Friday, December 3, 2010

And yet, and yet . . . two months later

The nights that followed the decision to quit the bike tour left me in a state of raw panic. Lying awake in bed, stating at the dark ceiling, I felt the same anxiety I felt when making the decision to quit my job and undertake this adventure in the first place. It had been my entire life since June, and I was afraid whatever may lie ahead. We had already mailed our tent and panniers back to Columbus, but I know that if we hadn’t, we would have jumped back on our bikes and continued on.

We spent four days in San Francisco with Eric, a long-ago-lost college friend of mine. We hit every tourist destination possible – the Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite, Muir Woods and Golden Gate Park to name a few. From San Fran, we shipped our bikes back to Columbus and we hopped a plane to St. Louis. We spent four days with my parents in Illinois and four days with Melissa’s mom in northeast Ohio.

The whole time, I was itching to be back in Columbus. During the final days of the bike tour, I had romanticized Columbus. I missed my old routine and job, the quite country roads surrounding Alum Creek that were perfect for bike rides, the solitude of a long swim at Ohio State, the comfort of our old apartment.

It was twilight as we approached Columbus, the downtown buildings rising out of the pinkish purple sky in front of us. For reasons unknown, my heart beat a little faster and I found it a little hard to swallow. I felt indifferent for the city that I was so yearning to get back to. Suddenly the bike tour felt like a distant memory, something I had done in my childhood – memories muffled and fuzzy in my head. I felt like I was suddenly being snapped out of a marvelous and breathtaking dream.

“It’s back to the real world,” I muttered.

Everything in Columbus is the same as we had left it, except for a bike lane that has been added to High Street. Temporarily, we are staying with Melissa’s sister and her boyfriend, in a two-bedroom apartment, two blocks down the road from our old apartment on Hamlet Street. Oddly, there is a vacancy in that building, as if it was awaiting our return.

We’ve been filling our days by searching for jobs, which is both intimidating and exhilarating. The whole country is wide open to us. We’re applying for jobs in Columbus. And we are applying for jobs in other states, time zones away. A major intention of ours had been to leave Columbus for good, and move to a city surrounded by mountains, close to the ocean, were bike commuting is the norm and people share our values in life. But we need a home base, and for right now, Columbus will do. If we end up staying here in the long run, I’m okay with it. And if we move to Portland or San Diego or Denver or some place completely new, I’m okay with that too.

It’s cold here, winter weather threatening, just around the corner-- a pretense of what’s to come. Our first days in Kentucky, baking in the harsh and unforgiving summer sun, seem too distant a memory to even think about. Our friend Aidan, who we met on the bike tour, who has been on his bike for over two years, is only days away from Mexico. I look at his photos on facebook longingly. I hate the old adage, The grass is always greener . . . but it seems to always hold true.

* * *
Final images from our bike tour:
Boxing the bikes up for our 15 hour Amtrak ride to San Francisco.
The Golden Gate Bridge

Napa Valley

Napa Valley



Sunday, October 10, 2010

The end (and to be continued)

The TransAmerican bicycle route ends on the west coast in Florence, Oregon. It only seems fitting that our bicycle tour ends here, too.

Standing in the cramped laundry room of a seedy RV “resort”, trying to absorb just a smidgen of heat off the nearby running dryer, we hurriedly stripped out of our soaked clothes. Shivering, and performing a balancing act aimed at avoiding contact with the filthy floor and walls, we both looked at each other and said, “I want to go home.”

We were on our way to San Francisco. We were 12 miles south of Florence. The wind was still, we were happy, we were making good time. And then my bike broke. It just broke. In exactly the same way Melissa’s bike broke in Yellowstone, sending my chain into its hardest back gear.

“I’m stopping!” I yelled as we flew down a hill.

And so we stopped at the bottom of a hill and just stood there, straddling our bikes, not knowing what to do or say. The nearest bike shops were in Florence, 12 miles back, and 40 miles down the road, in North Bend. Where we were, we didn’t have cell phone service, so our only option was to ride back to a small town that we had passed five miles ago, so that we could call the bike shops.

And that’s what brought us to Dune City, Oregon, and this depressing resort. None of the bike shops were open, but we were able to talk to the owner of one of them, the one that would be open tomorrow, on Columbus Day, and he sounded none too happy to try to fix the break. It looked like our only option was to stay in Florence one more night and pray that the bike could be fixed. And if it couldn’t, well . . . we didn’t know what we would do.

