Week 10: August 3-9
August 3: More Desert! Snaking along a desert river to Juntura, OR
Sometimes I feel like the world is incredibly complicated.
Other times I simply feel like an organism.
Long rides connect me with the pure physicality of my being. There are precious moments when all that is happening is my breath cycling in and out to supply my legs moving around and around like halo-shaped pistons. In these moments—I’ve come to call them Organism Mode—my awareness expands and contracts like my lungs and muscles. I am aware of my smallness as just one little being moving along the road under the hot sun like all the other plants and animals here in the desert; simultaneously, the totalizing intensity of my focus on my one body mutes all but my physical sensation. The clarity of my perception zooms in on my little body moving through space slowly but with much effort while zooming out into the understanding of my miniature, transient presence here. Emerson describes this feeling in his essay Circles when he remarks, “I am God in nature. I am a weed by the wall.”
Much of the time these moments happen when a mountain or the sun or the wind (or all of them together) make my body strain with exertion, when I am in pain, when the physical demands of the situation overshadow my hyperactive intellect and fantasy mind. When my legs hurt, when my shoulders tighten into a wad, when I am panting incessantly—these are when I am so close to my body, my physicality, the fact of my being an organism. Despite, or perhaps because of, the discomfort, I like to relate directly to these experiences. I do not want to stop, plug in my music, or distract myself from the raw, actual experience as it burns. In Organism Mode, there is no barrier between me and myself as I simply exist. It is stillness in energetic movement.
Beginning to see trees again: Juntura to Burns, OR
I spoke too soon... Burns to Bend, OR looked like this:
Living it up in Bend at Fields Farm
We were at Fields Farm in Bend, OR on the right day! Wednesday is the Bend Farmers market, one of three of Jim and Debbie’s venues to sell their immaculate beyond-organic produce. They also have two CSA’s—large box and small box—and a farm stand on the farm where customers can come and buy whatever is in the big refrigerator.
On Wednesdays, three helpers come help Jim and Debbie harvest and pack coolers to bring to market. We were up around 6am, ate breakfast by 7, and were picking raspberries by 7:30. A mid-morning snack of fresh pastries and black coffee got us through the next chore of weeding the potato fields. We shared a big, fresh group lunch and then headed to the market around 1:30pm for its 3 o’clock start.
No offense everyone, but I think the Bend farmers market was the most fun ever! Live music played from the stage at one end of the esplanade. Samples were leaping into my mouth—so much fruit and cheese and jam oh my!
About half way down the esplanade lined with farmers’ tents and the summer’s bounty, a man stood by an open door calling, “Free beer! Free popcorn! Free beer! Free popcorn! Come see the historic Tower Theater!” He had me at Free.
Two samples of Worthy Brewing Company’s Saison beer, a small bag of popcorn, and a free massage later, I was giddy. I was also ready for dessert.
Dessert is a relatively rare thing these days since Lake and I have been on our under-10-grams-of-sugar-unless-it’s-given-to-us diet. We began the U.1.G.S.U.I.G.U. diet when we realized we ate dessert after every meal… and not just one or two desserts…. Normally we wouldn’t be able to decide what two desserts to share so we’d say, “Hey, let’s just get all three!” This kind of extravagance is almost justifiable when you’re biking fifty or more miles a day, but we also knew the trip would be coming to an end and we would be sedentary again so we had to kick the habit before the dessert started showing up on more places than our tongues.
Hence the beauty of the Bend farmers’ market: JAM, FRUIT, and COOKIE SAMPLES! All the sugar we could eat, all given to us! It was a freewheeling wonderland of gustatory delight: I piled peach and jalapeno cherry and huckleberry jam high onto the thin cracker and was careful not to miss any nectarine variety. The cookie stand, however, was when my gluttony got a little embarrassing.
I had already cruised by once and tried every single cookie (the Cowboy cookie was my favorite). I had to go find Lake, so a second time I ambled by and snagged a few morsels. Third time we had to go buy tomatoes at the farthest end of the market, so this time I kind of tried to cover up the logo on my shirt so perhaps the vendor wouldn’t recognize me as I grabbed for some snickerdoodle.
“No!” Lake cried, “I can’t do it! I just can’t do it!” She exclaimed through tears of laughter as we passed the cookie stand a fourth time on our way back to the Fields Farm booth.
“Just one more Cowboy cookie….” I said, eyes gleaming underneath a sugar glaze. I went in for the most epic swoop of all time trying to be ultra-sleuth and low-key so they wouldn’t notice me, that girl who has taken way too many samples. I decided the sneakiest choice would be to reach my spindly arm all the way around behind another customer so that his body would block the vendors’ view of my sneakery, and I could score another piece of the Cowboy cookie without being detected. My hand was in the cookie jar when the customer—my camouflage—started stepping backwards. He took another step backwards, and another, as my fingers rummaged for cookie scraps in the nearly empty jar. With one more step, he was in my outstretched arm.
“IIIIIIIII’m snuggling with you,” I loudly blurted out as we shared way too much body contact and my fingers closed around the cookie crumbs.
