Seattle to San Francisco – Day 7

A week in. It doesn’t seem like I’ve been on the road for this long. Today was another slow start and a  slow ride day. To say the coastline here in Southern Oregon is “rolling” might be an understatement. It goes like this – I huff and puff up a giant hill, standing up to get over the top. Then I glide to the bottom without pedalling once. Than another hill. Then I soar to the bottom, probably going over the speed limit.


I made plans yesterday to Skype my grandmother when my extended family was at her house eating Easter dinner. But the phone service was so spotty that I missed all of it. When I called at 3pm my time, everyone had gone home and my grandmother was the only one left. I was lying in the sun on a picnic table in the tiny town of Bandon. We chatted for a bit on the phone and I drank a coffee. Suddenly, a wild looking boy on a white fixed-gear bicycle loaded down in gear wheeled up with a huge smile on his face.  He had long hair in a ponytail and was wearing super short jean cutoffs.


He smiled and asked how I was, as if we had been friends forever. I honestly wasn’t feeling too great. The night before I hadn’t slept because I’d been so cold in my sleeping bag. Despite the sun and the nice weather I still couldn’t get warm today, and I found myself shivering uncontrollably on this bench.

“I’m good,” I said.


He introduced himself as Mark. A few minutes later, Steve rolled up. Steve at least was wearing padded bike shorts. His gear was in actual paniers. They weren’t friends originally, but they were going the same pace so they were riding together. Steve was from Alaska and he was on a month long ride to try to grow as a person. Mark was from Vancouver by way of Manitoba and he had started two weeks earlier and was riding indefinitely. They were both 27 years old, although Mark looked much younger. All of us were born in July.


We lay in the sun for about two hours and talked. Another man showed up randomly and started talking to Mark. Apparently, they knew each other from the road. Mark explained that they had met several miles before.  The other man was from Seattle, and his recumbent bike had blown a tire and he was getting it fixed and staying in a motel in Bandon.

I asked if I could ride with Mark and Steve and they were happy to include me. Mark seemed to almost to have been expecting me. We coasted along. Having them in front of me to break the wind took all of the effort out of riding. We went another 20 miles or so, and then rode 5 miles out into the misty forest to a lighthouse and a campsite in the state park.


It was beyond beautiful. Probably because it was Easter Weekend, the campsite was empty. I had a long shower. Mark had an even longer shower – he was gone for about 2 hours. Steve made a fire. We drank wine, ate and talked. I hadn’t even realized how much I had wanted someone to talk to. I had barely said a word to anyone since leaving Florence yesterday afternoon.


Now that the sun had set, I was shivering uncontrollably again. Mark and Steve offered me their food. I pulled my sleeping bag out of the tent and draped it over my shoulders by the fire. “Oh, that’s why you’ve been cold,” said Mark. “You don’t have the thermarest.”


Apparently, my type of sleeping bag’s thermal rating (20 degrees) is based on having the thermarest to go with it. This was why I had frozen the night before. When I bought it, the clerk at REI hadn’t even mentioned this. I felt a little bit pissed.

Seattle to San Francisco – Day 6

 I’m writing this as I feed my fire. There is an odd combination of analog, digital, and stone age technology that is present in my campsite. I wish that I had an illuminated keyboard on my tablet so that I could type faster. Also, I wish that I had a spoon. Have you ever gotten most of your hand stuck in a jar of Nutella?

I didn’t get very far today. There was a headwind. My bike felt heavier than ever. The mile markers were farther apart also. The headwind blew sand in my hair, which became itchy under my helmet. I passed through a tiny town called Reedsport, about halfway to my intended destination of Coos Bay. There were some random motels and a Dairy Queen, where I decided to stop and get some mountain dew and a pastry. Yesterday I had eaten that same combination at a little country store around 150 miles in, and it had given me an amazing energy boost. I was needing that again today. It surprised me to see that it was already 4pm. I hadn’t started until almost 2pm, but I was still only going about 10 miles per hour.

I skyped my parents and told them about yesterday’s ride. Mom scolded me for not taking a rest day. “Just because you CAN ride 180 miles doesn’t mean you have to do it every day. You look exhausted.”

She had a point. I picked out a campsite about 6 miles south at a state park called Umqua Lighthouse State Park. I could make it there in time to take a shower, set up my tent, organize my things, and watch the sun set over the Pacific from the lighthouse point before making a fire and writing about my day.


