2011.05.03 | #bicycling #oregon
The party in the living room was in full force when I went to bed. I’ve slept through louder parties, and live bands even. Things would be fine, though I knew I wouldn’t be heading out at sunrise like I had planned. But after a tenth of a second of consideration, did I really need to leave at sunrise? The answer was a resounding “hell no”. I set my alarm for 6:30 am and promised myself to be on the road around 7:00. I love it when I can keep my promises to myself.
My plan was to ride my single-speed bicycle, a black bike with the word ‘Heart’ emblazoned in fancy calligraphy on the top tube, from my home in Eugene to Dorena Lake some 35 miles away. Joan, my bike, was ready now that I had a proper bike pump. Only a few days before I had to repair a flat, and realizing that I had no bike pump, it turned out to be a nearly three-hour repair job. I could have ridden to Dorena in that time! I’d have none of that on this trip.
This trip was planned during a particularly silly Friday at work. I’d heard from a coworker that the weather was supposed to be beautiful over the weekend, so I made the promise to myself right then and there that I would ride my bike on Sunday. I spent much of the morning on Google Maps plotting out possible routes with minimal vehicular traffic. I also discovered that there was an incredible bike path from Cottage Grove all the way out to Dorena Lake that had been converted from an old railway line. Yeah, this was going to be a good ride.
I headed out shortly after 7:00 am, encountering my first obstacle less than a half-mile from home in the form of a river of people lined up to start the Eugene Marathon. Fortunately for me, the firing pistol went off only a couple of minutes after I arrived. After a couple more minutes, the herd of walkers and joggers eventually passed by and I properly began my trip. Traces of the marathon could be found all along the riverfront bike path, but I was soon past all that madness and well on my way to Dorena Lake.
The first leg of the trip took me along old Franklin Boulevard to Seavey Loop Road. It was a very calm, peaceful ride with no traffic at all once I hit Seavey Loop. A quick hop across Highway 58 past Goshen would connect me with another sedate back road where I found an old bicycle painted white and sitting at the head of someone’s driveway. They were using it as a flower planter. It was so cool I had to snap a photo of it.
Matthews Road curved back toward Highway 58 and I had to traverse a short stretch of the highway to get across the Coast Fork of the Willamette. Fortunately for me it was still early enough in the morning to have minimal traffic. My connecting road was Cloverdale Road, which turned out to be busier than I expected. It also had no shoulder whatsoever until county maintenance ended. I don’t know who maintains the roads after the county stops, but whoever they are, they clearly ride bicycles. I thank them for adding the much-appreciated shoulder.
Just shy of re-crossing the Coast Fork of the Willamette and heading into Creswell, I took a left onto a wee little back road called Sears Road. This twelve-mile stretch of road would prove to be the most picturesque of my entire ride. I saw a sign on the side of the road warning me to watch out for elk. Didn’t see any elk though, alas. It was along this stretch that the stillness of the morning, the sounds of the birds tweeting in the light breeze, and the total lack of motorized vehicular traffic reminded me why I love being out in nature. Things are slow and calm out in the sticks. I could forget the frenetic pace of city life and imagine what life might have been like back in the day before staff meetings, typing, faxes, bosses, and sitting behind a desk for 33% of one’s waking day. However, as beautiful as this back road was, the frenetic pace of modernity was really not that far away. Looking north, tranquil road along rolling hills. One hundred and eighty degrees around, a four-lane expressway bouncing off the country road like a letter ‘K’. Oh well.
The morning in Eugene was sunny, but along these roads closer to Cottage Grove, the clouds still dominated. Where there should have been hills in the distance was only a bank of thick fog. I wore my sandals expecting it to be warm and beautiful, but I wound up wrapping my right foot up in my bandana to take the edge off of the biting chill on my toes. I’d later discover that socks, despite being a horrible fashion crime with sandals, would have been a very smart thing to bring along on the trip.
