After saying a few final farewells to my friends here in Corvallis, I set out for Albany to catch the train south. My roommate Sebastian rode along side me as we talked our way down the riverfront and along a greenway out of town. Coming to the end of the greenway, we stopped underneath a nice shady tree near the roadside to share a coconut water, snacks, and hugs. Riding a little while longer, we parted ways on the road.
Winding along the Willamette River, the road soon lead to Albany, 12 miles away from Corvallis. Arriving at the Amtrak station, I quickly unpacked my bike by detaching and reorganizing my gear. Once I was satisfied that I could heave the bike onto the train at a moments notice, I headed inside to check in. I Find out that the train was delayed, and where to load my bike. Back on the platform, I ate a snack and reposition my gear to minimize the handing time.
After singing a couple of verses of Folsom Prison the train rolled around the bend and the scramble began. ‘You’re going to have to take some of that stuff off your bike.” the baggage handler informed me. “What? Oh, I’ll take the helmet off.”, “Ughh. I guess that’ll work, we don’t normally carry all that junk.”
Not the first time I’ve be hassled by the porter, they just don’t understand the mantra of ‘if it stays, it stays’. Cadillac hubcaps, three-tone horns, flags, ribbons, bells, and bottle openers just aren’t normal bicycle parts. But that’s where the spirit of my bicycle truly lives.
On board the train, I relax into my seat and watch the valley that I rode down two weeks before roll quickly by. Soon the most colorful train stop in the United States appears, Eugene, Oregon. Red hair, orange skin, yellow smiles, green jackets, blue eyes and purple souls, Eugene is a magical melting pot of outsiders, hippies, hobos, yuppies, and punks, tattooed and pierced throughout.
The evening slipped into a nap after a few conversations up in the observation car. With an hour wait for track maintenance, the train was eventually two hours late. As the tension of the train increased with each moment since the previous smoke stop, I maintained my chill and weathered the storm of anxious scrabbling between tired riders.
Finally Klamath Falls arrives and every awake soul pours forth into the night air. Last in line, I’m taking aback by the smoky air. I retrieved my bike and reloaded my gear and head onto the eerie nighttime streets. Soon I find the bike path that I’m looking for. I switch into stealth camping mode and start looking for a nice quiet stop to sleep for the night. A high school baseball field provides a good line of trees that aren’t likely to have many visitors on a Friday night or Saturday morning.
Waking up in the morning to a chorus of birds, I pack up camp and ride along the bike path until I come to a park. With a working water spigot, I stop for breakfast and top of my bottles. Back on the path, I make my way out of town under a smokey sky. Forest fires are very common during the summer months in the west and a large fire is burning near K Falls.
Heading south along farming roads I stop at a country convenience store and reminisce about life in Rowan County. Greeted by the official welcome sign of California, I go inside for some water and a ice cream bar. Thankful for the brief shade, I return to the road heading for the Lava Beds National Monument. I rode by Tule Lake National Wildlife Refugee, watching the vast wetlands for various large birds, including a huge population of redtail hawks that live in the rocky hillsides nearby.
The sun is unrelenting as I work towards the middle part of the day. Eventually I reach the gate, and am quickly recognized as a ‘Burner’. “You’re going to Burning Man!?!, Holy Smokes, Good luck!” Stopping in about every shade tree I could find, I skipped from shade spot to shade spot taking in the volcanic landscape. Early in the afternoon I reached the visitors center and quickly refilled my water bottles. Settling down under a huge cedar I enjoyed a sizable lunch and prepared myself for spelunking.
The park is full of lava tube caves, many in close proximity to the visitor center. With my boots, helmet, and headlamp I set off for the easiest one. Typical of the National Parks, they do a good job of making wonders very accessible. A stairwell leads me to a concrete path through the lava tube. Lights and informational signs guide the way. Reaching the end of the path, I turn around to seek a place for a quick nap. The cool moist air is a wonderful break from the arid sunbaked heat above ground. Settling into a soft slumber, I eventually feel a water droplet splash onto my belly. A few visitors come through, I wave as they enjoy the subterranean space.
Waking from my nap, I gather my things and get back to the bike. I top off the water bottles before hitting the road for some evening miles. The air is starting to cool, and the shadows are getting much longer. I make great time going down off the lava flows, and soon reach the main highway. I ride on the shoulder until I reach 8,000 miles on my odometer, and pull over to camp for the night. The shoulder is filled with scrubby pine trees, with plenty of brush to provide good cover for my camp. Eating a hot dinner using the backpacking stove, I’m soon passed out in the hammock.
Waking during the night, I see a sky full of the Milky Way, and am grateful for the stunning beauty of nature around me. The sunrise wakes me, and I quickly back up my things to avoid the pack of hungry mosquitoes that have gathered in the night. Returning to the road, I make good time during the calm morning. I get waved through a California agricultural check point, and find myself in Canby looking for water.
