More trip reports. See also http://trudalane.net/2008/06/21/11_guys_in_spandex/
I owe a special acknowledgment to American Airlines. Had both of today’s flights departed on time, I would have been unable to complete this post from the comfort of the Portland and O’Hare airport concourses.
(I’ve inserted this near the top to give the impression I thought of it first. In truth I almost posted this without mentioning the biking, perhaps because while in the saddle I was thinking of all these other things.)
The biking was serene, hard, relaxing, frustrating, grueling, exhilarating, moving, and routine. We traveled winding scenic roads free of traffic, four-lane state highways with narrow shoulders and trucks roaring past at 70 MPH, cracked, debris-strewn city streets, crowded multi-lane mall mazes, and smooth, graceful curved stretches with wide shoulders and courteous drivers. Each day featured at least one serious climb, and some days involved three or more. We rode through beautiful valleys with crystal-clear trout rivers tumbling alongside, arid high desert with sagebrush, rocks, and sand stretching to the horizon, lush forests, fertile grasslands, irrigated fields, mountain passes with breathtaking views of Mt. Washington (no, not the one in NH, the passes weren’t that high) and The Sisters, and sand dunes bordering the Pacific. We dipped our wheels in the Pacific Ocean behind the Driftwood Resort Lodge in a heavy fog.
Eleven is a large number of bikers. Typically we rode in small groups or stretched out singly, the configurations determined by terrain, mood, time of day, heat, hunger, satiety, or other subjective factors. I like to climb and often rode at the front during ascents. I hate descending and was often the last one down. If someone rode rapidly by Randy he would always give chase and run them down. Fred rode around the group like an electron on an eccentric orbit, sometimes far ahead, sometimes far behind, sometimes right in the mix. Neal rode plugged into his iPod, matching his pace to the music. Everyone rode with everyone else, everyone pulled everyone else, everyone shared the joy of biking with everyone else, our group combining and separating like a drop of mercury hit with a spoon.
This east-west trip started years ago in Yorktown, VA, after the original WYMPS completed a west-east ride from Florence, OR to Boston, where Fred rode off Rowe’s Wharf and into the harbor on his bike. I jumped on to the Colorado leg (Pueblo, CO to Lander, WY) in 2006, and rode last year’s route from Jackson Hole, WY to Boise, ID. The biking has been wonderful, the companionship has been more wonderful still.
Most mornings we make coffee and have breakfast in one of our rooms. For lunch we stop along the road. We seek sylvan glades with a cool stream, view of the mountains, and fauns gamboling in the lush grass. We settle for spots of shade at a safe remove from fully-loaded logging trucks.
Food is a shared expense. Accommodating eleven people’s food idiosyncrasies is a challenge. David W. is a vegetarian (“I don’t eat anything with a face or a family”), Mike F. eats no red meat and cannot eat nuts, Mike W. abhors jelly. Woe to he who causes a jelly speck to appear in the peanut butter jar—Mike W. will mount your head on a pike. The more refined eat creamy peanut butter; the coarser, uncouth eat chunky. Introducing a new food item is dicey. One must measure the pleasure of indulging in a personal craving for, say, Sugar Frosted Flakes against the lifetime of ridicule and jokes that could ensue from exposing the craving. I introduced yogurt on the Colorado leg two years ago to marked skepticism from the tribal elders, but it has gained a foothold in the cooler. Beef jerky will never be a shared expense. Peter read in a biking magazine that chocolate milk is an excellent recovery drink and insisted on buying a bottle of Hershey’s Syrup. It remained unopened in the food crate until Thursday when we threatened to turn Peter into the human chocolate dip cone if he didn’t consume it. He has poured it in coffee, drizzled it atop ice cream, layered it under granola and brushed his teeth with it. Nature Valley Oats ‘N Honey bars (motto: “tastes just like a desert in your mouth!”) were a miss. Three boxes remained unopened when we emptied the vans.
Coffee, beer, and sweets are the most popular items. We packed two Mr. Coffee pots and five pounds of coffee for the week. We did not come close to drinking all of the coffee. Even so, the first biking leg each morning was marked by urination stops every 200 yards. (Contrary to irresponsible rumors, I did not mark the trail west like a golden retriever puppy.) Beer lives in its own cooler, lovingly iced throughout the day for that thirsty moment when we arrive at the day’s destination. This year marked two breakthroughs: others remembered to buy club soda without my specific requests, and the club soda was allowed to hang out in the beer cooler so I didn’t have to drink it at the ambient in-van temperature.
