We awoke on Day 80 snuggled in our sleeping bags on the cedar planks of Anne's sauna. Outside, Mother Nature had sent a new round of frosty offerings... The backyard was sugar-dusted and magical. Would the roads be another story?
Anne and Marcel own their own maple syrup farm all the way across the continent in Québec, where Anne is from, and they take a couple months every year to make the long drive there for harvest time. When we managed to rouse ourselves and shuffle through the snow into the warm kitchen, Anne was making pancakes with their own maple syrup, homemade jam, and maple cream — which, if you haven't heard of it, good for you, try to keep it that way. There is no hope for us now.
The plate in front of us kept miraculously refilling with pancakes, like one of those magical always-full items in a fairy tale (thank you, Anne!). Anne also helped us pull up the ODOT road cameras to see what the conditions were looking like on Santiam Pass, the final pass we'll need to ride over tomorrow in order to make it to the coast. The TransAm officially goes over McKenzie Pass, which is known for its lava fields and gorgeous views — but McKenzie is thinner and windier and closes as soon as any real signs of weather set in. So of course it's closed at this point. Which means it's Santiam for us — less windy, a little shorter, but more traffic. And, according to the cameras in this moment at least, a fair bit of snow...
We were fairly unnerved by the current image of Santiam — but, the snow had just fallen, and today was supposed to be fairly warm again, with no snow predicted for the coming night. So a decent amount of melt (and also plowing) would probably happen between now and our attempt at the pass... Whatever the case, there's only one way to go now, and that way, as ever, is Onwards.
We peeked at the streets outside and it looked like enough melt was occurring already. So, a little slowly, we peeled ourselves away from yet another wonderful family of kind and enthusiastic humans. After taking a photo with the girls on the snowy back porch, we bundled up for the day's ride.
Sisters—our destination for today—wasn't far away, though it was one of those days where there was a straightforward, shorter route, and then there was the TransAm route... Longer, hillier, snakier. Thanks, Missoula! 🤣 It did look like it would be less trafficked, though, so we set out on the prescribed path, leaving Prineville behind for a series of winding dips and climbs through the snowy fields, with the cloud-topped peaks sleeping in the distance.
I regret to say that I (Sara) didn't end up taking a single photo on today's ride. It's true that, overall, Beau has a much stronger photographer's impulse (and skill) — he started this ride carrying a DSLR, after all, and would have kept it if it had been in better shape and yielding better shots. We'll often end a day and I'll be proud to have taken, say, 65 pictures — and he's taken 400. And I'm glad, because he's got an amazing eye — even when I'm a little tired and need to concentrate all my energy into riding, he's capturing the trip in all its expansiveness and difficulty and beauty.
And, at times, its humdrum-ness, as well. There are certainly days, in an endeavor this long, when riding is simply your job. Not so much romantic or epic as just, the thing you've got to do all day before you get to rest. Today was a little bit one of those. About halfway through it we reached Redmond, where we decided two things: 1) We needed to eat (cycling hanger is a real thing), and 2) We were going to take the straight route the rest of the way, rather than the TransAm.
I stand by both decisions. First, the omelettes and sandwiches at One Street Down Cafe were delicious. Second, Route 126 out of town was actually a totally decent road to ride. Yes, it's technically the "bigger" road, but it's no super highway; it's got a big, wide, well-maintained shoulder, and the traffic wasn't terrible. We found ourselves flying along and, simultaneously, often able to hold a conversation — not always possible on roads where cars are constantly passing. What did we talk about? It was our ongoing conversation about this country, the election, the people we've met, the mess we're all in... I had been thinking back to a piece of writing that a dear friend introduced me to — an excerpt from the choreographer Simone Forti's A Handbook in Motion. Here's part of it...
