Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Bike Report || i will be glad and rejoice: collaboration #9

august 22, 2013

cycling the san juans - Day 1
Portland, OR,  to Mount Vernon, WA


Dawn: birds witter and coo.  The garage door rolls up.  Sun reaches in to touch our bikes: oiled and adjusted, tires firm.  Water bottles and camelbacks filled, panniers packed and hefted and repacked. We will carry nothing extra, but will have everything we need.

This is the closest glimpse I ever get of the kind of life I keep trying to balance into. So I like to indulge in this moment and dwell on it -- heading out into the morning air with my life's necessities balanced between two wheels, with my heart's inhabitants riding all around me, all going the same way together.

This is joy. Pure and simple.  And I will be glad.

For weeks I've been working out an itinerary, figuring daily distances, arranging lodging, securing tickets, procuring rain slicks and victuals.  Now all that paper cocoon is about to burst into colored wings.  I already know we won't do everything we have written down.  There will be wrong turnings and weather, but for now, rolling down the hill, my bike heavy with provisions, only gladness keeps appearing in front of my front tire.

We pedal strong: three road bikes, one folding, and a tandem.  Our youngest Mijo had wanted to pedal solo this time. But he has also spent this past week worrying about being able to keep up.  Though he's been practicing all summer on longer and longer rides, learning to climb hills and build up stamina, we agree at last that the tandem with his Dad is the best safeguard for completing the 285 miles we plan to ride in the next ten days.

Our immediate goal is Union Station in Portland where we'll catch the train.  About two hours of good riding away.


The weather is delightful, a little cool.  We are strong.  Stronger than we've ever been - Eldest and Middlest in their grown and active bodies, YoungSon enjoying his first burst into the growth that will take him to manhood.  Even I have left behind the title I've held so long (The Slow One) -- this summer's spinning classes have paid off!  My legs just move at a faster pace and without thinking about it, I set a brisk pace and we begin to laugh as we click along faster and faster.

We are like a squadron of hawk, a congregation of eagle riding down the slope of the wind.
We surely do not look that way - but that's the way it feels.


Once at the station - where we arrive in good time - there's trouble with the tandem.

I keep falling for the idea of combining train and bike, but so far in my experience, it's not the marriage of true minds but mostly just impediment.  At least they didn't cancel on us last minute this time.  But Amtrak is not the train system a great nation deserves.  Despite all my phone calls to ensure that there would be room for the tandem on the train, that the tandem counted as one bike and not two, once we arrive we hit a wall of NO.

Fritz pushes back as if his irritation and frustration will matter to them.  It doesn't.  I try conciliation, "We'll appreciate anything you can do to help us.  We did proceed in good faith -- " They are unmoved but fetch someone more articulate who offers us a possibility. Maybe if we can break the tandem down -- which it's built to do but a pain -- and fold the folding bike up into its case and count it as luggage since we only have tickets for five bikes.  And there are only five bike hooks not ticketed to someone else on this train.

Fritz is not pleased, still maintaining his right and his cause. 
The tandem balks and refuses to be separated.
I take a walk around the station, praying for a peaceful heart, that inner refuge in time of trouble.
And also, please, that the tandem will be less stubborn than any of that company of men.

When I come back the tandem is in two parts and Fritz's mutters have begun to dwindle down.


 We wait on long polished wood benches beneath the high ornamented ceiling.  The station begins to fill.  I will be glad, I choose, choosing joy again.  And why not?


There are reasons to rejoice just in the light pouring through the high windows.  The pattern in the stone that clads the walls.  It's surely the beauty of these stations that keeps convincing me to give the train another try.  And hope springing as per its usual tendencies.  Meanwhile, Middlest's camelback springs a leak.  The boys, from Fritz on down, bounce up and fetch paper towels and the grand mop-up ensues.



