I sit at my kitchen table on this overcast Sunday morning, warmed by tea and sheepskin slippers and classical music. My body feels strong and efficient and accomplished. Part of this grounded peaceful feeling has to do with eating healthy and maintaining an active body and mind. But mostly, it’s because I’m a two-wheeled evangelist. In other words, I get inexplicable joy from riding my bike and then telling everyone about it. “Two wheeled evangelism” is a term that my fellow bike-commuting colleague, Jesse, coined when referencing our efforts to get more people on our school campus to commute to our “remote” suburban oasis on bike. I don’t own a car and don’t plan on it for as long as I can (I hope it’s years.) I own two bikes but only ride one. And this one is especially special because with much help from a good friend, I bought the frame and all the parts and built it up myself. I even threaded the spokes and trued the wheels.
Though biking can be a solitary sport, I try to make it more inclusive. Hence the evangelism part. Just like making music, part of the joy of riding bikes is sharing rides with other people, exchanging routes, “talking shop” on parts and maintenance techniques. Yes, I love feeling of being alone, taking the descent on the back of a mountain pass, feeling the exhilaration of the wind drying the sweat on my face. I love the solitude of my commute to work, straining up the biggest of hills and arriving at work having sorted out my morning thoughts. I love the quiet contemplation of a tree-dappled street, hearing my bike wheels whir. But my most joyous moments on bike have been with other people.
When I visited Lopez Island for the first time, I remember being amazed by an island custom of waving. Everyone waved to each other in greeting, acknowledgement, friendliness, or joyous hello. I have been trying to implement this into my riding practice. As solitary bike riders, we certainly see each other as we speed by on opposite sides of the road. But most of the time, that’s all the happens-speeding by, head-down. Maybe there’s a head nod, but not much more. I try to raise my hand in greeting, offer a friendly smile to those serious-looking spandexed speed riders. I hope that that this enlivens their ride just a little bit. After all, we are both on our bikes- we have something in common then, right? Sometimes when I’m crossing over the Hawthorne Bridge early in the morning, a whole crew of coffee-offering, donut-buying people have set up a stand at the Western end of the bridge, offering warm, sugary goodness to bike commuters. I rarely have time to stop but I’ve often thought how beautiful this is, this act of connection, an acknowledgement of the similarities that exist between strangers. Tip your hat to cyclists- we can all identify with each other and our crazy ways.
This year, I was lucky enough to propel myself to many campsites to sleep under the stars. I rode my first century. I accompanied high school students on bike trips, offering my “mechanical expertise” and enthusiasm for bike culture. I planned a bike camping trip for friends, three of which had never propelled their own camping gear on two wheels. Together, we were able to experience beauty together that we would have never noticed when in a car. And we went far! We accomplished physical feats together that would have seemed impossible just the day before. We shared in the experience of communal living, even for one night. We enjoyed the slowness of bike travel and found little wonderful places we never knew existed. We shared conversation, side by side or wheel to wheel, while covering miles of rural roads, urban roads, and state-created bike paths. We fixed flats and wrenched racks onto frames. We rode our bodies to their physical limits and ate curry from a foil packet afterwards. This has been a good year in the saddle and I hope to share some of my highlights with you now.
April, 2014: Hillsboro, OR to Seaside, OR
This was my first century ride! It began as an innocent 60-mile ride to the coast, from the Hillsboro MAX stop along Highway 8, to the Wilson River Highway (Highway 6) which led us up and over the Coast Range on one of the most beautiful cycling highways that exists in Oregon. After we were spit out onto the wide open, rolling farmland and estuaries that led to the ocean, we began winding our way North to Seaside. We soon realized that Seaside was not just a hop, skip, and a jump from Tillamook- it was actually a very hilly, 40 mile slog up a busy highway without a wide shoulders. Thank God we had the Pacific Ocean to keep our weary muscles company and that I had a commemorative Seaside Brewery pint glass (filled with beer, of course) waiting for me when we had completed the most grueling ride of our lives!
May 2014: Portland, OR to Champoeg State Park, OR
35 miles each way
This ride was a gem. Maybe it was the quiet, rolling farmland of Willamette Valley Wine Country. Maybe it was our group camp site at Champoeg State Park that seemed so protected, so special just for bikers. Maybe it was the winery across the street with goat cheese and crackers galore and over 20 wines to taste. Maybe it was wine-drenched naps in the grass before dinner. Maybe it was two friends visiting us in cars, bringing salad and liquor, and fire-building skills. But I am sure that it was riding all those miles with 5 of my best friends, sharing bike love.
