Day 1, Corvallis to Florence, 90 miles
I wake before dawn, 4am. Excited and undaunted for the task at hand: ride to the coast, the long way, south of Corvallis, through Triangle Lake, out to Florence to camp at Honeyman State Park. I haven’t ridden this route before. The distance is about 20 miles beyond the limit for comfortable touring day. I’m going to do it anyway.
I take an extra day off from work to do so. Two days, one more than my normal break from running my restaurant. An extra day riding, and extra night in sleeping on the earth. Feels like a luxury, given the six day work schedule I’ve had since returning from my tour last fall. And a closer taste of the freedom and exhilaration of touring than just the overnights I’ve done recently.
I’m also been processing a lot of intense emotional experiences from the past several months. I know the long ride will clear my mind in a way nothing else can. I’ve found a marathon distance touring day can strip away any artifice that keeps me attached to my emotional status quo. Even as I claim to want to change what isn’t working in my life. Ha. I have the image of holding on with white knuckles, screaming and kicking as I’m dragging my own self from the room.
This may seem overdramatic, yet if you knew these struggles you’d see my point. However, the details of my inner conflict are not as important as the process with which I seek clarity and resolution. Working intensely with my counselor, seeking support of friends and community, journaling exhaustively, and now, this bicycle medicine. The epic long touring day.
5am: packed, groggily, I push off. Visit the new ghost bike on South Third Street, a soul lost just a couple weeks ago to a van which sped through flashing yellow lights at a pedestrian crossing. Be careful everyone. I know the father of the 32 year old who died. A regular customer at FireWorks, a friend of the family. So sad and tragic. A moment of silence, then I head down 99W, south from Corvallis.
Light traffic at this early hour. easy passage on a wide shoulder to Monroe. A stop at DariMart, only thing open at this hour for some bland coffee and sad food. I must plan food better for the next trip. Calories are appreciated though, knowing how long the ride ahead will be. Then off down Territorial towards Veneta, the site of last weekend’s Oregon Country Fair. I whimsically think of it would be fun to attend again, then remember wandering in throngs of thousands, endless pathways of dust and stressful crowds. Glad to pass up that experience.
I’m now 20 miles in. The riding is easy, but the mind begins to complain. How much longer is this going to be? Oh yeah, way too long. Ok, shush, keep pedaling. I reach Highway 36, bearing west. I follow Google’s suggestion to take Hall Road, a bypass which I end up regretting. A very steep climb, and then a few miles of gravel? Shame, Google bike directions! The road is scenic however, and soon I reconnect with 36 and forget the gravel. Then on to Blachly and Traiagle Lake. Crystal blue waters, power boats, a county park with overflowing garbage cans, many full blue doggy poop bags litter the dirty brown lawn. Ah, the American Summer.
There’s no drinking water at Triangle Lake! I’m concerned for dehydration. Temps are in the 90s today, I’m halfway there, but I’ve only drank 4 bottles or so. I next stop at the Deadwood store, more water and snack foods. The clerk is incredulous at my ride, tells me I should sit in the creek, wait out the heat. But I know I can’t take an hour break on such a long ride without paying dearly towards the end of the day. Onwards, just 20 miles until Mapleton, where I take a break there before the last leg. Good espresso boosts my morale, then I head west on Highway 126. The final 14 miles to go, but now I ride into a strong headwind blowing up the Siuslaw River.
Now it hits. On this final stretch, the soul baring stress and gift and challenge of the marathon touring ride. Catharsis. Release. I keep pedaling, awash with tears and sound and memories and ecstasy. I’m both crying and yelling and laughing as I ride along the busy highway. Am I crazy? Far from it. Getting clear, letting go. Seeing the challenges of recent months, of the longer years, in a new light. Compassion for self, others, and empathy, so much love. Understanding now how to listen, how to receive, how to be present, how to ask. And with these insights, my hope returns.
My recent days had been marked by deep anxieties from the ages. Lifelong pain and confusion. Now, receiving a new perspective, I can see the path ahead open again. All the resources and opportunities, I have the clarity of how the work will happen. How I will unfold, turn the page, write a new chapter.
I arrive at Florence, cross the beautiful McCullough Bridge, then pedal the last few miles to camp. I follow my post ride rituals: set up my tent, shower, wash clothes, hang to dry. Then head back into town for dinner.
I’m alive, so alive, body humming with the endorphins of the ride, mind crystal clear again, heart pounding and opening and healing. I can’t wait to share these insights with my friends, with my beloved, with everyone. And yet, waiting for contact is also a sweet privilege. Anticipating the sharing, listening, beginning a new conversation. The joy of discovering myself within relationship to the other. And the great give of discovering the other, seeing for the first time.
After dinner, I ride a slow return to camp, the last 3 miles added to the tour. I chat with three other cyclists now camping, then retire to my tent. In bed before 9am, thoughts of gratitude for this day, for this great privilege of being alive. Ready to face the challenges ahead. Sleep comes fast and sound and deep.