If there is one thing I have learned in thirty-four years of teaching, it is that words matter.
That said, the ten-day bicycle tour that we took down the Oregon coast should not have been a surprise. Really, I was just showing off for my nineteen year-old daughter’s boyfriend, an avid cyclist and junior criterion champion in California.
“Well,” I said to them at a breakfast last January, “We are going to do a bike tour from the West coast to Colorado.”
Right. No plan, no equipment, no training. Just an impulsive statement to impress.
But, words were said. Wheels turn. Things happen. No matter that my wife and I really hadn’t ridden much in the last twenty years. No matter that she and I had never done a bike tour before. No matter that she is 63 and I am a much younger 61. No matter.
Words were said.
In February, I chanced upon Darren’s Bicycle Touring Pro website and purchased his wonderful referential materials. By March, we had changed our focus to the West coast for familiarity and the options for bailing to motels if needed. By April, after a favorable tax refund, we found ourselves at REI, and after a brief test ride, left the store as proud owners of two, brand-new, sexy Surly Long Haul Truckers, the beginning of a great relationship with Mitch and Jeff in the Santa Barbara REI bikeshop, and the beginning of a whole lot of planning and preparation.
And if truth be told, the planning and preparation was a rewarding experience. We read and re-read Darren’s materials as we worked down the equipment list, pannier racks, panniers, handlebar bag, new tent, Exped sleeping mats, necessary bike tools and essential articles of clothing that we did not have in our closet library. We were helped by the video and information on Khara’s Untour Website, learning how to pack the panniers once we had them. We began training, advancing the mileage and weight in the panniers, and logging over a 1000 miles from June to August, with 20 to 30 mile rides becoming a daily outing. And the benefits rolled in: we lost weight; we got healthier; we slept better; we just plain felt better.
The trip was glorious. We called it, the “Tour d’ Pans,” because we thought we could eat our way down the coast (no doping necessary, nor involved). Our longest day was the first. But we made it, fifty miles and over 2000 ft of climbing, plus some agonizing downs and ups after the summit. We rode, we ate, we met new people. We made stories and we heard stories.
We met so very many people. We talked to bow-hunters, frustrated gang counselors from Fresno, farmers from Wales, French Canadians, retired teachers, redirected doctors, crazy Brits, the strong fellow and retired sailmaker who had a heart condition and “just went slower,” the plumber looking for a new location, the mature lawyer whose wife didn’t want to be married anymore, and the honeymoon couple sharing new time on a new life. Oh, and the business woman from Florida. And, the bike fanatic, Tim, in Beaver, Oregon. And, well, so many, many more.
We ate hummus at night and fish during the day. We enjoyed a bottle of wine by a campfire with new friends. We replaced half of our bodily fluids with good, thick Oregon coast chowder. We ate oysters that were sweet and clean and huge. We had Dungeness crab and salad and cakes. And we balanced it with the ride, and OH what a ride.
We had applesauce from little, environmentally unsavory packets, while fire trucks roared to smoke in the middle of a grove in the middle of nowhere on the east side of the coastal mountains. We took the wrong route, climbing an unnecessary hill, but eating wild blackberries by the side of the road. We had breakfast on some days when a cafe appeared, and we usually met more people as a result, like Robert, the fisherman who owned a different restaurant fifteen miles down the road. We ate good bread and we sampled fine Oregon microbrews. We ate. We ate well.
We learned about our equipment. We learned that our tent, an REI quarter dome, was super easy to set up, and the room inside was spacious. We stowed panniers beneath the fly and we used Rotary Club solar lights both at night and as extra bike lights in foggy conditions (firstname.lastname@example.org purchased in twos, one for you and one for a needy third-world donation).
We learned about the ride. We learned about the RV’s with fancy names driven by the innocent and leaving a backwash of unsavory winds. We learned about the etiquette of the ride, the stones on the shoulder and the attention needed to ride safely. We discovered the importance of commitment. A poor choice of route is not easily taken back. Above all though, we learned that effort, direction, people and this great good Earth combine on a ride into a unique narrative that is rewarding and addicting.
At one point, late in the trip, my willing wife and I thought aloud, “You know, we could just keep going, right?”
The sentiment was accurate. But the world demands.
But, I would like to share the best part of the trip. The best part of bicycle touring has nothing to do with destination, miles gained, or money spent. No, the best part has to do with the sideways glance, the look that is not ahead, nor behind – the observation to the side.
Here’s what I blogged on the ride:
“There were lots of wonderful, scenic views today, from boiling waves in fractured lava flows, to streams and rivers and bridges, all flowing from the view sideways. And, I’m thinking that the sideways view is the special one. The sideways view is the one that lets you know how fast you are going. The sideways view is the most dangerous, requiring the most skill. ANYONE, can look ahead, for all the good that does you, cause it ain’t real until you are there. And, of course, looking behind has some serious limitations–it’s already done, and unless you learned something from it that is going to help you in the moment, it is either legacy or burden.
All I can say is this: Everything that I saw from my right and left looked pretty good.”
As you can imagine, we look forward to our next adventure with bicycle touring. Turn a wheel, boys and girls. You won’t regret it.