Day 1: Portland, OR to Willamette Mission State Park - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

August 27, 2014

Day 1: Portland, OR to Willamette Mission State Park

We're awake at 4:45 a.m. It's here — the day we've been thinking and dreaming and preparing for. But the first thing I feel isn't excitement; instead it's a combination of calm and disbelief. Somehow it doesn't seem real. It's as if today should feel like every morning of the last two weeks, where a list of like seventy-five things that have to be packed or shipped or canceled runs through my head in an endless loop. It's been a sprint to get to this point, full of stress and anxiety and the worry that somehow we wouldn't take care of everything and then we wouldn't be able to leave on Wednesday. Well, Wednesday is here. I don't need to prepare or wonder or feel low-grade panic anymore. All that's left is to deflate the two air mattresses we slept on last night, pack away our sleeping bag, and eat cookies for our first breakfast.

With bicycles overloaded and wobbling, Kristen closes the front door to the house where she no longer lives, drops the key in the mailbox she'll never again open, and together we say goodbye to the kind of adult life that up until a few months ago we always thought we'd lead.

We make it only a mile before stopping — but it's okay, because thats when we stop at the home of our friends Andrea and Bruce, whom I met just over three years ago in Libby, Montana, near the end of my cross-country ride. They're wonderful people who happen to live within walking distance of my apartment in Portland, so Kristen and I have had the chance to get to know them as close friends over past several months. They've been a constant source of support and have inspired us to travel to far-distant places we might never have considered on our own. We both feel so lucky to have them in our lives, and it only makes sense to leave from their house as a kind of last goodbye to Portland. Although Bruce is out of town, Andrea is there to wish us safe travels and steel us for the road ahead with a care package of dried figs and plums and a giant can of Pringles.

Happy and unprepared for what's to come.
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Kristen rings her bell to honor our first small hill climb. We see the homes in the West Hills of Portland reflecting pink from the sunrise as we head south past a long line of cars, each carrying their driver to work or school or on some kind of task that does not involve traveling all over the world. We stop to rest every couple of miles. We are slow and soft from a total lack of training. Even the smallest hills leave us sweat-drenched and out of breath. But none of that matters, because we are going.

A reminder of what could have been.
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Rocket fuel.
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Smelling of sunscreen and powered by almonds, figs, and whatever Pringles are made of, we pedal out of Portland and through the suburbs. Two steep climbs in Oregon City almost send us puking, but with low gears and a willingness to ride three miles per hour we make it. Soon after we receive a cold shower from a busted water main that shoots 30 feet in the air before falling with a hiss to the pavement below. From there we tear down a steep and winding hill and at once find ourselves in the country. We eat blackberries at the edge of a rough old road with no center line among the chirping of grasshoppers, the chk-chk-chk of sprinklers, barbed wire fences, and fields more yellow than green as they near the end of a hot and dry summer. Above, a pair of vultures glide in broad circles as they track their next meal.

By the time we reach the city park in Canby, we have in only half a day exercised more than in the last three or four weeks combined. That's why, after sitting in the shade and eating lunch, a nap sounds like one of the greatest ideas ever. Instead we drop into the Willamette Valley and ride on Midwest-flat roads lined by farms growing things like corn, green beans, and even baby Christmas trees. Beyond the fence line, cows huddle in pasture corners beneath the shade of centuries-old oak trees. All of a sudden what we're doing feels like bike touring again. There's the familiar taste of my water bottles, the distrust of each car and truck and van that appears in my rearview mirror, and the fact that every mile takes at least twice as long to travel as it feels it should in my mind.

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The day gets long and the temperature pushes past 90. Our water levels sink to low and then to nothing. Our wrists turn tired, our neck and shoulders turn tired, our legs and butts turn tired. We haven't eaten enough. Body parts that shouldn't tingle start to tingle. So starts a slow slide into a delirium marked by crazed laughing, dreams of highbrow Portland food, wondering if the state park will have IPA fountains in addition to water fountains, and an inability to ride above eight miles per hour on flat ground.

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By the time we reach the park we are wasted. It's been twelve hours since we left home. But our spirits lift when Amber, one of Kristen's former library co-workers, shows up to spend a couple of hours hanging out with us. We pass the time talking and laughing, drinking warm red wine from a stainless steel water bottle, and eating the contents of a giant plastic mug filled with black beans, sweet corn, avocado, red pepper, jack cheese, and some salt. Pizza or honey buns it isn't, nor is it the most photogenic dinner ever created, but it's delicious and filling all the same.

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Now an honorary member of Team Hawthorne.
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Our first evening on the road helps reveal the magic of bicycle touring. We climbed off of our bicycles exhausted, dehydrated, sunburned, sore all over, feeling like we couldn't ride another mile. Yet only a few hours later, by the time dinner is done and the tent is set up, we're back to feeling nothing but excitement for this trip, anticipation for what's coming tomorrow, and appreciation for being in this exact place at this exact moment. If you're looking for the luckiest couple of people in the world, tonight you'll find them tucked among the hazelnut trees and swooping birds and fat squirrels of the hiker-biker campsite at Willamette Mission State Park.

Today's ride: 58 miles (93 km)
Total: 58 miles (93 km)

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