Wednesday night I had dreamed that I was stealing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from children’s lunchboxes and eating them. I was happy to find peanut butter and jelly and artisan bread in the hostel kitchen. I helped myself to it liberally, before heading to Ray’s coffee shop for a soy latte.
Ray and I charted a course. He told me that the best way to get out of town would be to take Cornell Road to the 26, the 26 to State Route 6, and then State Route 6 to the Tillamook, and then to Lincoln City if I made it that far, which was unlikely given that it was almost noon and I hadn’t started. He told me that once had ridden to Tillamook and back in one day. It was one of the happiest days of his life, he said.
Back at the hostel, a package was waiting for me containing my phone and passport. It was pouring rain, so I had to unpack and repack my bags to get to my rain gear. Leaving the warm, dry hostel and the other young people playing board games and chatting in the common area was difficult.
Leaving civilization is always difficult. It is never a desire, it is a compulsion. This, I realize, is why I had drawn the comparison between myself and El Cid. Whether you are compelled by something internal or external, leaving is always against your instinct to stay. Humans find safety in numbers. We find comfort in company. To leave the herd, you must fight this instinct.
I was thinking these thoughts as I pushed myself out of the Willamette Valley on a bicycle and headed south. I came to the 26. It was a busy highway with a narrow margin for bikers. The rain was pouring by now though, and visibility was poor. I decided to attempt another route. I didn’t want to take my phone out of my bag in the pouring rain, so I decided to just try riding West. I set off. Riding without thinking of where I was going or how fast I was going gave my mind time to meditate. I thought about the past few days, and my time in Portland. I thought about my time cycling in France. I had had one day of rain the entire trip, and I had forgotten about it. I was leaving Arles, I think, and the rain was cold and wet, as April rain tends to be. I didn’t have far to go. I was staying in a town called Jonquieres, I think. But riding in the rain again, I remembered the misery of that ride, and how alone I had felt. Interesting how I had completely forgotten that day. I wondered if I would forget this day also, or if I would turn the memory of my soaked socks and sneakers and the way my raincoat soaked through and stuck to my bare skin into a happy memory of an adventure.
And it was a happy memory. When the rain let up, I felt myself flying on two wheels through Suburban Oregon. And more suburban Oregon. And more suburban Oregon. And it started to rain again, and the sun got lower in the sky. And I passed under I5. But I was too lost in thought to notice. Until I got to the 26 again. This time I pulled my phone out of my bag and turned it on. I almost cried. I was past Beaverton, headed back into Portland. Instead of crying, I laughed. I had been riding in a circle all afternoon. I had to make a decision – whether to head back to Portland or turn around and continue heading to Tillamook. It was an easy decision. It was getting darker and rainier, I was soaked and shivering, and I knew there was a warm hostel bed waiting for me in Portland. I crossed over the 26th and climbed for a ways before heading towards the arboretum and zipping down curving, narrow roads through beautiful homes going faster than the speed limit. I returned to the hostel and walked in, dripping and covered in mud and gravel. They were full, they said, but I could call the hostel downtown. They were full too. I tried calling my friend Zach, but he was trecking in Nepal. So I called Ray and asked for yet another favour. “Maybe you know someone who could host a cyclist for a night?”
He said he would try to find me a place, and invited me over until then. It was nice to be somewhere warm. I sat in one of his chairs and soaked through the cushions. He laughed it off. He let me use his shower and it was the best shower I have ever taken. None of his friends had space. “Do you mind if I crash on your floor?” I asked. He didn’t. Well that was easy. We planned my route for the next day. I had to be in Florence, where my next couchsurfing host lived. I could either do 169 miles going west out of the valley and then south, or I could do 176 miles going south through Oregon City and then west. Going South first had fewer hills, and since I was carrying 40 odd pounds of gear and water it made more sense. I was nervous. Cycling 175 miles in a day is not a small deal for me.