Monday, August 23, 2010

Coffee, Ocean, Hills, Friends, and...The End of the TransAm??? Really?!

True to form, the Dutch were up early and took off out of Florence just minutes after sunrise, leaving me, Tony, Robin, and Zack to linger somewhat over our packing and eating rituals. Everyone on the TransAm moves at their own speed when it comes to cooking, eating, packing, cleaning, riding, shopping, or whatever. It's understood that unless otherwise agreed upon, if you're not ready when someone else is, that person may leave you. Maybe you'll end up at the same town/camp as they do later that day and maybe you won't. And it's ok. No hurt feelings.

We didn't take too long to wrap things up and we warmed up gently for a few miles as we pedaled north, then west, on Florence's backroads looking for a street that would take us to U.S. Highway 101. When we did find a street that intersected with 101, we were pleased to discover that there was an espresso cart open for business on the corner, and even more pleased to see that there was a super-cute and smiley barista chick ready to serve us (why is it that all the espresso cart chicks are hot?!). She was a very good sport and handled the four probably-overly-flirtatious biker guys with aplomb...AND she made a MEAN mocha. She did agree to a photo, and while I'm sure she has a name, I never asked what it was.

The four of us turned left and headed north on 101 into a mild headwind. It didn't take long before Robin and Zack made it clear they wanted to ride much faster than Tony and I did, so we let them go on ahead and we chilled out on our own. Somewhere early on, Tony went ahead of me because I was wanting to stop for photo opportunities more frequently than he was. We were all heading toward the same place anyway (Newport, OR) because we'd heard there was an amazing bicycle shop there that had built a loft in their shop with couches, a TV, DVD's, and showers that touring cyclists were welcome to stop in and use. (The smallest such gestures of generosity and convenience are appreciated more than you can imagine, because most of us touring cyclists can't afford a hotel every night, we rarely get to lounge on any furniture other than a small sleeping pad, and often we skip a day or two between showers because we camp where there simply aren't any available.)

The morning ride out of Florence started out gentle enough passing inland through some forested flats and skirting some scattered, small, shallow lakes, but it fairly quickly turned into somewhat challenging coastal riding. Short, and then longer, moderately steep hills began to rise up under the asphalt, but at least the headwind was slight and the clouds and light mist kept the temperature nice and cool. There were stunning coastal views around every bend and there was very little traffic to deal with so all of this together (the challenge, the beauty, the weather, and the lack of traffic) added up to make this morning's pedal one of the most pleasant I experienced during my time on the TransAm. Here are some of the morning's photos:

Shortly before Newport, Tony had waited for me by the side of the road at another coffee shack. We then decided to get some fresh fish and chips...this little fish and crab joint at South Beach had the very BEST fresh halibut fish and chips I've ever had and Tony had a great bread bowl of clam chowder which was chock full of clams.

After lunch, we were ready to take a break and lounge out at the bike shop I mentioned above...after all, we'd already ridden 50 miles and it was only about noon. All we had to do was head up over the beautiful Newport bridge into town and find the bike shop. (In the photo below, we came over this bridge from the far right side, so it was a pretty slow and long climb.)

Riding over the bridge turned out to be a stressful and somewhat scary adventure. There is a button on a post by the side of the road just before the bridge that bicyclists are supposed to press before they start riding over the bridge, which we did. This button activates a blinking light that warns motorists of bicyclists' presence ahead on the bridge. Once on the bridge, however, the lanes are quite narrow and there is not a bike lane or a shoulder at all. Since the bridge is so long (about a mile?) and is primarily uphill when traveling north, cars do not wait fors slow cyclists; instead, one-by-one they (hopefully) hesitantly pass, trying to ensure they don't clip you or have a head-on collision with oncoming cars. Making things more freaky for the cyclist is the fact that not only is there no shoulder, there is a 2 foot high curb that is tall enough to catch a bike's panniers and cause a crash, which means it's not possible to get all the way to the right side of the lane and more safely out of the vehicles' path. It was a white-knuckled ride for sure, trying to both confidently hold my ground and make sure I was as far to the right as possible so the cars and trucks had enough room to safely pass me.

