How to fill in what has happened since nearly a month ago. I regret not staying more consistent but I shall do my best to now explain the course of events and more importantly to explain how they are significant or impactful.
South Dakota was a long state, in its actual mileage yes but primarily in what became its monotony. Corn and Soy stretched as far as the eye could see and on the horizon stood giant windmills. It was those days in South Dakota that the magnitude of our trip really started to hit me. In the morning when we would get going it was common that we had only three to five different directions for the whole day. Go straight 25 miles, turn left 5 miles, turn right and go straight for 30 miles, destination will be on left.
Sometimes we could faintly see the area where we would camp that night from the place we would start in the morning. The landscape was so vast and we were so small, I actually felt totally alone sometimes, except for Charlie of course. We chased the setting sun all the way across South Dakota, spent a day going over to Mt. Rushmore and then continued on into the wide open state of Wyoming.
I believe that on one of the days riding in Wyoming we saw more wild life than we did cars. The land is dry and to call some of the homes isolated is an understatement. The land itself however, was gorgeous. For 30 miles we could see a looming cliff face with colors kaki, red, and dark purple at the top. We peddled for two and a half hours with the same cliff face in our vista and in that time we watched clouds pass over top, the shadowed mountain looked emotional in the darkness and the earth had its own story to tell. This style of slow, almost methodical travel has an interesting effect on the mind. On an average day we will bike for nearly 8 hours and I am not present during most of that time. For much of it is in fact mindless or nonsensical, our minds wander from subject to subject with no rhyme or reason. I have images burned into my brain from the west because a whole day was spent reaching that one mountain or rolling through that one valley. That said, it is in the stillness of a long day such as these that our minds are free to explore or ponder and reflect on busier times gone by.
One afternoon Charlie and I were taking a break on the side of the road, there was nothing but open land and barbed wire fences. It was totally silent, the wind did howl but besides that there was no noise. It was so empty that when we spoke it seemed as if the words were stolen from our mouths and sucked into the silent void of our surroundings. There were no walls for the sound to reverberate off of, not passing cars to talk over, only the wind to carry my words away.
Finally, after another five days and the comfort of Charlie’s parents visiting us in Wyoming for a few nights we approached something more than the cowboy ranch land. The Rocky Mountain range stretched to the far corners of the horizon line and I don’t remember seeing anything or feeling so in awe until this point. The flat planes which were, for the most part, our daily staple were interrupted by the eruption of the mountain range and as we came into Yellow Stone national park we saw firsthand just how active the area was. Sulfur pits, geysers and boiling hot pools littered much of the park and so did wildlife. Besides all of the tourists in Yellow Stone the Wyoming nature was a dominating aspect of the landscape and it was a surprisingly good feeling that it seemed animals in Wyoming have the space they need to be wild and thriving.
From there we had to make a hard choice, funds were beginning to be an issue and we have a time restraint to be back by the end of September, because of this we skipped Idaho. My father flew out to enjoy Yellow Stone with us and we realized before he came that we were running out of time and money. My father brought a bike rack for the car and drove us to the Oregon border. What we had forgotten was that our initial estimates had not included detours to both Detroit and Minneapolis so our trip had be altered by over 500 miles already. We unknowingly chose to see Michigan and Minnesota in place of crossing Idaho. We caught the ride, were dropped at the eastern Oregon border and continued on.
Driving was an experience in itself, things whizzed by and although I saw the land scape I did not feel it, I never heard the noises, felt very little of the climate, and the AC filtered much of the air. In one day we did what Charlie and I would have done in over 10 days. For this I am sorry, but for Minneapolis, Detroit and everything in between I am thankful. I do not regret the ride although there is a whole in me and I cannot say that I biked every inch, which is what stings the most.
Oregon welcomed us with open arms, it is funny now that I am a bike rider to think of how thankful I am for road signs which alert cars of my presence. As we approached blind turns there was always something before it started that said “share the road” or “watch for cyclists” I could hug the person that thought of someone like me and organized the raising of that sign. A bicycle is a vehicle by code, but the streets don’t always make that easy and many car drivers don’t seem to know that I am aloud to ride in the street. There can be and has been some serious hostility by drivers but Oregon is kind and welcoming as I said.
One night we stayed in a small church in a town of about 100 people, the food in town was incredible, everyone said hello to each other and in front of every business was a sign which read “bicycle friendly community” it was outrageous considering the trail blazing we had to do in many of the other states.
On the other hand Oregon was an introduction back into a very mountains region and our legs recognized the change, but after four days we made it to our resting point, Eugene Oregon. Eugene is home of the Oregon Ducks but also to a long history of counter culture, bike enthusiasm and an environmental ethic. Eugene was also the closest we had seen to a green city or bicycle Mecca like we hear about in Europe and Portland, although Minneapolis held its own. Two directional bike lanes, signs guiding bikes around town, one way bike streets and great local food. Urban farms, local food, farmers markets and non-profits dedicated to serving the public a decent meal composed the cities food culture.
Eugene is also Charlie’s old stomping ground as he only graduated from the UO 6 months ago. We took in the town and Charlie showed me the place which had raised him for the last four year. It is funny to think how I have been raised by the Bronx and he Eugene, they are so different and both so unique.
After five days we left Eugene, on our way out we were joined by three other riders, we met two of them in Eugene and they had very similar plans for heading to the coast. The third rider was Charlie’s roommate from collage and together we were the bike brigade. Along the way we met an ex air force piolet traveling in his electric tricycle and other bike travelers all with their own stories and quarks. There is an instant connection we have with bike travelers and I rarely smile bigger than when I am with a bunch of cyclists.
We hit the Pacific on the same day that we left Eugene, the ride was nearly 100 miles but the excitement carried my legs up and down with ease. We were also old pros which was a nice change, the three new riders had never been on a tour before and seeing as Charlie and I had just survived 3,000 miles we had a bit of credibility.
For both Charlie and I seeing the Pacific was a moving experience, it had been so often a thought, “when we reach the coast dude… it’ll be awesome.” We had finally made it. Fishing boats and Scruffy sailors saddled up next to us at the breakfast counter while loggers past us on the road. It was everything we hoped for and more. The ‘more’ however was ocean cliffs which ebbed and flowed high and low all along the coast. We are still riding these giants and only a few days ago we had nearly 6,000 feet of elevation over 70 miles. Luckily my loving and curious mother came out to see how we were doing and helped to motivate us along the way. All that said the feeling of home keeps us going, not on some hills, but we remember that we love this once we reach the top.
Charlie and I arrived in San Francisco yesterday and are very happy to be here, it is the largest city we have seen since Minneapolis or even Chicago and it is fun to be back in the hustle bustle.