There was one couple at the resort that had a truck, and they offered to drive us back to Florence. The owner of the truck said he sees people like us all the time, and that we all have death wishes. He went on to say that the roads are too narrow and if there is a possibility of a head-on collision or hitting a biker, it’s “bye-bye biker”. We passed on accepting a ride from them.

I had to use the bathroom. Of course, there was no bathroom. So for the 1 billionth time on the bike tour, I had to sneak behind a building. I’m tired of it. I want indoor plumbing to be the norm. I want a normal life. I want a bed. I want to not live out of a bag. I want to stay in one place for longer than one night.

So we called Jill and Ryan, our friends in Eugene. And Ryan came and got us. And we’re not going back.

It’s rained for days. The fog ruins every single view of the beach. All we do is stare down over our front tires at the wet road, hoping to eventually get out of the wind and rain. So, we talked about it, we weighed our reasons for continuing on and found them to be less than convincing. It’s become clear that we’ve hit a wall with touring. We did this tour because we wanted to have fun, we wanted to do something unconventional while we had the chance. We wanted to take a time out and experience the freedom that comes with having nothing -- no routine, no responsibilities, nowhere to be. But, more and more, we realize we can’t wait to get back to a routine. We miss our friends, we miss racing, and want to be surrounded by familiar faces. We are both eager to get back to work. But it’s funny, not 20 minutes after deciding that we were done touring, the sun came out, the sky was blue, and of course, it made us second guess our decision to quit.

I can barely type these words without tears in my eyes . . . Our bike tour is over. We’ve come to a stopping point. We accomplished our goal of riding across the county. We even made it to Canada. And while we wanted to go down the coast, we’re not going to do it this time.

We’ve been homesick for quite a while now. And during the past couple of weeks the riding has been monotonous. Neither one of us has looked forward to riding our bikes each day. We both went on this bike tour because we love riding bikes, and right now we don’t.

I’ve gained more from this bike tour than I ever thought imaginable. I know now what I am capable of doing. And I’ve learned that people are good. I’ve been to places that I will sadly never visit again; and I’ve been to places that I never want to go back to again.

I’ve seen roadkill happen
I met my nephew
I’ve cried
I’ve sobbed
I’ve feared for my life
I’ve seen the most amazing sunsets and the most beautiful sunrises
I’ve washed my hair in a public sink
I’ve gone without showering for days
I’ve laughed so hard my whole body hurt
I’ve slept at the base of the Tetons
I’ve been surrounded by hundreds of butterflies
I’ve slept on an alter
I’ve out run a dog
I’ve lied about who I am
I’ve found comfort in a church
I’ve ridden over mountain passes
I’ve ridden through triple digit heat
I’ve milked a goat
I’ve dodged willy-worms crossing the road
I’ve been mistaken for a boy
I’ve made some amazing friends
I’ve slept on a complete stranger’s floor
I’ve drank a beer with a stranger in a garage while watching old Elvis movies
I’ve pushed my bike up hills
I’ve regretted the bike tour
I’ve sat in a city park, with six other bike tourist and have never been happier
I’ve attended Vacation Bible School
I’ve been homesick
I’ve raced two guys to the next town (and won)
I’ve been flipped off
I’ve been cheered on
I survived Jeffery City, Wyoming
I’ve crossed the 45th parallel, twice
I’ve consumed an estimated 100 jars of peanut butter
I’ve slept in a cabin built in 1880
I’ve bathed in hot springs
I’ve eaten way too much ice cream
I’ve watched orca whales dance
I’ve ridden through pitch black darkness
I’ve been robbed by a raccoon
I’ve slept in a dentist office
I’ve slept on the beach
I’ve had the time of my life

We’re going home.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Prevailing winds

Within the first few pages of Bicycling the Pacific Coast, the authors explain why the Pacific Coast route is done from north to south. The reason is the wind. Specifically, the prevailing wind, which blows north to south. AND if you pick up the Oregon Coast Bike Route Map, produced by the Oregon Department of Transportation, you will read this:

It is highly recommended that you cycle in a north to south direction, if your trip is planned between May and October, as the prevailing winds blow from the northwest.

