Great West Bike Tour - week 1

Thursday May2:

The bike is packed, the panniers are packed, and I'm trying to tie up loose ends - like finally setting up a blog so people can track my progress. I hope this works.
Friday, May 3

Ahh, the thrill of departing, the agony of leaving. It's hard to start on a solo trip, leaving your loved one behind. If only it were a perfect world, with Sue out of pain and able to join me in some fashion...

... and that perfect world would include faultless air travel as well. An unanticipated maintenance delay conspired with heavy head winds to delay my flight to Seattle 45 minutes -- just long enough for my connecting flight to Portland to close the doors as I rushed to the gate. Not to worry, Alaska Airlines runs the shuttle flights every 30 minutes, and they had already changed my reservation.

After planning a trip so retro as to do it by bike, it seems fitting to do so some retro air transport too. The shuttle flight was on a puddle jumper plane, with all 37 seats full. Walknig over the tarmac to board the plane brought back memories - I last did that 13 years ago, catching another puddle jumper from Florence (Firenze) to Rome (Roma). On that trip I'd sent my bike ahead on the train. As I ascended the stairs into the plane today, I saw the luggage cart (with my bike on top) pull up, easing my fears about losing my bike en route.

My bike, yes, but what about the panniers? Those laggards missed the connecting flight. Those Alaska Airline people are so kind, though - they saw my dragging my bike box and said that when the panniers arrived in another half hour, they'd send them directly to my motel in Astoria. (There's usually something good you can make out of any setback, if you only keep the right attitude.)

Now I'm waiting for the Astoria bus, hoping the idyllic weather lasts a few more days - warm but not hot, sky filled with broken clouds (and I hope no one fixes them).
Saturday, May 4 - Astoria/Peter Iredale Beach, OR to Longview, WA

STATS: 70.0 miles; 8:00 - 3:20.
WEATHER: 47 @ 10:45; 60 @ 2:00, mostly cloudy.

It felt strange to return to the beach that hosted the walk's climax. So much was the same, triggering memories - the soccer fields where the kids greeted me eight years ago; the forested road that made all the news clips; the rusting remains of the shipwreck that still stood sentinel on the beach. Today, though, the feeling was entirely different. Then I felt elation, excitement, a giddiness - the end of walking 4100 miles! - that came with challenging myself and succeeding. Today, there was excitement, tempered with unease - am I truly up to this, eight years older? By myself? On a bike?

Adventure travel, when you boil it down to its essentials, is about discovery - of yourself and of the world around you. To that point, I discovered two new things today:

#1: The deli sign appeared at a fortunate time, since my stomach had just begun demanding lunch. I scanned their menu, and settled on the daily special of burger, fries, and drink. I handed over my $2.99, and the clerk tossed something resembling round, cold, brittle, flattened waffle on the counter. The confusion must have shown on my face, so the clerk explained, "If you cook your burger now, it should be ready when the fries come up."

"Cook it?"

"Oh, you haven't used a self-service burger machine before?" She then directed me to the side of the store, where the peculiar equipment sat. "You put the frozen patty on this conveyor belt, which cooks it and pops it out here. Now grab a bun and put the top and bottom halves in these slots, to toast them. They come out on the bottom."

At least they DID have someone cook the fries!

#2: In the hotel room (my camping nights come later), I looked forward to hot, soaking bath. Problem: no drain plug! I ambled to the office to ask for a rubber plug, with no success. "So there's no way I can take a bath?"

The clerk hesitated. "Well," he said, pointing to the brochure rack, "some people tell me that if you take one of those brochures and put it over the drain hole, the water pressure will hold it in place. No, not that thin one, the one on card stock." With no other option, I tried it - and it worked better than some installed plugs. I would've never thought ...
Sunday, May 5 - Longview to Washougal, WA

STATS: 75.5 miles; 9:00 - 6:00.
WEATHER: 54 @ 2:00; 49 @ 3:00, scattered drizzle, sunshine late.

