Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Homestretch: From Portland to Eugene

I left Portland to go to Eugene on bike, an odd feeling indeed since I always travel by car or train back and forth between the two cities. I could have easily made the trip in a day and a half, but again, stubborn me, wanted to time my arrival with my birthday, forcing me to take the more leisurely route.

There is a lot of gorgeous countryside on the outskirts of Portland that makes for nice riding

Since I wasn't worried about making good time, I decided to try out the bike path network to get out of the city. Portland, like Seattle, is very bike friendly with designated streets for cyclists, bike route signs posted on all corners, and a large network of paths. However, my theory for bike paths continues to hold true after my experience in Portland. Navigating the maze of bike paths feels a lot like a scavenger hunt, without the prize or treasure at the end, except arriving at your destination. I wish that cities would have some sort of secret cyclists, like the concept of secret shoppers that test out a bike path and evaluate just how easy and efficient they are to navigate. You have to be very focused and aware of the different signs directing you to turn left or continue straight and I have to admit, at this point in my trip, I spend a lot of time day dreaming in motion, impossible to hold a train of thought for more than two minutes. Therefore I'm a disaster when it come to navigating bike paths and hence I arrived an hour late to meet my friend south of Portland. A mere 12 miles took me 2 hours, due to a lot of wrong turns and my inability to follow the signs.

Molly and her two girls Lily and Olive

Molly is one of my friends who I've stayed in touch with since high school. She and I were two of the four “Fro's” in my close knit group of friends. We called ourselves the “Fros” because of our blonde curly curly hair that was simply out of control and wild at a time when curly hair was really not in! Molly and I were also tennis doubles partners in high school and we both have an incredible amount of energy and always on the go. Although she is now married and has two adorable girls, she hasn't aged a bit since high school. We might not see each other for a year or two, but it is always refreshing to catch up when I'm home. She and the girls brought me lunch and a cupcake to celebrate my birthday and we had a nice time together at a park just south of Portland.

Farm land close to Mollala, Oregon

Lots of farms and barns, some in better conditions than others

From there I kept pedaling south, taking the more scenic route to avoid major roads and found myself surrounded by a lot of farmland on rolling terrain. The colors were absolutely beautiful and so was the weather making the ride incredibly peaceful. I stopped off at a vegetable market to pick up some fresh fruit, the prices were unbelievably cheap and there were all sorts of apple varieties from local farms, which were impossible to pass up even though I only had two days left on the road. I had lightened my load in Portland, hence a bit of added weight didn't make much difference.

Alyssa, Jen, and myself

I arrived to Hubbard, Oregon where I stayed with a friend from my Master's program at OSU, Jen and her husband, Ben. Alyssa from our program also came up to have dinner together and it was fun to catch up and hear about teaching in the United States. Both work at bilingual schools and teach in dual immersion programs, which is something I would eventually like to do, teach Spanish that is. Jen and Ben are also avid outdoor enthusiasts and go to Alaska almost every summer to fish. I loved hearing about their fishing experiences and was pretty much convinced by the end of my stay that I should work a fishing season up in Alaska to replenish my back account. Of course I'd have to get past the whole sea sickness thing, and not showering for a week, but I think I could manage.

The next morning I set out bright and early when Jen left for school, pedaling to Corvallis, except that it wasn't bright at all as the entire Willamette Valley was socked in with fog. When the fog started to burn off, two hours later, it made for the most beautiful morning with colors so rich and deep it reminded me of dusk. Again, I lucked out with another delightful sunny day. I made such good time and only had to ride 60 miles, so I stopped at McDonalds in Salem in order to do a blog post. 

