Have been able to see some friends for the first time since I have been back, which is a great feeling. Introductions to friends of friends are funny as I am often told, “man, I can barely go the two miles from my place to the park”, or something else along those lines. Having come across a variety of cross country cyclists, I know that 99% of the population can complete this trip. The percentage may be a slight exaggeration, but anyone with the adequate amount of time, funds, gear and mental fortitude can complete a similar trip. The days may be shorter in length, particularly in the beginning as strength builds.
In this post, you will hear about leg strength after some rest days in Portland. It wasn’t all rest. Most days had a degree of sightseeing, whether Powell’s Bookstore downtown or the various main neighborhood streets throughout East Portland. These city rides were in sneakers, which was a glaring reminder of the efficiency of being clipped in to the pedals.
The first few days back on the bike were shorter and flatter. With fresh legs, I felt like a superhero in the saddle.
August 17: Portland to Salem (58 miles)
Wake up at 7:30 AM to get some laundry done, leaving Jon and Kerry with fresh bed sheets. I chat with Eric, one of the roommates regarding the best route out of town. After weaving through Portland, the best option is Route 99E which will essentially take me just south of Portland to Salem where a Warmshowers host is able to put me up for the evening.
A beautiful sunny morning awaits me outside. Now more comfortable navigating the city, I glance at the map on my phone as I make my way south. I end up on NE Regents Drive, a road that curves through the grid system of the city. The short, wide drive is lined by gorgeous homes and spectacular gardens. There are a few eclectic storefronts placed at the north end of the street. The quiet of Regents is quickly forgotten as I arrive to the four lane roads taking me out of town. I stop at a small bakery to get a coffee fix and some carbs before leaving the city limits. I am not disappointed by La Farina’s scones and bottomless french press brew.
With temperatures reaching the high 80s, I feel very comfortable back on the bike. The air of the Willamette Valley appears Fall like compared to the recent rides through high desert during a heatwave. Small quiet roads are enjoyed through Milwaukie along the Willamette River. This quiet road is tree lined with some nice hills to climb. I attack hills out of the saddle to get a change of posture. What I notice is that my legs charge up these hills with no problem. My heart rate and breathing do not increase much. I stop in Oregon City to take get off the bike for a few minutes and take in some sites. The waterfall and historical markers provide a nice break.
The miles go by quickly and I reached 99E. It is a decent road, newly paved with somewhat of a shoulder. Traffic is fairly light, but becomes a bit of a concern when the hills start. Guardrails also start and pinch the shoulder to no more than the width of my bike. Summoning the strength of fresh legs, I come up out of the saddle again and climb the hills quickly. I end up riding the line with eyes constantly on the rearview mirror to make sure overtaking traffic is providing adequate space.
Salem arrives in no time at all, reaching a large shopping district north of town and pass by a minor league baseball stadium. Had the stadium been closer to camp for the evening, I may have picked up a game. After enjoying a wide bike path, then dodging some Salem rush hour, I am at Laurie’s place. One of her house guests finds me moments after leaning my bike up against the garage. Soon I am showered and reading a book, giving my eyes relief from the road. Twenty minutes pass and hunger takes over. Laurie’s daughter is now at the house. I introduce myself and fill up a large glass of water asking her for local food recommendations. A litany of options are provided. I only have one night so a recommendation or two would have been perfect. Dizzied by the flurry of eateries I lay down for a quick nap. When I stir next, I decide that I will cash in on a free Domino’s pizza that I earned.
I opt for pick-up to keep costs down, also to get the metabolism spiked in preparation of eating an entire medium pizza myself. Right as I am about to leave Laurie arrives from a work dinner and we chat for a bit. She is a wonderful lady and avid cyclist. We chatted for a bit about our careers and riding. Laurie provides counseling for adults who were victims of sexual abuse. The important work of the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance was certainly not lost on her.
