Originally pressed in 1996 PROFANE EXISTENCE is bringing this quintessential anarcho punk masterpiece back in circulation.
In 1996 AUS-ROTTEN released their first LP “The System Works For Them” on an unsuspecting punk scene. It spread like wildfire in a pre internet era within a genre that mostly depended on tape trading. (at least is was pre internet for us penniless punks) “The System Works For Them” was the perfect mix of anger and intelligence that the scene needed at the time (and still does today). It was like a wake up call that opened the eyes and ears to many punks the world over. The messages where crystal clear and most us were hooked as soon as the beginning shouts of “Boycott” bellowed over the speakers. I don’t believe any of us ever expected their message to resonate so well within the scene, but even more surprising is how the songs are just as relevant today as on they the day they were written. Which is why PROFANE EXISTENCE has decided to repress this record. We feel that that messages that AUS-ROTTEN brought to the table are to powerful to ignore. We feel that this LP is important and therefore should be highly available and priced affordably.
PROFANE EXISTENCE has worked out every last detail of this release with the members of AUS-ROTTEN whom have been involved from step one. All tracks have been re-masted by Jay Matherson at the Jamroom studios. To be 100% honest we didn’t want to do a complete re-master of what we already considered a good recording. However when we opened the tracks on protools we noticed a few balance issues that required fixing. These fixes resulted in a tremendous upgrade to the overall quality of the tracks. We painstakingly scanned, puzzled, and photoshopped the original artwork to make sure that it was as close to authentic as it could possible be. We then went for broke by pressing in three different vinyl color combinations! Overall to say that we are pumped to release this would be an understatement, we are absolutely ecstatic to bring you this LP on PROFANE EXISTENCE!
To top this all off we worked with AUS-ROTTEN vocalist Dave Trenga on redrawing the classic “What Good Is Money, When There Is No One Left To Buy” design for a T-Shirt to concede with the albums release. This is a fresh take on an old image to create a new and original design.
Vinyl options are…
1. Standard black vinyl
2. “The Battlefield is Still Red” Bloodsplatter vinyl.
3. See through “Smoke”. – Available at SKULLFEST only
Silence are a highly active post-punk/peace-punk band from Pittsburgh, PA. “The Deafening Sound of Absolutely Nothing” strives (and succeeds) to achieve the perfect balance between peace and post punk. By taking influences from The Mob, Bauhaus, Zounds, Killing Joke, Amebix, Crass, Conflict, Internal Autonomy and Joy Division SILENCE have created what can only be described a brilliant debut LP. At one moment this record is dark, heavy, and atmospheric and then the next moment it makes you want to dance and sing along. Lyrically SILENCE are much closer to the anarcho side of the previously listed influences. Lyrics focus on a variety of topics but often have a strong focus on the way punk and activist communities deal with political struggle in our current political climate.
“The Deafening Sound of Absolutely Nothing” comes with a 16 page magazine size zine containing lyrics, personal writings and song explanations. Designed, printed and assembled by the band themselves in true D.I.Y. fashion.
Silence will be having a record release show in their hometown of Pittsburgh PA at the Rock Room Friday April 22nd with SHADOW AGE and SKELETON HANDS. Then later this month SILENCE will embark on a full United States tour to support “The Deafening Sound of Absolutely Nothing”. Here is a list of dates. Be show to check in with the bands “bandcamp” or “Facebook” page for show updates.
When all that remains is a world in flames. Is that when they’ll say the wars are finally won? That wars are finally done?
They’re beating on the drums again, they’re fueling up the planes. The congressmen fall into line and sing the old refrain. In the name of peace they’ll burn the land and drop a thousand bombs.
Meanwhile we’ll just stay at home and go back to our sitcoms. It’s the same old song, we’ve heard it before. They’re beating the drums and they’re calling for war. What it’s supposed to accomplish, no one is sure But the victims are always the hungry and the poor.
Once the drums of war begin it’s hard to make them stop. The noise silences the dissidents once the bombs begin to drop. All those who call for peace will be mocked and pushed aside. In 10 years they’ll admit we were right after many thousands more have died.
Finally after many delays from the pressing plant the WARWOUND Demo’s LP “A Huge Black Cloud” is out and copies are moving fast!
Recorded in 1983, this record contains 15 songs from 3 sessions. With a few different takes you get a total of 25 blistering tracks. For those unfamiliar with WARWOUND, they are a UK band formed in 82. WARWOUND recorded 3 demos in 83 before disbanding and members went on to join THE VARUKERS and form SACRILEGE. These demos never received an official release… until now! Highly influenced by DISCHARGE, WARWOUND is one of the first bands ever to take D-Beat Punk to a raw and intense level. Recently reformed in 2015, original guitarist Damian is now joined by Ian Glasper on bass and Rat Varuker on vocals. After a few gigs in the UK word is spreading fast of the relentless onslaught of a live show these veterans put on. WARWOUND have also recently hit the studio to record for the first time in over 30 years. Needless to say WARWOUND is back with a vengeance!
Yes! Finally, after what turned out to be a gigantic task of moving the PROFANE EXISTENCE distro from Minneapolis to Denver, transferring tons of data, and rebuilding the web store, we are finally set to open back up. To access the new store follow one of the many links from profaneexistence.com or access it directly at http://profaneexistence.storenvy.com
The first official PROFANE EXISTENCE title of 2015 is out and ready for order! We are proud to bring you the RIFLE DIET – “NO SOLACE”LP
Rifle Diet’s No Solace is a 12in 45 that combines the Classic Minneapolis crust sound with Swedish hardcore, D-beat and Epic crust (think somewhere between Servitude and Wolfbirgade, with hints of Tragedy and Fall of Efrafa). The beautiful cover art by Hannah Benoche sets a bleak mood for the dark music within, plus a cover of His Hero is a Gone – Chain of Command (ex-members of InDefence and Garmonbozia) This LP is a joint release between PROFANE EXISTENCE and BLOOD OF THE YOUNG RECORDS
To honor both the opening of the new store and our first release of 2015, we are giving a free copy of the RIFLE DIET – No Solace lp to everyone that spends more then $50 from Monday January 12th to Monday January 19th!!! This deal is for one week only. DO NOT MISS OUT!
*Note*Rifle Diet are playing a record release show 1/17/15 at the Dogplex in Minneapolis with Kontrasekt, Aziza, and Fucking. To coincide with that show all orders that contain the RIFLE DIET – No Solace lp will be shipped out on Monday January 12th.
The next release in the works is the new full length lp from APPALACHIAN TERROR UNIT – “We Don’t Need Them”.
We Don’t Need Them is the second full-length record from West Virginia punx Appalachian Terror Unit. ATU have become known throughout the years as being one of the most politically charged bands in the current punk scene. This new record is an all out attack on today’s society that takes ATU to a new level of intensity both lyrically and musically. The combination of the beautiful and thought provoking gatefold cover art designed by Stivart along with the brilliant recording and mastering job by Jay Matheson at the Jam Room take this record even further. Song subjects include the horrors of war, police brutality, destruction of the environment, rape culture, consumerism and much more. Expect a very heavy and much angrier approach from a band that has been around the block and matured their sound. Seven raging new tunes including the epic fourteen and a half minute track “We Don’t Need Them”, a song that will one day be ranked among similar greats as the SUBHUMANS “From the Cradle to the Grave” and AUS ROTTEN “And Now Back to Our Programming”.
APPALACHIAN TERROR UNIT – We Don’t Need Them will be pressed in the United States on PROFANE EXISTENCE & in Europe on SKULD /RUIN NATION
WARWOUND – “A Huge Black Cloud-The Demos 1983“
Another record we are very excited about is the upcoming WARWOUND – A Huge Black Cloud-The Demos 1983. Recorded in 1983, this record contains 15 songs from three sessions. With a few different takes you get a total of 25 blistering tracks. For those unfamiliar with WARWOUND they are a UK band formed in 82, and released 2 demos in 83. Members went on to join THE VARUKERS and form the almighty SACRILEGE. Warwound are one of the first bands to take the politics and d-beat influence from DISCHARGE and combine it with the blown out sound of CHAOS UK to achieve total destructive raw d-beat ear bleeding chaos!
WARWOUND – A Huge Black Cloud-The Demos 1983 will be a split release between PROFANE EXISTENCE and ORGANIZE AND ARISE.
It will be available in the spring of 2015.
Other records and projects we have in the works for 2015 …
VASTATION (pdx formally night nurse) vs WAR//PLAGUE Split EP
KRANG are a new band birthed from Chicago’s DIY punk underbelly. They play a brutally powerful brand of thrashy riff-laden crustcore and have an intense live presence. They have recently recorded for a few vinyl projects, including PE’s own 7″ singles series. Check ’em out!
Interviewed by Brian Poulin (NEGLIGENCE). All photos by Adam DeGross.
PE Who’s in the band and what does each of you do?
AUSTIN: guitars / backing vocals / song writing (synth & keyboard on 12″)
ADAM: bass / backing vocals / song writing
BRENDAN: lead vocals / lyrical content
DEVAN: drums & percussion / backing vocals
PE: What’s a brief history of the band and how did you guys form?
Austin: We started circa 2009. We had an additional guitarist: Louis C. He went on to start a blackened crust band called Welkin Dusk, based in Chicago that he plays drums & lead vocals for. We used to have an additional lead singer as well: Hannah B. Hannah was a part of our first two releases: the out of print “Onward Desolation” demo tape, and also the out of print “Bog of Eternal Stenchcore” 7″. Hannah is now the front-woman in a band called Despise, based out of Minneapolis. Our original drummer, Brett, is on the two recordings I mentioned before, as well as our “Sounds of Death” 12″. Brett now drums for a Chicago / northwest Indiana band called Asphixiate. Devan is now our permanent drummer and he will have his first appearance on the “Broken Waves” 7″, released by Profane Existence, which is coming out in June. Devan will also be on our next 12″: “Bad Moon”, which we are writing right now. I, as well as Krang, are totally stoked on Devan and really happy to have them. Devan is active outside of percussion as well with assisting in writing, assistance in lyrical content & structure, and the internet stuff. This line up has been solidified for over a year and is totally fucking Krang! It just works perfectly.
PE: You guys are based out of Chicago. What are your favorite parts of the scene there? What are your least favorite things about Chicago’s scene?
Devan: Chicago’s an interesting place. I feel like the pros and cons are often directly related to one-another. For example, the mere size of the city. There are so many people – new to here, young, old, whatever – that there is basically always something going on and a handful of solid DIY spaces at all times, regardless of whether people leave or places get busted or whatever. The downside is that the physical structure of the city makes it difficult and/or terribly time-consuming to navigate. Especially if you don’t have a car. And even if you do, parking sucks. Anyway, as a result of the city being as segregated as it is, people are often inclined to just stick to what’s going on in their neighborhood and it results in a lack of exposure or attention paid to some really cool things. It’s unfortunate. But then there are some events like the annual Black and Brown Punk Show (shout-out to Monika!) or other fest-type shows where the attendance is crazy and bullshit is minimal. It’s rad.
Austin: I used to live in CHI. I reside in northwest Indiana (NWI). It’s really close. You can compare it to how close Jersey is to NYC. The rest of the band does live in CHI. My favorite things about Chicago is the “don’t take shit” attitude that at least me and the scene we’re involved with has. We’ll kick you out if your a piece of shit human or kick your ass if we have to. I also like The Void Haus in NWI for gigs. My personal least favorite things are cliques, hype, division, etc… the things that you see in every rather large city, I suppose.
Adam: I love Chicago’s unspoken rule of everyone being down to get down when shit hits the fan and nobody lets bogus comments or derogatory gestures fly. My complaint for the longest time was how there is the same hierarchy that we all hate in daily life at a lot of the gigs. It seems like those “in crowd” wanks have come and gone though, or maybe I just don’t surround myself with such fools anymore. My main complaint, and I know I am sounding super negative, but for such a large city there is a lack of bands playing what I am into personally. There are a lot of great bands doing great things…but that doesn’t necessarily mean I am into them musically. Haha! I have a particular taste and its not being fulfilled. I usually go to shows to hang out and have a good time and just show support but its rare that I actually shit over a band that I see locally. I do really, really get down to Population though. White boy can’t dance but when I see this band I start doing shit I didn’t know I was capable of.
Brendan: Chicago is simultaneously the best & worst place to live; which I’d imagine is a critique most other big-city dwellers share. There is no shortage of great folks, bands, eats, cool nerd-haunts (comic & record collectors rejoice!), and beautiful neighborhoods/communities in which to live. The same is true for all of the awful yuppies, gold cost bourgeois, & assholes who get your friends hooked on hard drugs. A lot of the time I wish that I lived in a vast expanse of lush nature with no human presence save myself. When I’m not wishing for seclusion, I’m loving how hard of a time I have sorting out which of the 5 awesome punk shows I get to go see any given night. Chicago has everything I love & hate at once; most of the time its worth it.
PE: Musically what are you guys going for?
Devan: I’d say sincerity, first and foremost. In sound, words, and delivery. And the connections we can and have made with people based on that. My musician’s answer would be just to write the best songs we can and perform them at the highest level at all times.
Austin: I just want to stick out and be a little different sounding. I still want to have that essential formula for great punk. I personally believe we found the introduction to our sound with the “Sounds of Death” 12″. We have two formulas: triumphant, galloping crust metal and simplified, pissed off, to-the-point stuff.
Brendan: Initially we formed with the idea of writing over the top odes to crust circa late 80’s/early 90’s; stuff you could flail your overgrown dreadlocks around to. We all fell into a groove with each other over time, where we don’t really need to define what we’re gonna write before we do. We approach releases with general outlines (theme,length, format etc.), but when writing songs I’d say we aim for mean, earnest & impactful.
Adam: I think naturally all being into different types of musical backgrounds, our finished product ends up being a thing of its own, but we all have similar enough interests to where we end up with the result that we initially were trying to go for. I personally am really into trying to sound like the bands I am into. It doesn’t end up exactly that way which is good but I love when bands obsess over old school sounds/bands/records and try to make their contemporary music sound as authentic as possible whether it be tone or style or whatever. At the end of the day we are trying to sound pissed, like we worship the 80s and have our music sound anarchy as fuck!
PE: What bands inspire you the most?
Austin: I listen to EVERYTHING. I don’t know where to begin but musically, keeping personal interest aside, I think we’re inspired by 80’s UK crust and a lot of Japanese stuff as far as writing collectively. This is something me and you will have to nerd out on when we’re in Boston next. Haha!
Adam: For Krang, bands that influence the writing process for me are Masskontroll, Deathraid, Sacrilege, Hellshock, Deviated Instinct, Sodom, Axegrinder and Amebix as well as Instinct of Survival. Personally I am all over the water but my all time 2 favorite punk bands have always and will always be Discharge and the Dead Boys.
Devan: I could go on a long rant about every band I’ve ever loved and how they’ve all stuck with and influence me to this day and blah blah blah, but I’ll spare you the cost of ink and just say Sacrilege, Crude, Amebix and Discharge. That said, we are quite the eclectic bunch.
Brendan: Musically, anything running the gamut from Paintbox to Elliot Smith. I enjoy a lot of soaring Japanese hardcore with that Burning Spirits feel, 90’s screamo, early black metal & hip hop. Any band that has a way with words gets me going, but mostly I enjoy music that you can’t help but feel.
PE: What are most of your songs about? What inspires the lyrics?
Brendan: Lemme preface by saying that Discharge is rad & “The More I See…” could be the soundtrack to my daily tedium… but i think punk rock has much more potential than to rehash our dogmatic & oftentimes simplistic politics. Having been a few places where the punk scene eats itself inside out with depression, addiction, & apathy towards the struggles of those around us, I think its real important to allow ourselves to be more open in the way we express all of the things exploding in our minds. I am not blowing my own horn, or any horn for that matter, but I really enjoy taking the personal route when it comes to writing & am constantly attempting to better address the common threads that run through all of our lives. Our first wave of songs covered some of our political leanings in regards to vivisection, arms manufacturing, rape culture & the willful destruction of our Earth. The “Bog of Eternal Stenchcore” 7″ reflects on the weight of stagnation on the “politically motivated”. “Sounds of Death” is the result of an obsession with death and a years worth of hurt; friends making irreversible decisions in regards to their lives & some of us falling into those spirals ourselves. There is absolution in acceptance though & I think a glint of hope in such dark subject matter. Our upcoming 7″ deals with cycles of change in our lives, moments of mania & madness; a counterpoint to our last 7″. The songs we are writing & playing now are an extension of that, focusing on moments of change in our lives, wanderlust & really just form one big, loud, pissed love letter to the DIY community, punk rock & time spent on the road. Inspiration comes from any human I’ve met that has dared to be open, honest & shameless about it.
Devan: Passion in all its forms and extremities is what inspires us. Totally.
PE: You guys have done a few extensive tours. What’s your favorite city you guys haveplayed in? What’s your least favorite?
Austin: I love Boston. Detroit, New Orleans, and the Twin Cities (Minneapolis) are up there too. I don’t really have a least favorite. We have had some bad experiences, though. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and not mention them. Hopefully things will be better when we return.
Devan: New Orleans is my favorite city ever, and our most recent gig in Boston totally ruled. I’d have to say, though, that many of my favorite shows have been in non-major cities. Birmingham AL was awesome, Asheville NC, Cincinatti OH, Grand Rapids MI…basically anywhere with a really tight-knit but wide-ranging DIY scene in terms of age, music, spaces, projects, etc. It’s always super encouraging to see.
Brendan: I’ll echo the others in saying that NOLA, Asheville, Cincy, Birmingham, Boston & Baltimore all kick ass. I’m usually super appreciative of all the towns we’ve been lucky enough to play in, though of course we’ve played in towns that seemed to embrace the anti-PC attitude/sense of humor that I am so fucking sick of. Some cities are really 50/50 because you’ll either play an amazing show with bad-ass folks & have the time of your life, or you might end up wanting to eviscerate some fuckhead who only listens to GG Allin & doesn’t get why a confederate flag hanging at a show space might ruffle some feathers.
Austin: We as a band aren’t about making sure we are politically correct all the time, but we definitely are hellbent on showing one another respect and are willing to give respect back to those who are legit. No single city is bad. Like I said before, sometimes there are some bad experiences. Fuckheads are everywhere.
Adam: Yes, Cincinnati, Birmingham, Boston, but most of all NOLA and Minneapolis. New Orleans and Minneapolis…no other city can live up to the debauchery that is expected to happen when we arrive in these two places. We need a week of recovery after being in either place for just a day. Also I love playing Madison a lot. Fuck, I love touring. So many amazing friends are being missed right now as we speak.
PE: What are some of your favorite bands you guys have played with?
Lord Krang: Scum from Detroit, Appalachian Terror Unit, Antisect, In Defense, Nu-kle-ar Blast Suntan, Kontrasekt, Cognitive Dissonance, The Skuds, Coelacanth, WrathCobra, Wartorn, Negligence, In Ruins, and definitely D-Clone; but honestly, it’s great to play with anyone and everyone who aren’t assholes and give a shit about “punk rock”.
PE: What are some of your favorite local bands from Chicago?
Lord Krang: Asphyxiate, Decay After Death (Decay A.D.), Cemetery (RIP), Culo, Die Time, Slag, Escalofrio, Sex Bunker (RIP), Birth Deformities, Gas Rag, Welkin Dusk, Daylight Robbery, Dirty Surgeon Insurgency, The Breathing Light, La Armada, Black September, Kontaminat, Ooze, Tensions, The Busy Sugnals, Population, More that we’re forgetting to mention….
PE: What does the future hold for Krang?
Devan: As Austin mentioned earlier, we have our “Broken Waves” 7″ being released in June, at which point we’ll be doing a small tour with Coelacanth. Also, as previously stated, we are well along in the writing process for our next full-length LP. Look for us around the Mid-west this summer and keep up-to-date and get in touch via the following:
crustardpunx[AT]gmail.com – krangcrustards.bandcamp.com – krangcrustards.blogspot.com
Austin: More touring, more albums, more blood spit nights, more everything! We’ll do a more extensive tour when the new LP comes out.
Brendan: “Bad Moon” 12″ – Skull Fest – Split(s?) – Self-Destruction With A Gusto
Lord Krang: Record labels that are interested in helping us with our next 12″ (which is more than half way written) get in touch with us!!! It will be even more galloping, pist, and triumphant than our still available “Sounds of Death” 12″!
