Day 83: Land's End
You've stuck with us for 82 days (and really, we realize, tardy bloggers that we are, more than three months). You've seen us through knee pain and neck pain, mountain ranges and high desert, mighty rivers and snowy fields, sunburn and sub-zero temps, 9 states, numerous second breakfasts, elections and introspections, goatheads, sauna sheds, Orange Beasts, bed feasts, many beers, some tears, countless flats, miles of gravel, and wind that could strip paint. We know who some of you are, and it warms our hearts to know that you're all out there, strangers and old friends alike, reading. Thank you for coming with us across this country. Now, we're close to running out of road... Are you ready for the final ride? Are we?
Beau: Ready or not, let's do this!
Sara: Let's! Okay, so — Day 83 begins with an early rising in Eugene — though not quite early enough to leave us carefree re: the length of our riding day. If we want to reach the coast today, we've got almost 90 miles to cover — around 7 or 8 hours of riding, but more if the terrain is hard. It shouldn't be, though; we're headed towards the water, after all. But Oregon is strangely reminiscent of Virginia in certain ways—lots of green rolling hills, forests, fields, and farms—and we've learned by now that even generally downwards-pointing elevation maps are sure to have their share of climbs. (I need an elevation map that doesn't show me a scaled version of what's actually there but a graph of how I'm going to feel having to ride it.) We want to hit that beach while there's still sun, and the sun will disappear by 4:45 or so. So, time to get on it.
B: Except! My dear friend from college called in a prescription to help with Sara's neck pain, and I had him send it to a pharmacy in west Eugene that doesn't open till 9am. So: not quite an early early start.
S: It's okay, we've got this. Let's go to Target.
S (cont): Eugene has a lot of nice bike lanes — thanks, Eugene! And the weather is, as promised, quite lovely today. We're starting out feeling good, lots of air under our wings. What we don't know yet: Today is, I suppose fittingly, going to contain ALL of the things. It's going to feel like a microcosm of our entire trip — a wild recap, a whole buffet of experiences and conditions condensed into a single crazy serving!
B: It'll be like a tasting menu of trail travails, but at least it starts with some good stuff: the visit to Target's pharmacy is issue-free, and even the Target parking lot is plugged right into the bike path that leads out of town — and not just one of those by-the-roadside bike lanes, but an actual paved place removed from the road. So: 3 miles of bike lane to get to the bike path, which lasts for 6 miles; the first tenth of our day is accomplished in the unmitigated bliss of decent weather, nice-enough views, and almost no traffic. But it's almost like the beginning of a book, where everything seems to be going so wonderfully… (Not to put too ominous a note on it.)
S: It's not ominous yet. Look, alpacas! Awwwwwwwww.
S (cont): We hit the road and head off into Oregon farmland, winding our way beside a long lake and then past barns and through mossy pine forests. There's moss on everything here. Certain trees look like the Grinch. (Is it bad for them? Or is it a symbiotic thing? Or is it just nbd? Whatever the case, moss abounds.) We've got a pair of steepish hills to climb, but at this point, hills are just a matter of time. Before starting up the biggest one we pause at a gas station for a snack. The lady there asks us the perennial question: "How far are you riding?" I'm excited so I tell her that the answer is roughly 4000 miles — and today's our last day! She gets excited for us. Yay! Thanks, gas station lady! We bustle onwards. Then, at the foot of one long, fun descent, we reach an important sign...
B: Oh, but also — at the beginning of that descent? As soon as we start coasting I hear a sound coming from my front wheel that can only be described as the sound of popping popcorn. If this doesn't ring a bell for you, it's because you haven't spent the last 60 days just waiting for this sound. Because it was back on day 22 that the bike shop in Danville, KY, told me my front wheel was going to die on me. And how would I know it was gone? "When the hub starts making sounds like popcorn popping."
