On Change: the Terrifying and the Beautiful

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” — Leo Tolstoy

It is a truth universally acknowledged…that change can be quite intimidating. Yet, despite some uncomfortable moments of transition, after a few weeks on the road we have found that change can also be a beautiful thing.

Three years ago, around the time I met Christopher, I was a working full-time as a barista, while also taking classes full-time at the University of Washington, Tacoma. I had committed to continuing into a Masters of Library & Information Science program and felt confident that I was on the right track. Though I knew I wanted to be a librarian, I have always had a smoldering desire to hop on a plane, boat, train–or literally any available getaway vehicle–and explore other parts of the world, meet different people with different world views, and to escape a country that I never really felt at home in anyway.

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A rainy, but beautiful day in Oregon.

Enter Christopher–tall, dark, and handsome–with his adoration of and appreciation for bicycles, his non-conformist cap, and know-it-all personality. I fell pretty hard for him. I never expected that he would lead me here, on this crazy-ass-completely-change-your-life-and-ride-a-bike-around-the-world-with-me journey.

But as I said, change can be a beautiful thing.

So, here we are. 

After a difficult journey bicycling into Portland, Oregon, our trip out of the “City of Roses” proved pretty interesting.

Once we were able to get passed an unstable woman cursing at me on the side of the street, we spent the first hour of riding sweating up a giant hill. After having just rested for three days (and fixing Chris’ glasses) we were feeling pretty positive. But by the end of the hill, we had both already killed one water bottle each and already felt out of shape. But we trekked on and found a route along the Nestucca River. We were hoping to avoid the busier roads and consequently wound up on a rough, unpaved road with a lot of big, jacked up trucks passing us a little too closely. At one point a young, arrogant, early-twenty-something, hick pulled up alongside Christopher (with a large, barking German Shepherd in the bed of his truck) and screamed at him that if it was between slowing down or moving into the other lane, he would choose to hit Christopher.

This moment was a decisive one for us and the fate of our trip. 

We had already experienced being run off the road, being deliberately covered in plumes of black diesel smoke by hicks who think its funny to “roll coal” next to cyclists, and had several other close calls with RV’s. We also felt the pressing weight of subtle racism riding out of Washington and entering Oregon. Continuing South into more rural Oregon we felt that we probably had more to come. In sum, the beauty of our ride was being buried by hateful drivers, the constant view of chopped down forests, road kill, and the sad sight of countless dead bees on the road. Our trip was changing. What once was so beautiful and promising was turning dark. It felt as though our tour was reflecting the frightening changes occurring in our environment and our politics.

So it was that after this moment, we had truly given up. Christopher was done–he didn’t want to be the victim of a hate crime. I was anxious and overwhelmed, and we wanted to change our plans. In fact we wanted to cancel them completely. We had talked about  just getting to San Fransisco, and then flying to Europe or New Zealand. Maybe things would be better there.

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The Oregon coast did not disappoint.

With this change in mind, we continued onward to HWY 101 and hoped for safe passage on the upcoming journey to San Fransisco.

After we escaped most of the small and scary “your-kind-don’t-belong-here” towns, we were able to safely hide ourselves away from busy roads and stealth camped in the woods for a few days to recenter ourselves.

We spent the first day talking out our frustrations and fears. We felt more calm sleeping away from busy campgrounds, roads, and insufferable RV’s. Since we were hit by a night and morning of rain, we decided to take a second rest day in our safe spot. We spent the day reading, relaxing, and appreciating the sounds of the rain and the singing of Spotted Towhees and American robins.

After our days in the woods, we rode on to Lincoln City, where we spent some time at a coffee shop working on our resumes and C.V.s. We also did some research about work visas in New Zealand. Christopher even applied for a job there. We will see if he gets it. Lastly, Christopher stopped and got some art supplies to make a “disabled veteran” sign in an attempt to get people on the road to treat him like a person. He doesn’t really like to talk about his time in the military, or his disability, so it’s quite sad that he felt compelled to take this measure.

We then rode to Devil’s Lake campground where we met Ashley, an energetic, solo (and come to learn always eating) cyclist from Ottawa, Canada (don’t know where that is? No one does. Here is a map.) She had recently returned from living in Berlin, Germany and teaching English online.

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Our first Oregonian sunset.

