The Seattle Half Marathon

I hadn’t run a half marathon distance since my unfortunate half marathons in May, so I had no idea how fast I could run one. I extrapolated, based on recent runs, what I could expect my time to be. Anything under 1:35 and I could be happy, I decided. The girl last year had won in 1:24. I thought that might be my stretch goal.

 

I was surprisingly nervous the day before the race. In July, I had a pair of New Balance running shoes that I loved, but which had unfortunately not lasted very long, partially because I wore them once while climbing sharp, barnacle covered rocks by the sea.  They were super minimalist – more like socks with a bit of tread on the bottom than shoes really. You could literally roll them up and put them in your purse. They also glowed in the dark.

 

I searched for them in two different stores before learning that they had been discontinued. Thankfully, I found a fairly similar pair at NikeTown and bought those.

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My sweet new shoes (I took this photo while stretching after the half marathon)

I had to pick up my race packet from the Westin that evening, and I wandered around taking freebies. Then I went home and ate some Indian food, drank a couple of screw drivers, worked for a bit, listened to some hypnosis for athletic performance, and went to bed around 11pm (I’m mostly writing this for my benefit so that next race I have I can look back and imitate this. Especially the screw driver drinking part). I had set my alarm for 6:45, but then I realized that if I woke up and discovered that my bike was stolen I would have to take the bus, so instead I set my alarm for 6:30.

 

I’m glad I set my alarm for 6:30, because I had forgotten that I’d left my bike at WeWork the Monday before Thanksgiving, and never picked it up.  My Uber app wasn’t working (and I don’t know if I want to support Uber anymore anyway) so I had to take Tony’s bike. There was no time to adjust the seat so it was way to big for me. I also didn’t figure out how the gears worked for a while, so I was stuck in the lowest gear. It’s only a 10 minute ride to Seattle Center, where the race was starting, from the condo, but when I got there I only had 15 minutes until the race start at 7:30. I couldn’t figure out how to get into the corral with the racers. When I finally did, they were counting down four minutes to go. I rudely shoved my way through the crowd. With one minute to go, I caught sight of the 1:30 pacers at the front of the pack. I was going to follow them no matter what. And we were off.

 

The first half felt almost easy. I was running with my head up and my legs were loping along under me. It was fun to run on the closed down highway and through the tunnels. On the other side of the tunnel, Lake Washington was absolutely beautiful, sparkling a cold blue. I had been thinking the night before about what it means to run ‘for yourself’ and this was it. There aren’t a lot of things I do just for myself. Writing is one of them. Sailing is another. Tinkering with arduino is another. Running is another.

 

Around mile 7, the course got hilly again. I’m not great at hills. Another girl caught up to me. A girl from the front of the race fell back. There were now three girls running around the 1:30 pace group, and we were oddly all wearing teal jackets. I mentioned it, laughing, and the pacer asked, “Did you all call each other this morning to coordinate your outfits?”

 

Around mile nine we all started to spread out. I fell back from the pacers. One of the girls stayed with them, and one stayed just ahead of me. My legs were starting to feel tired. I was glad about this, and also surprised. In the past when I’ve run, my lungs have always tired before my legs. Making your legs stronger is easy. Lungs are harder to exercise.

 

I kept reminding myself to smile. Smiling when running is an amazingly effective performance enhancing drug. It should probably be made illegal.

 

I kept considering taking my jacket off and running in a sports bra, but given the 30 degree weather, it never seemed like a good idea. Finally, I saw the sign for mile 12. Whenever I’m running and it gets tough, I tell myself ‘Just one more mile. You can do anything for a mile.” Also it was a downhill mile. I caught up to one of the teal jacket girls and passed her.

 

When racing, I have a bizarre downhill form that is probably extremely damaging to my body, but extremely effective. It’s how I originally hurt my IT band. This race, my IT band was fine, but my right calf started to cramp up. Only half a mile to go! Even if my calf cramped up now, I could still run to the finish so I didn’t care.

 

Only a quarter mile. You can do anything for a quarter mile. Only 0.2 miles. At 0.1 miles, I broke into a sprint to the finish. I crossed in 1:32:20.

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Did I steal this photo? I guess you’ll never know because I’m sneaky like that.

Someone put a medal around my neck. I was handed a space blanket and a protein bar. I looked at the protein bar blankly. The last thing on my mind was eating food.

