Breaking Away — Going Solo On A Social Journey

I finished up the last of the pancakes, washed my plate, strapped my helmet over my Buff and set off along Highway 101 under a clear blue sky. It was shortly after sunrise and the air was clear and chill. A pickup truck zipped past on some early-morning errand, but all else was quiet, still and serene. I’ve always loved this time, just after dawn, riding through a world more or less entirely my own as the rest of civilization still drifts between slumber and the insistent tug of the daily routine.

Shady redwood forests

And I was riding alone through the lushness of this wild country called America; dunes and gorse and daylight to my right, dense forest and shadows on my left. I had no pace to keep, no partner to glimpse in the rear view mirror, nobody else’s needs to attend to but my own. There was something about this sudden solitude and smallness, this dramatic meaninglessness, that filled me with a deep contentment — all past and future cares vanquished during this moment in time that I nevertheless knew would be a fleeting one.

I’d spent the previous day writing, shacked up at the house of Brian and Nicole, our hosts in the windy little seaside town of Bandon. Brian, that morning, had taken on the job of driving down to San Francisco to drop off a van-load of golf clubs for some businessmen who’d spent the day at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort but whose private jet didn’t have space for their equipment.

Wandering Oregon's dunes

The 900-mile round trip would take 24 hours. Ben, having no particular plans for the day, had decided to go too — spontaneous, risk-taking, reactionary and with a strong attraction towards any available absurd mission, which he’d undertake at the drop of a hat for the sheer hell of it, and spend the next few days spinning the resulting tale to whoever happened to be listening until it had been whittled into a work of craft and concision.

Road trip

Then there was Nick, the third member of the riding group, an outdoorsman of tireless diplomacy yet with a strong personal agenda for his journey. He had decided to ride south alone for the day. He would detour west to Cape Blanco, the state’s most westerly tip and part of Oregon’s extensive coastal nature reserves, and spend the rest of the day and night in contemplation and solitude — which, after Ben and my weather-driven arguments, sounded like a very sensible idea.

Lost Monkeys of Port Orford

This all left me riding solo for the day, which suited me fine. I felt in my element. It seemed somehow important that we were all expressing our unique ways of going about things. Group travel calls for compromise from all parties if it is to proceed in peace and to be remembered without regret. But, over time, compromise can become debilitating and burdensome. I was looking forward to a day of riding on my own terms.

Southern Oregon coastline

Southern Oregon coastal vegetations

Grilled mussells

Post-dusk afterglow south of Crescent City

As I rode, the wind picked up — a tailwind, blasting me through the winding forested road. Traffic became more frequent as the nation and I settled into our daily grind. It felt unusual to be riding with the sun on my face, after a near solid month of grey skies and rain. If the conditions continued to ease off, the journey would take on a very different feeling. And with California on the horizon I wondered for how long this group would continue to serve all of our needs.

My U.S. Pacific Coast ride is kindly supported by Kona Bikes, Cascade Designs and Schwalbe. Read more about the gear they’ve supplied.

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3 responses to “Breaking Away — Going Solo On A Social Journey”

  1. We’re two thirds of the way through a 6 week stop in Siem Reap, Cambodia. After four weeks of crowded streets, beggars and hundreds of tuk tuk drivers the solitude you describe sounds incredibly idyllic.
    A very sturdy dog. It took me a while to notice the guy with the camera.

  2. Andy Welch avatar
    Andy Welch

    Nice post and personal reflections. I would say that riding alone is a temporary escape or something that opens you up to everyone and everything rather than any kind of ‘ideal’ solution because being truly alone is impossible and would certainly lead down a road of escaping from everything else! I like the idea of how the past and present falls away and the meditating on the seeming space of being alone and how you are filled with that- that makes sense.

    1. I agree — in this example the relative solitude was a temporary relief, and it served its purpose very well. On the journeys I’m planning for later in the year, I’ll be ‘alone’ (in the sense of travelling solo) for much longer, exactly because it’ll open me up to everyone and everything, as you put it.

Something to add?