Crater Lake To Stanley : Afterword

I went on vacation to get away from it all and I certainly have. I’ve also had plenty of time to think about what I’m doing and why, and it’s occurred to me that touring by bike, especially alone, is a unique experience, and the way that experience feels depends mostly on how populated the route is. I put together a route that was sparsely populated, and hopefully flat.

Unfortunately, the flatness part turned out to be inaccurate. I’ve spent eight hours on the bike most days, and probably almost half of that time toiling slowly up hills steep enough to require first gear. Part of the problem is that I didn’t survey the area I would be biking through with my own two eyes, and instead I relied on Google Earth, which reports height data correctly but only to a certain granularity. It smoothed the hills right out of most of the terrain I examined.

The other problem is that I thought I would be able to go up shallow hills with no trouble at all, but I underestimated the drag that all of this hardware creates on the bike. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I went through my packing list many times, and aside from one pair of ski gloves and a couple of pairs of shorts, there wasn’t anything that I could have left out. I had to carry at least this much weight if I wanted to camp, and I had to be able to camp if I was going to travel through wilderness.

Speaking of camping, I’ve very much enjoyed the seven days that I was able to camp. The sites have been lovely. The gear has worked well, too. The tent is easy to set up, the sleeping bag is warm and roomy enough, and the mattress is easy to deploy. But the tent, bag, and mattress are very large items. They occupy the whole back half of the bicycle, with just a little space remaining for laundry and a spare tire. Combined, they also weigh more than everything else I brought, so I’m riding with at least double my usual weight. The consequence of this is that I spend a long time crawling up hills that I am interested in for significantly less time than it takes to climb them. It’s also a problem when I’m going down the only paved road, and roads that branch off it may lead to interesting things, but they’re all gravel or dirt and would be brutal on my tires. So I’m very disinclined to actually explore these side roads, and I just keep trucking along instead.

But despite the weight, I actually made excellent time. In addition to being ridiculously comfortable, the recumbent bike also carries the weight of luggage much better than an upright bike. None of it is on the handlebars, and most of it is lower to the ground. The only downside is the additional sun exposure you get from being in a reclined position. I spent two weeks riding through desert, and discovered that sunburn is much more the problem than the heat is. If I have almost all of my body covered by thin cloth, I can keep cool by dumping water on myself and letting the constant breeze created by the motion of my bike evaporate the water. I actually end up cooler than if I was standing around in shorts and no shirt. In the town of Christmas Valley I bought a pair of glove liners that cover my hands, and so the sunburn on my hands was a temporary thing, but the burns on my nose and cheeks got pretty severe, and I had to tear up one of my spare shirts to make a second, heavier bandanna for my face.

But seriously, I should have expected this, because I am deliberately biking through desert, and during the hottest time of year, and I’m doing it during a time when the UV exposure is bad enough for the weather service to publish a health alert about it.

I budgeted 30 miles a day maximum for most days, and it turns out that even with all these hills in the way I can actually pedal the bike for a full eight hours, and take myself fifty miles or more, provided I take time to stretch, and lie flat on the ground every once in a while. Of course I have to be careful lying on the ground because every time a car comes by the driver gets worried that I have passed out in the heat. So, in practice, I can lay down for about ten minutes average, and then when I hear a car approaching, I have to get up and act like I’m rearranging my luggage, because if I don’t, they’ll stop and I’ll feel bad for making them stop and they’ll feel silly for stopping, and yadda yadda.

One time I was just leaning against the wheel and didn’t bother getting up, and sure enough the car stopped. I had to thank and compliment them for stopping. The last thing I want to do is erode their willingness to help, since it might save my life one day.

In summary, it was a lot easier than I expected, and a lot of fun. Would I do this again? Definitely. If I had the time, I would do it every couple of months. Not this exact route again, but something like it. Or something longer.

Crater Lake To Stanley, Day 18 : Discomfort

I’m napping in a small clearing near my tent, in an unmaintained campground about a mile off the main road outside of Stanley. I’ve got my sweater beneath my head, on top of a warm rock, and am listening to some spacey Biosphere tracks. I’m having a decent enough time, but I am also feeling strangely restless. I haven’t biked more than ten miles in the last three days.

The forest around me is pleasant, and I’ve gone walking around in it a few times. A small snowmelt creek is rushing briskly along about 30 feet away, and I’ve dipped my feet in it and washed some vegetables in it. I ate the last vegetable – a big red bell pepper – earlier today. I have no responsibilities, and nothing to do with the time except lay back and rest. But for some reason I’m not really enjoying myself.

