Or… How I rediscovered the joys of recreational cycling. Or… If people who ride bikes on highway shoulders are crazy, then count me in.
I’ll confess, I tend not to think about bicycling for exercise or just for fun or for any other reason than to get from Point A to Point B (school, work, the coffee shop…) I do occasionally join “bike trains” with friends for social activities, but even then we’re usually headed for a destination. Why expend lots of energy just for the sake of expending lots of energy? (There are times when my brain likes to put things into purely functional, literal boxes. It may be a fault, and it frequently leads me to misunderstand sarcasm. And don’t let this post make you think that I’m a workaholic – I am frequently very lazy! – but I tend to compartmentalize my lazy activies separately from my functional activities. But I digress…)
Despite my functional approach to bicycling, I have been thinking for a while now that I’d like to give the “bicycle touring” thing a try. It is, or can be, still a functional use of the bicycle – still trying to get from Point A to Point B – just the points are further apart. So when my friend said she was planning a “ladies-only” bike trip to Astoria to end the school term, I thought this was the perfect opportunity. Astoria is about 90 miles from Portland, give or take a bit depending on your route. To explain the “ladies-only” part, I should clarify that most of us who went on the trip had never biked more than maybe 15-20 miles per day. We figured it would be a less stressful ride if we could go slower and stop more often than most of our male bicycling friends were likely to do.
So last weekend I joined the eight other ladies on this ride, and we took our time, breaking the trip up over two days. The first night we started late in the day, after most people were done with their last final, and we stayed in cabins at Stub Stewart State Park (about 25 miles past our starting point at the last light rail station in Hillsboro). The second day was much longer – about 75 miles – and more painful. When we finally pulled into Astoria, we were all pedaling pretty slow. But we all made it, with very few mishaps (a couple of tipovers on tight curves, since we’re not used to all the extra weight in our panniers, but all of these happened off-street).
When I got back on my bike to ride back to Portland on the third day, I had to admit that I wasn’t riding for the sake of getting somewhere – getting to Astoria was not the point. Bicycling was the point. Giving myself permission to do nothing but ride my bike for the weekend was the point. And it was a lot of fun. (Seems obvious, doesn’t it?) In some ways I enjoyed the ride back even more. Nine women rode to Astoria, but only two rode back. I really enjoyed the company of my fellow-cyclists, and we had a great time riding, camping, stopping for beers and burgers at a biker-bar kind of restaurant (the other kind of biker) in Birkenfeld, and flying down the side of the mountain after huffing and puffing up. But the ride back was only about pushing the pedals forward, listening to birds and wheels on the pavement. Although my perspective may be skewed by the fact that, according to most people who’ve done multi-day bike trips, it takes a few days to get into a stride and stop noticing the pain in your knees, hands, back, and everywhere else… And it helped that a good chunk of the ride back to Portland was slightly downhill.
(I feel the need to insert a quick plug – the Birkenfeld restaurant, was Awesome. The owners were super nice, the other patrons entertainingly interested in our travels, and they wanted to find a campsite for us right there so we could stay and listen to their live music that night. In no way do I intend to sound disparaging when I call it a “biker bar”.)
In any case – it was a good reminder that bicycling is fun as much as it is functional. The other realization/reminder I got from this ride was that it is possible to ride on the shoulder (or occasionally non-existant shoulder) of a state highway and not be killed, or even made very uncomfortable. You just have to pick the right highways, apparently. One of the other riders, who has actually done some longer tours, selected a very nice, very low traffic route for us. About 20 miles of the route was on the Banks-Vernonia trail, completely off-street (which is a whole other topic), but most of it was on the Nehalem Highway (OR-47 and OR-202). These highways had very few cars, and a few logging trucks, and everyone slowed down and gave us plenty of space when they passed us. (Compare that to the middle of the city – I’d been thinking it was crazy to be on a 55mph highway, but it turns out it may be crazier to be on a 35mph city street).
I will say, now that I’ve had a taste of it, I can’t wait to do some more long distances – in Amsterdam, with the group, and when I get back to Oregon.