Day 3: Near Independence, OR to near Corvallis, OR - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

August 29, 2014

Day 3: Near Independence, OR to near Corvallis, OR

We wake in the dark at 4:45, start to pack at 5:15, and return to the road by 6:00 with the sky to the east just beginning to brighten and all of our lights glowing again. The air sits so still that the thinnest clouds of fog hang motionless a hundred feet above the valley floor. The cold and the wet of the world wrap themselves around us. Beads of condensation form up and down the exposed parts of my arm.

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Our path takes us alongside wetlands and through a wildlife preserve, where tiny songbirds eat blackberries, egrets call out before we can spot them, and at least half a dozen other types of birds chirp and tweet unseen from the trees that line the creek. As the sun comes up above the hills, its brightness turns the floor of the valley into an ocean of shadows and contrast, with the branches and leaves and even individual blades of grass glowing in yellowish tones while standing in stark relief. When we reach the Willamette, we ride across on an otherwise empty ferry for a dollar each. One cable hangs a hundred feet above the river, another sits just below the water's surface, and together they pull the boat from one bank to the other. It all takes less than three minutes.

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Beneath the awning of the Buena Vista Community Church, Kristen wonders out loud if farting has always been funny or if it's a recent thing, historically speaking. When Paleolithic man ripped a juicy one with all of his buddies standing around, did they bust out laughing? Or did they stay stoic instead, like, Yeah, bodily function right there, that's totally normal and not at all funny? Of that we'll never know, but I can confirm that breaking wind in a call-and-response kind of way is still just about the peak of hilarity for the members of Team Hawthorne.

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When we leave the flood plain behind, we grind up hills that aren't that steep but still send us down to our lowest gears and make our bike computers spit out awful speed numbers like 3.2. It's a painful reminder that we made the right choice in sticking more or less to valleys instead of cranking into the Cascades and guaranteed agony.

In Corvallis we ride right through the campus of Oregon State University. I can tell that this would be a good place to call home, based only on the fact that three people come up and talk to us about bicycle touring within the first half an hour we're in town. Chipotle becomes our office for the afternoon; we're there for so long that the entire work crew changes by the time we leave, and we gain two pounds each from soda refills alone.

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After waddling back to our bikes we head south into farm land. About five miles from town, a tall guy who's a little older than us pulls up alongside in a small four-door Honda hatchback with the window rolled down.

"Hey, do you guys need water or a place to camp?" he asks.

Still rolling I look to my left and say, "Let's pull off up here and I'll tell ya."

We angle over into a gravel patch and introduce ourselves to Ben.

"I'm a cyclist myself," he says, "So when I see riders I like to stop and see if anyone needs help. Do you need water or anything?"

I save him from the details of our awful/wonderful lunch but mention that we're headed down the road to find a place to put up our tent somewhere in the next few hours, and ask him if he can suggest anything.

"You guys should come over!" he tells us with a big smile. "I was just heading into town to get some more charcoal, but follow me, I'll show you the way. It's that white house up ahead, just past those greenhouses."

There's an earnestness and a kindness about Ben that makes it impossible for us to say no.

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Within an hour we've met Ben's wife Catherine, their friends Joel and Carrie and Joe, and the three dogs who call their farmhouse home. Soon we sit down on the deck with everyone to enjoy a dinner of pork chops (sourced from one of the pigs they raised), sweet corn, cole slaw, tomatoes in shades of yellow and orange and red, and cold bottles of beer. We learn how most of the people seated around the table grew up in the area, have known each other since before high school, and have keen interests in things like organic farming, backcountry cycling, canoeing down rivers, and taking classes on permaculture at the university.

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The evening warms our souls even more than it stretches our already full stomachs. And then as the meal winds down, for reasons I'm never made aware of, Ben says that it's time to get up and throw our corn cobs at the brown and white cow that stands closest to the fence. We don't ask for details, and it doesn't matter if there's a prize for winning. When you're given the chance to chuck a corn cob at livestock, you take that chance. For the next ten seconds, the backyard fills with laughter and flying corn kernels and looks of concern from one very confused cow.

In the end, the cow is the big winner. Everyone has terrible aim, and she gets to eat no fewer than eight corn cobs that sit on the grass all around her.

Kristen, Joe, Carrie, Joel, Catherine, and Ben.
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As we lay in the upstairs bed that's been offered to us, Kristen puts into words what we both felt throughout the evening. Ben has this rare brand of energy and action about him. It's as if he embodies the spirit of an older time, of a brand of American culture we don't often experience anymore. He invited us — a couple of strangers on bicycles — into his home on a whim, because it felt like the right thing to do. He is warm and welcoming, interested and interesting, and it's clear that he thrives on hard work, helping others, and having a large group of family or friends around his table. If it wasn't for the mountain bikes in the garage and the IPAs in the fridge, it wouldn't be hard for us to think we'd been transported back in time, to the kind of kinder, gentler, friendlier America that with every passing year we seem to be more in danger of losing.

Today's ride: 39 miles (63 km)
Total: 129 miles (208 km)

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