Biking the Oregon Coast Part 2, Day 2: From Lincoln City, Oregon to the Washington State Line

I woke up before the sun rose at the campground in Lincoln City. I had gotten to the site late the night before. There had been no one at the window, so I didn’t pay for the site. I left before anyone could hassle me over that. It was before six in the morning, but when I got to the road it was still maddeningly busy.

This trip was a microcosm of the longer trip I had done from Montana to Arizona almost four years before. I experienced all the feelings I had on that trip, but in a shorter period of time. There was the same need to go, the same confused and unclear longings, the same restlessness, the same moments of doubt, the same feelings of loneliness, the same experiences of accomplishment and jubilation. The feelings were condensed on this trip; they did not have the time to fade that they would on a longer journey. They came in shorter but more intense bursts. For me, the more intense the feelings are, the more rewarding. When the road loses its intensity, it’s time to go home, if you’ve got one. If the road is home it’s time to leave home for a time, settle down for a week or two.

There was a streak of insanity to the journey up the Oregon Coast. Each day I rode for over ten hours. Ten the first day, almost fourteen the second, twelve on the third, and thirteen hours on the last day. Why? I had a week to do it, but I did it in four days, and when I was done I felt like I wouldn’t be able to bike for at least four more. I could have averaged more like eight hours on the road per day instead of twelve. But maybe I wanted to test my endurance, as I pedaled by the eternally enduring sea.

So the trip was a microcosm.

I experienced moments of doubt. What am I doing? Why am I doing this? These feelings are probably normal for any trip, but this one somehow seemed more purposeless to me than any. To go out while resolving not to return is one thing. I can understand that. But to go for a four-day out and back tour, even along a beautiful stretch like the Oregon Coast—that is more difficult to understand. Yet I was doing it. I felt like I needed to do it. I certainly wasn’t doing it for fun. There were moments of exhilaration, feelings of strength. But more often it was painful. The wind on the way north was relentless, that cannot be stressed enough. The going was slow. It was work more than fun, work without the weekly check. It is easy to forget how to have fun, and often times I forget. I was not taking an easy ride up the coast. I was booking it, a man on a mission, but what my mission was exactly, I couldn’t say. When I started going and the wind was relentless, I just grimaced. Very well then, into the wind. I welcomed the wind with wild grins contorted by pain.

There was something holding me in Oregon, something I felt was concurrent with my purpose as an individual, but its hold was getting looser. Still, I couldn’t go out if I wouldn’t come back. But as long as I returned I could still go. I wanted to push through all feelings without pushing any of them under. I felt as unsettled and restless as I ever have. I knew the best way for me to deal with those feelings was to keep moving, keep cranking up the revolutions and intensity until I could crank no more. On the trip, that worked; after the trip ended I felt exhausted and could barely move for a few days and then the restlessness returned with a vengeance, what had been holding me loosened its grip still more, and I ended up returning to the coast to do Oregon’s southern route.

I experienced moments of loneliness. On a solo trip, there will be loneliness. I would rather be alone and experience occasional bouts of loneliness than be with another and desire to be alone. The desire to be alone is usually stronger in me than the desire for a companion. When it is not, then I feel lonely.

I remember passing a party on the outskirts of Tillamook on Saturday night, heading back from the Washington border. I saw a woman and man kissing out on the deck, the woman in a bikini. The sun was setting. I felt the loneliness; there was nothing to do but ride on, bringing the loneliness along for the ride.

As I rode, I thought about why that particular scene brought loneliness. It seemed so much like the essence of something, some ideal I had always imagined but never realized. The vast sweep of sand stretching out below, empty of people, the magnificent and rock-islanded Oregon coast, the sun sinking slowly, and a young couple having found their place feeling a part of it all, seeing each aspect of the scene—the vastness of the beach, the power of the sea, the brightness of the sun—reflected in the other’s eyes.