 

There was a sunny spot on the bleachers in the recovery area. A guy in an orange shirt was sitting there wearing a space blanket. I recognized him. We had run together the whole way, and he had finished a couple seconds ahead of me. We chatted for a bit. We had both been shooting for sub 1:30 times but hadn’t quite made it. It wasn’t a PR for him. It was for me. It was a 10 minute PR in fact. He encouraged me to find a coach. “At 26 you’re just getting started with distance running. In a couple of years you’ll reach your peak. I’ll look for your name in future races.” He also told me to check to see if I’d won anything, since he’d only seen a couple of girls in front of us.

 

I hadn’t won anything – just 5th place in my age group which means that my name shows up on the “Leaders” page of the Seattle Marathon Results, so I’m pretty content. Maybe next time if I start practicing I can win. Speaking of winners, Iliana of the Least Slow Group took fifth overall in the marathon, which is seriously awesome. I hope to grow up to be as fast as her.

 

Running Update

I haven’t written about running in a while.

 

That’s because I haven’t run a race in a while.

 

The trouble started after my bike trip. I was feeling pretty fit and confident, so I decided to do something that I had considered doing for a while.

 

I decided to run a half marathon a day for 30 days. Five days in, I started to notice a familiar pain in my IT band. I ran with Club Northwest the first Sunday in May, and halfway into a 16 mile run, my IT band suddenly stopped working. I had to limp the eight miles back to Green Lake. Of course, I was only seven days into my goal at that point, so the next day I ran another half marathon. Then I ran another. And then, in a flash of genius (for me) I quit running and got a physical therapist.

 

Like I’d been afraid of, my physical therapist Kelly told me not to run for several weeks. Of course I cheated at first, and was met with extreme pain. Then Kelly showed me a way to run by taking extra short steps that increased my cadence.  Running this way, I was able to do two miles a day without pain. She also gave me a set of exercises that were both helpful for my IT band and a good workout. Having Kelly as my physical therapy was like having a personal trainer and a leg massage  twice a week, except that I only had a $10 copay. I highly recommend her and Green Lake Physical Therapy. Gradually, the pain disappeared and by August I was able to run 6 miles at a time.

 

I even did a pain free 50K in September in 110 degree weather, but that’s a different story.

A story which may or may not have something to do with Burning Man. Photo Credit IRDeep

A story which may or may not have something to do with Burning Man. Photo Credit Adam Philipp http://irdeep.com/

I’ve increased my weekly mileage gradually this fall, and now I’m doing about 40 miles a week. I hope to get to 50 miles a week by the new year, but for the sake of my IT band I’m afraid of overtraining. Having a treadmill in my building helps a lot. I also try to run on Wednesday afternoons with the Seattle Running Club (unofficially, the Amazon Running Club because they’re mostly Amazon employees). Then on Sundays at 8am (depending on the night before’s activities) I do long runs with Club Northwest. I’ve run with them three times so far this fall and amazingly I haven’t been dropped yet.

 

Having a gym with treadmills is so nice in winter!

Having a gym with treadmills is so nice in winter!

The Amazon group is a different story. There are two groups that run at noon from the Amazon buildings. They call themselves ‘Least Slow Group’ and the ‘Less Slow Group.’ I normally run with the Less Slow Group, and we clip along at an 8 minute pace around Lake Union. But recently, I’ve been working up to running with the Least Slow Group. They tend to do sub seven minute pace, and I’ve heard rumors of their killer hill runs. I went for a run with them the week before Thanksgiving. They were doing a loop around Queen Anne, and I asked someone how long it was. “About 8 miles,” he told me. We chatted about the Seattle Marathon. The other female runner in the Least Slow Group, Iliana, was doing the marathon on Sunday. I realized that I would be around on Sunday, and figured I should sign up as well.

 

About 6 miles in, I couldn’t keep up with their pace anymore, and they dropped me. I felt a bit discouraged that I couldn’t keep up, especially when I reached the Amazon buildings an hour and ten minutes after I started. An hour and ten minutes to run eight miles? What was I doing, thinking of signing up for a marathon? I certainly wouldn’t even be close to the front of the pack. If I’m going to pay $140 for a race, I at least want a time that I can be proud of.

 

Later that day, I decided to use MapMyRun to see how far the Least Slow Group’s Queen Anne Loop was. I carefully mapped my tracks and realized that it was not 8 miles – it was 9.5 miles. An hour and ten to run that wasn’t so bad, especially considering the hills at the end. Encouraged, I signed up for the Seattle Half Marathon.

