In the morning, I made some mechanical adjustments to the bike, intended to mitigate knee pain, then off to an agonizing start. I made a judgment call, assuming that the pain was something that could be worked through rather than exacerbated by more biking. By midday, however, it was not my knees as much as my achilles tendons that throbbed with jolts of pain at every pedal stroke. After crawling at three miles an hour up a prolonged but thankfully not terribly steep incline, it began to rain! I dragged myself limping into a pizza shop and wondered if I could even continue. Was I setting myself up for serious injury? Would I even be able to do this tour after such extensive preparation? Ninety-two miles to Portland and I was scheduled to arrive the next day. I ate my pizza, swallowed my resistance, and, having vaguely considered and dismissed plan B (making my way to I-5 to hitchhike the rest of the way), I climbed back onto the bicycle and achingly pedaled on.
The upside of the day was the stunning views through rolling forested hillsides that followed. This is why I bicycle tour!—this slow, quiet, solitary movement amid such primordial beauty (never mind the logging trucks!). Ultimately, I covered sixty miles by the day’s end, landing on the Oregon-side of the border just south of Ranier. Having been tipped off that I should be able to find camping space in a county park along the Columbia River, I rolled downhill to the waterside. However, I was more than a little dejected when I discovered a mere grassy parking lot at the edge of the railroad tracks. Not safe. Unable to bike, I pushed uphill to the last house I passed with a sizable yard, knocked on the door to ask for a place to set up my tent for the night, and instead was offered a bed and warm shower! An awkward moment ensued as Bob and I sized each other up, sensing whether the other might actually be dangerous.
“So…is it just you who live here?”
“Just me and my wife.”
I accepted the offer but had a moment of panic when, having stowed the bike, set myself up in the guest bedroom, and yet still hadn’t seen a sign of another inhabitant, Bob turned to me and said, “Well, the wife seems to have disappeared!” Really!!?? But my anxiety was quickly assuaged when his wife Bonnie finally did appear, having gone to track down the cat who had been startled away by my sudden intrusion into their otherwise quiet, secluded rural home. Tensions eased, I spent a very pleasant evening slurping strawberries and cream, conversing, and watching television. And the warm bed and shower were greatly appreciated. Another reason to love bicycle touring: placing yourself in the position to discover and enjoy the serendipitous hospitality of strangers.
I set off early morning refreshed but still in pain, once again taking the gamble that my body would acclimate rather than suffer injury. Happily, more than forty miles later I rolled into Portland with vigor, knee pain all but completely gone, tendon pain no longer an obstacle. I arrived at Metanoia Peace Community late afternoon, with plenty of time to settle in, shower, and enjoy a family-style meal, exhausted but grateful.
Now, my hope was that along the way I would stop at cafes and edit and publish interviews and blog and otherwise keep on top of my responsibilities. In the end, however, at least this time around, it was enough to simply bike these 170 miles, nothing extra. Which is to say that, although at the end of my interview with Craig Greenfield I suggested that I would publish interviews at the rate of approximately once a week, I have learned that, until I acclimate to the biking and become a more efficient editor/blogger, this is an unrealistic goal. I have an interview from Tacoma Catholic Worker on hand and soon one from Metanoia Peace Community, but I make no promises as to when they will be published. Since most of the communities I plan to visit on the West Coast are geographically consolidated, a more reasonable approach might be to do most of the editing and publishing in the long spaces between, such as from southern Oregon to the San Francisco Bay.
In the meantime, the good news is that my body does seem to be acclimating rather than disintegrating, and the tour is finally underway in earnest. Next step: learning rhythms that sustain me physically, emotionally, and spiritually, that also allow me to enter and be open to the rhythms and relationships of the communities I visit.
One day, one pedal stroke at a time.