Road Warriors, Whizzing Bullets and a Pedaling Peacenik

(Alternate Title: Vintage Bicycle Odyssey, Pro-Feminist Edition)

Day 11, Honeyman to Bullards Beach State Park, 68 miles

Two nightmares, powerful dreams which demand my attention, I bolt awake, gasping and crying. In each one, I’m seeing the man that I am, the man I am becoming, struggling to feel his grief, and yet to contain it. And his anger. The dynamic, the challenge. I write the stories down, gifts of the shadow, doorways into insight and healing.

I rise and strike my camp. The cyclist from Beachside is there, Stephen Swift, been on the road 5 years. I talk about his plans, ride into Eugene, on to Portland where his family has a business. Back to work. The jarring of worlds changing. Traveler becoming grounded in place again. I see the sadness in his eyes. And the wanderlust, refusing to let go. He’ll be back on the road, soon.

I set out south, leery of the ride ahead. In my past tours, Coos County has been a stretch of the Oregon coastal ride marked with harassment, drivers impatient, loud trucks, too close. I don’t know why, but somehow more naked aggression towards cyclists. Toxic masculinity, in vehicular form.

The ride towards Reedsport is smooth, easy going. I stop at the Sourdough Bakery, for a massive sweet roll and coffee. I’m sitting outside when a white pickup turns the corner and guns the engine, leaving a 50 yard plume of black smoke. “Rolling Coal” is what some truck owners are calling it, who are actually altering the emission control circuits to leave this sooty exhaust, with a switch to flip when they want to make a statement. Against, say, a weary cyclist enjoying coffee and a sweet. Or as in some YouTube videos, the passing female pedestrian who they want to punish in a random fit of rage.

What could possible be wrong with someone, to want to pollute, so excessively, and to use this display to harass a pedestrian or cyclist? What could be wrong with a man? Because, I really don’t think many women would do such a thing. It’s a characteristic of toxic masculinity, both to act out anger and to disregard the consequences. The wounding of the native compassion we are all born with, as boys and girls. Socialized out, so early, as we tell boys not to cry, to be tough, to “be a man”. And model, in media or sports or politics or the family, men are strong, men are angry, men are callous, men are violent. “Boys will be boys”.

The plume of smoke dissipates, but leaves its mark on my day. As do the ongoing loud trucks, accelerating on every hill, from the beginning of my trip. Am I more sensitive to them now? I know the technology is there, to muffle the loud engine noise. That these are aftermarket accessories, to give the truck a loud, aggressive, powerful sound. Deafening to the bystander, or the cyclist.

I’m approaching the McCullough Memorial Bridge, at North Bend. Such a beautiful display of engineering and art, a delight to cross via car. Ecstasy to ride on a bicycle. If not for the traffic. I hit the button, flashing the sign to indicate a bike is on the bridge. The climb is easy, most traffic courteous, slowing, then passing me carefully. Until I’m almost at the top, going under the cathedral arches. Then an SUV behind me lays on his horn, doesn’t let up until beside me. I try to laugh, give them the thumbs up. Not the finger. Never give an already aggressive driver the finger. When they are wielding their 3 ton vehicle, I’m no match naked and vulnerable on my bicycle. I want to stop him, to look him in the eye. Why? I shrug it off. I know why. Toxic masculinity.

I span the gorgeous bridge, enjoy the view from so high. Even tainted by the assault, I’m going to enjoy this place. The descent into North Bend. I’m feeling strong. Able to let go. To understand, with empathy, the struggle this man is going through. These men. To make our place in this world, with so little support for our hearts, our pain, except to project it out, to see it as enemy, to fight against it. My counseling session is coming home now. I’ve been doing the same thing. My whole life. Whenever I’ve felt a victim, annoyed or betrayed by someone else. A stranger, or worse, a loved one. And felt vindicated in acting out this pain, against someone else. Washed with grief and compassion, for myself, for my “enemies”, for us all.

The answer of course is to practice nonviolence. In thought, word, and deed. “Words are powerful. We must be careful how we use them”, Lara tells me in my session. To even call an action “abuse” is to judge, condemn. Nonviolent communication is to name feelings, needs, make requests of each other. But not to judge, to blame, to punish others for not meeting our needs, for not granting our requests. This is so apparent, now. And difficult to comprehend, from a place of pain. Compassion for self, first, makes way for compassion for other.

