It's not until sunrise that I notice that I can see my breath. Since I long ago got my basic clothing dialed in for pretty wide range of conditions, temperature is mostly just something I check on bank signs and not a thing I worry about. Sure, I'd checked the forecast and added an army surplus wool sweater to my torso and a Duofold layer under my nylon pants, but it's not until I see my breath forming little clouds as I huff up the hills that it occurs to me that the cold might be problematic. I'd left my snug place in Issaquah at 5:00 AM for a four day ride down to Portland and back. Since I was planning on spending much of Saturday and Sunday visiting friends in Portland, my thought was to pack the bulk of the riding into Friday and Monday. Hence, my early start this Friday morning.
My basic route, picked by Google using the ever so handy "avoid highways" option and tweaked by me, merged parts of a Seattle International Randonneurs 200K and a bit of RAMROD with a good chunk of the STP route. It was the bits in some of the higher country near Mount Rainier that had me worried. Snow could slow things down.
I reach down to take a sip from my bottle and realize it's an ice baby. The second bottle is similarly solid. "Holy Jill Homer!" I mutter, "it's cold."
What I'd thought was decadence turns out to be providence. I'd also brought along my Thermos Mug full of hot coffee and that turns out to be my main source of hydration for the next few hours.
There are patches of frost along the roadside and the frost in my mustache turns out to be more than just some metaphor lifted from a haiku. My Tringle-speed is shod with rugged Specialized Hardpack II tires and even though I can hear Jan's Germanic voice in my head chiding me "I cannot believe you choose to ride such slow tires," I value versatility over velocity. This morning, it certainly seems like a wise choice.
By 9:30 AM the bright sunshine has warmed the air and my bottles have thawed. I stop at the Kapowsin Texaco for a Cookies and Creme bar washed down with a pint of whole milk before rolling on through Eatonville. There's a good bit of snow along the Eatonville Cutoff Road and the roadside bison watch as I roll by.
I often describe my bike trips as a chance to connect with my "inner hobo" and in the town of Elbe, I see that perhaps I'm not alone in my desire for rusticity. While sleeping in converted cabooses would probably be fun, I think it has only the slightest connection to the true hobo life. Now maybe if they let you sleep under the caboose while the train rolls along at 120 miles per hour and every few hours some yard bull would whack you with a stick and toss you off the train...
There is more roadside snow on the road down to Morton and I decide for my trip back, I'll pick a route that sticks closer to the lower country to the west. After feasting on a turkey sandwich and a pint of milk in Morton I turn west along noisy Highway 12 and eventually turn south again, following the small roads that roughly parallel I-5.
It's dark by the time I cross the bridge at Longview and enter Oregon. A lot of the bridge traffic is logging trucks and the narrow shoulder is layered with bark and wood chips. I'm usually very relaxed on the bike, but navigating this span in the dark, even with wide tires, is the most tense part of the trip.
At 8:40 PM I stop for late supper consisting of a hot dog and a pint of milk and fill my now empty second water bottle with some orange-guava juice. In addition to my various food stops, I've been munching enroute on peanut M&Ms, PayDay bars and Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies. Have I mentioned that I am not a nutritional role model?
My goal today was to get close to Portland without actually being in Portland. At 10:00 PM I see a handy bit of woods on the edge of the town of Scappoose, so I roll out my bivy sack and settle in for the night. Since I've ridden 191 miles since leaving home this morning, I sleep soundly.
I'm up and rolling at 5:00 AM. Highway 30 turns freewayish as it runs into Portland but as I exit onto local roads, Portland's famous bicycle infrastructure guides me in.
At 7:00 AM I'm settled in at Peet's Coffee in downtown Portland, sipping a caramel latte and checking my email. Around 9:00 AM I roll over to Powell's where I park in one of Portland's fancy on-street bike racks and meet up with fellow blogging cycler, Joe Broach.
This is the first time Joe and I have had a chance to meet up in the non-cyber world, but it's just like having coffee with an old friend. Actually, I'm still working on my latte from Peet's but I let Joe buy me a croissant and he has tea while we chat about a wide range of bikish and bloggish things. Joe is a great writer and I urge him to write more about his life in Portland. I'd first started reading his stuff when he lived in Montana and when he'd moved to Portland, I'd hoped he'd write more about the transition and compare and contrast the two places. Alas, life has a way of filling the days and Joe's written fewer words than I'd like to see, so I give him a hard time about that. In the nicest, possible way, of course. The man did buy me breakfast, after all!