Seattle to San Francisco – Day 5

Before you do anything, you have to decide to do it. A decision is not a static thing. You have many opportunities to decide whether you want to keep doing that thing or not. In fact, you have infinite opportunities, because at any one of the infinite moments in time you can decide to keep doing that thing, or stop doing that thing. Often, between the beginning of a task and the end of a task I will forget why I wanted to do that task in the first place. Or perhaps a more interesting task comes along and I choose to do that task instead of finishing the first task. Or perhaps I have bad luck and it seems like the task isn’t worth the effort it’s taking.

On Thursday night, I decided that I would get to Florence, Oregon before 10pm. I decided that again on Friday morning. I had no idea about how I would do it. I didn’t have a nutrition plan, or a goal pace, or an odometer. That didn’t matter, because I had decided that I would do it.

I set out in the cold morning. The nearly full moon lingered in the sky. I reached Oregon City by 7am without even one incident of snakebite or cholera. Every 10 miles or so I checked my phones maps to make sure I was still on the correct route. Today I was not going to fuck around with directions. Mists hung over the vineyards on the Oregon Countryside. I was going the right direction, so I was able to return to my thoughts.


Everything we do in life starts with some sort of decision. You decide to keep doing something, or you decide to stop doing something, or you decide to do something else. Sometimes, if you have a bigger long-term goal, not reaching a short term goal makes sense. For instance, I wanted to get through Salem by 10am, but I stopped for a sandwich and a donut at a café and I ended up helping an old lady with her new ipad and writing a blog post for an hour and a half. If I hadn’t done these things I might not have had the morale or the stamina to continue.


Some people are very good at making the same decisions over and over. We praise these people as “determined.” These are the people who make their ideas come to life because they act and then they follow through.

This is a macabre example, but the Donner party was determined. At least some of them were. They had decided that they were going to get to California, so they kept going, despite how late it was in the fall. And once they were trapped, they resorted to cannibalism because they were determined to survive. Oftentimes, unforeseen circumstances, or bad luck, can reverse our decisions. Often, we have conscious or unconscious lines that we will not cross in our determination. I had decided that I would get to Florence, but one of my unconscious boundaries was that I would not continue if I had to eat humans. Don’t worry, this is not a story of cannibalism in that sense.


I think that the people who we praise as “determined” can sometimes also be the people who have the loosest boundaries for what they will do to succeed. They may not realize it when they dream their dream, but when something gets in the way of their dream – when they have to fire a good employee because they can hire someone else at a lower wage, when they have to use ingredients that aren’t ethically sourced, or when they have to have to make shoddier gadgets because their shareholders want higher margins – they don’t think twice about it. They have their goal, and they are going to reach it no matter what. Whenever any of us goes after our dreams, we are faced with this type of decision. Often, the people who succeed at making their dreams come true are psychopaths. They don’t mind throwing someone under the train for the sake of their dreams. And the kind-hearted people? They are just dreamers. They don’t believe in breaking eggs, so they don’t make omelettes.


In today’s world, we are obsessed with speed. When we are trying to do something, and someone else does it faster, it can be discouraging. Business people talk about the advantages of being “first-to-market.” If you only care about where you are going and not how you get there, you can cut corners and get there faster. But that is the difference between a power boat trip and a cruise on a sailboat. How you get somewhere still does matter. Otherwise, I would have flown to San Francisco.


I’d like to believe that the world is still a place where kind people can achieve their dreams and be recognized by others as being achievers. I’d like to think that people who keep their determination in an ethical check and cooperate with others to reach their goals will be more respected than the highly competitive self-promoters.


I did achieve my goal that day, and I don’t think I hurt anyone except for a few hapless flies who flew into my open mouth. The roads were smooth and flat, and the wind was at my back. It was a cyclists’ dream. The last stretch was along the Eugene-Florence Highway. There is nothing along that road, not even a gas station. Finally, 33 miles from Florence, I found a farm that sold pastries and old-fashioned sodas. I drank a Mountain Dew and ate a muffin. The grandmother who sold them to me was concerned that I would be riding in the dark. So I took off again, trying to beat the sunset by riding towards it. I was surrounded by tall pine trees, and the air smelled wild. Giant RVs pulling trailers filled with dirt bikes drove past me. Although I cursed myself to ride faster, there was nothing I could do to keep the sun from setting. It sank behind the trees, and I was surrounded by dark and occasional car headlights. Thankfully, the margin of the road had grown so that I had my own lane to ride in. The only time it disappeared was when I had to go through a tunnel. Knowing that this might be the last thing I ever did, I pushed the bike signal on the tunnel and rode in. The worst thing about being hit by a car in a tunnel would be the fact that I wouldn’t see it coming. I hate the idea of not being able to face my death.


