We, too, had thought that this short, mostly downhill ride to Eugene would be chill. Wet, and not warm, but still — relatively chill. And then we set out.
Today, Day 82, we wake in our cozy cabin (again, a really good investment at this point in the game) and peek through the curtains at a gray, drizzly day. We know we're in for a rainy one, and we spend a little while prepping our bodies and spirits before heading into the mists. We layer up, we wrap our feet in plastic wrap before and after putting on our socks, and we head out to the porch (our little cabin has a porch!), where we're grateful to be able to load up the bikes under a roof.
At first, as we roll back out to the main road, things seem manageable. There's a steady drizzle coming down, yes, but it's not too heavy, and at least the temperature is approaching 50. We're psyching ourselves up, too, and when we pull out onto 126—the road we'll be riding pretty much all day—and experience our first couple of big drive-by splashings from trucks, we scream "WOOHOO!" in their wake. I mean, this is how it's gonna be, so might as well celebrate it!
But while it's not driving rain, it's that particular kind of rain that seems to soak right in. Also, the road surface is sopping. Our tires are spraying water and mud at us, and in a matter of miles, our shins are coated in wet grime. Beau's feet are hanging in there, but it turns out that my shoe covers are better at blocking wind than water. My feet aren't actually wet, thanks to the plastic wrap, but it's like putting your hand in a plastic bag and then sticking it in a fish bowl. And eventually, the seeping starts.
While I'm debating over how long it will take for my feet to go from "chilly and squishy and surrounded by water" to "unsustainably freezing", we enter forest fire territory...
We'll figure out soon that we're riding through the aftermath of the Holiday Farm Fire, which started at an RV park on this road back in September. We've ridden through burnt areas before (and even narrowly dodged the start of a now-raging fire back in Colorado), but this is the first time that we've witnessed the devastation of communities up close. We're seeing blackened hillsides covered in stumps and the stripped remains of trees, with piles of cut down debris waiting to be collected by the roadside... And we're also seeing lots where there used to be a house and now there's only a stone chimney, surrounded by mangled, melted metal and unrecognizable refuse. Skeletons of cars and motorcycles, the insides, tires, and paint all burned away. In places, the metal guard rail is even lying tilted on the road surface, bolts sticking out, the wooden posts that used to hold it up gone in the fire.
The rain ebbs and flows — sometimes we're riding through active downpour, sometimes just through wet mist. We're also passing lots of work crews, still removing the fire's wreckage. Along with the cars, we slow down, stop, wait for the Slow sign, and make our way down the single lane, past the piled logs and the singed remains of homes and businesses. The strangest thing is the seeming randomness — one house will be completely destroyed, and the one next door will be untouched, the hedge or fence in-between seared on one side only. We pass signs for RV parks and the sign is pristine — the rectangle of land behind it only sodden rubble and ashes. Over 430 homes were destroyed in this fire. Riding past this strip of them... it's intense. And very sad.
Our road still has its beautiful moments, even with the rain and the wreckage. And it's clear that if we were riding this route in mid-summer, everything green, the weather clear, it would be gorgeous. Right now, though, our feet (or at least mine) are reaching a point of direness. We hit a gas station and grab some calories, along with a roll of plastic wrap, and I sit outside and try to re-do the foot mummification. Everything's soaked. Bikes are mud machines. Toes are numb. Oh, the joys of cross-country cycling!
Feet re-wrapped, junk food consumed, we push on. For a while, the clouds break a bit and we're only dealing with road spray. The narrow-ish valley we've been riding through opens up a bit, and there's fields and orchards. We pull over in Walterville, the last town of any size before we make it to the outskirts of Eugene, and I take advantage of the P.O. to send a few cards. Beau books our hotel for the night (at this point, we don't risk booking until we feel at least 75% sure that we're going to make it to our destination). We're enjoying a short rest when that break in the clouds closes up — the rain is back in earnest. It's time to grind it out. So we're back on the bikes, hoods up and legs soaked. Well, everything soaked. Except butts! The upside of all the baggage is surprisingly dry backsides. So. That's good.
This is where our second Boss Fight begins, though. Because now that we're within Eugene's orbit, the traffic picks up. And the road shoulder, which has been pretty generous, starts to vary. Sometimes it's there, sometimes it just falls away. And these cars (trucks, mostly) don't give a shit. Suddenly, we're just getting constantly blown past by semis that don't bother to give us room. Earlier, we were cheering when we got splashed. Now our screaming is different in tone — and we aren't getting just splashed; we're getting pushed around so much that we barely notice the splashing. The trucks are roaring, the rain is coming down, and these drivers are assholes. A couple of times a truck passes us so fast that we wobble on our bikes — which is a horrible feeling. This is not fun riding. This is just a wet, ugly struggle. A 15-mile middle school flinch test, only with amplified stakes: Boss Battle #2.
We're straining hard, but we buckle down and push and soon we get to Springfield, the suburb/city right up against the east side of Eugene. The rain has let up a little, and this is one of those places—once we pass the outer belt of seemingly only weed shops and reach the quaint-ish downtown area—that we wouldn't mind pausing and spending a little time in... in a different world. Sadly, that world is not this one. So on we push. The map has promised us a bike path for our last few miles into Eugene and, finally, it appears! After a long day of fighting vehicles on a wet road, a riverside path for only pedestrians and cyclists is a huge relief. And then—at last, all of a sudden, as always—we're there.
We arrive at the Holiday Inn Express in Eugene feeling like more mud than human. (The above picture does not do this reality justice.) The very kind woman behind the front desk gives us a 5-gallon bucket of warm water, and we fill our water bottles from it and attempt to spray down our grime-coated steeds and bags.
Inside (hooray!), we peel off our sodden layers and head for the laundry and shower simultaneously. It's wild how luxurious, how miraculous, these amenities constantly feel. We've got a little bit of day left in Eugene — despite the road conditions and the fact that our "all-downhill" route did in fact contain a fair amount of climbing, we made good time. So we dive into the blog, and some snacks, and we search for a semi-nice place to grab some food later in the evening, in honor of Beauvember.
And also—we realize as we start to thaw out and look at the map and the weather—perhaps in honor of our final night on the road. The coast is a little less than 85 miles away. At first we thought we'd break that up, mostly just to give ourselves a shorter, less pressed final day. But now it looks like tomorrow—Wednesday—might in fact be the only clear day this week before the rains return. Tomorrow actually looks downright beautiful...
It looks like... It looks like this is it, friends. Tomorrow's the day. Tomorrow, we make the full push. Tomorrow, it's the the big finish, the grand finale, land's end.
Tomorrow, we reach the Pacific Ocean.
Day 82: McKenzie Bridge to Eugene, OR, 51.9 miles, 3,050' elevation gained, the muds, the rains, the fires, the trucks, the frozen feets... The Penultimate Day!