The best day of the best month of the year, in which flat tires are mere momentary hindrances, ice and snow coat trees as delicate as cake icing, bald eagles guide you along extended downhills, and would-be despots get out-voted and lose the electoral college.
Day 79, we woke in the excellent Spoke'n Hostel. We packed. Before leaving, we played and sang "Thunder Road", the Springsteen song after which this blog is named. It was a good start.
We hit the road around 7:30, aiming for a second visit to Painted Hills Pastry. Last night's clouds were just blowing away to the east — as we backtracked to the bakery, they blocked the morning sun.
But when the bakery wasn't open yet (though the sign said they would be), we turned back and found an open sky ahead of us. And then, on our way west out of town, we found this little place to get some morning refreshment after all.
Were the pastries here bad? Did they come from Seattle wrapped in plastic and seem part-cardboard, part not-quite-baked? Would I be asking these questions if they weren't? But I'm no Paul Hollywood — I just ate my "marionberry" scone and moved along. Not far, though — before we'd hit the parking lot of the business next door…
Sara doesn't fix the flat tires solo — we have a system, a division of labor that usually involves me patching the busted tube while she puts in the other. But part of that division is that I also make sure to get a photo.
And today we have no more patches. But we do have the two tubes I patched last night (last night it was the front that had leaks; now it's the rear). So we throw one of those in. If that goes flat, we have one more spare before we're thumbin' it to the nearest bike shop.
But the tube holds, and soon we're on our way again. And we're back in our jackets and layers (two days ago it was t-shirts?), but the sky is clear and the air is rich with fallen rain and juniper — it smells amazing. ("It smells like a Bath & Body Works out here!" Sara says.) And we feel good. This morning we climb again — 16 miles and 2,300+ feet to the top of Ochoco Pass (strong emphasis on the first O, we've learned). But the scenery is amazing, and the climb warms us up enough to lose the jackets again. The first 14 miles uphill is pretty much sheer bliss.
Also, about halfway up these gorgeous mountains, the sun rose above the clouds and then Sara's mom texted: Pennsylvania had gone for Biden. And PA brought enough votes to declare a winner — the election was called. We'd won.
"We"… It's an era filled with we, us, them. And I wish my antipathy was waning — part of the goal of this trip was to get out of our bubbles, to not be guilty of a kind of philosophical xenophobia. But our months of traveling have brought me only further and further from a desire for empathy and understanding with people who can look and listen to Trump, watch his policies, his appointments, even just his namecalling, and then go, "Yes. This is the way I want the world to work."
I've been trying. One version of how I've attempted to understand the broader Trump phenomenon: imagining being back in school, and somehow I’ve been registered and enrolled in the wrong math class — it’s too high a level, and I have none of the prerequisites, and I don’t have a clue what’s going on. But there’s this group of kids at the front of the class who just get it. They know exactly what’s happening, and they’re quick with the answers; there’s something about them you can’t help but hate. And the class just keeps moving on without you.
Then another kid gets put in your class, and he’s as unprepared as you are except that he’s a bully. He’ll never get an answer right, but somehow he doesn’t care. And what’s more than that, he’s figured out a way to make fun of all those smug kids in the front row, to make them look stupid, regardless of math skills.
It’s not really that you think what he’s doing is right. You probably even know that, if he turned on you, it would be even worse for you than it is for the others. But you’re trapped in this awful math class and you’re sick to hell of those "know-it-alls." So maybe in this instance you find yourself rooting for the bully. And if the story progresses from there, you might see where you made a mistake, but the thing is that it doesn’t — somehow someone (media?) is keeping you stuck in this early moment, where it’s just these smug kids and this bully who’s got their number.
But that's both too complex and too simplified. As we've ridden past the flags and signs, the "fuck your feelings" and "no more bullshit" and so on, you start to get a sense that this one actually means "I got mine," and this one's "I'm angry and want to hurt someone, and this person has promised to do violence for me, I don't care to whom," and another is "burn it all down." Where I've felt other elections in my life as a kind of moral referendum on how caring or selfish we, as a nation, were inclined to be at a moment, this year it was a question of create or destroy. And creation won, but a lot of that map was filled with deep red destroy.