I think of a book I once read on the Hopi. According to them, the world has been destroyed four times. They speak of a pair of twins, each stationed at one of the earth's poles. The twins watch over the vibrational line that goes from pole to pole, which is the earth's sounding center. And it's at this sounding center that the earth is in contact with the vibrations of the rest of the universe. The people are in tune with this sounding center through the tops of their heads. So the question is one of keeping the top of your head open. The Hopi speak of themselves as a people who have a migration to complete.... As they migrated, they could sometimes stop to take advantage of a couple of years of growing crops in one place. But the temptation was to remain stationary, and to grow into a city. Life is easier that way, and, also, in a large stable community one can become known, make a name for oneself. The danger in that is its tendency to cause the tops of peoples' heads to close. And when the tops of peoples' heads close, the poles of the earth reverse and the world is destroyed...
There's more, but I find myself thinking about this particular passage all the time. When I graduated from high school, I underwent a small existential crisis because I realized that I had actually—in my own small, nerdy way—successfully carved out an identity for myself over the last four years. Now I was moving on — to a place where I wouldn't be known. Where I would have to rebuild that identity all over again. I didn't realize then that such spiritual architecting is the ongoing and never-finished work of a whole life. I was terrified of having to move on and start again. But now I think I believe that motion—literal physical motion and internal, emotional and intellectual motion—is connected to salvation. Yes, it's also been connected to horrors of the past and present: colonizations and occupations and slave trades and genocides. That's why, when the Angel of America in Kushner's play warns Prior to "Stop Moving", you shiver and think for a moment, "Oh no. She's right... She must be right."
But she's not right; she's just frightening. And really, she's frightened. The Angels are all frightened. Stop Moving is a command born of fear. I've been thinking about how, in the 21st century, we live in an electoral map with these blooms of blue—cities, almost all of them—across a sea of red. And I've been thinking that cities today are perhaps not exactly the cities of the Hopi story — rather than stagnant islands, they are surging with movement. With immigration and emigration, with constant turnover, with public transportation operating at all hours, with bicycles flying over bridges and ferries crisscrossing rivers. Cities thrive on motion of all sorts, and so perhaps, despite their deep roots and tall buildings, foster that migratory, head-openness that keeps the world in delicate contact with the universe. Not that you can't have a closed head in a city. And not that closed heads can't belong to people on either side of the political spectrum. But what I've been thinking is... Insularity and stagnancy and fear are the real demons. And cities—while often characterized as islands—aren't insular at all, actually. They're porous. They send tendrils everywhere. Out here, we are riding through the real islands. People are islands. Towns are islands. Cut off, isolated, surrounded by neighbors who almost entirely look and think alike — who listen to the same news, drive the same trucks, hunt the same deer at the same time very year. It's frightening to defy those you live with every day, even quietly, even kindly. Anne told us that her middle daughter, who is 8, gets bullied at school by children whose parents vote Republican: "Your parents are stupid", etc. How horrible for her. How horrible for the bullies, too. These children whose minds should still be in motion. Whose heads are already closing. We so badly want to be known — we so fear being ejected from our island — that we choose the daily comfort, the daily affirmation, of agreeing with our neighbors. And even though that very comfort is rooted in feelings of anger, resentment, antagonism, even blunt cruelty, we feel protected and un-criticized. We feel part of a solid body. And this is why we don't understand it and despise it when people say we're acting out of fear. How can I be afraid? I'm standing up for myself, aren't I? I'm the strong one! I know my rights! I've got my freedom. I've. Stopped. Moving.
Perhaps that's all for today. The rest of the facts are... We saw Black Butte—a stunning perfect volcanic cone—and initially mistook it for Mount Washington. We arrived in Sisters, a little-sibling to places like Jackson and Breckenridge — a lot of traffic, a main street designed to evoke quaint, somewhat theme-park-ish Old West-meets-ski-town charm. We stayed at an AirBnB run by Sherry and Richard, an older couple who were wowed by our project and were very sweet to us. We spent some time writing, and we crossed our fingers for our last big ascent — over Santiam Pass. Here's to that, and to all the world's better migrations.
Day 80: Prineville to Sisters, OR, 42.8 miles, 1350' elevation, pancakes and snow, trails and diversions, contemplations and migrations.