Bike to Inspire

Ben Weisner is a Climate Generation volunteer in various capacities. He is currently biking through the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges of the West to inspire health and well-being, raise awareness for environmental organizations, and inspire others to engage in climate change solutions. Follow his full journey at biketoinspire.org.

July 16–17, 2017

I woke up early in my Hood River motel room, but by the time I’d packed up and was on the road it was already 9 a.m. It was Sunday morning, so there wasn’t much traffic. The road was dominated by the view of Mt. Hood. Behind me was Mt. Adams. I was riding to a small town called Odell. I decided to skip riding into the town and just kept going.

I rode past field after field of fruit trees. There were orchards everywhere, just like in northern and central Washington. The rushing sound of the Hood River accompanied me as I followed the road. I took my time, not worrying or caring about any particular destination. I stopped frequently to look around, eat, and drink. I followed my map directions to the roads around Parkdale, the next town past Odell. There were sweet little houses with their own fruit trees, flowers, and horses Mt. Hood continued to loom over. It was a beautiful day, no clouds, but comfortable weather. In the afternoon I checked the map. Last camp site before I had to cross Bennett Pass at 4,674 feet was called Nottingham Campground, a USFS site. I decided to camp there. I’d only ridden 30 miles, but it was just about 4 p.m., I felt good, and the next site after that would take me at least 3 more hours to reach.

When I arrived at Nottingham, the sign said FULL. My heart sank, but I decided to ride in and see if I could share a site with someone. There was supposed to be one or two auxiliary sites set aside for bikers as well, so I went ahead and tried my luck. As I rode in, I saw the first 4 sites were empty. Perhaps the FULL sign was incorrect. I ran into a guy and his young daughter walking along the road and asked if they knew anything about the sign. The father, Jeff, said there were plenty of open sites. The campground caretaker had probably not been back to the site to check in on things. He suggested I set up my tent at the auxiliary site. It was small with no picnic table, but it was right on the river and a beauty of a spot. I followed his suggestion—he was right.

My tent fit right into a small stand of trees overlooking the Hood River. After I set up my tent, I walked over to my other neighbor’s site to introduce myself. They were a young couple from Vancouver who came to this campground frequently. Josh and Jessalyn and their French bulldog, Potato, who would not leave Jessalyn’s lap. They offered me food and water but I declined. I made myself a sandwich from the fixings I’d gotten at the Hood River Safeway, then filtered the water from the mountain stream flowing right by my tent. I felt like Grizzly Adams. As the sun started to go down, it got cooler so I packed up my stuff, put on some sleep clothes and crawled into my sleeping bag to read and get a good night’s rest.

Later that night, Jeff and his daughter Emily came by to drop off a couple of beers for me. It was getting late, so I only popped one open. As they were leaving, I heard Jeff describe to Emily how all my bags fit on the bike, and how awesome it would be to ride a bike all the way from Washington to Oregon. As I finished the beer, the rushing sound of the river lulled me to sleep.

I woke up this morning scrunched down as far as I could go in my sleeping bag. It’s not one of those mummy bags that covers your head with a hood so I had a tough time keeping my scalp warm. And my feet were cold, too. It had been a chilly night in Nottingham. I woke at 6, and wanted to get up and out but I didn’t want to brave the cold air. I lingered in the bag, rubbing my feet together for warmth. Finally, I took a deep breath, and with one motion, unzipped my bag, unzipped my tent, and flung myself out… and tripped and landed on my knees in the dry pine needles.

I got up and started jumping up and down to get the blood flowing. I could see my breath! I grabbed my hoody, put on my long pants, and got to work. I scrambled down to the river with my water filter system to fill my bottles with ice cold mountain melt from the Hood River that ran 50 feet from my camp site. The stream splashed over my hands and feet until I couldn’t feel them anymore, but I got the bottles filled. I was hungry, but I didn’t have anything I could prepare warm with my camp stove. I got out a couple of string cheese sticks and a couple of slices of wheat bread and ate those quickly. I spread another slice with peanut butter and wolfed that down. My campground neighbor, Jeff, had brought me two bottles of beer last night, but I’d only had one. The other was lying unopened by the tent. I considered.

When I was in the Army, my roomies would often roll out of bed and crack open a Bud and smoke a cigarette before they even went to the bathroom in the morning. How could you drink a beer first thing in the morning, I’d wonder. Now, I was considering that very option. I didn’t want it to go to waste–Jeff had been very kind to bring it over for me. I wasn’t going to stow it in my bag and drink it warm later–it was nice and cold now. It was hydration, I thought–I wouldn’t have to get more water from the river. It was calories I could use. And, it was a wheat ale infused with blood orange, so it was practically like orange juice! I cracked it open, drank it slowly, and felt refreshed. But I don’t think I’ll make that a habit.