Also too simple. I know. But when Biden won this year (even though we still would've preferred someone much further left), it felt, at least to me, like hope, creation, thought, logic, caring, and kindness had all won out with him. Which, though I continue to process and question it all, is still a pretty damn good 35th birthday present.
And so we paused and celebrated, then continued to climb, to contemplate. And as we approached the top the scene got even prettier: there was suddenly snow dusting the near trees. Sometimes a breeze would blow it down over us. We stopped and took pictures, talked about how it all looked and felt like a Christmas card.
As we continued upward, ever upward, the snow was more and more present. And it was stunning.
And then it was on the road.
And this was the precarious section. At this point, we slowed wayyy down. Snow and even ice were in the road, especially wherever there was a strong shadow. The rest was slush. (At a certain point I stopped taking pictures — it was no longer "safe", though safety on a bicycle on a highway in the snow of a mountain pass is, of course, always a continuum.)
We got off and walked some sections, though it's questionable how much better it was to walk on ice in our cycling shoes. Mostly we cycled. There were few cars. And pretty soon we reached the peak of the pass. I had to throw snowballs at the sign until we could read it. (My hands were quite cold by that point.)
16 miles to the top, then 31 miles of slow descent to Prineville. We could easily have pushed on to Redmond today, but we'd found Warm Showers hosts in Prineville that we were excited to stay with, and it looked like tomorrow wasn't the day to take the next pass — tomorrow would be cold and potentially harsh up in the mountains, and it might snow again tonight. So we would keep today relatively short, use tomorrow to get to the foot of the Cascades (while some of the snow melted away), and then attempt the pass in two days. (Oh, and in 3 days there's suppose to be a big snow storm, so we do need to get across before then…)
As we descend, the ice disappears quickly enough. Pretty soon we're back on solid blacktop, just jetting down the mountains to another place of momentary respite. And, about an hour into this cushy part of the ride, another bald eagle suddenly springs out of a tree on our right, then cruises ahead of us down the road for a long stretch; perhaps small and personal, but another good omen.
We stopped along the way in a ditch beside someone's driveway. We made sandwiches. We stretched. We carried on. A strong headwind picked up as we approached Prineville, and so we spent the last five miles pushing pretty hard. But we've seen worse, and at this point we don't even stop to complain — we just buckle down, and pretty soon we're through it. In Prineville we stop at Crooked Roots Brewery, hide in a back corner (the place is huge) and enjoy a celebratory beverage and nachos.
And then we're on to the home of Anne and Marcel and their three daughters, Louisiane, Lily Rose, and Adelyne. Marcel's out of town for the week, but Anne shows us where we'll be staying — the sauna that the family's built in back, attached to the tool shed/herb drying area. She's just lit a fire, and the place is getting warm. We thank her and unload our bikes, then settle in for a long afternoon nap — it's been a surprisingly exhausting day, and the sauna is so nice and warm…
Anne wakes us up closer to dinner time — she's made lasagna. And she's promised to celebrate the election at a friend's house, but the girls keep us company with music (Loulou plays fiddle and sings) and maths (Lyna was working on her addition) and the various conversation of precocious and interested kids. (We all wear masks when we're in the house together.) They were lovely hosts, but soon they settle in to watch a movie, and Sara and I skip back out to the sauna. We laze and watch Bake Off, and I eat the big piece of cake that we brought with us from Mitchel in a ziplock bag. It looks disgusting. It tastes amazing. I want more right now.
And now I'm 35-and-a-day. Means little, but it was a good day. Thank you, Sara. Thank you, bald eagle. Thank you, all you good voting people out there. Good night.
Day 79: Mitchell to Prineville, OR, 48.4 miles, 3,025' elevation, 1 sauna, 1 important swing-state victory, 1 year older, more excellent cake