When the morning fog burned off, it was actually a gorgeous day

One thing I'm going to miss after this trip are my McDonalds pit stops. I have visited McDonalds all over the world. They are a fascinating place to people watch and it is very interesting to compare McDonalds globally. Did you know that the ice cream cones at McDonlalds in the United States are the most expensive in the world? All other countries I have visited have ice cream cones for less than a dollar and most hover right around 50 cents. Wireless connections at McDonalds were the best in Asia where it is not uncommon to find groups of friends getting together to stream and watch entire feature length films after ordering a burger. One of the only advantages to Macca's (as they call them down under) in the US is that they are open 24 hours, not to mention they are the place to be if you are 65+ (or a tour cyclist looking for free wifi) to have your morning coffee and meet friends. I suppose if I was desperate to find a safe place to pitch my tent, I could have done so in a McDonald's parking lot! Surprisingly, the quality of coffee at McDonalds is on par with a Starbucks and prices are a dollar or two cheaper!

From Salem, I had several different route options, all which eventually took me over the Willamette river and into Corvallis. I opted for the ferry, never having experienced a river ferry in Oregon. The Buena Vista ferry is truly unique. It crosses the Willamette river close to Independence running on a cable across the river. The whole journey takes all but 5 minutes, but it was quite an adrenaline rush and a time saver compared to navigating a lot of back roads to find a bridge that crosses the river. It is open all year except for Christmas and Thanksgiving from 7am to 7pm. I find it fascinating that someone mans the ferry all day long despite having such low volume traffic. I was the only passenger to make the journey and there weren't any cars waiting on the other side. Basically it runs for anyone, at any time, to accommodate traffic in both directions. For foot passengers it is free, bikes cost a dollar, and cars range in price from 3 to 9 dollars.

I had a good laugh at all the warning signs in order to board the ferry

I am the VIP passenger, the only one!

It dropped me off on the west side of the river where I pretty much cycled alone on the roads all the way down to Corvallis. Before arriving at my host for the evening I visited with the mom of one of my high school friends, Jacque. Basically all the people I know my age in Eugene have left, so when I come home I try to see their parents and enjoy catching up with them. Jacque travels to Corvallis frequently so it worked out perfectly to meet up with her there, even though she would be at my house the following day.

Tons of pumpkin patches, if they didn't weigh so much I would have taken a few


Flat rural riding on the outskirts of Corvallis


In Corvallis I stayed with a university professor from my Master's program Ken, and his wife, Melinda, both in the education field and global travelers. I feel right at home with Warmshowers host, but also people who share my interests, which is why I enjoyed my visit with the Winograds. We had a lot of stories to tell from our travels and had a lot of fun talking. They made me a delicious meal and a yummy dessert, pumpkin pie cheesecake. Pumpkin is up there on the list with beef jerky, of foods I miss living abroad. I'm guaranteed to scarf down any recipe with pumpkin as an ingredient, which explains going back for seconds with Melinda's cheesecake. In the morning they both wished me happy birthday and Ken gifted me with his latest book, Critical Literacy with Young Learners which I can't wait to read to help integrate back into the world of teaching.

Kindergartners at Franklin Elementary singing Happy Birthday in Corvallis

A geography presentation at Linus Pauling Middle School in Corvallis

That morning I visited Melinda's kindergarten class, where the students sang “Happy Birthday” and then I went over to the dual immersion program and spoke with the sixth graders at Linus Pauling. I started pedaling south to Eugene in the late morning with cloudy skies. Soon the clouds started spitting down rain and I knew that I was going to be accompanied by rain the entire ride to Eugene. I knew this was going to happen, and being wet didn't bother me one bit! I came to accept that symbolically the rain represented the tears of joy for my arrival, or was it my inner soul crying out in sadness now that I had nowhere else to pedal! I'm always an optimist, but I think the tears were both of sorrow and excitement representative of how I felt as I pedaled the last miles.

The clouds in the Willamette valley are truly unique. There isn't one specific cloud that passes over and dumps water on you, rather it is a blanket of grayness that hoovers low in the air for hours spitting out droplets of water that eventually create enough rain to make you wet. I do admit the rural countryside is still pleasant to observe, even in the rain!