When I had nearly traversed the full length of the bridge, a small, blue, mid-1980's Toyota pickup truck pulled up alongside me. When it didn't pass, I looked over and the woman inside started screaming obscenities at me, dropping F-bombs with every second or third word as she, in no uncertain terms, let me know that she thought bicyclists were not allowed to ride on the bridge and were a danger to all the motorists trying to cross. I kept my cool and just let her spew her venom but it went on and on and on and on for about 30-40 seconds. She wouldn't pass me and she wouldn't leave me alone, and all the while I was continuing to focus on the ride, trying not to crash. I was just about to lose my cool and yell something back at her when I cast a glance toward the back of the pickup and saw a really sketchy-looking dude sitting there holding a pit bull by the collar and staring intently at me. I decided in that moment it was probably best I say nothing, lest I find them waiting for me at the other end of the bridge ready to throw down. Thankfully the moment ended innocuously enough as finally she moved on ahead; she probably felt better for unloading her hostility and I felt better for keeping my cool and for not having crashed.

Arriving in downtown Newport, we stopped at the Chamber of Commerce and got directions to the bike shop. When we arrived there, we found the three Dutch (Dennis, Marga, and their daughter Ellen), as well as Zack and Robin, all lounging around on couches, watching TV, taking naps, and reading books. Tony and I quickly joined right in and it was one big loungefest for several hours. Ultimately, several members of our group did end up going downstairs and buying various items from the bike shop and Robin had some bike repairs done so the shop did see some benefit from letting us hang out there all afternoon.

We only had six more cold and windy miles to ride to our campsite for the evening at Beverly Beach, OR. Beverly Beach was supercrowded and had space for thousands of campers; thankfully, the hiker/biker camping area is away from the rest of the RV's and vehicles. Therefore, our group of seven (along with another two cyclists we didn't know that showed up later) got to share a somewhat large area with four picnic tables and no other campers around. The campground also had some really great, clean, hot showers for us to use, which meant we didn't have to choose between staying sweatygross or submerging our sticky selves in a shallow, frigid, rocky creek.

The next day was a ride from Beverly Beach to Tillamook, OR. I got up early and left before everyone else because I planned to take a different route to Tillamook. I went inland instead of along the coast so that I could stop and visit my friend Cassie, her husband Jake, and their newborn baby girl Mackenzie in the tiny town of Beaver, OR. Beaver, OR was not on the route, but it was totally worth going out of my way to see them. I had a great afternoon catching up on things, meeting their new child, sitting in the hot tub, doing my laundry, and eating a wonderful lunch. It was really nice to spend some time with old friends and get out of touring mode for a few hours. Their new home is comfortable and very tastefully decorated, and they opened it right up to me, making me feel like family. Here is Cassie, her bernese mountain dog Dudley, and baby Mackenzie in front of their home:

Late in the afternoon I made my way into Tillamook and found our place of residence for the evening, my parents' RV. Recently my folks purchased a nice, used RV and rented a view lot from a friend of theirs right where the Tillamook River meets the Tillamook Bay; the RV has a beautiful view of the water and my parents gave permission for me and my friends to sleep there that night.

I left my cyclist friends at the RV for a while when my great friend Willow dropped by to visit me. She and I used to work together at the Tillamook Hospital and it was a real treat to get to see her for a few hours that night. She and I headed off in her car and went to see Cape Meares beach as well as walking out on the sandy spit that separates the Tillamook Bay from the open Pacific Ocean. Willow always brightens my day, and this one was no different; I was honored that she took time to come visit me as I rolled through town.

