On the road again! I left Eugene five days ago on a Greyhound bus, traveling a mere 120 miles to Medford/Ashland in order to make up some miles and because, as good and necessary as it was for me to stay in Eugene, it had also become a kind of vortex of inertia: I wanted to propel myself far enough from its pull to ensure that I really was on the move at last.
Incidentally, travelling by Greyhound on bicycle tour is not recommended where other options are available. In this case, the ticket cost me a little over $30, which wasn’t entirely unreasonable. But the bike had to be broken down, boxed, put back together at the other end in the bus station parking lot, all for an additional $30! I am still kicking myself for having spent so much money to cover a relatively small distance. While train tickets are generally more expensive, the cost for taking a bicycle on Amtrak is minimal, and often the bike can simply be rolled up and onto the train without being boxed. Fortunately, since then, my friend Mandy from WithinReach turned me on to Craiglist rideshare listings: dozens of people potentially headed your way, willing to take you along for the ride in exchange for splitting the gas cost. I easily found a ride in this way from Ashland, Oregon to Crescent City, California, covering another 120 miles for a fraction of the cost of the bus. In addition to Craiglist ridesharing, I’ve also benefited from the generosity of good folks I’ve met through warmshowers.org, an online network of bicycle tourers offering hospitality to their fellows on the road, and couchsurfing.org, a similar but larger, less specific network of travelers and adventurers. Be sure to check into these resources the next time you’re planning a road trip: informal, off-the-grid, cooperative hospitality and transportation.
I arrived in Crescent City three evenings ago. Knowing that there’s a LONG climb immediately upon leaving town, I offered my driver another $5 to get me to the summit (well worth the cost if you ask me, especially considering it was already 7pm!). Near the top, we came upon a state park with camping. We turned down the drive, and drove down and down and down another 2 1/2 miles, almost enough to negate the climb out of town! At the least, I had a place to lay my head without having to wear myself out to get there. I shared the hiker-biker site with two other tourers and was grateful to be sleeping outdoors again, cradled by the redwood forest. Pedaling/walking the bike back up to the highway the next morning, I was greeted by my first pair of bright, bulbous banana slugs gleaming from a utility box, as if to say, “Welcome to California!” The very good news is that I biked 45 miles that day without a hint of pain, beyond ordinary soreness and fatigue. And though I miss the sun already, it’s a sheer blessing to see and hear and touch the Pacific Ocean again. In fact, I intended to spend 2 days pedaling to Eureka but was stopped on the way by two men in a pick-up who had pulled into a turnout and were attempting to lure me with a banana and two granola bars. Easy prey, I took the bait. One of them was curious about my recumbent bicycle and wanted to ask me questions. A delightful conversation ensued, until finally they asked me if I needed a ride. “Where are you headed?,” I asked. “Eureka.” Ah, serendipity.
Unfortunately, hiker-biker campsites in the California State Parks are now $5 a night, up from a mere $1 less than 10 years ago. This puts me in something of a quandary. $1 is mere pocket change, but $5 is significant when my average daily living expenses while biking are in the range of $7-15. My philosophy is that often the less money I have on tour—short of destitution!—the better. I say this because in my experience, when money is short I am forced to use ingenuity and creativity, which generally makes for a more satisfying, if less secure, journey. Furthermore, an extended bicycle tour has a way of weaning me from the sense of needing what I often take for granted when I am settled. The most obvious example is shelter. When I landed in Big Sur on my last bicycle tour, even though I had a room of my own, I still preferred to sleep in my tent, even on cold nights. There’s a tremendous satisfaction in being woken up by wild turkeys making their morning rounds, stepping out of a tent at 3,000 feet above the Pacific, and peering over a vast sea of clouds below.
In other words, on bicycle tour I tend to have fewer options in many respects than ordinarily. I live simply, eat simply, sleep simply, am exposed to the elements in an often inescapable way. And the longer I stay with that simplicity, the more my values and attitudes are analogously simplified: I come to value this simplicity more than I value conventional securities and comforts (within reason, mind you). To me, this transformation of mind and heart is what makes bicycle touring so worthwhile. Not only do I come to a deeper appreciation of the ordinary and simple in life, but when I do have the opportunity to enjoy something beyond this threshold, I am all the more grateful for it. In fact, the more I undergo this transformative process, the more I realize that many of the values I leave behind were not truly “mine” in the first place but an inherited distortion of heart (“original sin”?) received from family, culture, religion, and so forth. This in turn gives me the opportunity to discern more clearly the values and aspirations that truly matter. What can short-circuit this process, however (or at least mitigate it), is having the resources on hand to choose the restaurant, the fancy foods, or the hotel, not as an occasional treat but as a habit. Of course, now I am in the ambiguous position of having a fair amount of money, but it’s been given to me by others with the understanding that I’ll put it to good use toward a particular purpose, and it’s meant to last a very long time.
My heartfelt gratitude to the Harrison and Wheeler families for their unfathomable generosity and patience, and for making me feel right at home. Special thanks as well to Gregg in Ashland, Larry the Driver, Bert and/or Ernie and Phil, Amy and so many other good people in Eureka.