Bicycling days slideshow

Bonus post – a slideshow from the bicycle days.

 

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Day 123: Work??? and other thoughts

Day 123
Miles: 0
Portland

We wake up on Nick’s floor, next to Pacman, snoozing on the couch. Back in town. So many chores, decisions. The detritus of town-living.

Being in the city is still overwhelming, even after being on the highway for weeks. A city is funny place to transition back to the trail, but that’s the plan. I’ve been texting with 3D, and she’s in Portland too, which is crazy and amazing.

Wait a minute, you say. What DID happen with 3D? Last that Team Whiskers saw her, she was riding away, alone, to find her way back to the PCT. Short story is she pedaled north into the blistering Central California heat to the small town of Weed, fortuitously caught a bus to Ashland, OR, and found her way back to the PCT, then hiked Oregon. (The longer story can be found on her blog, HERE.) She sent us texts of hiker parties and rainbow kitty unicorn butterflies and Crater Lake. We sent her pictures of redwoods and the sea. She was the instigator of this crazy bicycle detour, and then left us to ride it out her own way, on a parallel journey, ending up here, now, same as us.

I have all these mixed, conflicting feelings about the PCT, and being a thru-hiker, and seeing other hikers. J and I have had an on-going discussion/argument about what, exactly, does it MEAN to be a thru-hiker, and we continue it. It’s a good question. I’ve been thinking about it since my very first day on the trail, when I had to decide if I was going to call myself a thru-hiker or not. Can you be a thru-hiker when you haven’t gone thru anything (or hiked a single step yet)? What if you only go part way thru? What if, just for example, you bicycle thru, just for a part of it?

The other question, for me at least, is just how much all of this internal questioning is motivated by what I think my peers will think about it, about me. So much of “cool” crowd in the PCT/long-distance hiking world seems centered around the glorification of those who hike faster, longer, farther than anyone else. Competition seems so firmly ground into our psyches that most of us have no idea how to deal with having dozens of other people around us having parallel experiences. It doesn’t make any sense to think this way – your first 25 mile day is not negated by your friend hiking their first 26. In fact, no one’s achievement is in any way affected by any other’s. The PCT is not a race. It’s a place, 2660 miles long, and one mile wide. Seeing all of it in one year, in one trip, in one go, to see it thru – that’s something special. But it doesn’t have a thing to do with your worth as a person.

Or so I tell myself. The things I know consciously, I am striving to learn to understand unconsciously. A lifetime of living in the ratrace is hard to shake. I know that getting off the trail and onto the bicycles has saved my PCT trip. My feet, after a month of not hiking, have finally stopped hurting. (The shooting heel pain struck as recently as last week.) My body is strong again. My spirits are high again. More importantly – most importantly – my soul-destroying, neurotic obsession with an “orthodox” thru-hike, at the exclusion of finding meaning, hope, or joy in my journey, has faded and left. I would not have relinquished it voluntarily, but the fires took it from me. Gave my heart back to me. A gift.

This is something I will have to think about some more.

Speaking of the ratrace, I’m going to go into the office today. (It weirds me out just to write this sentence.) I was lucky enough to get a leave of absence for this summer, and I didn’t have to quit my job like so many others. However, my work email password expired in… May… so I don’t actually know if I really still have a job. They could have laid me off two months ago for all I know. I can’t update my password unless I’m on the company network. I tried to update my password in Reno, as my friend Jule, who was hosting me, works for the same company, but the network was down that day. So, I’ll try again today, at the office in Portland.

I borrow Nick’s car, and navigate his standard through Portland traffic and a maze of freeway interchanges and through the suburbs – all terrifying. I’m out of practice at this sort of civilized thing. Wearing my hiking pants and the shirt without any holes, I walk in and convince the admins to let me borrow a computer, and I catch up on my email.

Can’t say I’ve missed it.

I still have a job, and I’m relieved/disappointed to have real life waiting for me, just around the corner. You have to pay for adventures somehow, I guess.

I haven’t managed to take care of any trail chores – resupply, etc, – but those can wait till tomorrow. J and I relocate from Nick’s place to J’s brother’s, and say goodbye to Pacman, who we leave to his own devices. Then, biking down the streets of Portland, we run into Chris and Sarah, fellow thru-hikers who were stranded by the fires in the town of Chester with us. The PCT! It’s almost here. PCT, PCT, PCT I chant to myself, pedaling across town. PCT. PCT.

