09.15.11 – Couchsurfing to the Coast

It’s a weird thing leaving a big city for the less traveled roads. Brian, my host, had already left for work and I was left to carefully navigate two self-locking doors while I shuttled my bike and bags out and down to the sidewalk. After the last of my gear had been placed on the sidewalk I checked and rechecked that I had absolutely everything, triple checking the items I was accustomed to leaving behind. When I closed the locking doors, I closed my chapter on Seattle.

Riding out of the city was quite easy for several reasons. I discovered that the Cascade Bicycle Club did an annual ride from Seattle to Portland (STP) with the intention of providing a scenic route for all levels of riders. I meticulously mapped out the route in Google Maps and transferred it to my Garmin. I wasn’t the only biker on this route but I was probably the only one already at work. Riding by the Sound and eventually the Duwamish Waterway, the path sometimes crossed to the other side of the road only then to cross back a half mile ahead. Instead of feeling disrupted by this, I recognized the clear effort it took to piece together a safe route in the midst of already limited space. Another reason the riding was much easier than traveling into Seattle was because the hills and mountain ranges out here have a north-south orientation. Having already traveled west over these hills into Seattle, I was now headed south along a waterway that promised no significant climbs. The path eventually diverted behind local businesses and served as a multi-use path but was mostly filled with people on their cigarette break. As the waterway got narrower and shallower, businesses became fewer and further in between. The waterway turned into the Green River and with the Seattle metropolis now behind me, I had a clear view of Mount Rainier. In case you were wondering, it truly does look like a painting from far away. The remainder of the day was spent riding on bike-friendly roads and the last 15 miles to Tenino were on one of those really nice but completely random bicycle paths that seems to connect small towns that don’t have any cyclists. Having rested for a week and just ridden 85 miles, my legs were still feeling great, though the same could not be said for my butt.

Jesse Anderson and his family live in Tenino. I had contacted him on CS in Seattle even though his profile said he was unavailable to host to ask if he had any friends who might be willing to put me up. Luckily for me, Jesse had been back in town for a couple weeks and graciously offered me a place. His house was a couple miles south of town, providing room for lots of property and an old barn. I arrived at their house and though no one was home, the front door was open for me to make myself at home. When Jesse arrived we popped over to the supermarket and picked up some food for dinner. A simple chicken and pasta dish satisfied me and some Avery Brewery beer (Boulder, Colorado) washed it down just fine. Jesse and I talked a bit about my travels as well as his. Having just come back from Europe, Jesse was more interested in traveling than starting a career. It seemed he worked to travel so his time in Europe was spent doing short stint jobs in order to fund his travel bug. If this is wrong, I hope you’ll correct me, Jesse! Jesse’s father renovated the barn and works from home as a cabinet builder. Complete with several rooms for construction and painting, he seemed to have quite the tools and skill to make amazing custom cabinets. A dying occupation, he said it was though. He seemed to love his work but I’m not sure if it satisfied him enough to deal with the few and far between projects that seemed to come his way now. As an older gentleman, Jesse’s father also seemed about ready to retire. Jesse offered me his room and you know me, I’m not one to turn away a good bed! After a check of the weather I fell asleep to the wonderful thought of sunny days ahead.

For my final day in Washington I traveled through small towns spaced evenly along Interstate 5. The back roads that follow the interstate were well kept with wide shoulders and few cars. The peaceful morning was disturbed at one point by the unnerving sound of heavy equipment. Next to the road on the other side of some trees was a small body of water that must have been man made. Surrounded by piles of gravel, machines pulled large buckets along the bottom of the pond, filling with gravel and depositing it on the shore. I watched as this horseshoe-crab-like bucket slid along a raised cable silently into the water and then pulled back to shore with it’s bounty of stone. Over and over did this process repeat making me feel worse and worse for the operator of this machine. I wonder if he saw me watching and became inspired to ride his bicycle later that day. I hope so. The remainder of the ride was uneventful easy pedaling along the Cowlitz River and I half thought about continuing on to Portland but that would’ve put me at a 115 mile day and I simply didn’t start early enough to make it worth it. The other reason I didn’t want to continue on past Longview, my intended destination, was because I had a wonderful couple willing to host me. Gay and Ralph DeVito are both retired aerospace engineers who live about 1000 feet up a hill just outside of town. Their offer to pick me up in town enticed me even more. As we drove up to their house I counted my lucky stars as the windy road steepened beyond anything I felt like doing after a full day’s ride.

