Ben and I left Portland at lunchtime on the 9th day. The departure was a tough one. We rode south-west into a fresh onshore breeze, clouds collecting in the distance, stopping briefly to look at the Spruce Goose and fill up with water. The wind grew stronger, and after a couple more hours’ battling we pulled into a roadside cafe in order to take a break and fish for a sleeping spot.
“You must be the cyclists!”
Stuart accosted us halfway through a bowl of quite excellent clam chowder. He was in his sixties, white haired and bespectacled. He was slender as a bean in a nation of supersize bodies, a Geocaching logo on his faded baseball cap, dressed for working outdoors, and, with a look of curiosity and mild amusement on his face, his appearance somehow set him apart.
I trusted him immediately.
“We are the cyclists!” replied Ben.
“Great! Looking for a place to stay?”, he said, in a tone which meant he already knew the answer.
“Well, we pick up cyclists all the time. So you can camp at our place if you want; we have a flat piece of grass, a bathroom and shower that you can use…”
Totally unsolicited, and all the more charming for it, we accepted Stuart’s offer, as the day had been one spent in quiet contemplation of having left everyone in Portland behind us. Company felt like a perfect antidote. The house was an expansive wood-built place in the depths of Oregon’s wine country, and it wasn’t long before we were sat round the kitchen table eating meatballs and rice with one of Portland’s huge array of micro-brewery beers on the side. The family’s home was always open to travellers. “I actually don’t think I’d find the keys to all these doors, even if I wanted to lock them!”, said Stuart.
I woke in the night to the sound of rain on the roof of the outbuilding where we’d set up our camping mats and sleeping bags, and the following day settled into a pattern of broken rain and grey skies. It’s little wonder that the Pacific North West is so damn green. But Ben was having a hard time dealing with the weather, and I was having a hard time dealing with Ben. He was bad-tempered and whinging, and nothing I said or did seemed to be quite right.
It was plain that the miserable weather was at the root of the problem: it was far too easy for me to shrug it off. I had accumulated a mental storecupboard of conditions challenging and extreme and dealt with, and while most would classify this as ‘absolutely bloody orrible’, I would file it somewhere near ‘mildly inconvenient’.
I couldn’t undo what I’d learnt, so Ben felt understandably frustrated and alone in his suffering. I reminded myself how nightmarish my company must have been for my riding partners as I was working through the same feelings of inexperience and vulnerability to the elements. It’s a learning curve that is often uncomfortably steep, and the ultimate message is that life outdoors isn’t always going to be fun and games.
Meeting up once again with Nick — Erin having spontaneously gone on a road trip to Florida — we continued. The wet weather continued with us, and the arguments continued with the weather, grinding away at the group’s morale.
Until one day, as we inched our way into southern Oregon, patches of blue sky began to show through. Was the weather beginning to break? Would our long-anticipated ride along this stunningly rugged and remote stretch of coastline be finally bathed in glorious sunlight?
My U.S. Pacific Coast ride is kindly supported by Kona Bikes, Cascade Designs and Schwalbe..