Back at the RV later that night, my friends Shaw and Lindsay from Portland showed up because Shaw planned to make the 75-mile final ride of the trip with me the next day, while Lindsay was going to drive a vehicle to Astoria and meet us at the end of the trail. That brought the total of people at the RV to eight: Shaw, Lindsay, me, the three Dutch folks, Robin, and Zack (Tony had other family he was staying with). Because we couldn't sleep eight people comfortably inside the RV, Robin chose to camp outside and Shaw and Lindsay slept in the back of their SUV.

We awoke once again to chilly Oregon coast temperatures in the low 50's, but this time the cold was accompanied by a constant drizzlemist that was lighter than rain but soaking nonetheless. Touring cyclists, though, are not deterred by a light rain and we all headed out around 7 a.m. with a nice egg and blueberry pancake breakfast in our bellies that Zack had whipped up in the RV. The entire group pitched in to clean up my parents' RV and considerately left it just as they had found it; what a great group of people I managed to hook up and ride with!

The gang split up just two miles down the road though when the Dutch went on ahead while the rest of us stopped at different places in Tillamook for coffee or snacks. Somehow though, Shaw and I ended up accidentally getting back on the road at exactly the same time and place as Robin and Zack, so we ended up forming a fast paceline together for the first 15 miles of the ride. We cruised, averaging about 20-22 mph, all the way to Rockaway Beach, OR; Robin and Zack pushed on ahead when Shaw and I stopped to wait there for some other Portland friends of mine, Michael and Emily, who were coming to meet me on the trip's final day, with Michael riding along with us on the Rockaway Beach to Cannon Beach portion of our journey.

Michael came cruising up on his superlight, sexy, 16-pound, carbon fiber road bike (compared to my loaded, 75-lb, steel touring bike) and met us curbside in Rockaway, while his wife Emily showed up in her car minutes later. After hugs all around and a 15-minute chat, Shaw, Michael and I all took off, the other Transammers all far ahead of us by this point. It was now just me with two great friends from Portland that I've known and cycled with for years who wanted to be able to share a portion of the TransAm experience with me. I can't tell you how much it meant to me to have some of my regular cycling buddies go out of their way and make a journey to the coast just to be, in some way, a part of my epic summer trip.

We stopped in a couple places along the way between Rockaway Beach and Cannon Beach. First we stopped at a little marina because it is owned by one of Cassie and Jake's friends. His name is Kelly and he was a real riot, with a quick, sharp wit and his head topped with a red fuzzy crab hat. This is me and Kelly, wearing crab hats and holding live crabs. I really want to title it "I caught crabs at Kelly's".

Outside the marina we saw some wild daisies growing alongside the road and couldn't resist this ridiculously manly pic:

As we rode up Neahkahnie Mountain, Michael blasted up ahead of Shaw and I. Steadily though, I was able to gain ground on Michael and not long before the summit I found a second wind and charged to catch him. I think he was surprised when he looked back to see that I was on his wheel again, given that the last time he'd looked back I was way, way behind...and because I was riding a loaded touring bike. He shifted and sped up and I went with him. He shifted again and sped up and I again went with him. A third shift that I matched brought us to the summit together. I've never been able to keep up with Michael before, even when on a light road bike, so I guess all the riding this summer finally paid off (well, that and the fact that he hardly trained this summer...hahaha...but I'll take what I can get because he's an animal)!! Here we all are at the Neahkahnie summit:

When we reached Oswald West State Park, we stopped to meet Karl and Sasha, some Physical Therapist friends of mine from Portland. They happened to be surfing that morning and really wanted to meet up with us as we passed by. We found Shaw's girlfriend Lindsay in the parking lot, locked up our bikes at the car, and then took off on foot down the trail down toward the ocean to look for Karl and Sasha. Before we ever reached the water, we met them coming up the trail in full wetsuits, surfboards tucked under their arms, wide smiles gracing their faces. After hugs and introductions on the trail, we walked back to the parking lot where we made a plan to meet in Cannon Beach for a pizza lunch. It took Shaw, Michael, and me about an hour to make the hilly ride to Cannon Beach which turned out to be perfect because Karl and Sasha had to return their rental surfboards on the way. We all arrived at approximately the same time and weaved our way through the incredibly busy little tourist town that Saturday afternoon, guided by the promise of pizza.

