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.



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:


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.