Long, taxing, and wet day. It was a shame - if the weather had been nicer, I could have better enjoyed the beautiful countryside I rode through. I did appreciate the views I was treated to.

Despite the wet, the morning was special. As I biked south, striving to avoid I-5, the road that I rode suddenly ended, and the only choice given was a road that climbed the mountain to my left. After struggling for a mile, I stopped at the first house to ask where this road led. Almost before I knew it, Barb and Dan had invited me in and fixed me lunch. We had a nice talk - long enough for the roads to dry - and exchanged addresses and phone numbers. I've always believed that the people we meet - the ones that touch our lives in some way - are what make life (and travel) so special. Today, it was Dan and Barb that made my day memorable.
Monday, May 6 - Washougal to Cook, WA

STATS: 41.4 miles; 10:00 - 2:40.
WEATHER: 50 @ 1:00, cold, wet, and drizzly.

Agony and ecstasy, highs and lows, pleasure and pain, all blended well and served - a fit description for the day. One moment I'm straining to climb another hill, cold wind chilling me, trucks kicking up a fine mist of road grime from the wet highway; the next moment a vista of forest-clad mountains cloaked in clouds, rising thousands of feet above the placid river, steals my breath away.

Not that I'm complaining about the rain - I fully expected to get wet until I get well into the gorge, and the wet abets the greenery that makes the land so unforgettable. My gripe is with the unwelcome arctic air mass that has parked itself over Washington and Oregon, dropping temperatures 10 degrees below normal what they expect for May. The snow level last night dropped as low as 2000'. In May!

The late start this morning was due to speaking at Jemtegaard Middle School in Washougal. Teachers brought two groups of 6th graders in to see my slides and listen to my tales of the country, and ask questions of my motives. I also challenged them to look at litter and traveling through different eyes - with luck, maybe I reached some impressionable minds today.
Tuesday, May 7 - Cook, WA to Arlington, OR

STATS: 87 miles; 8:10-9:20 and 11:45-4:15.
WEATHER: 47 @ 9:00, high in the 60's, sunny with a tail wind.

What an incredible day. I know I must have been dreaming - if so, may this dream last 19 more days!

After a delayed start due to a flat tire, I headed up to White Salmon to speak at Henkle Middle School, UP being the operative term - close to a mile of steep and steeper hills. The climb was worth it - the two classes I talked to recharged my batteries. The first class, after hearing me talk, went outside and spent recess cleaning up the school grounds. After entertaining K-S's class, all the students swarmed around, clamoring for my autograph (that hasn't happened since the first month of my walk!). After signing twenty or so papers, a few came back up and handed me a hand-made card thanking me and wishing me well. Finally, as I biked away, the kids lined the school yard, chanting, "Litter is bad! Glen is good!"

Because I stayed west of White Salmon (many thanks to Waldo and Phyllis!), my school visit started late - and after autographs, ended even later. By the time I hit the road, it was nearing noon, with 74 miles to my destination. Oh well, I consoled myself, even if I must ride until 6:00 or later, it was worth it.

I needn't have worried. The hills which slowed me down for three days thinned out, growing shorter and farther between. A stiff wind blew at my back, speeding me along. By the time I crossed into Oregon at The Dalles, I had averaged nearly 18 mph for 22 miles. Then I hit the interstate, and really hit my stride - for 2 1/2 hours, I averaged an unbelievable 21 mph! Once I hit Arlington, I wondered if I should be wearing a red cape and blue tights.
Wednesday, May 8 - Arlington to Pendleton, OR

STATS: 80.0 miles; 12:00 - 6:50.
WEATHER: sunny, cool breeze, 50's.

SMALL TOWN SIGNS: in the Skamania General Store/Cafe: "Sorry, the cafe is closed today - Blanche is sick. Please join us for a cup of coffee." In an Arlington eatery: "AHS scholarship fundraiser: Flamingo your friend's lawn! Imagine their surprise when they wake up to a migrating herd of plastic pink birds!"