I didn’t die (obviously). I made it through the tunnel, and then I followed the dark, forest road for another 20 miles. The air smelled wild, like pine trees and salt. The darkness was total, and except for the sound of frogs, it was silent. At last I reached the welcoming lights of Florence. I sat at a gas station and called Matt, my couchsurf host, to let him know I was there. I think I may have been delirious. I had done it. I had ridden 176 miles in one day by myself carrying all my own gear. Matt offered to come pick me up. I think he noted the tone of delirium in my voice. He offered me my own room, a bowl of lo mein and a hot shower. I am eternally grateful.

Seattle to San Francisco – Day 4

Wednesday night I had dreamed that I was stealing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from children’s lunchboxes and eating them. I was happy to find peanut butter and jelly and artisan bread in the hostel kitchen. I helped myself to it liberally, before heading to Ray’s coffee shop for a soy latte.


Ray and I charted a course. He told me that the best way to get out of town would be to take Cornell Road to the 26, the 26 to State Route 6, and then State Route 6 to the Tillamook, and then to Lincoln City if I made it that far, which was unlikely given that it was almost noon and I hadn’t started. He told me that once had ridden to Tillamook and back in one day. It was one of the happiest days of his life, he said.


Back at the hostel, a package was waiting for me containing my phone and passport. It was pouring rain, so I had to unpack and repack my bags to get to my rain gear. Leaving the warm, dry hostel and the other young people playing board games and chatting in the common area was difficult.

Leaving civilization is always difficult. It is never a desire, it is a compulsion. This, I realize, is why I had drawn the comparison between myself and El Cid. Whether you are compelled by something internal or external, leaving is always against your instinct to stay. Humans find safety in numbers. We find comfort in company. To leave the herd, you must fight this instinct.


I was thinking these thoughts as I pushed myself out of the Willamette Valley on a bicycle and headed south. I came to the 26. It was a busy highway with a narrow margin for bikers. The rain was pouring by now though, and visibility was poor. I decided to attempt another route. I didn’t want to take my phone out of my bag in the pouring rain, so I decided to just try riding West. I set off. Riding without thinking of where I was going or how fast I was going gave my mind time to meditate. I thought about the past few days, and my time in Portland. I thought about my time cycling in France. I had had one day of rain the entire trip, and I had forgotten about it. I was leaving Arles, I think, and the rain was cold and wet, as April rain tends to be. I didn’t have far to go. I was staying in a town called Jonquieres, I think. But riding in the rain again, I remembered the misery of that ride, and how alone I had felt. Interesting how I had completely forgotten that day. I wondered if I would forget this day also, or if I would turn the memory of my soaked socks and sneakers and the way my raincoat soaked through and stuck to my bare skin into a happy memory of an adventure.


And it was a happy memory. When the rain let up, I felt myself flying on two wheels through Suburban Oregon. And more suburban Oregon. And more suburban Oregon. And it started to rain again, and the sun got lower in the sky. And I passed under I5. But I was too lost in thought to notice. Until I got to the 26 again. This time I pulled my phone out of my bag and turned it on. I almost cried. I was past Beaverton, headed back into Portland. Instead of crying, I laughed. I had been riding in a circle all afternoon. I had to make a decision – whether to head back to Portland or turn around and continue heading to Tillamook. It was an easy decision. It was getting darker and rainier, I was soaked and shivering, and I knew there was a warm hostel bed waiting for me in Portland. I crossed over the 26th and climbed for a ways before heading towards the arboretum and zipping down curving, narrow roads through beautiful homes going faster than the speed limit. I returned to the hostel and walked in, dripping and covered in mud and gravel. They were full, they said, but I could call the hostel downtown. They were full too. I tried calling my friend Zach, but he was trecking in Nepal. So I called Ray and asked for yet another favour. “Maybe you know someone who could host a cyclist for a night?”

He said he would try to find me a place, and invited me over until then. It was nice to be somewhere warm. I sat in one of his chairs and soaked through the cushions. He laughed it off. He let me use his shower and it was the best shower I have ever taken. None of his friends had space. “Do you mind if I crash on your floor?” I asked. He didn’t. Well that was easy. We planned my route for the next day. I had to be in Florence, where my next couchsurfing host lived. I could either do 169 miles going west out of the valley and then south, or I could do 176 miles going south through Oregon City and then west. Going South first had fewer hills, and since I was carrying 40 odd pounds of gear and water it made more sense. I was nervous. Cycling 175 miles in a day is not a small deal for me.

Seattle to San Francisco – Day 3

Wednesday morning I woke up a bit hungover. I’d celebrated a birthday with my couchsurfing host the night before. During the celebrations I knocked my phone off of a barstool and it fell about 3 feet. The screen blinked and turned an odd tinge of blue. I didn’t think much of it, but Wednesday morning it was clear that it wasn’t going to turn back on. I’d broken my phone. I went to the Verizon store, but they didn’t have windows phones, so I left.