 

Using Beaglebone Black with Mavericks

Grrr. I have spent so much time knocking my head against a wall, when the whole time it was just a simple fix.  I even got so frustrated switched over briefly to using my android tablet with a USB OTG, but that was a time-sink because it takes my a long time to program on a tiny keyboard.

Anyway, here’s the story.

I started using the Beaglebone Black about two months ago. Everything worked perfectly, and I was impressed with its out of the box functionality. I flashed the latest Debian image, SSH’d into the Beaglebone, installed Python, etc. The world was beautiful.

Then,  a couple days later, I tried to SSH into my Beaglebone, and I couldn’t. Just to check, I went through the getting started steps on the Beaglebone page again. None of them worked! The steps didn’t even turn green. I wondered if the drivers might be the problem, so I tried reinstalling them.

I tried the steps here. They were a little outdated, but I thought they might work. When I went through the beaglebone getting started steps, the first two turned green, but I still couldn’t start the web server. I was about to reset the Pram and SMC, when I saw the fine print on the Beaglebone site:

“Older software images require you to EJECT the BEAGLE_BONE drive to start the network. With the latest software image, that step is no longer required.”

I ejected the beaglebone. I started the network. It worked.

Seattle to San Francisco – Last Day (Day 12)

 

112 miles, 6,135ft elevation gain

112 miles, 6,135ft elevation gain

On Saturday morning I made a bet with myself.

I bet that I wouldn’t get off my bicycle for 50 miles.

 

Now, you might think that since I was doing 100 mile days this would be something that I did every day. But the reality was that it was an event when managed to keep pedaling for more than 20 miles. There was always something distracting. I had to get off my bike take a picture, or fill my water bottle, or fix my bike shorts wedgie. But today, I decided, would be different. Today I would actually stay on the bike.

 

My first couple miles I decided didn’t count. It’s nice when you make bets against yourself because you can change the rules whenever you want. I had to pee, and I was dressed too warmly so I had to shed some layers.  Once this was done, and I’d eaten some breakfast, my bet started.

 

It was a beautiful day. Twenty miles whizzed by as I peddled along the coast. It was late morning by now, and there was a parade of cars coming toward me. Motorcyclists and convertibles were driving up from San Francisco’s suburbs for a joyride on a sunny day.

I was glad I was going the opposite direction.

About 30 miles in I reached the climb. I congratulated myself. 30 miles without even putting one foot on the ground once. This had to be a record for me. The climb was up, up up white cliffs.

I wasn’t allowed to get off my bike so I had to borrow a photo from henrymiller.com

There were cows on the road here. It was rather random – the cows seemed to have free range of the place. I came dangerously close to having to get off my bike a couple times, but thankfully the cows moved.

 

The climb was unbelievable. 10 more miles of climb, and I felt like I was on top of the world. I couldn’t believe that I still hadn’t gotten off my bike. And then I stopped counting miles. I was having such a fun time that I didn’t want to get off my bike.

 

The downhill was fast. I don’t think I have ever been more in the moment than I was on that downhill ride. There were grates in the road that I assume served as fences for the cows, because they were wide enough that a cow would get stuck in them. For me, they served as nerve racking, teeth-chattering obstacle courses, that took every inch of my balance and control to cross without being thrown head over heels. There were cars behind me when I started my descent. I worried that I might be getting in their way, since there was no shoulder . The roads wound back and forth in switchbacks making it impossible to pass safely.  When I had a chance, I looked over my shoulder and realized that I had lost them.

 

The wind blew my jacket out. It tickled my ears and fanned my sweaty hair under my helmet. I flew down towards the blue of the ocean. This is what it feels like to fly. This is what the Wright brothers dreamed of. Not some airless, soulless metal jumbo jet. They wanted to fly like birds. Like you fly on a bicycle going 50 miles per hour down an 8% grade.

 

I wish I could say that my whole ride was like that, but Highway 1 took an abrupt left turn and headed inland after Bodega Bay. There were more climbs, and the sun was higher and hotter in the sky, and the wind was against me again. There was nothing but cow pasture. Cows, cows everywhere. I was sick of cows. Also, my water was gone, and it was beginning to look like there wouldn’t be a town anytime soon. I had reached my 50 mile goal, and I was in the middle of nowhere. Since I didn’t have anywhere to stop, I decided to extend my bet to 60 miles. I was beginning to get dizzy and think about stopping and laying down, when suddenly a tiny town appeared right at the 60 mile mark. I ate a sandwich at the town’s deli. Then I went back to the counter and  ordered a pastry. I sat inside next to a fan and leafed through a stray copy of “Vanity Fair.” I didn’t want to move. I didn’t move for an hour. When I finally stood up around 3pm, I realized that I actually wasn’t feeling so great anymore. But I decided to get back on the bike and see if I could do the remaining 55 miles to San Francisco in one more long, unstopping ride. I was counting mile posts once again, just trying to reach my destination.