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A word from Pacman

Pacman, my friend and traveling companion for a month and 700 miles now, keeps a facebook community page where he shares some of his life adventures/escapades. I thought he summed up the bike trip better than I ever could, so I asked if he would mind if I shared it here. He generously agreed. (Some swearing.) (Check out his facebook page for his take on his PCT adventures, it’s worth your time. You can find it HERE)

By Pacman:

The sound of my knobby all terrain tires screamed as they ripped across the pavement. My manpaws wrapped tightly around the soft rubber grips of the handlebars. I leaned forward and low, tucked in my knees and elbows trying to be as small as possible. closing in on another hairpin turn my pinkies extended out to work the front and rear breaks as I shot a glance behind me. There at the top of the hill was Gizmo rocketing in behind me, head low, yellow team whiskers flag going apeshit as it sliced wildly through the air being dragged by the old fishing rod zip tied to her right pannier. My head back straight now I braked hard on the straight away, bike brakes don’t work we’ll at 35 mph, just before the turn now, I release the breaks and lean hard, almost, can’t help but drift to the left and too dangerous to look back, swing out of the turn hard and back into another, trying so hard to ride the line and not turn myself into taco meat, the road straightens out just as the logging truck behind me busts out with the engine break. The heinous metallic gurgling sound of the 18 wheeler clearing its throat combined with the wind, wheels, and white zombie I had blaring in my earbuds sounded like the fucking apocalypse bearing down upon me! My monkey paws squeezed tight, narrowing my eyes I took a deep breath and held it as the barreling, rock throwing, beast of a machine lumbered past, the air in front of the truck tries to push me off the road so I lean in to compensate, then at the rear the air sucks in the other way trying to pull me into it making me lean against, in a half second the truck was past and I released my breath only to capture it again for the next wild corner.

Between the amazing downhills. And tortuous up hills, the heat, the cold, the rain and fog, the UPS delivery trucks constant attempts to take us out, the 50 foot travel trailer rigs piloted by elderly folks that can’t see over the dashboard, people giving us thumbs up as well as the ones who flipped us off, the late night intruders, the dicks who swerved to scare us, the hipsters, hippies, organic ( and non-organic) farmers, bums, peddlers, vagrants, townies, and drunks, not to mention all those who told us we would die. From pulling this bike out of the boneyard in NorCal to posting it for sale in Portland Oregon this 683 mile bike ride up the coast has been a non-stop action packed, edge of the seat thriller that can be perfectly described in two words. “Terrifyingly magnificent”. Team Whiskers Northbound Janky West Coast Death Proof Bike Tour complete.

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Day 120: the end of a road

Day 120
Miles: 20*
From Clay Myers state park to Cape Meares

Despite all the gray and the clouds and the gloom of the coast, it hasn’t actually rained on us – until last night. Nick must be our bad luck charm. Or perhaps he’s just his own bad luck charm, seeing as he forgot to pack his rain fly for what is turning out to be a very rainy weekend trip. Ol’ Big Blue, our trusty tarp, kept him dry last night, but it’s not going to be any help for any of us this morning.

We pack our things into plastic bags and get ready for a chilly morning. I zip my frogg toggs jacket on over my pack and the four of us ride out.

Riding uphills in pouring rain, downhills in pouring rain, and I think about how this bicycle trip is almost over. Nick is riding with us all the way back to Portland, and this will be over in the length of a long weekend. I feel like we’ve been riding bicycles forever. The Pacific Crest Trail seems like a long ways away, although technically, I’m closer to it than I’ve been in weeks. I’m glad to be getting off the bikes, but I’ve also sort of hit a stride. Maybe not today. This rain is cramping my style.

Nick is much faster than us, and he takes the front with J while they buddy it up. Pacman and I bring up the rear today, stopping first to fix Pacman’s flat tire, then to fix mine. Looks like we both ran over the metal staples in the road.

It’s lunchtime, I’m wet, I’m hungry, I’m cold, and we’re riding into the little town of Netarts. We find an espresso shop and set up camp at a table by the window to warm up. It’s a good thing the staff is friendly, because we stay there for hours. The evening is going to creep up on us quick, though, so we head back out to find a place for the night. The clouds have rolled back to let in the sun and the steep uphill to Cape Meares reminds us that we probably didn’t bring enough water. (Where’s the PCT water report when you need it.)

Cape Meares has a road that wraps up and around the headland before coming back down to run alongside Tillamook Bay. A series of landslides has destabilized the road, so it is closed to cars. But it is open to bicyclists. This sounds like a bicyclist booby trap, but’s it’s actually a bicyclist’s dream – a windy, scenic road that is totally closed to cars? We walk our bicycles in past the gate and start a dreamy ride down the winding road pasted with wet leaves, silent except for wind in the trees.
“This is pretty post-apocalyptic,” Nick observes. The black, nice pavement looks both new and abandoned. We look for a place to camp, but the trees are too thick. We keep riding with our eyes peeled for a temporary home and we finally find it where the road meets the landslide.

