Monday, July 14, 2014

Twists of Fate and Winding Roads

{An update written on Sunday}

On backpacking trips, I’ve gone to bed with a pretty good idea of what the day will hold… and typically, it never works out that way. Everyday is an adventure, and generally, a pretty unpredictable one due to weather, wildlife, or other unforeseen circumstances.

Similar to my backpacking trips, on this trip, I’ve noticed that every day indeed ends dramatically different than what I had predicted it would be the night before. Today was absolutely no exception and was one of the most fortuitous and wonderful days of my life. Really!

But before I get to today, let me back up to yesterday {which already feels like last week!}.

With my alarm set ambitiously to 5am {and repeatedly hitting snooze till 6}, I set out from my hotel in Medford bound and determined to beat the weekend traffic at Crater Lake.

Heading to Crater Lake: not a shabby drive

{Sidenote—there really seems to be NO weekend traffic anywhere in Oregon, so far as I can tell}

I made it to the park pretty early {7:45am} and began driving the clockwise around the road where the lake ought to be, although I didn’t yet have a view of it. I got to the first pullout, and walked to the side of the road only to have my breath totally taken away. Crater Lake is indeed not only magnificent, as my Enterprise Rent-a-Car concierge had ventured, but truly beyond words. The view was easily the most beautiful scene I’ve ever witnessed. The water was lucid, and everything about the surrounding area was so beautifully tranquil. Photos do not do this place justice whatsoever, but I had to capture a few. 

The perfect day to see glorious scenery!

Absolutely breathtaking.

I drove around the lake a bit, but made a secret {now, publicly stated on the Internet} vow that my first time fully around the lake would be on bicycle. I drove a few miles, visited a few pullouts, and chatted with a few PCT hikers. I then decided it was time to continue my own adventure. I left Crater Lake bound for Roseburg and then Coos Bay to return the rental. The drive back followed the Umpqua River, and gosh… it was beautiful! It’s really a challenge to find an unremarkable view in Oregon.

I made it back to Coos Bay around 12:30pm and ran a few errands, as the car wasn’t due back till 3. All of my “errands” included packing my panniers, eating, and obsessing over the map. My tentative plan was to go to Sunset State Beach- 10 miles away. But, even if I didn’t leave till 2, that was such a short distance. Next site was Bullards Beach- 20 miles away. And at around 40 miles was Point Blanco just outside of Sixes, OR {sorry- totally insignificant and cryptic reference point. Just know it was 40 miles south}. Bingo! By the time I re-packed my bags, got groceries for the night and next morning, and pored over the map, it was about 1:40pm, and I was bound for Blanco.

This route called for a fair amount of climbing up something called Seven Devil’s Road- a 13-ish mile adventure without shoulders but also minimal traffic. I’ve come to fear anything Oregonians have attached the phrase “devil” to, as it usually means something intense and rather uncomfortable is about to be experienced. But, as it goes in bike touring, one must press on in order to get from Point A to Point B. That bike isn’t going to ride itself!

So, off I ventured up that devil of a road. Now, if you’ve been following along, you’ll recall that my bike has sustained some serious and mysterious alignment issues, and said issues manifested on this long climb, unfortunately for me. Long story short, my bike would NOT stay in the lowest gear and it continued to slip anytime I put it in said gear. This meant I needed to put my bike into the next lowest gear {ie: magnitudes more difficult} for an over 700-ft climb for 10 of the next 13 miles. Never have I been so grateful to possess the largest calves of any female in existence. I had to get out of the saddle and PUSH! It was intense to say the least, but I did it.

I was so proud of myself when I saw the Highway 101 sign {indicating the end of the Devil’s Road} and let out all sorts of happy and surprising noises. “Way to go, Russell!” I caught myself shouting. I never refer to myself in the third person {is that technically the third person if I’m addressing myself? Or is that the elusive second person? Calla- help!}, nor by my last name. Must’ve been the endorphins!

Girl power moments!

Anyway, I quickly stopped my congratulations party of one, realizing that in less than 100 miles, I would have some California hills that were nearly twice this climb. How on earth was I going to do that without my lowest gear reliably working? Hmmm. I was quickly brought down from my cloud.

As I pondered this unfortunate reality during the next few miles, I happened across a bike shop in Bandon. I, of course, popped in at 4:55, as the woman running the shop was trying to close by 5pm and was that customer bike owners fear and loathe. I said I had a quick question {lie} about my bike and was hoping she could take a look.