I excuse myself promising to continue the conversation upon my return. The mile and a half seemed like ten miles in this extreme state of hunger. I discover the store has zero seating and I would be unable to eat there unless I sat on the floor. I crossed the street and ate a Hawaiian pizza on the walkway of a dentist’s office. Returning to Laurie’s we finish our conversation over ice cream with local stewed peaches. We both head to our respective rooms when our eyelids are too heavy to keep open.
August 18: Salem to Corvallis (42 miles)
I am up later than I had hoped and Laurie is up earlier than she thought she would be. Resigned to eating a large diner breakfast, Laurie offers a home cooked one instead. Rule #1 of Touring: Never pass up a free meal. Pancakes with cornmeal, coffee and fried eggs fill the belly. The syrup and homemade jams (peach, strawberry-rhubarb) go great with with the carbs.
Fueled and ready to go, I hop on the bike. Normally, with Salem being the State capital, I would have liked to see more of the downtown area. I opted for a speedy morning to get to Corvallis early as possible and beat the heat of the day. Laurie’s suggested route out of town has me exit the city through the Minto-Brown Island Park south of town. This is the highlight of the morning as this park contained a wide array of plant life, showing much of Oregon’s natural offerings, but also a section that left me feeling like I was in a Louisiana swamp. Exiting the park, I pass a home on the edge of a busy street and gander at their impressive garden. Upon further inspection I notice some massive marijuana plants in the middle of the space. What was most surprising is that the home sat on the corner of a busy road and there was no razor wire or junkyard dog to thwart malcontents.
The remainder of the ride offers less shade and similar hills as the previous day. The trend of standing to climb continues. Jon, Rich and Tash would be proud. Views of the surrounding Cascade and Oregon Coast Ranges provide a gorgeous backdrop for the day’s ride. A slight headwind picks up as I near Corvallis. The early afternoon’s heat is getting to me. The sweat drips from my forearms and rolls down my legs. Today’s sun seems stronger then it has and my forearms and neck have actually burned. This is the first sunburn all summer. I pass a packed waterpark which is incredibly enticing, though a cold shower and clean clothes would be slightly more appealing then overly chlorinated water. I press on.
Arriving at Oregon State University’s (OSU) an hour before check in, I decide lunch is in order. Pita Pit is a quick option, but I then hop on Yelp to see what the best lunch spot in town is. Turns out to be a brewery in the heart of town. The ride through campus is nice. Large trees line most roads, the well kept lawns and massive brick buildings stand proudly before me. Leaving the Beaver’s campus, I find a typical college town, Starbucks, grocery stores and a bunch of funky shops and restaurants. Something worth exploring once Adair arrives and gets settled.
Settling on a kimchi burger and pint, I journal the morning and previous day while do some very important people watching. With most of Oregon and the West in general, people seem to be very outdoorsy. Check-in time appears at the same time as the check. Once paid, I head back to college living. I check into a dorm room for the first time since August of 2003. Standing in line to pick up keys and a dining pass (I am not kidding, we are back in college), I overhear the event coordinator, Jill, speaking to a mother and daughter about the weekend and pending events. Jill asks them if they would like to be interviewed by a Portland NBC affiliate. They decline, but I quickly offer my services.
Pat Dooris and a cameraman show up minutes after Jill leaves to grab them. I begin telling my wonderous tale of the journey across the country, my affiliation with the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance and why Corvallis would be the best place to see it. The conversation is boiled down to a 3 second sound bite which can be enjoyed here. What also can be joined is some very questionable facial hair. Please don’t judge me. Or do.
The room is comfortable enough, bigger than my freshman dorm, with slightly less comfortable beds. Adair arrives while I am mid-nap. We take advantage of the dining hall adjacent to our building. Included in our stay is two square meals a day. Essentially one can fill up a tray with as much food as possible. This made me feel like John Belushi from Animal House. One woman took a heavy pivot foot in the center of the serving area trying to decide on the next food item to be crammed onto her already over flowing tray. The idea of slight spacial constraints on free food appears to be difficult for some to grasp. As a touring cyclist, I found the same to be true, walking to the dining table with roughly two meals. This level of eating persisted through the end of the weekend.
