The wonderful makeshift bicycle setup I had for the trip. By simply tying every lose end and strap to the frame and carrier of the bike, my backpack sat snugly under some bungee cords.
Sometimes, even the most social of people feel the urge to head off into the woods and get better acquainted with oneself.
In Eugene, Oregon, I rather enjoyed the pleasant company of the folks I was staying with. As I was making my way back from Portland – which is an amazing, lively city by the way – my mother suggested I stop and stay with an old school friend of hers called Sarah. They were in some supposedly ghastly girls’ school called Cobham Hall in Kent in the 60’s, missing the frivolities of the times and instead being taught how to socialites or interior decorators and that sort of thing. Neither of them particularly enjoyed their time there, being of a more intellectual persuasion. Both my mother and Sarah ended up studying psychology, with Sarah a Professor of Psychology at the Oregon Research Institute and University of Surrey.
It was fascinating hearing tales of my mother’s time at school and coming from a psychologist, it was even more interesting to see the development of my mother and ultimately how it affected myself.
Sarah and her husband Larry had visited us in Ireland some time ago and apparently they were open to returning the favour. Larry was a tall fellow, too, reaching to an impressive 6’5″, apparently my own height, but he felt just that bit taller. They were very gracious hosts and treated me wonderfully.
My earlier plan was to cycle up north. This didn’t happen for a variety of reasons to do with cash, winds, routes and a couple of other prohibitive factors. Instead, Larry offered up his bike for a tour of Oregon. We examined routes and checked weather and the easiest and most pleasant route seemed to be the 72 mile trip from Eugene to Florence and back.
So this is what happened when I attempted to bicycle a 300km round trip after not having been on a bike in almost a year.
Total Distance: 186 Miles/ 300km
CLICK ON THE PICTURES FOR A LARGER VIEW
The road out of Eugene. Note the dark clouds in the distance. Dread filled my lower gut and, figuratively,my pants as I heard the sound of thunder over Eugene as I made my way west. My target was Fern Ridge Lake, where I was going to try out my camping gear.
Oregon is famed for its green beauty, bounteous trees and environmental protection policies. There is grandeur in this unspoilt countryside, something I find lacking in many parts of Britain and Ireland. Yes, we have forests, but we don't have millions of square miles of forests nor do we have a healthy wildlife population.
There is an incredible amount of water in Oregon. It rains all the time and the water is sucked up by all the billions of trees in the area and transforms the countryside into that luscious green I love so dearly. This is Fern Ridge Lake, where I had intended to camp, but since I was making such good progress, I decided to go further north instead.
I picked up a waterproof and windproof biking jacket for the trip. Insulated and breathable, a solid investment perfect for training in when I get back home. It was a bit too cold for spandex when I left, but then it warmed up and I could have used some leg cooling later in the journey.
Just ten or fifteen miles outside of Eugene, down in the Willamette Valley, tasteful houses dot the countryside. In my opinion, they're generally much nicer than those ugly bungalows the Irish seem to build in rural locations, but then again, I could be falling victim to the whole familiarity/contempt traps that I have unconsciously lain among my memories for that little island. I hope I can get a positive feeling beyond apathy for Ireland when I return, however brief and limited that time may be.
First Person Bicycling the empty backroads north of Fern Ridge Lake. My target was a sheltered, pleasant little field within which to pitch my tent and not get arrested or shot at by the highly territorial local savages.
With so much water, wildflowers flourish in the boggy lowlands.
Ah, the quaint American protestant church, sacred holders of the Holy Doctrines "Rejecting the Accumulated Knowledge Resulting From Thousands of Years of Scientific Inquiry" and "Early Mesopotamian Herders Had a Better Understanding of Reality Than Everyone Who Came Later" among other beliefs. But at least they're not abusing children physically!
Minor epiphany as I realised what was missing from my trip and, ultimately, my life at this point: a hearty supply of crumbly English cheese.
Dawn of Day Two, 06:30. This would mark the beginning of the longest stretch of the trip, the 65 miles or so to Florence from just outside some unremarkable little town called Junction City. I had pitched a tent in a field about a mile out of town, eager to get an early start on what was going to be a long, long day. Some of my stuff got damp over night and my copy of Guns, Germs and Steel still looks pretty weathered. Lesson learned: ziploc bags.
This is me thinking: "Oh, how lovely the weather is! And there, in the blue-hazed distance are the hills I must pass over. Oh how delightful this is going to be. And easy, too, I'm sure! What could go wrong!?!"
Ah, the pleasant woodland road leading up the hill. So far so good! I listened to the birds chirping like a million tasteful ringtones going off at once and a soft, light mist to keep me cool. Almost to the top!
What a view! Endless forest for miles in every direction, nothing but natural wilderness. Watching the clouds slowly roll over the undulating landscape, solitude and nature. What could be more human than to admire this wonderful state of nature?
What... the... that's not supposed to be there at all. This is where I realise I had taken the wrong route and was now going to attempt the uphill struggle on wet, loose gravel and increasing rainfall. What with the risk of falling into a gravelly pit and potentially plucking stones out of my shins, I was forced to concede defeat. I dismounted and walked for almost six miles, climbing up to about 1000ft. The highest point was, rather amusingly, the lowest point of the trip.
But the view was spectacular, so I found it difficult to get into a bad mood. Besides, this was voluntary, so I just embraced it for what it was. This is pretty much what I was looking for, too, so no worries.
Thankfully I made it out in good time as I joyfully gut laughed my way back onto a decent tarmac road out of the gravelly path of forested doom, thrilled to be able to ride again!
Success! It was pretty much all downhill from here, with only a few minor hills to climb, just to keep me physically challenged. I tell you I felt physically challenged afterwards and a wheelchair would have been most comfortable.
