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'In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks'
So says John Muir, and he's not wrong - my last few weeks have been spent in cahoots with the delights of the wilds and I cannot say I am unaffected.
I left Portland on a dreary Sunday morning, feeling like I'd had too much beer and not enough sleep. I actually didn't have very much beer at all, but because I indulge so rarely in anything with alcoholic content these days it hits my cycling-specific system a little harder than perhaps it should. And three hours sleep never did anyone any good. But I'd had a blast in Portland and experimented with a regular lifestyle for a day or two, so the trade off was fair.
Surely though riding my bicycle on this day was a practicality rather than a choice. It was high time I finally made it to the fabled Pacific Coast of my daydreamery and idle wonderings. I find the first day after a break is never the most enjoyable, and this was no exception. The only remarkable aspect was that I made it 85 miles through headwinds and heavy traffic. Until, that is daylight began to betray me as I approached the coastal mountain range. 20 miles from the seaside town of Lincoln City I found myself pedaling out of the Van Duzer State Forest to the West with no idea of where I would stay, and very uncomplicated signs posted on all areas of greenery stating 'No Camping.' I wouldn't make it to the Ocean before nightfall, and the winding, shoulder-less roads put me firmly off the idea of cycling into the dusky yonder. It was without question that I would need a series of events to occur that would save me the indescretion of being picked up by a ranger for sleeping where I shouldn't.
As has been my fate thus far, this is exactly what happened. I stopped at a house to ask if they knew anywhere where a harmless cyclist could pitch a tent, and instead of being sent on my merry way back into the twilight, an offer of a spot in the garden was forthcoming. But then it got better. My gracious hosts-to-be happened to have a treehouse in the midst of their riverside paradise, and my efforts to appear like a guest who would pose no threat or danger must have worked, as I was offered it's use. Dinner with the family was delightful but the greatest pleasure of the day was undoubtedly spending the night up a tree. The treehouse was deluxe, complete with built in bunk beds, a writing desk, a heater and electricity powering atmospheric lighting. There was even a small television and a selection of VHS. It was warm, comfortable and a fulfillment of a boyhood dream. So enjoyable it was that I actually slept through multiple alarms the next morning and had to be woken to come back to the house for breakfast. There were no complaints from my end. A tour of the rest of the family's patch of perfection by the Salmon River rounded out my morning, and with a head full of wonder and thankfulness at the continuing magnificence of the trusting human spirit I followed my nose in the direction of the salt water odor.
The Pacific ocean covers over a third of the world's surface, and I feel assuredly that rarely anywhere can it surpass the spectacle displayed on the Oregon Coast. A quality of rugged resilience permeates everything here. Breakers beat the shoreline with assured potency and an authoritative regularity. Deep crags are nestled in the rock face; the cliffs rise and fall sensationally creating an atmosphere of stark contrast between the sheer drop off from the climbing precipice, and the expansive golden sands that clamber gradually back towards the bluff. Intermittently giant slabs of stone rest like miniature mountains in the surf, having broken from the land and tumbled into the drink.
It became very apparent that this ride would not be about that which was made by man. Nature took a firm hold of my senses, and wasn't going to let go easily. Some small towns quietly announced their status as a refuge for the weary traveller, and the occasional city would loudly bark it's touristic attributes. But nothing could break the spell of the Ocean, and for me it's performance continued uninterrupted.
Aside from cycling beside the largest body of water in existence, there were other factors which made this ride very distinct from my journey across the country. To begin with I was headed south now; an odd feeling after spending two months laboring towards the west. Continuing west now was no longer an option - not unless I was prepared to get rather wet. Turning my nose southwards also finally eliminated the headwinds which had become such a loyal (and unwelcome) companion to me. For now the only winds I would encounter with any regularity would arrive from behind, pushing me towards my destination. They say you never feel the tailwind - I sure felt these ones.