I packed away my food, pulled my sleep kit out of the tent, and started getting all my gear organized and packed up in my panniers. My campsite was nestled in a grove of pine trees which made it nice and shady during the previous afternoon. But now it also made it hard for the sun to reach me. I would have to hustle out to the road where the sun was shining every few minutes to warm myself up. As I stood there, I looked up at the sky, smiled to the sun and said, “thanks for the warmth.” As I rolled out of Nottingham, I saw Jeff packing up his car. He and his daughter Emily were going hiking in the Mt. Hood area. We talked a bit more, some about my trip, and I left him a “Bike to Inspire” sticker to give to Emily.

Despite the chill, it was a beautiful morning. The road was quiet and I had a nice wide shoulder. I started pedaling. The quiet of the morning and the rhythm I was getting into felt just right. My body was moving and my breath was flowing. I could feel my right knee, but that was ok–it was letting me know it was there. The sun would peek out every now and then and dapple the road with shadow. A car would roll by and hit the rumble on the median and then move to the horizon.

I thought about the phrase “the map is not the road.” But right now, there is no map. There’s just the road, and I’m pedaling this awesome hunk of steel that has served me so well for the last 8 years. Just pedaling. I got into a zone on the black ribbon of road, on a gentle but noticeable incline. Soon, the road disappeared. There was no map and there was no road. Just me, pedaling the bike. Me and the bike. I thought, let’s take it one more step. Let’s take “me” out of the equation. Let’s just make it about the bike and the pedaling. And I breathed and meditated on that. No map, no road, no me. There is the bike and there is pedaling. I rode letting the pedaling happen, gently moving higher. After a while, I was ready to let the bike go: there is pedaling, pedaling is happening. I let that be my meditation as I breathed and moved up the road to Bennett Pass. I couldn’t hang on to that for long (or, I should say, I couldn’t let go for that long) but I got there for a moment or two, the essence of what was happening.

The road glided by this morning. I covered four passes in 4 hours: Bennett Pass (4674′), Barlow Pass (4161′), Wapinitia Pass (3950′), and Blue Box Pass (4024′). Around noon, I came to a section of road on a state highway that had orange cones on the shoulder. A construction crew was working, but there wasn’t much activity that I could see. I kept riding. One of the crew waved at me and pointed to the opposite side of the highway. “Get on the other side,” he yelled. Meaning, cross the highway in traffic to ride on the other shoulder. I slowed, but shook my head and continued riding. There was no way I was crossing a highway to ride towards oncoming traffic to avoid 20 yards of construction. I yelled, “Sorry, can’t do that!” and rode through the construction area. The guy who’d waved me over yelled after me, “You’re going to get yourself killed!” If so, I’ll do it on my own terms, I thought.

The route I was on had very few services, meaning no stores or restaurants, wayside areas, or cell service. But there was one gas station along the way that I stopped at to grab a bite to eat. I sat at a picnic table beyond the paved area of the station and ate a soggy turkey sandwich, chips, and a Kit Kat bar. When I was ready to leave, a heavy-set guy who’d been filling his tank came over to ask about my bike. “I’ll bet that bike costs more than my two cars combined!” “I doubt that,” I laughed. “Stock on this bicycle is about $1200, but I did change up a few things over the years. Everything you’re looking at, including all the gear would be less than 3 grand.” He couldn’t believe it. “Want to give it a spin around the lot here?” He laughed and shook his head. “You meet a lot of weirdos?” he asked. “Not really, but a lot of nice people, helpful people.” “I meant like druggies. There’s a bunch of them where I’m camping on Clear Lake.” He went on about strung out teenagers at his campground and how he’d called the police. We chatted some more and he wished me well. As he pulled away, I noticed a large “Ban Shariah Law” sticker on his camper. I wondered where Shariah was being practiced in this part of Oregon.

Soon, I got off the state highway onto beautiful Skyline Rd. After about 30 miles of riding, it was only about 2:30 p.m. but the last couple of campgrounds were coming up before I’d have to commit to another 30 mile stretch of riding to a different site–they were spread out pretty far. I was ready to settle in, so I turned into Clackamas Lake campground. The camp hosts let me know right away that there was no lake here, so I would not be able to go boating. No problem, I told her. Clackamas is not nearly as beautiful as Nottingham from my previous night. It’s an equestrian site, meaning there are corrals that people can use to camp with their horses. Who knew?

I found my site, ate my traditional meal of dehydrated soup with salami, but switched it up with a slice of bread instead of a corn tortilla. I was practically nodding off as I made my meal, so I quickly set up my tent and crashed for a couple of hours. Night time now–going to check the maps again. I feel optimistic that despite my slower pace I will make it to California–northern, not southern–so I can ride some of the Sierra Nevada range. But I’m open to whatever happens now. I’m going to let the pedaling happen.

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