BUT, if you read a little bit more on the subject (in the same map), you’ll come up with this (and I’ll paraphrase here):

October through December, the wind on the west coast blows NORTHwest/SOUTHwest.

Come again? So which is it? The eight mile per hour reading on my bike computer tells me it’s southwest. The plastic bags that are tied to my feet, loudly trailing behind me, also tells me it's southwest.

Over the past couple of days, we have been fighting 10-20 mph headwinds, with occasional gusts of 40 miles per hour. Forty.Miles.Per.Hour. One gust literally almost blew me off a cliff. Rounding some corners, we have to get off our bikes and push them through the wind. Oregon -- so far, (not) so good.

The newest trend in bike fashion.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Rain, rain (and wind) go away

I’m not going to lie, biking has been a bit rough over the last few days. We gladly left Cape LookOUT behind us, ditto the family of raccoons who terrorized us all night, and headed off towards Pacific City. We were trying to find the humor in it, but it wasn’t easy as it was rainy, cold, and windy. It is so true how much the weather effects your mood and outlook. On top of it, I was drained after sitting up all night in the tent in what felt like a Blair Witch Project reenactment and I could not wait to sit down inside away from the wind, have a cup of coffee, and relish in a moment of non-camping normalcy.

We turned out of the the park, and right into a huge hill. No big deal, we plowed up it, and right into a stiff headwind. The sky was depressing grey, it was threatening to rain, and the wind was ripping from the south slowing us down. Basically, it was the kind of day that makes you want to crawl right back into bed. (Actually, bed would have been handy last night -- a bed nestled in between four walls with comfy blankets and no wild animals clawing their way into our space would have been just perfect.)

Our first stop was Pacific City. From the inside of a coffee shop, looking out the window at the never-ending gray, watching the wind tear through the town, we had the type of loaded silence where it was painfully obvious what we were both thinking -- we didn’t want to go back out. We were exhausted and the raccoon incident hadn’t faded far enough into the past for it to be at all remotely funny. Our silence was broken by a friendly, smiling guy who asked us about our trip. He asked us where we were headed that day, Brooke told him, and he quickly replied, “No way! You won’t make that today in this wind!” and in an instant, he was loading our bikes into his truck. He drove us through the stiff wind and threatening sky, right to the front steps of a cheap hotel.

The next morning, we were up and on the road early. Things were going fine, until we stopped on the side of the road to eat a banana. During the two minutes of banana scarfing, my knee somehow locked up, refused to bend and simultaneously sent shooting pains down the side of my shin. The knee has been giving me trouble the past few weeks, but nothing like this. I tried a few times to hop on my bike and ride away, but this approach didn’t work. I couldn’t even bend my knee enough to even get clipped into my pedal. Standing there, in the gray depressing cold outdoors surrounded by cheesy seaside shops that were now closed for the season, I thought, there’s no scenario in which this doesn’t end badly.

With all the nearby hotels being either too pricey or closed for the season, our only option was to push our bikes three miles down Highway 101 to the local bike shop, where we could re-evaluate our options. Enter Bike Newport -- a bike shop that caters to bicycle tourists, with it’s biker’s lounge, showers and laundry. And as soon as we were in the door, the owner offered to refit me on my bike to try to alleviate some of the pain in my knee. He made some minor adjustments on my bike, and prescribed a rest day. So, here I sit in the biker’s lounge, catching up on the blog, excitedly wooing customers with bike touring stories . . . and feeling pretty defeated all at the same time.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cape LookOUT!

While riding in the middle of the country, during some of our hardest days, what kept us going was the thought of riding down the Pacific coast. In our minds, riding down Washington, Oregon and California, with the Pacific Ocean on our right, we would be in heaven. And it is beautiful. Our first evening on the Oregon coast left us in awe.

We took a bus from Portland to the coast, made a quick stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory (yum!) and headed for Cape Lookout State Park. We got to the park early and took our time picking out the most perfect hiker/biker site -- secluded, close to the ocean and far away from the regular camp sites. We spent the evening taking pictures and playing on the beach. It was perfect.