So I ride the brakes to the bottom of the hill, to our intersection with Route 36. Sara's waiting there, thinking I probably stopped (for the thousandth time) to get a picture of something. I tell her to listen to my bike. It sounds real bad. Like, snap crackle pop bad. But what is there really to do? If the wheel's dead, the wheel's dead, and I'm not going to hurt it more by pushing on today. Especially today — the very last day of our cross-country journey. At this point we're fifty miles to Florence, then another 6 or so to the water. Will this busted crackling hub get me there? We decide to find out.
S: Is it about this time that the rain starts?
B: I think this is where the German Shepherd chases us down the highway. Right? It all blends together a bit.
S: See! All Of The Things! Busted wheels, big hills, dog chases, rain! Though, to be fair, the sun kept shining all through the little bouts of soft, misty rainfall. Totally rideable and not all that unpleasant, really. (Oregon is yet another of those places where people think that fickle, quick-changing weather is an incredibly unique aspect of this particular place to live.)
B: It's pretty as hell, though.
S: It really is. We're winding our way down Route 36 for most of the day — a rural road that passes through small towns with names like Greenleaf, Deadwood, and Rainrock. There's not much shoulder—often there's none—but there's also not much traffic, especially once we pass Triangle Lake. The road is up and down and up and down, the weather is autumnal again (we're grateful to have left winter behind, at least for a day), and things would be pretty pleasant overall if it weren't for the vibe of a lot of the dwellings out here. Lots of Trump signs, lots of "Don't Tread on Me" flags — even a couple Confederate flags (which, what the actual fuck, YOU LIVE IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST there is NO OTHER EVEN ARGUABLE MEANING for this except "Hello I am racist") and a particularly creepy house covered in homemade signs that are all just 8.5x11 pieces of red laminated paper with "TRUMP" printed on them in large block letters. It's a lot. It definitely sours the natural beauty of the road. I start to get a little weary of 36 and ask Beau if I can go into beast mode for a little while. I just need to pedal hard and fast for a bit.
B: Also, we are (yet again) running out of daylight. But, also also, I'm worried about pushing my wheel too hard; the popcorning hub (points for new verbs?) sounds worse by the minute, and the passing rain seems to have unleashed a whole fresh chorus of creaks, squeaks, and grating from the crank, the gears, the derailleur, and especially the chain (which, remember, also definitely needs replacing). And Sara's bike is squeaking too, suddenly. But, again: daylight. Which all leads to this precarious balance between going as fast as we can but not going so fast that we don't make it. Which, again: kind of a microcosm of the whole trip. Fun. And then, also: debris. Because why not?
B (cont): But at this point we're also aiming legitimately downhill for nearly the entire rest of the ride, meaning the entire rest of our entire coast-to-coast journey. So that's actually fun.
S: 36 cuts through mountains for a while without climbing any of them, then it runs out on us — about 15 miles from the coast it meets 126, the bigger, straighter shot westwards from Eugene (and eastwards, too — it's the road we came into the city on yesterday, and we're still harboring memories of screaming as big trucks barrel past us in the rain). The intersection is at Mapleton, where we pull off at a strip of roadside shops to fuel up as fast as we can for the rest of the journey. We've been gunning it today and have never really stopped for a meal — just Kind bars, etc. I know I need calories right now, and Beau could use some caffeine, and this weird little row of roadside stores actually contains a coffee shop (!), so we split up: him towards an espresso shot, me to the grocery/market-thingy.
...Which doesn't have anything I want, so I head back outside to the bikes to try to make the world's quickest tuna sandwich from the contents of Mr. Bouquet. WHEN, all of a sudden, someone jumps out of a van nearby and walks right up to me. Friends and neighbors — it's Jonathan Schaffer.
B: I don't think we named him iIn the original blog post...? 😬
S: Correct! But I'm naming him now, because why the hell not? Anyway, this is the dude we met in ELLINGTON, MISSOURI. That's 50 days and literal thousands of miles ago. He was doing the TransAm going the other direction — the one who was super into roadkill. The one we shared a hostel with right before riding the Ozarks. And HERE HE IS. Standing in a random parking lot fifteen miles from the Pacific Ocean in Mapleton, OR. I have a vague memory that maybe he lives in Oregon...? But he doesn't give me long to think about it — he's immediately telling me tall tales about the end of his trip and his return out west and his purchase of the van he's currently driving ("I almost flipped it over just now!!") — all his stories have a multiply-what-probably-happened-by-2.5 quality to them. And then he's off to find Beau in the coffee shop.