Their beautiful house rested nearly atop the mountain on which it sat. Glass doors between the kitchen and the porch took full advantage of an unobscured view. Gay and Ralph shared with me their life story of working for famous NASA missions, teaching at Universities in California, meeting each other and eventually moving to Oregon. Of course their recollection of these stories were not exactly the same, which led to some light hearted bickering that always ended in both of them smiling. As we ate dinner, the yellow sun turned a deep orange and toyed with becoming completely red before setting behind the distant mountains. I slept well as a painting of a young gentleman, presumably young Ralph, looked out upon me from across the room.

In the morning, Ralph gave me a lift down the hill having already planned to go for a walk with a friend. From the center of Longview I quickly dismissed myself from the city limits and crossed the Columbia river into Oregon. All the way to Portland I traveled along Route 30 through, passing through small towns along the Columbia. Again, the riverside road provided a flat ride and I arrived into Portland with plenty of time to explore before my friends, Jenn and Casey, were done with work. Using my smartphone once again to help me navigate a new city, I headed to the local food coop for lunch. I then relaxed at Dragonfly Coffee House and wrote another long overdue update (similar to this one). After work, Casey arrived into town to join me for some food and drinks while we waited for Jenn to get off. Jenn and Casey are college friends who have been dating since I met them. Their move to Portland was based on Casey’s job at Intel so they lived in Hillsboro closer to Intel. Remember what I told you about towns and streets with the word “hill” in them? Needless to say, I stuffed the bike, gear and even myself into the trunk of Jenn’s Scion TC coupe. As I laid tangled around my seat, bars and racks, I enjoyed a laughable moment with my machine more intimate than ever before.

Making use of the extremely bike-friendly transit system, I traveled too and from downtown Portland quite easily over the course of the weekend. Once in town, I much preferred traveling under my own power. I visited all the typical places that interest me in the bigger cities; science and industry museums, breweries, book stores and bike shops. Over the river on the east side of Portland I visited Burnisde, a skatepark as famous as FDR skatepark back in Philadelphia. Both parks are featured in Tony Hawk skateboard video games. Boy did I wish I had my BMX bike. From there I traveled to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. While the general admission exhibits didn’t live up to my expectations, there seemed to be exciting additional shows but who wants to stay inside a museum all day when the real Portland is just outside! Traveling back over the bridge, I came upon a large festival with music and vendors selling everything from pictures to bags to didgeridoos. I really wanted to get a donut from Voodoo Donuts around the corner but seeing as the line started pretty much where I was already standing, I lost patience and moved on. At the Portland farmers market I enjoyed homemade ice cream while listening to the didgeridoo. Equally enjoyable were the little children that stood wide-eyed and motionless at the unusual sounds coming from this man and his lacquered hollow tree branch. From here I paid a quick visit to the famous and gigantic Powell’s bookstore. There was an entire section dedicated to bicycle touring and I cringed at all the books written by people who have traveled at least twice as many miles through multiple countries. I didn’t let it get me down too much though. We all have our own special story, right? Thanks mom. It was really great to see my old friends and I wish them the absolute best in their recent marriage! The next morning I hit the road down to Salem to stay with Ashley, another couchsurfing connection.

The ride to Salem was quite enjoyable. Again I found myself traveling lengthwise down a valley, the Willamette Valley (pronounced Will-LAM-ette). The roads were in fantastic condition and as I traveled close to the Willamette River, the only elevation changes were a few trips down to the water by foot. When I arrived in Salem, Ashley took me over to the bike shop at which she used to work. The large shop was matched by an equally large basement filled with some interesting mutant bicycles that apparently I’m not allowed to discuss in public. Ashley and I are about the same age but unlike me, she got a job after school, working as an ASL interpreter. This has allowed her to afford a lovely apartment in south Salem with two cats. Quickly I noticed something different. She had plastic bags hanging to dry, glass food jars in her cupboards, and very few perishable items in her fridge, especially beverages. It turns out Ashley not only tries to recycle but also minimize the need to recycle. For people who believe in “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” I’d have to say she’s somewhere happily in between reduce and reuse. During my short time with Ashley, I was inspired by someone who has made small changes in her lifestyle to fight for bigger changes in the world. While in town I also met Allen, another bike rider. Unlike me, Allen lives around town and when I say “around town” I actually mean it. Allen is homeless and with no apparent physical or mental disabilities, seems to be so by choice. On his decently outfitted mountain bike he strapped four beautifully sewn homemade army fatigue panniers. If that isn’t amazing enough, Allen pulled a very large trailer with a very large German Shepherd, Duke. Duke was extremely docile and sweet and seemed to enjoy his cozy trailer home complete with food, water and a soft mattress. I don’t think I could live like Allen but I couldn’t pass a bit of judgement except for respect. He seemed to find a way to live comfortably on his bike and with his best friend. This fairytale may not be as simple as I make it out to be but then again, fairytale stories are some of the most inspiring, right?