May 2014: The Covered Bridges of Cottage Grove, OR
I helped lead this bike trip for high school students at Catlin Gabel School, where I work. We drove to Cottage Grove, OR and made camp at Baker Bay Park along Dorena Lake. Over two days, we wrote the entirety of the Row River Trail and rode through at least six covered bridges along the Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway, all now closed to cars. It was a history-filled trip and I enjoyed discussing disc brakes, derailleurs, and gearing ratios with budding teenage bike-lovers.
July 2014: A new bike and Dodge Park
26 miles each way
At this point, my new bike was done and Annie, Sean, and I celebrated by venturing out on an overnight to a new park I had only just learned about as a bike-camping destination from my co-worker. It’s always great to find new destinations accessible from the Springwater Corridor and this one was perfect for a quick out-and-back. We rested tired muscles in the Sandy River where it meets the Bull Run River, we ate chocolate below tall trees, we made a fire and enjoyed its warmth in the summer evening chill. We luxuriated in summer!
July 2014: Portland, OR to Milo McIver State Park
33 miles each way
My friend Rachel had never gone bike camping before and I was determined to go with her before her and her husband, Eli, moved to New York State. I had been wanting to bike to the Clackamas River for months and now was our chance! Highway 224 before you reach Estacada, OR is not the best stretch of highway to grace cycling routes, but we endured it for the peace and beauty of the stretch that follows (see pictures above.) After riding into Milo McIver from the secret bike-accessible entrance and setting up our camp, we found a relatively calm section of river to swim in before enjoying a meal with a Portland friend, Beth. I love it when non-bike friends can join you in solidarity at the end of a ride. Plus they often bring good food and drink!
This trip with my uncle and his girlfriend has already been documented in its entirety on this blog. Follow the live link above to read my travel notes and musings. It was an incredibly beautiful trip and a true physical accomplishment. I can’t wait for the next tour!
October 2014: Government Camp, OR to Detroit, OR
This was another trip with Catlin Gabel high school students- but a bit more adventurous this time. We winded our way along US Forest Service Roads 42, 4210, and 46 in the Mt. Hood National Forest. A testosterone-dominated trip, I was one of only two female cyclists, the other being a high school student. We climbed small mountain passes, saw Mt. Jefferson from many angles, played ultimate frisbee on the highway, and got lost briefly (oops!) from the rest of the group when making a wrong turn. All and all, I relished being able to enjoy the forest roads and the company of older students, even though they were smelly high school boys.
November 2014: Portland, OR to Vista House- Columbia Gorge Scenic Area, OR
My friend Alexander arrived at our house in late October, road weary but exhilarated to have just finished the TransAmerica Bike route from North Carolina to Oregon. Annie, Sean, and I were excited to host him and his bike for a few weeks and even more excited to take him out on the roads that we love best. On a misty, brisk November morning we headed out East to Gresham via the Springwater Trail. We blotted out suburban Gresham and sighed relief when busy boulevards gave way to the Old Highway and trees turning majestic colors, their last show before relinquishing life. Our destination was the Vista House on Crown Point, a historic site that was built in the early 1900s to commemorate the Old Highway and the view of one of Oregon’s greatest wonders. We were relieved that we had picked a rare windless day with no rain! (Crown Point can receive some of the most viscous winds in area, at up to 100 mph.) The fog lifted ever so briefly for us to glimpse the view just before we were leaving to coast back to Portland.
January 2015: Hillsboro, OR to Vernonia, OR and back
The last time I rode the entirety of this trail was with Paul, and Sean on the the first few dozen miles of their thousands-mile tour to Denver, CO. I was excited to return just yesterday on a chilly winter day, mist hugging our rain coats and the heavy trees that line the trail. We enjoyed conversation as we worked our muscles, rewarding ourselves with burgers and coffee at the halfway point before reversing our direction. The last 10 miles of our journey through barren farmland was a glorious site out of a pastoral winter scene- sun setting beneath skeletons of trees, golden light catching golden grass, now dead but hopeful. Mist rising into the mountains of the Coast Range far off, blue-grey at the closing of day. Our bike lights blinking in the dusky fog, muscles sore and done, dinner waiting, warm, back home.