I was now missing my phone and my ID and I still had about 900 miles to go. Also, my host had plans for the rest of the week, so he wasn’t able to host me again. I decided to find a hostel. Unfortunately, the only hostels in town required ID. I still had my tablet, so I decided to find a coffee shop and figure out what to do from there.


I chose the coffee shop that had the coolest bikes outside. There were two beautiful fixies. Clearly, this coffee shop, Coffee House Northwest, was a bastion of Portland culture. The barista asked where I was going. “To San Francisco,” I told him.


“I want to do that,” he said enthusiastically. “But I don’t know if I would stop in San Francisco. I think I would keep going to Ecuador.”


Ray, the barista who wanted to go to Ecuador, made me the best almond milk latte I’ve ever had. I camped out at one of the tables and started sending emails to Tony, begging him to send me my old phone and my passport. Finally I caught him on Skype, and he agreed to send both next-day air. He also sent me a photo of my passport so that I would be able to stay at the hostel.


Ray invited me to sit at the counter so that we could talk bikes as he worked. Clearly he was an expert barista – he not only got me to move away from the table that I was camping at – he also made me feel like he was actually interested in talking to me (he claims that his desire to talk bikes was sincere, and he wasn’t just trying to get me to leave the table). It turns out that the black fixie with the pink rims outside was his. He invited me to come over to the garage where he keeps his bike tools once he was off work to see if he could fix the shifting on my bike.


I spent the day in Portland, and around 5pm I headed over to the “bike shop.” Not only was it a bike shop, it was also where Ray roasted coffee for work. There is something so innocent about Portland that I feel almost protective of it. It’s the type of town that you read about in childrens’ books – there is a community of happy people who work together and get along despite their differences. Baristas visit each other at their respective coffee shops. People hang out and listen to music and roast coffee and fix bikes and drink craft beers.


We did all of those things. I wasn’t involved in the coffee roasting part, obviously, but I did learn a lot about coffee. I heard the beans’ first crack as they roasted. It sounded a bit like popcorn popping. Ray got my gears shifting perfectly also. He showed me features that I never knew my bike had. Another friend showed up and Ray guided him in installing new handlebars on his own bike. I cleaned my bike and removed some of the grease that had built up on the derailleurs.


I strongly considered moving to Portland.


Seattle to San Francisco – Day 2

I woke up on Tuesday morning knowing that I had 140 miles ahead of me. I dreaded it slightly, since I expected the same scenery (or lack of scenery) as yesterday – just 60 miles more of it. Also, the sun was gone and it looked like possible rain.


I did the first 30 miles in under two hours, despite my heavy paniers. I took an hour break in the Centralia library to charge my phone and figure out which paths to take.


I knew that it was going to be a long time on a bike by myself, but I hadn’t expected the feeling of loneliness. The countryside that I was riding through was desperate and unpeopled. My neck was crooked from fighting the wind. To pass the time, I listened to the Chinese tapes my Mandarin tutor had given me.


“Listen and Repeat,” the English voice said, and I dutifully repeated words.


“Please say it again.”


“Qing zai shuo yi bian.”


I listened to all of the conversations, and then I listened to them again. And again. I wasn’t really paying attention. I was in a meditative state, and I repeated the words like a thousand mantras. My Bluetooth earbuds died, and I put them back in my pack to charge. I felt like I was starting to die also. The headwind was strong, the bike was heavy, and the hills were long. My rear shifter stopped working and my bike was stuck permanently on the highest gear. I couldn’t fix it. I drank some hammer gel, spilling the sticky brown goop on my shorts and my face. I was getting sick of the flavour, but it gave me the will to ride on.


I crossed under and over I5 and considered hitchhiking the rest of the way to Portland. 80 miles in, I saw signs for a coffee stand. I didn’t want to stop before I crossed to Oregon, but I really wanted a coffee. I stopped and went back to the stand. I asked for the richest thing they had. The barista suggested a coffee with chocolate and vanilla fudge and whipped cream. That sounded excellent. I sat down to eat it at the nearby picnic table. Sitting down, I realized how tired I was, and how late it was. It was almost 4pm and I still had 64 miles to go. At that moment, I gave up. I had a white trash bag and a pen, and I made a sign that said “Portland.” I would go sit by I5 and wait for some serial killer to pick me up.


I slowly got up and walked to my bike. “Do you want me to fill that up for you? Asked the barista, gesturing to my water bottle.” She took it from me and filled it, explaining to her friend, who had just arrived, that I was doing a trip from Seattle to San Francisco.


“How much farther do you have to go today?” Asked her friend.


