I wake up, roll over, snuggle back into my warm fluffy sleeping bag. Eventually I convince myself to wiggle out into the chilly morning, and I pack myself up and head down the road towards the small town of Detroit. I want some eggs and coffee! It’s all downhill to town — my last downhill for miles and miles, until the top of Santiam Pass.
I stop at a diner and get a huge cup of decaf coffee with cream and sugar, hashbrowns, toast, and two eggs over easy. I eat it all, and then I walk my bike a block down the road and sit on a log bench in the sun in front of a coffeeshop to check my email and check in with friends and family and, let’s be real, procrastinate on starting the long, long climb up to the pass.
My knee is still hurting this morning. Googling my symptoms turns up a couple possible diagnoses: patellofemoral pain syndrome or quadriceps tendinitis. Both are overuse injuries that can be made worse by weak or tight quads. Hurray!
Then I get an email from the woman who’s living in my apartment. I got two subletters for the time I’m traveling; one lived there and took care of my cats through August, and this woman moved in at the start of Reed’s fall semester (she’s a current student). Well, it turns out she’s allergic to cats. Between this news and my knee, I feel pretty defeated. Is this a sign? Should I go back home and start my next life? That’s sort of how I’m thinking about it: life, part n. The part in which I get my shit together.
I get a cinnamon roll at the coffeeshop and call my mom. I need to take care of my cats and I need to take care of myself. I want to be running and hiking and climbing and biking as much as possible for as long as possible, so I don’t want to be injured. And maybe I need to get on the road (the metaphorical road, instead of the actual one I’m on) towards building the life I’ve been writing about in my little red notebook.
Here’s the plan I come up with. I’m a day or two from Bend, which is a part of the world I like a lot. There’s lots of great hiking and climbing to do near there, and plenty of places to camp. Backup just bought a car and is itching for a roadtrip. He’s suggested coming down to meet me on the road. So, I tell him, yeah, come on down. We can hang out and camp and adventure for a few days in central Oregon, and then he can drive me home.
So, that’s it. I get on my bike and roll out towards my last-hurrah climb. Cars and trucks rush past me. The shoulder narrows to maybe eighteen inches. And then I’m going uphill. My knee hurts. 37 miles of this ahead of me to the top of Santiam Pass. I stop. I turn around. Why am I bothering? Deep breath:
I pedal back into town and sit down in front of the coffeeshop again. I ask Backup to come pick me up here in Detroit. I pass the afternoon by reading, writing, and people-watching, and when Backup shows up in his shiny new car, we drive up the road to a campground, make dinner, and drink a few beers.
I laid out my sleeping pad in the corner last night and fell asleep with my earbuds in, listening to music while the Outhaus kids caroused. I sleep just fine, and I wake up early, but I can’t really get the engine started. I laze around in my sleeping bag eating oatmeal, and somehow the kids are up and out the door before I have my panniers packed. I stick around to help clean up a bit, and then I roll out into the day. The sun is well up, but the good news is it’s also out. No more rain!
I have a glorious downhill to start the day. It’s so nice and easy, I don’t even care that I’m on 26, with cars and RVs rushing past. And hey — there on the shoulder is a perfectly intact bungie cord! I lost one of mine before I even started riding in Hood River, and two is better than one for securing my stuff to my rack. Nice!
I’m glad to turn off of 26 onto a quiet forest road, though. A little later, the road narrows to one lane — that’s how little traffic there is. A few cars, mostly pick-ups and Subarus and a few Vanagons, do pass me, but from time to time I feel wholly alone. I experimentally add my voice to the quiet sounds (birds and insects) around me. Almost always when I do this, I sing “Galileo” by the Indigo Girls.
There’s more climbing today. I’m still so slow at it. My right knee is hurting, in the same way it would hurt on tough downhills sometimes when I was hiking. I’m nervous about it. I try to push down mostly with my left foot and just use the right one to get the pedals around again. It helps a bit. When do I start feeling stronger?
I pass a couple PCT trailheads, which makes me feel good, like what I’m doing isn’t totally unrelated to what I was doing last month. A few cyclists — roadies, not tourers — pass me on one of the nice long downhill stretches and greet me cheerfully. I watch fireweed seeds blow across the road and catch the sunlight. I pull over at a clearing by the side of the road where someone’s built a fire ring and sit on a log to eat a snack and read a chapter of my book (currently: Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler). I coast down long descents and struggle up long climbs. I pass two snakes wriggling across the asphalt and one roadkilled beautiful coyote on the shoulder. I resist the temptation to follow the sign to Breitenbush Hot Springs at the turn-off. I stop at the next campground instead, and choose a spot close to the river, where I can fall asleep to the sound of the water. The campground host stops me putting the usual fee in my fee envelope, and charges me half price since I’m on my bike.