Annoyed, the woman agreed anyway, perhaps feeling sorry for the solo-riding lady who had stumbled into her shop. I told her what was going on, and she was immediately intrigued by my problem. She even went so far as to say that despite how irritated she was with herself for agreeing to help me, she had to help… but only so she could find the problem. “Once I know there’s a problem, I obsess over it until I can find a solution,” she told me. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond, as her desire to help me personally seemed subordinate to her figuring out the problem {awkward}, so I did the Midwestern fall-back {something I do in social situations in which I have no idea how to navigate} and gave her an outpouring of kindness and gratitude thanking her endlessly for looking at my bike. I’m not sure it was helpful, but it was better than being snooty, right?

An hour later, disc brakes dissected for the second time on my journey, she was distraught that she couldn’t find the problem. Disc brakes were rubbing, lowest gear was skipping, and the disc itself, she said, appeared to be not sitting flush in the brakes. Ho-hum. She advised me to see the bike shop in Brookings, OR., however, advised me away from the shop, citing it as expensive and with hostile personnel. Yikes! What’s a girl to do? Press on! Brookings was to be faced the next day, anyway. I needed to focus on getting to camp.

At this point, it was after 6pm and I still had a decent amount of miles to go—approximately 30. The bike shop lady pleaded me to stay in a hotel in Bandon, but I stubbornly wanted to press on. Outside of Bandon, the hills were rolling and the ride was pretty nice. After awhile, however, the day’s miles began to wear me down a bit. I had been crouching and not eating while at the bike shop, and biking just after resting is generally somewhat taxing on my chronically-aching quads. The hills weren’t bad, but they were definitely there… unlike my easiest gear L I pressed on singing songs in my head and imagined what Steve and Ryan were doing in Peru, which made me smile. I got a message from my mom that was super motivating, and I kept my head up, assuring myself I was getting closer. As I crested another hill, I saw a sign for a KOA advertising free WiFi and a hot tub. “That sounds nice,” I mused and kept on. Then… I stopped. Did that say… HOT TUB!? I immediately looked at my map on my phone and a great discovery: if I were to continue to my planned campsite at Cape Blanco, I would have to bike 6 miles off the 101 to the site… and then another 6 more in the morning, just to get back on the main drag. If I stayed HERE, I would be just 4 miles from the nearest town and actually ahead for the morning. I rolled in, paid a really cheap fee, set up camp, and had the most glorious hot tub session imaginable. It felt incredibly on my aching legs. Bliss.

My little campsite at the KOA

I went to bed thinking I’d head to Brookings, the last town in Oregon. The next day, I’d be in California, and I could finally have my bike looked at by someone in Crescent City.  I set out and had a rather greasy breakfast in the next town, making sure I packed the calories for a big day. It was to be a fairly easy terrain, but the winds elevated the challenge factor.

This part of Oregon {now the southern Oregon coast} possesses almost indescribable beauty. Each turn would reveal the most beautiful scene of the coast…until the next turn. The rocky coastline was impressive, and I wished I had time to tide pool! 

The most beautiful view!

...or is this the most beautiful view?

Happy girl :)

I made it about 35 miles to the next nearest town- Gold Beach. I wanted to eat at a less greasy place so took my time to find a nice café at the end of town. I sat next to a couple, Janice and Jim, who were also teachers. We talked easily for over an hour. In the midst of great conversation, I told them about my bike woes and tentative plan to make it to Brookings tonight and Crescent City in the morning to visit a bike shop.

They wished me luck and left. But then… they came back and asked if I would consider a ride to Brookings. I thought about it and instantly, crazy map lady inside of me said, “NO!!!!” but rational me said, “Hmm.. this isn’t a bad idea. I can make it to Crescent City early morning to get to the bike shop.” I ultimately accepted. We talked the whole way and they secretly brought me all the way to Crescent City without me even noticing! I was admittedly a little sad that I would not be biking into California, but counted my blessings that I was able to meet such kind people. We decided to head to Starbucks and use their WiFi to find a bike shop in Crescent City. The only bike shop opened Monday morning {this is Sunday}, and it was unclear if they were really a bike shop.

The next leg of the journey would be some of the steepest climbs of the whole ride. While I really wanted my lowest gear to be fixed, I also really wanted to get on the road and work my legs. I debated outloud if it would be worth it to just risk it and press on or if I should wait and see if a mechanic could look at it the next day. Randomly, the people next to us {Dan and Dani- a couple from Boise adventuring their way down the coast} said, “You’re having a disc brake problem? Can we take a look?” Dan was pretty good with mountain bikes and fiddled around for about 2 seconds before assessing the issue easily. He said that the disc actually didn’t look crooked at all and that everything was sitting flush. I showed him the shifting problem, and he said, “Ah, easy fix!” and pointed to a microadjusting knob on the underside of my derailleur. And just like that… my lowest gear returned. I could NOT thank all of these people, nor could I believe how wonderful the fate of the universe is. Dan and Dani are also teachers, as are Janet and Jim, and teachers have to be some of the greatest people on this planet.    

The greatest people ever!

Speaking of teaching, let me take advantage of this teachable moment and review the twists of fate that led to today’s events to emphasize its poignancy:
*Intrigued by the hot tub, I change campsites, allowing me an earlier start to the day
*I easily make it to Gold Beach by lunchtime and decide to rest and eat, where I meet Janice and Jim
*Despite my reservations on getting a ride, I take it, and run into a bike mechanic at Starbucks who fixes my bike with ease and allows me to carry on with my ride!

Incredible! I will never, ever forget these people, nor this twist of fate. It may seem insignificant, but it was unreal to me how it all worked out.

Just after we all said our goodbyes in the Home Depot parking lot, Steve called from Peru! It was such a treat to hear his voice and know he was safe. He and Ryan have been busy filming and practicing their Spanish while getting acclimated prior to their big push. I’m so proud of him and am so excited about his big adventure! He worked so hard prior to leaving for Peru and had such little time to prepare and is still having an incredible time, from what I can tell. Hearing his voice and encouragement inspired me to push onwards.

The only Peru-related picture from Steve

With my bike fixed, I decided to press on to the Crescent Hills- a notoriously beastly climb with lots of fog, small shoulders, and low visibility. Why not? There was a campsite about 3 miles up the road, which threatened a 2-mile screaming downhill to the site. Sounds fun… but it means a 2-mile death hike up the hill in the morning, plus… I would have barely touched the actual hill- a 1200-ft climb with 3 peaks. Youch.    

So, with all gears functioning properly, I decided to try my hand at this behemoth. It was definitely the hardest climb so far, but it wasn’t that bad. Plus, at this point, I was officially in the Redwoods! The scenery was amazing, although I couldn’t really take time to hug or touch these magnificent trees, as I was near cardiac arrest and relying on momentum and faith to keep me going. After summiting the 3rd peak, there was 3.5 miles of technical downhill with signs for “Rough Roads” and lots of gravel patches scattered on the already narrow shoulder. I’d take uphill over downhill any day. Sounds weird, but the most that can happen going uphill is a slow and likely controlled topple to the side. Downhill is a different story: road rash, somersault-over-the-handlebar tumbles, sliding, you name it. Scary stuff.

Unreal how big these trees are!

These trees!

Luckily, I have nothing too exciting to report in the way of traffic on the up or downhill portions of this ride. A semi did honk at me {terrifying}, wanting me to move and give him more space, but… I really had nowhere to go, except for in a forest down a steep cliff, so I made him wait, which, frankly, was just fine for all parties involved.

Following the Redwoods, there was a beautiful beach with more stunning rocky coastline, this time blanketed in a fog. I stopped at a pullout to marvel and snap some photos of my bike with the dramatic backdrop. A nice man offered to take a photo of me with my bike. As he did, another man approached both of us, asking if we’d like to buy his CD. Really?! I thought I had an easy excuse {clearly no CD player on board}, but he was rather insistent. “You’ll eventually get to a CD player! It’s really light, anyways.” Weird. I politely declined for a second time.

California beaches all look the same (jokes)

A couple of miles south of the beach, I found a nice family campsite with WiFi and other nice amenities {read: showers!}. I’m here for the night and will aim to make it to Arcata tomorrow, although, who knows where the day will actually take me. I’ve got another significant climb just after leaving camp and a few medium climbs after leaving the Redwoods. Tomorrow, I’ll be staying with a couple that Ben Turman has gotten me in contact with! I’m excited to be in a home. Thanks to the 50 miles I was able to gain today with Jim and Janice, as well as my shifting issue thanks to Dani and Dan, I’m rather ahead of schedule! I do have a considerable amount of work to do, so it could be a blessing to be done almost a week earlier than anticipated. But… let’s not count those chickens before they hatch! Who knows what tomorrow will bring- for better or worse.

Welcome to Klamath!

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