The rest of the weekend would be spent feasting, sleeping and enjoying OSU’s eclipse programming. The programming included art exhibits, live music, an Apollo 13 movie night, star gazing and multiple presentations on various elements of the eclipse and astronomy.
August 21: Corvallis to Rickreall (28 miles)
The day started with our final meal. Well at least at one of OSU’s dining halls. We pack Adair’s rental car then head to the field where we will watch the eclipse. Not a cloud in the sky to block the view. Adair and I settle on a small section of lawn next to some volleyball courts near our dorms. This will offer a slightly less crowded viewing area then the official viewing area along with 1,800 other eclipse fans. I set up a GoPro to capture the event, mainly the shadows as the eclipse approaches. We work on our tans as the moon slowly makes its way in front of the sun.
There is a phenomena called the “Diamond Ring” that occurs just before and after a total eclipse. The air cools as a surreal twilight fills our view at 10:10 AM. After the last peak of light disappears behind the moon, we remove our sweet eclipse glasses and witness something incredible. The crowd murmurs as it looks at the total eclipse and sun’s corona. A huge gust of wind blows on our backs, just as the one astronomer told us it would. My heart races.
Totality lasts for a minute and forty seconds, though feels like thirty seconds. The smallest bit of sunshine blasts around the moon’s edge and the second Diamond Ring appears and forces the special glasses back on our faces. I reach for a small black box hidden in my shoes just off the blanket. Moving to a single knee, I ask Adair to marry me. She smiles and we embrace. After a few minutes of this, I ask if it was a yes. She confirms it is! The remainder of the morning is spent calling family and friends.
We take our time, enjoying the occasion, as people leave town. The day is going to be very hot, but short. I finish packing my bike and take off, retracing my route into town from a few days before. Passing the waterpark again, I find that it is slightly less enticing to me as an adult, but still looks like a fantastic place for kids. Outside of town, I notice another impressive garden with their personal strain of marijuana. The people of the Willamette Valley are very trusting. I don’t believe something like that would last more than a week in plain sight in the Northeast.
I attempt to meet Adair in Adair Village, but the town doesn’t appear to have anything more than a mini-mart. We eat snacks and decide to meet in Monmouth for a late lunch. Adair heads off to find a place to eat and some internet to work. She ends up making more personal calls than actual work. My ride is pleasant. Little traffic on small country roads. Just an odd feeling of being alone hours after just getting engaged. I soon find the fiancé and we eat an amazing pizza at the Yeasty Beasty. We then try to figure out if we can camp near by. This is a big unknown as many places may be full from people coming to Oregon for the eclipse. What we find is that no ideal places in Monmouth can take us in and the fairgrounds in Rickreall, according to the website, is closed to the public until the following day.
As with any tough sleeping situation, often the best solution is to just show up and ask. If there is no one to ask, set up shop and deal with it in the morning. The next four miles is interesting. Small flies or large gnats fill the air. The sun is setting and I could have easily removed my sunglasses, but desperately need eye protection. Breathing solely through my mouth, chin pointed down to keep the bugs out of my nostrils, I arrive first. Adair hangs back in Monmouth and shops for snacks and dinner. It’s much easier if a cyclist asks for camping as we are less likely to be turned away.
Gina is on the front porch of the grounds keeper’s home. She tells me Gene is off on the property tending to a few things. Fortunately for us the fairgrounds are nearly empty, save a few RVs. Turns out he is in the barn/front office and Gene informs me that he will open a tent site just for me. Paid in full, I set up shop and let Adair know that we are good to go. Once she arrives we shower and eat under the stars. This is the first time someone joins me in my tiny “two person” tent. It’s more like two small people or one “Graham-sized” individual. This is no issue for Adair and she basically sleeps on top of me. The night’s air is cool, but the tent is warm.