Day 4: Near Corvallis, OR to Eugene, OR - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

August 30, 2014

Day 4: Near Corvallis, OR to Eugene, OR

Rested from spending a night on a bed instead of a patch of dirt, we come downstairs and shower, and enjoy grapes from the garden and coffee while looking over books about permaculture that Catherine brought down to share with Kristen. After thanking our hosts with enough earnestness that things might have gotten a little weird, we continue south on roads left damp from the small pockets of rain that passed during the night.

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We turn left and say a final goodbye to the Willamette, the river that's been a central part of this adventure, all the way back to our first date in Portland back in February, when we traveled over it while riding the streetcar. As soon as we turn, the rain starts — light at first, but soon with greater energy. It doesn't take more than about ten minutes for each of us to realize that our rain jackets have, to our surprise, been downgraded to just jackets. Our arms and backs turn wet and cold in the fifty-degree morning and send us to find shelter below the covered entrance to a school. There we figure out an alternate route that will take us to Eugene and the closest REI. Bad rain gear is annoying on a cool morning in the valley, but on a cold evening at elevation — where we'll be for the next couple of weeks — it could contribute to something much worse.

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The air fills with the smell of petrichor and rooster tails shoot out in front of my bike as the fender funnels up water from the pavement. We think we've outlasted the rain by waiting, but we haven't, and ten minutes later our dry and definitely not waterproof clothes are soaked as well. But past a certain point it isn't possible for us to become more wet, so we keep riding. Coyote paw prints run in a long line in the ditch dirt along the edge of the road and vultures pick roadkill remains clean in the middle of the lane, leaving behind only a spine and some flaps of inside-out hide.

After the rain stops, our clothes dry out with body heat and headwind alone. We stop at a turnout just before Brownsville and boost our spirits back up to the this-trip-is-so-amazing level by reading encouraging emails from friends and thoughtful journal comments from loyal readers.

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In town we stock up on kale, jam made from gooseberries and raspberries, denatured alcohol, butane, and enchiladas — you know, the essentials of bicycle touring — with the sky a tumultuous mix of whites, deep grays, and small gaps of brilliant blue. A few steep grades bring us up from the valley to the base of foothills that extend down like fingers from the east, where the parched yellows give way to greens so dark they're almost black. It's a preview of what the next few days of our lives will look like.

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I check my email while we rest in front of a school in Coburg and see that I have a message from a Warm Showers host I contacted earlier in the day. She says that Kristen and I are welcome to set up a tent in the backyard of her home in Eugene. It's 6:00 when we realize we now have a place to stay, but also that REI closes at 7:00. If we don't get there we'll have to wait until 11:00 tomorrow morning to pick up new rain jackets. That means we need to make seven miles in forty-five minutes on loaded touring bikes using out of shape and kind of tired legs.

But the roads are flat, and we have a little tailwind and a lot of motivation, so we put our heads down and mash. Kristen calls out every mile as we fly from the country into a city of 160,000 people, passing mega churches and housing developments and PF Changs before jumping over to a trail where we dodge children, herds of University of Oregon fans walking to the season's first football game, and even a misguided dude on an overgrown moped. This sort of mad rush happens a lot when you travel by bike, but there's something about it that feels very satisfying. I think it has to do with the fact that it puts a difficult but reachable goal in front of you — not days or weeks or months down the road, but only an hour or two. With everything placed into such clear focus, you then throw all of your energy at the challenge, and within a very short window of time you know for sure whether or not you've succeeded. It's the kind of instant gratification about which you never have to feel guilty.

And in the end, as so often happens in situations like this, we make it with a few minutes left to spare.

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The end of a rainbow leads us to the home of Laurie and Mike.

"Hey Jeff!" I hear a voice call out from a window as Kristen and I squint to read the house numbers. "You found us! Just wheel your bikes along the side of the house to the back."

They start to introduce themselves as we reach the backyard, but I interrupt

"Hey, I remember you!" I say. "We've met before. You rode the TransAm in 2011. You were traveling with Diana and camped in that park near the lake in Saratoga, Wyoming, right after a big storm passed through."

In an instant there's that look on their faces that most bike tourists have experienced, that moment when you recognize someone you met on the road months or years before. It's then immediately followed by a rush of all the memories tied to that day: how the scenery looked, who you traveled with, what the hills were like, random things you saw along the roadside, and even what you ate for dinner. When you're living at home, these details fade away almost as soon as they happen, but when you're traveling you unlock this capacity to remember them with depth and precision. And whenever you call upon these memories, they wash over you with rich color and texture and this profound sense of warmth and satisfaction. All of which is to say, there's this kind of giddy energy around our introduction, which turns out to be more of a reunion. Laurie and Mike are so happy to have us there, to be hosting travelers, and it feels wonderful to once again be welcomed into someone's home for the night with open arms.

We're joined for the evening by Mike's brother Rich and Laurie's mother Lynn. We watch as they play a serious game of bridge, which may be the most complicated card game ever created. It's followed by a few trash-talking rounds of pinochle, in between which we talk about our 2011 rides, their other trips, the easiest way to ride out of Eugene, and how best to travel up and then over McKenzie Pass.

Serious bridge.
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The rest of the city heads to bed before we do. When at last we tuck into our tent below the awning of a shed, we're joined only by the sound of a meowing cat and a snuffling possum. The tiredness from the sprint into town sends us straight to sleep.

Today's ride: 52 miles (84 km)
Total: 181 miles (291 km)

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