After a few hours of drifting around half asleep, I realize what’s wrong: Now that I’ve decided my destination is Stanley, I’m already feeling as though my journey is over. My mind has changed gears. Now instead of traveling, what I really want to do is work on something; build or create something, or talk about my trip with someone. But there is no one here, and there is nothing to work on.

Maybe it’s good that this trip is ending.

Or on the other hand, maybe I have only shifted mental gears because I anticipate the ending — because I know I won’t be traveling any farther. Maybe if I still had another thousand miles ahead of me, I’d still be pedaling happily along? Guess I’ll have to wait for the next trip to find out.

Crater Lake To Stanley, Day 18 : Curiosity

I’ve been in Stanley for two days – one day spent almost entirely indoors recovering, and one day spent biking casually along the roads near the town, looking at all the kitschy shops and the colorful fellow tourists. A couple of times I’ve been surrounded by small groups of curious people and answered questions about my route and my hardware. Each time I’ve tried to bend the responses around enough to encourage people to try bicycle touring themselves.

I have also encountered some fellow cyclists in town. Some of them on bikes, most of them on foot attending to other business but eager to talk to someone with a shared interest. Mostly they ask about riding the recumbent bike, and I’ve tried to be as honest as possible with my answers. I don’t want to sell someone on the idea of a recumbent bike when they probably wouldn’t enjoy it. Riding a recumbent requires that you pace yourself a certain way … and that you have a very good sense of balance. So if your butt and/or back don’t hurt on an upright bike, why compromise? Besides, it’s not like I own stock in a recumbent bike company, and I get uncomfortable if my words sound too much like a sales pitch.

It’s a strange position to be in … I know I probably come across as a seasoned veteran to the people who ask questions, but I don’t feel like one. And also, I almost certainly look like a weirdo. Some crazy West-Coast hippie; probably hates cars; probably has saddlebags full of granola and flyers and an ipod full of earnest music by Pearl Jam, Coldplay, and R.E.M. Get him talking and he’ll probably tell you he’s vegan and accepting donations for the Save The Turtles foundation. (Which usually I am, actually.) So I find myself trying to act against type, to convince people that bike touring is not that hard, and that it’s not that weird, and that any red-blooded yankee can and should try it out. Bike Touring: It’s Not Just For Hippies and Europeans Anymore™. I don’t just want people to take a passing interest, I want them to feel like they can participate.

Sitting in my tent, in a corner of a free campground at the base of the Sawtooth Range just a few miles outside of Stanley, with the evening winding down around me and the birdsong giving way to crickets, I think about my motivation. What am I trying to do? When I’m by myself it’s obvious – I’m listening to audiobooks, pedaling, and looking at cool geography. I’m on an adventure. But when I encounter other people, something else is going on. I’m motivated by some other desire.

I not sure, but I think that what I’m trying to do is set an example, by traveling and talking in-depth with people as I go. I want to present a way of living – or at least of acting – that shows people in disconnected groups that they could all benefit from reaching beyond the people they know, and that they are not in danger of losing their identity if they do so. I think that if people feel confident or interested enough to participate in an activity that they thought was the territory of outsiders, then they are doing something important: They are forming a bridge, for communication and relationships to extend.

Yeah, I know, that sounds way too cerebral, and also egotistical: How dull must I think the lives of others are, if I think that cruising up to them on a loaded bike is going to impress or inspire them? Well, I’m not saying I’m on this ride for the sake of other people. I’m doing it for myself. If my overriding purpose in life was to act as a “bridge”, I would have a bigger effect by becoming a teacher and assembling a civics course for English-as-a-second-language students. But look at it this way: What else should I do when I encounter other people, during a journey that is solitary by design? Sneer at them? Tell them to get out of my way? Vandalize their homes as I ride through town, for a quick laugh? Well … I might have been a bit of a vandal fifteen years ago … but that’s just not who I am these days. Call me a hippie if you want, but now I enjoy community building. Whether my motivation actually comes across, in my words or appearance, is of secondary importance to me, because hey, it’s just a hobby.

Darkness has enclosed by little tent in the woods. I listen to an hour or so of H.P. Lovecraft radio dramatizations, then snuggle down for my last night of camping.

Crater Lake To Stanley, Day 16 : Amusement

This change cup sits near the cash register in a Stanley restaurant:

Crater Lake To Stanley, Day 15 : Happy

Waking up in my snuggly little tent:

Go go go!

Whew, finally made it to the top! 7200 feet up.

A gorgeous sunset in Stanley: