Day 6: Near Vida, OR to Willamette National Forest - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

September 1, 2014

Day 6: Near Vida, OR to Willamette National Forest

One constant of this young trip has been perfect sleep. We climb in the sleeping bag tired, our muscles aching, our stomachs grumbling a little, and then the cool of the late summer and the quiet of the country or forest overtake anything we might be thinking about. Together they knock us right out and keep us there until the sky starts to lighten. That's how it was last night, where we were lost to our dreams from the moment our heads hit the towel-pillows.

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The morning is so cold that we can see our breath. We head east on the same highway as last night, but this time there's no traffic to speak of, and the shoulder's wide enough that we can ride side by side. The sun shines into the McKenzie River, revealing the shape and color of the rocks at the bottom. It also filters in rays through the branches of the evergreens that line both sides of the road.

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Fueled by gas station pastries and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with chia seeds — I'll let you guess who ate what — we set out for the climb up to McKenzie Pass. As soon as we make the turn onto Highway 242 it's like we've entered a different world. Gone are the cabins and mobile homes and mini-marts, and in their place we're surrounded by moss, ferns, and trees that stand so close together that even though the sun shines straight overhead we ride in the dark and the cool of the shadows. Although we see large rock outcroppings in the distance and the creeks zigzag down in tight angles, the grade runs at the kind of steepness where we work up a healthy sweat but never feel the need for a mental breakdown in one of the little gravel pullouts that feel soft under blankets of pine needles.

Alan and Renee Kailer, headed to the Oregon Coast from Virginia.
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I keep expecting the trees to thin out as we climb up past 3,000 feet, but they don't. That means we ride under clear and sunny skies but almost everything we see when we look in front of us is some shade of green or brown. Kristen starts to wear down the farther we go, the result of six straight days of riding and a climb that never levels, not even for a quarter of a mile. The farther we go, the turns become tighter and the road starts to bend at such angles that it almost folds over on itself. To keep our focus away from slow speeds and sore legs, we tell jokes that aren't really funny, make up offensive scenarios involving drivers who pass too close, dream about pizza and an off day in Sisters on the other side of the mountain, have lurid fantasies about Cherry Coke and gross movie popcorn, and decide that Kristen will take testosterone and I will take estrogen so that our ability levels start to even out.

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Even though we make fun of our conditioning, the fact is that Kristen has been amazing so far. It wasn't until we started riding away from her house on the first day of this trip that she had ridden any bicycle fully loaded. She had never traveled for more than three days in a row by bicycle either, and when she did she wasn't carrying just about everything she still owns. On top of the sheer challenge of learning how to ride with lots of weight when she hasn't trained for it, she's had to adjust to sleeping outside, preparing meals in a pot that's not much bigger than a fist, and dealing with the endless stream of stupid things that come streaming out of my mouth. It's a rare person that could handle all of this with a smile and a neverending positive attitude, but Kristen is one of them. I'm proud of her to a degree that I'm still not able to express.

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We think about pushing to the top of the pass, but we decide it isn't necessary, because we're in no rush. We may never again find ourselves in this pristine part of Oregon, and we have more than four weeks until we need to reach Los Angeles, so we continue on the slow road and feel nothing but good about that choice.

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We feel even better when we reach Scott Lake. Standing at about 4,500 feet, we can see the majesty of the North, Middle, and South Sisters Mountains, both looking up into the sky and down into the reflection of the water. A soft skirt of grass and reeds line the water's edge, and above them we watch dragonflies catch bugs out of midair. Fish jump from below the surface in competition for the same bugs. Blue jays dart in and out of the tree tops, and everywhere there's the low hum of mosquitoes. But the manmade noises are absent. There are no cars, no motorcycles, no airplanes. It is clear and sharp and still. It is the definition of spectacular.

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As we look out in wonder, a wiry older guy named Michael explains how the light — which he over and over refers to as the alpine glow — hits the mountains in different ways at different times, depending on the angle of the sun, the character of the clouds, and the time of the year. He shares with us his extra food and water and expresses in a dozen different ways his deep love and appreciation for this place. It's a joy to hear someone share everything they know about an area that's so clearly their favorite in all of the world. I wish more people had his willingness to understand and celebrate the wonders around them. Our country would be a better place because of it.

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At our campsite above the lake we cook for the first time on our tiny alcohol-burning stove — with great success — before tucking into the sleeping bag under many layers of clothing. We know it's going to get cold at this high elevation overnight, but the peace and beauty of the lake and the forest that surrounds it make any kind of chill worth it.

Today's ride: 35 miles (56 km)
Total: 265 miles (426 km)

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