Day 5: Eugene, OR to near Vida, OR - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

August 31, 2014

Day 5: Eugene, OR to near Vida, OR

We spend an hour in the morning searching for unnecessary things in our panniers so that we can either trash them or send them home before leaving town. The valley's flats and small hills have made our excess of gear not such a big deal so far, but with mountains in our sights we decide it's time to ditch things that haven't yet been used and probably won't be between here and Los Angeles. By the time we reach the bike trail along the Willamette and turn east we're no less than eight pounds lighter and I haven't even pooped yet.

Not a rural American bulletin board.
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We leave Eugene and travel through Springfield on a network of bicycle paths and parkways that run among rivers and woods and the suburbs. They shield us from traffic almost the entire way. I've never before entered, ridden around, and then left such a large group of cities as easily as in the Eugene area. Their commitment to the bicycle as a legitimate form of transportation leaves us happy, impressed, and not squashed under the bumper of an SUV driven by a distracted teenager.

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We ride slow along the gentle rises and falls above the bends of Camp Creek. When we rest, we sit in the shade on a patch of grass and moss and fallen leaves, looking out at the creek, listening to it bubble and ripple, and watching how the current pushes the water on the far side at a brisk pace while the water closest to us passes in no hurry at all.

We're also in no hurry. With a late start and tired legs and one of our chains jamming itself in a place it should never jam itself, we don't crack the 20-mile mark until almost 3:00. But it doesn't matter, because there isn't anywhere we have to be. And there isn't anywhere we have to be because this isn't a vacation — it's our life.

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The biggest reason I can't wait to leave this state: Oregon Ducks football fans.
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When the back roads run out we're dumped onto Highway 126. It's a no-good-son-of-a-bitch road on even a normal day, with its shoulders sprinkled in gravel and tree branch chunks, and cars passing at high speed. But today it's made worse by the fact that it's a holiday weekend, which means heavy traffic and people in a rush to squeeze every last minute of fun out of their three days off of work as possible. Although far more traffic passes going the opposite direction, it still turns riding into a battle for focus between the rearview mirror, the road ahead, and the garbage that's about to slide under our tires.

But then we luck out. I notice a tiny sign for the Leaburg Canal Trail that runs parallel to the road. It's not really a trail, so much as a pair of gravel truck tracks that cut between a ribbon of wild grass. It still echoes with the howl of tires and the roar of engines as the background music, but with none of the sense of impending doom. Though it lasts for only four miles, when we return to the highway the shoulder has widened, the traffic has lessened, and all of a sudden we feel in good spirits again.

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That turns out to make a big difference, because camping options don't materialize. With the road bounded by the river on one side and cabins or steep hills or rock walls on the other, farms and fields no longer exist. We pass none of the bicycle camping standbys — churches or schools — and the fire stations and community centers we find are surrounded by homes on all sides. And so we ride, powered by the squirts of adrenaline that come with fading daylight and no known place to sleep. We know we're closing in on National Forest land, but we only reach most of it by climbing up steep gravel roads for a mile or more, and we're too tired for that. Our main hope shows up on the map as a bridge over the river that connects to a road that immediately goes into public land and runs along the shore. We grow colder and colder as the night starts to fall, but the promise of sleeping next to the rushing McKenzie River in the woods powers us along.

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But when we arrive at the turnout, we find a chain link fence plastered with warning messages that blocks the remains of a bridge that hasn't been passable for at least a decade.

Well, shit.

I'm not sure we're gonna make this one.
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The map shows a day-use state park a few miles farther on, so in the last gasps of light we crank out our strongest miles of the day. After we cross the park boundary line, but before we reach the entry gate, I notice the outline of a path leading up and away from the highway. When we push our bikes up it and then back into the trees we find a blanket of green and crack huge smiles when we realize our search is over. Within ten minutes we're in the tent, eating a cinnamon roll saved from dinner, laughing at each other, elbowing each other in the head because that sort of thing happens a lot in a two-person tent, and wondering about what's coming tomorrow. The low drone of the river rumbles in the distance.

Today's ride: 49 miles (79 km)
Total: 230 miles (370 km)

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