars pulling me, and fix my bike. I took a few calming breaths, hopped back on the bike, and pedaled a little further… and I made the same mistake again. By the time I got to the end of the bridge where Erin and Drew had been waiting for a while it was all I could do not to cry… I felt so dumb to be that way, but I had been so scared. I was shaking. I try and take it as a comforting thought — like my life is just that peaceful and cushy that this was the worst — but that bridge was the singularly most terrifying experience of my life.

Approximately ten seconds later, we realized that going off the map starting in Portland meant that we we had arrived on completely the opposite side of Longview from where my directions to Seaquest began and had absolutely no fucking idea where to go. All of our phones’ batteries were dead so we had no GPS, the light was nearly gone, and we were facing another long night and late arrival at camp (which was still about 20 miles away). Tempers might have gotten a bit snippy. Including mine. We decided to stop at a gas station and get some help.

I’m thankful for two things: firstly that my friends are awesome, amazing people and will forgive me for inviting them on a not-quite-well-planned trip and me being a little bitch, and secondly that the gas station we stopped at sold jojos. That is, they had available to desperate, despondent cyclists little pieces of heaven cut into potato-wedge shapes, deep fried, with garlic ranch sauce. Friendship was restored over the first box, and the second box, and the third box, while we flagged down an SUV with a mountain bike strapped to its rack and borrowed a pump to fix a flat that Erin had gotten. Fortified with fried food we forged onwards to Seaquest. It was a long way, but we didn’t really get lost much: after a quick pit stop for donuts at yet another gas station, we climbed one giiiiiiiiaaaaaaannnnnntttt hill up to Seaquest. Overall we had made better time than the first day, pulling in around 1am.

It was at this point that I found out (with a baby wipes assist) that I did not, in fact, have a killer tan — I just had a fairly solid layer of road grit on every bit of exposed skin. Fun fact.

Day Three: Seaquest State Park, Castle Rock, WA to Olympia, WA, 70 miles

AKA, the last gasp.

Seaquest was stunningly pretty. I wish I had taken pictures. I remember being thankful that the bathrooms were so far away from our yurt because it gave me a chance to walk in the forest — I promised myself I’d return someday and wander around the place. The trees were very tall, and everything was so green and quiet. I saw a couple small rabbits, too.

The initial ride out of Seaquest was exhilarating — the long, slow hill into Seaquest the night before became a fun, fast descent right back to the gas station where we’d stopped for donuts. We went to Subway this time instead, where I showed off my intimate knowledge of Subways by ordering the best omelette sandwich ever. (If it isn’t clear already from this post… all food eaten on strenuous bike trips is the best food.)

After loitering around a little too long, we were off. We followed the Google maps directions to the letter this day, and I found it a pleasant change — the alternate, direct route we’d taken to Longview along the freeway definitely would have saved us time if we hadn’t gotten lost in Longview after we got there, but Google Maps bike directions like to keep cyclists off freeways, which meant we were riding mostly on back roads like we had the day we left Eugene. We passed through a lot of farmlands, and we took a water break at the top of a particularly beautiful hill:

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The day has an oddly leisurely feel in my memories. We went into that day knowing it had the least mileage of the three days, and I knew at the end there would be totchos from King Solomon’s Reef, a shower, and best of all my bestest friend. We also made a lot of stops on this day because Erin was having tire problems — by unhappy coincidence none of us had brought a good pump, so his tire was constantly under-inflated, which led to a fair number of flats. We took an especially long break in Chehalis (I think) at a small convenience store offering 50 cent corn dogs (for the guys — I don’t eat meat, but there was a “Tigers Blood” slushie available. I found out later that the mascot of the local high school was a tiger) so Erin could try to patch his tire securely once and for all.

I discovered that cats really do have it all figured out… warm pavement is a pretty soothing sleeping surface. Probably only after you’ve done three days of hard riding and slept on state park-budget yurt mattresses, but whatever.

Beautiful day. Cooler than the other days, but sunny.

My view upon waking

Erin had to wake me up. Pretty sure I had to be peeled off the pavement with a spatula.

After that last herculan effort to keep his tire from going flat it showed the world that it couldn’t be told what to do and promptly went flat again, so our next stop was at a Wal-Mart in Centralia to buy a properly working pump and fix things once and for all. After that things became wonderfully easy — this close to Olympia, Erin knew the way. There was a bike path, and then open road, and then when we hit Tumwater people were already out and celebrating for the Fourth of July, and it felt like an outward manifestation of my own excitement that we’d nearly completed our journey.  It was an excitement for the ending not because I wanted it to be over, but because I knew I was about to be able to say, without any doubt, I DID IT. I wished this crazy thing, planned this crazy thing (albeit with great inexperience), and I did this crazy thing. Completed. Finished. Achieved.