I had some time to spare on the way home, so I stopped for lunch 20 miles north or Eugene, and again to make some phone calls 5 miles north of the city limits. I still had time to buy before my 4:30 arrival, so I went to a local grocery store in Eugene and changed into dry clothes. I know, that is cheating and after pedaling around the world, I should have been able to hack being wet and cold a few minutes longer, but I longed to be warm and dry for my arrival.

I made it to Eugene, soaked but ecstatic

What was going through my head as I pedaled the last few miles? How did I feel? The rain magnified my desire to be home. I was chuckling to myself, thinking I could have had a dry arrival if I came one day sooner. But stubborn me, wouldn't have had it any other way. It was October 14th and the Oregon rain had come, just like my mom always said. I was anxious to be home, to be dry, surrounded by people I know, and to experience life out of the saddle. I had already seen my family so there wasn't that build up, but I was looking forward to seeing familiar faces and places. My dad called me from the supermarket to let me know I could come since everyone had arrived at my house. The rain had just started to fall again as I turned down my street. The closer I got to my house, the more cars I saw. There at the end of my driveway was a small crowd to cheer and applaud for me. I had a flashback to the Ironman that I won back in Spain, three years ago. Crossing a finish line isn't something you rehearse. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, just like my arrival to Eugene, and it actually feels a bit awkward. I'm not one to be in the lime light. I didn't let out a big scream, nor did I dance or prance around. I had a big smile on my face. Mentally, I think I let out a sigh of relief and content. I made it!

Pedaling into Pioneer Pike

The welcoming crew at my house

Hugging friends despite the wet rain

My parents had organized a small gathering of friends, mostly parents of friends, since I don't know many people in Eugene any more. They were such good sports to be waiting for me out in the rain. I admitted to them that I had changed my clothes recently at Market of Choice, but I was still eager to go inside and be warm. I didn't have much time to talk with everyone, but I appreciated a nice warm greeting for my arrival. A handful of my high school friend's parents came as well as some of my local followers and friends, and a few neighbors as well. One of my hosts from Wyoming even came to welcome me which was a real treat! A reporter from the local newspaper showed up for an interview and after he left I was able to talk some more with my friends.

A pretty casual newspaper interview in my kitchen

Talking with friends and family upon my arrival
Posing with a few moms from the Spanish Immersion Program Class of '97

Two hours later the crowd had cleared out and there I was with my parents sitting down in the living room talking. It's funny how after 14 months of pedaling it all came to an just like that. There I was at home as if I had never left. It felt surreal. Did I really just pedal 21,000 miles to get here? Had I really traveled through 4 continents and 26 countries and been on the road for 14 months? When you see a familiar place and so many recognizable faces it feels as though time had froze, like I'd always been there and never left. I guess that is the true definition of home; there is always something so comfortable and familiar about the space. The smells, space and distances, colors, subtle noises; these things never change. Even though you've grown and aged and so have the people around you, home is timeless.

My parents with the welcome sign stayed up for a few days

Monday, October 13, 2014

An Oregon Coast Detour


The Oregon Coast at it's finest.  It reminded me a lot of The Great Ocean Road in Australia and Tasmania's coastline

Ever since I can remember my Mom has always told me that the rain in Oregon comes right around my birthday. This year, more than any other, I needed this statement to hold true. I have scheduled my entire trip around my birthday, not necessarily to celebrate at home, but because it is when it gets too rainy in the Northwest to enjoy cycling, at least in my opinion. I had a day of rain in Vancouver, BC, another in Bellingham, and an evening of rain in Seattle, but after that, the rain held out and the weather forecast was skeptically summer-like. The forecast all over Oregon called for record high temperatures and no rain, I couldn't have asked for a better weather forecast and therefore take the scenic detour down the Oregon Coast before cutting over to Portland. Besides, how can an avid cyclist from Oregon cycle all over the world and never have pedaled down the Oregon Coast. In the world of tour cyclists, the Oregon Coast is at the top of the list for being the most scenic section of the Pacific Coast.