I just want to take this time to give a round of thanks to the people who helped me make this trip possible. I want to thank Starmichael and Kenton Cycle Repair for all their help and support in getting my bike ready by offering me the parts, tools and education to make it happen. I want to thank my dear friend Lindsay for taking the time to read every single one of these entries, fixing punctuation errors and syntax, and giving me helpful advice all along the way. I want to thank my partner Helene for all the encouragement and support I received along the way even though she was terribly afraid (and somewhat convinced) that I wouldn’t make it home alive. I want to thank Profane Existence for asking me and giving me the opportunity to post my journal through their blog; which by extension motivated me to get my stuff together and make a real project out of this journal. Lastly, I want to thank everyone who read the entries of this journal as they were posted, there were a lot more of you than I would have expected!
This trip was a real challenge, and when folks ask me if I had a “good” experience the answer is always a complicated one. The tour was certainly enriching in many ways, but “good” is a very subjective word in this context because there were many times on this trip that I sincerely wanted to give up. The 3 days of the storm were really, really intense and I can’t compartmentalize that when I relive this experience. On the other end, I met a lot of really genuine people and saw one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world from my bicycle. Whether this trip can be solidly classified as good one or not, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world.
So, all I have left to say is thank you for taking the time to read about a small portion of my life. I appreciate the positive responses I’ve received so far. I look forward to my next adventure and I hope that you’re planning yours right now as well. Sometimes the most satisfying trips are the ones that are spur of the moment, somewhat reckless and ones that you are terribly unprepared for. Stay safe, but have fun. Always.
Take care my friends,
Mike XVX, August 10th, 2014
Sunday, June 29th, 2014
“Cause I’ve seen blue skies / through the tears in my eyes / and I realize… I’m going home” – The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Oh shit, I overslept! I think as I awake in the dense redwood forest. The canopy in here is so thick that it’s almost impossible to guess as to what time it is. Thankfully once I calm down I realize it’s not even 8 am yet, and I’m still on the schedule I set myself to hitch back to Portland today. I wanted to wake up and be out on the road no later than 9, and it’s still looking likely that I’ll be able to do just that. I pack my camp up and a more relaxed pace as my knee still has a slight twinge when it shifts from side to side. Walking and jogging doesn’t bother my knee at all, but any movement that recreates the motion of riding my bike sends a lightning bolt of pain up my left side. Really, really glad I don’t have to get back on my bike today, not sure that I’d even make it 20 miles on this knee.
After getting packed up I say goodbye to my redwood friend that I shared my campsite with, and took one last, crane-necked look at the top of this massive tree. I felt so very gracious to have been born on this planet in this moment. I hop on my bike and pedal across the campground, and the pain in my knee rises from a mild annoyance to an almost unbearable, searing bolt of pain driving north from my kneecap. The grimace on my face certainly would have scared off some children had there been any, but instead I roll past the check-in station and out onto Highway 99 where I’ll be trying my luck hitchhiking.
Last night by flashlight I made two signs out of old maps I had taken from the ranger station. I used a ballpoint pen to scribble on each sign “GRANTS PASS – IN A HURRY” and “PORTLAND”, respectively. The maps had writing on both sides to begin with, so in reality I wasn’t even sure that anyone would be able to read them. I flew my “GRANTS PASS” sign first, as I’m thinking it’s more likely that I’ll get a ride directly up the 99 to GP, and the “PORTLAND” sign might deter people from picking me up if they’re not going that far. I do my usual hitching routine; big smile, thumb out, passive stance and maintaining eye contact with the driver as they pass, as if to say “Yeah dude, I’m cool, don’t even worry about it.” Typically this works pretty well, but unfortunately I was unable to shave off my beard this morning, which can be a deterrent, as well as the sleeveless shirt that says “GO VEGAN!” on it. I didn’t bring any nice clothes (or scam-ouflage, if you will) along with me due to space issues, but I’m regretting it now as 20 cars pass me without slowing down. Every time a car zooms past me on the two lane highway, I look over my shoulder at the mountain lumbering behind. 80 miles and 2,200 ft of elevation I’ll have to climb if I can’t catch a ride up and over into Grants Pass. I cannot and will not do that today, it’s car ride or nothing.
A mere 10 minutes later a massive diesel truck towing a horse trailer passes me, and I see the woman driving mouth the words “Grant’s Pass?” silently behind the windshield. She then jerks the wheel to the right and comes to an abrupt halt on the shoulder. Without hesitation I grab my bike and jog over to her truck, as she climbs out and starts rearranging a bunch of stuff in the bed.
“Hey ,thanks for stopping!”
“Yeah of course! I saw you’re going to Grants Pass and I was like ‘Shit! I’m going there!’ Here, tie your bike down in the back, my horses won’t be too happy if you put your bike in their trailer, haha”
I remove my backpack off the front of the bike and hoist it vertically, panniers and all, 3 feet or so into the truck bed. I strain hard to keep everything balanced, as I don’t want to bang up the side of her truck after she so generously just stopped for me. I struggle and fight with the awkward weight until I get the bike settled in the center of the truck bed. She told me to tie it down, so I took one of my bungee chords and tied it securely from my bike frame to a ball joint in the floor, figuring if this mountain of empty cardboard soda boxes aren’t flying out the back of her truck than my bike should be fine. “Ummm…here let me tie up the wheel to this hook, it’s just… I know how I drive, you know?” “Oh yeah, sure” I say as she takes a nylon rope and threads it through my front wheel and securing it to one of the hooks on the edge of the truck bed. As she’s leaning forward to secure my bike, the back of her shirt lifts up, exposing a massive Desert Eagle handgun hanging out of the back of her pants. HOLY FUCK! I think upon seeing it. Followed by, She had to have shown that to me on purpose. Which I don’t blame her for, considering she’s out here picking up a stranger on a country road, and with 2 children as well I realize, as I glance into the cab. They’re both peaking at me through the back window and the little girl waves. Both she and her brother are maybe around 4 or 5 years old and they seem to be chatting about something.
After a couple minutes we get the bike secured to her satisfaction, and then we climb into the cab. “Sorry, just I know these roads so well that I drive kinda crazy on them.” I respond that it’s no worry, trying to suppress my concern of How crazy is it going to get?? As we’re pulling away from the entrance to the state park, I reach back and try to grab my seat belt but keep grasping air. I look over my shoulder to grab it just as a tiny, teacup sized hand grabs the buckle and slowly pushes it forward. I gently take it and look back to see the little girl smiling at me, and I smile and thank her. What a sweet kid. I find out the driver is named Sheron, and she’s about my height, with long brown hair and the slightest twang of a country accent. She used to live in Crescent City, but now lives out in Medford and is returning from a weekend visiting her parents. We make conversation pretty easily, and we find a common interest in animals and chat about our love for them for quite awhile. We also both enjoy traveling alone, and she tells me about all the places she wants to see now that she’s recently divorced. “My husband beat the shit out of me in front of my kids, so I left. Fuck him, I’m going to do things my way from now on,” she opens up to me. I typically find that people tend to tell me extremely personal things when I’m hitchhiking, partly because they’ll more than likely never see me again, but folks also tell me that I have a trusting face. I have no idea what a “trusting face” looks like though, so if you asked me I couldn’t say. I respond that I’m really sorry to hear that, that I’m glad she’s out now and her and the kids are safe, and then tell her a little bit about my childhood and how I was treated as well. Not to “one-up” her of course, but to let her know she’s not alone and there are plenty of people out there that choose not to continue the cycle of violence that their parents or significant others inflict on them. She seems to be a great mom, and her kids seem like sweethearts, and I tell her that. A bond starts to form between us, like so many other hitching situations I’ve been in, and I start to feel even more glad that she picked me up, and not just because I needed a ride.
All the while we’re flying up the 99, and she was not exaggerating about her driving style. She’s surpassing the speed limit a considerable amount, all the while towing a trailer filled with 2 horses and 3 baby calves. We’re passing these epic, picturesque landscapes,and now that I’m off my bike for the first time in a week I realize how little time I have now to take in all the sites that the Rogue River/Siskiyou Forest has to offer. The speed that we’re passing mile-markers now is fascinating to me and I feel like I’m riding in a car for the very first time. As we’re talking about cabins and our individual desires to build one out in the middle of the woods, away from civilization and any human being, we round a bend that brushes up along the river.As we’re taking the turn we spot 2 half-naked hippy guys, complete with dreadlocks, skinny frames and long beards standing in the emergency lane of the highway. The entire contents of their backpacks seemed to be emptied all over a car turnout as if it was the floor of their living room. We stop mid-conversation as we see one of them is standing there in only his undergarments, while the other, also only wearing undergarments, gently massages suntan lotion onto his back. Both of them were grinning like it was the greatest experience of their lives as an epic river roars behind them. I have just enough time to let out a laugh and think WHAT IN THE WORLD… as we fly past, the speed only giving us a second to take in everything we saw. Like a polaroid snapshot, that image will forever be burned into my mind, and I am thankful for that as it makes me laugh every time I think about it. Sheron, who’s used to living in the middle of nowhere, far away from anyone, was even more perplexed than I, and that made me laugh even harder. I suspected a slight hint of homophobia in Sheron’s reaction, but I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she just thought it was a funny scene to come flying past. At the same time though I was tempted to alter a popular phrase I’ve seen on T-shirts and shout at her “Some hippies massage suntan lotion onto other hippies – GET OVER IT!” Obviously this wouldn’t have gone over well and she would have let me out of the truck back there with the hippy dudes, but in retrospect that actually would have been pretty rad.
In what seems like no time at all we reach Grants Pass, where Sheron will be transferring to a different highway back to her home in Medford. I thank her profusely as she helps me get my bike unlashed out of the truck bed, and I get another glimpse of that monster of a handgun she keeps in her waist band. I’d trust her with a gun over a cop any day though, I just want to have that noted. I’d even support her if she used it on that piece of shit ex-husband she told me about, but I don’t say that out loud as it’s not my place, plus what’d happen if I had said that and she ended up doing it? Or if I ended up writing it, like I am now…fuck. Whatever. We say our goodbyes, and both her kids start asking where I’m going and why I’m leaving. It’s sweet and sad and all at once I feel bad for them, as children are usually the ones who suffer and are affected the most by domestic violence. Often times their plight goes unnoticed as they’re prisoners in their own home. Outsiders were nearly powerless to help me when I was a young one, and I feel equally as powerless as I wave goodbye to them now, silently wishing them luck with their lives and also wishing that I could tell them it’s not their fault, and that they’ll grow up to be loving, gentle and wonderful people if that’s what they want. I say thank you again to Sheron and begin pushing my bike across the swelteringly hot parking lot of a hardware store, turning my front wheel to downtown Grants Pass and pushing on towards home.
Once again, I stop off at a McDonald’s on the outskirts of downtown to use their bathroom and their wifi. I posted an ad a couple days ago on Craigslist asking for a ride for my bicycle and I up to Portland, and so far I have a few responses. For those not familiar, the 5 is a heavily traveled freeway and my chances of getting picked up and driven straight home from here were much more likely than if I was still on the coast. I read over the emails I received: one ride seemed promising, but she’s not leaving till 5 pm, and it’s only 10 am now. I save that one for later. The next email has only one run-on sentence and it says “me and the boys headin to portland got room for u”. I don’t get a good feeling from this second one, mostly because it sounds like there will be too many people in this car for my bike to fit, but whatever gets me home will work. I text both of the numbers from the texting app on my ipod just to cover all my bases. I decide since I don’t have any immediate rides out of town that I might as well try to hitch out in the meantime, so I hop on my bike and follow signs to a 5 freeway onramp nearby.
Luckily this onramp is underneath an overpass, providing me with complete shade and protection from the intense heat this morning. It’s not even noon and it’s already nearing 100 degrees, there’s no way I’d last 20 minutes out here trying to find a ride if I had to stand directly in the sun. After about an hour I get passed by probably 80 cars or so, many of them not engaging me in the slightest, or giving me the “only going a little way” pinch-hand signal I’ve come to know over the years. Also, most of these cars are packed with people already so there’d be no room for me and my bike anyway, even if I took it apart. I decide to give myself another half hour, and if no one picks me up in that time than I’ll bike out to downtown Grants Pass and wait for my definite 5 pm ride from the woman with the mini-van who offered to take me. As I’m nearing the end of my efforts for now, I’m passed by a lipstick-red hatchback car driven by a woman probably in her 40’s. Across the windshield is a MASSIVE decal that just says “COUGAR” with flowers on either end. The sticker was so large that there’s no way it wouldn’t obstruct your vision, but that statement was just too important not to put out there I guess. Through giggles I utter under my breath “Right on lady, you get it!” as she passed.
I throw in the proverbial towel just before noon, mount my bike and start making my way toward downtown. It is unbearably hot, and I can actually feel myself getting sunburned. I thought that growing up in So Cal and surfing for most of my life would have prepared me for being in the sun day in and day out on this trip, but as I’m getting burned I realize “That’s not how skin works.” I feel like a dummy, but a bronzed one at that, as I coast past the strip malls. I eventually make it to downtown and stop off at the Safeway, in search of food and confrontations with the local riff raff. Sure enough I get both of those things within 10 minutes. I seat myself on a shaded curb in the parking lot and treat myself to a cold can of Amy’s chili, all the while being approached by a parade of questionable people, many of whom try to tell me just how MUCH Jesus loves me. “Uh huh,” I respond, not having the energy to spout anything overtly blasphemous this morning. Not-so-fun fact as well: the “Army of God” piece of shit who murdered Dr. George Tiller, a doctor who worked at a women’s clinic and provided abortions, was from here. So you can imagine my reticence about engaging anyone about the teachings of an abrahamic religion, regardless of how offensive that religion may be to me. The concern for my own life is only eclipsed by my concern to not be constantly bothered about the existence of a supernatural being, so for now I keep my mouth shut so I can relax. Thankfully I was eventually approached by a couple of odd folks who were not of the religious variety, so I got to have interesting conversations with them instead. We talked about bikes, how far you could ride on bikes, and canned chili, since these were the only things they could discern I was interested in. One guy did tell me about an organic tea house up the street though, so I decided that sitting in an air conditioned room with a warm tea and access to my email sounded like the perfect plan right now.
I biked the 2 blocks to the tea house (Grants Pass is a really, really small town) and on the way I passed a venue I’d played at not more than a month previous. I locked my bike up out front and dragged my bags inside with me, feeling the cool blast of air hit my scorched skin as I entered. Setting my bags aside I went up to order. I scanned the menu for a London Fog, or even a maté latte, but I settled for a chai (I’m a tea snob, deal with it). After I place my order she offers me 2% cow milk or hemp milk with my latte. This is how our conversation went after that:
“Do you have soy milk?”
“Oh yes, we do. But you know… I always discourage people from getting it, because soy is SOOOOOO bad for you!”
*trying my hardest not to roll my eyes*
“Well, I dunno, I’ve been vegan for 10 years and haven’t had any issues because of soy, so I’ll just have that.”
“Yeah, well I understand if you prefer it. I’m not supposed to have it cause I’m lactose intolerant.”
“Oh, you’re what?”
“I’m lactose intolerant, so my doctor told me I can’t eat soy.”
Perplexed and amused I wait for her to correct herself and realize that the key word here was “lactose.” Amazingly she doesn’t correct herself, and I then had to suppress laughter as I paid for my drink. It’s kind of fascinating that she works here, and also a bit scary. Maybe coffee places should ask “Do you know what lactose is?” before they hire people so they don’t accidentally kill anyone. Something to think about I guess.
I use the bathroom to take what is known amongst us traveler kids as a “sink shower” to remove some of the smell that seems to be emanating from me. I have another rock in my shoe, and upon removing it I realize that it’s actually in my sock. I remove both of my socks just in case and realize my tan line makes it look like I’m still wearing them. What a fun few weeks it’ll be getting rid of all the weirdly untanned areas I’m going to have from sleeveless shirts, bike shorts and ankle socks. As I’m finishing I see that I got a few more emails, and a couple texts on my ipod app. I get a text from the woman with the mini-van saying she’ll be in GP around 5:30, and also another text from the run-on sentence guy that just says “hey man can u meet at sharis in 20 minutes.” Shari’s is a chain not unlike Denny’s that’s popular in the Northwest, but I have no fucking idea where this place is in Grants Pass. I text back “Do you have room for both my bike and myself?” and he responds a few minutes later with “yeah maybe if we take it apart.” Fuck that. Not biking to who knows where for a “maybe.” I text back thanks but I’ve already got a ride out of town and return to my seat and my tea. Fifteen minutes later I get an email from someone asking if I’ve left town yet, and I immediately write back that I’m still here. He says he’s leaving town in 10 minutes and if I still wanted a ride I could come along. I text him back that I definitely would, and tell him to meet me back at the Safeway. He agrees and I take my time finishing my tea, as it’ll take me all of 2 minutes to get back over there.
I leave the tea house and make my way back across town, now wearing my rain shell to protect my tender shoulders from the sun. It makes for a hotter ride but at least I can’t feel my flesh being baked by the sun anymore. I hop off my bike just as a guy my age and a bit shorter than me approaches me across the parking lot. “Neal?” I ask and he nods and we shake hands. We walk over to his car, which is a tiny Honda Civic and I ask if he’s sure my bike will fit if we take it apart, since his trunk is completely full. We decide to just give it a try, and I go to work on my bike, removing both of the wheels. I tell him we should put my sweater down on the seat so the chain and the chain ring don’t get grease all over his upholstery, but he tells me his car has “lived through a lot” and it’ll be fine. I’m not sure he realizes how difficult it is to clean this shit off, but if that’s what he wants, then I’ll oblige. We finally wedge the frame in and get everything settled, hop in the car and head out of the parking lot. He tells me he’s out here visiting a friend and that he just watched a documentary about Craigslist rides and was interested in trying it out. “Lucky for me” I say, as we pull up to a gas station.
I ask Neal how much he wants for gas, and he kinda gives me a “Whatever is fine” answer, making this whole interaction all the much more awkward. Money exchanges are always a bit uncomfortable, especially when it comes to Craigslist rides. I offer him $15, because in reality that’s all I have in cash and he says that’s fine. His car is small and probably gets decent mileage, but we’re still over 4 hours and 250 miles from Portland, so I think the amount I offered is still a bit on the low end. Either way he seems satisfied, so it all gets sorted and we continue on our way. It’s a dream to roll the windows down and have fresh air blowing in my face, and I’m glad to be entering the last leg of my journey. We make great time up the 5, until we come almost screeching to a halt in the middle of nowhere as we approach a wall of traffic. We’re moving at a crawling pace for almost 3 hours, and we have no idea what the holdup is. I keep looking over to the emergency lane and think about how much farther I could have gone by now if I had been biking. The worst part about being stuck in traffic is Neal’s complaints about the heat, the traffic, the lack of A/C in his car, the heat, the traffic, the heat etc., etc. to a point where I almost tell him to shut up. He’s a nice guy but right now he’s getting on my nerves big time, as I’m also in the same car, experiencing the same discomfort but not blabbing on about it. He then pulls off the freeway to try and find an “alternate route” on his phone, even though I assure him we’re going through a pass and there won’t be any frontage roads that’ll take us north. He pulls over anyway, and finds a route his phone suggests that requires us to backtrack nearly 30 miles, not including the distance it’ll take us to get to a moving section of the 5 from this side route. He almost takes this route till I put my foot down and tell him to get back on the freeway, as it’ll probably clear up soon anyway since we’ve been on it for hours. I’m exhausted and not in the mood to be driving in circles out in the middle of nowhere, and I’m sure this comes across as he gets back on the 5 again. A half hour later the freeway opens up, and we realize all this traffic built up because we were reduced to a single lane for seemingly no reason. No workers, no road machines; just cones directing us to a single lane. Super worth it, obviously.
Eventually we roll into Eugene, and Neal says he wants to stop and grab some food in town. I unenthusiastically agree because I don’t care for Eugene, but he’s the driver and I’m sensitive to the fact that he wants to stop and eat. We pull over near the University of Oregon and he walks into a Subway while I hang in the parking lot. As he’s leaving with his sandwich he asks if I want anything, and I say no thanks and that I actually gave him my last $15. He then says, in a very fatherly manner (even though we’re probably the same age), “Well… we can’t have you going hungry, you sure you don’t want anything?” I thank him again and decline, not wanting to feel like I’m taking advantage of him. Plus, my thoughts were of nothing but Thai food from the restaurant down the street from my house, and I didn’t want to spoil my appetite for that. After scarfing down his dripping sandwich we get back on the freeway, and a short drive later we finally enter Multnomah County and eventually Portland’s city limits. I instruct him on how to get to my house off the freeway, and most importantly how to get back on the freeway after he drops me off. Portland is a notoriously difficult city to locate a freeway onramp in so I’m very meticulous with my instructions. As we’re driving past a park near my street, I see two of my housemates having a picnic, and from the looks of it they’re having a romantic time as the sun set behind them. I try to roll down my window in time to scream “PERVERTS!!!!” but it’s too late. Finally Neal pulls up in front of my house and I drag all my belongings to my front door, realizing as I’m removing my bike frame that there’s a HUGE grease mark on his backseat. He sees it too and just kinda shrugs. Sorry dude,I tried to warn you!