“60 miles, but I don’t know if I’ll make it,” I admitted.


“You got this,” said the barista and gave me a huge smile and my full waterbottle.


And with her smile and encouragement, I got back on my bike, put away my sign, and rode over the Lewis and Clark Bridge. Never, ever ride over the Lewis and Clark Bridge on a bicycle. Although it doesn’t expressly forbid bicycles, there is a sign before the bridge that says “end bike lane.” Indeed the bike lane ends. There is a 3 foot margin on the side of the road filled with pieces of lumber, trash and hubcaps. Semis carrying oversized loads of logs headed down the coast whoosh by you at 60 miles per hour as you try to keep your balance while riding over chunks of gravel and wood that have fallen off previous trucks. And then you get to the top of the bridge, and you wish you could take a picture but you have to keep moving or lose your balance.


And then you’re in Oregon.


I should have been glad. The sign said 48 miles to Portland and I was 2/3rds done with my trip. I just had to continue along highway 30. I continued. My legs didn’t hurt, but there was a leaden quality to my whole body. I coasted along the Colombia River. My palms, under their gloves, were red from grasping the handle bars, and my crotch was sore from the saddle. I was determined to get within 20 miles of the city. Then I could see if there was a bus that I could take the rest of the way.

23 miles from Portland, I sat down to eat the rest of the nutella. I sat and I sat. Sitting by the side of the road felt so good. It was 7pm. Once again, the sun was going down. A car did a U-turn and pulled over to make sure I was ok. I smiled and waved them on. But I couldn’t get up. I remembered the power of the encouraging words that morning, and I called Tony to see if he could encourage me. I was also worried my couchsurfing host would be pissed at me for arriving so late. So I decided, at last, to hitchhike. There was no public transportation this far outside the city, and the taxi company I tried calling refused to go that far either.


I stood by the side of the road with my sign. My bike was lying in a pile behind me. I figured I looked pitiful enough. I decided to try smiling at people. But nobody stopped. 50 cars passed and nobody stopped. Finally, about to give up, I turned around and saw a little blue car backing up towards me.  A mom and her preteen daughter were coming home from a track meet and I could tell they were giddy about the adventure of picking up a hitchhiker for the first time. They helped me to fit my bike in the car (it just fit) and agreed to drive me to Portland, which happened to be completely out of their way.


We talked for a bit, and then turned up the music when we ran out of nice things to say. I sat, completely exhausted, on their comfortable seats.


Not only did they drive me to Portland – they bore with my navigational errors that landed them on the northeast side of Portland when I was trying to go to the northwest side. She refused to let me off until we actually found the exact address that I was staying at.


And after chauffeuring me across half of Portland, she refused to take any money for her efforts.


Whoever you are, thank you!!




Seattle to San Francisco – Day 1

I had to postpone my bike trip by one day because of a stolen car (read the previous post).


By Monday morning, my jitters had doubled. I was so ready to start cycling that I was shaking. The weather was still perfect. A hearty breakfast was still necessary. Also, the long anticipated Windows phone update was finally available, and I had to plug in my phone and wait for it to update.


Of course, I didn’t have to do any of this. I was just doddling. Even though I plan to come back to Seattle, there was something difficult about leaving. I have always loved the story of El Cid. As I prepared to travel to San Francisco on my bicycle, I felt that I knew what he felt when he was exiled. Of course, I was choosing to leave, not being thrown out of the city by force. And I was riding a red bicycle, not Babieca, the beautiful warhorse. Also, I didn’t have any loyal followers and I wasn’t a Spanish dude from the 9th century. So, really, there are no parallels to be drawn between me and El Cid, and I’m not even sure why I brought this up.


My phone finished updating. I left and didn’t look back.


The only other bike trip greater than a week that I’ve done was in the south of France. The south of Washington isn’t the south of France. In fact, the south of Washington is kind of a depressing place, with creepy, Lynchian  undertones. Even on a beautiful day, the rotting cabins in the fir forests and the roadsides littered with bottles and shattered glass are eerie and sinister.


For as much as I praise the West Coast, I now believe that the Puget Sound is Washington’s only redeeming part. There were a few nice rails to trails paths, but otherwise I was on narrow roads where apparently most people had never heard of the “give cyclists 3 feet of space” rule. With few exceptions, pickup truck drivers seem to be especially bad at giving space. They also have apparently never heard of fences for pitbulls in the south of Washington and I had a couple of terrifying encounters with dogs larger than myself. The only other people I saw riding bicycles were toothless methheads riding BMX bikes.


