~ Day 9 – Washington the Low country ~

06/08/2010 – 56.2 miles

After 8 straight days of 50+ miles travel and reaching the 500 mile plateau, my legs are becoming casualty to the lure of distance. I have become obsessed. Face this: the land is unforgiving. You try camping out, in the cold and wet, at the same camp for more than one consecutive sunset. You won’t like it. There is, instead, great comfort in grinding yourself to a paste on the road rather than sit there and shiver.

I awoke several times last night in horrid pain because I could not move my right leg but 2 inches for a more comfortable position. I very reasonably feared that I would not be able to rise this morning. But I suppose I constantly outperform my expectations (not really, but some humor here). After realizing where I was, the middle of nowhere, I read a bit before scratching my way out of bed. Weather looked fine, if slightly overcast.

Completely packed up before breakfasting on a yogurt, 2 bananas, dried fruit, and a bit of selectively picked at trail mix. Hit the road by 11:00, which was just fine by me. Setting out was a thing of beauty, as I coasted for literally the first 5 miles. Amazing. Rolled into Naselle, where purchased orange juice, hot/cold pads (for later) and some ice (for right then and there). Iced down for about 30 minutes by a pay phone and tried to call Melodie. Gone to Squamish with Tango for the day. Really wish I got her last night.

Eventually pressed on, through about 40 miles of Weyerhauser-owned “managed forest.” The reality is clear-cut hillside for just about as far as the eye can see. Its insane what they’ve done to their forests. Bugs were also awful today, was constantly pelted by dive-bombing kamikazes with clearly no will to live. Shame. Busted a spoke on my front wheel, which took me a few moments to realize exactly what had happened. Not sure exactly what to do now, but I believe I can carry on. I also biked past a road-killed deer that was being picked at by two buzzards. Picture this: riding through a clear-cut devastated landscape, constantly pelted by vile insects, limping due to a busted spoke, and having to slowly pass in real-time a rotting deer corpse and two giant buzzards having their take. Life is currently imitating the art of my demise. Southwest Washington is hideous so far. I am a long ways from the Oregon coast.

Settled on a campsite that I only intended to water at, but as the skies were darkening this was a good decision to stop. Moreover, next stop is Aberdeen, a place of which I’ve only heard unkind things. Ok, one thing total, and it was unkind. Still, point taken. Tomorrow, if I push, I can make it to Bremerton in order to hop on the ferry to downtown Seattle, the finish line. What a thought. This is my goal.

Set up tent, bedded down, began dinner (repeat of last night – chile and avocado, carrots, yogurt). Then it started to rain. Hallelujah, it’s the Northwest. What’s it been, 2 days? Had a good chat with dad on the phone, applied hot/cold pads with much success, reading, writing, killing strange little hopping bugs that seem to be falling from the sky. Still not crazy, I swear. Time for bed.

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~ Day 8 – Astoria, the mighty Columbia, a bridge to nowhere ~

06/07/2010 – 59.8 miles

What peace there is in the bed of a decent establishment and the wonderful scents of perfumed sheets. Arose about 10:00, peacefully, and slowly set about morning tasks. Made coffee, showered, returned to prepared coffee, checked the weather, slowly repacked everything, leisurely. This was a good place I holed up in.

Out by noon, stopped for the first meal of the day at the first place I encountered. Had a hot turkey club w/ mashed potatoes and gravy. Mmmm. Trucked on along the coast, met two nice girls from Idaho on their way to Colorado (in a round about way). They were lovely. They asked about having a beer in Astoria, but said I didn’t have the wherewithal, and wished them well. Continued on through mountainous terrain and beautiful weather. My right leg, however, is in a very bad way. The knee is grinding and the lower shin is constantly aching. Consequently, I’ve been favoring my left knee and stopping often. It strikes me that Bill was so correct in warning that after 6-7 days of consecutive exertion, the body starts to break down. Yet I’m stubborn and can’t take a day off. Money is short and I’m finding it impossible to justify a day without travel. Its also addictive. Instead I’ve been going at about 75 percent. Went down to the beach today, all the way, for perhaps the first time since the Lost Coast. I believe that speaks to my will to keep moving.

Astoria has been on my mind for quite some time, for several reasons, not least of which because it’s the last stop out of Oregon. But it also has a mystique – the beautiful name, the incredible setting, and of course The Goonies. So I’d been excited to get here for some time. And today was the day. On the way I rolled over a truck weigh station, to discover that my cumulative load is 250 lbs. Not sure what than means.. 185 + 25(bike) + 40(load)? Something like that.

