Crater Lake

I’ve seen rainbows in the sky, in the mists of city fountains, and among the spray of waterfalls, but only once have I seen a rainbow in the middle of a lake. Everybody was in awe at the Crater Lake Lodge. Drink and meal service stopped as guests and employees came out to the back porch with their smartphones and cameras. The rainbow was a short, pale arc emerging from cobalt-blue water and dissolving into the wintry air. There had been snow, rain, and hail that day, marking the end of autumn in the mountains of southern Oregon, and we felt this was a reward bestowed by a temporarily clear sky. It was too cold to stay and gaze at it for long. We, mostly strangers, smiled at each other and filed back inside to enjoy our hot drinks.

I had been on the other side of that rainbow a couple hours earlier, on the rim of Crater Lake, riding my bike on an empty road with my friend Fiona. Park administrators had closed the road to motor vehicles for the weekend to give cyclists a rare opportunity to enjoy it without the fear and stress of car traffic. They, and we, had expected nicer weather and a much larger crowd of visitors. I had helped to lead a caravan from Portland the night before, transporting about 13 people. Most of us had ratcheted down our cycling ambitions after we’d arrived and found ourselves pitching tents under freezing rain. Many people wanted to ride the entire car-free portion of Rim Drive, which was about 26 miles. A handful of them followed through, starting early in anticipation of a snowstorm. Some went a few miles before heading to the lodge or back to the campsite. One didn’t even leave the campground. Fiona and I biked about seven miles before encountering a few friends who were going the opposite direction, and reversed course. They told us it had begun to snow at some of the higher points of the rim. So far, we had gotten no worse than an interruption of sleet against the persistent chill of the air. (more…)

Advertisements

Bike touring lessons

Three weeks ago I left for a bike tour through the San Juans and Whidbey Island, up in the Puget Sound north of Seattle. I’d like to share the whole story, but I haven’t had a stretch of concentration long enough to start writing about it. I do have a few snippets, however. This was the longest tour I’ve done yet, at five days with a median distance of 33 miles per day (total of 170 miles). I also planned and went on the trip alone, so naturally I got some things a little bit wrong—but all that means is, lessons have been learned for next time.

What I learned from my trip:

1. Bring mosquito repellent if you’re going near the woods. This should have been obvious, what with the Northern Hemisphere being in summertime. But I had figured that mosquitoes wouldn’t be a problem on the coast, so I didn’t bring protection. In the first couple days, along the rocky shores or among the farmlands of the San Juans, no mosquitoes came to bother me. Instead, they had a secret meeting and planned an ambush at the forested campground in the northeastern corner of Lopez Island, where I had hoped to relax for the night. They were so vicious that I zipped myself into my tent and had granola bars for dinner, rather than staying outside and cooking.  (more…)

Pushing it

I wore a mid-afternoon veneer of sweat and sunblock, in a mixture that dripped helplessly down my body. I gulped the last of my warm Gatorade and moved on to the bottle of water, which was also warm and getting close to empty. The temperature in the sun was about 96 degrees, and perhaps a few degrees cooler where I stood on the shaded sidewalk. My bike was near me, idling against a fence. I started to relax as my body slowly cooled. I had been biking for 37 miles, and another 11 stretched between me and my apartment. Under better conditions I would have had no trouble completing the ride, but the hottest day of the year had gotten the better of me. I had just come down from the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway—shady, downhill, river-adjacent—and found myself on the completely sun-exposed shoulder of Halsey Street in Troutdale. It was 3:00 and I could no longer handle the heat radiating from the asphalt. I caught a bus, put my bike on the front rack, and returned to Portland in air-conditioned comfort.

Earlier that day, while debating whether or not to go out in the forecast heat, I assumed I’d be home before the temperature hit its peak. But I hadn’t started early enough. My 9:30 breakfast stop turned into a sojourn, since my little pre-ride to the restaurant had me sweating already. I wondered if I should go on, even as I downed the stack of pancakes that I ordered specifically to fuel a long bike ride. In the end, I couldn’t convince myself to give up the goal of reaching Crown Point in the Gorge. This was the very ride that kickstarted my knee problem over a year ago and prevented me from riding the Tour of the Unknown Coast, and generally sidelined me from doing long rides for a while. (more…)

Holiday departure

Dear friend,

I sit in the main concourse of Portland International Airport with bags of Christmas gifts at my side. I finished my gift shopping for the family a few weeks ago, and now I can’t wait to see them received. My own friends, and boyfriend, have already given me so much this season. Even the little girl I mentored for two years, whom I’ve ended my formal relationship with, picked out some presents for me and insisted that I open them in front of her as she opened her gift from me. We had an animal theme going on. I gave her a children’s novel about a girl and a pony, and a reindeer tree ornament; she gave me two jigsaw puzzles, one with a picture of cats and the other full of dogs. She also drew a picture inside the Christmas card showing her and me riding a giant cat. She didn’t say “thank you” for her gifts, but I came to expect that a long time ago. Maybe it’s because I’m no longer a mentor that it didn’t occur to me to correct her and elicit some verbal appreciation.