Because some of us were watching the bikes, some had to find a restroom, some were parking cars, and some were standing in the pizza line, we obviously weren't all together initially. Showing what an awesome group of friends I have (and maybe what a dirtbag I am), this is how lunch went down that day...

While I was standing there talking with Sasha, Shaw came up to me and asked if he could buy me a slice of pizza and a soda; I of course said yes and thanked him. Michael then walked up a few minutes later and asked if HE could buy me a slice of pizza; I glanced at Sasha and laughed but she didn't betray me when I answered in the affirmative to Michael. He then headed off to get in line to buy two slices. A few minutes later, after parking the car, Karl came up and the first thing he did was offer to buy me a slice of pizza. I'd already made Sasha promise to remain quiet if he offered anything because I thought it would be too funny if a third person offered to buy me lunch. Not only did Karl play right into my hand, but Sasha somehow kept a straight face and didn't utter a word, at least initially. After a few seconds though, we both bust out laughing and I had to tell Karl what I was up to. Karl laughed with us, but being the good sport he is, he said he'd still buy me a slice if I was hungry enough to eat three. I didn't want to be rude, of course, so clearly I accepted his offer. A hungry cross-country cyclist never turns down free food, right?! Ever.

So, when Shaw showed up with two slices, he and I sat down to eat. When Michael came up moments later with another slice for me, the joke was out and we all had a big laugh. After a few minutes, when Karl dropped off a THIRD slice in front of me, it was just classic and we all laughed so hard it was impossible to eat for a minute. Don't I have a great group of friends?!

After lunch, we all said goodbye to one another and went our separate ways. Michael started his solo ride back to where his wife Emily was waiting for him back in Cannon Beach. Karl and Sasha headed back to Portland. Lindsay left for Astoria in Shaw's SUV. Shaw and I mounted our beautiful black bikes for the final leg to Astoria and the end (no!!!!!!!!!) of the TransAmerica Trail.

The last 25 miles of the ride only took about an hour and a half because it was fairly flat, it didn't rain, and the wind was not too bad. We rode through Seaside, Gearhart, and the outskirts of Warrenton, OR and as we arrived in Astoria, the sun started showing through the clouds and the day became a nice one. All of a sudden we crossed the two short bridges that lead into Astoria proper, where we stopped for photos at the "Welcome to Astoria" signs to capture the moment of arrival.

The true end of the TransAmerica is at the Columbia Maritime Museum in downtown Astoria and it is only a half mile from where the last picture above was taken. Arriving at the museum, however, was a significant letdown! I don't know what I expected, but all of sudden we were there and it was......well....boring and anticlimactic! There was no ocean to dip my wheel into (Astoria is on the Columbia River, and the actual ocean is about 10 miles away), there was no finish line or fanfare, and it didn't end on a difficult climb. I was thinking to myself, "This can't really be it. No way." It was then that I looked up toward the hills and saw the Astoria Column looming large over the town and knew that my trip had to end there, with some kind of a challenge.

Shaw was game to ride up to the column, even after having already pedaled for 75 miles already that day. We told Lindsay what our plan was and then headed up. The road to the column leaves right out of downtown Astoria and is only a mile or two long but it's STEEP; in fact, it was right up there with the steepest grades I rode during the entire trip and that made it feel even better to end there since I like to end on a challenge. In fact, the challenge didn't end with the ride TO the Column because there are 164 steps in a spiral staircase that take you to the Column's viewing platform. We were rewarded at the top with spectacular 360-degree views which included the town of Astoria, the Pacific Ocean, and the Columbia, Youngs, and Lewis and Clark rivers.