The landslide turns out to be below the road, not above it as I had imagined. Instead of sliding onto the road and covering it with debris, the slide is pulling the road out from under itself and the landmass slumps. The road itself is crevassed with tension cracks, all backfilled with gravel. On the downhill side we see the original curve of the road, with old pavement curving out until the pavement disappears in huge blocks slumping far down the cliff. The old road section is bermed off, but just on the other side of the berms are long stretches of pavement that used to connect. Plenty of room to pitch some tents! We just need to remember to stay away from the cliff side when we get up to pee in the middle of the night.

Like always, the free campsites are the best ones. Quiet, spacious, with a view – we watch the clouds turn gold, then pink, we make pot of soup to share, we watch the ocean go from blue to silver to gold to purple. “Well,” says Pacman, “looks like a good time to get a little squirrely.”

Last night by the sea.

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The end of the road

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Looking out over Tillamook Bay

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Day 117: into the wind

Day 117
Miles: 41*
From Umpqua Lighthouse State Park to the Washburne State Park

Plip, plop, plip. Plop plop. Plip.

It’s raining, or dripping, or at least plip-plopping. “Oh good,” I think. “What a good excuse to sleep in,” and I roll over. We all roll over. No one’s out of bed before 8:30 today. No good excuses either – turns out the tree over our tarp is only dripping with condensation, and it’s not raining anything more than the large green pinecones that the squirrels keep chucking at us this morning (I know they’re aiming, little varmints). Between the damp and the heavy fog, it’s still a good morning for sleeping in.

We check out the little lighthouse museum, then stop for lunch at the nearest diner (and for pie – really, really good pie), then it’s noon and we’ve only done two miles. It’s clearing and the breeze is already picking up: headwinds, here we come. Good thing I’m full of pie.

Despite the wind, the cycling feels good. I’m getting better at not noticing every close call with an RV, and I can even daydream these days. The terror/paranoia is easing into a practiced vigilance. It’s nice to have a little mental space back, to have some brain-RAM freed up from roads and white lines and gravel patches and trucks.

We’re riding through tree farms for a long time. There are patches of tall trees, patches of short trees, and patches of stumps, all quilted into the low but rugged hills. The coast is a funny place, with spruce trees springing out of white sand dunes. Where the highway curves inland the winds aren’t so rough, but it’s getting brisk out here. We keep pedaling. We agreed last night to put in real miles today – our late start didn’t really set us up for success, but on we go.

Late afternoon, and we come out onto the coast proper, where the road climbs the headlands leading up Heceta Head and the Sea Lion caves. The wind is really picking up now. We’re bathed in sunshine, but maybe 100 feet back from the beach a low bank of clouds covers the ocean, so that the silver breakers disappear into gray obscurity. The road is back to steep climbs and blind curves and no shoulder, and our adrenaline is competing with the exhaustion and deep burn of pedaling too fast uphill.

A tunnel ahead pulls us up short. Despite the clear wisdom of having bike lights, we are still riding with nothing more than our headlamps. We put them on red-blink mode, strap them onto our helmets backwards, and ride through the tunnel like the devil himself is after us. Another big hairpin and we come around the corner to Heceta Head itself. The wind is like a wall that we’ve just run into. Pulling into the scenic overlook, we all sort of crashland sideways from trying to lean against the wind while getting off our bikes. The view nearly takes us off our feet as well.

We lean forwards into the buffetings of air to marvel at the white sand beach lying in the crescent between the huge, black headlands. Heceta Lighthouse stands on the hill. Gray whales surface and spout, surface and spout out towards the horizon. The coastal cloud bank has pulled back here for a glittering blue expanse. “Wow! Wow!” I yell to J, the words ripped out of my mouth by the wind. Some places are worth bicycling to.

Our goal for the day had been to camp at the Heceta head area, but Pacman doesn’t want to pay for a campground tonight and the everything that isn’t the campground is a cliff. So we keep pedaling. Past Heceta Head the road backs off from the coast a bit, and the wind isn’t so impossible to ride against. We stop and look at a couple coastal trailheads, but I don’t want to camp somewhere that has big signs reading “NO CAMPING”. I am succesfully deterred, even though I’m exhausted and I’m starting to have rather severe knee pain. I had been under the impression that you couldn’t hurt your knees with bicycling, but I’ve been disabused of that idea. It’s been sort of twinging at me for at least a week now, but this afternoon it twinged and stayed. It doesn’t really hurt so much, except when I bend it. It’s making pedaling tricky. I put my seat up and back and take some Vitamin I and we keep going.

We finally get to the Washburne State Park and decide to stop. The campground is on our right, the day-use area is on our left. The day use area is right on the water, bordered with manzanita groves full of hidden secret places and sheltered green walls. That’ll do. We hide our bicycles and go out to the beach.