The bike trip provides the perfect excuse to indulge. Facing a climb or unwinding at day’s end it is easy to justify stoking up on Whatever One Wants Needs. During driver turnovers we swarm the back of the food van like ants around spilled Coke. “Let’s see . . . six miniature Milky Ways and three mini Snickers . . . three Nilla Wafers . . . a handful of M & Ms—damn! They’re soggy! Who left the M & Ms bag open in the bottom of the cooler? A couple of Sweet and Salty bars (remember to hide one under the seat for later) . . .a mouthful of potato chips . . . another mouthful of Wheat Thins . . . top off the water bottle with Gatorade . . . Okay! All set for the next quarter mile!”
Highlight One The Skyhook Motel in Mitchell. Despite having only ten beds—Chip had to sleep in a sleeping bag on a futon couch—the Hook was memorable. It sits high up a steep driveway near the bottom of a narrow valley, with Oregon Route 126 passing 100 feet below and Bridge Creek rushing parallel to the road. The original WYMPS stayed at the Hook on the first leg of the west-east trip in 1996 and the rest of us have heard 1,000 stories about it, the Blueberry Muffin, Erin the waitress, and Mitchell. We sat in lawn chairs on the Skyhook’s lush narrow lawn and talked, and watched the sun pass to the west and cast the houses and hills opposite into cool shadows. Mike F. supervised laundry detail, rehanging everything David W. pinned to the clothesline because he determined that David’s technique would not dry the clothes efficiently enough. Bruce connected an iPod to his speaker system (see Gadgets, below) and we listened to music while a full moon rose over the mountains to the east. Peter attempted to photograph the moon balanced on the tip of Fred’s tongue while we fell laughing out of our chairs. Dinner was at the Bridge Creek Café, where pinch-waiter Ron gamely took our orders under Jewel the cook’s steely gaze. The Bridge Creek Café served the best burgers of the trip and Jewel’s homemade Banana Cream Pie (see “perfect excuse to indulge,” above) was “to die for,” Peter’s highest praise above “really cool.”
Highlight Two The Inn at McKenzie Bridge. We occupied four of the ten modern cabin-style condos lining the banks of the McKenzie River. Each cabin featured a screened riverside porch. Rebekah, a massage therapist and friend of Fred’s son from Eugene, (thanks, Fred) set up her table in the first cabin’s porch where some of us enjoyed massages while the McKenzie rushed and roared 75 feet away. Flowering perennials surrounded the cabins in neatly edged beds. As daylight waned we sat on the lawn in Adirondack chairs arranged in a circle near the river and talked. David W.’s motion that we order pizza and eat in carried unanimously. Mike W. coordinated the purchase of 8 enormous pizzas—yes Mike, my order said “feta, Kalamata olives, and jalapeno peppers”—which proved to be precisely twice as much as we could eat. Rebekah took the leftovers back to feed Eugene’s multitudes. After dinner we drove to the store for ice cream: Umpqua Rocky Road, Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch, and Mint Chocolate Chip. What we didn’t finish Wednesday evening we—as in Peter, David W., Randy, and other sweet-addicts—ate Thursday morning. We took an early-morning ride seven miles up the McKenzie Pass road where Rod, the snow-gate sentry, barred further travel. After the ride Tom cooked scrambled eggs and bacon and trip rookie Chip toasted and buttered loaves of bread. (Chip shows great promise wielding a butter knife. The kid’s a comer—he’ll amount to something someday.)
The Stockmans Motel in Ontario, the advance team’s last-ditch choice at 11:30 PM after 10,000 motorcyclists attending the Hell’s Canyon Rally shut us out of motel rooms in Baker City.
The Campus Inn in Eugene. Eugene plummeted below expectations, from the confusing, horrible, and unfriendly ride in—if we wanted bad roads, insults, and hostile drivers we would have stayed home—to the motel manager’s unwelcoming reception, to the sterile and unhelpful bike shop. Dinner at Cornucopia was fun and we enjoyed ice cream at Pick Puckler’s, or Pink Picklers, or Pluck Packers, or whatever it was called, but that was it. We couldn’t leave Eugene fast enough, and we didn’t. (See “David W. is looking might tasty,” below.)
