Troutdale, VA to Berea, KY

10 Jun


If possible, Please give to the Seattle Chapter of Engineers without Borders at this website

MILES: 740

6 days ago I’m in a log house built in the 1850s drinking wine and watching hockey with Brian and Rebecca, an awesome couple living in Troutdale, VA. It’s raining so they’ve invited me inside to sleep on their couch. As I run my fingers over the rough splinters and axe marks on the original hand-hewn boards in the wall, they tell me about when a 90 year old woman stopped by one morning with her 70 year old son. She grew up in this house that her father converted from a barn, the baby of 9 children sleeping upstairs, and now asks to explore her childhood home. One of the first things she notices: “Oh, you have toilets now!”

I’ve lucked out finding this house. When I knock on the door, hoping to camp in their yard I hear the Rottweiler barking and see the rifle over the mantle and think “This ain’t good.” When Brian opens the door, wearing flip flops and a Bruins hockey shirt with a friendly “What’s up man?” I think “This is good”

As I leave the next day they tell me I’m heading towards the more economically depressed area of VA and KY, poorer, steeper, meth-ier, and uglier. They are right on all counts.

When I was in Japan there was a problem of “Monotonous Beauty” where my surroundings were so idyllic all the time they became unnoticeable. Eastern Virginia is the same. The first time you see the rolling hills, the green mountains, the pastureland of monochrome cows and prancing horses, the barns old and new you want to stop and paint a picture. After 10 more miles of it all I can think about is “My ass is fucking killing me, is this bike seat made of rebar?”

I get a few breaks from the pasturelands. Long climbs into the forests of Mt. Rogers, of Breaks Interstate park where I reach Kentucky. I stand on overlooks and see “The Grand Canyon of the South” where the New River has carved through sheer sandstone cliffs and deep into the more yielding shale beneath to create a steep valley running through the forested mountains. It’s all I can do not to build my own cabin and live there.

But then there’s Western VA and Eastern KY, which is not beautiful, just monotonous. Green hills and mountains loom across the valley, or in front to remind me of the climbs ahead, which are hard; I breath hard, my legs pump hard, my heart pounds hard. I never think I’m going to quit but it’s never enough to be a rewarding challenge. Countless steep hills drain my legs and yield no views at the top, just a sign announcing a new county. I coast on the descents at 35 mph, insects that would spatter on a windshield bounce off my face with a sharp thwack.

The valleys below are full of trailer homes and poverty. People sit on the porches staring at nothing. Confederate flags flap outside homes, sometimes alongside the “Don’t Tread On Me” flags, which is confusing because one represents freedom and independence, while the other represents enslavement and subjugation. Wide yards contain 7 cars with 9 tires between them. Dogs run barking to the end of their tethers or burst from their yards chasing me. I bark back at them till they stop their pursuit, as even dogs know to avoid the mentally ill.

Clothes and toys fill tables and blankets along the roadside. Either everyone is having a yard sale all the time or homes here are built without closets. I even see a sign advertising a yard sale held inside a general store. Most shops are closed and buildings shuttered in the downtowns. Churches, Pawn Shops, Gun shops, and Cash 4 Gold shops remain open. A grocery store I pass by advertises 3 foods on their billboard “Spam. Parkay. Kraft Cheese.” The same orange and black “For Sale” signs adorn empty trucks, ATVs, and homes along the roadside.

The only bicyclist I’ve met so far is Lucas from Denmark. I could immediately tell he was Danish because of the “sh” he adds to the end of every sentence and his indecisiveness about killing his fratricidal uncle. Otherwise, the roads are empty of bikes, just coal trucks, regular trucks, cars, motorcycles and ATVs, all of whom give me plenty of room as they pass and I wave in thanks.

Yesterday I’d had enough of Eastern KY and my 2nd map, so I decided to bicycle the 123 miles from Hindman to Berea (actually 113, but hooray not-admitting-I-made-a-wrong-turn-for-5-miles). For the last few days I’d been trying to remove myself from the equation here, to tell myself these hills don’t have it in for me personally, but in the end I wanted out and it was worth the exhaustion. I know I’m on the trip of a lifetime, and that I need to appreciate this now because it will be over sooner than I think. However, some days all I take as comfort is the flip side of that mindset: “Well Paul, you won’t be in Eastern Kentucky forever”

Onward from Berea.