This camp spot was not great, but it was our introduction to the cool charging, bicycle repair, and storage stations provided by REI. (Hey REI, how about that sponsor? I accept oversized novelty checks and Venmo).

We spent the evening getting to know one another and then exploring the nearby lake and beach. Christopher and I were excited to see our fist beach sunset in Oregon, and, as the sun began to fade on a pink and orange sky, I could already feel the tides changing and the small seedling of hope I still held began to slowly sprout.

We ended up riding quite a few days with our new Canadian acquaintance, which included quite a few snacks breaks each day. We decided the best nickname for her (keeping in line with my previous post and The Hobbit/LOTR theme) would be Pippin.

We all rode together to South Beach and it was here that we met Graham, another Canadian (from Vancouver) who rode a Trek gravel bike and towered over me (and mostly everyone else). Graham, during one particularly deep conversation, had confided to us that he had always felt uncomfortable in crowds because he felt like everyone could see him. His anxiety isn’t unfounded. We decided that Graham would make the perfect Treebeard in our adventure.   We all seemed to connect quickly and the conversation never ran dry.

In time we realized that while we had been viewing our fellow cyclists as characters from Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, we had yet to assign ourselves characters.

While I had previously thought of myself as Bilbo on an adventure, it seems to be more so that Christopher is Frodo and I, his Samwise (yes we are lovers, but we are friends first, and also we all know that Frodo and Samwise were the inspiration for Brokeback Mountain — but, again, I digress). Since this was Christopher’s original journey, and I just sort of latched myself onto his heart and made him take me with him, it makes more sense that I be Sam and he be Frodo. In any case, like Sam, I too love potatoes and bread in all forms. You mash boil ’em, boil ’em, or stick ’em in a stew.

After being joined later in the evening by two hikers with the trail names of Chicken Foot and Disco, we shared our food and had a little feast. It turns out, some of the best meals on the road are when you meet other travelers at a communal campsite and everyone offers something to one another, making an oddly delicious hodgepodge of a dinner. It sort of becomes a beautiful enactment of stone soup. For fear of mosquitos and now having food comatose, we called it an early night and crashed.

The next morning, Christopher, Treebeard, Pippin, and I walked along the beach and flew Christopher’s recently purchased kite that he got from a cool little kite shop in Newport. It is here that I was able to check off “fly a kite” from my bucket list, as well as from my other list titled, Things My Parents Should Have Done Better.

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The Devil’s Punchbowl.

Having a perfect start to the day, we had high spirits riding with Ashley to our next camp spot just 24 miles way in Carl G. Washburne State Park. This was our first truly scenic ride through Oregon and we were finally starting to understand what all the hype was about concerning Highway 101.

We rode past Otter Rock (no otters present), Seal Rock (no seals present), explored tide pools, and viewed what they call the Devil’s Chasms and the Devil’s Punchbowl–I’m still not sure why Oregon allows the devil to have so much property.

Once we made it to our campsite (where we were provided our first bear box locker of the trip), we met a guy from Portland named Damien, touring on an electric bike that he built himself (view his YouTube channel). We spent the evening talking and overloading on calories and carbs as usual).

The next morning, we explored the Hobbit trail (yes, I swear, it was actually called that). Though I didn’t see any fellow hobbits, I did enjoy the early morning stroll and spotting the varying mushrooms and slugs.

We rode onward and finally made it to the famous Sand Dunes of Oregon. Once we checked in at Honeyman campground (about 34 miles for the day), we met another cyclist named Zeckeriah (going North) and a pro sand-boarder (until she broke her back) named Becca. Treebeard, with his long legs, made it to Honeyman before us. We all hiked up the sand dunes and Becca taught some in our group how to sand-board. Later, Becca ordered all of the cyclists pizza and beer, started a campfire (our first of the trip). She even provided the necessary materials needed to make a good ol’ fashioned, super-sugary-heart-attack-American-style S’more.

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Oregon’s famous sand dunes where we learned the art of sand-boarding.

Even with an overstuffed camp we managed to squeeze in two more bike-packers who showed up after us. They were a father and son from Germany named Ralf and Frederick. Imagine, if you will, eight people from all different parts of the world sitting around a campfire, drinking Rogue beer, and introducing a teenager from Germany to S’mores (you’re welcome, Frederick. Sorry America sucks). We were such an odd grouping, but we stayed up talking by the fire under summer stars and a canopy of trees. It proved to be another near perfect day (if only there were wider shoulders on parts of HWY 101).