Biking invites gadgetry. We use bike computers that measure speed, distance, average speed, and total mileage, monitors that measure and graph all of these plus high, low, and average heart rate, net worth, and the Consumer Happiness Quotient, and bike-specific GPS systems that inform about everything else I’ve mentioned plus altitude, attitude, aptitude, rectitude, magnitude, where you have been, where you are going, why you are going there, and why you should go somewhere else. Still to come: the bike-mounted actuarial monitor (“go ahead, eat the chicken fried steak, by Friday it won’t matter.”)
Then there is Bruce, the Robo-Biker. Before riding Bruce suits up in an equipment belt on which hang heavily, like overripe melons, a cell phone, iPod, tool box, laptop computer, satellite uplink, TiVo, emergency generator, and anti-gravity device, without which his Bianchi frame would bend like a pretzel under the weight of his gear. He’s a mobile power force, a Spandex sunspot. Electric transformers explode and cell towers melt when Bruce rides by.
Stuck inside of Eugene with the Florence blues again
It was a simple plan. Dmitri from Veloce Bicycles gave us a 127-mile scenic route from Eugene to Florence for the last day’s ride. We figured to drive out about 37 miles, unload the bikes, and start riding. Bruce plotted the route on his laptop mapping program. We set out from the Campus Inn (motto: “Goodbye and good riddance!”). was driving the Chevy van, also known as My Van, also known as “the van that is not the Ford with the acute alignment problem.” We drove west for 25 minutes, a winding 18 miles, and saw a sign noting that Eugene lay 12 miles east. Good so far.
We drove on. 45 minutes elapsed time, 30 miles elapsed distance, 15 miles from Eugene. At one hour elapsed time and 37 miles elapsed distance we were 25 miles from Eugene and climbing a steep, narrow, winding mountain road, a fact reinforced by signs stating “steep, narrow, winding road next 2.5 miles.” Primeval forest surrounded us. There was no place to pull over to unload bikes. We reached a fork with a sign noting that Eugene was 25 miles east. We branched left and drove up another steep, narrow, winding road that, helpfully, was marked as such. At the top we considered and rejected unloading bikes and riding down, the only correct call of the morning. Two miles later the Bruce and Mike in the lead van made an abrupt K-turn, I followed, and we climbed back up the hill we had just descended. A few miles later we came to a large wooden map showing a knotted skein of winding roads and rivers. We remained 25 miles distant from Eugene.
We climbed again, this time up the narrowest, steepest, most-winding road yet, wide enough for one vehicle only. Grass grew through the pavement. The tops of 300-foot tall trees swayed in the yawning chasm just beyond the shoulder. We’d been on the road for over two hours, had driven over 60 miles, and were—you guessed it—25 miles from Eugene, lost in a forest too dense to permit sunlight. Jane, Peter’s GPS, ominously repeated like Hal in 2001, in a British accent, that “you have arrived at your destination.” Someone mentioned the Donner Party. >Someone else mentioned that David W., our Very Own Vegetarian riding in the Ford Death Trap, was grass-fed and free-range and had shapely thighs . . .
Still we drove. Tom said “this is just like Walton Lake (a story—no, a legend, a myth—from the west-east trip). This road will turn to dirt soon.” Prescient. Two miles on asphalt gave way to gravel. High fives for Tom. We reminisced about David W., the ultimate team player. We came to a sign: Road Closed. After exiting My Van, surrounding the Death Trap, and pounding on its windows we calmed, turned, retraced our steps, and acquired a new route: 22 miles to Eugene, 18 miles to Eugene. It took three hours and 80 miles before we began to ride west, at a spot 15 miles from Eugene.
Video screens announce that Portland Airport—PDX, which sounds like a computer file format—was the TSA 2007 Airport of the Year. There’s no explanation. Largest number of over-sized bottles of unbagged shampoo seized? Best-groomed screeners? Portland’s TSA personnel are unusually friendly and engaging. “Hello! How are you today?!” “Fine, thanks,” handing over my boarding pass and license. The screener places the pass under a blue light and scribbles on it with a magic marker. “You look like a senator!” I mishear—did she say I looked like a sinner? Is she proselytizing? Unsure, I grunt as I check for outward signs of sinfulness. I’m unshaven and dressed in a blue polo shirt, food–, coffee–, and dirt-stained synthetic cargo pants that convert to shorts, and Birkenstock sandals. “Yes, a senator. Or a businessman!” “Not quite. How about a college professor?” She returns my boarding pass and license. That’s it! I was so close. What do you teach?” “Law” I answer as I start to walk away. She asks tentatively and hopefully, “at Harvard?” “Boston University” I respond, to her obvious disappointment.