Yorktown, VA to Lexington, VA – The Trip Begins

4 Jun


If possible, Please give to the Seattle Chapter of Engineers without Borders at this website

And here we go:
Crouching at the Williamsburg train station with my Panniers on a bench and my tools beside me, I had unboxed and reconstructed my bike with no problems until it came time to inflate my tires. In some hijinx fitting of an early Woody Allen movie, I spent 15 minutes furiously pumping away at the handle of my air pump, looking pretty obscene from behind, before giving up with the tire half inflated, the pump obviously broken. Having planned ahead, I took out my portable air compressed pump and inserted the cartridge. As cold CO2 blasted into my face I found that this pump was also broke. I had no back up plan for my back up plan. 

A Fire Station nearby has an air compressor I can use. One of the Firemen stands by as the hose quickly plumps my tires, remarking that he carries more in the glove compartment of his truck than I am on my bike. He asks the standard questions I’ve answered countless times already in the 5 days I’ve been on this ride. Where are you from, when did you start, where are you going, and when I tell them Seattle, some variation on “Are you fucking nuts?”
It’s reaching mid afternoon as I leave a repair shop. My bike, Wilbur (ne 2012 Novarra Randonee) swallows more of my bank account replacing the rear tire and chain (both worn out from the 1000+ miles I put on it riding to SF), and repairing the shifters and other tweaks bent and dented (from when the TSA inspected it by hitting it with clubs to see if it exploded). It’s 13 miles to Yorktown, where I stroll through the eponomous Revolutionary War battlefield, then take my bike down to the sands. With pirate ships floating behind me, celebrating the rich history of ocean thievery and slaughter occuring just off the coast (apparently one of Black Beard’s favorite targets) I dip my wheels in the Atlantic and begin pedalling home. 
The sea level ground slopes gently up 300 feet as I ride over sediment washed down from the Appalacians and silts washing up from the Atlantic. It’s a short, flat ride for my first day, ending in Williamsburg. I pass a Naval dock where they unload all the Nuclear weapons from the subs, creeks cutting through the flat marshlands, and more animals pancaked on the concrete per mile than I’ve ever seen before. The turtles can’t dart out of the way, but I’m surprised at the number of formerly agile squirrels. I’m using a website called “Warm Showers” which is like Craigslist for cyclists to find homes to stay in for the night. Jim is my first Warm Showers contact and I’m his first tenant. After securing my bike in the garage we head to Colonial Williamsburg, where it’s too late for me to talk with someone in period costume about proper tallow molding techniques, but there are many separate ghost tours wandering through the streets. Only the restaurants and taverns remain open. I walk through irregular flashes of fireflies, realizing it’s been nearly a decade since I’ve seen them, I almost forgot they existed in real life, and not just in namesake on a sadly cancelled Sci Fi series. In the dark I see the former capitol building where Washington and Jefferson met.
Day 2 I sit at the Courthouse Grille in Charles City, listening to the servers on their smoke break discuss LeBron James and which High School girls just turned 18. When the Grille finally opens, the Lobster Bisque is worth the wait. It’s flat country, Sycamores, Dogwoods, Oaks, Maples and Pines separating the fields of amber grain and green leafy tobacco plants. I stop at Civil War Battle sites like Malvern Hill, which without the historical plaques looks just like a wheat field. There are many plaques along the road, celebrating everything from famous river crossings and homes to a log cabin where Stonewall Jackson got a drink of water once. Everything is made of red bricks here, and whoever imports/distributes them has to be Scrooge McDuck levels of rich. Even the fucking Arby’s looks like a colonial mansion. I get caught in one rainstorm. A white dog, scared of the thunder, runs from his yard and begins wandering on the wrong side of the highway, nosing at each of the doors of the stopped line of cars to be let in. I drag him from the road to safety, a cop calls the owner’s number and a cute girl takes the dog into her car to bring him home. Both leave me in the rain to drench. In the evening I hear another storm announce itself and ask to stay in a horse barn of a local farm. Samantha, a 21 year old studio arts major, who has been working with horses for 15 years and owns two of the three, invites me inside for a while and mentions that I can also stay in an actual house. This sounds better. 
Day 3 the crops remain the same but the hills begin to steepen and multiply as I bicycle from Ashland to Charlottesville. I pass Monroe and Jefferson’s estates, and one more long climb after 93 miles takes me to the home of Rob, a recent graduate from UVA with a BA in Business and Religion, who worked for a year on Andalucian goat farms and found his new calling. 
Day 4 I pass by the 250th History of Virginia festival where I hear they’ll be firing a cannon at Noon so I decide to leave late. In one park people in traditional costumes cook apples and onions over a roaring fire, hammer out red hot iron on an anvil, and stand by their Civil War regimental tents. I speak to a man in a general’s uniform about the many swords and guns in his collection displayed on a blanket. I dry fire one, the flint-lock striking the metal with a loud click as I see him wince beneath his beard and find out this isn’t a replica, it’s an antique. I didn’t break or damage it, which is rare for me in situations like this. By noon I’d stood in a replica of Lewis & Clarks boat, listened to Jefferson deliver a sermon, talked powder horns and daily rations with a Revolutionary War soldier, and learned the history and techniques of Cannonry with some British soldiers. I feel the thump in my chest as they fire the cannon and can’t stop giggling. Later that day the arcs and curves of concrete have grown even taller until I’m over 3,000 feet above sea level, staring out from Humpback Rocks on the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Shenandoa Valley and the curving spines of the Appalacians. I stealth camp for the night. 
Day 5 and I’m in a coffee shop in Lexington. At 8am this morning, still on the parkway I stood at the 20 Minutes Overlook staring out at a forested valley curving between the mountains arching into the horizon. From below the howls of wolves calling to each other reached my ears and I shivered. Day to day here, I have no idea where I’ll end up or even what the next hour holds for me. It’s an exciting ride, and it’s just begun.

