It All Starts With Some Pedaling: Oregon Solo CycloTouring
Halfway to Detroit
Here’s how it happens.
I wake up in the morning and put on a fairly almost-brand-new pair of Sidis. I lash a temporary home to the back of a heavy steel bike with a long wheel base. I pedal out of Portland.
Along the way, I learn how to start the heavy bike from a stop without kicking the rear panniers. I learn to maneuver it gently to keep it upright. I learn – slowly – how to climb out of the saddle without creating an agonizing swing of momentum. I learn to stop gritting my teeth when logging trucks rolled by.
I stop at a General Store in Barton, Oregon and buy chocolate milk, a corn dog, a bag of cashews and a pack of gum. Then I think, “I’m doing it. I’m touring.” Outside I sit on a picnic bench and make a protein shake out of the chocolate milk. It is terrible. The corn dog is worse.
Two hours later I am somewhere in the middle of a national forest climbing a grade that refuses to reveal itself. The road neither rises nor falls, it just goes on and on forever without drama. I tick off a steady cadence and marvel at how a bike can move at 5 miles per hour with such persistance.
Five miles per hour. That doesn’t get you anywhere very far, very fast.
I make myself pedal for an hour exactly and then stop. There is a large log in the shade where I lean the bike before sitting down beside it.
I’m almost out of water and have no idea how much is left to climb so I take small sips and convince myself to keep going.
People plan these things – I know that’s true. People pore over maps and make route plans with way-points and calculated refueling stops and perhaps scenic, entertaining interludes. I didn’t bother with any of that – I just started riding.
How complicated can it be to ride to Bend, Oregon? There are big, busy roads in between those two towns. I know people in both. I am a phone call away from rescue. This is not exciting, this is just plain crazy pedaling.
Highway 242 through the Willamette National Forest is quiet and narrow and winding. I’ve ridden these roads once before as part of a brevet that involved PB&J sandwiches, a gang of friends, a lunch-box strapped to a carbon fiber bicycle, and a vintage cooler hidden in the woods.
They’re different when you’re alone.
I’m used to ticking off, maybe, 17 or 19 miles every hour, depending on whether I’m alone or in a group.
Five is crushing. Crushing.
It doesn’t matter how many times I remind myself that I am on a 65 pound touring bike or how many physics equations I do in my head to convince myself that the power output really ought to be completely phenomenal regardless. Five miles every hour?
I’ll never get to Bend.
I spend 90 minutes squinting for road signs. Road signs signify civilization and progress. Road signs will mean that this crawling pace will come to an end. Light through trees look like yellow diamond signs. I hallucinate green signs which might indicate a campground that has water. I stop at the river and fill up my bottles though I don’t have a purifier. I dampen a bandanna and wear it around my neck. I squint into the sun.
Mary, I’ll Be OK
The hill ends, of course. They always do. And after a series of false summits, I hit the real one and ahead of me there is a mountain with a winding road that goes down.
It goes down! The pig bike, I discover, loves to go downhill.
I coast like a kid and watch the miles tick over effortlessly. You owe me this! I think. And then I remember that I’m wrong.
“Thank you!” I say out loud. These roads owe me nothing, so I should be grateful for what I get. “Thank you!”
75 miles in and already with the revelations, Swift? Sheesh, this is going to be a long trip.
The downhill sweep leads to hippies. Hippies who are hitch-hiking. Hippies who have water.
Then there’s Detroit.
Rolling into town after 50 miles of Capital N Nothing is almost religious. There’s a blue-green lake to the right filled with people on boats who are diving.
I want to jump in.
At the gas station and General Store the woman forgets that I gave her a five and not three dollars so I lose two bucks in the process of procuring water. It’s not worth the argument so I take my $5 bottle, ask her where I can find the best burger in town and then pedal there.
Inside the Corner Post I find Mary.
For the record, my mother’s name is Mary and, while perhaps half the world is also named Mary, this coincidence still managed to strike me.
I am the only customer so Mary asks if it’s alright to visit with me a bit and we chat about my journey.
“You’re traveling alone? Isn’t it awful?”
“It’s actually kind of nice. It’s quiet.”
“But aren’t you afraid?”
“I’m being careful. And counting on the universe – and several years as a self-defense instructor – to take care of me. I know there are risks, but I want to be able to move around freely in the world. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, do you?”
She assures me she does not, but feels compelled to remind me about the guy who took the girls from Portland a while back and brought them to Detroit specifically to rape them.
“You’ve got to be very careful!” she urges. Then she helps me figure out where I will camp later and brings me a very big and tasty bacon cheeseburger and an extra Dr. Pepper before helping me refill all the water bottles that did not get filled with the $5 supply from the general store.
“I wish I could freeze these for you!” she says.
I like Mary.
It’s getting late but I keep pedaling, hoping to tackle some of the grade that will murder me all the way from Detroit to the summit of Santiam Pass tomorrow. I make it about 8 miles, see a campsite called Whispering Falls and decide that sounds just lovely.
At campsite 6 I put up my tent, change into compression recovery tights and a wool base-layer, organize things for the morning, sit in the sand on my own private river bank, and then sleep like I’ve been kicked in the head. In the morning my North Face Puffy Jacket pillow is covered with saliva, my phone is dead, my alarm didn’t go off, I feel half-alive and I am glowing from the inside out.
I am in a fabric shelter, still sitting with my feet tucked into the sleeping bag, boiling water over a camp stove to make one-cup coffee with a re-usable fliter. There is a river to my right. The Long Haul Trucker is still sleeping next to the tent. Compression tights are hot. Coffee is strong. Panniers are heavy. Everything needs to be taken apart and packed up again.
Everything is so simple. It’s easy. Straight-forward. Streamlined. My life is in these bags or spread out on a picnic table.
I wash my arms, face and neck in the river, re-pack the bike and shove off up the road. On my way out, I wave at two older couples who are talking outside their motorhomes.
Electricity – what an amazing luxury! My phone is dead and people are worried about me so I have to pedal fast.
Eight miles later I find Marion Forks Restaurant, a bowl of hot oatmeal, a sausage patty the size of my face, and a power strip.
I’m telling you, it’s brilliant.
I plug in various devices and a young woman walks through the front door and says, “Oh, you’re that girl!”
Guilty as charged in most cases, but clueless in the particular moment.
“You ate the restaurant my mother works in yesterday… Mary! She told me all about you last night. She is worried about you!”
Hey, Mary. Don’t worry – I’ll be ok. Promise
To Be Continued.
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