I left The Boreas Inn late in the morning after an amazing breakfast and took my time crossing the Oregon border exploring Washington's Cape Disappointment State Park. I reached the mouth of the Columbia River and the Astoria bridge with excitement, but also felt intimidated. Not only did the length of the bridge scare me, about a mile and a half in length, there was both a flat causeway and a high steel bridge that was unfortunately Although there were “Share the Road” signs at the start of the bridge, there was very little shoulder. My adrenaline was rushing as I started across. To my surprise, the official boundary is at the start of the bridge and I entered Oregon with a big smile on my face. I tried to stay focused on the bridge and traffic regardless of the most putrid roadkill I had smelled since kangaroos in Australia. Who would have guessed seagulls make for a putrid smell, flattened and dried out on the road?

The bridge from Washington to Astoria over The Columbia River
When the flat causeway bridge ended a high steel bridge started which was under road construction. All the cars were stopped and of course I got stopped too by a man in reflective gear controlling traffic. He let two groups of car go before allowing me to pedal. Only later did I learn after running into a group of both men and women cyclists, that only the women cyclists were stopped. Ironic?!?!.....I don't think so; the poor man must have been bored and needed some entertainment and conversation high above the Columbia River.

Oh, I see, you stop the women, but let the men cyclist pedal on......I don't blame you!

I was thrilled to see this sign, although I had to stand in the freeway to take the picture!

I made it over the bridge and pedaled into Astoria on the most beautiful of days I have ever witnessed on the Oregon Coast. Temperatures were between 75 and 80F with not a cloud in the sky. Not to mention I had a tailwind and the road was completely flat for the first section of the Oregon Coast. I had a Warmshowers host set up in Seaside, but with such a smooth ride, I decided to continue pedaling and make it to Nehalem State Park south of Canon Beach where a fellow tour cycling friend was camped out. I met Brad, an Aussie from Darwin on a long tour back in March in Tasmania. He had also pedaled around the island, then headed to Alaska, where we somehow missed each other, and had stayed in touch since hoping we could still find each other somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. I was over the hump of feeling sad and confused upon ending my trip, but I knew that I would enjoy the company of another cyclist who could relate to a long distance trip and my nomadic lifestyle. Not to mention I'm a sucker for an Aussie accent; I just melt when I hear it!

I enjoyed pedaling on Highway 101. How can you not with sunny blue skies, warm air, and relatively little traffic on the road. The stretch from Astoria to Cannon Beach has been recently repaved and there is a fairly wide shoulder. From Canon Beach down, the scenery starts to get really good although the shoulder decreases. Cars are still reminded frequently to watch for cyclists on the road. In fact I went through a tunnel that asks cyclists to push a button so red lights will flash to let cars know there is a cyclist inside. After stopping in Cannon Beach to take some pictures, I continued on to Nehalem State Park, excited to meet Brad. It took longer than I expected, not because of the hills, but because of the pretty scenery. From Cannon Beach down, the highways hugs the coastline making for spectacular views.

The Oregon Coast, Cannon Beach

Breathtaking scenery from Cannon Beach south
I made it to Nehalem State Park just before sunset and located Brad in the hiker biker site. Oregon State Parks are some of the best in the country for hiker and bikers. They charge between $5 and $10 with showers included! We were thrilled to see one another, it had been 8 months since our paths crossed on the south eastern coast of Tasmania, close to Freycinet National Park and had a ton of stories to share with one another, especially since we had cycled a lot of the same sections of road. We headed over to take some pictures on the beach of the sun going down and the almost full moon and then had dinner, which he prepared for me. What a treat!

Selfie at Nehalem State Park Beach
As the sunset, the moon was in a pretty remarkable state, almost full!