Trinidad to San Francisco

1 Jun


I’m on my final climb to Salt Point state park on May 18th I’m yelling involuntarily out of exhaustion and frustration. Because I’ve only driven the 101 and the 1, I never realized how many inclines and declines exist along the route because a little more pressure on the gas is all it took to reach that next crest from the trough. Now it’s an ache throughout my legs as I strain on the pedals nearing the end of the day, trees robbing my view of anything but this endless highway. The two words I hate the most on signs are “Curving” and “Narrow” and I’ve seen them both too often this last week of 80+ miles a day. For the last hour I’ve been waiting on my favorite words “Campground 1/4 mile.” The next day is my final 95 mile push to San Francisco but I can’t concieve of going an extra mile more at this point.

I turn in past the entry gate around 8pm. The sign says “Campground Full” but I ignore it, find a place beneath a tree to block some of the wind flowing across this cliff top and begin setting up camp. The site beside the picnic table where I lock my bike is empty, but there are trailers nearby. A late 20’s man with blond hair and a beard approaches. At this point if he tells me to move my plan is to continue setting up my tent and make it clear that I’m going unconscious now. If he wants to move my limp body or wait till morning for me to do it myself, that’s his choice. Instead, he introduces himself as Kyle and invites me to share in the fire with him, his family and friends. I rally my energy to say hello and am immediately offered a beer and a plate of freshly cooked chicken and pasta, then a place is made for me by the fire and the rest of the night is spent hanging out with this group from Sacramento. Kyle and his girlfriend Aubrey, Matty and his girlfriend Marta, the two moms Laurie and Lenee, and the father Dan who spent much of the time in the RV. They’re here to dive for Abalone for the second year in a row and everyone is kind, welcoming me into their group for the night to share in their food and their stories, and asking me to share mine. One of the things I’ve been looking forward to most on this trip is that EVERYONE SPEAKS ENGLISH. Unlike my trips to Europe or Asia, I CAN UNDERSTAND WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING AND TALK TO THEM. This is such an exciting thing for me. When I sit down, I can thank the family for the beer and tell them how good the food is. I can tell them stories and jokes in return, make them laugh, give them something back for all they give me. We can trade Chuck Norris facts, shoot a beebee gun, talk jobs, careers, and comedy. When I was in Japan, I was helpless in the face of charity that people gave me. Here I can thank them, try to give them something back so I feel less guilty about how travelling light means carry little I can give to anyone else.