Most little towns will have a gas station or convenience store to gather water from. Sometimes a church can have a spigot. Sometimes the gas station closed down years ago, so you turn to people on the front porch. I pull into the county education office, but all the spigots are off. I park my bike and hit the street with my water bucket. Up the street two fellows are sitting outside on the Sunday afternoon talking football. Their dog quickly recognizes me and starts hollering. I walk up and introduce myself after the beast is satisfied that I’m alright. I fill my water jug, and they ask me “So why are you wearing a skirt?” “Oh, um, well, I ride a bicycle.” “OOhh.” “Yeah, it reduces the friction.” “Makes sense.” Satisfied, they wish me luck as I return to my bike.
When I rolled into the education building parking lot, two local kids identified me as a ‘hobo’. Secretively validated, I smiled to myself that I’ve finally made it. Returning to my bike, an angry Mom is awaiting. “What are you doing here?!?” “I’m just leaving, got some water Ma’am” “You’re not supposed to be here, this is private property!” “It’s alright Ma’am, I’m leaving now.” Riding around the corner, I see she’s right, clearly I’m breaking one of the rules.
With topped off water, I made good miles through the afternoon. Stopping in Alturas I eat lunch and take a nap under a nice tree in the park. Waking up, I hit the road feeling great. The wind is on my back as I fly out of town and to the foot of the next pass. ‘Gerlach, NV 105 miles’ the sign reads as I shift down for the grade. Burner RV’s are struggling up the hill beside me, as I wave and salute them with the Peace Sign. I continue to climb as the sun sets behind me. I stop several times to catch my breaking while taking in the stunning sights.
Cresting the pass, I stop and check on my brakes. I decide it’s time to adjust the front, and rest for a moment while realigning the brake. No point in going down the mountain on faith alone. The darkness quickly settles as I descend the pass, and soon I’m in Cedarville. Stopping at the 24 hr Burner Special convenience store, I refill my water jug and eat some Gravy Biscuit potato chips. The locals are hanging out checking out the weirdos riding through town.
Fading back into the night, I seek out a camp spot, and soon find myself at the County Fairgrounds. Poking around, I find a quiet corner under a huge cottonwood tree, and an old stone wall. Settling in for the night, I sleep easy and deeply.
The morning sun lights the world, as I pack up my camp. I find a praying mantis on my bike, but assure him that he doesn’t want to go where I’m going. I later find out that the mantis is a symbol of being slow and methodical, a good spirit animal for the coming miles.
The morning road is brilliantly lit by a luscious sunrise. The Surprise Valley was stunning, huge arid rock faces overlooking fertile agricultural land. The miles cruised by as I watched the sun soar higher and higher. Later in the morning I reached Eagleville, the final stopping point before heading into the longest section of riding I’ve ever done. Eating a good breakfast and topping off my water, I head out of town.
Not far from town I realize something has gone wrong. My front tire is sagging. I pull over under some shade and take a look. A bullhead thorn is deep in my tire. Sighing, I prop the bike up and pull of the wheel. Setting up shop, I chuckle that you have to get a flat tire every trip. It’s just part of the journey. Patching the tube and inspecting the tire for damage, I reassemble the wheel and put it back on the bicycle. It looks like it’s flatting again. Damn. I pull the wheel off for the second time, and put in the spare tube. My old tube had four patches, and sometimes it’s just the end. Everything looks okay, except that the tire isn’t on the bead in one spot. Maybe it’ll be alright. Right?
Wrong. The non-round front tire bounced the loaded bike up and down. Man. I guess I got to reset the tire. Stopping again, I battle the bicycle on the roadside. Trying to balance a loaded bike while trying to align your wheel is a real headache. Taking a deep breath, I remind myself that I’m doing what I truly love the most, enjoy it brother. It’s just a challenge. You’ll overcome. Realizing that I didn’t need to remove the tire just let down the air pressure, I used my tire iron to set the trouble spot and the tire beaded up correctly. Grateful to be riding smooth again I return to the road.
Not long afterward, I notice large amounts of urine and what obviously smells like cow shit. Cars have splattered the waste across the road, as I weave around trying to avoid the mess. Soon enough I see the herd of cows. Two cowboys are hustle cows down the road. I pull aside other Burners and have a few words as we creep slowly forward. “So are you committed to riding that bike? You can ride in my car.” “Thanks for the offer, but I’m good.” The cows advance until seeing a nice patch of grass, then head to the side of the road. The rest of the herd moves forward, and eventually the munching cow is roused by the cowboy to get back with it. Soon our herd reaches the ranch, and the cows are directed down into the farm. The Burners are quickly back up to highway speed, as I’m just thankful to be away from the smell.
The road turns from going along the valley to cutting across it. Soon I’m in the middle, with mountain ranges fading into the distance on either side of me. Somewhere in the middle I cross the state line, and wonder do I have what it takes to make it the next 50 miles with what I’ve got? Feeling prepared, but anxious about the sun that is now high into the sky I make my way into the desert.