I know I sound a bit negative and maybe a touch judgemental. It’s because one thing happened that made me have a really bad day. I had a running armband that I had put my ID and some cash in, as well as my phone. I tied it to my handlebars to help me navigate. I was using GPXViewer to navigate, but I realized that I had the wrong path – I’d downloaded a gpx file that had me going down I5. To figure out the correct route, I used Google maps, which quickly used up my phone battery. I placed it in my pouch to charge on my portable charger and kept riding. Many miles and hills later, I looked down at my handlebars, and realized that the armband was gone.  My ID and cash were gone too. The only thing to do was to backtrack and find the ID.


Two hours later I still hadn’t found it. I’d been over every inch of road for 25 miles, slowly searching for the armband, but it just wasn’t to be found. I decided keep going. So back it was, over the roads that I had already covered twice. By 7pm it was obvious I wasn’t going to make it to Centralia. The wind was blowing strong and night was falling.  In the town of Yelm, 30 miles north of where I’d hoped to be by then, I found a random Walmart. I washed my face in their bathroom, bought and consumed half a jar of nutella, and set my tent up in a field across the road. The wind was blowing so hard that the tent was shaking and it was hard to fall asleep. My eyes were filled with dust and when I closed them they hurt.


Before I went to bed though, Tony called to tell me that the car had been recovered in Pike Place. “And it still has half a tank of gas.” He said. “I’m going to sell it tomorrow. I have no reason to own a car.” And he sold it the next day.

Seattle to San Francisco – Day 0

My stomach had twinges of nervousness on Sunday morning. It was a perfect day and I couldn’t wait to start cycling.  Everything was packed and I was ready to hit the road for San Francisco. But first, Sunday brunch had to be eaten. Despite the butterflies I managed to cram down a “Seattle to Porland” omelette at Dish cafe. Tony noticed that our bill was $36.66. “The sign of the beast,” he joked. “And today’s the 13th.” I added. “We’re going to have bad luck.”


Before heading out I had to bike back to my boat to pick up some things I’d forgotten like sunscreen, a headlamp, and bugspray. It was noon already by the time I was ready to leave. But wait, I hadn’t actually changed the clock on my boat for daylight savings time. It wasn’t noon – it was 1pm already. That’s when I suggested that both of us drive to Centralia and camp there. That way I could wake up and bike to Portland the next day and Tony could drive back and go to work. Tony was down. I felt relieved. For some reason, I didn’t feel ready to bike to Portland by myself. We biked to his apartment to get his car. He was just ahead of me, and I saw him, standing with his bike, in the shadow of the garage. His face was blank. I biked up next to him and looked at what he was looking at.


His car was gone.


Just gone. We stared at the space for a while, as if staring at the space would bring his car back. Then Tony ran upstairs to call the police. We waited for three hours for them. Meanwhile, we tried every ride sharing service we could think of. I realized that I have never received my Zipcar card in the mail, and Tony’s membership had lapsed and had to be renewed. That was out. We tried relay ride, a really cool carsharing service, but no success there either.


The police man showed up and told us that the car would certainly be recovered. He said it was a question of when, not if.


It was 5pm. We gave up on our camping plans, and I decided to start my trip on Monday instead of unlucky Sunday.

Hagg Lake 50K

If you have to put the word “tough” as in “tough mudder” in the name of your race, your race by definition is not tough. If you’re looking for tough, go with something that has a name that is the name of the location plus the distance; preferrably a distance in the double or triple digits.

Torrential rains were coming down on Saturday, the morning of the Hagg Lake 50K. I was planning to run the race with Tony, but he had bailed on me because he got sick a few days before. To be fair, he had never really agreed to go on the race in the first place. I had signed him up and bought him a ticket while he was out of the country. I’m pretty sure he was faking his illness. Thankfully, I got a substitute – Zach Buchanan, to make an appearance with one day’s notice.

I didn’t want to run the whole thing alone, but transferring the ticket was illegal, so I warned Zach beforehand that if anyone asked, he was Tony. I didn’t warn him that much beforehand, because Zach had overslept, so we got there about 5 minutes after the actual start. This wasn’t a huge deal in a race that takes 4-9 hours.

It was pouring so hard that I didn’t even want to get out of the car, and I had visions of driving back to Portland and spending a relaxing weekend in bed. But then I thought of the carb loading I had done the night before and decided to get out of the car.

I hurried to pin the number to my pants and Zach and I raced after the distant crowd. The first lap was up a nice, gravel hill. We sped up it, passing tons of people. On the way down, Zach told me that the furthest he had ever run was 8 miles. He also described his brutal training regime which consisted of a standing desk and an exercise ball that he bounced on while training (there may have been some basketball, climbing, a 22 mile bicycle commute every day, and various century rides mixed in there somewhere as well). My training regime had not been very running heavy either. It mostly consisted of doing Yoga X every other day and running 4-5 miles on the weekend.

