I heard the shoes of early-morning walkers crunching on the track. Hidden behind the thin wall of the covered bleachers, I was still invisible 50 feet away.
A mere 50 miles away: the Pacific. I assembled myself and began pedaling by 7am. Full of anticipation, I worked my way toward the ocean as the sun worked its way through the trees to warm me on this chilly morning.
Route 126 was beautiful, but somewhat perilous. Logging trucks, large RVs, and narrow or non-existent shoulders made for an exhilarating ride. In these conditions I ride defensively and quickly. I was in Florence Oregon by noon.
I arrived tired. All I wanted to do was see waves crashing onto sand. I wanted to find someone to take a picture of me and the Hoopty with the Pacific behind us. A lot of expensive houses got in the way - so essentially I was at the water far before I was able approach it. When I finally found a road and a park and a parking lot that were near the water, I realized I was still a quarter mile of sand away from the water itself.
I leaned my heavy ridiculous bicycle on a fence and walked to the water. I let a wave roll over my feet, and still there was nobody cheering for me. I rode all the way from Philadelphia, and there wasn't even a marching band when I arrived. It was awesome. My secret success was noted in my mind. I walked back to the Hoopty, but I realized that my trip wasn't complete. When people start and end their bicycle trips across America, they take a picture with their wheels touching the water. I knew I'd regret it if I didn't give in to tradition.
I made another trip to the water with the Hoopty. I'll tell you it wasn't easy. I pushed, dragged and lifted the bicycle across a quarter mile of loose sand. This kind of treatment is pure abuse to the drivetrain. Sand is the worst enemy of a bicycle. I got to the water and a nice lady took a picture of me just as a wave crept over the Hoopty's wheels and my shoes. Mission accomplished. Tradition celebrated. I spent about 20 minutes cleaning sand off of the poor bicycle before continuing.
What now? Stay in Florence and find free camping, or try to get to Portland today? I expected to reach Portland the next day, but it was still early. I wasn't exactly enchanted by Florence, so I decided to go for it. Portland today! I would hitchhike! Boom.
I succeeded in my Coastal Challenge. I wanted to celebrate by eating something big and drinking beer. I'd won! I deserved a proper celebration! But something in me didn't take the opportunity to indulge. Instead, I stopped at a discount grocery store for supplies, and made sure not to go over my $5 daily allotment.
I knifed a big rectangle out of a cardboard box and headed back to highway 126 toward Eugene. I stopped at a hardware store and acquired a paint pen to finish my sign. I wrote "PORTLAND" in big fat legible letters, and I stationed myself on a wide shoulder a few miles out of town. Within a half hour or so, I had a ride.
He could have driven a little slower. But this guy drives fast. He's a good driver, and that's his thing. The pickup truck careened toward Eugene as the radio blasted Lupe Fiasco, and the driver showed me handguns on his iPhone. Recently purchased weapons. I was complacent and agreeable even as he passed an already-passing vehicle in the far shoulder at about 90 miles an hour on a 2-lane road. I was riding the other direction on that shoulder only a few hours earlier. That crazy maneuver could have put me in a ditch if it happened then. It bothered me to think that riders from the ACA group would be filtering through on that shoulder throughout the afternoon. Yuck. Beggars can't be choosers. It was my choice to sit in the air-conditioned cab with this self-proclaimed "hill person."
I rode through Eugene on an idyllic path along the Willamette River. I went about ten miles or so, snaking around until I got to the I-5, and a place where it looked like I might be able to catch a ride. My spot was near a freeway entrance, but I wasn't feeling lucky. Most cars didn't seem to be taking the northbound ramp, and even if someone wanted to pick me up, there wasn't a lot of spare real estate on the shoulder. I formed a plan: I would try to catch a ride until the sun was a little lower. If I wasn't successful in the next hour, I would get blasted on Four Loko and find a sneaky place to wrap myself up in a tarp until morning.
Recognizing the obvious problems with my position, I took my bicycle and my sign right onto the highway itself. I stood on a wide shoulder just past the on-ramp, and held my sign hopefully to the northbound traffic. It's always great when you're trying to catch a ride for awhile, and a pickup truck finally pulls over. A nice girl about my age pulled over her white Chevy, and confirmed what I'd hoped: she was headed to Portland.
I put my stuff in the back, and got in. We immediately hit it off. She was traveling around in her pickup for a few months. I was riding around on a bicycle for a few months. The trip was made to seem short by our naturally easy conversation. She didn't have a place to stay in the city, so I said I'd ask my friends if they could host an extra person. She got me some Carl's Jr - her treat - and we were in Portland by 10pm.
We drove directly to my friends' practice space, and everybody was sharing a box of PBRs within minutes. I was playing some drums and reflecting on all that had happened and changed in the past 24 hours.