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I will be in Portland, Oregon on June 26, or a few days before, and meeting my 17 year old nephew Jake who will be riding with me soon. (See previous letter http://tinyurl.com/bm3zt5v) This has turned into a big family event because Jake is flying out from Indiana with my sister and brother-in-law (his parents) and even my dad (Jake's grandfather). I can't wait to see everyone and celebrate the start of our tour. During the next year I hope Jake learns all the things that only a crazy traveling uncle can offer. The things not learned in school and far beyond the black and white of small town Indiana. These shades of gray in-between the absolutes are experiences that round out the realities of life. It's a different kind of education on the road but enriching in many unexpected ways.
The challenge for me while we are in Portland is, in 7 days or less, to turn my athletic but not yet a cyclist nephew into a bike tourist on a serious international trip to Central America. We are starting from scratch and need a touring bike, panniers and all the camping gear for him. My equipment was not new when I started in Phoenix four months ago (more below) and a few things have recently worn out and need to be replaced as well like my drive train, tent and some other stuff. I even wore out my Chris King headset which some cyclist say can't be done. Between the two of us it is going to be a bike gear buying extravaganza! I've never been to Portland before but I have heard enough to know that few places in the USA are as well set up to put everything together and kick off an epic bike trip as America's number 1 bike city. If you live in town and are knowledgeable about bike touring gear and all the Portland shops please contact me. I've been around enough to know the importance of the kind of info only locals can provide and to get all this done on time I may need help.
Phoenix to Portland: My Spring Tour
I have had a wonderful tour from Phoenix, Arizona to here. March - June. At first I crossed the vast desert places like Joshua Tree and Death Valley but then I switched over to the Sierra mountain range and cycled through Sequoia, Yosemite and on up the California mountains to Oregon. All places I have never been before. As you read this I am headed to Crater Lake NP and north to Portland. My current updates and all the pictures for the recent past are here http://bit.ly/90xo0b
Traveling alone has its advantages and disadvantages. As a couple you look cute and adventurous but as a single man you can appear creepy and dangerous – at least to some. Decades of cable news has made many in America fearful so I have learned not to approach people first. But solo I can ride as fast and hard as I like and my fitness is the best it has been in many years. I am not sure how this works out mathematically but I also seem to carry a lot less weight on my bike. I am happy and at peace on the road and it will always be my home weather I share it or not.
What Do You do if Something Breaks and Can't be Repaired?
I had my stove break down a week ago and I needed a few days to order a new part. This was good timing because I also desperately needed a few days off the bike anyway. I was expecting to rest two or three days in Ashland but when that fell through I rode on and my legs were screaming because of too many consecutive days in the saddle. So I started looking at maps for a good place to hang out, order a new stove pump on the internet, rest up and wait for the package to arrive. In order to avoid the cost of a hotel I looked for a small town that is still big enough to have a food store, library with wifi, bar and a post office so I can receive a package general delivery. There also must be free camping nearby – preferably legal where I can build fires to cook on until my stove is running again.
It took a few miserable days to get to Prospect, Oregon. A hard march in bad weather without my stove. I camped in some questionable places and fires were not possible even though it was near freezing temps in the mornings. I have cooked on camp fires hundreds of times through the years and can do it pretty fast but there are times it simply is not possible. I am also aware of all the DIY stoves made from cans but I could not find alcohol.
At this point in life I expected to have a few more creature comforts than I normally exist on but cold oatmeal and coffee is more hardship than I can accept. Well......., I did cope several days until I fixed the problem but I seem to notice these struggles more than in the past. I guess I can still be a tough old dog when needed but it is less voluntary than it used to be.
I ordered my pump on the library wifi then rode 2km north to the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest where I looked for a good place for a campsite suitable for several nights. I have spent a good deal of my life living in the woods and know what I want. Even though it is legal to camp in national forest lands being completely hidden from all humans was still important. I would be hanging out in town a lot and did not want my camp discovered while I was away. The best way to hide is to find campsites where cars can not go or even park near. In this country if you can not drive to a place it pretty much does not exist. So, I pushed my loaded bike through the trees to a alpine meadow where the sun shines through and dries things out. This part of Oregon is wet and deep forest shade seems kind of damp here to me – at least this time of year so soon after the snow melt.
Funny thing; When I went to find rocks to build my fire ring all I can find is super light pumice stones. I have seen these rocks in stores and science classrooms but I can not say I have ever seen them in nature before but they are the only rocks I can find here. Because they are so light I can carry huge amounts at one time. I built an elaborate fire pit with special areas to scrape coals in and set my pans on. At least I get hot coffee in the morning and cooked dinners at night while I rest up and wait on my stove pump in the mail. So, picture me writing you by campfire light hidden in a mossy Oregon forest and you can see the mood which this letter was written. The only noise besides me typing and the fire is a hard working woodpecker across the meadow.
Speaking of noise - last night I heard two owls calling to each other and then heard something big walk by. I have had a couple Black Bear encounters recently where I have to scare them off by yelling and waving my arms but this was no bear. Bears walk clumsily through the trees and do not care about making noise. Last night was something big but much more graceful. Humans have a rhythmic heavy sound when they walk that is unmistakable – even when they are trying to be sneaky. It was probably a large deer or elk tiptoeing through the forest. I rolled over and went back to sleep. Years ago I would have thought the noise was a band of roaming thieves and been up with my flashlight but after thousands of nights camping I have learned to pay attention to the subtle details of the woods instead of assuming the worst.
That's about it for now. Stay tuned to see how it goes with Jake as we start out with the western portion of the Transamerica bike trail. There are bound to be some big adventures and excitement along the way south. Traveling on a bicycle almost guarantees the unexpected and provides more than a few stories you can tell the rest of your life.
I have used several brands of bicycle panniers and
highly recommend Ortlieb.
See Why I switched to Ortlieb waterproof Panniers?
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