But as I left the next day, getting Matty’s email (Shout out to you, Matty. The good Chuck giveth and the good Chuck taketh away) and getting a picture with the family who’d given me my best night here yet, I began to think that maybe my guilt was misplaced. Audrey had asked surprised (when I refused the third granola bar she offered me to take on my trip after she’d already packed me up a lunch for the next day), if everyone I’d met hadn’t been this generous. The answer is no, most people aren’t this giving, but maybe I was looking at it the wrong way. You can’t always depend on the kindness of strangers, but you can depend on many strangers to be kind. Maybe these strangers aren’t looking for reciprocation, they’re not giving to you and waiting for a return. They’re giving because it’s their nature, that they’re just good people. And that’s something else I’ve been learning. Some people just give, with no expectations otherwise. Instead of feeling guilty for not being able to give back, I should appreciate that they exist at all and feel better about humanity. They’re making the world a better place at an instinctual level, and that’s as amazing a sight as any I’ve seen for a pessimist like me.

And that’s been the point of the training ride: To be a microchasm, a synechdoche where I could experience in 900 miles a taste of what quadruple that amount holds in store. To get used to recording my ramblings in a journal again. To re learn to appreciate the scenery: The waves roaring at they attack the rocks with their foaming blue jaws, the bleached white logs like bones the ocean forgot to bury, the flat pasturelands of monochrome cows, sheep, horses, and goats on clifftops that stretch deceptively to the horizon, where I know the earth suddenly drops sharply into the sea. Main streets built on steep hills where I bomb down at 30 mph, the wind yanking at my loose clothing and shoving my bike. And those moments where I’m climbing on the road and look across to a mountain across the valley, a mirror image with the same trees, the same grass, the same animals and I realize that I’m not just riding past scenery, I’m riding on top of it, a piece of this world.

I’ve begun to meet many riders. I spend a day meeting Galen the South African again, hearing a story where a Rhino charged his land rover, putting the horn through the engine block and lifting it off it’s wheels. I meet two brits and a guy from Montana travelling together, on break after graduating University before going back to do their version of teach for America. Along the route I meet many Canadians, some French people who’s bikes were stolen in SF and now ride “Sheety Ones” they bought.

On the day I leave the campsite I realize I have no water left and stop in at a ranch house. A black dog runs up barking and I stop the bike so as not to spook her. She sniffs at my leg, jumps back, then bites me. I yell and kick at her face as she growls then the owner yells “DAISY, GET IN YOUR CAGE!” and the dog runs of, whimpering. He looks at me, a white bandage below his mouth “What do you want?”

“Could I please fill my waterbottle?”

He directs me to the hose faucet and I fill the waterbottle. He takes a look at me and my bike

“You wearing sunblock?”


“Be sure you do. My lower lip’s rotted off from skin cancer”

I thank him for the water and leave, realizing I’d just met my first Stephen King Novel character.

About 90 miles later I arrive in SF and call my karate friends Mike and D to pick me up. I don’t have another 10 miles in me to cross the Golden gate bridge and ride to their house. As I cross the bridge in the car I don’t even miss it. The catharsis of crossing the bridge doesn’t match the catharsis of my legs finally at rest. The next day I walk in costume in the Bay to Breakers event with a friend from Spain I haven’t seen in 8 years, then hang with a comedy friend until dinner with my cousins I haven’t seen in 5 years, and top it off with drinks with my college friend. 3 more days in SF to spend with more friends, and congratulate my sister for passing the Bar Exam, and I’m home for the first of two weddings that will bookend my cross country trip.

The bike ride down to SF has been a success. I learned valuable lessons, saw amazing sights along the coast, met interesting people, and now have a chance to rest and recover in the company of friends and family. I don’t know what I’ll see crossing the country, how similar or different it will be to my coastal route, but I’ll keep you all updated.

