I wake up early and run around checking things off my last-minute to-do list. Sound familiar? J./Backup has agreed to be my resupply person, so I ferry a bunch of food items and a box full of stuff I might want at some point (I mean, exactly how cold is it going to be in the desert at night? Down booties cold?) over to his place. I like this plan — I like that it’s not really a plan and that I don’t have to know right this minute where I’ll be getting back on trail and where I’ll want boxes and what I’ll want in them. ‘Cause I have not done that kind of planning.
Not too long after eight, which is when we planned to leave, my folks and I load the car and head out. My dad will be riding the first 36 miles of my tour with me, from the trailhead north of Trout Lake, where I got off trail three weeks ago, to White Salmon, where we’ll meet my mom for lunch so she can drive me across the Hood River Bridge, which is a no-bikes, no-pedestrians bridge. I’ll pick up Adventure Cycling’s Sierra-Cascades route in Hood River, and head south.
We make it to the trailhead around ten. It’s forty degrees out, and we shiver as we take our bikes down from the roof rack and pull on extra layers. I leave my panniers in the trunk; I get to slackpack (as it were) to White Salmon. I get my mom to take a couple photos of me and my bike in front of the trailhead sign. I won’t exactly have a continuous footpath, but I am pedaling from where I stopped walking.
Then we turn around and ride south, down down down. Mom stops to pick up a couple hikers, then passes us in the car. It’s so cold I’m fighting to stop shivering while I ride, but the further down we get the warmer it gets. The fourteen miles to Trout Lake pass quickly, and in town I pull off my jacket and we stop at the coffeeshop for a huckleberry smoothie (me) and a cappuccino (Dad). Dad’s still cold and bored to boot; he’s the strongest cyclist I know, and even without my panniers, my pace is too slow for him to really warm up. Eventually he pulls over at a gas station and tells me to go on ahead, so he can push hard to catch up.
The road levels out and there’s even a bit of climbing before we get to White Salmon. I can feel my quads a bit — they’re not used to this. It feels good to chase Dad around the curves, though. We make good time (by my estimation) into town and find Mom at the brewery, at a table by the window.
After lunch, we load the bikes back onto the car and drive across the bridge. Mom pulls into the gas station immediately on the Oregon side, and I unload my things and strap my panniers to my bike. My folks wave goodbye and I walk my bike across the intersection, then straddle it and pedal somewhat wobbily off as they drive past me onto the freeway.
The road is uphill immediately. I pedal hard for half a mile, eager to find the turn for the road I’ll be taking out of town. When I do, I pull over immediately and take deep breaths, trying to calm my crazy heart rate. Oh yeah: a loaded touring bike ain’t kidding around. This morning I tossed way, way too much food into my panniers, knowing it was too much but figuring: my bike is carrying it! Not me! Now my quads are speaking up, loudly. They have opinions about this.
After a couple of minutes, I head out and up again, in a lower gear and a little more slowly. A little bit up the road, there’s a right turn for “Panorama Point,” which I take. Yeah, I think. This is what I remember loving about bike touring! Stopping at every little thing, checking it all out! Panorama Point is a concrete shelter and a viewpoint at the top of a short winding road, with a parking lot and a bathroom and a low stone wall to lean my bike against. It turns out my quads hurt even more when I’m not pedaling, somehow. I awkwardly pace, then sit on the ground against the stone wall, trying to find a comfortable position. Then I stand up and bike down and out to the road, then up. Up up up.
I cross Rte 35 and in front of me is the kind of hill I remember from the Appalachians: straight up. I bike up it. The next one is worse. “16% ahead,” says a road sign. I walk this one, pushing my bike the quarter mile to the top. I grin to myself when I remember something A. said on the first day of our 2010 tour: “I need a great-granny gear!” I hope these are just first-day pains and will go away quickly. At the top of the hill, I pedal pedal pedal, mostly past orchards full of trees positively dripping with pears.
I stare at my single-digit mph on my cyclocomputer. On that cross-country ride in 2010, I made a little duct tape flap cover for my cyclocomputer so I wouldn’t have to see my speed all the time, and I will clearly need to do that again. The uphill is constant and brutal. It’s well into the afternoon, and I don’t think I’m going to make it to the USFS campground that was my goal for the day. I pull over at an antique-shop-slash-fruit-stand and buy a juicy ripe pear. I eat it on a bench in front while I look at my map and reevaluate. There’s a campground in Parkdale, about ten miles from here. Parkdale it is.
I ride the slowest ten miles I have ever ridden. For a lot of it I’m quietly moaning in pain as I ride. My quads are considering murder in revenge for what I’m putting them through. Nothing else hurts, but oh my god, my quads are killing me. Then, in the last two miles or so before town, the terrain doesn’t improve but my pain abates a little bit. Why? I don’t know, but I’ll take it.
The campground is in a park that’s a couple more miles through town, but they’re almost entirely downhill miles (my last downhill till I crest the pass sometime tomorrow, I think). I zoom to the park, then ride the campsite loop twice, after the camp host asks me to pick my own site and then come back. They’re out of tent sites, so he gives me an RV site for the $5 hiker/biker rate, and I cheerfully pitch my tent on the lumpy ground. By the time I’ve finished making, eating, and cleaning up dinner, I’m too tired to care about or even really notice my noisy neighbors. Me ‘n’ my sore quads snuggle into my fluffy sleeping bag and hit the hay.