I woke up on Tuesday morning knowing that I had 140 miles ahead of me. I dreaded it slightly, since I expected the same scenery (or lack of scenery) as yesterday - just 60 miles more of it. Also, the sun was gone and it looked like possible rain.
I did the first 30 miles in under two hours, despite my heavy paniers. I took an hour break in the Centralia library to charge my phone and figure out which paths to take.
I knew that it was going to be a long time on a bike by myself, but I hadn't expected the feeling of loneliness. The countryside that I was riding through was desperate and unpeopled. My neck was crooked from fighting the wind. To pass the time, I listened to the Chinese tapes my Mandarin tutor had given me.
"Listen and Repeat," the English voice said, and I dutifully repeated words.
"Please say it again."
"Qing zai shuo yi bian."
I listened to all of the conversations, and then I listened to them again. And again. I wasn't really paying attention. I was in a meditative state, and I repeated the words like a thousand mantras. My Bluetooth earbuds died, and I put them back in my pack to charge. I felt like I was starting to die also. The headwind was strong, the bike was heavy, and the hills were long. My rear shifter stopped working and my bike was stuck permanently on the highest gear. I couldn't fix it. I drank some hammer gel, spilling the sticky brown goop on my shorts and my face. I was getting sick of the flavour, but it gave me the will to ride on.
I crossed under and over I5 and considered hitchhiking the rest of the way to Portland. 80 miles in, I saw signs for a coffee stand. I didn't want to stop before I crossed to Oregon, but I really wanted a coffee. I stopped and went back to the stand. I asked for the richest thing they had. The barista suggested a coffee with chocolate and vanilla fudge and whipped cream. That sounded excellent. I sat down to eat it at the nearby picnic table. Sitting down, I realized how tired I was, and how late it was. It was almost 4pm and I still had 64 miles to go. At that moment, I gave up. I had a white trash bag and a pen, and I made a sign that said "Portland." I would go sit by I5 and wait for some serial killer to pick me up.
I slowly got up and walked to my bike. "Do you want me to fill that up for you? Asked the barista, gesturing to my water bottle." She took it from me and filled it, explaining to her friend, who had just arrived, that I was doing a trip from Seattle to San Francisco.
"How much farther do you have to go today?" Asked her friend.
"60 miles, but I don't know if I'll make it," I admitted.
"You got this," said the barista and gave me a huge smile and my full waterbottle.
And with her smile and encouragement, I got back on my bike, put away my sign, and rode over the Lewis and Clark Bridge. Never, ever ride over the Lewis and Clark Bridge on a bicycle. Although it doesn't expressly forbid bicycles, there is a sign before the bridge that says "end bike lane." Indeed the bike lane ends. There is a 3 foot margin on the side of the road filled with pieces of lumber, trash and hubcaps. Semis carrying oversized loads of logs headed down the coast whoosh by you at 60 miles per hour as you try to keep your balance while riding over chunks of gravel and wood that have fallen off previous trucks. And then you get to the top of the bridge, and you wish you could take a picture but you have to keep moving or lose your balance.
And then you're in Oregon.
I should have been glad. The sign said 48 miles to Portland and I was 2/3rds done with my trip. I just had to continue along highway 30. I continued. My legs didn't hurt, but there was a leaden quality to my whole body. I coasted along the Colombia River. My palms, under their gloves, were red from grasping the handle bars, and my crotch was sore from the saddle. I was determined to get within 20 miles of the city. Then I could see if there was a bus that I could take the rest of the way.
23 miles from Portland, I sat down to eat the rest of the nutella. I sat and I sat. Sitting by the side of the road felt so good. It was 7pm. Once again, the sun was going down. A car did a U-turn and pulled over to make sure I was ok. I smiled and waved them on. But I couldn't get up. I remembered the power of the encouraging words that morning, and I called Tony to see if he could encourage me. I was also worried my couchsurfing host would be pissed at me for arriving so late. So I decided, at last, to hitchhike. There was no public transportation this far outside the city, and the taxi company I tried calling refused to go that far either.
I stood by the side of the road with my sign. My bike was lying in a pile behind me. I figured I looked pitiful enough. I decided to try smiling at people. But nobody stopped. 50 cars passed and nobody stopped. Finally, about to give up, I turned around and saw a little blue car backing up towards me. A mom and her preteen daughter were coming home from a track meet and I could tell they were giddy about the adventure of picking up a hitchhiker for the first time. They helped me to fit my bike in the car (it just fit) and agreed to drive me to Portland, which happened to be completely out of their way.
We talked for a bit, and then turned up the music when we ran out of nice things to say. I sat, completely exhausted, on their comfortable seats.
Not only did they drive me to Portland - they bore with my navigational errors that landed them on the northeast side of Portland when I was trying to go to the northwest side. She refused to let me off until we actually found the exact address that I was staying at.
And after chauffeuring me across half of Portland, she refused to take any money for her efforts.
Whoever you are, thank you!!