The wind is screaming south over the dunes and the water, the sun is burning across the golden sand. Our footprints disappear as quickly as we lift our feet up, and the three of us run across the dunes, across the wet sand, scaring the little seabirds, giddy with the wind and exhaustion and beauty. Sometimes in life you win.

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Heceta Head

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J, getting the shot

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Me and Pacman

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Beach dunes

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Day 116: working hard-ish

Day 116
Miles: 22
From Coos Bay to the Umpqua Lighthouse State Park

The hardworking young couple is at work and out of the house long before I get up. Pacman has been up’and’at too – I can tell by the smell of sizzling bacon that draws me into the kitchen. Pacman is flipping pancakes. “Mornin’,” he greets me. “I thought we needed some bacon and eggs.”
“Shucks, that smells awesome. Need some help?”

I get started cracking eggs. J is reading the morning paper. Man, the bicyclist’s life is the life.

We tidy up after ourselves (leave no trace still applies) then roll out. It’s noon.

Our first stop out of town is in the bicycle shop in North Bend, the little town just past Coos Bay. J is in the inner tube section while Pacman and I wander around looking at bicycle accessories that we would like, but won’t buy. “Hey, check this out,” Pacman calls over to me.
“What?” I ask, wandering over. He’s standing in front of a t-shirt display. Printed on the t-shirt is a picture of a logging truck on a bridge, about to run down a cyclist who is screaming in terror. The text says: “North Bend Bridge SURVIVOR”.
“Ha! Ha!” I crow. “Who knew a t-shirt could so perfectly capture what it’s like to be a road bicyclist?”
“Check out the tick-marks for cyclists run down on the logging truck bumper,” points out Pacman.
“Oh man, I want this shirt. Do you think it’s bad luck to buy the shirt before we’ve crossed the bridge?” (All the south-bounders hit Moe’s Bicycle shop after the ride of terror. We still have it coming up.)
“Good question,” says J, who has just joined us.
“Maybe it’s a show of good faith?” I ask again.

We decide to take our chances, and J and I pick out shirts. It comes in all sorts of colors, but we get it in neon yellow hi-vis. Pacman already has a hi-vis shirt so he forgoes the purchase. Bedecked in glowing yellow, we ride off to the bridge.

The moist coast of Oregon is watered by a ladder of rivers, running straight west from the coastal range to the sea. All the bridges seem like they were built at about the same time, in the same style, elegant, simple, with art-deco details. And every last one of them is barely wide enough for cars to pass each other. The spans are huge, crossing the river right where the river meets the ocean, swollen with tides and estuaries. There’s no shoulder to speak of, so we clump together and take the entire lane in the hopes that no one will try passing us (someone always does). It’s a study in adrenaline, pumping the pedals to get over the rise of the bridge, huge metal machines breathing down your neck. Logging trucks are scary, but they’re also driven by professionals, and they usually give us plenty of space. I can’t say the same about RVs, or trucks, or jerk-faces in compact cars.

The North Bend Bridge is just another span to cross, although maybe a bit longer than usual. We make it off the bridge in one-piece, only getting yelled at three times between the three of us. The headwind is back. We pedal for about an hour then take a three-hour break. Another forty-five minutes in the saddle and we’re at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park. It’s embarrassing to write this blog post. Thru-hiking is going to be a terrific shock to my system… either that, or I’m going to be strong, muscled up, and well-rested, and I’m going to cruise through Washington. That’s what I keep telling myself. I am feeling much better these days. I’ve put some weight back on so I’m not looking so super-model scrawny these days, and you could bounce quarters off my thighs, which have put on muscle with bicycling in a way that hiking never did.

We’ve had three days of clear weather, but the fog rolls in right as we roll into the gray whale lookout point. “See any whales?” J deadpans, looking out into the featureless gray expanse.
“Oh, about twenty,” I snark back. By the time we ride up to the campground hosts to check in, there’s a fine drizzle. We’re drenched in sweat from fighting the headwind and all three of us are deeply chilled. We’re about to go to our campsite when Betty, the host who has been checking us in, asks if we need anything. “Some hot chocolate would be great!” J says.
“And a yurt,” adds Pacman.
“Haha, oh, well, I don’t think I can help with that,” replies Betty, in a lovely midwest lilt.

The campground is shrouded in fog, and filled with huckleberries, if you look around. We’re sitting around the picnic table boiling pasta when Betty walks up, carrying three styrofoam cups filled with hot chocolate, which she leaves for us. We sit and laugh at our journey, at the goodness of the people we’ve met, about the marshmallows that Betty put in our hot chocolate. Time for bed.

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Hi-vis for the win! My bicycle family.

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Nice view, dude.

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