B: Which finds me in the act of paying when this old dude in a mask marches up and acts like he expects me to give him a hug, like we're long lost war buddies or something. I guess who he is, and I guess wrong: "Yeah, Jerry, good to see you." (Jerry's the guy we stayed with south of John Day — also older, enthusiastic, bearded, white… but more recent.)
Schaffer, rather than correct me (if he even heard me) looks at the twenty-year-old kid semi-handling the espresso machine and explains (exclaiming) for both of us: "We slept together!"
He knows my name, so I'm relatively certain he's not thinking I'm someone else. Then Sara waves from behind him and hints me in the right direction: "Remember Jonathan? From the Ozarks?" That's right — "We slept in the same cabin…?" I say. He doesn't respond but launches into his own story of hitting the coast in Virginia, throwing his back out, recouping in West Virginia (I think?), and then ending up here. We all file outside.
S: I mean, I'm pretty tickled by the whole thing. What are the flippin' chances?! But also, the sun is sinking, y'all. Jonathan actually gets that, and with a couple more enthusiastic outbursts (and an awkward masked group selfie for his collection), he heads back to his van. We stuff some food in our faces and start to roll our bikes back towards the road when a stranger (older, bearded, white — these dudes, tho) starts chatting us up in a slow, drawly way. Where y'all headed? I hitchhiked across Florida once... We're as friendly as we can be, but also peel ourselves away as fast as we can. It's time to RIDE.
S (cont): The sun is low, the traffic is picking up again, and we're moving quick across the broad, flat shoulder — averaging close to 14 mph. Flying along the Siuslaw River (that's sigh-OOS-law), we knock out the "Manhattan" to the outskirts of Florence in less than an hour. The landscape out here is wild — no gradual softening towards the ocean like on the east coast. Not much hint that there's anything in front of you besides more miles of towering primordial pine forest. The map promises that the land is eventually going to just stop. Very soon, in fact. But it still feels like Jurassic Park out here.
Right before Florence, we take a right off the main road — we're taking a back way towards the coast, which we still have no visual hint of apart from the river widening. Florence itself is a little inland on the waterway and doesn't have a beach. We need that PACIFIC, baby. So we've picked what looks like the closest ocean access — Heceta Beach. As the sun lowers more and more and we struggle up a last set of wooded hills that we really could do without at this point (85+ miles in), we debate how to pronounce Heceta. Heh-KAY-tuh? HECK-eh-tuh? Who knows...
B: Tomorrow we'll learn that it's Heh-SEE-tuh. Today we call it VIK-TUH-REE. (Damn right / lolz.)
Of course these last few miles are full of hills and cars and disappearing shoulders, but who flipping cares at this point? I get hot so I take my puffer jacket off and tuck it under the bungees that hold the guitar in place — something I've done probably a couple times a day since Colorado, but today I catch it on the bungee's hook and tear the jacket right open. Feathers fluttering out like confetti. And who flipping cares? The sun is falling and we're minutes from the coast — I curse a little and laugh a little and we push on. And then…
S: We see it.
S (cont): Okay, so that's not entirely accurate. I mean, we do see it — but more like, after a bunch of semi-rundown beachy homes (still surrounded by pines, though there's sand on the road edge now), there's suddenly a flash of water through the parking lot outside a semi-rundown beachy hotel. There it is: Heceta Beach. We pull into the parking lot, but — ahhh! There's no cut-through — ya can't get there from here. We turn around, circle back onto the road, pull into the sliver of public beach access right before the hotel's parking lot (it's easy to miss) and, yelping and laughing a bit, pedal down towards the sand. We've got to muscle the bikes over some rocks and logs and specifically northwestern seaside debris first, and then we get to start taking pictures.