It is dreary outside on the runway, but inside it’s as pleasant as usual. This really is a nice airport, and I must have picked a good time to fly (3:45 in the afternoon) because it isn’t too crowded. I only wish that somebody was at the piano to play Christmas tunes. Not that I haven’t had my fill of holiday music this season. My head has been in Christmas-land since before December. That’s partly due to a new boyfriend who has made me feel as joyful as a kid. Among many other things, he’s one of the rare people in my life who actually enjoys carols, like I do. So we’ve been singing with the car radio, singing as we walk down the street, singing as we prepare meals or bake in the kitchen. (more…)

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

Cycling to Eugene: Day 1

My, my heart like a kick drum
(thump thump thump thump thump)
My, my love like a voice …

A fittingly exuberant song greeted me as I rolled across a Clackamas River bridge into Oregon City. The wide swath of water glittered under a mid-morning sun. My iPod, tuned to the Avett Brothers, provided a battery-powered soundtrack to the start of a long bicycle-powered journey. It was the first day of September, which was shaping up to be a summery month for the Portland region. At merely five miles into a 150-mile route, my cycling legs felt ready for anything as they carried my self, my bike, and my luggage toward the first hills I would encounter that day.

Oregon City is like a split-level house. You can take an elevator, operated by a local tour guide, to the upper level; or you can tackle a San Francisco-grade hill. I remembered that climb from months before, when I had taken my first bike camping trip and traversed the same route I was using now. Back then, the hill defeated me the moment I saw it. Unlike most other cyclists in the group, I chose to walk my bike the entire way up. At the top, everybody gathered to rest and to cheer on the others, including my friend Evelyn, who was also relatively new to cycling but rode her weighty bike all the way to the top. I looked on with admiration and frustration.

Today, there was no question about it: I’d be pedaling up that hill no matter how slowly I went. By this time I had taken five bike camping trips—one of them solo—that involved rides of 22 to 35 miles each way. I had also embarked on some lengthy day rides through Portland and beyond, and I was eager to keep challenging myself. That’s the main reason I had decided to make this three-day trip, alone, from Portland to Eugene.  I was also motivated to visit an old college friend in Eugene, and to explore the Willamette River Valley. Oregon City was the first of many small cities and towns I’d be passing through. And its hill—which I did, in fact, climb without getting off my bike—was just the beginning of that day’s adventures in elevation gain. (more…)

Haunted travels

The window seat gave me a little privacy as I turned away from my seating companion to cry. I was painfully hunched over and my shoulders bounced involuntarily with each sob, but I tried to keep it quiet. It was a small airplane and I didn’t want to alarm the other passengers. At nearly 11:00 PM we were finally on our way home from Seattle to Portland, after we’d been forced off of one plane and onto another due to mechanical problems. The flight attendants sounded weary as they apologized for the hour-long delay.

My day had started in Minneapolis at 4:30 AM Pacific Time. I had drunk too much caffeine, eaten bad food, and spent the whole day in meetings with my boss and our state-government clients. After the workday was done and I had killed a few hours at the airport, I grew increasingly irritated. The pain in my head intensified. By the time I got to Seattle for my connecting flight home, I felt terrible. My stomach ached along with everything else physical and spiritual, but I didn’t have enough time before boarding to sit down for a decent meal. Making things worse, I knew that by the time I got home I would only be permitted six hours of sleep before heading back to the airport for another eastbound flight—adding up to four consecutive days of business travel.

As much I enjoy visiting new places and getting a chance to interact with clients whom I don’t normally see face-to-face, travel has a way of wearing me down. (more…)

Against the wind

Depending on your tolerance for rain and clouds, the Pacific Northwest is either one of the most lush and vibrant places in the country or one of the most depressing. I’ve always held the more positive opinion, having known for years that I wanted to move northward from California. I’m captivated by the ocean and I feel embraced by the wet, shady woods. I love the way forested hills look at twilight when porch lights from isolated homes begin twinkling out from between the treetops. I love the freshness of seaside air and the audible power of roiling ocean waves.

Yet I think I’ve never been to such a desolate place as the southwestern tip of Washington on a winter’s day. I drove across the Oregon-Washington border on Saturday in search of attractions, feeling hopeful after a good breakfast. (more…)

Arrival in Astoria

On Friday the rain was blowing like crazy. I had just breached the city limits of Astoria when it started coming down hard, making navigation even trickier than it already was in an unfamiliar place. From the highway through town, I tried to take note of the street signs and landmarks passing through my peripheral vision so I might know where to turn when I came back that way. The downtown lights were cheerful, but I wasn’t ready to stop yet. It was still early—just past noon—and I couldn’t check into my hotel until 3:00, so I kept driving westward to where the Columbia River would meet the sea. I hadn’t seen the ocean in months and wouldn’t be deterred by thunder and lightning.

I followed a series of signs to Ft. Stevens State Park, and parked the car in a lot that looked like wet clay. It was surrounded by gray, lumpy sand dunes with grassy tops and wind-scoured sides. There was a break in the rain as I stepped out of the car to wander across the sand. A few minutes earlier I had seen a partial rainbow off to the North, but now that I had a chance to look for it again, it was gone. Instead, I kept one eye on the sea and another on the darkening sky while my bare hands became chapped and reddened. A few other hardy visitors joined me out there, but I don’t think any of us stayed longer than ten minutes. The shells of our jackets rippled furiously in the wind as we hugged ourselves and laughed at pieces of seafoam skipping across the beach. I took as many photos as I could of the waves, an old rusty shipwreck, and a salt-beaten bathroom structure hidden in a sand-dune hollow, before the rain started again and I had to conceal my camera. (more…)

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Contact

    cascadewallflower at gmail dot com