Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Bike Report (3/5): "Still Rain, Still Riding"

Day 2 - Clatskanie to Cathlament Ferry in High Hopes, through Naselle and on to Long Beach in a Downpour 

A pleasant thought still the next morning, that easy ride ahead.  Though the sun forgot to shine, turning a cloudy shoulder.

But even under gray skies, Clatskanie has appeal. It's obviously a town with priorities in the right places . . .

Not just the eclectic charm of the Bike Inn with its offers (we see this morning) of syrup and homemade jam . . . and its own boat dock for the amphibious cyclist . . .

. . . and its wooden window frames each uniquely handcarved with Grimm brothers designs . . . not to mention its (apparently) multilingual manager.

But also flyers up all over town inviting everyone (families and fat tires to serious speedies) to the Freedom Ride this coming Fourth of July weekend - either 8 miles or 25 amidst the scenic beauties on the banks of the Clatskanie.

And all that before finding Rumi squeezed in between the coin-op laundry and the corner pharmacy on the way out of town.

That's half a dozen improbables and all before breakfast . . .

From Clatskanie, we biked 10 miles to Westport for breakfast at the Berry Patch.

Where we ran into good friends from the coast (one of those sweet serendipitous delights of going on vacation in your own neighboring county).  And ordered hot chocolate and eggs - scrambled, sunny side, and omleted (satisfying) - and a shared slice of pie (forgettable).

Middlest makes much better piecrust (which is true and also appropriately foreshadowing of more broken promises ahead as we listened to repeated assurances from our friends and the wait staff of sunshine and brief showers).
The gray-ponytailed waitress had told us the ferry left at a quarter past each hour and so, with a little flurry and rush, we jumped back on our bikes, down a short road and around the corner and got in line at the dock where the ferry was already pulling in. 

The guy in the pickup truck ahead of us told stories about being in Florida during the hurricane and working on deepwater oil rigs.  Short and pungent pithiness for BP's current stupidities, forecasting darkly to a time when "we'll all have to ride bikes."  Years, of course, since he pedaled his own, but he used be quite a rider and has been thinking lately it was time to get out on two wheels a little more.

The ferry operators, one tall and friendly, given to wide and large movement, the other short and self-contained, applauded our enterprise, ribbed us about the dangers ahead.

"It's an easy ride," I said. "Right?"

"Oh, sure. Mostly. Except for KM Mountain."

"Mountain?" I turned to Fritz.

He shrugged.  Their little joke.

"Have fun with that mountain!"they chuckled as the ferry pulled away back toward Oregon. 

We rode onto Puget Island through the usual beauties of farmland and forest then over a curving bridge into Cathlamet, another Northwest town worth more time some other day.

We stopped outside Bob's Market, considering our planned route. A lean and weathered man passed by, face like leather, and we asked him about KM.  "It's not bad," he shook his grizzled head.  "I ride it and I don't have those low gears."

Okay.  Not bad.  We can do that.  And at least it's not raining.

The market at Cathlamet has no public restrooms but a silent beckon from a bright-faced clerk to the back of the store, a door unpadlocked, and an outside flight of twisting stairs brings the seeker to the sought - though not without first climbing too high and landing on the private porch of a long-haired woman at her breakfast, a big orange cat at her feet, both of whom look up politely wondering how they can be of assistance to sudden intruders with alien helmets and funny looking life-support packs.

The woman points, with a practiced wave, back down the stairs.

And then through town to the open road.  We forget sometimes, living here, how gorgeous everything is - the green, the trees, the rivers. 

And then somewhere between here and the mountain, the rain.

The everlasting rain.

What memories I might have had, have now all worn away like dim pencil disappearing from bubbled-up rained-upon paper.  I know we stopped to put on woolies and rain gear.  Just in case.  Just in time.

And I can state that KM comes by its mountain status honestly.  Though the climb is nothing near so steep as others we climb, it is plenty long and plenty high a rise. 

Not so cold today as the first ride earlier this year, but surely wetter.  And so disheartening.  To be so wet and still so wet. And still so many miles away from warmth and rest.  And nothing to catch the eye in a landscape gray and darker by the minute.  And then towns we had counted on  for stops (Rosburg) apparently abandoned, only the old empty store boarded up and the fuel pumps yanked out like rotted teeth.

