I knew that today was going to be tough. Before embarking on the day's ride I had to mentally prepare myself for three challenges which I knew were awaiting me. First would be headwinds. No matter how many times I checked the weather, the forecast remained the same. I would be riding into the wind all day. Second was the climb. Despite starting my ride around sea level, I would climb up to nearly 3,000 feet. Third was the solitude. I was again riding by myself and had no one awaiting me at my destination. It was the unexpected fourth challenge, however, that would ultimately end my ride early. That was the aggressive truckers blazing down the Washington state roads.
In order to dissipate some of the burden caused by the headwinds, I decided to get my day off to an early start. I arose around 5:30 am and was on the road within an hour. Whenever I am facing a challenge I like to assess which factors are within my control and which are beyond it. The wind's speed and direction were certainly beyond me, but my start time was well within my control, so I committed to an early start before the winds picked up. I enjoyed a mellow first ten miles along a reasonably safe segment of highway 12.
The climb was exhausting, as they always are. I found myself frantically checking my mileage, just to be let down by how slow I was going each time I checked. I realized that mile counting really wasn't helping my cause, so I just cut it out. While making my climb I was pleased with myself for deciding to leave early, as the winds were a non-factor as I made my ascent from about 1,000 feet to over 2,500. When I arrived at Alpowa Summit I was feeling pretty good. It seemed that my strategy for this ride had helped to dissipate some of the negative aspects of this ride. I was proud of myself.
I found myself growing frustrated while descending from the Summit. The winds had picked up and were stifling my progress. It always annoys me when I have to peddle to keep my speed up on a downhill. It annoys me even more when I find myself putting it into a lower gear while heading downhill because of the wind. All of these mental comparisons I was drawing was making the ride too tumultuous. I forwent the idea that I was riding downhill and just focused on staying safe.
In no time I had reached Pomeroy. I was 30 miles into my ride and it was only 10:00 am. I had a choice to make. I could push another 35 miles into growing headwinds to arrive at Dayton, or I could settle for the day in Pomeroy and pick back up the next day when the winds would be lighter. In all honesty, either option was going to drive me nuts. I was bound to go bonkers fighting the headwinds or I was bound to develop cabin fever spending 20 hours in Nowheresville, Washington. Feeling compelled by my vicinity to Portland, my ultimate destination, I elected to keep peddling.
Before heading out I needed to mentally address the oncoming headwinds. It looked like they were going to be moderate, fluctuating between 12 to 16 miles per hour. I reminded myself that I could not control the winds, but that the winds also couldn't control me. At any moment I could elect to turn around and enjoy a pleasant cruise back to shelter. Reassured by my little pep talk, I hit hit the road again.
These were some lonely miles. There were no towns. No nothing. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, I oddly had perfect cellphone reception. Hmm. Anyways, I distracted myself from the droll scenery by humming songs to myself and planning out the rest of my trip. You know, these miles weren't as bad as I had expected.
The road was decent, for the most part. There were certain narrow segments where I was forced onto the road with the few other cars that were taking route 12. I found myself feeling comfortable until I approached a blind turn. Recognizing that this would be an unsafe section, I was extra alert. I was vigilant for traffic and did my best to stay visible. Uh-oh. Here came a semi-truck. Even worse, there was no shoulder for me to occupy. I did my best to position myself in the lane so the trucker would see me. I watched his approach closely, growing anxious as I recognized that he was not slowing down.
He jammed on his horn and charged right at me, refusing to exit the lane. I bailed from the roadway as quickly as humanly possible. The truck driver, completely unharmed and unphased, merrily continued his pass. And there I stood in a filthy ditch, throwing my hands up, screaming at the careless trucker, "WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO? DO YOU WANT TO FUCKING KILL ME? WHAT DO YOU WANT?" Any positive sentiment that I had experienced, any pride in supposedly demonstrating good decision-making ability, any sense of accomplishment from the day's ride was immediately erased. The only thing I was, was vulnerable. My life was in the hands of disgruntled truck drivers and other automobile operators. I hated being constantly reminded of this.
And, sadly, as I am writing this, I am realizing that this is perhaps the third or fourth time that I am telling this exact same story. This is the reality of cyclo-touring in the United States. I chose to do this tour to celebrate American culture, yet am constantly being reminded of how poor our culture can be.
I don't know if a single positive thought crossed my mind for the next twenty miles. All I thought about was aggressive drivers, death and misery. Sorry. I know that people don't want to be bogged down by reading my blog, but I don't believe in sugar-coating this experience. It has been both extremely rewarding and severely depleting.
I was about eight miles from my destination. I had nearly 1,000 feet to climb over the final hill. Alright, Colin. Focus. You can do this. I put my head down and climbed. I could see the pass just a few feet head of me. Once I got there I was greeted by a pretty vista of the expansive yellow farmland on the other side. Finally, a respite from all the negativity that had been plaguing me for the last two hours. I was so close to my destination.
But wait. What was that in my rear view mirror? An over-sized hay truck was rapidly approaching me from behind. I occupied the shoulder and tightly braced my bike. The truck didn't slow a bit. It rushed by me, causing a gust of wind that first pushed me towards the ditch, then sucked me in towards the big rig. I swerved, doing everything in my power to steer my bike into the ditch and not the lane.
I crashed into the ditch where I immediately abandoned my bike. I don't know if I made it more than 3 feet from my bike before I collapsed to my knees. I started screaming, something to the effect of, "I CAN'T FUCKING DO THIS!" Yeah, I think those were my words...over and over. Tears were streaming down my face. Perhaps that hay truck was carrying the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. You know, I could handle the wind. I could handle the climbs. I could handle the solitude. But I just couldn't handle the trucks. I had reached my limit.
Upon viewing my pathetic figure hunched over on the side of the road, a good Samaritan pulled over his truck to investigate. "You alright?" He asked. I couldn't form sentences. Any attempt at forming a coherent word was broken by a sob. I was in truly poor form. He continued, "You need a ride."
"Yes." I was able to get that word out. Ever since Kansas I had become much more receptive to help.
The fellow loaded my stuff into his truck's bed and hauled me to Dayton, my destination for the day. The funny thing was that we were only three miles from Dayton. Well, I guess those three miles hadn't arrived soon enough. The fellow, Mike, was in a way better mood than I was. I was still struggling to form sentences. This ugly experience had rattled me to my core. Mike asked me, "Have you had any days this bad?"
I was humored by both his question and my response, "Unfortunately, yes. This is one of a few days that were this bad." I was being totally honest with this guy.
His response inspired the smallest glimmer of hope beneath the horrors of Pandora's Box which had been unleashed in my mind, "Well. You know what that means: It can only get better from here!"