Taken from the top of the Column, this is a view of the town of Astoria, the curvy road up to the Column, part of the bridge over the Columbia River, the Youngs River Bay, and, in the far distance, the Pacific Ocean.

Shaw and Lindsay at the top of the Astoria Column:

After we came back down the 164 steps from the top of the column to ground level, I very coincidentally bumped into Nick Tempest, another super-cool TransAm cyclist that I'd stayed an evening with in West Yellowstone, MT. He was on a much faster pace than I was so we never rode together, but we'd kept in touch and I was shocked to see him. He'd already ridden to the end of the TransAm and then continued north up to Vancouver, B.C. where he finished his trip. He then had taken a train back to Portland, met up with his mom who'd flown in from Virginia, and rented a car to drive to Astoria to show her the Oregon Coast. How crazy was it that he ended up at the Astoria Column at the same moment I did?!?! This is me and Nick:

After saying goodbye to Nick and his mom Joanne, we loaded up the bikes and drove down to dine in Astoria. Again, Shaw generously bought me a congratulatory dinner.

At this point, I honestly was still considering staying for a couple of days in Astoria to wait for and meet up with Phyllis and Jerry, some other TransAm friends I'd ridden with quite a bit over the summer but hadn't seen in a couple of weeks. I'd even considered continuing to tour for a while longer, perhaps heading north out of Astoria, into Washington up toward Seattle, and then making my way back down south to Portland. While waiting for our dinner, however, I called Phyllis and I found out they were three days behind me instead of two. I didn't want to stay three more days in Astoria and I didn't really feel like riding any longer on the Oregon coast with the current cold, windy, and drizzly weather. So ,after dinner, with the bikes and gear loaded up, Lindsay and Shaw began the drive home to Portland and I joined them.

I expected that we'd drive Highway 30 back to Portland, but unexpectedly the navigation system in their SUV routed us south along coastal Highway 101 for the first 20 miles, the same highway we'd ridden all day to GET to Astoria. Normally it wouldn't really matter which route we took to get back to Portland, but as we passed through Seaside, I realized that this was my opportunity to actually dip my wheel into the Pacific Ocean, something I hadn't done all along the Oregon coast because I'd mistakenly thought that I'd be able to do it in Astoria. Shaw and Lindsay graciously pulled over and Shaw helped me carry my bike down to the waterline, which was far away across the sand due to a very low tide. It was then that I was able to symbolically and officially end my trip with an ocean wheel dip.

And just like that it was over. I was mostly quiet on the ride back home because, though I felt very strong physically after months of bicycle travel, my emotions were really quite mixed. I wanted to continue, yet I wanted to go home. I wanted to reminisce, yet I didn't want to think about it being over. I was mentally tired, yet I was ready for and craving more. Walking into my house late that night, I didn't quite know what to do. I just sort of dropped everything on the floor and collapsed onto my own bed for the first time in nearly three months...psyched, sad, and thoroughly satisfied.

I did it.

Coming very soon will another post with random thoughts, memories, statistics, and photos from the TransAm ride....and, the summer's topper, Hawaii's Cycle to the Sun race from sea level up to the 10,000' summit of Haleakala volcano!!

Thanks, everyone, for taking the time to read my blog!


Sharon said...

Wow, Dennis ... we hate to see your journey come to an end too. We have so enjoyed reading your blogs as you traveled these United States. And look forward to your final wrap-up.

Just want you to know that we (along with S&A) wanted to surprise you at your final 'dip', but soon realized that the logistics were too vague. But we were there in spirit!

Looking forward to a blog from your Hawaii adventure!

Love, Aunt Sharon & Uncle John

The G Family said...

So happy for you buddy. I was truly sad that I wasn't able to complete the ride with you. Not sure how you will ever beat this experience but I know you will come up with something. I hope to see you soon. BTW, its your turn to have a party/get-together with all these friends that have put you up ( or put up with you:) Safe travels my friend