After the brief up and dowhill came the race around the lake. This is where the mud comes in. The website mentions mud, but the race itself isn’t really billed as a mud run. The pictures from last year show smiling runners running on dry paths under sunny skies. The torrential rains this year changed all that. Zach was sliding around like a kid learning to skate.

One of our fellow runners noticed. “Nike Frees, huh? That might not have been the best choice today.” It turns out that this guy worked for a shoe store and was wearing some practical trail running shoes. “You’re going to have a tough time in those, son.” He left this parting advice as he sped past us at the aid station.

As we continued past the second aid station, I started to notice that Zach was talking less and less. I asked him what he recommended doing in Portland for the weekend. “Can we talk about this another time? I need to concentrate on not falling down.” I turned around and realized that he was covered in mud and not looking too good. “Did you run the whole way when you did 50 miler?” “No, I walked a lot.” “Ok, because maybe we should walk soon.”

Hint taken. It was getting harder and harder for me to lift my legs too. We were no longer in ankle deep mud – this was more like the mire that John Bunyan speaks of in Pilgrim’s Progress. “Why did you tell me these shoes would be ok?” Zach asked. I had told him the shoes would be ok mostly because I was in a hurry and half asleep. I thought of the greek myth of Atalanta and began to wonder if running was an externalization of my misandry. “Do I run because I hate men and I want to see them fail?” I wondered. “Or am I more like Hippomenes, sabotaging my opponents so that they can’t beat me?”

So far it was two for two. Brad had dropped out at mile 17 of the 50 miler after I fed him the 4Loko (to be fair, I had drunk half the can myself and then gotten lost and run a bit extra on that race).

Zach declared that he was dropping out just past the third aid station. He wanted to finish at least the 25K though, and he did.

The worst thing about the Hagg Lake 50K is that it’s two 25K laps. So the first lap is a little bit muddy, but the second lap has already been trampled twice so it is REALLY muddy. The rains kept pouring and the day was getting colder, not warmer. My shirt was soaked. My shoes were soaked but I no longer felt them. All I cared about now was passing as many people as possible to get the highest place possible. This wasn’t hard. By the second lap, many people were run-walking. As I passed each one, I smiled and said “Great job! keep it up!” In my head I was thinking “See ya later sucker!”

On ultramarathons, I realize that you play a lot of mind games with yourself to keep running. Most of the ones I play are fairly evil and reveal a sadistic tendency. Often, other runners comment on my nice smile. “Still smiling at mile 21! Keep it up!” They yell. But I’m not necessarily smiling because I’m happy. Instead it’s because I want to win, and I feel less pain when I’m smiling. I also like to let out a little happy sigh, as if I’m having the best time of my life. This is to discourage the runners around me.  I imagine them thinking “if there are other runners that are still enjoying this, I am f#$cked.” Whenever I pass another runner, I try to put as much distance between them and me as possible. This is because there is nothing worse than being passed by someone who you just passed.

My mantra for the Hagg Lake run was “I’ve had periods that hurt worse than this.” Everytime I passed a male runner I thought this and laughed maniacally in my head.

The last 4 miles were the worst. I passed the aid station at 26.8 and thought “I’ve already run over a marathon. What’s left is nothing.” But it wasn’t nothing. As I passed a runner at mile 26.81, I smiled at him and said “Nice work! Almost there!” I heard him grunt behind me.  I found myself paying attention to the scenery during this last bit. I remembered landmarks from the first lap, but now it seemed as if everything had been stretched, so what took 5 minutes on the first lap now took 20 minutes. At mile 29.5 I passed one last runner. I could hear him behind me, jogging, then walking. By now there was a lot of walking going on. Whenever I walked up a hill, I worried that he would pass me, but he never did. When I slowed, he slowed.

Just before the finish was the parking lot where Zach and my friend Deborah were waiting in the car. They rolled down the window as I hobbled up to them. “Cheer for me!” I begged them “I need it!” They did cheer and Zach honked the horn. I staggered past them and through the last bit of mud to the finish line. There it was. The other runner was still behind me. We ran through the finish line, high fived and hugged. Now the race was over and we were friends. We jogged straight down the hill from the finish line into the lake. Ahhh! Ice bath. We stood up to our waists in the freezing lake with four other runners, smiling and laughing at the surrealness of it all.

The other runners had run the 50K before and they both agreed that this had been the toughest race ever because of the absurdly muddy conditions.