My friend whose house I was going to be staying at wasn’t home when we arrived but she told us where to find the key. Erin biked a few extra miles to clean up at his own place, and I took the most deserving shower in my life. And then it was totchos and whiskey all the way to bedtime.

It’s possible that it was exhaustion, but I felt an odd sort of serenity the next three days I was in Olympia. I didn’t feel all that worn out. I felt like I had the knowledge in me that, having successfully completed this, there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do, and I felt the calmest I have ever felt in my life. 

Drew went home the next day via train, and I followed a couple days later. It was a strange feeling to pass between cities that had had taken such effort to get to just a handful of days before, but only took minutes on a train. And to be able to cut through the terrain without struggling seemed to easy.

Another possible title: The Tour de Yurt

Last summer, a new friend mentioned he was gearing up to visit friends in San Diego this summer but didn’t have money for a round trip plane ticket. Naturally, he decided to bike back. I was impressed. Along with another new friend who took off to cycle from Olympia, WA, to Mexico, I was feeling a little left out in the Awesome Cycling Adventures department. Sure, I’d said plenty of times that my dream is to bike old Route 66, but the furthest I’d gone yet on a bike in one go was about 40 miles. So I asked San Diego Guy if I could come along. He said yes.

But then life happened. First he got a real job and wasn’t going to be able to take two weeks to meander back from California, and then I got a real job and couldn’t either. I felt sad. It had only been a handful of months since the proposition, but I’d already had my heart set on it. But then it occurred to me — an Awesome bicycle trip doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I texted SDG if he wanted to bike from Eugene, OR (where I live) back home to Olympia, as a substitute for the moot San Diego trip. A few weeks later I asked my cycling buddy here in Eugene if we wanted to come too.

We leave in two days.

While I have done two long distance rides before (the Blackberry bRamble last summer in Eugene and the Oregon Gran Fondo this spring in Cottage Grove), as well as some serious elevation rides (old 242/McKenzie Pass this spring and the Fondo again), I’ve never done a multi-day bike trip before. It’s also basically going to be a triple century, or at least a double; the first two days are going to be a smidge over 100 miles each, and then the third day will be in the 60 range, so a metric centuryish (100 km). I feel a little crazy. I love my bike and I love being on my bike and I love riding my bike, but sometimes my heart has too much love for my bike for my body to handle (Fondo, I am looking at you). In addition there is pressure coming into this ride that I’ve never had with a ride before — I was confident going into the bRamble, and even though the Fondo was basically a slow death I knew there were support wagons that could help me out if I couldn’t make it. This ride will be different. It will be 250+ miles of unsupported riding, and at least half of which none of the three of us have ever biked before.

Overall I think I’m decently prepared. While I’m under the impression that there is an unspoken contest of who can bring the least stuff, I have an extensive packing list of what I would consider essential items: stuff like a first aid kit, firestarter tabs, bug spray, sunscreen, GPS/phone, spare tubes, lube, extra chamois, and a gallon water bottle with an adorable sippy cup straw. I also have excitement and determination, and a lot of worry, the last of which I think will end up helping me out the most.

SDG seems a little happy-go-lucky enthusiastic about the whole thing (to the point where he initially wanted to do this ride on a fixie O_O), and my EB seems assured enough in how knowledgeable I appear to be, at least, that even though he’s got a decade of cycling experience on me, he’s not looking over my shoulder and trying to help the overeager girl figure out what to bring on this venture (I appreciate it). I have our lodgings figured out (YURTS what up) so we don’t have to carry tents and other camping gear. I have my train ticket back to Eugene bought (because I don’t have enough time off work to bike all the way back, and I want to spend time with my best friend who also lives in Oly). EB and I went over the route last Sunday. I have the time off from work (nearly…I actually need to get some additional time off on Tuesday so we can leave early and get to the campsite before the park ranger goes to bed). SDG gets here Tuesday morning.

I still have to turn my two immortal Jansport backpacks (seriously…I think one of these was my sister’s in middle school, and one was mine in high school, and even with all that use they still show very little wear) into a set of panniers, replace my old chain, pack, pack, and pack.

And stop worrying. Typically I worry straight up until the moment where there’s no turning back…so, Tuesday afternoon, when there’s no time to go back home if I forgot something, or no time to stop and think because we need to get to Champoeg by nightfall, I’ll start enjoying myself. When I’m actually on the bike. Because that’s always the best part of anytime.

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