Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Homestretch: From Portland to Eugene

I left Portland to go to Eugene on bike, an odd feeling indeed since I always travel by car or train back and forth between the two cities. I could have easily made the trip in a day and a half, but again, stubborn me, wanted to time my arrival with my birthday, forcing me to take the more leisurely route.

There is a lot of gorgeous countryside on the outskirts of Portland that makes for nice riding

Since I wasn't worried about making good time, I decided to try out the bike path network to get out of the city. Portland, like Seattle, is very bike friendly with designated streets for cyclists, bike route signs posted on all corners, and a large network of paths. However, my theory for bike paths continues to hold true after my experience in Portland. Navigating the maze of bike paths feels a lot like a scavenger hunt, without the prize or treasure at the end, except arriving at your destination. I wish that cities would have some sort of secret cyclists, like the concept of secret shoppers that test out a bike path and evaluate just how easy and efficient they are to navigate. You have to be very focused and aware of the different signs directing you to turn left or continue straight and I have to admit, at this point in my trip, I spend a lot of time day dreaming in motion, impossible to hold a train of thought for more than two minutes. Therefore I'm a disaster when it come to navigating bike paths and hence I arrived an hour late to meet my friend south of Portland. A mere 12 miles took me 2 hours, due to a lot of wrong turns and my inability to follow the signs.

Molly and her two girls Lily and Olive

Molly is one of my friends who I've stayed in touch with since high school. She and I were two of the four “Fro's” in my close knit group of friends. We called ourselves the “Fros” because of our blonde curly curly hair that was simply out of control and wild at a time when curly hair was really not in! Molly and I were also tennis doubles partners in high school and we both have an incredible amount of energy and always on the go. Although she is now married and has two adorable girls, she hasn't aged a bit since high school. We might not see each other for a year or two, but it is always refreshing to catch up when I'm home. She and the girls brought me lunch and a cupcake to celebrate my birthday and we had a nice time together at a park just south of Portland.

Farm land close to Mollala, Oregon

Lots of farms and barns, some in better conditions than others

From there I kept pedaling south, taking the more scenic route to avoid major roads and found myself surrounded by a lot of farmland on rolling terrain. The colors were absolutely beautiful and so was the weather making the ride incredibly peaceful. I stopped off at a vegetable market to pick up some fresh fruit, the prices were unbelievably cheap and there were all sorts of apple varieties from local farms, which were impossible to pass up even though I only had two days left on the road. I had lightened my load in Portland, hence a bit of added weight didn't make much difference.

Alyssa, Jen, and myself

I arrived to Hubbard, Oregon where I stayed with a friend from my Master's program at OSU, Jen and her husband, Ben. Alyssa from our program also came up to have dinner together and it was fun to catch up and hear about teaching in the United States. Both work at bilingual schools and teach in dual immersion programs, which is something I would eventually like to do, teach Spanish that is. Jen and Ben are also avid outdoor enthusiasts and go to Alaska almost every summer to fish. I loved hearing about their fishing experiences and was pretty much convinced by the end of my stay that I should work a fishing season up in Alaska to replenish my back account. Of course I'd have to get past the whole sea sickness thing, and not showering for a week, but I think I could manage.

The next morning I set out bright and early when Jen left for school, pedaling to Corvallis, except that it wasn't bright at all as the entire Willamette Valley was socked in with fog. When the fog started to burn off, two hours later, it made for the most beautiful morning with colors so rich and deep it reminded me of dusk. Again, I lucked out with another delightful sunny day. I made such good time and only had to ride 60 miles, so I stopped at McDonalds in Salem in order to do a blog post. 

When the morning fog burned off, it was actually a gorgeous day

One thing I'm going to miss after this trip are my McDonalds pit stops. I have visited McDonalds all over the world. They are a fascinating place to people watch and it is very interesting to compare McDonalds globally. Did you know that the ice cream cones at McDonlalds in the United States are the most expensive in the world? All other countries I have visited have ice cream cones for less than a dollar and most hover right around 50 cents. Wireless connections at McDonalds were the best in Asia where it is not uncommon to find groups of friends getting together to stream and watch entire feature length films after ordering a burger. One of the only advantages to Macca's (as they call them down under) in the US is that they are open 24 hours, not to mention they are the place to be if you are 65+ (or a tour cyclist looking for free wifi) to have your morning coffee and meet friends. I suppose if I was desperate to find a safe place to pitch my tent, I could have done so in a McDonald's parking lot! Surprisingly, the quality of coffee at McDonalds is on par with a Starbucks and prices are a dollar or two cheaper!

From Salem, I had several different route options, all which eventually took me over the Willamette river and into Corvallis. I opted for the ferry, never having experienced a river ferry in Oregon. The Buena Vista ferry is truly unique. It crosses the Willamette river close to Independence running on a cable across the river. The whole journey takes all but 5 minutes, but it was quite an adrenaline rush and a time saver compared to navigating a lot of back roads to find a bridge that crosses the river. It is open all year except for Christmas and Thanksgiving from 7am to 7pm. I find it fascinating that someone mans the ferry all day long despite having such low volume traffic. I was the only passenger to make the journey and there weren't any cars waiting on the other side. Basically it runs for anyone, at any time, to accommodate traffic in both directions. For foot passengers it is free, bikes cost a dollar, and cars range in price from 3 to 9 dollars.

I had a good laugh at all the warning signs in order to board the ferry

I am the VIP passenger, the only one!