I say goodbye to Neal and finally walk through the threshold of my front door, immediately ordering take out at the Thai place and I then walk down the street to pick it up. Slumping down on the couch I celebrate a successful trip with Pad Thai and Thai ice tea while I stare blankly at the wall and listen to music. The lack of human conversation is a nice shift from having to make pleasantries while riding in a car with people all day. I think Depeche Mode wrote a song about “enjoying the silence” maybe? Haha. Anyway, it’s good to be home and now I finally have time to sit and reflect on my trip.
The reality of me being back home takes a while to sit in, I still constantly feel like I’m in bike tour mode. I keep mentally taking stock of how much water I have with me, identifying locations of power outlets in rooms, and dreaming of flat and level ground to pitch my tent on. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m sleeping in my own bed tonight, but that’s going to take some time to get used to. I saw a lot on this trip, and in the future when people ask if I had a good first bike tour it will be a complicated answer. In a lot of ways this trip was extremely difficult, and I felt that both my physical and mental strength were pushed to their respective limits. I wanted to cut corners a few times on this trip, and if I had the resources to do so I might have; but ultimately not having the best equipment or having money to fall back on makes for a more interesting story. The 3 days of the storm were by far the toughest, and magnified the difficulty of the ride and the loneliness that only nighttime can bring. On the other end, this trip was filled with amazing experiences, kind and interesting people and some of the most beautiful views I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing. The Oregon Coast is without a doubt one of the most gorgeous places I have ever traveled to, and I fantasize about building a treehouse at the edge of a cliff and living out the rest of my life along the shoreline.
As time passes, I’m sure the coast will grow in mysticism for me as nostalgia sets in, but I think this journal will help keep me grounded in reality. I’ll be counting the days till I can return, though. The next tour I’ll plan will now be one of experience, and not of experimentation like this one. I’ll learn from my mistakes, be better prepared and ultimately make a longer trip; maybe even all the way down to Mexico. It took me a long time to set my life and creative projects aside to make this trip happen, and now that I have, I realize what I’ve been missing. I waited too long for other people to be ready to take this trip with me, so I threw down the gauntlet and challenged myself to do it alone, and I’m so very glad that I did. I want to thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and ramblings, because if it wasn’t for the encouragement of my friends, the motivation to keep such a log would not be there. I want to again thank Starmichael and Kenton Cycle Repair for all their help with getting my bike ready for this trip as well, punks stick together!
I want to reiterate how lucky I am to be alive and to be surrounded by so many thoughtful and caring people, and how gracious I feel for opportunities that I’ve had to see what I’ve seen and do what I’ve done. It’s easy to forget that sometimes, and it’s adventures like this one that help to remind me that life is worth living. Tonight is my final entry for this trip, and I wish you all the best summer you could possibly have, whether that be on a bicycle or not. Take care of yourselves and each other. See you out in the world, my friends.
“You can’t put your arm around a memory, don’t try” – Johnny Thunders
I rose at 9 am to the freezing air blowing through the valley. It FINALLY stopped raining at least, and the sun is peaking out of the clouds high up above Humbug Mountain. My usual morning grogginess has now elevated to include blurred vision and severe disorientation as I stumble out of camp to take a quick shower. As I return to my tent, Dan offers me his old biking gloves since they’ve worn down considerably and he ended up buying a new pair. I answer in the affirmative and he balls them up and tosses them over the thorn bush separating our camps. I thank him profusely, as I’m looking forward to doing away with the dull ache in my left palm that has plagued me for days.
I leave the camp in a good mood after I say my goodbyes to folks, and upon exiting the park Tristan catches up with me and we bike together for the first hour or so. We chat about Australia and I tell him about my travels out there, and he tells me about his life in British Columbia now. My knee is killing me this morning as the cold air is not doing my joints any favors. I bite my lip and press on, hoping that once I get warmed up it’ll become more bearable. If this wasn’t my last big ride, I would have stopped to rest it for a couple days for fear of causing damage, but since I’m almost at the finish line I press on. I stop at the top of a hill to remove my rain shell, as cumbersome and unnecessary as it’s become in the now direct sunlight, and Tristan continues on as I wave him goodbye. He mentions that he might stay at Jedediah Smith State Park where I’ll be tonight, even though it’s a few miles off of the 101.
It was an easy 20 miles to Gold Beach, as odd as it must be to read “easy 20 miles” when referring to cycling, but once you get into the rhythm of your bike tour this is how things start to seem. There was little to no headwind all day, and the terrain was bearable with amazing views of the coast (as usual). I ended up making great time, so I lingered in Gold Beach a bit longer than I normally would have. As I’m crossing town I spot the holy grail of bike tour stops – a used bookstore, complete with a teahouse AND free wifi. Better yet, I walk in and I see my buddy Tristan reading and catching up on emails as well! This was my greatest find of the day and I bask in its glory for an hour and a half while I chat with Tristan and enjoy my tea. The barista is super friendly and accommodating about my freakish-vegan-“how do you live??” dietary needs and this also warms me up inside. After Tristan heads on, I linger for about 45 minutes longer, transitioning from “I don’t want to get up right now” to “I want to stay here forever” before I finally force myself to move on.
Another beautiful 26 miles and I find myself in Brookings, OR – home of the trench coat lady. It definitely has a “southern Oregon” feel to it as I roll into town. As I’m on the northern outskirts of town I pass the South Coast Lumber Company with a sign welcoming me to Brookings. I found it unfortunate that they didn’t add a tagline of “Please enjoy the surrounding forests while you can, as we are actively destroying them.” Maybe they have a suggestions box I can drop a note in next time I come through?
The first interaction I witness while arriving in downtown was a man in a roadwork van have a shouting match with a woman at a fruit stand. I couldn’t make out what they were yelling at first, but as I passed I heard her yell, “BECAUSE I DON’T DO BUSINESS LIKE THAT. THAT’S WHY!” as he responded with, “YEAH BUT BILL DOES!” which was met with “YEAH WELL BILL AIN’T HERE.” I let the battle of “Brooking’s Fruit Stand” rage on as I continued down main street.
Once again I found a McDonald’s, stole their wifi to find vegan options in town and then treated myself to the third restaurant meal of my trip. It’s funny considering that I kept telling myself “one and only one meal out” before the trip started, but this Thai place looked too good to pass up. Plus, I’m worth it! As I’m using the bathroom at the restaurant I noticed some graffiti on the wall claiming that “Bam Margera was here” in 2007 complete with that stupid heartagram symbol. First of all, Bam, you spelled “wuz” wrong. Second, I doubt this was actually you anyway, and even if it was who would care that you ate here? I don’t know, maybe people do. I constantly underestimate the absurdity of celebrity worship in this country, and I pleasantly have been able to avoid much of it by not having steady access to internet on this trip.
Brookings, like most Southern Oregon towns, is patriotic to the point of discomfort for me. I mean, Nationalism is shitty to begin with, but there’s a weird biblical air to some of the stuff I’ve seen in town. I passed a motel that had a marquis out front reading “The patriots blood is the seed of the freedoms tree [sic]” which turned my stomach in a weird way. What the fuck does that even mean? I think. As I’m rolling past, I remember that the 4th of July is coming up in the next few days, explaining the existence of all the firework stands and tattered american flags. I’m filled with a huge sense of urgency to get home before the nightmare known as the 4th of July descends upon the campgrounds across the Pacific Northwest. “Celebrate a place you just happened to be born in that’s divided by invisible and arbitrary borders by blowing things up and scaring wildlife!” What a great way to celebrate the birth of a nation! (Do I even need to say that this last statement is laden with sarcasm?)
I make my way through and out of Brookings, the last town in Oregon, and finally fulfill my destiny by biking over the California border! A wave of emotion washes over me as I spot the “Welcome to California” sign on the horizon, and in that moment I found it so difficult to believe that I’ve ridden this junky 70’s Scwhinn nearly 400 miles across the state of Oregon. Nothing like the feeling of success that only an overly-ambitious and terribly under-prepared adventure can bring. I stop and take about a dozen photos, trying to time my iPodto take photos of me casually leaning against the sign post, and failing miserably in getting a decent picture. Right on the other side of the border I stop to use the bathroom at a gas station in the parking lot of a casino. I find out they have free wifi so I’m quick to post on my social media accounts that I made it to California, and that I now am officially beginning my journey back home. It feels like the end of an era, and yet I’m still very, very far from home.
I breeze through several eery small towns and follow the signs advertising the alternate Pacific Coast bike route. Most of these routes don’t take me anywhere near the coast, and instead I find myself cycling through sweltering farm land. At one point I pass a field of cows just as one of them begins to sit down. As she settles in I yell out to her “Yeah that’s right! Take a load off, my friend! Take 5!” only to realize right after I’m done shouting that the house next door is full of people and has all of its windows down. Leaving no way that they didn’t hear the weirdo on the bike shouting at a group of cows. Fuck it. My loyalty is to the cows.
A few miles past what is now referred to in my mind as “Cow City,” I’m making my way through more farmland and approach a small farmhouse on the edge of a field. Suddenly a small terrier comes running across the backyard barking at me as I get closer. Just as I begin to think “Oh, there’s a fence there, it’ll be fine”, this dog LEAPS through a jagged whole in the chain link fence and charges straight for me! I SLAM on my breaks and almost skid to a stop, missing him with my front tire by inches. Only really missing him because I turned my wheel to the side just in time as he bolted toward me. As I struggle to get a hold of my heavy and awkward bike, he begins darting back and forth, nipping at my feet as he does so. Seconds later a man in a pickup truck pulls alongside me and laughingly says “Oh, that’s Charlie. Just tell him to go home.” and pulls away without a word more. I start to sternly say “GO HOME, CHARLIE!” as he darts back and forth in front of me and gets shockingly close to biting my front wheel. Soon I hear a little girl in the field yelling at him as well, demanding he go home and yelling “BAD DOG!” He refuses to back down, so I try to just pedal off and once again he lunges and out of fear of running him over I stop. The girl storms out of the house and scolds him, and he finally retreats a few paces back from me. I see my moment and take off. He almost pursues me for a second and then gives up as he’s repeatedly told “BAD DOG!” by the girl and picked up and placed back in the yard. That dog was willing to stop me from passing that house if his life depended on it!
Down the road I pass Pelican Bay State Prison, which is weirdly part of this “scenic alternate route” that these signs are leading me down. I figure though that if you’re going to tour the U.S., you might as well see all the prisons, considering that there’s such a huge percentage of people incarcerated in this country. Prison is just about as American as apple pie and lifted trucks after all. A few miles later I meet a couple of goats hanging out in someone’s front yard on leashes, and then the world seems alright again.
I am now in officially uncharted territory. Well, uncharted in the sense that I didn’t print out maps for Northern California, so I honestly don’t know where the heck I am and how far I am from Crescent City. I’m supposed to transfer over to Highway 99 a few miles before I even pass through the town, and I get the sneaking suspicion that I’ve overshot it as the day stretches on. An hour after my first feeling of “Oh shit I’m lost” I enter the city limits of Crescent City. Cursing myself, my bike and anything and anyone else I can blame for this debacle I pull over in the parking lot of a motel to try and pull up a map on my Ipod. As I’m checking the map I realize I overshot my turnoff by about 10 miles, which feels like an insane amount after biking for around 75 miles today already. Angered but not deterred, I finally find a road nearby that’s a straight shot to Highway 99, and the campground that’s listed is just a few miles past that. I make my way across Crescent City, and realize as I cruise that it’s a pretty rough place. I pass run down trailer parks replete with fighting and screaming residents, garbage all over the roads and giant monster trucks roaring past me. I also bike past abandoned factories and mills out on this rural road, a sure sign of lost jobs and economic disparity. Some areas of this town remind me a lot of Detroit, but probably in the next few decades a lot of cities will grow to resemble Detroit as well (I love Detroit though, just need to clarify that).
Amazingly the map I downloaded is still up on my Ipod when I stop to check how much farther I have to go. Unfortunately, the map claims that there should be a campground where I’m standing, but all I see are more goats. I’m now on the rim of the Jedediah Smith State Forest, but no signs indicate a campground anywhere. I’m almost panicked as I’m rounding 80 miles and can’t seem to find my home for the night. I make it to the junction for Highway 99 and decide to stop at a small apartment building to ask for directions.
As I roll into the lot I see a big group of guys replacing a tire on a Ford Bronco, and decide not to bother them (plus the added unease of approaching a huge group of dudes to ask for directions), I pull up alongside a guy sitting on his porch. I ask him if he knows where the campground is, and he doesn’t look up. I ask again, and again no response. I ask again, and this time he finally sees me and says “Uhh…what?” I ask a 4th time and he again says “What?” The 5th time I’m about to give up, just as he starts to sputter something out, because I look past him into the apartment and realize how sketchy this whole scene is. I see people inside rustling around, looking FREAKED out that I’m standing near their doorway, and finally a woman rail-thin with gnarly scratches all over her face and eyes bugging out comes out and asks what I want. I repeat what I’m looking for and she finally calms down, “OH, yeah that’s like 20 miles up the mountain” as she points toward the 99. “Oh fuck, are you serious? 20 miles?” I say. “Yeah, yeah. It’s way up there man. It’s almost all the way at the top of the mountain. I can’t believe you’re riding up there.” FUCK! WHY?!
I start to pull out of the parking lot to take on this stupid and seemingly unnecessary challenge when all the guys fixing the Bronco tire stand up and face me. There’s probably 8 of them, many of them sporting gang tattoos on their faces, and there’s an awkward silence for a few moments. One of them then asks “Where you trying to go, fool?” I answer and they all immediately brighten up as one of the bigger guys, with probably the most facial tattoos, responds in a jovial and warm manner, “Oh yeah man! That’s just right up there! Shit, you’re biking up that mountain?” I respond yes and they all let out a collective sigh, and he responds with “Damn, be careful on that road, homie. There’s no bike lane and people drive like dicks. It’s fucked up.” I agree and tell them I’ve already biked like 80 miles today and I just wanted to sleep, they all seemed pretty impressed and told me that it sucks I have so much farther to go. As I’m about to leave, a skinny guy with droopy eyes asks, “Hey though, you got any trees?” Assuming he meant weed (or “marijuana” for the layperson) I let out an awkward and drawn out, “Uhhhhhhhhhh. No.” and we all have a good laugh. I thank the gentlemen and hop back on my bike, them shouting encouragement toward me as I begin my trek up the hill. Making friends everywhere I go, I guess. What a day.
I begin my last and final ascent of the day, up into the massive California redwoods. It’s still daylight out, but upon entering the state forest it’s soon blacked out, leaving me debating whether I should have put my bike lights on. The two lane highway is not well traveled at this hour, but the people who do travel down it do not drive in a courteous manner and I find myself yelling, swearing and spitting at RV’s and other cars as they fly past me. In what seems like no time at all I begin seeing signs for the state park campground, totally quashing the original estimation given to me by the folks at the apartment building that it was “20 miles up at the top of the mountain.” I’m thankful that they’re wrong, and I pull into the state park sore, tired, aching and slightly lonely. I pull up to the ranger kiosk, and wait a good 30 seconds before the woman sitting with her back to me realizes I’m there. The redness in her eyes and slow manner of her speech leads me to believe that she’s been “doing some pot” during working hours. I pay her the typical $5 for the hiker/biker site and then ask her if any other bikes came in today. She says no, that there was only 1 person out at the hiker/biker area, and I immediately felt bummed that I won’t be seeing Tristan or any of the other people I’ve met on this trip tonight.
I pull into the grounds, and I pick a site that borders up against a massive old growth redwood tree. It must have been at least 50 feet tall, I couldn’t see the top as the glare from the sun was too much to bear. Speaking of bears, apparently one had been spotted at camp recently so I’m advised to keep all my food in the “bear box” in my campground. Normally I don’t bother and just sleep with food in my tent, but this time I lock it in there as I’m instructed. I get my tent set up and walk the 1/4 mile to the showers on a small path through the woods. Upon arrival I realize that the showers cost $1 for 10 minutes, which is an insult compared to the FREE showers that the Oregon State campgrounds offer you. THIS IS WHY I LEFT YOU CALIFORNIA! I think, as I storm out of the bathroom. I pass some kids tossing a frisbee around on my way back and I awkwardly have to walk through the middle of their game to get past. An uncomfortable moment passes as I interrupt their fun and they all silently stare at me as I shuffle down the path. FUCKING DEAL WITH IT!
^Sharing my campground with this fella
I get back to camp and the loneliness of the silent grounds hits me hard. Having shared campgrounds with mostly the same people every night on this trip, it feels odd to be on my own once again. I’m tempted to build a fire, goof around and swim in the nearby river, but with no one to hang out with I end up just climbing into my tent instead and continue reading my Stephen King book. Today was my last day on my bike, and tomorrow begins my hitchhiking journey home. I was originally going to bike up the 99 to Grants Pass, but I’m rapidly running out of time and I definitely have run out of energy. The 80 miles and 2,000+ ft climb to GP to link up with the 5 does not sound like a fun time to me right now, so I’m going to throw myself upon the mercy of the hitchhiking gods. Once I get to Grants Pass I’ll begin a search for a rideshare on Craigslist, and failing that I’ll find an onramp to hitch off of and hope that someone who stops will have room for my bike. As proud as I am of finishing this ride, I have to remind myself that I’m not done yet, and that tomorrow could still be potentially the hardest day I’ve seen this week. It’s still a 5 and a 1/2 hour drive back to Portland, and I could get lucky and get a ride all the way home in one go or I could be stuck on the side of the road all day and never catch one. We’ll see how it goes in the morning, but the 95 mile ride today took a lot out of me and now it’s time to sleep. Thanks for reading, friends. Wish me luck tomorrow.
“Do you remember the good old days before the Ghost Town?” – The Specials
It’s still storming. I woke to the wind howling and the rain falling steadily in the primeval forest. I decide not to push my luck of not being discovered by continuing to stay out here any longer, so I pack my camp quickly and push my bike up and over the hill back toward the campground. I try my hardest to hit a happy medium of “making little noise as possible” and still “looking like I’m supposed to be doing this”. On approaching the back end of my original campsite, I see the older guy in the neighboring plot setting up a fire. He glances at me and quickly turns away, leaving me to infer that he knew what I was up to and wanted to show he didn’t give a shit that I slept out in the woods (G-code). I mentally high five him as as I push my bike through the campground and walk it over to the central bathroom. Feeling confident I’m in the clear, I take my time brushing my teeth and cleaning up before the days ride. I considered showering, but not having a towel on this trip would mean I’d spend the entire day soaking wet from the beginning, and having a forecast for rain all day would also negate any personal hygiene stuff anyway. I scratch that idea and press on, backtracking the 2 miles to the fork I took to get out to this campground from the town of Charleston yesterday.
The fork I return to is a turnoff for a road called “Seven Devils”, which if you think the name sounds ominous you should see the rapid succession of drops and climbs in elevation over this scenic bypass. This is another questionable alternate route my map tells me about, and once again I debate the safety of a less travelled but more hilly road to the busier 101 that has potentially less climbs. I decide to stick with Seven Devils since I already rode out here. As I’m standing on the side of the road looking at my map, I glance up and see a fence at the end of a driveway across the street that has “NO CHRISTINAS!” spray painted in huge bright neon-pink across the front. Baffled and extremely curious about this, I bike across the street to take a photo when I look up and make eye contact with 3 very gruff looking individuals standing on the other side of the fence. They all give me a death stare as I raise my camera phone. Well, maybe it’s not worth taking a photo of, even though I’m tempted to assure these people that my name is in fact NOT Christina and that I’m cool. Moments later I pass a banner that advertises a business as now being open on “Whensdays”, displaying a spelling error that sickens me in a way that only the sound of nails on a chalkboard can do. What is it with this town? How can you pay $100 for a banner and somehow no one stops you to point out that mistake? Fuck this, I’m out.
Seven Devils road is the most irritating section of road I’ve ever had the misfortune of getting to know. I spend a half hour climbing a huge hill, only to be flying down the other side and abruptly climbing another hill of equal size moments later. What’s worse, it’s still storming out, with a debilitating headwind and a fog so thick that I can barely see past the first few rows of trees in the forest. If there is a beautiful view to be seen here it’s lost on me, and that only adds to the frustration. What seems like hours later I finally reach the end of Seven Devils, cursing it’s name and vowing revenge. You just made a new enemy, road.