There was a point along Sears Road where I had to make a sharp right. I’d noted it on my map so that I wouldn’t make the mistake of turning the wrong way. It was no big deal though as the road was clearly marked, but that wasn’t what made the turn eventful. I also noted that this was the two-thirds point of my trip and that it wouldn’t be long before I was at the Row River Trail: another 45 minutes perhaps. I thought to myself, “Wow, that went by fast!” Long stretches of road with no features always seem to take forever to traverse. Add a few curves and hills though, and the trip seems to take no time at all.
Where Sears Road connected with Row River Road, there was a corner store. I toyed with stopping in and picking up a snack of some sort, but I opted not to. I had plenty of food with me for the trip. The whole plan was to ride to Dorena Lake and have a picnic. I didn’t need to buy additional food. So I carried on my way, crossing a bridge of either the Row River itself or the Coast Fork of the Willamette again. A short gravel road connected me to the Row River Trail where I immediately met up with a cyclist who had driven down from Corvallis to ride the trail. I rode with him for a bit until I paused at another bridge for a photo. I needed evidence to show that I had actually done this trip! As if the epic sunburn I got afterward wasn’t proof enough.
The grade along the Row River Trail was incredibly sweet to my little single-speed. Even though I was indeed going uphill, I never once felt like I was making a grueling climb. There need to be more tracks to trails like this! In seemingly no time at all, I had made it to the west end of the lake. There I met up again with the rider from Corvallis. He looked at me and smiled.
“Do you smoke?” he asked. I knew he was talking about marijuana.
“Alas, I am allergic. I don’t object if other folks smoke though.” I smiled back as I pulled over and got out my camera for some lousy shots of the lake and the dam.
Corvallis had ridden the trail from Cottage Grove, and was impressed that I had made the trek from Eugene on a single-speed. I was very careful when I plotted out the route to stay as close to the river, and flat terrain, as possible. No hill had yet kicked my ass, and I wanted to keep it that way.
Corvallis rode off again, leaving me to my snacks and my photography. I didn’t take any decent photos at this spot though, despite scrambling down a small hillside to the lake’s edge. It was still early enough in the morning that there were only a few people out meandering along the trail. I saw a truck doing donuts in the gravel parking lot at the trailhead near the picnic table I was at. Thankfully he drove off after three or four loops. Shortly after he left, a few folks drove up and set out along the trail with their dogs. I was in the process of heading out when one of the little pups darted out in front of me. No harm done though, plus it granted me the opportunity to say more than hello to some other folks out enjoying the day. A mother, her grown daughter, and grandkids were out enjoying the day. The mother was local, but it was the daughter’s first time at the lake. It was a perfect day for a first time at Dorena. I wished them a pleasant day and carried on.
I rode along for a bit until I was distracted by tulips growing on the side of the trail. Being a huge sucker for flowers, I had to stop to snap some photos. I don’t have much of a green thumb, so instead I want to get my garden tattooed on my arms. Until then, I’ll have to sate myself with floral photography.
My curiosity got the better of me and I opted to ride the length of the Row River Trail until its end, detouring briefly to go check out the Dorena Covered Bridge which was being restored. The trail continued its very amicable grade all the way to Culp Creek where it finally ended. There, I met up with four other cyclists who had just finished the trail themselves and were now taking a break from their rides to chat it up a bit. I rolled over to them and said hello, snacking on dried pineapple and sake throughout the conversation. Both pairs of folk were married couples, one from Montana and the other from, actually I didn’t catch where they were from. We shared stories of our bike travels and future travel plans. Missoula and Kalispell warned me that cyclists in Montana were pretty much treated as moving speed bumps, and that the tracks to trails program over in the Big Sky state was pretty lacking. But they had ridden all over everywhere throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond nonetheless. I told them of my plans to meander across North America and beyond. “On a single speed?” they asked. Heh, probably not.