It dropped me off on the west side of the river where I pretty much cycled alone on the roads all the way down to Corvallis. Before arriving at my host for the evening I visited with the mom of one of my high school friends, Jacque. Basically all the people I know my age in Eugene have left, so when I come home I try to see their parents and enjoy catching up with them. Jacque travels to Corvallis frequently so it worked out perfectly to meet up with her there, even though she would be at my house the following day.

Tons of pumpkin patches, if they didn't weigh so much I would have taken a few

Flat rural riding on the outskirts of Corvallis

In Corvallis I stayed with a university professor from my Master's program Ken, and his wife, Melinda, both in the education field and global travelers. I feel right at home with Warmshowers host, but also people who share my interests, which is why I enjoyed my visit with the Winograds. We had a lot of stories to tell from our travels and had a lot of fun talking. They made me a delicious meal and a yummy dessert, pumpkin pie cheesecake. Pumpkin is up there on the list with beef jerky, of foods I miss living abroad. I'm guaranteed to scarf down any recipe with pumpkin as an ingredient, which explains going back for seconds with Melinda's cheesecake. In the morning they both wished me happy birthday and Ken gifted me with his latest book, Critical Literacy with Young Learners which I can't wait to read to help integrate back into the world of teaching.

Kindergartners at Franklin Elementary singing Happy Birthday in Corvallis

A geography presentation at Linus Pauling Middle School in Corvallis

That morning I visited Melinda's kindergarten class, where the students sang “Happy Birthday” and then I went over to the dual immersion program and spoke with the sixth graders at Linus Pauling. I started pedaling south to Eugene in the late morning with cloudy skies. Soon the clouds started spitting down rain and I knew that I was going to be accompanied by rain the entire ride to Eugene. I knew this was going to happen, and being wet didn't bother me one bit! I came to accept that symbolically the rain represented the tears of joy for my arrival, or was it my inner soul crying out in sadness now that I had nowhere else to pedal! I'm always an optimist, but I think the tears were both of sorrow and excitement representative of how I felt as I pedaled the last miles.

The clouds in the Willamette valley are truly unique. There isn't one specific cloud that passes over and dumps water on you, rather it is a blanket of grayness that hoovers low in the air for hours spitting out droplets of water that eventually create enough rain to make you wet. I do admit the rural countryside is still pleasant to observe, even in the rain!

I had some time to spare on the way home, so I stopped for lunch 20 miles north or Eugene, and again to make some phone calls 5 miles north of the city limits. I still had time to buy before my 4:30 arrival, so I went to a local grocery store in Eugene and changed into dry clothes. I know, that is cheating and after pedaling around the world, I should have been able to hack being wet and cold a few minutes longer, but I longed to be warm and dry for my arrival.

I made it to Eugene, soaked but ecstatic

What was going through my head as I pedaled the last few miles? How did I feel? The rain magnified my desire to be home. I was chuckling to myself, thinking I could have had a dry arrival if I came one day sooner. But stubborn me, wouldn't have had it any other way. It was October 14th and the Oregon rain had come, just like my mom always said. I was anxious to be home, to be dry, surrounded by people I know, and to experience life out of the saddle. I had already seen my family so there wasn't that build up, but I was looking forward to seeing familiar faces and places. My dad called me from the supermarket to let me know I could come since everyone had arrived at my house. The rain had just started to fall again as I turned down my street. The closer I got to my house, the more cars I saw. There at the end of my driveway was a small crowd to cheer and applaud for me. I had a flashback to the Ironman that I won back in Spain, three years ago. Crossing a finish line isn't something you rehearse. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, just like my arrival to Eugene, and it actually feels a bit awkward. I'm not one to be in the lime light. I didn't let out a big scream, nor did I dance or prance around. I had a big smile on my face. Mentally, I think I let out a sigh of relief and content. I made it!

Pedaling into Pioneer Pike

The welcoming crew at my house

Hugging friends despite the wet rain

My parents had organized a small gathering of friends, mostly parents of friends, since I don't know many people in Eugene any more. They were such good sports to be waiting for me out in the rain. I admitted to them that I had changed my clothes recently at Market of Choice, but I was still eager to go inside and be warm. I didn't have much time to talk with everyone, but I appreciated a nice warm greeting for my arrival. A handful of my high school friend's parents came as well as some of my local followers and friends, and a few neighbors as well. One of my hosts from Wyoming even came to welcome me which was a real treat! A reporter from the local newspaper showed up for an interview and after he left I was able to talk some more with my friends.

A pretty casual newspaper interview in my kitchen

Talking with friends and family upon my arrival
Posing with a few moms from the Spanish Immersion Program Class of '97

Two hours later the crowd had cleared out and there I was with my parents sitting down in the living room talking. It's funny how after 14 months of pedaling it all came to an just like that. There I was at home as if I had never left. It felt surreal. Did I really just pedal 21,000 miles to get here? Had I really traveled through 4 continents and 26 countries and been on the road for 14 months? When you see a familiar place and so many recognizable faces it feels as though time had froze, like I'd always been there and never left. I guess that is the true definition of home; there is always something so comfortable and familiar about the space. The smells, space and distances, colors, subtle noises; these things never change. Even though you've grown and aged and so have the people around you, home is timeless.

My parents with the welcome sign stayed up for a few days

1 comment:

  1. Your published blog post is very interesting and informative for me because it helps me to know more about different places. In these photographs shows the true love of your family. I also want to explore these exciting places which you have mentioned in your blog after completing my west coast tour. Would you like to give me any suggestion?