I roll through the town of Bandon, passing a bike shop on my right while first entering town, and debate stopping to true my back wheel once again. As usual I decide it’s not worth it and press on, in search of tea and wifi. Eventually I land at a place called Brewed Awakenings and order a tea from the stoned-seeming surfer kid at the counter. The owner is also present but she is not very friendly, proving once again that the farther south you go on the Oregon Coast the less people give a shit about you and why you’re passing through. After I take my seat the “Hey, I’m not dead” – “Cool, thanks for letting me know” comes and goes once again; so I finish my tea and head on my way. A side route takes me along the coast in Bandon and I have the pleasure of once again seeing some breathtaking and utterly amazing rock formations. I’ve said this before, but it’s the only way I can describe is like something out of a science fiction movie because it’s difficult to comprehend how nature could create such a dramatic landscape. I then think of Star Trek and in a knee-jerk reaction I blurt out “NERDS!” as I’m taking in this view. My housemate and a few other friends love the tv series “Star Trek”, and I jokingly call them nerds only because I don’t understand the appeal of the show. I’m thankful no one is near by as I blurt this out either, as traveling alone for this many days has kind of numbed my self-awareness and my ability to gauge my social surroundings before I start talking to myself. Well, whatever. I have no one to impress really. P.S. Star Trek is for nerds!
I continue along the rim of the ocean on this side route, seeing a handful of the most luxurious abandoned houses I have ever laid eyes on. One of them was literally on the rim of the cliff with an ocean view, a big “NO TRESPASSING” sign taped to the front door. I make a mental note of it’s location, in case I ever care to open a yuppie-style squat in the near future. A few minutes later I’m back on the 101 and fighting against the headwind once again, giving me, again, the mental image of pedaling through thick mud. As I enter the countryside the light moisture in the air gives way to heavy rains that pound me so hard that I have difficulty seeing my surroundings. It’s unbelievable how hard it’s coming down, so I decide to pull over at a convenience store I spot about a mile up. As I get closer I see a sign advertising something called “Jo-Jos” and “homemade mustard”. Curious about both I pull into the parking lot and set my bike against the ice fridge out front. Upon entering the store I realize “Jo-Jos” are in actuality just potato wedges with a weird name. Excited at the prospect of eating warm vegan food (and only for 99 cents!) I buy a small tray of them and when asked if I want regular mustard or the homemade mustard I of course say “homemade, please”. As I’m enjoying them under an awning out front I get several friendly nods and hellos from the locals who are making their rounds. The potatoes are burnt to perfection and this house-made mustard is packed with sugar and has the consistency of playdough. So all you wealthy fools who brag about eating fresh made pasta at some lavish coastal resort near the Mediterranean, or eating fresh baguettes and drinking wine in some parisian cafe, just remember that I got something pretty rad going on too. I got fried potatoes to eat in the pouring rain in some small, random town in Southern Oregon, so you all can bite me.
A few miles up the road I come across what looks to be an abandoned elementary school. I give it a double take when I realize, and see that the playground is now buried under 6 ft tall weeds and the building itself is shut up with boards. Never missing an opportunity to explore abandoned places I bike over to check it out. The building itself looks empty, minus a sketchy looking mattress leaning precariously against one of the school windows. I snap a few photos and continue on down the road, only to find an abandoned highschool a little more than a mile away. This school had an epic whale mural painted on the outside, which somehow made the whole building look even spookier. The facilities were locked up tighter than the elementary school, and entering the grounds would require me to lock up my bike and scale the fence, a lot more effort than I was willing to exert. I another mental note of the location to return to later and continue on my way.
More wind, more rain, more struggling with massive hill climbs. Every day I consider my “hardest day” always seems to be outdone by the following one. I feel numb, both emotionally and physically, and I just trudge along up the highway because that’s what I’ve always done and what life has seemed to sentence me to always do. This my existence now, I just have to accept it. I take a few breaks at some beautiful rivers and streams along the way, so mentally and physically exhausted that I forget to even take photographs of the things I see. They’ll live in my memory forever, but unfortunately for you you’ll have to go see them for yourself, which maybe isn’t so bad.
I stagger into Port Orford in the late afternoon, my left knee starting to ache a bit. I’ve been fortunate enough to have good knee health for almost all of this trip, due in part to the glucosamine and MSM I routinely take every morning, but eventually the strain catches up with you. I did absolutely no “training” in preparation for this trip and the result is a typical one. I coast through town and stop at a pizza place, the only business that seems to be open at 5:30 pm on a friday evening, oddly enough. At the end of the road I can faintly make out huge letters painted in the road on a slight incline. The 8 foot letters spell out “VIEW OCEAN” with an arrow pointing South into a neighborhood. Instinctively I laugh and say out loud “OKAY.” in a robotic voice, again glad no one was near enough to hear me laughing and talking to myself. I enter the pizza place and once again order tea and routinely request the wifi password for the hundredth time in my life. One thing I love about small towns is you go to cafes that sell nearly every food you can imagine. This place has espresso, burritos, pizza, milkshakes and homemade beef jerky – something for everyone apparently. I ask the cashier how far Humbug Mountain is from here, and like most of the people I’ve met out in the country she relates the distance as how long it takes to drive there in a car. I have to mentally calculate how far a “10 minute drive” would be for me on my bike, and she’s shocked when I tell her I intend to ride out there. She says “it’s probably like, 10 miles or something!” and her distress is only eased when I tell her that I biked down from Portland and she replies “Oh, well, never mind then”. She then adds “it’s also really windy today though”. Well, duh.
As I leave the pizza place I’m tempted to explore this town more thoroughly despite running low on time. As I’m biking across it I see only 3 other people, and all the businesses are shuttered tight for the evening. So bizarre that a town shuts down at this hour on a weekend. I was hoping to find some of the town’s youth to get their perspective on growing up here, as they’re usually the most reliable and honest source of information about what their town is like, but this place is pretty much a ghost town. I eventually find a parking lot with a gorgeous view of “Battle Rock”, a formation just off the coast, and a little placard explaining the history of the town. Apparently, Port Orford is the oldest town on the Oregon Coast, first “discovered” by European colonists in 1851. Amazingly, the history on this placard is pretty honest about the fact that this “discovery” threatened to existence of the Tututni people who originally inhabited the area. The original colonists were attacked and driven out by the Que-to-mah tribe, who pushed them farther North. The colonists then returned later on with more people to “secure” the settlement. The only part of the placard that omitted what some may consider “key” information is that “securing the settlement” meant murdering and driving out the indigenous people in the area, contributing to the genocide of Native Americans already in progress across the continent. But you know, accurate historical accounts are overrated, right?
I continue on and notice that the shoreline is now beginning to get that distinct “Northern California” feel to it and I know then that I’m nearing the end of my trip. Eventually I roll into Humbug Mountain State Park and as usual a wave of relief and satisfaction washes over me. I bike the few miles down the side road, find the check in station (that thankfully allows you to pay with a credit card) and start filling out my camp information. As I’m filling out my card two guys pull up on bikes and I say hello and point in the general direction of the hiker/biker sites since it’s not listed on the map. I immediately like them as one of them points to the “BEER SUCKS XXX DRINK WATER” patch on my hat and says “right on man! I fully agree!”. We strike up a conversation and it turns out that they’re both from Portland, but they both have been living in San Diego for the past several years. They talk like typical so cal surfer guys and it makes me feel a bit homesick. There names are Tanner and Steven, and we walk back up to the hiker/biker area where I see folks who now feel like old friends. Tristan, the Australian guy who’s riding solo, is in the camp across from me, and tells me that he had a hell of a day with 2 flats and a broken bike pump that he had to replace back up in Bandon. A half hour later both Zach and Dan roll into camp as well and it’s good to see them once again also. I meet a Brazilian couple who’s been bike touring for a solid year all over the world, and I’m embarrassed to admit how short my trip is in comparison.
I set up my camp and decide that I needed a fire this evening. I bought a box of minute-rice a few days ago and I’m really, really sick of having to carry it around. It having rained constantly the past 3 days has restricted me from cooking, but I’m not going to let the light rain this evening stop me again. I start collecting the left-behind but very wet firewood across our respective camps, inviting anyone to warm by the fire later, and decide to buy one of the “starters” from the camp host for a dollar. They’re essentially little hockey pucks made out of cedar dust and wax, but they burn intensely hot for a long time and can light pretty much anything. I walk over there and realize I don’t have enough change, so I ask for some from a couple eating sandwiches in a regular camping area and they give me 50 cents. I thank them and head back to my camp after buying the starter, starving and eagerly wanting to eat and end this day. I get the fire going and break out my cookware. Tonight’s dinner is rice, chana masala and bombay potatoes out of my last 2 Tasty Bite packets that I brought along. Tristan comes over to toast a bagel and pretty soon both Steven and Tanner walk over to hang out at the fire as well. We all share stories from our trips and Steven and Tanner both have hilarious ones. They tell me about a day they were at a laundromat in Brookings, OR where a woman in a trenchcoat with a really intense gaze tried to convince both of them to come home with her. These kids are both probably in their early 20’s and were understandably freaked out by this encounter, which they laughed about when they confessed this part of the story. They also told us about a night they spent on the sand in Northern California, which they thought to be legally allowed. They picked a spot hidden between some cliffs on a secluded section of beach, and awoke the next morning to a coastguard helicopter hovering just 50 ft above their camp. Freaking out, they packed up their stuff and managed to run down the sand and off the beach with their bikes as the helicopter landed on the shore! We all howled with laughter at that, and both Tristan and I promised them both that we’d be careful and watch out for the woman in the trenchcoat when we got to Brookings.
The fire begins to die out, normally a signal that the party’s over. I say goodnight to everyone, adding to Steven and Tanner that I hoped to see them around Portland when I got back. I truly meant it, they were both super nice guys. I also said goodnight to Dan and Zach, who had a long night of drying their wet clothes by the fire ahead of them. They bought an entire cart of firewood to do so, and by the size of it it looked as if they were going to be up all night. I laid down in my tent, curled up in my sleeping bag and continued on with my Stephen King book. Even though it’s still raining, life is starting to feel ok again, and my mind drifts to my day in Brookings tomorrow. I originally was going to stop just south of Brookings for the night, rounding out a decent ride, but looking at the map it saddened me to think that I’d be that close to the California border and not continue on. I decided that I was going to go for it tomorrow and try and get to a state park just outside of Crescent City called Jedediah Smith, since that was also on highway 99 which I’ll be transferring to. This would make almost a 100 mile day, which would be my longest since the trip started, but I feel confident that I can make it happen. It will potentially be my last day riding, so even if my knee gives me trouble again I’ll be able to stay off it while I hitch back to Portland. Chances are also that this will be my last night with all the people I’ve come to know on this trip as well, since the state park I’ll be staying at is a few miles off the route that everyone else will be taking farther south. I’m sad, excited and enthusiastic all at once as I think about accomplishing the goal I set for myself tomorrow. Now I must sleep, as tomorrow will be the longest day yet and is filled with unknown pitfalls and challenges. Sleep well my friends, I’ll be seeing you soon.
“The drifting night / begets my footsteps / I press this pavement / until my feet scrape / in the back of my head I / saw you in the back of / my head I found a knife / dangling from your face” – Pg. 99
ffffffFFFUUUUUUCKK. I shoot bolt upright in the midst of a terribly vivid nightmare and find myself both relieved and disappointed all at once as I hear the pattering of the rain on my tent. Relieved to be out of the nightmarish hellscape that was playing in my head, but disappointed because now I know I face another difficult morning, and probably another difficult day. I decide not to dawdle, the longer I stay warm in my sleeping bag the less I want to leave, and this kind of situation can be an incredibly slippery slope. I have a long ride today, since I didn’t get as far as I intended to yesterday, so to stay on schedule I really need to put in a solid day of riding.
I pack up most of my things, put on my now slimy and still-soaked shoes that I stupidly left out in the rain all night, and patted along the muddy path to the bathroom in my sleeping outfit to brush my teeth. Every step I take I feel my toes squish in my canvas sneakers and pretty soon a sickening, off-colored bubble of foam starts to form from the toes of my shoes from all the friction. I spot Dan and Zach at the entrance to the showers and I greet them. I’m incredibly fortunate to see them it turns out, as I was in such a rush to leave Beverly Beach yesterday that I forgot my Glucosamine, MSM and vegan multi-vitamins I take for my joints. Zach thoughtfully packed them in his bag, carried them all this way and now hands them over. Vegans stick together! Turns out they had to get a regular campsite last night, as all the hiker/biker sites were either taken by the time they got there, or horribly flooded from the heavy rain. They had to bite the bullet and shell out the money for a regular campsite, which is never fun. Zach checks his phone for vegan spots in Reedsport, since that’ll be the next town we roll through. He always seems to use the seemingly now obsolete website Happy Cow, which I actually hadn’t even thought about it in years since it never gets updated. Often times you check that site for vegan friendly places in towns and upon arriving at the restaurants you find out that it’s been closed for 5 years. I make jabs at him every once in a while for still using the site, but I respect the fact that people want to keep it alive.
I walk back to my tent and reluctantly dress back into my already wet and freezing cold clothes. At least I don’t have to go through the whole process of getting soaked again, I guess. I packed as quickly as my cloudy head would allow me and I pushed my bike out of the now mucky campsite and out of the state park altogether. Still regretting not being able to check out the sand dunes yesterday that lay not 100 ft from where my tent was. There’ll be a next time I’m sure, but this thought brings me no comfort unfortunately.
Biking soon warms me up and I forget about the rain for a little while. I make it into Reedsport, which definitely has a very southern Oregon feel to it. I pull over at a Mcdonalds to steal their wifi and I spot the Canadian bike trio I saw up in Lincoln City inside at a booth. I’m pretty sure I recognized their tent last night at the campsite as I was settling down for bed, but I’m not positive. I’m not totally sure either if they actually ate any food here or if they were just getting out of the rain, but I’d be amazed if they actually ingested any of that garbage and intended to bike the rest of the day. Ethical issues with Mcdonalds aside, the most iron-clad stomach couldn’t hold down their food and bike 80 miles afterward, this I’d be willing to bet on. As I was checking for tea houses nearby they all poured out of the Mcdonalds and one of the women greeted me. They told me they’ll be staying in a cabin tonight at a KOA site just to get out of the rain and dry themselves. KOA is the biggest ripoff campground chain that has ever existed, and I implore you NOT to spend your money on that garbage. They managed to find a cabin there though for $80 that they said they’d split between the 3 of them. They assured me it was a good deal, but I remain unconvinced. Nothing good can come of a KOA campground, even if it means sleeping indoors for a night.
I internet finds me a natural food store up the road and so I bike over and lock up out front, leaving my panniers on the bike. There’s nothing all that valuable in them, and at this point I’m confident that the likelihood of someone robbing me in these small towns is pretty low. I slosh in through the double doors, leaving a trail of muddy water behind me. I try to walk in circles in the store to try and disguise the fact that it’s me, but I doubt that it worked. I find the coffee shop in the back and order a hot chai from the incredibly unfriendly proprietor. I kept trying to be cheery and gracious but I was met with indifference at every turn. As I take a seat a tourist couple comes in and the woman uses the bathroom, but as she’s about to exit she neglects to buy anything. She seemed genuinely interested in getting something from the lunch counter, but she audibly complained that they were sold out of soup. Immediately the cashier fires back “So what, you just use my bathroom and don’t buy anything???”. Flabbergasted she gives half an explanation and then quickly walks out. “Dude, what IS this place?” As I settle in my chair and take my first sip of tea, Careless Whisper by George Michael comes on the overhead. I decide that life is ok in this moment, as the corniest saxophone line that has ever been written wails across the cafe.
I make my visit to the unfriendly health food store brief, and as I leave I reconsider my position about the “one meal out” blanket rule I had for this trip. I noticed in my online search earlier that there was a chinese restaurant at the end of town that seemed to have a lot of vegan options. I’m not going to lie either, the photos made their food look irresistible. I decide to treat myself considering the night I had, and the day that lay ahead of me. I parked my bike near a booth window so I could keep an eye on my stuff, and the server was friendly and said she was glad to see me out riding my bike. Another table full of older folks nearby jumped into the conversation and said the same, that they were glad I was out here on my bike getting exercise and seeing the coast. Then they all started talking amongst themselves about biking and how important it is for personal and environmental health, with the server encouraging them to get bikes and start riding around town, even if it’s just “biking to church on Sundays!” (I do not recommend this destination). She was super helpful when it came to the menu too, and when I ordered a tofu dish she warned me that it had beef broth in it (seriously? why??). She told me it could be made vegan though, and as she entered the kitchen I heard her shout at full volume “HEY JEFF HE’S A VEE-GUN. NO BEEF BROTH!” and heard an affirmative sound in response, not unlike a grunt.
My food turned out to be glorious, and I drank the entire pot of green tea they gave me. It was a good idea to stop here. No regrets here at all. Even better is I look outside and see the sun start to poke out from the clouds! Knowing Oregon this is going to be short lived, but for the moment I’m glad that I don’t have to go back out into the storm. Out front I change out of my wet socks and into my last dry pair. My shoes are still soaked, but I fear getting a rash if I continue on with my socks as wet as they are.
I leave Reedsport on a good note and continue on through the forest with the sun shining weakly down on me. I finally feel my rain shell start to dry, and within an hour my shorts are almost completely dried out as well. I start to make good progress again despite the howling wind threatening to blow me over into the road. Pretty soon I’m racing down the side of a hill, holding one hand on the handlebars and the other on the top of my head to prevent my hat from flying off. All of a sudden I hear a massive *ROARRRR* as a motorcycle flies up from behind me, dips into my emergency lane and comes within a foot of hitting me while revving his engine as aggressively as he could. I hold my ground in the lane and try not to be shaken by it, if I lose control of my bike at this speed there’s no way to get it back and I’ll end up going over a railing into who knows what. As he passes I see it’s one of those typical Harley Davidson-loving, cool dad-vacationing, wild-hogs watching fuckers that I see every once awhile at campsites. His motorcycle is purple, with a stupid looking tribal decal on the back and a woman riding behind him who he was probably trying to impress. I am seething with fucking anger, especially since this piece of shit is supposed to be on my side. Two wheels, you fucking bastard. I burn the image of his bike in my mind, hoping and wishing to myself that we happen to stay at the same campsite this evening so I can greet him with a face-full of bear mace which he so rightfully earned.
I reach another bridge, which typically means I’ll soon be entering a town. This time it’s North Bend, and as per usual I hit the “Bikes on Roadway” button to alert cars of my presence. I decide to bike on the sidewalk as I have on the other bridges so far, even though the signs advise you not to. I find it to be much safer than riding in the road on some of these bridges. I’m greeted by stormy winds that I fight with on the narrow sidewalk so I don’t topple off the 2 ft high curb into the road. The bridge is so long it takes me about 20 minutes to get all the way across it, and with such intense focus it’s a relief to relax my arms as I roll off the sidewalk and into the road on the other side. North Bend seems nice, and it reminds me of a mix of equal parts Astoria and North Lake Tahoe, if you’ve been to either. I also get a strange military feel from it, but I think that’s due in part to a Coast Guard Helicopter swooping low over the town over and over again.
After a brief ride across town I find a Safeway and park my bike. Dan, one of the Seattle guys, joked with me that it seemed that all the riff raff in these small towns seem to congregate around the Safeway parking lot. I decide to test his theory as I eat lunch on a bench out front. Sure enough I see a lot of sketchy characters drift through in my half hour there, including a bearded man with a basketball leering at a couple of teenage women, crouched forward, and talking to himself while holding the basketball at crotch level. I also see a woman yelling at her kids as they’re unloading the cart into her fancy SUV. The little girl is standing halfway on the cart and the mother starts to yell “STOP it! You’re starting to make me really MYADUHHH!” in a way that leads me to believe she’s shouted that way since she was a child.
Breezing through North Bend, and passing over a small section of Coo’s Bay, I finally find myself in Charleston. Here I teeter across an insanely windy bridge as I make my way into the tiny fishing village. The town reeks of fish and it instantly rubs me the wrong way as I see a “breakfast barn” with 5 ft tall letters spelling “BACON” on the side of their roof. I stop at a convenience store to use the bathroom briefly, see a few really depressed looking teenagers and decide I can benefit nothing from hanging around this place.