My brain blared, “Gotta get outta here! My cover is blown and I just accidentally embraced a stranger in public while grabbing more than my fair share of cookie! Quick, scatter!” Lake was doubled over in laughter. I was redder than a tomato and totally busted. As we hastened away from the cookie debacle without a second glance, I could just manage to taste the tiny bit of Cowboy cookie between heaves of laughter.
The day we took our left hand turn south
Why is getting out of cities always such a labyrinth of tragedy? From endless urban development mazes to interstates of doom, there is always something. For Bend, Oregon, our downfall was served to us on Scale House Road. Our first mistake? Listening to Google bike maps. You see, we have slowly learned this bike trip is not about female farmers, education, or nonviolence, no, this trip is a battle between two biking bandits and the forces vested in Google Maps. It is evident at this point, after being sent to overgrown bridges blocked off by boulders larger than any county fair winning pumpkins, interstates that flaunt eight robust and flourishing lanes, and roads that blatantly dead-end into freeways that are simply not displayed on the map – Google is after us. (Woods- do you know anything about this?) We like to think we are winning in this subtle but grueling battle, but alas, even a knight has chinks in his armor- and that bring us back to Scale House Road.
It began as an inviting path, calling to us with its smooth asphalt and tall sweeping pines that embroidered the side of the road with shade as far as the eye could see. As we swung a gentle left hand turn onto the road I could envision myself cruising down the lane in an old convertible with a handkerchief keeping my hair in place. About five miles down the road something began to change. It was as if our surroundings went through that classic Disney transformation when the evil antagonist morphs from their innocent disguise back into their true form. But rather than being left with a witch holding a red apple, we were left with the true and atrocious reality of Scale House Road!
Pine trees withered into shrubs, smooth asphalt dissolved away to reveal the road’s sandy underbelly, inviting shade gave way to the unrelenting sun.
With determination, we went on.
Within a minute, I went down landing on an ant hill--Drat! Back on the bike. After another few minutes I was down again just narrowly missing a thicket of thorn shrub. The sand was too fine and too deep to ride on, so in shame, we walked our steel steeds further down Scale House Road.
Half a mile later, after listening to the subtle breeze and symphony of muffled curses coming from both parties, we looked at each other:
“Wait,” said Caitrin, “You know who’s doing this to us…”
“Google!” We both announced in stern certainty. Our heads darted around in search of hiding cams, Google robot dogs, and microchip beetles riding miniature mopeds. Negative. But we had to move fast while we were still in the clear. We scurried along until we made it to a fork in the “road.” It was exactly like those Goosebumps books I read in 7th grade that required the reader to choose their fate, “Turn to pg. 153 if you decide to run from the zombies down the dark sewage canal or pg. 107 if you decide to turn and fight the goon pack with your flashlight and jump rope.” For us, we had the option of continuing down Scale House Rd. or embarking upon an unlabeled sand canal that was most likely some remnant of the Oregon Trail. While the treachery of Scale House Rd. may seem to outweigh the potential hazard of a sand pit trail, there was one upside: we could hear the highway in the direction of Bleak Option #2.
Our tires pierced the sand so that the underbelly of our chains hung alarmingly close to the ground, but with the familiar hum of the interstate meandering around the tree-shrubs, we were hopeful. I broke into a cockeyed interpretation of a jog when I was certain civilization rested just beyond the crest of a major sand hill--Yes! At last! Paved road! But wait… just one thing remained awry: we stood on the wrong side of a four-lane interstate.
A few shrieks and a moment of hesitation later, we were wide-eyed and panting on the other side of the road. Call us warriors, call us fools, but we call ourselves Google map survivors.
With some laughter and glances of disbelief we continued on south, finding solace and truth in the words of Yvon Chouinard: it’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.
Things are starting to look familiar
Went to sleep last night hurting. Of course, I couldn’t feel sorry for myself because I had just watched special agent Jason Bourne survive like six car crashes, ten shoot-outs and a bee sting in the Bourne Ultimatum movie—my favorite action movie of all time.
Unfortunately, I woke up hurting too. Multiple times during the night the pain prodded me awake, and in the morning when I was fully cognizant I knew something was wrong in my hamstrings. Bending down to pick up some detritus on the floor I had flashbacks to my grandpa leaning over with bowed legs bent, back straight, arms outstretched, quavering slightly towards whatever he needed down there on the floor. That was what I felt like. I couldn’t bend over and touch my toes like a normal limber 22-year-old; when I did, my hamstrings burned like someone dragged a hot poker from my knee to hip joint.
I was in a terrible mood. For one, I was in pain and it was uncomfortable to do anything except sit in the nearby café’s cushy blue plastic booth. For another thing I knew if I were hurt Lake would go into Hovering Hyperactive Care Mode and try to hand feed me or to wash my back with a warm towlette or something. Most annoying from my perspective, though, was the possibility of derailing the trip. I really did not want to be an inconvenience to Lake or to myself—I wanted to ride! But I knew I shouldn’t.