After talking with Joe for over an hour, I manage to check out some of the books at Powell's. I'm traveling light so I manage not to buy anything heavier than a Washington-Oregon map. I also skim through Jeff Mapes' book Pedaling Revolution. This one is on my "gotta get this" list and not just because I'm in it. I do the vanity read to make sure Jeff quoted me accurately (he did, the man is a pro!) and it was interesting to see Jeff's take on a commute we shared a couple of years ago and especially see his appreciative comments on the virtues of coroplast fenders.
From Powell's I head over to Clever Cycles. My buddy Colin works as a mechanic at Clever, a job he seems ideally suited for. Colin used to be the shop manager at Bike Works, and he decided to leave Seattle, I took over his old role. So we talk about Bike Works, the bike business and riding in the Portland area. Colin shows me around the place and even lets me test ride a Stokemonkey equipped Xtracycle. My own life is too minimalist to require either an Xtracycle or a Stokemonkey, but I can sure see the value of these things. The Stokemonkey is amazing, a true electric assist. You pretty much use it to get big loads rolling or push the big load up big grades. The sensation is like riding a tandem with the world's strongest stoker.
Also at Clever, I re-meet a kindred soul, Mike Cobb, the fellow who created the ever-so-handy Cobbworks bucket pannier.
Mike sold the Cobbworks business a while back and these days is crafting large-capacity cargo solutions for longtail bikes. But tonight, after attending the Alice Awards, he's hopping the last MAX train east with his bike and then riding up Mount Hood so he can compete in the US Snowshoe Nationals tomorrow morning. Since the roads are icy up there, he's making his own studded tire as we talk. And naturally, he'll be sleeping in a bivy sack tonight, Like I said, my kind of guy!
While I'm at Clever, Jayanthi, another of my pals from Bike Works, calls up. She's in town for the US Barista Championships (she's related to one of the judges) and she also stops in at Clever to see Colin. And next week it turns out that we'll probably all cross paths again at the Seattle Bike Expo.
I'd arranged to meet Scott "Large Fella" Cutshall at 3:00 PM at Clever, but since I have some time to kill and a phone call to make (more trip logistics), I wander around the neighborhood. I'm just rolling back toward Clever when a not very large fella on a lovely Bob Brown bicycle rolls up along side me and says, "you must be Kent Peterson." I admit that I must and that he in turn must be Scott Cutshall.
Despite the dire things I'd read on Scott's blog, at least at this moment he is not being pursued by angry villagers bearing Proofide-fueled torches. "Where to?" Scott asks and I point out that it's his city. "Show me around," I say.
So we roll down one side of the river, across a bridge and through downtown. We discuss bikes and bloggers and the reach and limits of the internet as a communication medium. When Scott talks there tends to be a chuckle in his voice, a twinkle in his eye and a self-deprecating tone that doesn't always come through in print. When Scott or I say something like "being a famous blogger..." we each have a hard time not cracking up. On a good day being a "famous blogger" might get you a free tour around town, a chance to have some interesting chats and maybe a meal or two. On super rare occasions, a virtually random stranger might figure out that you could use a plane ticket home and that'll give you some clue that maybe your words do matter, at least to somebody. And the flip side of this, the darker side, is that when you make some flip remark or are genuinely dark or struggling, those words matter as well and the actions that come from those words aren't always kind. "People sure get worked up over words!" Scott observes. I agree that indeed they do and describe to him my favorite comic strip, whose punchline is "Someone is wrong on the internet."
Scott's wife Amy is a nurse who works nights, so after some over an hour of rolling and gabbing we head over to Scott's place. Scott explains that in the Cutshall world, this is breakfast time and quizzes me about my "normal" schedule. I quote Willie Nelson and point out that "there is no normal, there's only you and me." My wife works early mornings and I tend to be more a morning person myself, so many nights I'm sound asleep while Scott is teaching Chloe, making lunch or riding.
Chloe and Amy are delightful and Chloe presents me with a project she'd just finished, a "Whimsical Charm of Safety", which I immediately strap to the rear basket of my bike.
Chloe is into Animorph books these days and she also knows lots about animals, digging through a field guide when the discussion turns to the red-legged frogs we'd heard singing in the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge that Scott and I had ridden past on our ride.
Scott and I both are guys who, in the spirit of the character of Kasper Gutman in The Maltese Falcon, "like talking to a man who likes to talk." I think Amy and Chloe are wondering if we'll ever shut up.
I do manage to shut my mouth long enough to sample one of the famous humus wraps that the Cutshalls thrive on. I think if I ate those daily I'd loose weight as well, not because they're not good (they are!) but because they are filling while seeming to lack the caloric density of my normal heavy fuel. Scott is curious about said fuel and Amy and I describe for him the construction of a Payday bar.
