Let me set the stage: I’m stuck on the west side of the Hawthorne Bridge while the Portland Spirit — our resident cruise ship — slo-o-o-o-o-owly glides under the raised middle. The closed road gates insistently beep-beep-beep-beep-beep until the sound becomes, I’m pretty sure, a permanent fixture of my soul. But the weather is nice and people are in a good mood, and we start to chat: jokes about a beep-beep dance party; wonder about how here it is, October, and the afternoon sun is shiny and warm. We smile and joke and banter while we wait for the Portland Spirit to pass.
Finally, the gates lift and the collected clump of us–probably about 50 cyclists by that point–finds our tangled way across, sorting out according to speed and then peeling off on the other side as our routes diverge. One fellow with whom I’d been talking makes all the turns I do, and we catch up again a few miles down the road at the SE Lincoln/Cesar Chavez stoplight.
“Hey, random question.” he says, presaging his random question. “Were you by any chance in Baker City a few weeks ago?”
Baker City, mind you, is 300 miles east of Portland if you drive. Or 400 if you bike and stick to back roads. I know that, because yes, in fact, I was on my bike in Baker City a few weeks ago. But how the heck would this guy know?
“I thought I recognized your bike!” He was practically exuberant. “You probably don’t remember, but I was there with my girlfriend and her son eating at this restaurant…”
“You guys were sitting at the outside table near where I sat!” I finished. I could totally remember the scene: feeling awkward balancing my bike while looking at the menu posted in the window, painfully aware of them sizing up my sunburnt, unwashed, bikey self as they enjoyed the meal they’d already been served. I could feel their mountains of unspoken questions beamed at me, but I ultimately sat down around the corner from them where I could prop up my unlocked bike, and we’d never talked.
Yet here he was, in Portland, and he fricken recognized me and my bike in this 400-mile-removed, totally different context.
The light turned green; we chatted for a while about Baker City and our respective travels as I rode a mile or four out of my way to continue the conversation. I’ll probably never see him again, but how crazy to be recognized!
Things like that are the magic of bike touring.
- It’s the way I could run into one person out of thousands and then be recognized by him some 400 miles away.
- Or the way I could run into a bike-touring couple in Union, Oregon — the day before I was in Baker City — and end up staying in their lovely Eugene home on my way back to Portland.
- It’s the way I could come out of a free shower feeling like a new woman at a campground I’d gone 10 or 12 miles out of my way to get to, discovering that the campground hosts had left me a whole bin full of firewood, kindling, newspaper and matches so that I could build myself a fire.
- It’s the way I end up sitting next to an aging hippie in the shade of his ancient car after he stopped to make sure I was okay: he shares his pineapple-orange cake with me and fills my empty bottles with reverse-osmosis water (whatever that is).
- It’s how fricken amazing people are, how unfailingly nice, how undeservedly and unboundedly generous.
Every time I travel by bike I’m reminded, over and over and over. Sure, there are crazy people in the world. Sure, many of them have signs like this (of which I saw many, many variations):
But in person and in the moment and face-to-face? People are amazing. And nothing brings that out like traveling through the world on a bike, unprotected and vulnerable and trusting and open.
So yes. My recent bike tour through eastern Oregon (and ultimately to Boise, Idaho and back:) was amazing, and as full of biking magic as ever. As always, I return invigorated and in love with the world, and wanting more, always more. It’s beautiful out there.
(Bike tour pictures? Why yes, of course! Here.)