On this trip, I understood the physical challenges facing me, and have thus far met them. However, I forgot to factor in the mental challenges. After another noon-time start, I again faced 70+ miles, but this time had no tail wind to speed me. My speed dropped by a third. Four more hours of interstate riding, slogging through endless miles of featureless land and roaring semis, was nearly all I could stand. Thoughts of faking a flat and hitching a ride to town filled my mind. Finally, nineteen freeway miles from Pendleton, I took a chance - veering off on the old highway, which added unknown miles to my day (four miles, it turned out). Having lost both spare tubes yesterday, it was a gamble. The road was deserted, and no more than ten cars passed me in two hours. Near the end, I saw a bicyclist racing toward me. It turns out Dan lives in Boulder CO (a short ride from my home) and works in Oregon a few weeks a year.

The high point of the school talks had to be discovering the Polish exchange student. Finally, I had someone to translate the headlines from the Polish girlie magazines from Nebraska that I'd copied in my book. I showed her the headlines, and she got flustered reading it. "I can't believe you printed this! Right out of CATS magazine!"
Thursday, May 9 - Pendleton to La Grande, OR

STATS: 60.7 miles; 9:50 - 4:30.
WEATHER: 57 at 9:30; 55 at 4:30; 40s in the Blue Mts; overcast to mostly sunny.

One of the questions I ask students is, "Why do you think I like bike touring?" In White Salmon, one boy answered, "Because you can feel good about accomplishing something?"

Today, I felt great. The task facing me was THE CLIMB - gaining 3000' to cross the Blues. For five days, I fretted about this climb. For five days, I mentally gauged each hill I climbed, wondering if Cabbage Hill would be steeper. For five days, I had been hearing about all the snow the Blues had gotten last weekend. Was I ready for this?

Was I ever. The tiger of a hill turned into a pussycat, and I powered up it with a gear to spare. For 100 minutes I pedalled up ten miles, gaining incredible views back down to Pendleton. Once atop the hill, the old highway wound through evergreen forests with snow in their shadows. Temperatures hovered in the 40s, and the sun occasionally peeked throh the clouds to warm me. And the best part - while I biked the old road, I saw almost no trash! (Of course, I also saw almost no traffic, which explains that.)

NOTE for anyone who chanced across this Blog, you can get more information on my coast-to-coast litterwalk and this bike trip by clicking here.
Friday, May 10 - La Grande to Baker City, OR

STATS: 52.5 mi; 11:30 - 3:50.
WEATHER: 55 at 3:50; chilly tail- or cross-wind, sunny

Another school talk that lasted longer than expected - and this time, I relaxed and enjoyed it, with an easy day of bicycling (with a tail wind) scheduled.

My first elementary school visit was great - the younger kids show such enthusiasm! Since one class was preparing for a camping trip around Oregon next week, they took particular interest in my trek and gear. A local reporter came to cover the event, so I hope to get a good news clip from it. Afterwards, I accepted the principal's offer to stay for an early lunch.

Another day of riding through scenic valleys, ringed with snow-capped mountains. In Haines I stopped for a quick break, and within moments a grizzled local - gray beard, black felt hat, leather jacket - came out to meet me. Eric had worked eighteen summers in Fairbanks, Alaska, riding his bike to work every day. We chatted for a half hour, on overpopulation, uncontrolled growth, interstate highways, and slowing down the speed of life.

I guess I'm not the only crazy one out here. In Pendleton I stopped for a newspaper interview, and the reported told me that he'd interviewed a man the day before who was walking to Washington D.C.. He was heading for La Grande the same day I was, but I didn't see him. According to the reporter, Tom Beck expects to reach the east coast in three months. Now THAT'S insane!
Click here for the entries from the middle (2nd) week of Glen's Great West Bike Tour.
Click here for the entries from the third and final week of Glen's Great West Bike Tour.
Click here to return to the main touring page.

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