Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Days 86-88: On Pacific Sands, Triumphant

 10/18 Day 86: Mosier, OR to Portland, OR 77 miles (4414 miles)
       
                When we started stirring again in the morning, the sun hadn't yet risen, but Anna was already off to work and Chad could be found under the sink trying to fix the plumbing while Bjorn sat a few feet off and watched. Chad suspended his seemingly ill-fated endeavor long enough for us to make some toast and scramble about a dozen of their hand gathered eggs from the coop behind the house. We were all very happy to be preparing a meal in a kitchen, rather than on a picnic table in some park, and we ate our simple, but quite satisfying meal with gusto. Chad sat in the corner of the living room absently holding Bjorn and responding to us when we would engage him directly, but he seemed very content just relaxing with the baby and staying out of our bustling about as we readied our gear. Before we left, Chad offered us the use of his workbench if we so desired, and sent us off very warmly (he even drove after us when he found I'd forgotten my knife). Chad and Anna gave us a refreshing night and morning of rest, and we offer all the thanks we can muster for their hospitality.
The tunnel to the great beyond.
            Once on the road, we had no idea what to expect of the day ahead of us, but we were all excited to see what sights the now-lush and green river gorge had to offer us. We intended to make it all the way to Portland, but we also knew that there was nowhere to camp within about 15 or 20 miles of the city proper. So, as usual, we set off planning to plan on making plans as we went. We did have to do a little more riding on I-84, but the majority of our trip for the day was on Scenic Highway 30, the old highway that now is simply an access to hiking trails and points of interest in the cliffs around the river. First, we rode a section of the road that had been closed to automobiles and now serves strictly as a foot and bikepath. We went through a disused tunnel in the rock, and found ourselves speeding through the town of Hood River, which is a big wind-surfing Mecca in the area when the windy season is up (usually in the summer, thankfully). Someone told us that once past The Dalles, the annual rainfall steadily increased per town as we approached the ocean and the Coastal Range, which caused the marked change in the abundance of flora on the cliffsides. Hood River seemed like a very cool little town, and had a bunch of breweries (like Full Sail Brewing) and coffee houses to complement the wealth of outdoors oriented shops that we saw as well. From Hood River we ducked on to the highway for a quick 13 miles, then got off again for another long, steep climb up a scenic road. We saw huge pines as thick as my bike is long, slugs the size of meaty cucumbers, and more ferns and moss than you can shake a stick at. The air even seemed different, as it was laden with more humidity than we'd experienced since Kentucky. It felt like home in that regard, since we'd all grown up in humid, coastal areas, and the dry air and winds of the central part of the country had dried us out. The thick woods and plantlife also were a welcome sight, and reminded me of both New England and the thick Mid-Atlantic deciduous jungles of southeast Virginia.
Fern-gully is real.
Oh, Oregon, ye state of beauty concentrat'd.
           We rode on a bike path after Hood River that was so covered in moss you could barely see it, and it felt as though we were miles from anything, just riding our bikes through a rainforest replete with hanging mosses and small, flowing rivulets everywhere. As we got closer to Portland on 30, we passed a handful of huge waterfalls all easily hundreds- or maybe a thousand plus- feet tall. Water sprung out of the rock wall that lined the highway, which was practiccally in the river. Water and life were everywhere for the first time in so long it seemed as though our minds, bodies, and souls were all parched and exhausted, but were finally being re-hydrated by the long-awaited beauty of western Oregon. We climbed one ridge- another nearly vertical, switchback-y affair- that led us to a vista that overlooked the entire day's ride and all the glory of the green spaces that sprawled around us. The wind up there was fierce, and since we'd stopped for lunch (burgers and shakes in a small town called Cascade Locks) the strong, gusty blasts of maybe 30 or 40 had been propelling us westward. At the top, it was so strong that it would push us back a few steps when it would blow. We snapped some pictures and got off the top of the hill in short order, and were only about 20 miles from Portland.
Falls well that ends well.
              We wound through a bunch of small towns in the highlands just west of the city as we made our way toward Portland's center. Ben had gotten in touch with a friend of his who now lives in the Foster-Powell neighborhood in the southeast part of town, and his friend, Jeff, agreed to let us sleep in the basement of his shared house that night. We entered the city limits on Division Street, and rode that street all the way in to town (something I would probably not have done now that I've been in Portland for a few days, because of all the amazing bicycling infrastructure everywhere, but not on Division) toward Fo-Po. Jeff was out at a concert, so once we got in to his neighborhood we found the nearest, best rated pizza place we could ride to and grabbed some beers and a couple pizzas. The pizza was great, and the beers were much needed after a long day. We toasted our first beers in Portland and to the coming end of our journey, ordered a third pizza, and then made our way to Jeff's house where we showered and promptly passed out on our crash pads in the basement for our first night in what would be our new home town.

