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.
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.
I would love to say that this will be an account of the wonders of the city of Portland. Because here is another city of the north-western States that manages to effortlessly exude its own particular flavour from the moment one begins to wander the downtown gridwork of avenues and cross-streets.
I did no prior research about this trip prior to my arrival in Vancouver just over a month ago. Although it goes directly against the principles of the Information Age, I much prefer letting the process of travel bring some small element of knowledge and understanding to a more or less blank slate, rather than just Googling everything in advance.
But this is America, for gawd’s sake. How could I fail to have a generous handful of precopceptions? I grew up in Britain, a nation that founded the New World and continues to feed on its culture and ideology today.
The funny thing about preconceptions is that they are often not particularly strongly held, so you aren’t even aware that you have them. Then only become visible when you suddenly realise that something has surprised you — something that you did not expect to be a surprise, because you’d just assumed all along that it was self-evident.
Erin and Nick instantly reminded me of my younger self and Andy; two good friends, fresh-faced and idealistic, intoxicated with the new-found freedom of life on the road in a wealthy and developed corner of the world. The summer of 2007 and that timeless four-month adventure across Europe remains one of the most enjoyable, chaotic and memorable times of my life.