Soon I’m climbing a hill on the south end of Charleston which encompasses the last few miles before my sleeping spot for the evening. I come to a fork that I don’t remember clearly from the map, so I take out the now tattered and soggy piece of paper to take a brief glance and get my bearings. As I’m standing in the road partly up the hill, a kid on a mountain bike comes FLYING down the hill past me, screaming as he passes “THE STORM IS COMING, MAN!” I instinctively wave and thank him as I take a look to the sky, where near-black clouds are forming and the wind begins to howl even stronger. Fucking shit, what’s next?!? I hop on my bike and start working my way up the hill as quickly as my legs will allow to race against the impending doom looming above me. Eventually I reach the turnoff for the state park, which is about 2 miles off the main bike route, meaning that it’s 4 miles roundtrip to get out here. According to my map this place is the only park in the area that has hot showers, so I think it’s going to be worth the extra distance and effort. I follow the signs for Bastendorf Beach, now nearly frantic as I power up into the state park. Eager to set my tent up as quickly as I can before the sky opens up and I spend another night in a soaking wet tent. The hectic winds are already spraying me with light moisture so I know a heavier rain is coming soon.
After my last and frantic sprint up the hill into the park I finally roll into the campground and bike straight toward the check in station. The building that normally houses a park ranger that you check in with upon entry is closed, so I bike over to a self-check in station a few yards past it. SHIT! It’s cash only, and I don’t see any information about hiker/biker sites on the campground. I think as I realize there’s no card to fill out credit card information. Unfortunately for, and unwisely of me I didn’t stop to get cash out before I got here. There also wasn’t any indication on the map about any of the cheap hiker/biker stations, but that’s not unusual as the park rangers usually have a difficult time locating them on the state park maps as well.
I see the camp host scooting around in a golf cart near another area of the campground and I wave her over. A small girl is running alongside the cart as well, who I assumed was here with her family. When the golf cart reaches me the woman jerks the wheel to the right to come to an abrupt stop just as the little girl side steps to her left while running alongside. The cart comes screeching to a halt and misses taking the girl out by literal inches. “SEE! That’s why you can’t run alongside the cart, honey!”. I try to return my eyes to their normal size and get a hold of what I’m sure was clearly a very shocked look on my face before I start to speak to her. I had no time to waste, so our conversation is as follows:
“Hey, how’s it going? I don’t see any information on here about hiker/biker sites on the campground. Can you show me where they are?”
“Oh… yeah… well there aren’t any hiker spots here.”
“Well, on this state map I have *unfolding my map* it says this place has the cheap hiker/biker sites.”
“Oh, well then yes… yeah we have those. You can camp in any of these spots on this loop behind me.”
“yeah, but they’re not hiker/biker are they? They’re not listed that way on this map and there are cars over there. It says here it’s $16 to camp instead of the usual $5.”
“Well… yeah… they’re uh… hiker spots. Just choose whichever one you want and fill out the card. They’re $16.”
“Uh… ok… thanks”
As she drives off panic starts to hit me. I don’t have any cash, I’m miles from anywhere I could get it, and even if I had it there’s no way I’m paying $16 just to camp here for the night. It’s too stormy to even have a fire, so essentially I’d just be paying to sleep in a dirt lot and use the shower. I get back on my bike and start to pedal past the sites in the camp loop, seeing that the camp host went off in the direction of her trailer. I bike to the far corner to a campsite that seems to have the most privacy; the back of the site touches some open woods, and on either side of it are head-high bushes that obstruct the view to most of the camp. I set my bike on it’s kickstand and stand there for a minute, weighing my options and trying to think as quickly as I can. The sun’s going down, and it must be around 8 o’clock at this point, so I wonder if the host is done with her rounds for the night. I could potentially just set up camp, sleep here for the night, and get up early like I’ve been doing and leave before she even has the chance to check on me. The storm could also be a deterrent for her as well, since the wind has now picked up to an eerily forceful strength. No, I think. She already saw me roll in here and there’s no way she’s not going to come by later to make sure I paid. Ugh. At last I glance behind me and gaze off into the woods. There’s a small and rarely used path leading up and over a grassy hill into a very evil looking forest. Without hesitation I grab my bike and start pushing it down the path, momentarily glancing over my shoulder to make sure the older guy camping solo next to my site can’t see where I’m headed. As quickly and as silently as I’m able, I drag my bike up and over the grassy hill, and head in a straight line out into the dark woods.
A short distance into the woods I come to the rim of a cliff. Just below me is the road I biked in on, and there’s a small patch of open and level ground that I deem good enough to pitch my busted tent on. I clear some logs and debris out of the patch and realize the ground is incredibly soft due to the thick top layer of moss. I set up my tent as best as I can in the howling wind, and quickly place everything (bike included) inside. On nights where I felt questionable about the safety of my bike I’ve brought it inside my spacious 3 person tent, and tonight is no exception. After loading all of my gear into my tent I stand and hover just outside of it, feeling extreme anxiety about being discovered out here. I’m filled with dread thinking about having to repack all of my gear, bike the few miles back into town and have to find another place to sleep in this storm. My paranoia only increases as I hear children playing and yelling off somewhere in the campground, terrified that they might run out into my guarded nook in the forest. I could just see them returning to their campsites to regale their parents with tales of a strange, bearded, tattooed man sleeping illegally out in the woods. Well, to be fair I really have no idea if sleeping out here is legal or not. If I’m discovered I decide that I will assure whoever finds me that I somehow have the states permission to be camping out here on an undesignated plot. Who knows, it could even be true. That doesn’t matter really though, if the camp host doesn’t know what a hiker/biker site is I’m willing to bet that she doesn’t know the law concerning public lands, and regardless of what the law actually says I’ll still attempt to bullshit my way out of it. I’m willing to fight tooth and nail to just put an end to this day and be able to sleep peacefully.
I stand outside my tent studying my map for about 45 minutes, and I decide that if by 9:30 I still haven’t seen anyone come up and over that hill than I’ll be safe for the evening. This is of course a totally arbitrary deadline, other than having a placebo effect on my ability to settle in and finally get comfortable. So I check my map and mentally calculate how many days I’ll have till I’m in California to keep my mind occupied, but the thought of that even overwhelms me. I then focus on my days ride tomorrow, which is around 55 miles spanning from the edge of Charleston to a campsite just south of Port Orford called Humbug Mountain State Park. The forecast calls for rain again tomorrow, according to a sign I saw at the entrance to the park. Every day of this trip so far I’ve decided the night before how far I’m willing to ride the next day, always having fall back places to camp if for whatever reason I’m unable or unwilling to reach the park I’m trying to get to. According to my map there are a few state parks between here and Port Orford, but they’re all miles off my main route and from what I can tell not worth the extra effort, so it looks like it’s all or nothing out to Humbug Mountain.
9:30 comes and goes, and I finally decide to climb into my tent and settle in for the night. The wind is still howling and rain is starting to fall steadily; though the gnarled, dry trees that make up this forest are doing a decent job of protecting me from the elements. I still fear that a dead branch is going to break free from the tree and land on my tent, but that’s something I’ll worry about when the time comes. I get into my sleepy shorts (aka basketball shorts, because I’m a bro) and climb into my sleeping bag. Now that I’ve been off my bike for a couple hours I actually start to feel the cold air again so I’m thankful to have the 0 degree mummy bag I brought along. I realize I haven’t drank enough water today as I’m feeling strangely dehydrated, which is odd considering how damp I’ve been for the last 48 hours. I pull out the book I’ve been reading on this trip, “Different Seasons” by Stephen King, and I read a considerable amount of one of the 4 novellas in the book called “Summer of Corruption”. Without giving away any of the story, it is fucking brutal, and the suspense was amplified greatly by the storm rattling my tent and the silhouettes of the gnarled trees moving around outside the canvas. Every branch cracking or leaves brushing the forest floor put me on alert for being discovered, and only added to the suspense of my book. This is where my life has lead me this evening, reading this intense book in the middle of a primeval forest and braving a storm with nothing but a rickety fabric tent and a sleeping bag. As unpleasant as a lot of this day has been, I recognize that it is nights like this one that serve as a bench-marker for the times that I’ve felt truly alive, regardless if that was a pleasant experience or not. I envy your safe sleeping quarters this evening my friends, but I’m still thankful to be out in the world tonight. Sleep well.
“The storms are on the ocean / the heavens may cease to be / this world may lose it’s motion, love / if I prove false to thee” – The Carter Family
I woke up this morning a little past 8 am again, my body is kind of settling into a new schedule it seems. One thing I enjoy about sleeping outside isI rise when the sun does, and that in turn means I usually get to bed at a reasonable hour. Plus, there’s nothing like strenuous athletic activity to remind you that when it comes down to it “food is fuel” and “sleep is for recharging”.
I get fully packed up around 9 am and said my goodbyes and goodlucks to the few other cyclists I’ve come to be familiar with at these camps. Some of them I’ve seen only once before, but I can tell a camaraderie is building between us. I mount my bike and coast down the hill that the hiker/biker site is on and pedal out of the state park. I hung a left on the 101 and take the first few strides toward another long day of cycling.
It’s freezing cold this morning, and the air is heavy and damp. The fog is almost as thick as it was last night and I feel the need to wear my rain shell due to the crisp air. It takes me about a half hour to warm my legs up so they stop moving like rusted machinery, but once I get my rhythm back I’m jamming down the highway and making good time. Before I know it though the short 6.5 mile ride from the state park to the town of Newport is over and I once again am cruising around a new place and taking in the sights. Newport isn’t much to look at though, I gotta be honest with you. It seems pretty industrial and downtown looks just like a long, tattered, chewed up old strip mall. Probably not too unattractive when I take into account a lot of other place I’ve visited over the years, but after cycling through these quaint and extremely beautiful coastal communities, Newport seems to be in stark and unfavorable contrast.
I stop at a small market to stock up on supplies, including some athletic tape since my hand is beginning to form a painful palm bruise. The bruise started to form partway through my ride yesterday, and this morning it’s killing me to a point where I mostly ride one-handed. I didn’t bring bike gloves with me unfortunately, so wrapping it in a $2 bandage seems to be a cheap, temporary solution to this problem. The old worn rubber grips on my Schwinn cruiser bars probably weren’t designed to be comfortable for 400 mile rides, but how was I supposed to know that? Haha. After I stock up on what I need I cross the street to the Starbucks where I use their wifi and do my “not dead” checkin once again. I don’t bother getting a tea as there’s a massive line flowing from the counter all the way out on to the patio where I’m sitting, as much as I may want one this morning. Heavy, sleep laden eyes bore down on a sweaty punk guy as he uses the facilities without intending to purchase anything. “FOR SHAME!” I imagine them screaming. I can hear the irritable tone in their conversations, and it seems as if they’re probably all a moment away from strangling one another if it meant that they could get their coffee before someone else. I’ve grown tired of this town already, so I head on my way, not looking back for a second.
I continued down the highway at a good clip until I caught up with the Australian guy who I recognized from the campsite last night. I chat with him for about 15 minutes while riding in his draft, and eventually overtake him while bombing a hill and tell him I’ll see him in the next town. About a half hour later I start to see a lot of pretty impressive rock formations as I’m flying down the highway, and soon I see signs for “Seal Rock” coming up pretty soon. I decided to take a break and pulled into a turnout to check out the view. There weren’t a whole lot of seals within view, but the chain of tiny islands that sit just off shore was definitely worth the stop. Eventually the Australian guy caught up to me and pulls over as well. We exchange pleasantries and I find out his name is Tristan while we both chat about our individual rides. He’s riding solo as well, from Vancouver, BC where he’s currently living, and all the way down to San Diego. He had a considerable beard consistent with someone who’s been on the road as long as he had and he also was wearing a pretty cozy looking pair of boardshorts that I secretly envied. As is the same with pretty much everyone I’ve interacted with who’s bike touring I liked him pretty much instantly. I think it says a lot about someone’s character if they’re willing to hit the road solo, armed only with a bicycle and a tent, cover a huge distance on a small, human-powered machine and leave everything behind for an undetermined amount of time. Pretty soon Tristan and I are joined by a woman I non-verbally refer to as “the woman who never talks”, who I also recognize from the last camp and infer is riding solo as well. She pulled up about 10 feet behind us and gave us a small wave while she checked out the view. I lingered for a few more moments but decided to keep going before I got too comfortable and it gets even more difficult to press on.
Hours later I find myself climbing yet another massive hill. It’s still foggy out, and the air is becoming increasingly more damp as the day progresses. Soon I feared it would start to rain and make this ride that much more difficult. The headwind today has been considerable, and already my muscles were straining to keep a pace that I feel satisfied with. I realized I’m incredibly hungry now, on the verge of “hanger” (so hungry that you get mad) so I decided to pull off at a convenience store at the edge of an RV park at the crest of a hill. I bought an iced tea and asked if I could use the microwave for my Tasty Bite packets. The woman is extremely helpful and chats me up for a long time while I meander through the store. Even though I’m in a hurry and I’m starving I politely carry the conversation since she’s being so kind to me, even setting me up with plates and cutlery to better enjoy my food off of. I took my food to the benches out front, and as I’m eating it begins to lightly rain, which then gives way to pouring rain. I am not in the mood for this right now I think. My only hope is that this rain will cease in the next couple of hours, but my experience growing up on the coast of southern California tells me that a storm could be coming soon.
I pedaled on through the pounding rain, some moments even losing my vision because the rainfall is so heavy. I try to get in a positive mindset and stay focused to the task at hand, recognizing how this trip is proving not only to be an incredible physical strain but a mental one as well. Eventually I make my way into Yachats, which now I start to think will be my new favorite town on the Oregon Coast. It’s small and full of kite shops, surf shops and cheery looking people having a great day in spite of the rain. I pull off the 101 and follow signs to a Post Office, where I drop in some postcards for friends near and far. Even though it’s the middle of the week, nearly every Post Office I’ve seen in these small towns is closed, or only serve as PO box stations. I thankfully bought postcard stamps already so I wasn’t put out by it, but it’s definitely something I need to keep in mind next time I stop.
Regretfully I pedal through Yachats and continue on my way, stopping to snap a few photographs of what I fantasize to be my future place of residence. Soon I cross town and I’m back out in the woods, laboring down this two lane road. Some town folks in Lincoln City warned me that once you get south of Newport the roads considerably change for the worse, and that it becomes less touristy and less populated from there on out. So far this seems to be the case, as the road gets rougher with every mile, the emergency lane had whittled down to being only a foot wide, and on my right is usually either a sheer drop off a cliff or a 5 feet drop into a ravine; sometimes with no guard rail at all. I’m spacing out at this point in my ride, thinking a bit about the rain, about my sore muscles and about my hand which still stings even with the bandage protecting it. The next thing I know I feel my bike start to drag to the right where the ravine drops off, and before I can correct myself I know that my balance is going to send me into the ditch. “oh SHIT!” I yell as I careen off the road, barely getting my front wheel up to prevent myself from flipping over my bars. I drop 4 feet down into the ditch with a heavy thud, my elbow and ribs hitting the side of the road on the way and my upper body flopping partially into the lane of traffic. I immediately scramble to right myself as I have no idea if there are any cars approaching from behind. Thankfully there are none, and as I swear and spit I drag my heavy-as-shit bike out of the ditch and then check the wheels and the components for damage. Thankfully, and amazingly, there seems to be none. Both tires are still inflated and soon as I start biking I carefully watch both wheels for even the slightest wobble. There are none, so at least I have that to be thankful for. Unfortunately my shin, elbow and ribs are now killing me. I cracked my ribs on that side several times over the course of my life from skateboarding, so slamming down on the concrete just now didn’t help much with that at all. What a day this is turning out to be.
Checking my map I realize I’ll be approaching the one and only tunnel I’ll have to cross through since I skipped over the other that’s just south of Astoria. This is the “Cape Creek” tunnel near Heceta Head, and the photographs I saw of this tunnel did not prepare me for the ominous cavern that loomed on the hill, beckoning me toward it to receive my fate. The grade is incredibly steep here, and there is absolutely no emergency lane to bike in anymore. What’s worse, there are massive, two-trailer semi trucks flying past me on this road despite the rain. They kicked up mist and instilled terror in me as they passed me going 4 times my speed. After a struggle up the hill in my lowest gear I reach the mouth of the tunnel. A button sits on the edge of the bridges and tunnels on the coast that sets off a series of lights that warns other drivers that we’re passing through, as well as legally reducing the speed the cars are allowed travel through certain sections. I feel these warning lights are a placebo for the cyclists at best, and drivers typically do whatever they want with impunity and without remorse. I stop for a moment to catch my breath, sit at what almost feels like a “starting line” and prepare for my mad dash through the several hundred feet of tunnel ahead of me. In one motion I slam my palm into the button and the race is on! I get both feet in my straps, shift up and start jamming through the darkness as quick as I can, 2 bike lights blinking on the back of my seat post. Thankfully the car directly behind me slows to the required 30 mph, and eventually matches my pace to protect me from other cars in the narrow passageway. The cars behind this thoughtful person start blaring their horns in anger, creating a deafening sound that multiplies and magnifies in the stone tunnel. What the fuck, man! I almost utter, but I stay focused on the task at hand. A few moments later I inch my way out the other end of the mountain side and breathe the fresh air of victory, only to realize there’s still no emergency lane and another formidable climb ahead of me. Fuck this day. Seriously.
Through asthma induced wheezing and legs feeling like they’re made of rubber, I finally approach a plateau where the grade levels out and offers a view of the ocean. I pull over in a turnout and take a look at what I just accomplished with this mad dash up this towering cliff, and my prize is the view in front of me now. The heavy fog still looms in the air, presenting a sinister and spectacular view of the Heceta Head Lighthouse a mile or so down the road. Directly beneath me a group of Sea Lions lounge on a series of rocks, one of them sleeping directly on his face with his arms splayed in every direction. He’s immediately my favorite. My wheezing and my enjoyment of this jaw-dropping view is only interrupted by an older woman who approached me and asked me where I was biking from. I told her that I started in Portland a few days ago and I’m met with the now expected “that’s great! good for you!” response. She’s friendly and we chat for a minute, and I thank her for considering how fucking scary and dangerous it is out here for bikes and as I tell her about some of the more disrespectful drives today she yells curses into the air.”You’re cool”, I think “but I gotta go”. She wishes me luck and I thank her again.
Soon I reach a small building with a very full parking lot, and I realize these are the Sea Lion Caves I saw on my map as I was going over it last night. If you pay a fee there’s an elevator that will take you down into a cave where you can view the Sea Lions in all their slumbering and barking glory. As tempted as I was to take the elevator, I was totally broke, and instead I set my eyes on the counter that had about a dozen different types of fudge on display. I ask the woman behind the counter if any of them are dairy free, and I get an immediate response that all of them have cream and butter. “FUCK!” So I grab a few postcards, including a pretty awesome holographic one and head on my way.
The grade eases up a bit once I pass the Sea Lion Caves, and even though I’m still powering up the side of this impressive cape in the rain, I breathe a small sigh of relief as I think the crest must be coming soon. I eventually make it to the visitors center for “Devil’s Churn” and decide I should stop and ask about where I can find “Thor’s Well”, one of the main things I wanted to see on this ride. The park ranger was really helpful as usual and marks it on a map for me, explaining that it’s really simple to find. I take a short walk across the parking lot and take a look at Devil’s Churn, which is a narrow crack in the rocks that traces back all the way to the base of the cliff. The tide flows through the ravine and as waves crash around inside the mist it creates sprays to a considerable height. I film it with my camera phone to show friends later and go back to grab my bike. The ranger tells me it’s all downhill from here till the turnoff I need, and I reach the spot in less than 5 minutes. Excitedly I rush back and forth along the railing overlooking the rock formations to try and find the well. I can see some of the formations he mentioned, but no sign of Thor’s Well. I find some info placards along the railing but not one of them mentions this geographical oddity. I finally saunter over to the far corner of the railing where I see two women standing and I ask them if they know which one is Thor’s Well. They say they were wondering the exact same thing, and that the only thing they think it could possibly be was a tiny little hole in a rock several hundred feet away and inaccessible by foot. It doesn’t look to be churning in quite the way the ranger said it would be, but I take a photo of it and several other rocks just in case and decide to look it up later. Another anti-climactic end to what I built up to be so exciting! I told probably 10 other people about how I wanted to see this thing on my trip down, and none of them had heard of it, and now I know why. Well, whatever, at least I got to see it… I think?