The train arrives.  We walk our bikes out and lift them into their corral and then find our own car and settle into our seats.  We make a lunch of bagel and salami, hummus and veggies.  The girls sit together ahead of us and talk with their heads together like they've done forever, as if they've never been apart.  The boys read magazines while Fritz repairs Middlest's flat tire at the table between us.   Having stayed up late seeing to the last of the packing, I sleep.



I awake to hilarity from the group across the aisle.  And must shake myself before I can choose to be glad at that awaking.  They're from Vancouver, British Columbia: a woman and her husband/partner, her uncle and his wife.  They sound German and are very friendly.  We talk about Portland which they have just seen for the first time.  Voodoo Donuts.  Pioneer Square.  The Waterfront. And Alzheimer's which is Eldest's area of research -- of course they are amazed she's published papers, worked the lab, she has such a baby face. They ask about Middlest's studies and she tells them about peace-building and mediation.  They tell us stories about all their catastrophic bike rides.  More hilarity, now on both sides of the aisle.

Then the beautiful views outside our windows draw us all to look out across Puget Sound. And I do not have to remind myself to rejoice.


We pass Seattle proper and arrive in Mount Vernon in early evening, already coming on to dark.


It takes a while to reassemble the tandem.  A while we hadn't figured into the time.  But not to worry -- we're only a quick and easy 5 miles from our beds tonight.  Grateful for the headlamps and back lights we'd decided we needed yesterday at REI, we head out of town south for the Deep Woods Cabin at the Whispering Firs Bed & Breakfast -- which sounds just the place to sleep long and deep.

We ride through charming older streets. 
Cross the railroad. 
Miss a turn.
End up on the wrong side of the freeway.

Everything is good: the map I've printed off from Google shows that there's a road just further down  that will take us over the freeway and drop us off exactly where we want to be.  In the dark we ride along the empty access road, slowing to shine our headlamps on the road signs.  We find many roads that take us right up to the freeway.  And all those many roads stop just shy of crossing over.  We pedal past the E version of the W Stackpole we are looking for.

To give the despairing amongst us a little heart, we stop and eat a honey stick, a fruit snack, sesame crackers -- whichever works best for each.  The air is heavy and sweet with the smell of something ripening.  Is it corn? we wonder. The air is so delicious it must have nutritive value.  I know I should be feeling worried that my navigating plus the train's inconveniently late scheduling has stranded us out on the road after dark but though we are tired and running out of vim, it is the most beautiful night.  No traffic at all and the moon is misty and full in a velvet dark sky.  The air is heavenly.  Each time I turn to tell them how lovely, I notice my family's faces lightening despite the dark.  This is not tragedy, perhaps adventure.  Certainly some road will soon take us over to the other side.

And certainly one does.  We come at last to Fir Island Road where we cross over and head back up towards the road that we've been looking for.



It's so dark.  We've come an extra unplanned five miles.  And though we're all lit up like Christmas trees with flashing lights, eager we are not for any more night exploring, so Middlest uses the GPS on her phone to reassure ourselves that we are on the right road.   Which we are.  Which makes us all feel very glad. And we bike forward with light hearts into the dark.

Until we cross over a small bridge and come to the end of the road.

There are no lights to be seen.
There's no more pavement.
There's nothing promising on either side.

But we have phones and a phone number.  We call our hostess and yes, this is the right place -- just to our right, that gravel road winding sharply up the hill?  That's the one! And then a long steep climb in the dark up and up -- very long, very steep, very dark -- so steep and dark that we have to get off our weary bikes and push.  We could groan but instead laugh at ourselves and at this certainly supererogatory*   hill.

Then, so hackneyed but not any less heavenly a vision, we see a light in the trees -- the lantern she said she'd put out -- and   Ah!! cabin!  water bottles! shower! clean sheets!

Bed!!  Our gladness over each of these so much more immense than we could have imagined when we set out this morning.

Already we've begun shredding the paper plan -- an hour and a half later than scheduled and closer to 40 than 30 miles. But here we are.  Rejoicing.  All safe and soon all soundly asleep.




*observed or performed to an extent not enjoined or required (!!!)














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