It was humbling to approach the Pacific Ocean, dip my rear wheel into the rolling surf and realize that nearly 4,000 miles lie between these sands and those onto which I hope to roll Maddy in 50 days.
I took a photo for me.
And another in honor of Ellen's "Quest for World Domination"!
Today's ride was a 69-mile trek from Astoria to St. Helens. It was tough. Oregon is not flat. The climbs made me frown, and I can't even imagine what other crazy faces I made as I strained to pedal onward and upward. But the peaks - as tiny as they are compared to what awaits us in the Rocky Mountains - were exhilarating, and the descents on the other side made me smile. The first time I realized I was smiling into the wind on a descent was when I felt something hit my front teeth. Every up must go down. And a smile is just a frown upside down. Gotta love physics.
Our first SAG (support and gear) stop was next to the Gnat Creek Hatchery on Highway 30, where spring chinook salmon and steelhead are raised. We shared Highway 30 much of the day with logging and semi trucks. It was intimidating, but there is really not a great way to cycle through Oregon from the Pacific, and I am sure that America By Bicycle has chosen the safest route. The best indication of that is that we all made it to St. Helens in one piece.
If the entire tour could be like the final 20 miles on today's ride, I know I would get across North America with no problem. As it turns out, Mother Nature didn't create this continent with my 2010 tour in mind. There are certainly more hard days ahead, but if I smile as big as I did today on every downhill and roll into every new town with the same sense of personal achievement, this is going to be a great summer.
Yesterday, after the Pacific wheel-dip, to kick off the America By Bicycle "Across America North" orientation, everyone took a moment to stand up, state their name, note their experience level and state why they were here. There were a lot of answers that began with "well, I don't know why I'm here."
About half way around the room of over 50 riders, which included a few solo adventurers (like me), a recent high school graduate with her aunt, a father and his teenage son, various couples, pairs of old friends, and those raising money for notable charities, I suddenly realized that I know exactly why I'm here.
This is roughly what I said:
"My name is Katie. I live in New York City. I am pretty sure that I have the least amount of experience out of anyone here, but I am here because I turned 29 last year and had a brief moment of terror when I realized that I would soon be turning 30. [Laughter erupted from the group, especially from the segments of those well into their elder decades.] But then I said to myself, 'Wait a minute! When did it become a bad thing to get another year of life?' And I decided right then and there that I would never dread turning another year older ever again. I began searching for something like America By Bicycle because, although I will no longer dread getting older, I also realized that life is going too fast. Too often, I am in the office and it's already 1pm, and I wonder where my morning has gone ... Just like I wondered where my 20s had gone. I wanted to find something that slowed down my mornings and lengthened my afternoons. So I've got some long days ahead of me, and that's what I'm looking for."
Appropriately, I embarked on my journey to lengthen my days and feel moments while I'm in them on the longest day of the year. June 21. The first day of summer. My first day of seeing life through polarized lenses.
Though cycling across North America has not been a lifelong dream of mine, like many of those who are here, I thought my little speech yesterday sufficiently summed up the brief path that led me here. But the best explanation of all was short and sweet and by a man named Gary: "I am here solely because I want to be with Margot."
Margot was sitting next to him. Love. I can't think of any reason greater than that.
More images from the Pacific Ocean to St. Helens:
The Ride Leader's official report: