Day 81. From here we have two options per the ACA maps which everyone has. One - we could head North and then northwest and make our way to Astoria, Oregon. That would take another four days or so. Second - We could turn into Eugene and then head west to Florence - but we would be done tomorrow.
Instead we are taking option three - an ACA modified route that takes northwest a little and then west through the Siuslaw National Forest to the coastal town of Waldport - about thirty miles north of Florence.
However we didn't have maps for it and it wasn't entirely clear why we didn't and there was a section earlier in the route that required ten turns in agricultural land and the potential to get lost was real.
In the end Phil was able to get the turn by turn directions, and Barry was able to McGyver the data into his Garmin for realtime navigation.
So far it's been a nice flat ride. We've been in a tight group of seven following the Garmins on Barry and John's bike. We even made such good time that we caught up with Norm and Christine who were hampered trying to follow the paper turn-by-turn instructions.
Tom has joined us regularly since Baker City. At one point during a dinner he told Lew - he would be a good Comrade. It's nice to have him along with us again.
No cafe in Monroe - instead we got some snacks and drinks at the Dari-Mart in town. The clerks were so shocked to hear we had biked from Virginia. Congratulations! And You're so inspiring. Being off the trail we're exposed to people who aren't so accustomed to weird spandex clad men cycling across country.
In case we forgot what challenges smaller thousand -something feet tall hills can be - Alpine Road reminded us. At one point the grade was 10% and I think almost everyone walked their bikes up a portion of it.
But...it's not hot, not humid, and there was very little traffic. So we didn't complain and I could it a little nostalgic. There were times when I was biking at only 3 miles-point-something an hour and walking briskly I could match that.
But reached the top and sat with Lew, Tom, and Barry while we waited for John. Ham sandwich, a Cliff Bar and Water.
After John came up and we all rested it was time to go back down on the other side and I am reminded again what a joy these climbs and coasts are particularly in the green canopied road. It is the most rewarding thrill ride that you can earn. It seems so obvious in retrospect, but I can't explain exactly how good it feels to have that rush of adrenaline and wind. I videoed a good stretch on my GoPro but I suspect like most everything - the representation pales against the reality.
This is the last full day of what has been, by almost any measure, an epic journey. I don't know how long it took Frodo to reach Mordor, but the Oregon Trail took 200 days, and Lewis and Clark took two years. So this is a little different in comparison to those truly epic adventures.
But this is my adventure and it is drawing to an end. For many in our group, it is just the start of retirement and they have to come back to the most difficult of decisions... what now?
Norm talked to me two nights ago in McKenzie Bridge about his desire to move to Washington state and be closer to his children. He is looking at getting involved in charities.
Lew retired four days prior to starting the trip. He talks about getting more involved in political and social justice activism.
Jim is also recently retired, but has been a little tight lipped about how he intends to shape his retirement days.
Bill will go back to Moab and resume guiding mountain bikers.
John says he'll lay low catering to wife Robin, before he mentions going on another bike trip. This is his thirteenth tour with the ACA so he'll probably arrange number fourteen soon.
Tom, Barry and I will be heading back to our jobs and that is probably an easier decision. We just have to see how long it will take us to readjust. Barry jokes that he'll startle merchants in Nottingham by demanding ice cream, or worse, free refills on coffee.
We've spent evenings around campfires, beers or drinks in hand, laughing, and trying to recall what state, or town things occurred and the vastness of it just confronts us.
I have long mulled about in my mind how to answer the "polite" question...How was your trip? I'll need to come up with a polite, "It was fantastic, epic, and a journey that I'll never forget." More than that and I would be talking too much. It's impossible to convey in less than a minute, even an hour. (And who would want to listen about this for an hour much less five minutes.)
The second to last day. We're biking through lush Oregon farming country. There are trees, ferns, moss, and verdant valleys filled with farms.
A break today at Alsea, a funky little town in this valley filled with cheese farmers, beef ranchers and tourism. Deb's Cafe for what we suspect will be our last group lunch of the Barrysters. Alas breakfast was over so Barry forlornly ordered what we hope is his final American Grilled cheese sandwich.
Afterward I went down to the Alsea Mercantile and bought some local goat cheese for dinner. It was quite smooth and good.
When I started out this little grand adventure, it was the first time since starting the practice of law, the birth of my children, or starting law school, or heading to boot camp, that I was embarking on a big thing, a life defining challenge or adventure. Those kinds of "big days" happen frequently when you are younger. Less often as you get older.
I also started out saying that every story had a who, what, when, where, how, and why. The "why" is often the hardest but most important question to answer. That's because it can have so many layers, that like an onion it's almost impossible to drill down to the real reason.
When we meet people on the road they're polite and ask where we are going, or heading from and we have to qualify our answer because if it's just the day then our answer is quite modest (at least to us) but if it's about the whole trip then that's worth a wow.
Less common, but still often, we get the question , "Why are you doing this?" Typically it's packaged as "Are you doing this for a cause, or to raise money?" It reminds me of the scene in Forest Gump when, after Jenny left him yet again, he started to run, and run, until he had crossed the country and then did it again. He developed an entourage of people asking if he was doing it for world peace, or to end hunger, or other such cause. As if he couldn't just be running for the running' sake.
Jenny hasn't left me, and I'm not doing it for a cause.
I typically give one of three answers:
One - The Judge said I either had to do this or do one year in jail.
Two - My wife signed me up for a fat camp and I thought it would be smoothies and yoga by the ocean. Boy was I wrong!
Three - It's a midlife cry for help.
The real answer is because it's an adventure, a challenge and will likely be mentioned at my funeral. I have always been intrigued by stories behind and about big journeys and this is one that I thought I could do at the cusp of my fiftieth year.
That answer is too long so I usually go with trite answer one or two or three.
The remaining seven miles to the campground went smoothly enough. Bill stopped to forage on the road as he has routinely done whenever he spies berries, fruit, or other items. Today he found Rosehips which weren't that good, but Bill assures me they're really good for you. Also present were blackberries which were sweet and delicious.
The Salmonberry Campground is a true gem. There were a lot of shady areas for tents and hammocks. My last night in a hammock so that is a little bittersweet.
The Salmonberry meanders slowly past the campsite and there is a little path (conveniently right next to where Mike Allman has his RV) down to it. It's not too cold so Barry, Bill and I went down to sit there. Little fishes come by and nibble on our legs. Really pleasant.
Tonight's last camp dinner of salmon, quinoa and berry salad by Norm, Christine, and Barry. Quite good.
Our last map meeting and tomorrow we put our the tires into the Pacific.