Florence OR to Trinidad, CA: Suns, Seas, Cedars & Scale

16 May


I arrived in Trinidad after 5 miles of weak-legged bicycling from Patricks Point state park. I immediately head to the first food stop I find and buy meat and starch; Pork Ribs, Beef Ribs, coffee, donut, and potato salad. On these long biking days I no longer eat, I feed. I take my bag of food and as NPR plays classical music on the radio of a bait, tackle and surf shop I tear meat off bone with my teeth in my bicyling gear. I don’t think there’s one stereotype this morning fits into. Molly, an east coaster from DC with green eyes and wavy brown hair sweeps the shop with her baby hanging from a bjorn on her chest.
It’s been days of long rides from Florence. Long, steep ups through the forest and fast downs beside the ocean. The seas swarm around 20 foot tall stones, digesting the sands on the shore. The shoreline is rocky and irregular, sometimes the waves crash as one solid line, others it sounds as though a hundred separate surfs are cresting. The climbs are difficult and regular as the declines, into one tsunami danger zone and out of another as I follow the parabolic landscape. When I reach Coos Bay I’m past the solid mountain of Sand Dunes lining the Oregon Coast. ATV tracks curve around the trees growing from the mounds like vertical Zen Gardens. It’s a low tide as I cross the bridge, Herons stalking the muddy tide pools as a slim current runs beneath the bridge, then more ups as I bike up 7 Devils road, then down, then up. Scrub brush and bleached tree trunks at the top, the sun shining as I break through the cloud cover, then back down through it. It’s been overcast lately, the sky blending with the ocean to turn the world beyond into a flat canvas waiting for that first brush of hue.
I sleep mostly in Campgrounds. An empty row of picnic benches beside Edson Creek, wood still smoldering from the last residents. The mouth of the Smith River (or that’s the name it gives when it checks into a seedy motel with a young estuary (h/t Eli)), the only undammed river in CA, Patrick’s Point state park. I prefer the camp grounds as they give me time to look up at the stars. Light pollution dims the milky way from view, but Mars glows red and Venus shines white. I use my Pocket Universe App (Buy this app, it’s totally worth the price) to identify the constellations around me, the invisible lines drawn between distant, lonely suns to resemble animals (Leo I can kind of see, but I’m never going to think of the big dipper as a bear). Birds surround me constantly. They chitter, caw, hoot and screech. Herons stalk the shoreline and Pelicans fly in a V, migrating through Oregon. I startle a hawk from his telephone pole perch and he takes off, one talon wrapped around a fish still flapping like hell in one last ditch effort to return to the ocean. As I look at their black eyes, their prehistoric necks and sharp beaks I think “Yeah, so not all the dinosaurs disappeared”
The landscape has not really changed since I left Oregon for California. The same rolling hills, the same ocean, the same sheep, cows and horses chowing down on the same grass, the same Ron Paul signs (Have never seen a sign for poor Mitt). I’ve only seen two pro-Obama signs since I left Seattle. A small one outside an Indian reservation and another large one a block away from a hand-painted sign reading “DEFEAT OBAMA. PROTECT LIBERTY AND THE US CONSTITUTION!” The only real difference I’ve seen is Indian Casinos started to appear regularly. My favorite sign, outside the redwood forests, read “Come Explore the Great Indoors!”
Yesterday I reached the Redwoods, one of my favorite spots in the world, because they give me a sense of scale. Looking out at the stars at night past our local planets I can’t see the vastness of it all. I’ll never feel their warmth, never see them as anything but distant glimmers in inky black. The ocean is the same. When I descend to the beach from the hills, stare from a mountain viewpoint, or walk along the black granite sand I can’t see it as anything but isolated pockets leading to a uniform horizon. I don’t see it as the same sea that  stretches back home to Seattle, and across to Japan and Asia. But the steep climb up to the redwoods I begin to see the scale, the cars and trucks trundling towards me shrink in view of the vast wooden columns surrounding me, and I wonder what I must look like to them. I only see scale when I’m next to something I can touch and the redwoods make me feel Lilliputian as I stare up at living beings impossibly tall, with entire ecosystems supported on their shoulders. Carbon, water, sun and soil are all it takes for a seed the size of a grain of sand to reach hundreds of feet over hundreds of years. And this is why I love the redwoods. They’re the last remnants of a gigantic world that humans have been tearing down for 10,000 years. Gone are Mammoths, Giant Sloths, hornless Rhinos 15 feet tall, and gone are most of the Redwoods that once streched from California all the way back to the Taiga. With my neck craned up I try to see the tops as I climb the Newton Drury parkway, unable to speak, just making sounds of shock as I see yet another impossible diameter of truck, another sky scraping peak. Finally, I reach the top and race down through bracing mists past the feet of giants and unlike the sea and the sky, I feel awe.
I’ll reach San Francisco (if all goes according to plan) by the 19th. I’ll have the majority of a week to visit friends and family, then return to Seattle for a moment before the real challenge begins. The training ride will be over, I know some of the challenges I’ll face after 1000 miles and my lungs and my legs are confident in the morning as they begin pedalling 100 miles by sunset. I’ve reminded myself of why I’m doing this as well. Beyond the views, beyond the people I’ve met, it’s those times when I’m on a steep incline, with more up to go, breathing hard, when I know that I feel the most alive when I can feel my heart beating.