Fuck, it’s still raining. Hard. Maybe I don’t need to mention that, but I’m thinking I need to illustrate how thoroughly soaked I’ve been all day. My shoes are squishy when I walk around, and if I wasn’t biking all day and keeping my body warm I’m sure I’d be at risk for all kinds of nasty colds. After a lot more rain I finally roll into Florence and stop at the Fred Meyer at the edge of town to restock my protein bars and get something to make for dinner. As I’m locking up out front I see the woman who never talks, and we both wave to each other. She locks up her bike and heads inside a moment after I do. I perused the fruit and vegetable section when I spot her again and I went over to chat. I’m guessing by her accent that she’s probably German, and though she speaks English really well I understand the shyness of speaking a language that isn’t your first in another country. We talk about our days and she tells me she was thinking of getting a hotel room that evening to get out of the rain. I tell her I’m envious because I wish I could do the same in light of having had a hard day, but unfortunately I can’t afford it. She asks if I have a place to sleep yet, and the way she phrased it confused me as to whether she was offering to share her hotel room with me or if she was just interested in where I was staying. I decided to assume that she was just interested in where I was staying, and I tell her I’m staying at another state park about 5 miles south of Florence called Jessie M. Honeyman. As I’m answering I see a look of disdain drift over her face, and for a moment I wonder if she really DID mean for me to infer that she wanted me to stay with her. Awkward as can be I quickly change the subject and eventually end the conversation to collect the rest of my supplies. Weird times. As I’m packing my bag to leave the Fred Meyer an older fellow walks past me and remarks with a smile “Looks like you brought the rain with you, thanks a lot!” and gives a small laugh. I smile back, all the while thinking “ha-ha, fuck you. Rain jokes. So good.”
It’s been a rough day, to say the least.
*Squish, squish* goes my shoes as I saunter across Florence on my bike, which I’m rapidly finding out is another town I’m less than impressed by. The sand dunes down here are pretty awesome though, and I do have a good laugh as I coast past a church called “Our Lady of the Dunes”. What were they thinking! I bike past several towering sand dunes that I regrettably did not photograph, due to my desire to get to camp and end this difficult day. One street I biked past dead ends at a 30 ft sand dune towering steeply above the sidewalk, which makes for an otherworldly sight. Soon enough I finally roll onto the side road that leads to Honeyman state park, a place that is surrounded by beautiful sand dunes. I see signs all over for rides in sand buggies and ads for dirtbike, quad and sandboard rentals. Unfortunately the weather won’t permit me to enjoy any of that today, but I’d gladly settle for a full nights sleep.
I approach the ranger station, pay for my site, and receive a terrible explanation as to where the showers are located on the property. I don’t bother asking for a map because it’s raining so hard at this point that it would just disintegrate into my hands. I arrive at my spot and begin to unpack my tent as quickly as I can. Unfortunately the long day leaves me disoriented and irritable, and I wrestle with my ramshackle tent for 15 minutes before I finally get it to sit upright with the rain guard on. In that time my tent had filled up with a considerable amount of water that added more to my frustration. I actually say out loud to my tent “I’m sick of your shit!” and toss my bags inside and storm off toward the showers in my still soaked clothes. Thankfully I managed to borrow some really nice waterproof panniers from a friend back in Portland, so at the very least I’ll have a dry sleeping bag and a dry pair of shorts to wear tonight when I sleep. I have to stay positive here.
I walk to the showers, literally peel off my clothing and stand in the hot water of my private room for probably 45 minutes. I put my head against the wall, closed my eyes, and let the water warm my whole body and tried to chase away my blues. What a day, what a fucking day… and it’s still pouring rain out. I mean, it’s raining harder than I’ve seen it rain in a long time, and I don’t even want to begin thinking about having to put on these wet clothes again and go back out into it. Since they’re already soaked anyway I use Dr. Bronners to wash my clothing in the show, so at the very least I’ll have the benefit of them being clean. I painfully and regretfully put my wet clothes back on and trudge back to camp to fix my crappy tent and get ready for bed. I left the bathroom with a huge roll of paper towels to try and soak up the water trapped on the bottom of my tent, and after about a half hour I finally get everything dry enough to feel comfortable taking out my sleeping bag. I sit completely still for another few minutes afterward to pinpoint all the leaks in the tent, where they drip and how the water pools. The moisture is just sweating through the rain guard at this point, and the only way to avoid getting drenched over the course of the night I have to sleep in an extremely awkward position. Almost like a giant question mark.
I pull out the Stephen King book I’ve been reading and it’s almost enough to chase off the thoughts of wishing I was home, warm and in my own bed. This is the first night that I’ve felt the pangs of being away from home and it’s hitting me hard. I could tolerate almost anything right now just as long as it would STOP FUCKING RAINING; but no. I have to endure it with no warm food, no dry clothes and no fire. Somehow I’m extremely dehydrated as well, a reminder that I forgot to drink enough water today even though I’ve been drenched for the past 10 hours. A lesser, and possibly wealthier person would throw in the towel, bike back to Florence and get a hotel room. To be completely honest, if I had the money I might have, but that’s not the hand that I was dealt here. I read for a bit longer until I’m confident I’m tired enough to be able to shut my eyes and not wake again till the morning. I’ll deal with whatever I have to deal with tomorrow. This night is sad, lonely and cold, but I’ll survive regardless. At least this day is over and I’m another town closer to my goal. Goodnight my friends.
“And me, yes I, do I want to burn? / Is there something I can learn? / Do I need a business man to promote my angle? / Can I resist the carrots that fame and fortune dangle?” – CRASS
Woke up again around 8 am this morning and felt pretty dang good about it as well. I got my things together at a more relaxed pace than usual, partly because I wanted to enjoy the morning and partly because I wanted to give Zach and Dan a chance to pack up in time if they were still interested in riding down to Lincoln City together. I went over to check on them to see if they were thinking of heading out soon, and immediately knew the answer when I saw that their camp was still almost fully constructed, haha. They said they’d probably catch up to me in Lincoln City, the next major town over and that I should just head out if I’m ready. We were the last two groups left at the camp, everyone having left a few minutes before I had woken up. The idea of being the last person here by myself while everyone else moved on was an extremely depressing thought, so I decided to press on. I wished both of them luck on the first hill of the day, which was literally just outside the park grounds according to our maps, and headed out of the park.
I rode past the ranger station and took a right onto the bypass I took out here that runs as an alternate to Highway 101. The air was heavy with mist this morning, not quite raining, but not dry either, so I put on my rain jacket but stayed in my shorts. I’ve never been a pants guy, and I like to feel my legs unencumbered by heavy fabric as often as possible. This proved fruitful as I was immediately sweating profusely within minutes of climbing the cape, and only would have eventually ripped off my rain pants out of anger and discomfort. This hill is as bad, if not worse, than what the map warned me it would be, and first thing right out of the park did not make it any easier. A few miles up the cape I pass one of the groups from our camp the night before, I greet them with a good morning and push on. Not 10 minutes later I pass the second group from our camp, and then as I finally near the summit about a half hour later I pass the third and final group. At the risk of sounding like a bike jock, it was refreshing to be passing these lycra clad, professional looking bike tourists on my 35 year old Schwinn strapped with heavily worn panniers. I guess I can be a bit competitive sometimes, but mostly it’s just about showing folks it’s not the money (or in this case, the gear) that gets you up the mountain. It takes heart, and unfortunately a lot of rich fools don’t have that. Punks in the front!
After passing the summit I descended into a long valley, guarded by tall trees on either side, and quickly built up speed on this chewed up old road. All at once I came soaring out of the woods as the tree line abruptly ended on either side of me, and the view opened up to sand dunes that stretched over the horizon in all directions. Out of the sand dunes grew a sparse forest of Doug Firs, trunks buried under several feet of earth, creating an extremely odd effect, almost like something out of a science fiction film. I immediately blurt out “WOOOWWWWW” as I come sailing down the hill as I’m just so overwhelmed by what I’m seeing and can’t contain my reaction. If a bear saw me fly past in this moment I’m sure he would have been extremely confused as to what was going on, who I was talking to, and how I was moving so quickly. I am so freaking lucky to live on this planet I thought to myself. And it’s true, I really am lucky. For all the things life has thrown at me there are many things I am so thankful to have seen and experienced, this being one of them.
As I begin my climb out of the valley several miles later, I find it increasingly more difficult to pedal and begin to feel every little groove and bump in the road as I’m coasting along. At first I think it’s the road itself that’s just rough, but as I look at my back tire I realize I’m losing air. It was probably punctured earlier in the day or last night and is now slowly leaking. Fuck. First flat of the trip. Thankfully I’m prepared, as I brought along the appropriate tools and some extra tubes I bought at Kenton Cycle Repair, so I remove my bags and get to work. I flip my bike, remove my wheel, let the remaining air out of the tube, and run my tire lever across the side of the wheel to pop the tire off. It comes off in a snap, and I give it a look for a few minutes to make sure there aren’t any gaping holes in the rubber. It looks good, so I rifle through my pannier to get out an extra tube and toss the popped one back into my bag. For future reference, old tubes are great for making bungee chords, bracelets and many other things since they’re so durable. Soon after I begin work on my back tire, an Australian guy I’ve never seen before comes riding up and let’s out a long, drawn out “BUMMERRRRR” when he sees what I’m up to. He then asks if I need to borrow an extra tube or a pump, but I thank him and tell him I’ve got it covered. He then wishes me luck, throws a “have fun!” over his shoulder and is off on his way. After another 10 minutes or so I get everything set up properly, pump up my tire with the handpump I brought and put my bags back on. The handpump is pretty cheap so I don’t get my tire as inflated as I’d like, but this is good enough for now. Feeling satisfied and accomplished I continue on.
After a long while of cycling through some incredibly beautiful forests, and almost taking some wrong turns here and there thanks tomany confusing signs, I roll through Pacific City. This town is quickly proving to be one of my favorites on the coast so far, as it’s a tiny little surfing community with massive rock formations just off shore. Hulking monoliths loom in the morning haze, as it was still very damp at this point in the day, creating an extremely ominous and awe-inspiring sight. Surfers unpack their surfboards down on the shore and zip up their wetsuits in preparation for what looks like a pretty awesome swell. I intended on stopping to take a photograph of the beach, but the haze was so thick that any photo I could have taken would just turn out to look like a wall of grey fog. I scratched the idea and continued on, making another mental note as this is a town that I would love to revisit again sometime soon.
A short ride brought me to the southern edge of Pacific City, still maneuvering on a series of scenic roads parallel to Highway 101 that my map and all the “coastal bike route” signs advised me to take. Arriving on the last stretch of road before connecting again with 101 I’m stopped at a bridge by a construction flagger. He tells me that unfortunately the road is being repaved and torn up pretty badly for the next several miles. He added that he let a couple cyclists go past about an hour ago and they biked a few miles up the road only to be turned around and sent back. They then had to ride back into Pacific City to take a detour that adds about 6 miles to the days route. I was soaked all the way through, and I probably looked pretty pathetic, because he then told me to stand under a tree on the side of the bridge while he radios the construction crew. He says something inaudible into his walkie-talkie, and gets a crackled response back that was amazingly even more difficult to understand than the initial question. He waves me back over to where he’s standing and tells me that they’re going to allow me to squeeze through the bulldozers on my bike to save me some time. It would be dangerous and the road was rough, but that it was doable if I was willing to risk it. I said I definitely would and thanked him profusely as he sent me on my way with a huge smile; followed by a “have a great trip!”. There’s has to be a reason as to why people in this part of the state are so nice, and I think I’ll attribute it to the fact that they live in such a beautiful place.
I bike for about a 1/4 mile on the extremely rough road which is stripped all the way down to the gravel, thankfully the dirt was packed heavily enough that I could still ride on it without my wheels sinking in. It was slow going because of all the massive potholes and patches of gravel, but I made progress regardless. After a short period of time I look up and see that a pilot car is driving down the road and intercepts me in a dramatic fashion. At first I think he’s going to stop me and turn me away, but instead he busts a u-turn once I reach him and he begins to escort me up the hill with his lights flashing and his “PILOT CAR – FOLLOW ME” sign welcoming me on the back of his SUV. I couldn’t believe it! They sent down this pilot car meant for other motor vehicles to lead me safely through this road construction! Pretty soon we start passing bulldozers, steamrollers and other massive machines; all of the workers smiling at me, waving, giving me a thumbs up and wishing me luck on my day’s ride. Everybody seems so happy and excited and all at once I feel like an astronaut coming home from space and being driven in a ticker tape parade in the back of a convertible. I wave back in a diplomatic fashion and shout “thanks!” more times than I can remember with what must have been a very toothy smile; all the while stifling laughter as best I could.
Eventually we get to a section of road that’s just pure sand, so I hop off my bike and jog alongside the pilot car to keep up with. The pilot car slams on his breaks so abruptly that I almost run straight into the bumper. He then rolled down his window and tells me that we can take our time as I’m the only person he’s escorting for now. As I walk alongside the car he asks me where I’m from and where I’m going, seeming genuinely interested in why I was motivated to bike such a long distance by myself. I chat with him until we get to a rideable section of the road and I jump back on my bike. Soon the gravel eases off and gives way to a single paved lane, and eventually that spills out to the end of the construction zone where a huge number of cars has piled up. I wave to the pilot car and yell a final thank you as loud as I can, and smirk at the puzzled faces I pass who sit staring at me, mouths agape . Yeah, they sent that car down just for me. Deal with it.
A few miles later I found myself back on the 101 heading south once again, and after an hour I approach another “coastal bike route” sign pointing me down a side road to the left. It’s a beaten up old road that’s just labeled as “Old Hwy 101”, but I decide to trust these signs as they’ve never given me reason to otherwise up till this point. I don’t see any indication of this turn off on my map, but after looking at the hill that lay directly ahead of me on my original route I decide to head in this alternate direction. It takes me about an hour and a half before I start to feel like maybe this wasn’t such a good decision, and I realize it’s too late to make any reasonable alterations. I hadn’t seen any sign indicating how far I was from anything or where I was since I had got on this road, and this steady climb that is increasingly becoming more and more steep with every mile is not instilling me with much faith that I’m heading the right way. Pretty soon I put the few houses that are on this road behind me and I find myself once again in yet another State Forest climbing a massive hill. At this point I feel nearly hysterical in my suspicions that I just biked who knows how many miles in the wrong direction and that I’ll have to backtrack all the way to where I turned off the main 101 and waste hours of my time. I hop off my bike briefly to check my ipod, as I thought I remembered it had a compass in it somewhere. I had no idea if it would actually work without internet access, but as I studied it and walked in circles it seemed to keep consistent in telling me that I was in fact heading roughly south-ish. I hopped back on my bike and slowly began sauntering up this hill again, realizing I must have climbed at least 1,000 feet at this point. My frustration then manifesting itself into a shouting of curses out into the woods “FUCK. I’M FUCKING LOST. WHERE THE FUCK AM I. THIS SUCKS. DAMN IT.” for a good 10 minutes. Just as soon as I ceased my shouting I spotted a truck full of firewood coming around a bend up ahead. I hopped off my bike and waved my arms to signal I wanted him to stop. He pulls up and both him and the dog riding shotgun in the truck cab peer out at me. I ask if this is the correct way to get to Lincoln City. He assures me that it is, and then proceeds to give a very detailed and unnecessary history of “old highway 101” and that when they built the new freeway over the mountain that it wasn’t as scenic as this road is. After patiently hearing him out I thanked him and continued on, graciously accepting his good news. Graciously enough that I listened to the whole story I deemed as “information that will never prove useful over the course of my life”. But hey, I’m a storyteller as well, and chances are you’ll place this journal in that same category.
When that stressful section of highway behind me, I eventually reach Lincoln City. It is a welcoming sight; a pleasant vision on the horizon. I’ve played shows out here a few years back and I have a lot of good memories from that time. This is also home to my favorite skate park in the entire world, so for you skaters out there be sure to take note of that. I rolled up to the first coffee shop I see in town, called “Beach Town Coffee”, and order a soy chai after a series of questions to figure out if the chai mix was in fact vegan. The young woman behind the counter remarked at how sweaty I was with a laugh, and then asked me where I biked from. I told her Portland and she went on to give a series of excited “good for you!”s and “You should be proud, man!”. Dang, people here are so friendly! I then find a table in the corner and send out my routine “I’m not dead” emails and relax with my tea while I catch my breath and try to stem the heavy sweat that’s pouring out of me. After catching up on correspondence, I stand to pack my things and leave when the owner of the café comes over to say hello. At first I’m a bit taken aback since he didn’t look too friendly when I first came in, but he asks to see my map so I take it out and show him. He points to a small section of Highway 101 just south of town and tells me there’s an alternate route through the cape that actually takes me under the Highway and saves me from biking up a huge and extremely dangerous hill. Apparently all the local people who commute by bicycle know to avoid it and encourage others to do the same. He then, like the barista, started to shower me with overly encouraging “you should be proud!”s and told me I’m a good guy for doing this trip and making it happen on my own. I would have never known about this alternate route if I hadn’t chatted with this guy, so I keep a mental note to try and converse with folks in towns to pick up other helpful tips like this one. Plus, it’s so easy to talk to people out here, on account of them being so nice.
I weighed my options here in town for how I wanted to spend my time and money. I had 2 options here, which were either to stop at a repair shop and get my back wheel trued, or eat to thai food at a place on the other end of town that I found online. I could only really afford one, so I decided that since my back wheel wasn’t rubbing on my brake and affecting my riding at all that I’d treat myself to a hot meal. I biked over and locked up my bike to a fence just outside the window of where I chose to sit. I ravenously ate a plate of phad thai with tofu and a thai iced tea with coconut milk; the combination of those two things being closest to heaven that anyone can ever get (it not being real place after all). While I was enjoying my food I took notice of a group of punk-ish looking kids getting out of a street racing car in front of the restaurant. There were 6 of them, and all at once their conversation stopped as they turned to my bike and started to check out my spoke cards. I have two spoke cards in my front wheel from the Red and Black Café back in Portland, which is an all vegan, worker owned and run coffee shop. The spoke cards are a picture of Bruce Springsteen with a circle A on the back of his denim jacket, and text that reads “the only Boss we listen to”. They all started giggling and got on their knees to check it out, which was fine. What was not fine was when a woman with dreads pulled one of the cards out of my spokes, stood up and started to walk away with it. All at once I saw RED. Immediately I dropped my food, stomped out the door and confronted all six of them.
“Hey, are you stealing my spoke card?”
“Uhhhh.. well… no I was just trying to read what it says”
“That’s bullshit cause you were walking off with it. Even if you were just trying to read it I don’t know any of y’all and you’re out here touching my bike, which is not ok.”
“Geeze, well… sorry.”
“Just don’t touch people’s bikes. People tend to be sensitive about being robbed, you know.”
I snatched my card back and watched all six of them trudge off. I momentarily felt like a dick about it, but then I remembered “wait, no, they were about to steal my shit and then tried to make ME feel guilty about it.” C’mon punks, get your shit together. There are better people out there to steal from, after all.
After I finished most of my wonderful meal, and pack up the rest of it for later, I thank the proprietor and go to unlock my bike out front. As I started to get everything in order I was forced to bend over in an awkward fashion to unlock the frame from the wooden fence. As I’m leaning over I hear two women walk behind me in the midst of a conversation, and I felt something solidly brush up against my ass. Furious, and thinking “what fucking now” I spin around expecting it to be one of them who touched me, “what the fuck is it this town all of a sudden?!?”. To my surprise and embarrassment I realize that neither of them touched me, but what brushed up against me was the curious nose of a gigantic great dane who awkward lumbered past. After I faced him he then proceeded to lick my arm in his goofy way while the two women coaxed him along and apologized. I let out a small laugh and gave him an ear scratch before he sauntered off. What a day this is shaping up to be.
A short time later I roll through Lincoln Beach, just south of Lincoln City, and realize I need to fill up my water and decide I could use some fruit as well. Eating fresh fruit on this trip is the most enjoyable I can ever remember having it. Every time I stop and eat a nectarine or a peach it’s like the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my life. I ride through the parking lot of a small strip mall and stop at a market to get my supplies. As I’m exiting the building a guy with cut off jean shorts sitting against the wall a few feet from my bike looks over at me. He’s next to what I assume is his hand-painted Volkswagen bus. I say hello to him and he then offers me some swedish fish he’s enjoying. I’m pretty sure those are vegan, but I don’t know because I’m not a huge candy fan [pause for dramatic gasp], and I’m not what some would call a “junk-food vegan” [pause for boos], but mostly just the thought of eating candy in the middle of my ride today does not sound like a good idea [pause for ‘that sounds reasonable’]. I thank him and decline, and we both dip into the conversation people out here seem to have a lot that I’ll refer to as “where you going and where you been”. A few moments later a group of burly guys all dressed in hot pink shorts walk out of the market and they all pile into the bus together. He then wishes me well on my trip and as they’re leaving the parking lot he lets out an epic wolf howl and throws a fist up in the air for me as they tear off. I throw one back and think “yeah, I still got it! “. As I’m lashing up my bike to continue on my way, a dude on a child-sized Schwinn with a banana seat and ape-hanger bars rolls right up to me and starts chatting. “Fuck, if I stop and talk to everyone I’m never going to get to California.” I’ve been told I look approachable, the reasons for which are beyond me. There are times when I hate that I look friendly and think “oh please don’t stop and talk to me”; this being one of those cases. He’s wearing one of those cabbie style hats and a shirt from a bar that says “I went Balls Out at Grass Land”, complete with a drawing of a tiger laying on his back, splayed, displaying his garbage for all the world to see. “How do you have the guts to leave the house wearing that?” I think. He starts in right away with the “where you going, where you been” routine and when I mention I just came down from Tillamook he starts to sniff the air. “Well, I can’t smell it!” he says with a laugh. That sentiment I can agree with, at least. Then he continues on by saying how excited he is for tourist season to be here, and that he knows the REAL reason as to why I’m out on the coast this time of year, with a not-so-sly wink. I consciously don’t ask him what he’s talking about, so he continues on anyway by talking about all the “female German tourists” out here, and that they always come in TWOS, if I know what he means *wink wink*. I start to think that he has a very specific story he wants me to ask about, and I am not taking this idiot’s bait. “Cool, thanks. Have a good day” which really means “fuck off, man. leave me alone”. I managed to escape out onto the highway before another sketchy word could be uttered.
