Having arrived in Portland and declared to the world via social media that I was "done" with my journey, you would think that would mean no more riding, right? Wrong. Perhaps I was a tad premature in my declaration that my bike tour was over. I mean, DC to Portland was basically cross-country, right? Yeah, it was. But something within me was unsettled. It was as if the 4,605 miles I had ridden over the past five months weren't enough. I had to get to the Pacific. I felt like I was facing that damned rope swing at Ennis Lake again. If I didn't do it then it was going to get under my skin and drive me nuts. Though I enjoyed a relaxing few days following my Tuesday arrival in Portland, I knew that I had one more goal to accomplish.
My dear friends and hosts, Dave and Mallory, were on board to help me get to the Coast, so we planned a weekend outing at the beach. I would depart from their downtown apartment early Saturday morning with the intention of meeting them at the beach in Warrenton, Oregon. I was signing myself up for quite the ride. If I did in fact make it to Warrenton in one day, I would have surpassed the "century" mark by more than a dozen miles. The good news was that they would carry my gear for me. What a relief that would be! I would finally be relieved of my 40 pounds of gear which oftentimes felt like a ball-and-chain. Facing a generally positive forecast, despite some expected headwinds, I was optimistic in my ability to (literally) crank these miles out.
I guess I approached the ride with an executive's mentality. I understood that I was on a mission. I knew that I had to get to the Coast to finalize this journey. The ride felt like less of a joyride and more of an obligation. That unrelenting mentality pervaded through the first 60 miles. I hardly stopped to take any pictures. For the most part if I saw something interesting I would take a haphazard snap from atop my saddle. Distractions were not welcome on this final ride. There were scores of miles ahead of me and I had to get past them.
At mile 60 I arrived in the town of Clatskanie, Oregon. The 60-mile marker was usually the endpoint of a ride, but today it would be the halfway point. Since I was halfway, now seemed as good a time as any to grab lunch. I stopped at the Subway in this town of 1,000 people and devoured a foot-long meatball sub. Before departing, I was stopped by a gentleman who had just sat down for lunch with his son. He inquired about my journey. "So, where you headed to?"
Pretty familiar these sorts of stock conversations, I gave him the usual spiel, "I'm heading to Warrenton. I started my ride in Washington, DC, so this is my final stop."
His eyes lit up, "Wow. That's a long way. You must be pretty excited. This is it!"
"Yeah, this is it." I paused. This was it.
I mounted my saddle, hitting the road for the last time. I guess the finality of this ride didn't really settle in until that fellow made his comment. The realization lightened my mood, allowing me to rejoice in the final few hours and miles of this journey. The smile I discovered atop the the Hawthorne Bridge made its way back to my face. My mind was overrun with images from the trip. Some of them were brilliant and picturesque, like the Grand Tetons starkly protruding from the Jackson Lake in Wyoming. Other images were less remarkable, like the little Pied Piper drive-in on a sunny day in Huron, Ohio. Over the next 40 miles my mind was treated to a slideshow of the myriad sceneries that I had witnessed over the past five months. The only outward manifestation of this mental show was my wide smile and upturned eyebrows.
Around mile 100 I reached Astoria. Upon entering the town I was routed to a paved bike path along the waterfront. Being that I was away from vehicle traffic, I popped in my headphones to call my brother, Ryan. It turned out that I had caught him at a rather opportune time. He told me that he was fully nude, riding his bike through downtown Philadelphia in the citywide naked bike ride. I kept the conversation brief, letting Ryan know that I was finally arriving at the Pacific and thanking him for all of his support over the past five months (and 29 years, realistically).
When I told him that I was in Astoria, he freaked out, but not for a reason that I expected. "Colin! Do you know about Astoria? That's where they filmed the Goonies!" I peered at the lumpy ridge cutting through this riverfront town. Its green tree cover, interrupted by a smattering of gaily colored homes, did feel oddly familiar. At once I felt like a kid again, lost in the adventures of Mikey, Chunk and the rest of the Goonies crew. Whether it was Lewis and Clark in the 1800s, the Goonies in the 1980s or Colin in 2016, it seemed that Astoria was a place where adventurers of all sorts, real or fictitious, had been converging for centuries.
I finished my conversation with Ryan and removed my headphones, freeing up my ears to absorb the sounds of my scenery. What the hell was that noise? There was some kind of weird barking coming from the river. I looked over to a find a pier that was littered with fat, lazy, careless sea lions. I was hypnotized. The next hour was spent on the pier watching these animals fight and fuss over lord-knows-what.
Astoria denoted the confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. This was not good enough for me, however. The purist within demanded that I physically submerse myself in the Pacific Ocean. Only then would it shut up and allow me to enjoy my vacation in Oregon. So, on top of the 100 miles I had already rode to arrive in Astoria, I pushed for another ten miles or so, carrying me over a bridge and into the town of Warrenton. There was Pacific Ocean access at the Fort Stevens State Park on the far side of town. Man, I was so close! Before entering the park I treated (or punished, depending on your perspective) my body to one final junk food binge. I washed down a prepackaged single-serving cherry pie, apple pie and enormous chocolate chip cookie with a cup of noodles. Mmmmmmmmmm.
[As I am writing this post, nearly two weeks after the events occurred, I find myself experience slight nausea as I imagine myself again devouring the excessive snack]
I rode into Fort Stevens State Park. My dear friends, Dave and Mallory, and their dog, Ella, awaited me at the beach. Three miles left...two miles left...one mile left...dismounting bike...I was confronted by a sand dune. A sole sand dune. A sole sand dune separated me from my goal. A sole sand dune stood between me and self-actualization. A sole sand dune was the final obstacle. Despite the fatigue of 4,718 miles, I had it in me to get over one more little hill. I hoisted my bike over my shoulder. She had come this far with me and sure as hell wasn't getting left behind now. I walked over the sand dune. There it was, the Pacific Ocean. The object of my my dreams for so many years. Unable to divert my eyes from the great Pacific, I walked straight in.
The cold of the Pacific Ocean on this overcast Saturday evening didn't register at all. As I trudged through the currents, I noticed an odd figure floating near me. Upon further inspection I realized that it was a fairly large King Crab, perhaps six inches from point to point. Well, you certainly don't get those back East. Our crabs on the East Coast were blue. Looking up towards the horizon, my eyes were again distracted by a round, buoy-like object floating no more than 50 feet from me. It almost looked like a bowling ball, with three dark holes positioned close to each other on the face. As my vision cleared, I realized that those dark circles were not the finger-holes of a bowling ball, rather they were the eyes and nose of a sea lion! And this sea lion wasn't alone. It seemed that the playful creature was hanging out with a buddy. Man, back East you might spot a dolphin cutting through the waves, but you surely didn't find any sea lions. As if the king crab and sea lions weren't enough, my vision was then robbed by a flock of great, swooping pelicans, gliding single-file through the air. They all stayed true to their leader, precisely following the path he sliced through the Pacific air. Now submerged up to my waist in salt water, I was mesmerized by the unexpectedly geometric patterns etched into the horizon by these graceful creatures. Man, this was quite a Pacific reception. Much like the howling wolves of Wisdom, the Ocean's wildlife let me know that I was in the right place.