Sleeping arrangements too, would change. Along the Pacific Highway in Washington, Oregon and California there are numerous state parks offering camping. On top of the regular campsite which falls firmly outside of my budget, many of these parks also boast 'Hiker/Biker' sites. These are areas where anyone who arrives without the aid of a motorized vehicle can stay for just five bucks. Five Bucks! Nothing in America costs just five bucks, and trust me, I know. Five dollars per day has been my budget throughout my trip, and while perfectly viable, it requires a lot of planning and patience. Buying food in bulk from the correct places in the only way; it is all to easy to spend all my money for the day on coffee and a snack at a gas station if I am not careful. Digression aside, five bucks is a very reasonable price for a campsite. The very nature of the coast also drastically reduces the opportunity for wild or 'stealth' camping, and so I decided ahead of time that I would make use of this initiative during my southerly ride. A happy consequence of this is that it gave me opportunity to meet and spend time with other cyclists each night. Which brings me to another difference in this part of my journey - there were other people on bicycles! And not just any bicycles - touring bicycles, loaded for an adventure. The passage from Vancouver to San Diego is one of most heavily biked tourist routes in the world, especially during the pleasant summer months. Many people ride sections, such as Seattle to San Francisco, or San Fran down to San Diego, and almost all cycle north to south. To begin with it was almost distracting seeing multiple riders per day - I imagine I seemed over zealous in my greetings and conversation. In time though I too became used to it, and was able to quietly enjoy the notion of many like minds and bodies enjoying their own horizon expanding bicycle ride.
Anticipating what's ahead...
On my second day on the coast I arranged to meet once again with Lily, the Aussie cyclist I first met in May back East. Our paths have crisscrossed from New York State all the way to Florence, OR and it's always a pleasure to pedal beside her. With a timescale of just 3 days before she needed to be in San Francisco however, we would not be riding together for long before she had to hitch the rest of the way. On my way to Lily's campground I experienced the fog that would become a regular feature of my mornings. The mist enshrined me and thickened as I gained altitude. Logging trucks rumbled out of the grey yonder sounding their horns as warning. At times it felt like Godzilla was headed my way. The noise grew and grew until the moment of truth - would it be headlights or some prehistoric monster? Headlights, obviously, but still scary enough to strike a decent chord of fear as I battled my way through the soup.
Minutes after I arrived at the meeting place, the rain started, and for some time I forget what it was to be dry. Soon my mind also lost the power to recall real warmth. Hours of soggy cycling led us into North Bend where we met a guy riding Portland to San Francisco before he started university. Jacob and Lily had met at their campground the night before, and we all helped each other feel sorry for ourselves. Another thirteen miles took us to the nearest Hiker/Biker site where we set up tents in the rain, ate sandwiches and went to sleep on waterlogged ground. I dreamt that we had gone slightly too far west and were attempting to cycle through the ocean.
The great drying of 2010
I awoke to a worryingly similar reality. Packing up and putting our damp clothes back on, we three doggedly set off once more. One day of rain is unpleasant - no matter how heavy it is it rarely exceeds this status. Two or more days however can be miserable, and once you are denied that chance to dry tents and clothes it is easy to get very disheartened. Luckily, both luck and sun began to shine for us. The skies cleared and our spirits soared. A two hour lunch break facilitated the required drying process, and our inland detour eventually led us back to the Sea. Life, again, was sweet.
We climbed high out of Bandon, and rode a plateau into Port Orford. A few smaller inclines eventually gave way to a swooping descent, and we spent the night among the trees at the base of a valley. Each day we met more bikers, all with their own stories and exploits. Every one was different, but all had the same sense of excitement and fortune that I too felt. We were all lucky to be here. Rain or shine, wind or calm, this was something special. At some point Oregon became California. There was a sign, and I had to pay sales tax on my coffee. Otherwise, things remain unchanged. The Pacific had no interest in state borders. The Ocean does not have an obligation to the land which it strikes. Politics, society, culture or economy; none of these things are of any consequence. Nature is the great equalizer - everyone is exposed to it to the same degree. Whether you are worth a million bucks or none at all, all of us are subservient to a greater power. Kinda make you think, doesn't it?
Check out the photo stream of this part of the journey here