After more chat on a wide range of topics, I get ready to head out into the evening. Scott, like Joe had earlier, offers me a place to stay but I explain that I really do value these trips as chances to dial in my gear, be out in the night and "get in touch with my inner hobo." Scott looks dubious, but I think he understands. Scott explains to me that for years he was so heavy that he never went out, spending all his time locked inside, reaching out only to read some words on a computer screen. And some of the words he found were mine, describing a life outside. I think he understands and I go.
I'm ten minutes down the road when my phone rings. The cell phone is something I'm still getting used to, but it helps set Christine's mind at ease and it is handy on adventures such as this one where I'm trying to connect up with a range of folks. When I see this call is from Scott, I think perhaps I've forgotten something at his place. Nope, he's just double checking. "You're sure you're OK camping out? This just seems weird, I mean we have plenty of room here and I feel like I just sent my buddy out to go sleep in a park." "This is weird," I assure him but "weird is how I roll." There is no normal, there's only you and me. "You know this call isn't for you," Scott says, "it's for me. I have to be sure." "Yeah, I know that buddy. It's fine, really. Have a good night and thanks again for everything."
Because I have an uneasy truce with "the Man" (I mostly don't mess with him and he mostly doesn't mess with me but I figure he may read this blog now and then), I'll choose to be vague about exactly where I roll out my bivy sack. There are usually trees involved, and shadows and I always sleep soundly.
In the morning, I head over to my buddy Michael Rasmussen's place. Michael keeps a few chickens in his backyard and he makes great hashbrowns and coffee to go with the eggs. In an earlier email Michael admitted he hadn't ridden his bike at all this year. I figure I can apply a bit of positive peer pressure and maybe get him rolling. At the very least, I'll get a great breakfast out of the deal.
My basically transparent plan works quite well. We have a wide ranging discussion while Michael cooks. Michael needs to head over to Beth Hamon's place to pick up a bike jersey and I'd been planning on seeing Beth before I rolled out of town. Still Michael almost convinces himself that he's cut the timing too close to bike there. His wife Jennifer talks him into leaving the dishes and I volunteer to change the flat front tube on his bike while he dresses. "I need you to navigate me to Beth's house," I lie but it's a lie we both take on as a catalyst for action.
Michael layers on his riding clothes and once he's on the bike and rolling we're fine. Sure he wheezes on the climbs but he's got a grin on his face. The wheezing isn't a result of this morning's ride, it's the result of all those mornings of not riding. Once he's on the bike, he remembers that.
We're at Beth's at 11:30. Beth wasn't expecting to see me this early in the day, but she rises to the challenge. I think she'd been envisioning a more relaxed visit in the afternoon but she offers me a cup of coffee while she tries to fit my early presence into her plans for the day. I tell her that I really just popped in to see her and that I'm planning on heading north a bit earlier than originally planned. The forecast is for snow and I want to get over the Longview bridge in daylight. Michael has to dash off, but Beth, her friend Lynne and I chat for a while before heading out to Beth's work shed where she is prepping her bike for cyclocross.
Hanging out chatting about bike stuff is exactly what I'd wanted to do on this trip, so this is the perfect ending to my stay in Portland.
The skies are clouding up and after saying goodbye to Beth and Lynne, I roll north at 12:30. I roll through north Portland, cross the St. John's bridge and connect up again with Hwy 30.
The spring time change happened last night, so it's still light when I cross the Longview bridge at 5:30 PM. I continue riding north, keeping an eye on the weather and settle in to camp in a patch of woods between Castle Rock and Vader at 7:15 PM. I've just got my bivy stretched out and my tarp strung up when my phone rings. It's Christine, "is it snowing where you are?" "Not yet," I explain, "I'm swinging wider around Rainier for the trip home," I explain, "sticking to the lower country." "Sleep warm," Christine says, and I assure her I will. There's a line from a Kathy Mattea song that says "On the chilliest night though I travel light, it is always enough, for I wear your love." In my case, this is certainly true. My down bag, bivy sack and Thermarest all do their bit, but my wool socks, warm hat and wool gloves are all gifts from Christine. On the chilly nights and days I really do wear her love.
There's a little bit of snow on the tarp in the morning and a bit more snow is coming down at 8:00 AM when I stop at the Little Crane Cafe in Vader.
Over a big breakfast of hamburger steak and eggs and hashbrowns I joke with the locals about the weather. "Yeah," one trucker comments, "a hell of a day to be driving, but at least I ain't riding a bike!"
One picturesque farm features Emus and goats so I stop for a few pictures, but mostly it's time to be riding for home. The day fluctuates between periods of clear blue skies mixed with times when the sky goes so dark I'm running with all my lights on and the air is white with whirling snow. Chloe's charm seems to do it's job because I make through every whiteout without becoming a hood ornament on some four by four. I get home at 9:30 PM.