 

From the map, I had expected to arrive at Point Reyes soon and look out over the sea again. Instead, I kept riding past an ugly brown body of water called “Tomales Bay.” I was trying to stay true to my bet though, so I didn’t get off my bike and check my maps.

 

After passing Tomales Bay, I got into another forest of scrubby trees that didn’t seem like it would end.  I knew I had to be near the water though. The cars passing me were all carrying surfboards.

 

It was getting dark by the time I saw the sea again.  I sped up as I approached Stinson Beach. Just after the beach was another insane climb. Frustrated, I broke my bet and got off my bike. I took a few photos, then got back on my bike. About a mile further, I felt like giving up. This climb was ridiculous and I was exhausted. I got off my bike again – this time to walk it up the hill. A young couple in a convertible passed me and asked if I was ok.

 

“Yeah I’m fine,” I told them. “I’m just done for the day.” (I must have sounded crazy because I was still 10 miles from any civilization and I was pushing my bike up the middle of Highway 1 in the dark).

 

Look at the map above to get a feel for the elevation in Mt. Tomalpes State Park. This was after riding a bit over a century. Besides being tired, the other problem was that it was now completely dark and my front headlight was wearing out. It was too dim to help me see in front of me. The last descent into Marin City was even more “in the moment” than my descent earlier that afternoon had been.

My hands hurt from gripping my handlebars. I found a gas station and sat on the cement curb. I was done. I called Tony to let him know that I had arrived. He had arrived in San Francisco earlier in the day, and apparently had been at a beer garden with friends since 2pm. They obviously weren’t going to come pick me up.

 

Maps told me that the only way way to San Francisco was to continue down Highway 1, which had turned into an 8 lane highway with no bike lane, or to head back into the State Park, travel another 10 miles and crest a couple more 3,000 ft peaks. I decided that Uber was the way to go.

 

And so I ended up in San Francisco. My Uber driver, a young Russian, loaded my bike into her car. I told her my story and she made it clear that she wasn’t impressed with Tony and his friends. “I can’t believe they didn’t come to meet you – and you after ride for 112 miles!”

 

But they were waiting for me when I arrived.

 

Just writing this, 3 weeks later, makes me wish that I could go back to that last day on the coast, with the wind blowing in my hair. I felt alive for days after that, as Tony and I explored San Francisco on foot (we walked 14 miles on Sunday after partying all night) and as we returned by train to Seattle.

 

I also kept thinking about what the girl in the red raincoat, Tara, had said about living in the moment.  But it wasn’t just about living in the moment. That last day when I didn’t let my feet touch the ground for 60 miles, and the day that I biked 176 miles, I realized that determination leads to happiness. The act of forcing yourself to do something difficult makes you to live your life with passion.

Seattle to San Francisco – Day 11

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Elevation gain: 7,077ft Distance: 101 miles

I was in a black mood on Friday morning, and the skies were even blacker and rainier. I was so damp and cold and I hadn’t slept the night before. I had left my U-lock sitting behind my tent, and the U piece was no longer there. I guess that it had been washed down the hill the night before, but had no intention of looking for it.

 

I also had nothing to eat but hammer gel. Even after not eating for 12 hours, the taste was still repulsive. I’m never going to get the espresso flavor again. Nokia maps told me that there was a town, Rockport, in 20 miles. I could feel myself drooling, anticipating buying breakfast food. But when I got there the sign said “No Services.” The next town, Westport, was another 10 miles away. I used every mental trick I had to get over the next hill. I imagined that my bicycle was a horse, and my legs were actually the horse’s legs. I cursed at myself like a drill sergeant. In the end, I got off my bike and walked it up the last bit of hill. Then I coasted down the 7% grade for four miles.

 

There was the coast. And it was beautiful.

 

What is it about riding along the coast? I don’t think it’s the wind, and it’s certainly not the hills that Highway 1 offers. But there’s something about hearing the waves crashing into the cliffs below that makes my spirits rise and my legs move faster.