A small, for some reason nearly forbidden part of me felt lonely for that life. I knew I would never experience that much contentment, that much peace and easy happiness, for longer than a few hours or minutes. I cannot understand actively pursuing that life. I take those feelings as they come, but I do not pursue them. I have never been able to let myself experience them for too long. There has to be some conflict, some war with the self, some divine discontent, in order to live a creative life. So I tell myself, at least. My creative output would have to be my romantic sunset night. I too was a part of this scene, a part of it all, not least because there was no one else there with me. My aloneness made me an integral part of what a companion might take away from. So my rationalizations went. As I continued moving, the thoughts slipped away like the sinking of the sun. I kept moving as it started to get dark.

sunset oregon post 2

But that was the following day. This day was still Friday, one of the most physically difficult days of the trip. I don’t know how to write about the actual biking. I just kept pedaling until I got to where I ended up, which was the brilliantly named town of Seaside. It was painful; I was in despair most of the time; I cursed the cars and wind; I belted out Dylan and Zevon again; and I talked to a long-bearded man who was walking from San Francisco to Seattle. I thought it was strange when he said he was walking. We were in the town of Tillamook, renowned for cows and what comes from cows, and we were both walking . I could see that he was walking. That was evident. I was also walking. Later when riding it hit me that he actually meant he was walking the coast, up to Seattle. That was a more impressive feat.

The long-bearded man was from Flagstaff and wearing a NAU shirt; apparently, he had spent some at the Wednesday community lunch offered at Prescott College. That was quite a coincidence. When I said I went to Prescott College, he said, “One of them, huh?” I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but I answered, “yes and no.” I didn’t explain further but if I did I would’ve said,

“I go to the school but I do not feel like ‘one of them’, or one of anything, save the human race occasionally. And though I like being outdoors, and most people at Prescott College like being outdoors, that alone does not make me one of them. In fact, that is one of the reasons I find it hard to be there. How do I distinguish myself when there are so many others with the same interests, the same passions. The need to stand out has always been much stronger in me than the need to fit in. However, my natural inwardness does not usually allow me to stand out, except when writing takes my place, and the words are authentic and passionate. And how does it take my place? What place is there to take? Who is authentic? What is passion if invisible? And where do I go if writing takes my place? Who goes? Who writes? Who knows? Go home! You long-bearded expatriate from Flagstaff! Go moan for man! Go eat the famous Tillamook cows! And how authentic is it when it takes my place? You ask. As authentic as a place holder? Have I placed my trust in images and distorted facts? Even you, yesterday you had to ask me where it was at? I couldn’t believe after all these years, you didn’t know me any better than that?”

http://videosift.com/video/Bob-Dylan-Idiot-Wind-1976 (very cool version)

And then the long-bearded expatriate of Flagstaff would probably be mightily confused because indeed I had just met him less than two minutes ago and had not known him for all these years, unless he knew the Dylan song and then perhaps we would have joined in a duet, and after finishing and radically butchering most of the song I would’ve said, ‘Let’s go, I’ll walk my bike to Seattle with you’ and we would have taken off for the road north and I would never have gotten back to school because I’d be walking up the coast with this man who would call me Alias while I would call him Augustine.

But none of that happened because I just answered, ‘yes an no.’ We talked for a few minutes, I wished him luck, then I took off again for the Washington state line.

The wind was howlin’ and outrageous but I just put my head down and pedaled slowly and steadily until I made it to Seaside close to sundown. All the tent sites were equally as outrageous in price as the wind was in power, so I camped by the side school which I hoped was closed for the summer. Anyways it was Friday night. I ate a burger in a fish joint and then went and saw a movie by myself: Spy. It was very funny but I nearly fell asleep during it for exhaustion.

I slept without issue that night by the school, woke up late, and went to a continental breakfast at the Quality Inn. Illegal! You rotten vagrant! You might roar with scorn and derision in your eyes, to which I probably shrug my shoulders and give no response. Though I was itching to get back to the road, now being only about twenty miles from the state line and the turn around point and the wind at my back, food was necessary, and also free, if illicit. No issue at the Quality Inn either, and some quality eggs, sausages, granola, blueberry muffins, and I forget what else. On previous trips I had once done this often without shame, feeling I deserved it from the riding I was doing, but I was starting to feel slightly uneasy. I was older now, nearing the age when other people were making money, maybe even sleeping at hotels and getting the continental breakfasts with good consciences and emptier wallets. Well, regardless, I was starving and felt I had the right to the food that would probably been thrown out anyways. I wasn’t causing anyone any pain. Entitlement! Rationalization! You might roar with scorn and derision in your eyes, to which I would probably shrug my shoulders and give no response, though perhaps I would secretly agree.