I set up camp and make dinner as the sun sets. It’s my first night of this trip camping alone without cell reception. I feel annoyingly lonely for a bit, but it feels good to snuggle into my sleeping bag in the dark by myself and read my book. Tomorrow morning, town, and maybe a cup of coffee, is just a few miles away.
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.
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.
I woke up last Saturday morning in my sleeping bag, on a cot, in a concrete-floored workshop, on a farm, outside of Trout Lake. I fell asleep Saturday night in the huge and absurdly comfortable bed in my parents’ guest room in Portland, and I finally got a good night’s sleep. Days later, my feet were still sore and my knees were still creaky. I mean, they’re still kind of sore and creaky, respectively, now. That Saturday in Trout Lake, sprawled on the sunny lawn outside the grocery store, I talked to a nobo named Radish about the differences between bike touring and thru-hiking, and, laughing, I said, “bike touring, your body eventually stops hurting.” Totally seriously, she told me that, well, when you’re thru-hiking it takes about two months. Maybe there’s hope for me and my hiker hobble yet — or maybe I’ll have to start all over when I get back on trail.
Trout Lake on a sunny Saturday: food, beer, hikers everywhere. We said goodbye and happy hiking to Elroy (who’d beat us to town) and Beowulf and the nobos we met in town, and then my mom drove us to Portland.
I’ve been off trail for well over a week now. I didn’t do much of anything for a few days. On Thursday, I drove with my friend Eliot down to Eugene, where we picked up Landon, and then to a farm outside Medford, where our friend Jess is living. The four of us spent the night under the stars, sleeping on a tarp in the middle of a field, visited by a kitten named Rascal who pounced gleefully on our toes.
In the morning, Eliot, Landon, and I continued south into California and its smoky hazy brightness. Shasta floated above us, disconnected from the earth by a band of haze. The whole west is burning. We drove all the way to a little state park in Mendocino County, and slowly other cars arrived full of people we loved. A whole bunch of my college friends piled out and we made campfires and ate food and drank beer and hugged each other a whole lot until a park ranger had to come over and tell us to simmer down.
(super awesome fisheye photo by Dusty Gridley)
On Saturday, my friend Judith married my brother Scott’s friend Jeff (Scott was the best man! We were not at all responsible for them meeting! It’s a small small world!). The wedding was beautiful and fun and I did not take a single photo — the first wedding I’ve attended in years that I didn’t work, and I am so glad. I caught up with friends and cried like a baby during the ceremony and danced like crazy for hours and then we all collapsed back into our tents.
(Reedies in a boat photo by Barry Levine)
In the morning we scattered to the four winds again, and Eliot and Landon and I drove to Ashland and got dinner with Jess. We dropped Landon off with her (they’re on their way to Burning Man as we speak), and continued up to Roseburg, where Eliot grew up. Yesterday we slept in and then went for a little rafting trip on the North Umpqua River with his dad before driving home to Portland. Not bad at all. On Thursday I’m leaving town again to fly to New York for another wedding — this one I am working — and a few days in Brooklyn with Elana and Ben.
I’ve spent a lot of time off-trail talking about the trail and what I was doing before the trail and what I’ll be doing after. I have a little notebook that I’ve been carrying since I started (and covering in stickers), and on the first page I wrote “STACIA’S LITTLE RED BOOK OF A BETTER LIFE.” What do I want to do? What really matters to me? In Roseburg the other day, Eliot mentioned that his dad used to travel a lot, but now he’s found his spot on the Umpqua River and he just doesn’t want to leave anymore. Sometimes I get anxious and think that this — what my life has been like for years now — is going to be my life forever. Trying to find my place. Looking for a job, or a partner, or a place to live. Sometimes I believe the crap about making the life you want, making yourself into the person you want to be, and sometimes it seems like a total crapshoot. Some people get lucky and find what they’re looking for — and recognize it when they find it — and some people are seeking forever. The belief that I’ll find or make or discover what I’m looking for someday is like the belief in free will. I have to believe it, because the alternative is despair.
I know I’m already lucky. I’ve met so many wonderful people and some of them have thought I’m wonderful too. I’ve visited so many beautiful places. I’ve done so many awesome things. I’m ridiculously, inconceivably lucky to be doing what I’m doing this season. So here we go. Onward. Further. And then back again.