 

Westport didn’t have any restaurants, but it had a General Store that doubled as the Post Office, deli, and hangout spot.  I went in and grabbed a coffee.  The lady behind the counter looked at me and said, “Aww, honey.”

 

“Stay here as long as you want,” she told me. “We have a hand-dryer in the bathroom. You can go in there and turn it on you until you’re dry.” I stayed there for an hour, drying out, warming up, drinking hot coffee, and chatting with the clerks. By the time the hour was up, the rain had nearly let up. By Fort Bragg, the sun was out. I stopped at the bike store to get some wet lube (a pessimistic purchase, but it served me well). Then I kept going. As long as it wasn’t raining I wanted to cover as many miles as possible. I still had 200 to go before San Francisco. Around 2pm, the wind started up. But this time, it was at my back. When the wind is at your back it feels like you’re flying.

 

In a little town called Elk I saw another cyclist sitting by herself eating a sandwich outside of a store. I bought some peanuts and joined her. She had just quit her job also, she told me, and was traveling to figure out what was next.

 

Another girl suddenly came over. “Excuse me, can I ask you a question?” She asked.

“Sure,” I said.”

“Where are you coming from? Are you Bicycling the Pacific Coast?”

Me and the other cyclist looked at each other. “I started in Astoria,” said the other cyclist. “Me in Seattle,” I said.

“So you’re doing the Bicycling the Pacific Coast Route?” Asked the stranger.

“Yes,” said the cyclist.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“You’re not together?” said the girl.

“No, we just met,” the cyclist and I confirmed.

 

“Oh, you look like you’re together. I mean, you’re both wearing red rain jackets and you have red paniers.”

“You’re wearing a red rain jacket too,” I said. “You should join us.”

“I want to,” She said. “I just woke up this morning and thought about doing a bike trip.”

The other cyclist left to keep riding, and me and the stranger crossed the street and went to sit on a picnic table in a park overlooking the coast.

“I’ve been traveling for 9 months,” said the stranger.

“Why are you traveling?” I asked.

“I just felt like I needed to. I need to figure out what I’m meant to do.”

“Me for the same reason.” I told her.

 

“Some people just seem to know what they’re meant to do. Like I tell my sister about my existential crisis and all she says is ‘I like my job and my boyfriend.'”

“Yeah, I have a lot of friends in Seattle who I think of as successful. They never seem to have any identity crisis. I don’t know if it’s a front, or if they’re lying to themselves, or if they really have just found their calling. Meanwhile, I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes panicked that I won’t leave my mark on the world.”

“What kind of mark do you want to leave?”

“I don’t know. I think I would like to do something with technology….but sometimes I want to make films, sometimes I want to paint, sometimes I think I would just like to travel. Honestly, I have no idea.”

“I think sometimes we can make a mark just by being passionate about something.”

“Well, I’m very passionate, but I’m passionate about too many things.”

“I don’t think you need to limit yourself. For instance, you could think of yourself as a person who creates things. Not just as a technologist or a filmmaker or a painter.”

“Mmmm,” I said, staring at the ocean.

 

“But how would I know? I’m just a closet philosopher,” said the stranger, half-smiling.

“So, are you cycling?” I wanted to know.

“No, just sort of bouncing around from friend to friend. I’ve been here for the past month. One of my friends is letting me stay in his beach house.”

“That sounds cool. Are you planning to go somewhere specific?”

“No, I just wanted time to work on art and projects. I’m getting tired though. The thing is, when you’re traveling, you don’t ever have your own space. You’re always invading someone else’s space.”

“I know how that feels. I’ve been couchsurfing a bit, but mostly just camping. I was delayed and had to cancel two of my couchsurfs, and I felt like such a flake.”

“Yeah, I always feel like an imposition. I think I’m almost ready to be done traveling. But I’d really like to do a bike trip.”

“You should do one. This one has been really good, except for the rain.” I told her about the lady in the store and the hair dryer.

“That’s what I love about bike trips,” said the stranger. “You appreciate the little things.”

“Yes! Like a warm shower feels like the best thing ever.”

“Or a meal.”

“Oh my god, I know! All food tastes delicious! The trouble is, you get home and immediately return to your normal comfort level. It’s the hedonic adaptation.”

“Yes, well that’s what, you know, buddhism is for. You stay zen. You stay in the moment. You feel things as they happen. ”

I stared out at the water, thinking. Then I got up to leave.