10/19 Day 87: Portland, OR to Clatskanie, OR 69 miles (4483 miles)

This is from the day before.... but the road to Astoria was
pretty lame.
           Jeff woke us up in the morning around 7:30 because he would soon have to head out for work, but wanted to be able to see us off. We ate some cereal and chatted with him for a little bit until he was on his bike and off to the rat race, leaving us to find our way out of the city and to points west. Navigating Portland is at first confusing, but because it is a city laid out on a grid, once you learn the major cross-roads and how the numbers and names flow it's quite easy. We, however, had no information other than a two minute primer Jeff had given us instructing us to take Clinton Street to whichever bridge over the Willamette we were aiming for and then to proceed from there. We found Clinton, and saw a plethora of other bicyclists moving around the city, zipping to and from appointments, work, and errands. Every kind of person can be seen on any kind of bike here in Portland, the concessions made to bike travel are simply amazing and you could cover 5 miles through Portland streets on a bike in the time it would take you to ride 2 in Boston. We wended our way through the unfamiliar and fascinating city until we found Voodoo Doughnuts, a Portland landmark and the makers of some of the most creative and delicious doughnuts we've had a chance to eat on the entire trip. From Voodoo, we made our way slowly and inefficiently out of the city until we met up with State Road 30, which would lead us all the way to Astoria.
            We were, at this point, feeling a little bemused by the circumstances. We had made it all the way across the country to the town we were going to move to, but now we were leaving that town to ride to the ocean on what seemed like a 'just because' portion of the trip. Obviously, we all were excited to do the full shebang and make it coast to coast, but arriving in the city brought to bear so many other, very pressing concerns. Where were we going to sleep when we got back from Astoria, and where would we find work? We willed these thoughts out of our minds and did as we had done for so many days and just spun the pedals until Portland was miles away. We stopped at a Subway in St. Helens for lunch around 20 or 30 miles outside of town, and tried to figure out where we were going to camp for the night. As usual, nothing really seemed to line up and our options were to ride 100 miles or 40, so we were momentarily stumped. Luckily, a quick internet search turned up a campground that was not on our maps and was ideally situated just outside of a little town about 35 miles away. Highway 30 was not the most ideal road ever, due to the high traffic volume, generally uneven pavement, and the amount of debris on the shoulder, but there was a shoulder, and even a bike lane in many places. We also saw two couples heading the opposite direction on loaded touring bikes. One pair was headed to Portland, and when we asked the other, especially fresh looking couple where they were headed, they enthusiastically replied "Around the World!!" We all gave each other a special brand of a 'they don't know what they're getting in to' look and shrugged saying to ourselves: "Well, good effin' luck, then."
              We had a real steep climb to get over just after the town of Rainier, and then we screamed down the other side to the very edges of Clatskanie, where we took a two mile detour from the route to find Perkins Creek Campground. The camp site was a nicely kept facility with a friendly owner and clean showers. We cooked what would be our last camp dinner, since we had a place lined up to stay in Astoria via warmshowers.org and set up camp for the last time, too. None of us was too upset over pitching the tents for the last time, but I think we all felt a slight sense of satisfaction that we had been roughing it for so long and were just around the corner from finally seeing the ocean again, and dipping our tires in the sea.

10/20 Day 88: Clatskanie, OR to the Pacific Ocean 47 miles (4530 miles)