Well after sunset some other cyclists rolled in to the campsite. Ironically I had crossed paths with them twice already on the roads in Bellingham and again on the Hood Canal. They were a group of three heading to Cabo San Lucas. The whole group of us had a great time that night talking and telling stories and still managed to have an early night in our tents by 10 pm. No sooner did I switch off my headlamp, I heard some noises outside, as if people were walking around crunching in the leaves and going through out stuff. I quickly got dressed and opened my tent, to find Brad outside trying to ward off a family of raccoons. Wouldn't you know they had managed to get into my food pannier. I had very little food on me since I was so close to the end of my trip, but the little food I had was about to be devoured by them despite being secured enclosed in my pannier. Raccoons might seem harmless, but they've done more damage than any other animal I've encountered on this trip.

I decided to bring my bags next to my tent in order to keep an ear out for the raccoons, although, like always, I used earplugs to sleep. For some odd reason I woke up in the middle of the night to another sound, this time rather quiet and opened my tent again, to see what it could be. There, starring me in the face was a raccoon dragging away my food pannier with one paw. I couldn't believe me eyes. What a thief! I've been victim to Raccoon vandalism once on this trip and I wasn't going to let it happen again! I was so shocked, I yelled at him and said, “Hey, give that back!” and yanked on it to pull it close to my tent again. At first he didn't want to let go, but then I jut pulled harder and I was able to get it back. Funny, because I suppose he could have just as easily come back again, but thankfully I slept soundly through the rest of the night and when I awoke in the morning both bags were still right outside my tent.
This little guy and his family are NOT as innocent as they look!  (photo courtesy of Brad)
Riding the Oregon Coast Bike Route with Brad  (photo courtesy of Brad)

The next morning Brad and I were up and on the road early, before the other group of cyclists. It was refreshing to have some company and bounce ideas off another tour cyclist who was eager to continue making long bike tours a a regular part of their “normal life”. The morning ride down to Tillamook went by quickly and by 11am we were at the Tillamook Cheese Factory. It's never too early to eat ice cream. Tillamook Cheese Factory is a “must see” destination on the Oregon Coast. Not only does it have the best ice cream, the cheese samples are to die for and left unattended, set-up in an “all-you-can-eat” buffet setting, making it easy to go back for seconds without anyone noticing! We picked up lunch items at the Fred Meyer and pedaled east over the Tillamook River to Cape Lookout. After a picnic lunch on the socked in coast, Brad and I split paths. His route was bringing him down the Oregon Coast into San Francisco and I needed to head east into Portland.

Can't help but smile riding on the Oregon Coast in 80F with good company and beautiful scenery (photo courtesy of Brad)

I LOVE THIS PLACE!!!  They should offer a deal for cyclists though, maybe half price liter tubs?!?!?

The cheese samples are amazing and you have to eat them before the ice cream, after too!
Oddly dry for the Oregon Coast, and sand dunes on both sides of the roads
After studying the map religiously, I decided the best road to take inland was a paved rural backroad from Beaver, Oregon that headed east through the Nestucca Forest meeting up with Carlton, Oregon southwest of Beaverton, my first stop in the Portland area. I wanted to avoid the major coastal highways, and was quite pleased with my road choice. Route 858 is one of the most scenic roads I've pedaled in Oregon, winding through farms on both sides of the road, with the foliage on the Oak trees at their prime. There was virtually no traffic and 5 forest campsites to choose from for camping. I pedaled until it got dark, enjoying the peaceful road and a peaceful dusk. I pulled over at the last campsite I came across, which happened to be free and deserted. It was still open, but the water had been turned off. I had one bottle left and used it sparingly. I had one of my mega baby wipe towels left, that I had specifically saved for my last night of camping. I gave myself a quick wipe and went to bed early to the sound of the Nestucca River rushing below and autumn leaves falling on the ground.