The stranger held out her arms and I gave her a hug.

“By the way, my name is Tara,” she said.

“Monica.”

 

I reached a town called “Gualala” by evening. Say it. “Gua-la-la.”

 

There was a little campsite in a state park, and I set up my tent before heading back to town to get food. The grocery store was already closed, so I went into the bar. I ordered a glass of wine and a salad. Wine hits you fast when you’ve just biked 120 miles. The other patrons in the bar were Mexican, and I found myself talking to them. The man next to me asked what I was drinking.

 

“Es un Cabernet.”

 

He sniffed it, and told the bartender to bring me something better. I protested. It was good enough.

 

“Solo lo mejor para ella.” The bartender brought me a local (Sonoma) merlot. And another one. By the time the bar closed at midnight, I was dancing merengue furiously and teaching the other patrons Argentine swear words. The bartender turned on the closed sign and me and the Mexicans continued to dance merengue, bachata, and salsa, slipping and sliding on the bar floor, until at least 2am.

 

 

 

Seattle to San Francisco – Days 8-10

You’ll notice I’ve lumped 3 days into one. Three muddy, miserable days.

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I had hoped to make up some miles in California, but a giant mountain covered in giant trees appeared out of nowhere and slowed my progress. Tuesday afternoon was when the rain started. The forest and the rain made the road too dark to see, and the road’s shoulder ended so giant semis were passing me with inches to spare.  A motel appeared through the trees. I decided to stop and get a room. I was clearly the only one there. There was no phone service and no internet. I asked the white-haired clerk at the front desk if I might be able to order some food and she just laughed at me.

 

I’ve seen Psycho, so I know what happens at deserted motels in the middle of nowhere. I put a chair in front of the door, and I didn’t linger in the shower. It was nice to have a room though. I was able to wash my clothes in the sink and spread my wet things over every surface to dry. WP_20140422_001

On Wednesday, the rain cleared up in the morning. I stopped at the first gas station I came to to eat. The cashier asked if I was cycling by myself. “Aren’t you afraid?” She scolded. “You should be careful.”

day8

I wondered if she would have said it if I were a male cyclist.  So many people along my ride said similar things, and it rubbed me the wrong way.  I’m not a child who is going to accept candy from strangers. I’m also not a precious vessel that exists to provide a womb for the next generation. I don’t need to be protected. I understand the risks and I knowingly accept them. Why do you take it upon yourself to warn me of dangers? Are you trying to get me to doubt myself? Would you prefer it if I had stayed home? Do you think women shouldn’t have adventures, shouldn’t risk our lives, shouldn’t ride bikes, shouldn’t travel, shouldn’t meet new and interesting people?

 

If you want to give me advice about safety, I have some words for you. Get the #@$! out of my way.

 

Wednesday didn’t stay clear for long. Once again, I didn’t make my goal distance because I was wet and miserable and shivering. I camped at a nearly deserted campsite and the rain pounded on my tent roof all night. In the morning it had pooled on the floor and my things were damp.

day9

On Thursday, the rain never let up. I had just reached highway one around 6pm when the fog rolled in so thick I couldn’t see car headlights 50 feet in front of me. My phone told me that there was nothing – no campsites, towns, or gas stations – for at least 20 miles. I wasn’t sure what to do. The road followed a steep series of switchbacks and there wasn’t a flat place to put my tent. Finally, I found a turn-off that had space large enough to camp.

day10

Whenever I bush camp by myself, there are a couple of movies that I wish I had never seen. Deliverance is one. The Blair Witch Project is up there also. In fact, in the tree above my tent  there was a bit of rope draped in the branches that reminded me of the witchy tree things in that movie. All night I listened to the cars passing on the road next to me and the sound of rain on my tent as I shivered in my wet sleeping bag.

 

 

 

 

 

Seattle to San Francisco – Day 7

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 pedaling once. Than another hill. Then I soar to the bottom, probably going over the speed limit. The coast here is also known for it’s giant sand dunes. I took one break to climb a few – they looked so irresistibly soft.

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I ended up getting sand everywhere, and the sand in my hair didn’t come out for days.  It was still worth it.

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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 therma-rest.”

 

Apparently, my type of sleeping bag’s thermal rating (20 degrees) is based on having the therma-rest 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

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.

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Seattle to San Francisco – Day 5

DAY5

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.

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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.

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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

DAY4

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.