Alternate Timeline Paul’s Amazing Day (or, “I was half right worrying about getting hit by a car)

15 May


Literally a minute after I leave the restaurant where I wrote the last entry, I’m pedalling out of Waldport, clicking my odometer through it’s 7 or so functions back to being an odometer and I see the bright flash of light as I take the impact of the rear of the parked truck in my chest. I’m on the ground and back up to check the damage to my computer, my camera, my phone and then myself. The truck’s owner leaves the restaurant, telling his wife he knew he shouldn’t have parked on this street. We both look at the damage, a bent driver’s side fender, a small dent in the tailgate. I look at my bike. The front wheel needs a protracter to measure the angle and the fork is bent. The day’s ride is over. We’re both pissed, me more than him since I’m responsible for paying for both and I’m seeing my account balance plummet. Goodbye future plans.

After we exchange the relevant identification information they go back inside the restaurant to finish their lunch as I sit outside. An ambulance arrives, saying they’d been told a bicyclist was laying on the ground, mumbling incoherently and complaining of chest pains. I tell them I was rubbing my chest and swearing a lot, and coherent enough to enunciate and accent every one. They depart with their siren blaring, leaving one of their yellow EMT suitcases by the road. I sit by the road, the only thing hurting beside my pride is my hand from punching a yield sign in frustration. I’m figuring out my options. The Truck owners and another couple have offered to drive me back to Newport to a bike shop there, another couple has offered to drive me 40 miles ahead to Florence, to another bike shop. I hate backtracking and weigh my options, as I’m doing so the EMT sheepishly returns for his briefcase.

I decide to go forward and head inside the mexican restaurant. The Pastor and his wife have finished their meal. I apologize to the Truck owner and his wife, who have calmed down enough to ask whether I’m OK and leave. As we drive the 40 miles to Florence I’m blown away by the scenery. The ocean hits granite beds, shooting spray 30 feet into the air. The cliffs are full of bright flowers and the views are breathtaking. I sit in the car stewing inbetween weak attempts at conversation with the Pastor, who moved to Florence after years in LA. I can’t let go of the jealously I feel for Alternate Timeline Paul, who at that moment was bicycling slowly past those views, pausing for photos and feeling lucky to be alive and to have money in his bank account. It doesn’t help that the Pastor mentions these are the best views I’ll see along the coast.

He drops me off at the bike shop in Florence. The owner, who’s an expert in reparing forks, takes forever to show up because he’s out dirt bike riding in the sands and not answering his phone. The other repairman does his best, but in the end the only luck I have is that the wheel isn’t damaged, just the axle and skewer, both of which are cheap and replaceable. The owner finally shows up, a fat hippie with long grey hair in a tie dyed shirt. He takes one look and tells me what I don’t want to hear: The fork is gone. The other repairman, Sean, is willing to trade out the fork of his bike, the only one that will fit the wide stem of my Novarra, and 200 dollars later the repair is done. It would have been cheaper, but the hippie tells me to my face the price is too cheap and is adding on 15 dollars because they had to “Readjust my brakes.”

As this is all going on, I’m feeling tired, irritable, my neck hurts and I feel slightly floaty. Like a good hypochondriac I check Web MD for signs of a concussion. As I read through the symptoms, the irregular sleep, the irritability, emotional volatility, the memory problems and anxiousness I don’t think “Well, this could apply to anything” I think “Oh my god, I’ve had a concussion since I was 13! This explains everything!”

When I get the final bill, I’m past caring. I sign off on the bill, head to a nearby hotel, and sit inside the room stewing, curtains drawn to block out the bright, sunshiny day Alternate Timeline Paul is riding in. As I flip through the channels, reminding myself why I don’t own a TV (Why have none of the Mothers on Toddlers and Tiaras been arrested for Child Abuse? Every episode is an hours worth of evidence), I remind myself that today I’ve lost, which is shitty but not the end of the world. I’ve lost money, I’ve lost time, and I’ve lost good experiences, but that’s a reality. I’ve lost many times before. I’ve lost Karate tournaments, I’ve had bad Stand Up sets when I wanted great ones, I’ve made life decisions that cost me friends, respect, money, entry to Canada. But I haven’t lost tomorrow. This morning I climbed back on the bike and 20 miles later, past scenery way less amazing than Alternate Timeline Paul saw yesterday, I’m having lunch and ready to move on. This is the experience I get to have, and today may be a great one as long as I can look around me, rather than looking back.