            We woke slowly, none of us in a rush, because we knew our goal was well in hand. Astoria was only 38 miles away, now, and we had fairly easy terrain on our path to reach it. Our bodies were creaky, and a bit sore, and we were all mentally drained. We were ready, now, to find homes again, and for the comforts of friends and family that were just around the corner. Erin and I had already purchased flights home to get my car and visit loved ones for a week from today, and Ben and Mandi were eager to get back to Portland and find an apartment. In a way, the walls we'd built to hold back the rest of the world's pressures and obligations had already crumbled. In our minds we weren't bike tourists triumphantly finding the shore, we were 4 homeless, jobless bike hobos who were riding to the beach before going back to the city to live in a motel. This attitude significantly tempered our anticipation of making it to the shore, but we were nothing if not strong willed, and we would not let our doubt get the better of us now that we were so very close to the end of something monumental.
       We ate some croissants for breakfast at the picnic table in our campsite, and slowly broke down camp for the final time. We loaded our bikes and set off for the coast. The riding was good, and we made short work of the miles in front of us. We weren't going to stop until Astoria, and we took only a few breaks to replenish our energy from our dwindling food reserves. There was another killer hill that took us a while to summit, and then the terrain became a picturesque, rollercoaster of small hills with views to cloud-wreathed, low mountains covered in pines and craggy rocks. There were a few small farms, a few small fisheries, and many good views of the Columbia RIver, but we barely noticed. We were dead set on Astoria, and when we arrived around 1 or 2 in the afternoon, we were relieved, but disappointed. We had suspected that Astoria would have no good views of the ocean, and none of us would accept dipping our tires in the Columbia after having come so far. Just as we rolled in to town, it started to rain, so we ducked in to the Rogue Public House that is in town. We had some tasty brews and some alright food, and we weighed our options. We were around 15 miles from Fort Stevens State Park, which had beach access, and the other beach access was even further south than that. 15 miles is no big deal, but a 30 mile round trip is, so we had to figure something out.
Like baby turtles to the sea.
             While we ate, I studied a road map of the area on my smart-phone and saw that there was a small beach access road that was about 8 miles away. That settled it in our minds. Rather than stop again to pick up champagne, we grabbed 22 oz bottles of Rogue beer from the pub, and set out on our last ride. It didn't take very long for us to cross the bridge out of Astoria, or to find the beach access road, but what we found there had us surprised. The road was unpaved, super rocky, and after a quarter mile or so, it was deep sand and dunes. Now, I said we were a willful group, and there was no way we were going to turn around at this point despite the ridiculous scene we were making struggling to push 100 pound bikes through sand (which is very hard, and totally sucks). After 10 or 15 minutes of sweating and pushing the damned machines over the dunes we saw it: our first sight of the Pacific. It was magnificent. Because of our unorthodox approach to the beach, there was no one else there, and the view was stunning. To our south, the dark, jagged silhuouettes of coastal mountains jutted into the water, and to our north a wall of mist was slowly forming, and blocked off the sections of beach far in the distance where vehicles could be seen driving around. It was just us and the roaring sea. We straggled down to the shore like ragged desert wanderers finding a pool of clear, cold water. Our thirst for this place was deep, and finding it seemed only to highlight the unfathomable spiritual, physical, and mental need we had been feeling to get here.
         We were done. We scrawled our names and our final distance in the sand, took pictures of us dipping our tires, and rode around like mad idiots in the surf while waving our bottles of beer. We had made it.
           We lingered long on the beach, we must have been there for at least two hours just marveling at the waves. The sun began to set, and gave us a sight that I will never forget as it set off a wild, rosy smear of color across the clouds in front of us, and created the vibrant tip of a rainbow in the dunes behind while we and our bikes and all the errata that had sustained us and sheltered us lay strewn about the beach in between. We did it. Hell yes, we did it.
A victory.
            The sun was getting lower and lower, and we had to break the spell of the sea and get off the beach somehow. Erin, then, got a call from Chris, the man who would be hosting us in Astoria that night, and he offered to come pick us up right from the access road to the beach. We were really done, we didn't even have to ride back to Astoria. We gathered everything we had taken off the bikes, and wrestled them up the sand drifts again. The sun was fully set behind us by the time we found the road again, and Chris pulled up shortly after. As we left the beach behind, and became acquainted with Chris, we were all still a little numb and unsure about things. We had, none of us, ever doubted our ability to complete the trip, and in our minds we had finished nearly a week ago, but now we were very, definitely 'not going to be riding our bikes anymore' done, and the gear was being hauled away with us in a truck.
Going for the wheel dip.
            Chris took us back to his house in Astoria, and we spent the night just sort of lounging around and cooking a delicious chanterelle, potato, and corn stew while playing with Chris's dogs, cat, and getting to know him and his mentee Katie, who was a very sweet little girl and the victim of some bad circumstances. I gave up my sleeping pad so Katie could camp out with the big kids upstairs, and I fell asleep on the couch in the den. I slept poorly, and when we woke up we had to rush out to catch the bus back to Portland. It was a short 2 hour bus ride back to the west side of the city, and during the ride I spent most of my time catching up on the blog and staring out the window at the terrain whizzing by. When we arrived in Portland, and hauled our bikes out of the bus's undercarriage, we knew one trip had ended, but the next leg of our lives' journeys was just beginning. We mounted our loaded bikes, and rode off into the unknown again, as we had every day for 88 days before that. We didn't know even where we were going, or how to get there, but, once again, we rode.



Thanks  for reading from: Ben
Matt


Mandi

And Erin

See ya!
The 4200 Miles Crew


3 comments:

  1. Congratulations you crazy bastards !!! Be well.
    Dave Bennett

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  2. Great Job! Enjoyed following your adventure through the blog! Hope to meet Matt and Erin when I come visit Mandi in Portland!

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  3. Hello hello!
    I ran into you guys in Olney Springs CO as I was heading East. I never forgot the brief encounter but I did forget your blog link... Until just now when I saw it in my blog post from that day. I'm starting to daydream of doing another trek. Hope you are all well!
    Happy cycling,
    James

    http://jamesweitze.tumblr.com/post/48297312005/double-rainbows-and-lightning-bolts-boone-to

    ReplyDelete