B: We've made it. We've reached the Pacific Ocean, ya'll. And, just like the entire day's riding, this little milestone is more than it is; it ain't just the seeing of some water. It's not just running out of land (though today we've made plenty of jokes about buying a boat). Being here right now is made up of walking my bike through Appalachia while my knee recovered. It encompasses every time we couldn't feel our toes or fingers, the times we could feel almost nothing but our aching necks, backs, thighs, and pickathings. It's every time we gave up for the day, but got back on the bikes the next morning. It's every lunch from a gas station, as well as every solid bakery or brewery or kind person offering their spare room or yard. It's every dickbag who yelled or honked at us (fuck you all), and everybody who waved or cheered or wished us well (thank you all). We are here, right now, because we managed to thread the forest fires in Colorado and to cross the Continental Divide three times, and because the wind beat us in Wyoming but someone gave us a ride and then we decided to continue on, in spite of the cold and the closing in of winter, in spite of the continental span of people shaking their heads and telling us it's a little late in the season. And we're here together. And it's fucking glorious.
S: There's nothing left to do but take off our shoes and walk the bikes to the water — back tires touched the Atlantic, now it's time to dip the fronts in the cold Pacific. I go first… here goes!
B: And then it's my turn!
B (cont'd): And then… it's over? But there's no time to think about this right now — first, as we're setting up our little phone-tripod to take some pictures together, guess what? A mini rogue wave rolls up! Sara grabs the phone in time, but it gets my shoes, my socks, the warmer pants I wear over my biking shorts. (You can just see them on the ground in that first picture... They seemed safe at the time!) I ring them out a bit, and we're setting up to try again when a guy rolls by on a fat-tire bike and offers to take a photo for us — thanks, guy!
Then, when he leaves, we set up our little tripod again.
S: The sun is setting on the Pacific, and we're here. It's sudden and strange and cold and beautiful. And also, like all finales, not an ending. There are no endings, really... "if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else." We're a little giddy. But also thoughtful. We heave our bikes back through the sand and sit on a beach log to try to de-sand our frozen feet and put our socks back on. I book us a room from right there on the log. Hey, this is big spiritual progress for me — waiting till the last possible minute to figure out where we're sleeping! Another me would have super-stressed. This one sits watching the sun drop into the ocean, and chooses the slightly more expensive room because what the hell — we just crossed a continent!
We've got to get back to Florence, which is another 6 miles, and the light is fading fast. And Beau's wearing half-soaked clothes at this point. He can't entirely feet his feet. Which, all things considered, is also very representative of this trip as a whole. So, let's get to gettin'! Florence and SEAFOOD, here we come!
B: We ride this stretch in the dark, and when we get to the hotel it's at the top of the only hill within the city limits of Florence. I try to bike up it but my gear slips — the old chain! Sara feels accomplished enough to just push the bike.
S: It's, like, a VERTICAL HILL, OKAY.
B: We lock the bikes up outside the inn, under some rain protection, and I gladly leave the front wheel where someone can steal it. (No one does.) And then we shower and don masks and walk down to the strip of restaurants by the water. We pick the Bridgewater Fish House for our celebration dinner, and it delivers on a nice meal, a nice bottle of wine, and good people. Then we march back up the hill to our beds for the night. And we're done — we've done it. We have bicycled across America. As we lie down to sleep it's already hard to imagine ever having set out on such an endeavor. And it's been so long and so various that we can't really compress it down into one single experience, one thing to hold in our minds. And it's hardest of all (though also a great relief, looking at the forecast) to believe that we won't be riding tomorrow. Tomorrow Sara's aunt is going to pick us up and drive us down to Coos Bay, where we'll rest for a few days. And we'll give you updates on all that and what follows, plus an Oregon Round-Up—we don't fly back to Virginia for another 10 days, and in the interim we have to get up to Portland—but for now, friends…
S: ...So long, and thanks for all the fish!
Day 83: Eugene to Heceta Beach, OR, 83.8 miles (pre-coast), 3,100' elevation gained, one continent traversed. Also, a 3-month wedding anniversary. Round-ups to follow.