And I’ll probably have a good 3 minute bit on this by the time I get back. Thanks Comedy, you give value to shitty experiences.

Portland to Newport OR

15 May


I’m sitting in a Pizza Buffet in Waldport chuckling at what my six year old self would think of me. I filled up a salad bar plate so full of veggies it was a struggle to finish two slices afterward. My six year old self would wondering why I hadn’t reversed the order. It’s the first veggies I’ve had in 5 days, it’s worth the extra cost and I’m loading up. My plan is to bike about a hundred miles to the next campsite.

A quick note for those of you who I haven’t spoken to in a bit, I am bicycling from Seattle to San Francisco, returning by train May 25thfor a wedding, then setting out again from Seattle across the country to Yorktown, VA. 

For those of you asking why I’m doing this; Hi, I’m Paul. How did you get on my email list?

I left Portland on Thursday, catching the train to Hillsboro then heading east through some gorgeous, windy, empty farmland and into the forest. It surprised me gun ranges don’t carry highway signs as targets, because people love shooting them. The only one I saw that wasn’t full of holes ironically said “ELK” I know there’s a mountain ahead and when I see the 2000 ft climb approach I think “Fuck, that’s a lot of up” After Japan, I know the routine. When you think you’re done, you’re about halfway up, when you think you’re dying, you’re closer. I climb further and further, fighting with physics all the way to the top, where we kiss and make up as I zoom down the hill at 30 mph, bugs bouncing off my grinning teeth. After 64 miles, most of them panting, I sleep for the night beside a river.

The next day its 20 miles through farmland. Cows line up single file to pass beneath the highway from one pasture to another. They take their turns by the fence staring at me, then sniffing a plastic bag by the fence and moving on. I wonder if every time I moo at them they look back thinking “His Accent is terrible.” More long miles and I reach the town of Beaver, consisting of a gas station, a school house, and a Grocery/Gun Shop, but it’s also the gateway to the 101, the binary highway I’ll be on till I reach San Francisco. I lunch in nearby Hebo, listening to a group of women agreeing that 35 dollars is too much to spend on a Garden Gnome, even if it is limited edition. I leave the Nuscatt river and finally see the ocean again from a lookout, the hazy blue arc curving below the horizon. I chat with Tony and Katie, a Duluth couple who moved to Portland after canoeing down the Mississippi, then head on through the Siuslaw National Forest, a rough road and difficult upslope through the muggy forest, but totally worth it as I zoom down another decline, laughing as I watch the odometer. Some breathtaking viewpoints of the ocean eating it’s way through coves, the expensive houses and lawns at the edge giving way to treeline that extends over the mountains into the distance and I reach my campsite past Newport beach. For the first time I see other cyclists: A Florida couple on their way to Missoula, the husband doing back end coding support from his tent, a South African riding from Vancouver BC to Tiajuana. Later 3 weaving cyclists show up, having biked 20 miles between the Deschutes Brewery to the campsite and nearly taking down the couple’s hanging laundry as they approach.

For the first time on yesterday’s ride, I began having fun. I’ve been enjoying the bicycling since I left Monday 7th, but there’s always been something on my mind. The need to get to a place to sleep the first night, the need to arrive in Portland in time for Comedy the second. The difficulties of the climb on the fourth day. The worry of what I’m getting out of it, comparing it to my journey in Japan, where by the third day I’d already faced down a boar and collapsed my way up a mountain thinking I was dying. Yesterday I began to let it all go. There will be no structure like in Japan, instead of temples and prayer, the excitement and confusion of a foreign culture I’m here to experience the Geography, to meet as many people as I can, and to have an entirely different journey, with different challenge and different lessons. As I sat on the hillside, or biked through the forest I heard myself calculating my times and distances and reminded myself of my mantra “Shut up, you’re lucky to be here, just enjoy the ride.” And I’d smile, take a deep breath, and enjoy the view. 

Some stray observations:

It’s only in the small towns where the Asian restaurants have to say “Chinese American Cuisine” on the signs

How is it a town without a dentist has a spray tan place?

Seattle to Portland

9 May


One of the many things I didn’t get around to doing before leaving on this bike trip was pick up a voice recorder. I know I’ve had many small eppiphanies already in these two long days of riding, but having ADD means any insightful thought is quickly replaced by “Look. Cows!!” and then it’s gone. So until I buy one, these entries will be brief. 