I knew I shouldn’t especially because we had an 18-mile, 2500-foot climb up to the Crater Lake caldera, and if I could barely hobble over to the café’s blue plastic booths I loved so dearly then it wouldn’t be smart—or fun—to make that climb.
Desperate times call for thumbs and kindly explanations of our predicament to passing people in flatbed trucks. Yes—we got a ride.
Jim’s car was dusty enough to engrave “Thanks” on the dashboard, and he thoughtfully apologized for the smell of cigarette smoke. Jim was a weathered man who had clearly worked hard all his life, his faded blue jeans let out at the hem to make them just long enough to sit above his fifteen-year-old leather cowboy boots that he’s been “too lazy” to replace even though he’s “falling out of them.” Jim was gracious and told us he “didn’t mind at all” that we took up so much of his day blasting 2,500 feet and 30-odd miles up to Rim Village in Crater Lake National Park.
It was gorgeous. And breathtaking. And so blue. And oh-my-goodness-can-you-believe-this-used-to-be-a-12,000-foot-tall-mountain. And take lots of pictures because this is special. But to tell you the truth, I was still in a terrible mood. I was grateful but feeling lame for getting a ride. I was still stiff as a corpse and felt like one. I was so sour not even a cute cycle touring guide named Rob and being at Crater Lake could lift my spirits! Especially given the beauty of my surroundings and my miraculous good fortune to be there thanks to Jim, I was mostly irritated for being irritated.
So, I had to notice that irritation. I observed that I was irked for no particular reason, and as I wobbled around the rim of Crater Lake in my bike cleats I began to reflect on how many different feelings and sensations and locales had already unfurled just today. Remembering the transience and mobility of our journey, I remembered the impermanence of thoughts and moods.
And then we were off—thirty miles cruising down the back side of the crater. My hamstrings were still tight as crossbows so I relished the soaring quality of flowing downhill propelled by gravity and my bike’s weight. I started out with a fleece layer under my rain jacket, and as we descended into warmth I shed them all.
On the west side of the Crater the landscape was completely different. Suddenly we were submerged in green: multiple layers of green from the moss up through the ferns to the azaleas, dogwood trees, and towering pines of all types lit up our ride through Umpqua National Forest. Finally we were free of the sagebrush desertland that had held us for a month! We were back in lush territory where flowers bloom and fruits grow in the roadside ditches.
And oh how the fruit grows! After a bite of delectable roadside BBQ, we followed Mill Creek Drive above the gorge of the Rogue River ensconced in pine and madrone trees. We’d barely begun to burn off our BBQ when Lake pulled over again: BLACKBERRY BONANZA!
For all you blackberry fanatics out there, take note: mile 38 on Highway 62 next to Gorge’s Café and Lounge has the greatest sweetest blackberry patch I’ve ever feasted upon. Picking and eating blackberries on a bike ride reminded me of bike rides with my dad. His rides are specially engineered to go past the maximum number of blackberry bushes for extra sustenance. My dad is also particularly sensitive to tartness which makes it hard for the poor man to find a good berry—these ones next to Gorge’s, though, I know he’d have happily gorged himself on their sweet succulence.
Those bushes held the kind of abundance that even a half an hour of intense picking made no dent in the bounty; the more I looked at one square inch of the patch the more there was before me. Coming from a month in the desert, that kind of plenty seemed like an impossible miracle.
“Now I remember why I love Oregon,” Lake said with berry black lips.
After I’d picked about three pounds of berries and eaten about two pounds, I stuffed the berry bag into a pannier. Of course, inevitably, its goodness couldn’t be contained so it oozed everywhere. I now have a blackberry colored jersey.
We met our host for the night, an energetic cyclist named David, on the road because he had gone down to the tiny Trail store to get our beer. He led us back to his home on a ranch where we had a smoky evening of laughter, vegetable stir fry, and Lake’s blackberry rhubarb pie.
The day was my first taste of home. Here in Southern Oregon, the trees are familiar again. There are oaks and madrones and pines and buckeyes—all the usual suspects of my favorite spots in Marin. We are back in the hills whose curves and layers trick me into thinking I may just be riding along an unknown street in Fairfax. Rides are leisurely with time for blackberry picking. People are outdoorsy and want to eat organic. The familiar—but still different—emergent culture of place and people tug at my heart because I know I’m almost home. Almost, but not quite.
Contemplating the great variation of thoughts, moods, physical sensations, landscapes, and personalities on this one day—Friday, August 9, 2013—awakens me to the knowledge of what more this adventure has in store. This day was a microcosm of the trips’ wide range of experience: everything is all there, unfolding at once, all the time, everyday, so how will I be present to it?
The Field's use spent hops as a mulch on their fields- not only are they creating strategic relationships in the community but also taking advantage of the Willamette Valley's rich soil nutrients but using hops that grew there.
Catrin and David are practiicng their adventure magazine poses... I'd hire them.
A few miles after berry picking I started to feel some friction shifting my gears. What could that be? Looking back I noticed that my derailleur was dripping my blackberry juice.
We will have to come back to take advantage of that putting green