Day 2: Willamette Mission State Park to near Independence, OR - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

August 28, 2014

Day 2: Willamette Mission State Park to near Independence, OR

When the cricket chirps give way to a chorus of bird calls, that's how we know the morning has arrived. On the heels of yesterday's arduous journey, we both crashed early and hard and have a tough time pulling ourselves out of the double sleeping bag. When we do, we find blackberries by the thousands along the edges of the roads out of the park. With our fingers turned a light shade of purple we head down roads — some paved and some gravel and dirt — past cherry and hazelnut trees and the harvesting of hop vines.

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I'm reminded of how wonderful it is to cycle on flat and traffic-free roads in the country early in the day, where the air hangs in that middle ground between morning cool and afternoon hot. We haven't been gone much more than 24 hours and already I'm filled with the feeling that there's nowhere else I'd rather be, and that I'm doing with my life exactly what I should. There aren't a lot of 31-year-old dudes who can say that. Kristen and I ride side by side, still in awe of the fact that we're out here, as we identify the different types of fruits and vegetables and herbs that extend in what seem like endless straight lines in every direction not blocked by trees or creeks or farmhouses. We also make up proper-sounding quotes about nature in a pompous-assed voice and attribute them to John Muir, even though he was probably one hell of a human being and deserves better. Later we buy sweet corn and blueberries from a roadside farm stand.

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Created from the comfort of an apartment with a plush queen-sized bed, indoor plumbing, and a cupboard full of peanut butter, our plan for the next few days was to head through Salem and then east toward and over the Cascade mountain range. But it turns out we're weaker and squishier than we were during our last long ride on Memorial Day, so in the interest of a more enjoyable ride and fewer sores in unfortunate places we're throwing that plan into the garbage. Instead we'll head south through the easier riding of the Willamette Valley for a few more days before hanging a left and banging over one giant mountain pass on the way to Bend. This will also help keep us off the winding mountain roads during the Labor Day weekend, which means a much lower chance of being run off the road by a motorhome towing a car that is itself towing a pair of jet skis and like six cruiser bicycles and a pair of grills, because what if one of them doesn't work, what then?

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We pass the afternoon at the library in Keizer, where we enjoy the random touches that all small libraries have, like a box full of free items that includes a Jane Fonda workout on VHS tape. Across the room, the librarians complain about 50 percent of the computers being down (meaning two) and then blaming this and every other problem on upper management, which we're not sure even exists at a library run by volunteers.

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Riding into Salem is a treat, with wide side streets and the shade of trees with fat branches and full trunks that are older than anyone I've ever met. Downtown is just as great, as long as government office complexes, multilevel parking garages, and unimpressive-looking state capitol buildings are your thing. We twist our way through rush hour traffic to the Willamette River, where we look out on herons and ducks and wind-blown water ripples as children shriek, joggers jog, and a family of at least a dozen people grill and eat and yell at each other in the park behind us. Kristen repacks her panniers for the third or fourth time on the trip so far while I write and people-watch and give thanks that we chose not to ride 65 miles and into the mountains today.

Taking photos like a tourist.
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The Willamette River and a sweat sock. This is Salem.
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We don't leave the city until 7:00. We have no idea where we'll end up tonight. It's a great feeling.

For about 20 minutes, at least. Google Maps routes us down a park trail that's best described as single track, which leaves us struggling and slipping as we walk the bikes downhill and then sweating and grunting when we push them right back up again. When we hit pavement again we're on River Road, which is part of the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway. It's a name that inspires visions of calm country roads with no traffic and cows mooing from the other side of barbed wire fences, but in reality it's heavy on cars, light on shoulders, and low on charm. There are certain times while bike touring when you look back at decisions you've made and think, Man, in hindsight, that was kind of a dumb thing to do. This is one of those situations where it seems like a dumb thing to keep pushing even as it's happening. But there isn't going to be another road, and although on its face it seems dangerous to push on as the light fades, I suspect it might be even worse in the bright of day when the curves and bends are filled with ten times more cars.

Things are going well!
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All we can do is ride, so with lights blazing white up front and glowing red in the back, that's what happens. We crank and crank and don't stop unless it's to let cars pass, because the safest thing to do is reach the more straight and open roads of the flood plain. When at last we get there the air turns thick with the smell of mint plants. Bats dart in quick bursts above our heads, the smallest sliver of the moon hangs just above the horizon line, bugs shower our arms and faces, and cool air rushes over our bodies with evening having changed places with night.

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In the blackness we angle off the edge of the road and wheel the bikes to a small flat patch of grass sandwiched between blackberry bushes and an open farm field, where it's obscured from the view of passing cars. The sound of chattering sprinklers joins the cries of crickets and the moaning of frogs as we head to sleep with the world lit by the ocean of stars above.

Today's ride: 32 miles (51 km)
Total: 90 miles (145 km)

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