The four of them headed off to carry on with their ride, leaving me behind to finish refueling. An older couple on a tandem pulled up not long after the group left, though they said nothing to me. I must have been too unsavory for them to mutter a simple hello. As I geared up to head back, yet another couple rode up. I said hello to them as I headed back down the trail toward the lake. Missoula and Kalispell waved at me from across the road where they had stopped to pick up beer. I told them I’d have to stick with my sake, which is right when the tandem couple appeared behind me. During my brief conversation with the Montana folks, I successfully managed to obstruct the path for the tandem couple, leading them to believe who knows what about me. I can’t imagine it was positive, but then that’s my ego talking. That was the only awkward moment of the trip, inadvertently blocking someone’s way. I didn’t let it bother me.
A little ways back down the trail, I saw a handful of turkey vultures circling around what I assumed what was going to be their dinner. Instead, it turned out to be one of their own, dead on the side of the road . It looked like it was still in mid-flight except for the fact that it was sprawled out on the ground. I wondered for a moment if turkey vultures ate their own dead. Or maybe they were flying in formation for their fallen comrade. I don’t know. But it gave my ride a small dose of existentialism as I carried on back down the path.
I stopped at a park, taking time out for a proper picnic along the lake. I contemplated taking a nap as well, but I decided against it. Instead, I did a bit of yoga, then happily partook of my picnic comestibles while drawing a sketch in my sketchbook and shooting photos of my food. Missoula and Kalispell waved to me as they rode by and that would be the last I’d see of them. I’d chatted with many folks on this trip, none of whom I ever expect to meet again. Yet all of them have their own stories to tell. I’m often cynical and even somewhat misanthropic at times, which is why I so want to travel. Yes, one meets many assholes throughout life’s journey, but it isn’t like that all the time. If I smile and laugh with people, listen to their tales and share my own with them, I feel like I’ve become that much closer to the world around me. There’s a Maori saying that goes, “What is the most important thing in this world? The people! The people! The people!” Without people, this planet would just be a pretty blue rock in the inky black sea of the cosmos. The land is beautiful, but the people make it that much more fantastic. We’re the only critters in the entire universe (as far as we know) who can discuss the nature of the universe with one another. We rarely agree, but nevertheless, we all have our stories to tell.
By mid-afternoon, I was already on my way back the way I came. It didn’t take long before I found myself back alongside the river, riding north now on Sears Road the way I came. Going back always seems to take less time than outward bound, but it was still just as tranquil as the morning ride. There was considerably more sun though, and the increased solar radiation was another reason why socks would have been a smart idea. With every passing mile, my flesh slowly sizzled under the late afternoon sun.
My final social encounter on the trip was along Sears Road, at that sharp right turn I had noted on my map. A motorcyclist had pulled over to the side of the road and was apparently dusting himself off when I rode up. A part of me wanted to just smile, nod, and keep on riding, while another part of me slapped the first part of me in the back of the head and said to it, “We’re stopping to say hello.” I pulled over and offered a friendly hello to the old man across the road. He was a seventy year old man who had been riding motorcycles for over forty years, and in all that time he had never once gotten shit on by a bird until that day. I had to laugh. He asked me if he still had any droppings left on his face. Only a few spots remained on the lenses of his sunglasses. We chatted for a bit about life and travel, and how important it was to get out there and see the world while we were able. Even an old man like him was still getting out for a bike ride on a gorgeous sunny afternoon. I told him of my ambitions to ride my bike around the world. “Thirty thousand miles? You’re probably going to get shit on by a bird at some point. Don’t let it get you down.” The joy I received at that exchange, two people meeting on a country road, chatting about travel and life, is just the kind of thing that makes me feel good about my place in the world and my interactions with the people in it. So despite the sun charring the flesh on my cheeks, my nose, my feet, and the backs of my hands, I was in a fantastic mood.
My butt, on the other hand, was really anxious to get off of that bike seat. After an estimated total of 85 miles ridden, I arrived home again and crashed fast asleep on my bed with my kittycat beside me. Not every day of travel will be as fantastic as this one. But as long as I can remember the days like this, then maybe the off days won’t be so bad.