Soon enough I reach the turnoff for the route called “Otter Crest Loop”, which is what the owner of that cafe was telling me about. I hang a slight right to follow the signs and head through a small neighborhood and eventually underneath an overpass for the 101. The uphill climb is daunting, but at one point when I catch a glimpse of the 101 and how much higher it takes you I silently thank that man profusely for sharing this information with me. I even have my own little bike lane on this road, and the only car lane has shrunk to a single lane that I have yet to see a car on. I’m all alone on this little road the entire time, which is a welcome break from the heavy traffic on the highway today. Plus this little loop mostly follows the cliff side, and the views here are spectacular. Again I find myself gasping out loud as I turn corners and catch views of the dramatic and massive rock formations just offshore, as well as the turbulent surf slamming into the rocks 100 feet below me. What a world we live in!
I finally reach the pinnacle of this hill and find myself in a parking lot, but as to what it’s a parking lot for I have no idea. All of a sudden I hear a voice yelling at me in a southern accent: “Hey! Hey you!”. I look over and an elderly man is crossing the parking lot on foot and heads in my direction. “Go check out the view from that building! It’s amazing!”. “Uh, ok!” I respond and bike through the parking lot past him and find a tiny building called “The Cape Foulweather Lookout”. I leave my bike teetering against a bench in the grass out front and walk in. There were a bunch of park rangers hanging out and chatting inside, and they all fell silent as soon as I walked through the threshold. “Oh, uh, some guy just told me to come in and check out the view…” One of them immediately pipes up “yeah, absolutely! it’s right there if you want to give it a look”. I walk through the gift shop into a small backroom and gaze out the window, and I am definitely not disappointed that I took that southern fellas advice and stopped here. The view shows the cliff dropping away just past the property line of the house and opens up to yet another picturesque view of Oregon’s rugged coastline. After getting my fill, I grab a couple postcards for friends from the giftshop and as I’m paying the cashier tells me that I’m lucky, that they were only about 2 minutes away from closing before I came in. I say I hope I didn’t hold her up and she said that it was perfect timing on my part. As I’m leaving the building a group of people walked down the steps toward the entrance, and to their dismay the door slams shut behind me just as I left. Another baffled look from strangers and another moment of feeling special!
I learned from the postcards I bought that this building is over 75 years old and that during WWII it was used as a lookout for enemy ships and subs. It also, amazingly, survived the countless storms that battered this coast since 1937. One of the postcards was an old black and white photo of the lookout with a zeppelin flying past in the background. Apparently there’s a hanger for blimps and zeppelins just north of here in Tillamook where these used to fly out of and were used as scouts during the war. I’m a bit of a history nerd I suppose so I find this extremely interesting. You probably don’t though, so moving on!
After reaching the end of the Otter Crest Loop, I rolled into Beverly Beach State Park later that evening, it being my home for the night. I saw no sign of the Seattle guys all day and wondered if they were already here when I coasted down the hill past the ranger station. I eventually find the hiker/biker area, even though it’s not clearly marked on the park map, and it seemed to be just a grassy field with a barbecue pit in the middle. I didn’t think this could be the place, but I decided to hang around and rest here regardless if it was or not. There was only one other person there when I arrive, a guy in the corner of the camp with his tent tucked away in the trees. I set my tent up just on the edge of a strip of forest which looked like it could have been filmed for an epic scene in Lord of the Rings. I referred to it silently as “hobbit’s hollow” as I set up my camp. Eventually the guy from the corner came over to chat with me and I greeted him. He was an older guy named Larry, possibly in his 60’s, biking down the coast solo, like me. He told me he was a gold prospector by profession, and that he was going down to Coo’s Bay to find his fortune. He said he knew where all the gold was and was going to head down there and make his millions. Then he followed up with that by telling me he’d been at this campsite for 3 days. Wait, you know where gold is, and you’re hanging out at this campsite doing nothing for 3 days. Why aren’t you down there digging it all up, getting rich and then coming back here after you make your money? Why wait?. I realized though that trying to analyze this would be like rationalizing the irrational, as much as I’d like to think otherwise there is not much left in the world to prospect and dig up in search of a fortune lying in wait. I ended my conversation with him on the pretense of “dinner” and went back to my tent. Shortly afterward all of the groups from the last campground rode in at a staggered pace, looking ragged. I found out a lot of them didn’t know about this secret Otter Crest Loop that spared you at least an hour of biking and a lot of effort as well. Among the people coming in were the Seattle guys, Zach and Dan. I jested that they didn’t catch me and I hadn’t seen them all day, but it turned out Zach got a flat right out of the park and had to stop and change his tube. I said that was a bummer and we caught up about how our days went. They mentioned that when they get to Coo’s Bay they’re going to rent quads to ride around out on the oregon sand dunes. Quads, we agreed, was another thing that we all collectively made fun of until we all actually tried one, and realized “wow, this actually really, really fun”.
Eventually I got up and decided to take a look around the park, since this state park borders the ocean just like the one from last night. I walked down a path past the visitors center and through another section of campground, and it brought me to a tunnel with a small stream leading under the Highway 101 bridge and out onto the sand. The stream was heavily choked with massive pieces of driftwood, some of them even tree-sized. I went for a short walk along the sand, but the fog began to roll in thick and fast, and soon I couldn’t see more than 10 feet ahead of me while I aimlessly wandered down the huge stretch of sand. I decided I wasn’t in the mood to get lost on a strange beach, so I ended up heading back in the general direction I came from and eventually found the tunnel again back into camp.
On the walk back to my tent I had lyrics for a new song pop into my head, and I wrote them down in my ipod. I used my imagination to try and envision what the guitar parts would sound like as well, and I tried to write this out, but all I ended up writing were things like “bum da dum daaaah, browwww” and decided that future me would read it and be like “what the fuck was I thinking?”. I finished the lyrics in about 5 minutes and decided I’d work the rest out later when I got home.
I arrived back at camp, grabbed my backpack and then walked down from the hiker/biker site on a snaked and steep path to the showers. Once again I had what seemed like the greatest, most fulfilling shower of my life, and I tried my best not to exclaim “oh, yeaaaaaaah” (akin to the kool-aid guy) when I was in there. At this campground the showers are all in their own private and individual rooms, and as I was showering I heard some kids causing a ruckus right outside my door. I thought for a minute that they were just playing tag or something, but as I left the shower I noticed that they had written on the ground with an old piece of charcoal from a fire pit. The message that they left me read: “Hi Mr. Taco”. My immediate reaction was: “how do they know I love tacos?” and was followed by severe confusion. Later, as I walked back to my camp, I saw a little boy in the road writing another message in charcoal and then sprinting off upon finishing. As I arrived I saw that this message read: “you stink mr. taco”. I laughed and continued on up the path to my tent. If this last message was truly about me I have no rebuttal, I do stink, and often. Punx!
After an unceremonious goodnight to folks I climbed into my tent and prepared my bedding. Another day down, and several more to go. It’s finally starting to feel like I’m making real progress on my ride, and I’m thankful I’m not feeling it in my knees yet. Common complaints I hear from friends of mine who have done bike tours almost always mention some sort of joint pain, particularly in their knees. My final wish for the day, though, is to encourage you to start prepping for your own bike tour, if only for a weekend trip. It’s an experience unlike any other, and I’m willing to bet you won’t look back on your life later and be like “Wow, I really regret riding my bike through all those beautiful places”. There are so many amazing things to be seen out in the world, and I maintain that those things are better seen from bicycles. Goodnight my friends.
“This is why events unnerve me / they find it all, a different story / notice whom for wheels are turning / turn again and turn towards this time” – New Order
I awake to the sound of songbirds and running water from the creek just a few feet from my head. It’s probably about 8 am or so, and I rise feeling calm and rested as the sun just barely peeks out from behind the trees. There’s not much to do or see in this part of Tillamook State Forest, so I end up making my morning brief by eating a couple protein bars, pack my things up in about 15 minutes time and head on my way.
It’s about a mile walk uphill on this unpaved road before I get back to the main highway, and it is a constant struggle to push my bike up this steep hill with loose gravel under my feet. Last night I was too tired to care about hitting rocks and potholes in the road on my way down, so I stayed on my bike and coasted down; but now on my way back up I’m amazed I didn’t pop a tire or break a spoke in doing so. I need to be more careful about things like that, I’m not used to biking with this much weight and I could ruin my wheels even before I get to the coast; this thing has got to really last me.
I make it up to the highway in about 15 minutes with my arms already worn out and little rocks in the bottom of my shoes, a perfect recipe to drive you completely insane. I stop for a moment to clean out my shoes and socks in the cool morning air, mount my bike and then continue on toward the summit. According to the map I’m just a few miles from the peak, but none of that seems to matter in this moment as I’m met with an immediate and extremely steep grade right out of the gate of the state park. It’s not even 9 am and here I am sweating profusely and greedily gasping for air due to the elevation change. Thankfully traffic is lighter this morning, and it certainly makes the difference on some sections of the hill where there’s no shoulder, or the shoulder is obstructed by debris, or in some cases where the shoulder disappears and drops 100 feet down the side of a cliff. Definitely not nerve-wracking at all… not even a little bit.
After much swearing, pleading and sweating the ground levels out and I approach the summit. I know this because the summit is clearly marked with the elevation by a very official looking sign; something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Though it could be just something I’ve just never noticed because riding in a car doesn’t necessarily prompt you to look for things like that. Even though this is only day 2 and I’ve hardly made any progress on the trip as a whole, this still feels like a considerable victory and I feel triumphant as I pass the elevation sign. This is the highest elevation I’ll need to climb on the entire trip, and it tops out at a massive 1,586 feet. The air up here is so thin that even now that I’m resting for a moment I still feel on the verge of passing out. I stop for an extensive photo op at the sign and then continue on my way down the other side of the mountain.
All of a sudden I’m thrust from making slow and labored progress up the side of this mountain to flying down the other side. Never have I climbed a hill that had such a dramatic and abrupt transition as this one. I’m flying past rest stops, parked cars, over bridges with no emergency lane and even taking the car lane for myself on occasions when the shoulder didn’t provide enough room. I’m nearly matching the speeds of cars on the road and it’s both an exhilarating and terrifying sensation. I don’t pedal for at least an hour, and I’m riding the brakes most of the way down to try and keep my speed at a manageable level. Another promise I made to friends before I left was to watch my speed coming down the capes and mountains here, haha. I consider myself a bit of a thrill seeker so I’m tempted to see how fast I can get this thing down the side of this mountain, but I know I’ll disappoint a couple people back home if I go flying off a cliff at 50 miles an hour. The compromises we make for our friends, am I right?
Eventually I make a stop at a place called “Lee’s camp store” which was marked on one of my maps as being the only convenience store in the state park. This stop is coming not a minute too soon as my water jug is nearly empty and I needed to pick up a couple of small things that I forgot to grab before I left Portland. I get a gallon of water from “Lee”, the proprietor, who is actually not Lee at all. I think his name is Gary or something; I overheard him talking to a regular customer at one point. I also grab a lighter for future campfires (one of the few uses straightedge kids actually have for them) and an impulse buy of a tiny packet of Emergen-C just to ensure that the cold air last night won’t give me a cough. The instructions encourage you to mix these Emergen-C packets in water, but doing it that way tastes horrible, so I usually just eat them dry and let the sand-like granules dissolve in my mouth and foam up like I have rabies. Usually Icrack a goofy smile at someone while doing so as well. It is both childish and delicious, these things of course not being mutually exclusive. I recommend giving it a try.
I get a lot of odd looks from the locals as I’m taking a rest on the bench out front, and I assume it’s not just because I have a mouthful of foam. It’s probably a combination of the foam, my smell, my ancient and overloaded bike and the Conflict “Ungovernable Force” sleeveless shirt I’m wearing that has a photo of riot cops getting their asses’ kicked. They probably don’t get a lot of people biking down this highway and climbing that mountain too often either, which is understandable because climbing that thing was total bullshit.
After my brief rest I continue on my way down the mountain, quickly passing the 2 other state campsites on that touch Highway 6 and eventually the grade starts to level out. I can tell I’m getting close to the coast because I can smell the salty air and feel a slight ocean breeze blowing through this valley. I grew up a 10 minute walk from the ocean in Southern California, and whenever I come out to the coast it always feels like I’m heading home. Unfortunately this also means that the headwind starts to increase in strength, but I don’t mind as the breeze is refreshing and cooling me off after a long day in the sun. I eventually get spit out of the valley after following a beautiful and roaring river for miles, with houses on the other side that are only accessible by bridge, and bottom out in some farmland on the outskirts of Tillamook. The wind is now roaring against me, and fighting it is like pedaling through mud. This wind immediately goes from refreshing to irritating over the course of an hour, and what’s worse is that a bump I hit on my way down the mountain knocked my back wheel out of true, giving it a slight wobble. It’s not bad enough to effect the brakes or how the bike handles, but just seeing the wobble bothers me enough to where I obsessively look back at it to see if it’s getting worse every few miles.
Man, it stinks out here too. I mean, it really, REALLY stinks out here, and the refreshing sea air can’t mask it in the slightest. There are dairy farms on either side of this stretch of highway for miles, which gives Tillamook it’s reputation for being such a foul smelling town. The TIllamook cheese factory is out here as well, which I’m sure you’ve heard of or seen their products in stores, and from billboards I pass I learn they offer tours across their production line. I’m sure though that they don’t offer to take you out to the barns where female cows are forcefully impregnated, kept in small enclosures and eventually have their babies ripped away from them as they scream and struggle to protect their young. I’m sure they also don’t tell you that if the cow is born female that they’re sent off to be impregnated as well and live out the same fate as their mothers. Lastly, they CERTAINLY wouldn’t tell you that if the calf is born male they’re sold off to a veal farm or raised as veal right there on the same grounds. It’s truly a despicable industry, but I digress. All I’ll say is the best way to put an end to violence such as this is to go vegan and leave the cheese out of your diet completely. Otherwise you end up with smelly towns, sad mother cows, tortured calves and rich, asshole ranchers. It’s a losing combination, I assure you.
I was in the fight of my life against this headwind, but eventually I power through it and arrive in downtown Tillamook. This town is a lot busier than I expected it to be, but I realize when I arrive in the city center that it serves as a junction for a few major roads, and also is a necessary fly over if you’re going anywhere up or down the coast. Highway 6 deadends at the 101, which will be my Highway for the rest of the trip. I’m thankful for that, as the 101 is one of the most beautiful and scenic highways in the world, in my humble opinion. I coast through downtown for a bit looking at the various tourist shops, but I’m mostly interested in finding a cafe with wifi, tea and a bathroom; the three basic needs I have when stopping in town. I also promised a couple folks that since I don’t have a phone on this trip that I’ll check in with them via email at least once every two days, even if it’s just to say “hey, I’m not dead”. This is actually a responsibility that comes up quite often in my life, if you can believe it.
I spot a Safeway at the edge of town, and across the street from it I see a small cafe with a big “WE HAVE WIFI” sign hanging out front. Business owners – be sure to advertise this fact; you will at the very least be receiving my patronage when I’m traveling. I lock up my bike and decide to visit the cafe first, and while entering I realize that it’s just a single diners table and a few booths in what looks like the hallway of an indoor mall. Kind of an odd set up, but not too surprising as these small towns usually have multiple businesses that share one big room like this. I sit in a booth and order a cup of tea and the only vegan and gluten free thing on the menu – the tomato soup. At first I was a little bummed to only see one thing on the menu I could eat, but the tomato soup turns out to be amazing, and I regret not ordering a bigger portion as soon as I’m done. I check my email and write to concerned parties as to my whereabouts (i.e. I’m still not dead) and try to cool down from the difficult ride I just finished before I get up to leave. I tip the server generously, as she’s the only one working and was extremely helpful with finding me vegan stuff on the menu. Also, as a general rule you should just tip service workers. That’s how they make a living. Seriously. Give them money.
I leave my bike locked up out in front of the cafe and cross the street to make a stop at the Safeway for supplies. While crossing the parking lot I see a red-faced cyclist with two touring bikes parked next to him. I get the impression he’s taking 5 while his touring buddy is inside getting snacks. I give him a wave and he waves back as I drag my heavy bags through the entrance of the store.
With my business concluded at Safeway I return to my bike and follow my map to the state park I’ll be sleeping at tonight, a place just South West of here called Cape Lookout. “Cape” on the Oregon Coast is just a fancy word for “huge hill next to the ocean that you have to climb on your bike”, and that’s exactly what lay in store from me as soon as I leave town. Having already had a pretty strenuous day due to the headwind, this was a challenge for my leg muscles. There are a lot of little side routes posted on my map that are deemed safer and more scenic for cyclists than some sections of the 101, but in this moment I start to doubt the decision to take this route and the added few miles it requires. My cares drift away though as they usually do when I start descending the other side of the cape, and after I leave the more populated areas of Tillamook behind I enter the state park, where the view of the ocean is breathtaking. I mean, it is so unbelievably beautiful out here that I can hardly describe it, so I might as well spare you in hopes that you’ll travel out here on your own to experience it for yourself. It’s late in the day, so the sun is starting to drift closer to the ocean, soon to be entering what us photographers like to call “the magic hour”. In this hour, with the wind blowing past me as I’m descending the cape, I have a view of the most dramatic landscape my eyes have ever had the privilege to be laid upon. My only regret in this moment is not making enough room for my SLR camera so I could take photos.
As I’m enjoying myself and bombing the cape down the other side, I slowly start to feel the wind sweep underneath the brim of my hat and begin lifting it off my head. Before I can get a hold of it, it goes flying off me and sails through the air as my hand comes down on the top of my hatless head. FUCK!!! I gently apply the brakes and dip to the left to make a u-turn and start the climb back to where my hat lay in the road. Upon arrival, and as I’m trying to set my bike on the kickstand in just a way so it won’t tip over, I see an SUV climbing up and over the hill and approach my hat at a considerable speed. I decide it’s all or nothing at this point, so I ditch my bike and bolt out into the road, grab my hat, and frantically run back to the other side again to dodge the car without looking back, thinking looking over my shoulder would only slow me down. I realize how foolish this act was as I look up and see that the guy had slowed and then completely stopped on the side of the road to allow me to grab it. I then remember hm, sometimes people stop for you when you run out into the middle of the road, since (and I don’t know why) I just assumed this person would run over my hat for whatever reason. The guy then pulls up alongside me and rolls down his window, just as I notice a “Bike Portland” decal stuck to the side of the car. I’m not sure what that company is exactly, but I agree with the sentiment. YEAH! BIKE PORTLAND! He asks if I’m from Portland as well and I respond that I am. He takes a glance at my bike and says “interesting set up!”, which is both a nice way of saying “what were you thinking when you made that thing?” and also what I imagine to be a common phrase I’ll be hearing on this trip from this moment on. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford a fancy bike setup, and I hope that people realize that as I’m kicking their ass climbing these capes with a beat up old Schwinn while they’re on their $1,000 bikes.He seems nice enough though, and I’m sure he didn’t mean any offense, so I remain polite. We have a pleasant exchange, aside from the awkward pauses between topics of conversation where we either just kinda stare at each other or a car squeezes past us, irritated that we’re in the road. He’s apparently taking a group from PDX on a bike tour down certain sections of the coast. He drops them off and they bike down the 101 and then meet up with him again at the campsites. Seriously? People pay for the privilege of doing that? Do they not know how easy it is to get a map and do it yourself? I finally end the conversation as I’m eager to get to the campground and wish him a good day and a “maybe I’ll see you at the hiker-biker sites!”, which is another exchange that I think will become very prevalent on this trip.
