Cycling to Eugene: Day 2

At Silver Falls, I slept about as well as I can ever sleep in a tent—fitfully, that is—and woke up with my typical swollen eyes and grogginess. I pulled on some jeans over the leggings I had worn as pajamas, then went outside to fetch breakfast. My bike bucket, which had spent the night on the picnic table, contained not just my food but also every scented item I was traveling with. Yesterday I’d arrived at the campsite to see a warning about bears that advised campers not to keep anything smelly in tents or cars. I’d forgotten about the bear factor when preparing for this trip. My bucket had a waterproof seal that I figured was pretty much airtight as well, so into it went my deodorant, toothpaste, lavender Epsom salts, sunscreen, and mosquito spray.

In the morning, I moved the toiletries out of the way to get at the (now lavender-scented) food. Without a camp stove, I didn’t have anything hearty for breakfast. I tried using one of my tortillas to scoop up some peanut butter, but half of the peanut butter ended up on my hand and I wound up eating a mostly-dry tortilla. Some fruit and a candy bar supplemented the meal. I wanted just enough fuel to get me out of the forest and into Sublimity, which was the next town on my route.

I had ridden my bike 1,800 feet to reach the undulating, waterfall-spotted region of Silver Falls State Park, and I had a bit more climbing to do before I could leave. It was not a pleasant way for my body to greet the morning. Both my body and my frustration were quick to overheat. As I had done the day before, I was stopping every few minutes to rest my legs and lungs; this hurt my pride, since the day was just beginning and I felt like I should be able to perform better. I had also overdressed for the amount of exertion I was undergoing. I took off my flannel shirt at the side of the road, but had to wait a while longer to take off the jeans.

After half an hour or so, I reached the beginning of my descent. There was a roadside vista point next to a sign marking the park’s entrance/exit. It was early enough that there were no cars around. I hopped off my bike and stood on the warm stone ledge, from which I felt that I could see the entire 55 miles I had biked yesterday. The countryside was quiet but for a tractor kicking up dust a couple of miles away. I stayed for a few minutes to watch the tiny farmers toiling. And since I was completely alone, I yanked off my long pants and replaced them with shorts. Then, after taking a quick photo, I was ready to continue.

Leaving Silver Falls

My descent into the Willamette Valley was the longest I had ever experienced. Many cyclists like to show off their downhill speeds, which tend to approach the velocity of a car on a level two-lane road; but I have no bicycle computer and am terrible at estimating speed. I tried to capture it by setting my camera to video mode and balancing it on the open mouth of my handlebar bag. (There was no way I’d try to hold it with one hand while controlling my bicycle with the other.) As I sped along, however, the camera fell—backward and into the bag, luckily—and at the same time shut itself off due to battery death. I stopped to replace the batteries, and gave up on the idea of making a thrilling video.

I reached Sublimity at 11:00, well within the breakfast window. I wasn’t sure what I’d find there. For some towns on my route, I had drawn a map of the city center to help me locate restaurants and grocery stores. Sublimity looked too small to contain much of interest, but I assumed that it would at least yield some eggs and toast. My expectations were poorly met by a runny ham-and-cheese omelet served at a combination café/gift shop. Two miles down the road, in Stayton, I would pull over at Dairy Queen and eat some ice cream to complete my satiation.

A few other customers entered the café, or walked by, during breakfast. If they had glanced my way they would have seen my packhorse of a bike leaning against the wall, and a bike helmet sitting on the table next to my food. After my meal was over they would have seen me smear on sunscreen, put on a pair of fingerless cycling gloves, then outfit my glasses with a rearview mirror in preparation for hitting the road. But nobody said anything or seemed to pay much notice. I wasn’t getting any outward shows of attention on this trip, which felt like such a big journey to me. It was slightly disappointing; I wanted some congratulations.

I found a couple of people to talk to after I’d crossed Interstate 5 and began tracing the path of the Willamette River. Chris and Chris, both from Portland, were also riding to Eugene and, like me, were planning to spend the night in Corvallis. Unlike me, they were speedy and carried few pieces of luggage on their bikes. They stopped to chat with me when I pulled over to change the music on my iPod, and rapidly pedaled out of sight afterward. We joked about taking a dip in the river on this hot day. It did sound appealing, like an impromptu swimming party; but when I next saw Chris and Chris, enjoying some shade at a riverfront park, I just waved and kept on riding. My antisocial tendencies had gotten the better of me.

Maybe, though, it was something other than introversion. I was in kind of a groove now that I’d finished the only hilly part of my trip. My iPod battery was doing surprisingly well after at least eight hours of use, so I was constantly accompanied by podcasts and some of my favorite music. The intimacy between me, my bike, the Oregon landscape, and the music was plenty satisfying. Only the day’s growing heat disrupted my rhythm. I was riding along roads with few trees, so nearly every patch of shade was an occasion to stop for a swig of water or Gatorade. Each ensuing venture into the sun was somewhat galling.

Hot country road

I took a respite in Albany, which is a mid-sized town located northeast of Corvallis. There was a cute coffee shop in a brick building with large street-facing windows. It wasn’t air-conditioned, but it felt better than the 90-degree weather outside. I drank the largest iced tea they could give me, and lingered in a pink armchair while scanning the Eugene Weekly. Reading the local papers is one of my favorite things to do while traveling. Unfortunately, the subjects and perspectives offered by Eugene’s alternative weekly weren’t very different from those in Portland. I felt like I should have been in some exotic location by now, given the amount of time I’d spent on the road. I could have hitched a ride in somebody’s car and been home in about an hour. I was equally close to Eugene, but wouldn’t actually get there until the following evening.

Albany was my last interim stop of the day. I had to cross only ten miles of flat terrain in order to reach Corvallis. For the last few miles I pedaled alongside rush hour traffic on Highway 34; it was the only time during my trip that I was in the presence of substantial car traffic. In a couple of spots, orange construction cones pushed me uncomfortably close to motorists. Still, I was unscathed and unshaken as I crossed the Willamette River into town.

Arrival in Corvallis

On the waterfront, I asked a strolling couple to photograph me next to my bike. They offered smiling congratulations upon hearing of my 50-mile ride: a moment of small recognition that pleased me. I was also happy to be done riding for the day, and looking forward to checking into a motel. Chris and Chris, the touring cyclists, had invited me to meet them at Squirrel’s Tavern, but I had declined, having other plans that I was determined to carry out. Those plans revolved around pizza, a bed, and cable television. And I was not disappointed.

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