So I ate and went back on the road, where I would ride up to Astoria and get pummeled by wind from what felt like every direction as I rode over the bridge to Washington in order to promptly turn around and head back over the bridge to Oregon. Insanity! You might roar, enjoying yourself now with glee, to which I would openly and wholeheartedly agree, with a shrug and perhaps a wild yodel, now with the wind at my back.

Washington

Biking The Oregon Coast (Part 1): From Florence to Lincoln City

I had planned on starting from Eugene but there wasn’t a place to sleep. Even the Wal-Mart was not an option. No overnight parking, a sign said. I kept driving west towards the coast. The first town off the 101 was Florence. I parked by the beach and slept in the car, the windows down so I could hear the wind and sea outside.

I woke up as the fog was clearing, changed into a swimsuit and ran up the dunes that separated me from the sea. I jumped into the ocean and got out right away. It was low 50’s in the water and not much warmer outside. I got back into the car. I wasn’t sure if I was going to start biking that day, so I had spent a couple hours trying unsuccessfully to do some writing in the library. When I finally decided to get going, it was almost noon, and the wind had picked up in earnest. It usually started about 10 in the morning. I wanted to bike down to the California state line or up to the Washington state line. Washington was further, and I had a few days, so I headed north.

I parked the car and got my panniers ready in a Fred Myers. I saw signs here that also said No Overnight Parking, but I thought I’d risk it. There wasn’t any better place to park. I was feeling somewhat paranoid. I didn’t know anyone, and I just wanted to get on the road. I didn’t want anyone to pull up and ask me what I was doing or tell me that there was no overnight parking here. Usually, I enjoy the feeling of being a stranger, unknown and passing through, but only when I’m actually passing through. Be in the same place for too long and you might start to get recognized! Better to go unrecognized. Invisibility has always been the most desirable superpower to me. As a traveler, invisibility comes naturally. You blend in on the outside while still remaining unblended on the inside. Actually, often times you don’t blend in on the outside. The weight on the back of my bike would clearly distinguish me as an outsider. Very well, an outsider is usually what I prefer to be.

I quickly threw in some food and clothes in the panniers, not thinking all that much about just what I was throwing in, loaded on the tarp and sleeping pad, checked for a second to see if I had everything, and started pedaling. It was about noon, and I moved slowly for the first few miles, the same way I moved for most of the journey north. I hadn’t reckoned with the wind, which was strong and blowing directly into my face. I would also have to get used to the weight, which was 60 pounds at the least and probably more. Hunter Thompson writes in The Rum Diary, “I had a flash of something I hadn’t felt since my first months in Europe—a mixture of ignorance and a loose, ‘what the hell’ kind of confidence that comes on a man when the wind picks up and he begins to move in a hard straight line toward an unknown horizon.”

This is how I felt. Instead of despairing over the wind, I felt reckless, adventurous. I was pedaling against a powerful force; the wind was brutal, punishing, unforgiving, and indifferent to all comers. So be it. I would rather make my way against the indifferent wind along the rocky splendor of the Oregon Coast than try to make some legal tender by going up the actively cruel ladder of human production and consumption.

The miles were hard-earned from the get-go. Highway 101 climbs out of Florence before it drops down to Yachats. So I climbed. It took me a long time to get to Yachats, maybe three hours to go the 24 miles, maybe more. I realized in my paranoid rushing in the Fred Myers parking lot, I had forgotten a phone charger. I wanted to keep my phone charged in case I decided to go a different route or to look up things to do in the towns I passed through.

John owned the ramshackle electronic shop in Yachats, cords and wires all over the place. He only took cash. ‘The grocery store gives cash back,’ he told me. ‘You can pick up a snickers.’ I realized that was exactly what I craved, so I went to the grocery store next door, picked up two snickers and an espresso drink. It was a habit I would continue through the four-day trip, during which I ate horribly. Then I went back and talked with John about the wind. That was really the only thing on my mind. The wind has that way about it, clearing the mind of anything else but itself, the force you’re biking into. John told me that the difference in temperature between the coast and the inland was as much as forty degrees this day. It stayed that way into the weekend. 60-65 on the coast, close to 100 inland. Apparently, this difference was the cause of the ferocious wind, my brutal enemy on the way north and my good dear friend on the way south. He said some other things but my mind deemed them too scientific to understand.

