I wake up in the early dark hours and spend an hour convincing myself to get up and pee. Then I fall asleep again, a deep and cozy sleep until eight or so, a good ten hours from the time I turned off my headlamp last night. I’m lazy about getting up and at ’em in the morning, and I take my time eating my oats, drinking a cup of chai, repacking my panniers. I strap everything to my bike, and put my wet leggings and shorts — freshly-washed with hand soap in the bathroom sink after an incident that I’m sure will be comedic at some point — on top. It’s a little past eleven when I roll out.
Up, up, up. I still have a whole bunch of miles to go before the top of Bennett Pass. At least my quads are feeling better today. I’m making slow progress, but it’s progress, and it doesn’t hurt. I turn onto 35 early on — a fast, smooth highway with a decent shoulder, running alongside Hood River. I stop and take a break on the shoulder, leaning my bike on the guardrail and leaning myself next to it. I look down the highway and think about how much nicer it would be if everyone traveled this way. No cars rushing past. Imagine the roadside fruit stands and cafes that would pop up to serve travelers. Imagine the socialization opportunities! Need to go far? In this scenario, cities and large-scale and medium-sized towns are all served by an extensive network of bike-friendly high-speed trains, of course.
The rain interrupts my reverie. First just a little bit. I’m not even sure I need my rain gear, but I stop and pull it on anyway. Then it starts raining harder. I keep pedaling uphill. It goes on and on. It kind of sucks. Every once in a while, the sun teases me by shining without chasing away the rain. During one such moment, I snap a selfie, with the intention of illustrating my misery. But in the photo, with my sarcastic smirk and thumbs up, I look like I’m having fun. Am I having fun? I ask myself. I decide that I am. As long as I don’t get hypothermic, this is some solid type 2 fun.
And then it rains even harder, and the climb continues endlessly, and it stops being fun at all. Fuck! This sucks! My jacket and pants are soaked through, and I can feel that my shirt and fleece are soaked through too. As long as I’m going uphill, I’m working hard enough to stay warm-ish. I can’t decide whether it’ll be worse or better when I reach the pass. On the downhill I’ll be able to manage more than my current 4mph pace (yes… really), and my knees won’t hurt so much, but I’ll also be really fucking cold.
With five miles to go to the top, I promise myself a break every mile. I eat food and drink water. I push on. Finally, finally, I crest the top. I stop underneath a conveniently-located railroad overpass that offers a tiny bit of protection from the rain to pull on nitrile gloves (cheap vapor barrier) and pull the hood of my fleece over my ears. Then I zoom down the other side, wiggling my toes to try without much success to keep them from going numb. Five mostly-down miles to 26. The route goes east, but fuck it, I’m going west. Government Camp is 3-point-something miles from the junction, and the Reed ski cabin is in Government Camp. Maybe I can stay there tonight. At the very least, hopefully someone will be able to let me in so I can dry off and warm up.
There’s a rest area at the edge of town. I roll my bike into the overhanging entryway by the women’s bathroom and call Backup. I surprise myself by getting shaky and teary as I describe my day so far. Then I ask him to look up directions to the ski cabin. I don’t wait for him to find them; I gotta keep moving, so I figure I’ll see if I can find it by feel. I’m almost within sight of it when he texts me a Google Maps screenshot pinpointing it. There it is.
No one’s home and the most recent door code I can find in my email has long since been changed. But I only have to wait a minute or so before a whole bunch of students — the residents of the Outhaus theme dorm — return from a hike. They let me in, and I strip off my rain gear and proceed immediately downstairs to the sauna in the basement. I sit in it while it warms up from room temperature to 130 degrees, and then I am finally warm.
The kids share their taco dinner with me. I drape my wet things in front of the wood stove. What a refuge.
27 miles in five hours today. Humbling as shit.