When I exited the lake I was given a medal and a foil blanket. The fast shoe store guy who had passed us earlier saw me in the tent and congratulated me. I had somehow managed to pass him and he had finished just after me. I ate some soup and stood by the space heaters but I couldn’t stop shivering. I hadn’t thought to bring towels or warm clothes and I dreaded the quarter mile walk back to the car.  Next year though, I will be prepared. Zach had better be also.



Growing Up with Ken Ham – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

how-do-you-explain-a-sunset-if-there-is-not-god-2On the spectrum of Christians who believe that God put dinosaur fossils in the Earth to test our faith, and Theistic Evolutionists, my parents are somewhere in the middle. They were also my science teachers for the first 12 years of my life.


Ken Ham’s books were part of our homeschool curriculum.  In Answers in Genesis he goes to extreme lengths to show that the laws of science and the literal Bible can coexist, and even that one proves the other. My Dad taught me that there had been room for all of the creatures on the arc because Noah took one of each genus, not one of each species. The “evolution” that Darwin had observed in finches was in fact simply the display of the diverse genome that God had created them with.  As a 10 year old, all of this made sense, especially when combined with a semester of learning apologetics in Sunday School.


In 7th grade I went to a Christian school where the science education was even more laughably abysmal. Basically, any questions that were raised were silenced with “God created it like that.” When they didn’t answer my questions, I lost respect for my teachers and I got in trouble frequently (mostly for doodling during class, which I’m certain has served me better in the long run than actually paying attention to our “history lessons” about the Tower of Babel). Thankfully my parents didn’t send me back, and I went to public high school a few years later.


The Good:


There was a good side to learning this, and that was that I learned to question everything. Kids who are taught the prevailing wisdom of science never have their beliefs challenged. In fact, in High School I was surprised to find many atheists who were as dogmatic and wonderless as their fundamentalist religious counterparts. I’m glad that I was reminded over and over again that evolution was “only” a theory, because this has put all of human scientific discovery into perspective for me.


Religion gave us the frameworks for the science that we have today. In fact, much of the science that we do now is done in the name of humanism – a direct descendant of Western religion.  Scientists who think they can achieve objectivity are like people who have never travelled and don’t realize they have an accent.  For all of the trash talking that faith gets, you can’t have science without faith in constants. It can be absurd when fundamentalist Science battles fundamentalist religion, because the two end up sounding similar.


But I don’t want to say that Ken Ham isn’t an idiot (albeit a wealthy one) or that it’s fine to teach Creationism as fact and the Bible as science.


The Bad:


Scripture abandoned in the home leads to a generation no different from the world.

Poster from the Creation Museum warning of the dangers of not indoctrinating your children.

For me, one of the worst effects of growing up with creationism was the loss of wonder.  I lost interest in the life sciences because there was nothing new to be discovered. Jesus had to come back in the next few thousand years, before the Earth could go through any drastic changes that would prevent human life and cause us to seek refuge on the nearest habitable planet. My textbooks mocked scientists who searched for other forms of life in the cosmos. How dare they waste their money searching for something that God had decreed couldn’t exist?


The Ugly:


By far the worst thing about growing up with Creationism is the fear. I became afraid of insulting a vindictive God by imagining that there were life beyond His perfect Earth, or that life had originated in any other way than the 7 day process described in a 4,000 year old book. To deny creation would be to deny God’s perfection. How could evolution have happened if God had created a world without death? The main reason for clinging to Creationism is to prove that we humans caused death. Our collective sin, of which we are all guilty, caused all of the pain and suffering in the world.


Things have evolved slightly since the day of Copernicus and Galileo. Baptists and Presbyterians won’t pull out your fingernails or use a thumb screw on you if you believe that the Earth wasn’t created in seven days.  Many do, however, have the power to excommunicate or “discipline” members if they don’t believe that: “The Bible is the revelation of God’s truth and is infallible and authoritative in all matters of life and practice.*”


The Good (again)


I don’t want to end this post on a negative note, so I’ll revisit the positive. The good is the fact that I don’t believe Creationism anymore. When I stopped believing it was less like the disillusionment of realizing that Santa isn’t real and more like being let out of a dark closet for the first time. Clearly, some worldviews are better for my sanity than others, and I’m glad that the one that is backed by science isn’t the one where a bunch of old men decide who is and who isn’t allowed to speak in church.


Giving up creationism means that my sense of wonder has been restored with a vengeance. All of the things that I wasn’t supposed to wonder as a 10 year old I now wonder about in full force. Is there life in the stars? Is the universe infinite? Are there infinite versions of myself? If I can imagine God, does that make God possible? And if she is possible, in an infinite universe must she exist?


I don’t know the answers. I don’t expect to ever know the answers. But I can search and imagine and wonder, and this is beautiful.