After two days of 100 miles each, here’s what I know so far about my body. My eyes will be bloodshot by the end of the day. Around mile 85 my ass starts aching. The sorest muscles in my body when I climb off the bike are my abs, constantly tensed from bending over. I’m not nearly as tired as I should be when the day is done, but I sleep like the dead and wake to a new game “Where didn’t the sunblock cover”

I set off from Mercer Island on the first day past Seward Park and the lake route, Mt. Rainier coming ever closer and remaining on my left, the steel blue rock sharp beneath the blinding white. I’m riding through equal parts farm land, office parks, and residential neighborhoods of flat suburbia. Dogs chase me across the lengths of their yard, one terrier so intent he ran headfirst into the wooden fencepost. Dogs tethered to the ground run in circles growling frantically. Two dogs left their yard to chase after me and I turned and yelled back at them until they gave up their pursuit. Insects dive into my mouth regularly, or get trapped in my arm and leg hair. A wasp rode up my shorts leg and stuck my thigh, both of us upset they were that close to my balls. Cows wander aimlessly in the fields, Horses traverse their enclosures, looking up with dark eyes in curiosity. Alpacas stand around dopily, cause they’re idiots.

The cultures blend as the miles roll beneath my feet. I’m passing college kids checking their iphones, wandering to class in yoga pants. Shirtless men with skullets and back tattoos lining up in front of a meat shop in the middle of nowhere. A mexican gardener waves to me enthusiastically from his truck outside Roy, then again as I pass Yelm, and finally honks and gives a thumbs up as I’m entering a taqueria for my dinner and I wave back happily. A gun shop that definetly used to be a church. In one short block in Yelm, in the middle of tract housing, a grocery store, a veteranary hospital, a Subway Shop, a Kindergarten and a Gardening shop all sit side by side. Logging trucks trundle by fully loaded, the environmentalist in me saddened as another piece of the earth is taken away, but damn does fresh cut lumber smell good. Cows wander beside red barns, on an enclosed bike path canoes and mist fill a lake as I race to beat the setting sun. Railroad tressles span wide forrested rivers. I pass a bank in Ranier who’s clock display is off by an hour and 23 minutes and I wonder how they expect anyone to trust them with money. I pass a biker bar with a gun show on Fridays because how isn’t that a great idea? And now I’m in Portland, surrounded by great beer and ironic neck tattoos.

The hills are relatively easy despite the extra 30 or so pounds I’m carrying. The “Checked by Radar” and Speed limit signs mock me as I pump my legs furiously on the easy gears, hoping there’s a downslope on the other side. I pass beneath humming power lines, giants tethered together as they march into the distance. The rolling hills become monotonous as I ride highway 30 to Portland, but time passes with regularity. Whether I’m rolling past lakes, rivers, swamps or beneath cooridors of trees time clicks by the same as in the cities. I pass my time through the cities watching for cars, on the lonely highways listening the to twittering of birds that cut through the rushing wind, and when I’m in that middle ground of highways beside train tracks I throw in some music and stop my mind from wandering.

The first night I set up my tent in the soft grass of a church I’d contacted earlier that day. It was restless sleep, expecting to wake to the cops shaking my tent. I’d recieved verbal permission from the church, but no one would be there until morning to confirm it. I shoved my two panniers and backpack into the tent and curled fetal in the space left. Last night I arrived in Portland and met up with another comedian who’s sharing his home for two nights. After dropping off my bike at the house and a quick shower, we head out for an open mic and I do a solid 8 minutes, my first set in a new state.

This being the second time I’ve bicycled this trip, I flash back as I pass the milestones from 3 years ago when I rode with my friend. The Motel in Spanaway that claimed no vacancy despite a mostly empty parking lot. The park in Roy where we spent a restless night sleeping on a park bench between two rednecks fighting in a trailer and from the noises by the pond, two cats raping an extraterrestrial. The long hill where he caught heat stroke, the small grocery store where I left him to wait for his friend with a pick up and I continued on, finishing the 150 mile ride that day in 15 hours and arriving in Portland. I call the same friend for a pick up, and am so wiped I can’t figure out how cross streets work.

 I think about this now because I made it to Portland easily this time. I gave myself plenty of time each morning, take rests when I need to, call ahead to arrange places to sleep, and the two days have passed awesomely. Part of me believes this is because I’m older, more mature, and more capable after all my travels of handling another journey. But, given my track record, it’s probably just luck. I can’t wait to find out which.

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