Astoria is olden, salty, sparkling, quaint. A jewel on the mouth of the mighty Columbia. One of the largest original Finnish settlements, it turns out. Cruised around town, through lovely neighborhoods, admittedly looking for Goonie clues. Not much doing. Eventually crossed the mammoth bridge that spans 4 miles across the Columbia River to bridge Oregon and Washington. The feat is stunning, especially when considering what it bridges – Astoria to absolutely nothing on the Washington side for miles and miles in any direction. What a capital project, what a rich nation. The cost-benefit would never be justified in Canada. Empires build bridges, I s’pose.

Once in Washington, rode some beautiful river shore stretch along the Columbia to eventually find a suitable side-of-the-road camp set up. Here it is, in the middle of nowhere, with no cell reception and a moaning forest. I am all alone, and feel OK. Veggie chile and avocado, coke, yogurt, and an orange for dinner. I feel very, very much alive.

~ Day 7 – Great notions and mild deliria deep in Oregon country ~

06/06/2010 – 69.8 miles 

Last night, at which time I cannot recall, I awoke to the peacefully dreadful pitter-patter of rain. Half asleep, I crawled out of my polyester cave to cover my saddle, pitch the fly, and have a quick piss. Cursing under my breath I slowly re-entered slumber with a dread of the following day so palpable that I dreamt very strangely (memory does not serve me at this time) and awoke often. In addition, aches and pains are beginning to accumulate and this is making for uncomfortable sleeps on this mattress. I should also mention at this point that my mattress was disfigured from putting it too close to the heater the other night, which melted a layer of insulation at a section. The result is a volleyball-sized balloon around the knee area when inflated that I somehow have to sleep around. I like to think that this is more funny than awful. I am not so sure.

Today was meant to be somewhat of a maintenance day, but I never could have guessed at how it was to turn out. I awoke often this morning, but finally and for good around 11:00 – an astonishing 13 hr slumber. This rain seems to have lulled me into a miniature hibernation, for I did not leave my tent until 14:00 this afternoon, an even more astonishing 16 hr interval. I lay in my tent half peaceful, have fearful and uncertain as to the direction of the day. I read several chapters of Great Expectations while listening to the rain wax and wane off the forest canopy above. Finally, by 14:30 I resolved to get back on the road.

Dejected at the thought of another cold rainy day of desperate cycling, I set out extremely slowly. This was, in very much seriousness, compounded by some awful pains in both my legs – my left achilles and my right knee. My right knee is in an especially bad way. I feel that gravity is riding me to the ground. Cursing and sincerely wondering how far I would be able to journey, I decided on the Old Scenic Highway rather than the 101 for a 10 mile section to start. This proved to be one of the most magnificent and revealing sections of my entire ride so far.

The beauty of the rainy, misty, winding road through intimate countryside was stunning. Cows and horses in pasture with adjacent country cottages, rivers and occasional waterfalls over sheer mountain face. The kind of scenes from which I imagine Ken Kesey might have drawn inspiration for his sometimes great notions. All part of the Siuslaw National Forest. I feel I could never leave here and be OK.

For I was going slow in order to warm-up and work out those kinks (with great success) when I realized that not a soul was on that road but my own. Absolute peace, absolute peace. And I realized that the greater portion of this entire trip has been defined by highways and the belligerence of constant vehicle traffic. And there’s just no peace in that. It struck me that this is what I need to be doing. And that my next adventure will no doubt be on foot, with backpack, for several days through forested wilderness. Cycle touring is great, but I too often feel a missing element of peace that can’t be got when sharing a roadway with The Beast.

Continued on, in the rain, through more (though less serene) beautiful countryside eventually to Tillamook. With persistent pain in my right knee, I thought I wouldn’t even make it this far. But I am a persistent bugger, for better and worse, and motored on beyond expectation. So much so that the search for reasonable motel accommodation (cannot camp while soaked as such) brought me all the way here, to Nehalem, about 25 miles north of Tillamook. I rode right up to 21:00, mile after tedious mile, searching for a place I could afford. Here now at the Bunkhouse, $46 is the best I could do. Currently icing down both legs. It is now 1:00 and time for bed. Tomorrow is Astoria and into Washington. Remember postcards!