I've seen this sort of thing before in Sardinia, where the locals show their disapproval of the government by shooting at road signs as they drive by. Here, I think they're just bored and have guns.Rednecks is rednecks, be they in Italy or Oregon.
Triangle Lake, the source of the Siuslaw River. It has this delightful little lakeside community with hundreds of private docks. I stopped for a while, stretched and gazed out at the view, which was magnificent as you can see here.
Six hours in. Lunchtime by the river. I'd already broken my record for most distance cycled in one day and I was only 2/3 of the way there.
14 miles to go. If I'd taken the 126 as advertised, I would have gotten to this point much quicker, but I took the much calmer, more scenic route, even though it's quite some distance extra. I had covered almost sixty miles by this point and the last 14 were into the wind, despite my grumbling protestations to the Weather Gods.
The last fourteen miles to Florence are along the river, the most beautiful route I've cycled on. Pity about the traffic, but it was a flat road and full of glory.
I have a dream. One day, Ireland could be replanted and all that land that's just sitting there doing nothing, serving little purpose other than being a shiny emerald field, will be forested and full of trees again. It used to be one of the most forested countries in Europe. Remember deer, bears, wolves, eagles and all that sort of great woodland life in Ireland? No? BECAUSE THEY'RE DEAD. The climate is similar and though Ireland has its own charm, it's a denuded wasteland compared to the majesty I imagine it once had before the British Navy and other irresponsible treekillers cut it all down.
I love the texture of this bridge. And that little house is just a cherry on top!
Made it to Florence, Oregon! Eleven-ish hours. I'm told that's not a very good time, but in my defence, I took hundreds of photos and sniffed hundreds of flowers on the way. I couldn't really smell them on account of having next to no sense of smell, but I tried to sniff them anyway.
Pretty much sums up my feelings at this point.
Made it to the Pacific. Oh, how much I love that Ocean.
About ten minutes after I hit the Pacific Coast, the Sun, that beacon of purist delight, came out and set a precedent that would last for the remainder of my trip.
The bridge coming out of Florence heading South. The Oregon Dunes stand to the West, my campground at Jessie M. Honeyman National Park about two miles down the road.
Tent, minus the highly-practical rain shield due to an hilarious wind-related accident in Mexico, served me well. Waking to the melancholy dawn amid veritable tree-giants was a joy -waking with aching limbs and an ass that seemed to be undergoing post-bicycle rigor mortis, was not .
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. This place was the inspiration for Frank Herbert's seminal science fiction books Dune. I've only seent the David Lynch film, so I can't judge the books, but the Dunes here were nowhere near as incomplete, bizarre and full of body horror as a David Lynch film. Some of them reach a pretty impressive height, about the same size as the biggest hills in the Netherlands by my calculations, but walking up that very loose sand is extremely difficult and very tiring.
Endless fields of golden bushes lie just outside the Dunes in the boggier areas of the park. I spent hours just lying down and pondering upon the mysteries of life and the universe on the Dunes overlooking these fields, entranced by the wonderful collaboration of blue sky and yellow earth.
With my wind up radio and lantern thingy, I wandered up to the highest Dune with the clearest view to watch the Invincible Sun bid farewell each evening. Sheltered from the wind in the Dune grass, I would stare into the bright light as it projected its image onto my retinas. Then I would stumble back to the campsite, partially blinded, attempt to read for a bit and fall asleep under the canopy.
The Invincible One gives one last surge of enlightenment over the Pacific before reclining in comfort behind some distant cloud bank in the West.
I blagged my way into the Best Western's sauna and jacuzzi the day before I left. My legs were pretty stiff despite stretching pretty vigorously over the past 48 hours since the crossing. I used a bit of charm and that deep baritone to convince the staff to let me relax and recover in the warm healing waters below, which they did much to my surprise. I dropped them a tip afterwords, but they refused it and I cycled back to the campsite with renewed vigour in my aching thighs.
Panorama Part One
Panorama Part Two
Panorama Part Three
Panorama Part Four
09:00 the morning of my departure from the Pacific Coast. I had intended to head north, but the winds were fierce and I had already hit the coast north of Florence with Sarah and Larry the previous week.
Leaving Florence with a satisfied mind and that pleasant feeling that you know that no matter what one decides to do or how one chooses to approach it, this is going to be a gruelling day's work.
Mile ten, just outside Mapleton, the first stretch of my legs working it's magic and loosening up for the next 50.
This was the highest point along Highway 126 and they thoughtfully provide this button that alerts cars to your presence as you enter the tunnel and asks them to slow down. It was still absolutely terrifying in there. A passing collosus of a truck at 30mph is still extremely loud and ear-exploding as it passes you in the naturally sound-amplifying tunnel.
I'm told this is what dying looks like.
The halfway point and time for an energy drink. I had picked up a Gatorade, one of those 5 hour energy shot things and a caffeinated mocha can of some sort to give me that push. It worked! Here's me at the halfway point, two and a half hours in. It's all downhill and flat from here.
Note: the road here is deceptively empty. Most of the time there were some cars farting their fuel into my face as I struggled to not fall off into a ditch. Which happened once. Never try to wipe your nose while cycling on the hard shoulder in windy conditions.
The return journey was hot and sunny the whole way back, making the whole thing much more enjoyable than the trip across the s/foggy mountains, but twice as dehydrating.
Sweet steamed milk of success! Arrived back in Eugene six hours later, hungry for meat. I promptly went to the supermarket and picked up some liquified manliness so I could enjoy a glory beer!
Arrogant Bastard Ale. Totally deserved. One glass and I was feeling pretty intoxicated, but so relaxed as I bathed in the accomplishment! What a trip!