It was after we went to bed when it started. First was the wind. I’m not talking about a breeze; I’m talking about a fear-for-your-life-loud-as-all-get-out-gale-force-wind wind. We would hear the waves crash in a deafening roar, and then, just like counting seconds between thunder and lighting, an explosion of wind would hit our tent. Each time, our tent would cave in on us. I thought for sure our tent poles were going to snap. I didn’t even want to look in the direction the wind was coming for fear that a piece of straw would come flying through the air and embed itself in my forehead.

We both barely sleep though out the night while the tent levitated and danced in the wind, and at 4:30 a.m. I heard Melissa scream, “Someone just stole one of our bags!” While in and out of sleep, she watched as one of her heavy back panniers was drug out from under our vestibule.

Barely awake, I grabbed my glasses and headlamp, unzipped the tent and ran out into the darkness yelling back, “Stay here!”

Once outside the tent, I couldn’t see a thing. It was pitch black. I thought I could somehow chase down the person who had stolen our bag. I ran barefoot, blindly through the darkness, at nothing in particular and almost tripped over the bag. It had been dropped 10 to 15 feet from our tent. “I need your light!” I shouted at Melissa, as mine was not giving off enough and I wanted to investigate -- somehow, being half asleep, I had forgotten to be scared.

After I “searched” the area I got back in the tent where Melissa was inside, clutching pepper spray in one hand and our leatherman knife in the other. We sat still for a while, not knowing what to do, wildly waving our headlamps in the direction of any sound we heard. Occasionally I would mumble, while squinting my eyes, “I can’t see a thing.” After about five minutes of silence, Melissa asks, “Why do you have your sunglasses on?”

I reached up to my face and sure enough, I did in fact have on my sunglasses. No, they are not prescription. And yes, I am almost legally blind without my glasses or contacts. For a second we were able to forget about being scared to death. (“I must have look like a damn superhero out there!”)

We called 911. The dispatcher said she would pass on our information to an officer. After that, we somehow fell back to sleep. And then, again, I was woken up by Melissa yelling, “Oh my God!”

It was a raccoon. A damn raccoon. A raccoon who was strong enough to steal one of our bags out from under our tent. Melissa saw its beady little eyes peaking in, looking for more to steal. At least, that’s the story we are going with. Because it makes it hell of a lot less scary.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Back to Portland

The TransAm is a popular bicycle route across the country. Most days, we met a handful of other cyclists. Within the first few minutes, we would know if we wanted to ride with these people the next day or if we would have to take an extra rest day or hustle ahead to get off the same schedule as them. Most other cyclists were great, but there were those who were very competitive about weight of gear or how many miles we were making a day. Those conversations quickly become exhausting. So, it was best for us to ride with others who didn’t take touring too seriously.

We met John, wearing his Cookie Monster bike jersey (a homage to the fact that he loves sweets) outside of Rough River Falls, Kentucky. We rode like hell that day to keep up with him, because he is competitive, but in a funny and self-deprecating way. Of course, he was faster and sped in front of us, but after we had taken a few rest days and John, a few days off for a meeting, we met back up with him in Eminence, Missouri. Those where the only two days we rode with him, but we texted with him for the remainder of our trip and continuously asked those who were headed east if they had met him. John would send us random informative texts about where to get the best ice cream or lunch in the towns ahead, and who or what to avoid. It was awesome to have his encouraging texts coming in almost daily, giving us something to look forward to in the towns ahead.

We were more than ecstatic when John and his wife, Mo, wanted to meet us on the Oregon coast. We peddled like hell out of Astoria, riding to meet John and Mo in Seaside. And when we saw them standing outside their baby blue Volkswagen bus, we couldn’t stop smiling. They took us for an amazing breakfast in Cannon Beach where we shared our stories about our tours. It turns out John rode a couple of 140 mile days!

Spur of the moment we decided to go back to Portland with them. We spent most of our time divided between exploring Portland and eating pie.

Melissa and Brooke

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Entering Oregon . . . again

Um, I’m embarrassed to say it -- we went off route again . . . but we had to! Had. To. I promise. See, we were supposed to cross over into Oregon on a ferry, but the ferry we needed doesn’t run after Labor Day, so we had to improvise.

The improvisation included crossing the Washington/Oregon border right smack dab in the middle of a very long, very busy bridge. It also included a couple of hellacious climbs and rough roads. But we did it! And the success of the ride made me feel like a map genius -- as in, I’ll probably (err, definitely) make Melissa go off route again.