I wished him good health (he was just getting over a flu) and then again it was to the road. I had gotten over one mighty hilly section and for a while the terrain was relatively flat. I had passed one woman a few miles before Yachats who looked like she was in utter despair, her head in her hands on the side of the road. I felt like if I stopped it would be a while before I continued, so I didn’t stop and give her the support I couldn’t have given her anyways. Now there were bikers going the other way, with the wind, looking exuberant and light. The opposite of me. They would wave happily at me and I would grimly put up a hand. There were many of them going the other way, but in my days on the road, that one woman in despair was the only one I saw going north against the wind.

I had driven this route the previous December, when I was heading from Alaska, where I had spent the fall with my cousins, to Arizona, where I was going to start college. I remembered staying the night at the Dublin House in Yachats and then getting off the 101 the next morning, driving to Eugene and getting on the I-5. Back then, somewhere north of Florence and south of Lincoln City, somewhere around where I was biking now, I had jumped into the ocean, though both the water and the outside temperature were in the 40’s. I had written this a few weeks afterwards,

“There was a definite feeling, on this December day on the Oregon shore, that I was not an important part of this scene in any way. Whether I or anyone else was here, the sea would remain, sometimes calm and sometimes violent, the waves would crash, the islands of rock and trees would stand. It was a reassuring reminder, the patient indifference of the lively inhuman elements.

In the summer, I’m sure the beach would have swarmed with men and women and children. But today it was empty of people and full of life. I wasn’t distracted by bathers and surfers, and I was able, when I paused for a few moments before I got to the car, to appreciate the beauty that surrounded me—the massive rock islands that stood to the south, the light Irish drizzle that fell from the low grey sky, the seagulls that soared north with the coastal winds. The realization that I was irrelevant to the scene was a simple one, but it freed me from the narrowing self-absorption that comes from driving alone, one of many poor souls detained in cars on the endless road, with only billboards for company, brought me back to the larger open world around me, the sands and trees and sea, including me but not requiring my presence.”

more oregon coast

oregon coast

The self-absorption that driving brings does not come as much when biking. Because cycling is a physical struggle, the mind has no time to sink into self-pity or self-absorption. It must be in tune with the body, focused on pushing forward. When the body is not moving, the mind is free to do what it pleases, to be absorbed with itself and unresponsive to the outside world. Biking allows for another type of absorption, an absorption in movement and activity. On the coast, I was able to be present and responsive to the world of rock and sea and sky and trees. I was forced to be present; I could not help but be where I was. If my mind drifted at all, the biking would quickly become more difficult. The body needed the mind in order to persevere. The coastal winds added another element that required even greater presence. To ride north on the Oregon coast in the summer is a long and arduous lesson in patience and acceptance. I had to let go of any idea of myself as strong, as physically powerful. I was no match for the wind. To work with the wind at all I had to go slowly. There was no other way. I had to put my head down and endure the pain without expending unnecessary energy.

I continued on into the night. Each time I wanted to stop for the night, I told myself to keep on for just a few more miles. Who knows why? I simply wanted to keep going.

oregon sunset

I was also in a stretch without many places to camp for the night. Newport was fifty miles from Florence and Lincoln City was eighty. Between the two, I don’t remember seeing any places to camp other than RV campgrounds, where tent sites are exorbitant, up to $40 a night. One of my rules of the road is never paying to sleep if I can help it. If I do have to pay, the maximum price I am willing to spend is $6, the price of a tent site in the national forest and state park campgrounds. I was also riding through a busy stretch. This first day on the road was a Thursday but it might just as well have been a weekend day. The highway stayed like this all the way up from Florence to the Washington State line and back again. The noise was at times unbearable for me, and so I put in headphones, diluting my ability to be present. But most of the time, even when I was riding right next to the ocean, I could not hear it or smell it because of the noise and exhaust from the cars. So I listened to Bob Dylan, belting out his Blood on the Tracks album.

“But me I’m still on the road,
Heading for another joint.
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from another point of view
Tangled up in blue”

Or Warren Zevon:

“Gridlock, up ahead
There’s a line of cars as far as I can see
Gridlock, goin’ nowhere
Roll down the window, let me scream”

Finally, past 11, I pulled into a state park in Lincoln City, about eighty miles from where I had started in Florence.

oregon caost sunset