I roll into Cape Lookout with a fair amount of daylight left, and I seem to be the only one here so far. The hiker-biker sites are cheap here as usual, $6 as opposed to the expected $5, but I can’t complain as the campground is really well maintained and the biker sites are far away from the the inane conversations and horrible country music being blasted over in the RV area. There are also free showers here, which are the two sweetest words one can hear after biking all day in the hot sun. Soon after I get my camp set up, I’m joined by two other guys claim the spot directly across from mine. I recognize one of the guys as the fellow I said hello to at the Safeway back in town. They seem like nice dudes, so when I head out to take a shower I ask if they can keep an eye on my stuff for me, since the showers are a 5 – 10 minute walk from this section of the campground. They give me the thumbs up and once I reach the bathrooms I have the most exhilarating and refreshing shower of my life. The water is only one temperature, which is luke-warm, but I feel like the luckiest guy in the world in this moment.
After I return to the campsite, I scrounge up the wood left behind in my fire pit and build a decent sized fire to cook my dinner. After I heat up my Masala and a small box of quinoa pasta I got in town, I wash out my bike shorts at the water tap and hang them on a stick over the flames to dry them out. I sit and enjoy my food while keeping an eye on my shorts to make sure they don’t fall off the flimsy and stick and into the fire. After I’m done eating I head next door to chat with the two guys across from me, feeling like it’s important to familiarize myself with other folks I’ll be sharing spaces with. Their names are Zach and Dan and they’re both from Seattle, and it turns out Zach is vegan as well and knows some folks that I’m familiar with from California. They’re both friendly guys, but as I fear more and more that I’m encroaching on someone’s personal space and their private vacation I head out and take a walk around the grounds to see the sites. There are some pretty awesome sand dunes on the other end of the park according to this map I got at the front desk, so I hop on my bike to ride to the other side of the park and check them out. After riding with so much weight on the front, riding my bike like this feels awkward and my arms uncontrollably shake from side to side. It’s the strangest feeling, almost as if my arms are flailing about as if independent from my body. Thankfully I don’t crash and I make my rounds before returning to my tent. My tent itself is actually only about 10 steps from the beach, I realize I forgot to mention. On my return to my site I notice a few new groups of cyclists in the campground; 3 people, who I find out are Canadian, taking the spot off to my left and a group of 3 women set up just behind me. I can hear the waves crashing from my tent site and it’s a familiar and well appreciated feeling, so I grab the Townshend’s Kombucha (my favorite brand of botch) I bought at Safeway and decide to drink it on the hill overlooking the ocean just down the path from me. As I’m enjoying my beverage and watching the sun sink below the horizon I think that I wouldn’t trade places with anyone in the world right now; this is where I want to be today, and any care I have in the world has instantly dissolved, if only temporarily.
Pretty soon the quiet is broken by shuffling behind me, and I see Dan and Zach hopping a fence I’m sitting near with a frisbee in hand. They tell me they’re going to go toss it around on the beach and invite me to come with, I agree and tag along down to the shore. We have a fun and rambunctious game of catch with the frisbee, which Zach tells me he bought at the thrift store back in town for a quarter. We all joke about how when we see other people tossing a frisbee around we typically make fun of them, but like most things you don’t realize how awesome it is until you start playing. We’re zipping it over our heads, catching and throwing from between our legs, making dramatic running catches, and daring each other to really go for it and dive hard into the sand. We all keep reminding each other repeatedly that whoever chucks it into the ocean has to swim and get it, and we have a few close calls and some wet shoes when the disc lands in the shallows and starts getting dragged out to see with the tide. We all also get thoroughly covered in sand by the time it gets dark, even though none of us dove headfirst for a catch, but we decide to call it as the sun drifts further toward the horizon. Afterward I return to my perch on the hill to watch the waves, and Dan (who tells me he’s an Arborist by profession) climbs a very dry and extremely tall tree a few feet behind me to get what he claims will be ultimately a better view. He gets probably 40 ft up in the tree, and he’s even so far up that it’s impossible for me to photograph him with my little ipod camera in this rapidly dimming light. He shouts down that to his dismay the tree branches are blocking what he expected to be an amazing view. We both sit in silence for quite a while, and as he begins to climb down I spot a couple walking down the beach far off in the distance. They’re walking just along the edge of where the water touches, when they both stop for a moment and face the ocean. I assumed at first that they were just taking in this glorious view we were having. But oops, no. Wait. No, he just dropped his shorts and is peeing on the sand. He’s pulling the “I’m just looking at something” move while he pees with one hand on top of his head and the other clutching a beer can. Meanwhile, the woman just stares off in a random direction until he finishes, not convincing anyone that nothing weird is going on because she’s not even looking at the ocean. He then zips up his fly and struggles to pull his shorts back on properly with one hand, not wanting to let go of his brewski even for a second. What a precious moment.
After they leave I decide I’ve had my fill of both beautiful sunsets and people urinating on public beaches for the day, so I head back to my tent and start getting ready for bed. Zach and Dan are still up so I chat with them for a while, but as yawns start to spread around the circle we eventually call it a day and wish each other goodnight. Last thing I tell them I say before heading off to my tent is that if we’re leaving at the same time in the morning and they wanted to roll down to Lincoln City together that it could be a lot of fun. Even though I’m doing this trip solo it’s always nice to meet cool folks, and there will be plenty of opportunities to have time to myself when I need it. Plus, they told me they have a pretty rad stereo they blast music from as they ride.
I finally climb into my tent, change into the basketball shorts I like to sleep in and unpack my sleeping bag from my pannier. Another night of being pleasantly and thoroughly exhausted, so I’m thinking I won’t have any trouble falling asleep. The sound of the waves and the salty air are a soothing presence as they drift through the mosquito net of my tent, and it’s a gentle end to a difficult but fulfilling day. Goodnight world, I hope you’re all as happy as I am in this moment.
“I’ve looked through all the windows / I’ve gone through all the drawers / more empty now than ever before” – Cursed
My head is killing me. I woke up this morning with a horrible migraine, that and the pile of new-used shirts next to my bed are the reminders of the show I played last night at Hollywood Babylon, a vintage clothing shop in Portland. I have what is commonly referred to as a “bangover” in heavier music circles. Wherein an individual rocks out and “headbangs” so hard that they wake up feeling headachy, disoriented and irritable the next morning.
I have a history of getting really severe migraines on and off since I was a child, so I can definitely tell when one of those is stirring in my head. It’s 10:30 am and I need to make a decision here. Do I spend the day resting, trying to fight off this headache and leave tomorrow morning? Or do I power through it, go with my original plan of leaving today (albeit late at this point) and risk passing out while cycling or making my migraine so severe that I’m stranded somewhere? I rested till about noon, had some tea, listened to some music and finally decided it was time. Today’s the day!
Most of my packing was finished last night, so that didn’t leave me with much to take care of this morning, thankfully. My borrowed waterproof panniers were stuffed with a borrowed sleeping bag, my tent, cookware, bike tools, tubes and an extra tire. On the back rack I used an old bike inner tube to lash my tent poles to the frame, and on top of the poles I tied a plastic, square gallon jug of water with a bungee chord. In my front basket sat my backpack, with a really cool “jungle net” style bungee chord with multiple hooks securing it in place that I got from Starmichael. I considered getting a front rack for my bike and borrowing more panniers, but since I already had a pretty nice Chrome waterproof backpack I figured I might as well use it for it’s intended purpose. The unofficial theme of the tour so far seems to be “work with what you got”, which I guess is kind of the unofficial theme of my life up until the present anyway, so this isn’t much of a surprise. The bike looks a little funny in comparison to a lot of typical touring bikes you’d see, but everything’s secure and the bike rides well so that’s all that matters here. I’m pretty proud of the work I put into this thing and I’m not afraid to admit it, I stood and basked in it’s DIY punk-as-shit glory for a few minutes before I decided it was time to leave.
Other than my bike gear I just have my wallet, a couple pairs of shorts, biking shorts, a pair of pants, several sleeveless shirts (essential), rain pants and jacket and some bear mace (obviously not to be used on bears). I worked out a very conservative budget for this trip, only allowing myself one day of eating out, as I’m not even certain I’ll have enough money to finish the trip and eventually get home. On top of that I haven’t had a cell phone for almost a year, and though it’s a liberating experience, not having it for this trip terrifies a lot of people who care about me, haha. I guess people get freaked out when you decide to bike 400 miles with no money, no phone and no backup plan if shit goes south. Who knew?
Only one of my six housemates was home, so I bid her farewell and awkwardly carried my heavy bike down our front steps. I’m not one for big dramatic goodbyes anyway. The sunlight is killing my already sensitive eyes while I start biking down our street, it’s noon and the sun is overbearing. I decided early on that I was going to use my sunglasses sparingly on this trip born out of a mortal fear of getting “reverse raccoon eyes”. I’m going to be seeing a lot of sun on this trip, and whatever I’m wearing will be outlined with a tan for weeks to come.
Ok, first thing’s first, bike across town to the Max stop and board the Hillsboro train. One of the maps I printed at the library explained the easiest way to get from Portland out to Tillamook, and one of the thing it suggests is bypassing the suburbs of Portland by taking the light rail we have in the city referred to as “the Max” to the edge of Hillsboro (a portland suburb). I arrive at the Rose Quarter Max stop and wait a few minutes for the first train. I’m concerned there won’t be enough room on the train to maneuver my awkwardly huge bike, but since it’s the middle of a monday I’m feeling ok about it. A few trains go past before mine arrives, and they were all almost completely empty, so I feel a bit more confident that I’ll be able to fit my bike on the next one. Pretty soon my train arrives, and guess what? It’s so thick with passengers you can’t even see the other side of the train through the windows! Hoards of zombie-looking commuters going to who the heck knows where. Where did they all come from and why are they all seemingly going to Hillsboro? In a panicky fashion I rush back and forth between cars to desperately find a car I can squeeze my bike in, but to no avail. The doors close and the train leaves the station. FUCKERS! I already paid my $2.50 for the ticket, so I decide to wait for the next train. I rearranged my bags and slung on my backpack to make it a little easier to navigate my bike on the train, and thankfully the next train that arrived was strangely, almost eerily empty. I brought my bike on board, lifted it up onto one of the wheel hooks and breathed a sigh of relief as I settled in.
A few stops later a street punk around my age with a mohawk hops onto the train. He immediately rushes over to the handicap seating area, for what I think initially is to take one of the seats, even though there are dozens open all around him. Those seats are technically reserved for folks who find it difficult to get to other parts of the train, so I was pretty bummed. A second later I’m surprised when I look over and realize that a man with a walker is inching his way off the platform and onto the train, just as the punk guy holds down one of the spring loaded seats and offers his arm to help guide the man to his seat. Faith in punk restored! I always have a sense of pride when I see punks helping other folks out, and although it really shouldn’t be a surprise to see somebody treat another person with common decency and respect I was still silently stoked to see someone on my team taking the initiative. The man with the walker had a “Legalize Gay” shirt and after he sat down looked up at the street punk and said “check out my shirt!” and the punk dude responded with something inaudible and smiles. Then the guy with the walker turns to me and points to his shirt, and as he’s too far for me to communicate with verbally, I just give him a thumbs up and a big smile. Good start to my day.
Several miles later the train ends at the edge of Hillsboro, a veritable wasteland in my opinion. It’s been a few years since I’d been out here, but a wave of unpleasant court memories flooded back to me, including the day I spent in jail out here. A few of us locked into lock boxes at an anti-vivisection protest at the Oregon National Primate Research Center and had to be cut out with high powered saws. We were protesting Oregon Health and Sciences University’s continued use of non-human animals in frivolous, cruel and wasteful experiments. It made international news, and we spent the day and most of the night in jail celebrating with our other cellmates who were so excited that they just saw us on TV. They also stuck an informant in our cell with us who tried to bait us into bragging about any illegal activity regarding the animal liberation movement. He told us he was “vegan straightedge” and then proceeded to tell us about his weed growing operation, and how much he loved eating steak. Surely whoever instructed him to say these words to us to build some kind of camaraderie failed to mention what they ACTUALLY mean, but at the risk of sounding tangential I’ll get back to the story at hand.
I get my backpack situated back in it’s basket, pull out my map and find that I can fit it conveniently in between my backpack and the netting, displaying the map clearly for me as I ride. This makes it easier to just have the directions laid out in front of me for the day so I don’t have to keep stopping every hour or so to reorient myself. As I’m trying to determine what direction is West I eventually ask a kid on a mountain bike. He eagerly tells me where I need to be headed and from the inflection in his voice I get the idea that this town is boring enough that when a strange and sweaty dude on a bike asks you for directions, it’s pretty darn exciting. I thank him and head off.
It feels good to finally just start pedaling consistently. It gives me the feeling that I’m finally on the road and making this happen. I bike through some neighborhoods and eventually get spit out on a road through some farmlands on the way to a town called Banks. I pass a few extremely old abandoned barns and houses and make a mental note to return here at a later time to photograph them with my nice camera. I reach Banks in about a half hour, and finally connect with Highway 6 which is a straight shot out to Tillamook, OR which is the nearest coastal town. The 6 is a small, 2-lane highway much like most of the highways and roads I’ll be taking down the entire coast, but unfortunately the traffic on this one is a bit heavier than most according to the info I found online. It’s not terrible to bike on the shoulder here, but it’s also not my favorite as I’m constantly passed by massive RV’s and trucks going well over the speed limit.
I pull off on a side road a couple hours later to refill my small water bottle from my gallon jug and eat a couple protein bars. The majority of the food I brought for this trip are a variety of different food bars, and these pre-cooked indian food pouches made by a company called Tasty Bite. I’ve had them time and time again on the road, and since they have several different vegan choices and are small and compact enough to backpack with they’re an obvious choice. As I’m standing in this small road about 100 ft from the highway I start to unpack my backpack to pull out a protein bar. Not 3 minutes later a big, lifted truck pulls down the road from a private drive further up the hill. He drives up alongside me and strains to be heard over his diesel engine as he yells “WHAT ARE YOU DOING OUT HERE?”. I tell him I just stopped to refill my water and check my map, and he responds “YEAH WELL THIS IS A PRIVATE ROAD. WE’VE HAD SOME TROUBLE OUT HERE.” and then pauses for a considerable amount of time while staring at me through redneck-style sunglasses. “Oh, ok. Well I’ll be out of here in like 5 minutes, tops. Just gotta put my stuff together and then I’ll be leaving” ASSHOLE. He gives me a nod, pops his truck into gear and pulls out onto the highway. What a dick.
After finishing my bar a few minutes later I strap my backpack into place and coast down the side road toward the highway. As I’m about to turn back out onto Highway 6 I see “lifted truck guy” pulling back onto the side road again, giving me a friendly wave. Why were you gone for only 5 minutes? I wave back with all my fingers and not just the one I want to show him and continue on.
This route turned out to be tougher than I thought it would be. I mean, A LOT tougher than I thought it would be. On the map it looks like a single day’s ride due to the distance, but that’s before you take into account the elevation as well. It’s only about 70 miles or so from Portland to Tillamook, but people (like myself) often forget that you have to climb over 1,500 ft in elevation over the course of 20 miles. The ride down the other side I’m sure will be a breeze, but fighting this climb with this heavy bike and a pounding migraine is almost too much to bear. To make matters worse, as I was rounding a turn up an especially steep area of the climb, I almost get hit by an RV barreling up the hill. I was warned about these RV’s, and I hadn’t forgotten the warning either. These giant, semi-truck sized vehicles for some miraculous reason don’t need a special license to drive, meaning that the people driving them have had no training in doing so. Thus creating a lot of deadly collisions, particularly more deadly for me than for them. As I’m rounding a turn, this particular asshole RV driver cut the corner too closely, stepped over into the emergency lane where I’m biking, and comes within about 2 ft of hitting me. I’m already hugging the railing as closely as I can and as the RV passes me I’m temporarily deafened by the roar of it’s engine and the blast of air it displaces as it passes. They must have been going around 65 miles an hour in a 50 zone, while I was maybe doing a meager 15 miles an hour up this hill. Even worse, as they pass they’re dragging a boat behind their giant caravan so it bounds and bounces past me with a horrible screeching noise that rattles me to my core. I was hit by a car from behind a few years ago, and I still get anxious when cars drive past me from behind. “FUCKING ASSHOLE FUCK YOU!” I scream as I give them a finger that they probably couldn’t see even if they bothered to look back. So fucking pissed.
Once I calm down I take a look at my map, and see that it indicates 3 state parks that touch this Highway in the Tillamook State Forest. I assumed I would get at least to the 2nd or the 3rd state park on the route, but as I’m nearing the summit the pounding in my head and the rapid loss of sunlight are both telling me to cut the day short. I started late in the day as it was, and I made a promise to some folks back home that I wouldn’t be biking at night. When I start to see signs for Gales Creek Campground I decide that will be my home for the night, might as well play it safe this evening since it’s my first day out. I follow the signs down a gravel road that drops into a valley about a mile down. As I’m coasting down the hill I’m approached by a lifted truck leaving the park, and instead of pulling aside and letting me pass he continues on unabated and I almost fly off into the ditch as I swerve into a thick gravel patch to avoid him. What is it about driving a lifted truck that just immediately makes you an asshole?
I roll into camp just as the sun is dipping beneath the trees. The shade is a welcome relief from the sun, and this campground is pretty near empty. Just the way I like it, and not surprising for a Monday night. There’s a guy and a dog off in a corner who look like they’ve been here for a while, with a big stack of firewood and a large, well maintained tent. There’s a family about a 1/4 mile up the road (I can tell because I can here the kids yelling and screaming) but at the site I eventually pick I have almost complete privacy as I can’t see anyone in any direction I look. It’s a pretty rugged campground, no bathrooms in our camp circle and the only running water is drawn from a well with a hand-pump: the liquid that comes out tasting strongly of metal. I fill out one of those little “honor system” forms for campsites with my name and site number, drop a $5 bill in the envelope and put it in the little box that the ranger comes by and collects. In my experience the ranger rarely ever comes by on weekdays, and I wonder if I’ll regret paying for the site tomorrow if I end up never getting checked in on. I justify not paying these fees in my mind by saying that giving the state park money empowers them to sell off public lands to logging companies out here (which they do); but in reality, and more immediately, I’m just on a razor thin budget and find it difficult to justify paying money to sleep in an empty lot where I clean up after myself and leave no trace of my presence. Whatever though, I won’t lose sleep over it. And sleep right now sounds amazing.
The back of my camp pushes up against Gale’s Creek, the water from the stream only about 4 feet from where I pitch my tent. After I get everything set up I strip down to my shorts and take a quick dip in the freezing cold water. This passes well enough for a shower in my opinion, so I soak for a bit and climb out when I start to get hungry for dinner. There’s no left-behind fire logs in my fire pit, and I’m too tired to search for dry wood in the forest, so I end up eating my Chana Masala and Punjab Eggplant cold out of the frying pan I brought along to cook with. Even though it’s luke warm from the sun it still tastes like a dream, and I’ve never been more thankful to be eating than I am in this moment. Dear me, this is delicious! I scrape the pan clean and wash it with the metal-water from the well, careful not to get any food residue in the camp and attract wildlife. Not that I don’t enjoy being around wildlife, but I’m not stoked when people feed wild animals, then those animals get used to being fed by humans, they then eventually become aggressive toward humans and then end up getting shot or poisoned by different humans. It’s a horrible, human driven cycle and the only ones who really lose are the non-human animals. So yeah, clean up after yourself.
I make sure all my gear is put away properly and that all three of my bags are in my tent for the night. I lock the frame of my bike to the metal chain rooted in the ground that locks the picnic table in place and I climb into my tent. Who would steal a picnic table? The ground under my tent is extremely rocky and jagged, and I didn’t bring a sleeping pad, but I am so tired that I hardly notice. I listen to the Game of Thrones series on audiobook for a couple hours to see what all the fuss is about while the light fades out of the sky. The fading light then gives way to glowing stars that are perfectly visible through the ceiling of my tent. I’d be amazed if it ends up raining this evening, so I don’t bother putting on the plastic rain guard over the top of my tent. It’s deadly silent and beautiful up on this mountain, and it’s exactly what I was hoping for. Even though my head is still throbbing from this morning’s migraine I feel peaceful and content in my sleeping bag. It’s cold up here, especially for June, and I’m thankful to have brought a low-rated mummy bag along with me thanks to my housemate Lif.
I finally start to drift off once the darkness fully envelops the forest, and I start to doze thinking of Dire Wolves and Valerian steel, with the sound of the Gale’s Creek babbling in the background just a few feet from me. I recognize the potential here for strange nightmares, but I have nightmares every night, so this doesn’t necessarily concern me. I’m just glad to be out in the world right now and to be experiencing the wild places of Oregon, which I still maintain is one of the most, if not THE most beautiful state in the US. With that to be debated amongst yourselves I’ll leave you to your night, and I’ll be left to mine. Sleep well my friends.