In Naselle, we slipped through the empty restaurant half of the tavern - three old codgers muttering together at the bar - weathered For Sale sign outdoors - to the welcome facilities.  Then emerged to find Fritz deep in conversation with a Harley rider, two thin Viking braids among his wild gray mane.  Viking Harley advised us to forgo our planned route on Hwy 4 up past Willapa Bay (Fritz had wanted to see the site described in Ivan Doig's true-life story of fur traders escaping from indentured servitude in Russian Alaska in early 1850s who made their way in an Indian canoe down almost the entire Northwest Coast).  Harley suggested  instead we drop straight down toward Astoria on 401, "It's mostly level and a nice wide shoulder."

And the rain came down in spate.

The shoulder was wide and clean but the traffic steady.  Cars kindly pulled to the right to give us plenty of room as they passed - except the steely-eyed senior citizens in  their motor homes who held to their lane with a righteous rigor.  I rode with eyes swiveling ever to the right, repeatedly working to relax the traffic-side shoulder hunched to block what felt like an imminent attack.

"I wouldn't have considered this level."


The sky darkened as the afternoon wore on.  My heart grew sad until there was nothing in me to continue riding.  I dropped back from leading (the slower rider sets the pace when we bike together- except for on hills when it's best efforts all around) and beckoned daughters to ride ahead just so I'd have some color to look at, their beloved selves a beacon to put some heart back in me.

"The other road would have been even worse."

"No doubt."

And still the rain fell with no let up, no blue corner.

"I don't think I can go on any longer."

"So get off and walk." 


"No, it works." 

And so we walked for a mile.  Staggering a little at first, ready to cry for weakness.  But it's true that a change can be as good as a rest.  Though the sky showed no signs of brightening, our moods did. 

Soon we were back on the bikes, singing, "If I had a million umbrellas . . . but not a real umbrella, that's cruel," and building fantasies about a sudden shining bus swooping into view, pulling up at our feet, hot cocoa bar on board, a team of personal masseurs . . . when out of the gray a city bus did indeed swoosh past in a spray, roaring away in the wrong direction. 

When the bus came growling past again half an hour later - this time heading towards Long Beach exactly as we were, but without even a pause for our soaked sakes - our loud and laughing lamentation was just as exuberantly fantastical.

We pedaled on.  Middlest offered to attract the next bus with the old Happened One Night  "lovely limb technique" - though to the rest of us it looked like she was just trying to tip water out of her shoe - which water ran out in a stream.  And never a next bus to try it on.

Nearing the bridge, with covetous eyes, we watched the opposite bank of the rivermouth, the faraway Oregon side where we would have rooms waiting in a few days.  But not tonight. We had to turn away, toward our last twenty miles, sadly saddle sore and weary. 

Twenty miles and more still to go before dark, and all of it along coastal 101 full of holiday weekend traffic.  All of us rode with shoulders hunched against the motor homes flying past thick and heavy now.  We biked past Dismal Nitch in the Lewis and Clark National Park, past signs for Cape Disappointment. 

Names all too apt.

Pedaling our way through small towns we wished we'd made reservations in - Chinook, Seaview,  Pedaling past any feeling but grim doggedness.  Until at last we rolled into Long Beach along its carnival-colored main drag, a little subdued in the rain, to our motel next to the road-spanning sign claiming The World's Longest Beach. 

We'd never actually communicated with a real human in all the automated reservation process and were a bit unnerved as we stood, exhausted, at the empty front desk, facing a mix of elegant Balinese murals and cluttered countertop with a large tower of unopened cardboard boxes next to us in the lobby. 

At last, a lone, anxious, and adenoidal young man, slim and graceful as the Buddhas painted on the wall behind him, came to check us in  - with much exasperated rolling of his strangely beautiful aquamarine eyes and nervous smoothing of his sleek and shiny black hair.  He announced tomorrow's continental breakfast flicking a long-fingered hand toward the mod black and shiny long-legged tables, still crumb-covered and smeared from the breakfast someone ate at the start of the day. And promised to bring some towels, " . . . because they hadn't done anything like they should have - nobody does . . . " which words did not reassure the weary traveler.

We were relieved to find the room clean enough.  Pretensions to elegance, a lumpy mattress, but  still, clean sheets and a great view of the promised beach. 

And roof's safe dry shelter overhead.

After 75 of the wettest miles we've ever ridden. 

Route map and other details here.


Melody said...

Wow! Wonderful. Most wonderful by proxy. Godspeed to you and yours.

suzanne said...

OK, first of all, I loved the true-life escaping fur trader book.
Second, what a lovely description of dogged endurance.
Lastly; Melody? Fancy meeting you here!

Emma J said...

Thanks Melody. Yes, I rather think it might have been more wonderful by proxy, too.

Suzanne - you read Sea-Runners? I haven't yet.

ArtSparker said...

Looks paradisal.

Emma J said...

But it felt diluvian.

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