Oregon scenery for sure with the moss on the trees and the ferns in the forest 

Me, myself, and I on scenic Rt. 858.  The best kept secret to cross the coastal range from Portland

My last campsite of the trip

I do love my little tent, 2ft by 6ft. I slept so soundly all trip long in this tent

The next morning I was surprised by the lack of traffic. There was a 2 mile gravel section which must have been long enough to discourage vehicles to cross the coastal range on this road. I pedaled to the top of the pass, which was a relatively low grade, and started my decent into the Willamette Valley with the Cascade mountains in the background. Another beautiful day accompanied on my ride and by 11am I was in Carlton. There isn't much in Carlton except for a gas station which has a dive of a diner attached to it, that had the most delicious french toast and pancakes. I had skimped on dinner and had a banana for breakfast, so a big breakfast stop here was a must!

The Cascade mountains in the background as I descended into the Willamette Valley
Pretty hard to beat this breakfast!
From here my ride continued to be pretty pleasant all the way to Forest Grove where I finally hit a bit of traffic. I wanted to arrive in Beaverton early rather than later to have some extra time with my friend, Brianne. She's a teacher as well, one of my few friends I still have back in Oregon. We always make a point of seeing each other when I'm visiting and have fun catching up. Although our lives are so completely different it's always refreshing to see each other. Her husband went to a Portland Timber's match so we could have some girl time together. She wanted to treat me to dinner and would have taken me anywhere, but I was dying for some fresh veggies and soup, which is why we ended up at an all-you-can-eat soup and salad buffet. We had a good laugh because we must have been the most fit people in the entire restaurant and even our combined weight was less than the average customer, but the unlimited salad bar hit the spot. Not to mention they had a chocolate lava cake out for dessert and a soft serve ice cream machine that I hit up for thirds. There's still no shame.......

Loved the slogan of this buffet!  Maybe they'd be my sponsor!



Visited the Nike campus on the way to Brianne's,...."Just Did It!"
The next morning I visited Brianne's second grade dual immersion classroom at Barnes Elementary and enjoyed talking with her students. They had an unbelievable amount of patience and sat we engaged in conversation for an hour before I headed off to visit another bilingual school in north Portland. It was great for me to give my talk in Spanish, I seldom speak in Spanish, using Catalan to talk and email my friends back in Barcelona. Harvey Scott was the second school I visited, upon request from an old high school friend, who I literally hadn't since we graduated almost 20 years ago!

What's in those bags Ms. Melissa,.......kids always want to know, so I make them guess

Dual immersion second grade at Harvey Scott Elementary

After my school visit I was eager to ride to my sister's house. Jenny moved houses since I've been pedaling so it felt as though I was riding to the host's house rather than my own sister. I got there a lot earlier than expected so I could surprise my niece at school. It's funny because as soon as I was at Jenny's house for an hour or two, it felt as though I'd been there all along and that my trip was something of the past, a long long time ago. That's the best part about being home with your family. Yes people change and grow when you are away, but you have an established history and unconditional love that doesn't and it is so easy to feel comfortable and slide into a routine. I know I have quite a few followers in the Portland area and some old high school friends, but for this visit, my family was my priority.

We went out for a bike ride.  Peter felt light in the Burley on the back

Gwyneth's soccer fans 
If Peter had his way, we would have taken home about 20 pumpkins!

The Seilos and Pritchards pumpkin picking


The Pritchard clan minus myself, Jeff, and Walter and his family

Tom and Jeff, my younger twin brothers


My parents came up from Eugene, and my two younger brothers who live in Portland came over at various times during the weekend so I could see them as well. We were only missing one Pritchard, Walter and his family down in San Francisco, but had plenty of bodies there to keep us all busy and entertained. We played outside, watched Gwyneth's soccer match, headed out to a pumpkin patch, enjoyed family meals, and went out for drinks. It was an ideal weekend for me, low key enjoying my family's company. I could have easily thrown my bike in the back of my parent's car and headed down to Eugene with them, but I was adamant on pedaling all the way to Eugene for my birthday, cherishing the homestretch of The Loong Way Home. Dare I say, it's October 13th and it's still sunny.......?!?!