The next morning, we parted ways with our group when we left early to beat the heat (Touring Tip: Beat the heat — a good slogan to ride by). Christopher and I rode slow and steady as our mentors Gandalf and Thorin told us earlier on, and stopped for brunch and ice cream in Umpqua, home of Umpqua ice cream, duh.

We made it to Tugman State Park early (no offense to Pippin, but Christopher and I just ride better together), and we did laundry in our small cooking pot, set up a line for drying, and relaxed with a book. Later on, Graham, as well as Ralf and Frederick ended up staying at Tugman as well.

***This leap frogging when bicycle touring becomes a theme, so expect repeat characters in this story.

From Tugman we rode with Graham on our longest day yet — 76 miles to Cape Blanco in Port Orford. “Riding with” Graham is basically just riding a few miles behind him, because that gentle giant is fast (and this is his first tour).

It was this day that we rode what Oregon calls the “Seven Devil’s” (Oregon has a very satanic theme going). I will say, this place earned its name. Basically, it is just climbing seven large, fairly steep hills. With the heat and dry air it kind of feels like Hell when you lose count of what hill you are on and how long you have been sweating and you don’t know when the torture will end.

Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more (and the long and rewarding downhill ride afterwards), had the views been more than just clear cut forests.

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Erika smiling near Seal Rock.

While the trip so far has been an exciting change of routine, the scars of the anthropocene are ubiquitous. We are forced to witness the destruction first hand as we pass certain areas and ride through different terrain.

On a personal level this trip has forced me begin to truly re-evaluate myself and my place in the world. Suddenly, everything I own is on my bicycle. My bicycle in some ways, has become a vital part of me — like a leg, or an appendix. We carry everything we need on our bikes (and maybe even a few things we don’t, like five books and a kite), yet we never really feel like we want for anything. Except for maybe more food. Cycling all day makes you pretty hungry.

Many things are changing in our world: the climate, the extinction of species, our politics, etc. Yet with all the real doom and gloom, and the frightening realities we face together, I feel less powerless. I have changed immensely on this trip. I have witnessed the gross excesses of our society driving by me on the road, and I have felt how full life can be even when you carry so little with you. Gone for me are the days of lounging around at home after working nine to five days. Gone is the routine, mundane things, and the luxury items we once thought we needed.

Now we wash our clothes in a pot we also use for cooking. Now we pay attention to how much garbage we make (not everywhere has a garbage, so you have to carry it with you). We hang dry all of our clothes and sometimes pack our belongs when they’re soaking wet. We spend our evenings with people from Germany, London, Florida, Canada…We ride through old growth forests and use a splitter to share music and fall asleep holding hands under the Milky Way.

Our entire lives and the “order” of things have completely changed. At some moments, this change can be terrifying, but in most moments, this change is a really beautiful.

One example of this, is Cape Blanco.

 

Cape Blanco was my favorite spot in all of Oregon. Despite having to ride an additional six miles (all climbing) onto the Cape, taking on rough headwinds, and feeling our energy dropping fast, we finally made it to the campground. Not only was the hiker/biker location beautifully separated from the rest of the camp, but also a nearby trail led us to the ocean where an idyllic lighthouse stood. We sat down in the overgrown grass and stared out at the coast, spotting a pod of grey whales feeding along the rocks nearby. We sat in the grass for what seemed like an eternity and decided that this would be the perfect location for our next rest day.

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Cape Blanco in Port Orford, Oregon.

In the morning, we said goodbye to Graham (who was surprisingly perky even though raccoons ate all of his food during the night) and enjoyed a quiet morning alone for the first time in awhile. After breakfast and a morning of laundry and lounging on the nearby beach, we toured the Cape Blanco lighthouse, which we learned was built in 1869 and is Oregon’s only working lighthouse today.

We were excited to be united in the evening with Ralf and Frederick. We spent the evening together watching the sunset and showing them the whales — which were still feeding in the same area the next day.

It was this day that I felt like our minds had been changed again. I knew that the beauty we were witnessing down the Oregon Coast, the amazing people we were meeting, and the happiness we both seemed to be experiencing for the first time, were only going to continue to get better if we continued on our original journey and into areas outside of the U.S.

We currently plan to continue on our original adventure and stick to the coast. South America is still calling and I want to answer.

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Next stop: California.

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