I stop at the Coos Head coop, nostalgia kicking in. Memories of shopping here, and at other Coops. Food, family, community, all in one place. I’m spending too much time, again, 25 miles to go.

I’m climbing the last of two hills before Bandon. Then I hear shooting, to the east of the highway. Oh, some guys playing with their guns. Then a strange sound, a whizzing and then a crackle to the west side of the highway. At first I think it is a bottle rocket, or firecracker. Then I realize I’ve just heard a stray bullet whiz past me, hitting the brush next to me. I pedal fast up the hill! My heart is racing now, not just from the climb. A final display of toxic masculinity for the day, gun culture, arrogance, disregard for the danger of random shooting in the woods.

I’m glad to crest the final of the hills, then begin the descent to the camp. The sun is just setting as I arrive, set up my tent, head to the shower. Long, hot, easing my aching body, soothing my troubled soul. Refreshed, I dress and head back to the hiker/biker site. This camp has a cool locker setup with built in solar powered USB charging, just what the modern touring cyclist needs. I meet a couple traveling the Pan American highway, with a beautiful dog in tow. We share stories and laughs. I’m reminded of why I take this ride, what makes enduring the onslaught of traffic and trials of exertion.

The human connection. The adventure. The vulnerability of raw exposure to elements, to risk, to accomplishment. The ability to challenge myself, in my body and mind and heart. To open myself, wider, wider still. To take in this incredible land, to see with compassion all the people I meet. To love everything, everyone, every act of kindness and thoughtlessness and pain and gratitude. To love everything.

4 thoughts on “Road Warriors, Whizzing Bullets and a Pedaling Peacenik

  1. I was just reading your blog, on toxic masculinity and whizzing bullets, somehow it feels so much like a microcosm of the macrocosm and somehow prophetic especially after Las Vegas yesterday. I hope I am not overstepping, sharing too much, but reading your blog was culmination of the days struggle and processing, Las Vegas shooting, 2 yrs to the date of the UCC shooting in which a dear friend if mine was the first person shot and killed. Toxic masculinity…history repeating. Trying to talk to my young son, never thought I would ever feel like I would have to sit my children down and run through what to do if someone open fires in a crowd. Thoughts of my friend running towards the gunshots, saving lives as hers bled out. I am sorry, this is probably way too much, but hearing that you, a friend if a new one and still separated by the screen, dodging bullets and huge “compensaters” as we have jokingly called the good old boy pick ups turned into weapons of ignorance and arrogance.
    Last week Nazi symbols sprayed on the walls of a hookah lounge in Flagstaff, owned by my daughter’s friend, before they tried to burn It down. It just all feels so close and raw tonight, again. I am glad you are safe, I am glad to know that there are men like you in the world, it gives me hope in the face of it all.

  2. Thank you for your profound thoughts on the hostile aspects of the road. I am always struck by how, at the heart of all aggression, lies fear – fear of loss of control, really – and the ultimate loss of control is death. If we were all immortal with all abundances of time stretching before us, would we be more patient, more gentle, I wonder?
    If only the men who feel the need to put on such displays knew just how weak they actually appear. Rest assured that your restraint, your smile, your thumbs-up models true masculinity to those who need to see it the most.
    Beautiful thoughts and writing as always. Thank you!

  3. I’m so sorry you experienced that. The world just seems to have places which attract good people, and places which concentrate bad people. I just can’t buy this as masculinity, even toxic masculinity. I’ve raised boys, one of whom is a now a grown and thoughtful man. I’ve been around some of the most “manly” of men, extremely conservative and raised with a belt if they cried, and who I’d trust with any baby of mine. What you’re witnessing is sadism, attachment disorder, and other pathologies. I’ve seen this behavior (and worse) in a woman, and if I heard it described as toxic femininity; I’d be just as quick to disown it. Safer travels.

  4. I just concluded this year’s ride at Bandon. I enjoy your blog. I was wondering which way you ended up going to Bandon. I tried seven devils this year, but wonder about the alternatives.
    Many thanks,

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