Cycling to Eugene: Day 3

My friend Cory and I were having dinner when I broke into hysterics. We had gotten to talking about Internet memes, and I was trying to describe a funny picture that had made the rounds lately. Every time I talked about it, I giggled, and the giggles became laughs and then tears. Cory was deadpan, keeping a straight-faced gaze on me and saying, “What’s so funny? Tell me about this picture.” I couldn’t handle it. The laughter had me doubled over my plate of cheeseburger and fries. Our waiter looked concerned for my well-being.

Given the unexpected outburst, I wasn’t sure about the state of my sanity either. I had arrived in Eugene a couple hours before, after another day on the road with just me and my bike, having nobody to share in the gravity of my experience. Now I had a familiar person in front of me–somebody I’ve known for years–as well as time to think, but I didn’t know what to think, or how to relate the details, or the meaning, of my journey from Portland. I’d felt strangely out of sorts since completing the trip.

Eugene was unfamiliar, and rather than staying with Cory I was pitching my tent at a hostel in a hippie-esque neighborhood near a Dari-Mart convenience store and some railroad tracks. I had registered at the main house and walked a few blocks to the ancillary house where I’d be sleeping in the yard for two nights. I dropped off my things, then headed inside the house to take a shower. On my way, with towel in hand, I suddenly paused in the middle of the empty living room. A simple thought had occurred to me: I’m finished! I did it! I let out a constrained sob twisted by a smile. Whatever I was feeling, it didn’t quite know how to depict itself, and I didn’t know how to articulate it.

The last leg of my trip was the shortest, but the day’s heat and the monotony of the route had been challenging. There was very little to entertain my senses along the 45 miles between Corvallis and Eugene. Maybe that’s why I had to spend a lot of thought-energy cheering myself on, telling my legs to keep pedaling across those hot, straight stretches of asphalt. I stopped for shade or shelter at nearly every opportunity. In the dinky town of Harrisburg, my temporary roof was the overhang of a Dari-Mart, where I sat eating ice cream bars next to a soda machine and garbage can. Customers came and went. One guy pulled up in a dusty car, left the engine running and the stereo blasting country music, went inside, and emerged with chips and a soda. Two cyclists stopped by, leaning their bikes against the store’s outside wall. They were dressed in neon and looked to be out for a recreational ride. Typically, I kept to myself instead of greeting them.

Only five miles down the road, in Junction City, I stopped for another rest. It was about 90 degrees by this time. The town was quiet; most people had likely gone inside to escape the worst of the heat, or had left town for Labor Day Weekend. I found a coffee shop that had a couple hours’ life left in it. After eating a salad and skimming the Eugene Register-Guard, whose margins were dressed by commentary from a local reader who just couldn’t keep his pen quiet in the face of the world’s injustices, I put my head down for a short nap. I didn’t want to go back outside until the peak temperature had passed, but the coffee shop would be closing too soon for that.

Hot dryness / dry hotness

I had about fourteen miles left to ride, which would have been cake if not for my heat-induced fatigue. Not far out of Junction City I stopped again, this time at a country-style produce market. I was getting tired of my warm water and Gatorade, so I bought a can of lemon-lime soda. That always seems like a refreshing idea when one is hot and thirsty, but the fizz of soda causes it to take up more space than it’s entitled to, and you can’t get very far without the uncomfortable feeling that you’re pouring liquid on top of an internal balloon. I didn’t want to stay off the road for long, though, so I gulped down the whole disappointing thing in fifteen minutes. From a chair inside the store, I texted my friend Audrey to tell her how worn out I was. After getting back some words of encouragement, I reluctantly set off.

From that “country” store it took about ten minutes for me to start seeing neighborhoods. And there weren’t just houses, but signal-controlled intersections and sheltered bus stops. I had reached North Eugene! I was nearly done! It was a big relief to find myself in urban territory for the first time since Corvallis. (Junction City, despite the “city” in its name, isn’t much.) My hand-drawn map of the route through town, vague as it was, got me to the Whiteaker neighborhood and to the hostel’s main office within the next half-hour.

As I was setting up camp I stashed my bike behind a yurt at the back of the yard, and didn’t touch it for the next two days. I got re-acquainted with the feeling of walking and the feeling of something besides pain in my, um, “saddle interface” area. My legs felt surprisingly good, as if they could have kept riding, but my mind was exhausted. Eugene, unfortunately, didn’t offer much that was soothing or interesting, except a conclusion to my journey and time with a good friend. I grew eager to return home.

On Monday, I placed my bike as carefully as I could in the undercarriage compartment of a bus. I promised myself that while the bus was moving, I wouldn’t strain my ears for the sound of clattering metal below; the bike was in Amtrak’s hands now, and I needed nothing more than a nap on the two-hour ride back to Portland. When I retrieved the bike at Union Station, it was undamaged. I rode four miles to get home from there.

For the next several days, although I was no longer on a bike tour, I fed myself sugars and fats to (over)compensate for 150 miles’ worth of calorie loss. It was more of an emotional reward than anything, but at least in that sense, I had earned it.

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2 Comments

  1. Anonymous

     /  November 2, 2011

    A nice end to your journey. I especially love the spontaneous, uncontrollable, silly laughter marathon. I felt this way too on my bike tour too when I stayed in a town after a few days on the road. For me, I think it was just chemically induced happiness from being outdoors, moving through time and space under my own power, and just hanging out with people and not thinking about all the things you think abut while riding like food, water, shelter, hills, directions, miles, time, etc.

    We had two different experience of Eugene though it seems. I stayed at the main hostel and I couldn’t get enough of that place. Every day new and interesting people came through, We played music together, shared travel stories, and life experiences. I loved the Whiteaker area too! I was really quite fascinated by it. Those people in the core are the original hippies. They live life the way they want to without nary an excuse. I also did some hiking, reading, and general exploring in Eugene for the week I was there. There’s some pretty neat bike stuff there, like Bike Friday and the Center for Appropriate Transport.

    Cheers,

    Mike.

  2. kristenpdx

     /  November 2, 2011

    Those moments of uncontrollable laughter don’t come often enough!

    Yeah, the hostel just wasn’t my scene. I wasn’t really in the mood to chat people up, which is a shame because I’m sure there could have been some interesting conversations. I’m just not the most gregarious person. I hadn’t even thought to look for bike stuff in Eugene! Maybe the whole town just reminded me too much of Arcata, where I went to college and eventually suffocated because the town was too small.

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