First ride: Train and rain, but I won’t complain

Day 1, Amtrak to Oregon City, cycle to Wilsonville, 14 miles

Whoa. Least sleep ever gotten prior touring. Seems I’ve never been faced with so many last minute details, loose ends to tie, authorities to delegate, exploring the mysteries of the heart… Up all night, installing a new alarm & emptying the grease interceptor (ask me about this sometime) at the restaurant, then back home to the Kiva to pack my ride. Soldering a hard wiring for light using a D-cell flashlight took extra time. Finally, at 6am, the bike is loaded.

Suffice it to say, I’m beyond exhausted as I approach the first ride to catch the Amtrak north. So I call Angelina, who gladly accompanies me from Corvallis to Albany, driving my van back.We get to the train with 15 minutes to spare. As she drops me off, I’m tired, loopy, ecstatic to be so close to my tour. I load my bags onto my bike, linger with a long hug, the wave as I roll away. “I’m outta here!” Angeline is grinning as wide as I am. So lucky to have friends like her.

The train north is quick, and before I know it I’m standing on the platform in Oregon City. I chat with another cyclist Seattle who tells me about riding the Olympics. It’s drizzling. Perfect day for the first ride. I’m not being ironic either. I don my dazzling yellow brand spanking new Showers Pass raincoat, give from my boys and their mom. First rain, possible of many on this trip. I’m heading to the Olympic Peninsula after all, one of the rainiest spots in the US.

I follow main through Oregon City, then cross the Willamette on a narrow bridge. Up a steep hill towards Willamette Falls Drive. I’m pumping hard, opting no to use the smallest gear. They’ll be plenty of longer steeper hills. Suddenly I hear the strange sound of braking, sliding wheels on wet pavement, and look up to see a jackknifed pickup and trailer sliding down the road. Towards me. In slow motion. Not good!

Alarmed, I quickly scoot my bike to the curb, up on the sidewalk, as the rig slides to a slow stop about ten yards from me. Crunching metal as the utility trailer heavy laden with earth utility crushes into the pickup’s rear bumper. The driver revs his motors, trying to pull out the the road. But he’s going nowhere. I walk up and past this minor catastrophe, counting my blessings he wasn’t going faster down the hill. I might have ended the tour on the first day.

But have no worries, dear readers. I understand the risks of this endeavor. I’m a safe cyclist, always riding to the farthest right of the roadway. Never pulling in front of cross traffic unless I have eye contact with drivers. And facing dangers not to different than driving at night, with drunk drivers on the road. We never know when the reaper will come. The only certainty is that we will eventually pass. Which makes these moments all the more precious. Live every day, love every day, so to have no regrets when the time comes to leave this beautiful world.

I’m trying to remember this as I cycle south of busy Stafford Road, where a certain number of pickups are determined to pass as close to me as possible. The first one, that red one, had plenty of room in the other lane. “Oh Buddy!” I yell, facing his 3″ exhaust pipe and delightful diesel fragrances. The drizzle is now less annoying than the traffic. Perspective. The fourteen miles pass gracefully fast, and now I’m rolling into Fred Meyers, a block from my mother’s new how.

Chilled, wet, underdressed, I can’t quite warm up. I don’t want anything there. So I buy a bottle of water and head over to my mom’s. A warm shower, then an afternoon BBQ with all the brothers. It’s the first gathering at the new house, since my mother moved there from McMinnville this spring. Seventeen people gather around the long table. I’m sad to notice my father’s absence, yet also happy to celebrate the bonds that we share. Quite a clan, this group of people. I sit at the end with Amy and the boys, “kids table” entertainment ensues. Boy jokes, which Amy and I add our own asides too.

Some great food too. David made the barbecue ribs, best I’ve ever tasted. We’re also celebrating his 41st turn around the sun. Seems just yesterday he was my baby brother, 13 years younger, so that strangers would often ask if I was his father. Cute now, but sure annoyed the teenager I was. I crash on the sofa after dinner, catch up just a bit on my missing shuteye. Exhaustion is taking hold of me now.

I get a ride to Portland with Mark and Amy, who drop me at Suzanne’s house. She’s been an anchor to many of my tours, staying with her after returning from California on the Coast Starlight. Quick hugs, then I’m down again on the bed, immediately falling into a deep sleep. I wake once, then sleep through to the next morning.

I wake with the deep satisfaction that I’m at last embarking on the adventure of bicycle touring. I’m uncertain what challenges, surprises and dangers I might face, except I know I’ll be meeting some amazing generous souls along the road. I always do.

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