Another day of traveling in the Willamette Valley and along it’s namesake river was equally as enjoyable as first. Just outside the small town of Jefferson I came upon a group of cyclists out for a morning ride. They were an older group enjoying a more scenic pace and with nowhere to go fast, I trolled along with them for a few miles. As I conversed with one gentleman in particular I couldn’t help but notice his hunched back and slightly tweaked leg. I hadn’t noticed it before and that made me realize how easily cycling can be done even for people with physical challenges. I reached Eugene in the early afternoon and waited for my hosts, Ted and Katy to get off work. Stopping into Life Cycles bike shop, I learned about the cycling community around Eugene. Since Eugene is at the southern tip of the Willamette Valley, there are mountains to the East, West and South. This, I’m told, makes for a plethora of good mountain bike trails and twisting back roads for the roadies. I waited at a nearby coffee shop and having made contact only with Ted on couchsurfing, I didn’t know what Katy looked like nor did she know me. As my bike sat outside advertising my presence, Katy quickly realized her surfer for the night must be inside. It’s not hard to pick out a bearded cyclist from a group of coffee shop patrons.

Residing in a neighborhood just south of the well-known University of Oregon, Ted and Katy have a nice little home complete with a garage for their great number of bikes. While my Troll rested there for the night, Katy treated us to some homemade pizza and organic beer inside the house, both of which were uniquely delicious. Over dinner I learned about the town. As a retransplant of Eugene, Ted is happier to be here this second time around and has made what seems to be great strides in making Eugene a bicycle-friendly place. You might think that in Oregon, where you’re legally allowed to ride bikes on the interstate, it’s quite easy to make towns bicycle friendly. Yes, there are roads with bike lanes but for the roads that are too narrow for that, Ted has worked to get bicycle markers put in place. The next morning he personally escorted me out of town to a must-visit bakery where I picked up a sandwich and over some of the painted markers he helped create.

My route out of town consisted of a very well kept multi-use path all the way to Fern Ridge Lake. From here, the climbing began. I traveled up Low Pass into the wooded coastal hills that stood between me and the ocean. After low pass I stopped at Triangle Lake to turn my sandwich into fuel. From here I climbed the final pass of the day and reached 1,022 feet in the process. Knowing nothing about what lay ahead in California, I foolishly thought this would be my last moment above 1000 feet. The remainder of the ride was easier but not easy. The landscape was lush and interesting but my energy level wasn’t great. Clouds rolled in and a cool breeze forced me to put on my arm warmers while wiping runny my nose with gloves (Thank you, Spenco, for making that section by the thumb nostril-friendly). The road then met up with a windy stream that flowed from Triangle Lake. Sometimes I swore the pitiful creek was moving faster than I. This was turning into one of those days where I enjoyed the solitude but wondered when it was going to end. When I reached the main road toward Florence, it was early afternoon and just in time for the afternoon headwinds. Headphones and head down I crawled 20 miles to Florence and enjoyed another half gallon of chocolate milk. By now the clouds has rolled out and a great satisfaction rolled in.

Florence, OR. I made it. In the same day I reached the Pacific ocean and broke 5,000 miles. I celebrated this by posing with my bike overhead on top of the sand dunes at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. After watching some buggies tear it up on a nearby dune, I pedaled a few miles down the road to stay at my first hiker/biker campsite. There I met my first handful of people doing their “something amazing.” There was couple on their way back to Santa Barbara from hitchhiking up the coast. Then there was a group of cyclists headed down the coast too! Guy and his friends seemed about my age and are from Israel on a work Visa. With a month off, they decided to bike down the coast and stop in San Francisco like me. Did I say San Francisco? Yes, since things have been taking longer than I expected, I decided to stop my ride in San Francisco on the belief that I’d see enough of California by the time I got to the Frisco Bay. I pitched my tent in a secluded alcove and slept quite well for my first night of camping in over 2 weeks.

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