Cookie had somehow been on the Oregon Bike email list for a year or two. She finally bought a very cute cruiser the spring before and had since been itching to do one the rides OR Bike puts on. They create/host such rides as the naked bike ride, a taco tour, and this ride called Bike to the Future.
Somehow she roped me into doing the "relatively flat" bike ride with her, promising me that even though it was 28 miles OMG!!! there were lots of interactive stops with refreshments and it was about sustainable building and living and fun!
Then she miraculously guilted Joelf into coming with us. I'm not even sure how that happened.
The Beginning: a reality check and a downhill rush
Early Sunday morning we found ourselves with 3 bikes, 3 maps, 1 bike helmet, 1 bottle of water, 1 bottle of OJ, 1 flask of gin, 1 pack of cigarettes, and 1 pair of oxblood 8 hole doc martens. (I couldn't find my running shoes.)
And, incredulously, we were off. We couldn't believe it. Cookie's husband couldn't believe it (he wisely declined the ride). NO ONE could believe that we were really going to do a 28 mile bike ride.
Least of all, me. I assumed we would poop out somewhere around mile 10 and go get breakfast.
Joelf hadn't really ever bicycled before. As a child, he had a gravel driveway and his mom wouldn't let them bike in the streets. So he never really got into it as a kid, or ever. Until Sunday!
Here's the map of the bike ride:
When I saw the map, I said, "YOU HAVE GOT TO BE SHITTING ME."
The red apple in the bottom right hand corner was the beginning, and the end.
The first leg of the trip was a nice downhill glide to the Willamette River. By the time we got to the riverfront...
However, the ride along the riverfront was really fun, and scenic as well!
We then biked past the Rose Garden Arena, and into the Mississippi area.
From the Mississippi neighborhood through the Overlook neighborhood: evil hills, gorgeous views, and love on two wheels
For those of you who don't know, there is a seriously evil mini mountain at the beginning of Mississippi Avenue. Which we were supposed to bike up.Yeah, you know we walked.
After biking down Mississippi Ave for a little bit with a bus breathing down our backs, we hooked a left on Skidmore and made our way towards the Overlook area. This guy with a bright yellow safety vest caught up with us and told us he was the rear mechanic for the ride and we were the last stragglers. He said he'd bike ahead and then double back to see how we were doing.
In the lovely Overlook area we passed a bike dude and a cute girl on a cruiser chatting along, and Joelf overheard the guy exclaiming how fateful it was that the two of them just happened to meet on the bike tour...ah! love on two wheels.
We continued to bike along Willamette Blvd which afforded some spectacular views of the westside industrial district as well as Forest Park, the Willamette, and downtown Portland. Really nice!
After two hours we made it to the first stop, Cathedral Park, which is located underneath the east end of the St. John's Bridge--the northernmost bridge in Portland and also the coolest.
Destination #1: Cathedral Park
Here we abandoned our bikes, helped ourselves to the hosted water, chocolate, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Cookie made a small gin and OJ "to take the edge off" and we contemplated exactly how much of this freaking bike tour we were going to do. I was ready to call it good and go get breakfast. Joelf's ass was killing him, as was mine, and since we had biked a good 11 miles or so, which is more than any of us had ever biked or walked or ran before, it seemed a good time to stop.
But OH NO. We HAD to keep going.
The Part That Almost Sucked The Worst: no judgment, please
We huffed our bikes up the steep hill away from the river and continued riding. The rear mechanic passed us again as we continued through the North Portland neighborhoods. Cookie lit up a cigarette. Every time a "serious" road biker person in their spandex racing outfits passed us on their bikes, Joelf would mutter after them, "don't judge me." I was getting really tired. It felt like it was going to rain. I kept checking the map to see where we were, because I was so thoroughly turned around and lost that I couldn't get my bearings. We came upon a 7-11 and Cookie took a detour to buy beef jerky and Doritos. We turned a corner and there was Mr. Yellow Jacket, waiting for us to show up. Once he saw us, he told us we didn't have much further to go until we hit the next stop, the New Columbia Housing, which perked us up considerably.
Destination #2: The New Columbia Housing
The New Columbia Housing is a new mixed housing development that strives to build community across socioeconomic lines. There is a large park and playground in the center of the development, a library branch, elementary school, and grocery store all built adjacent or nearby the central park. The builders made as many eco-conscious decisions as possible. There are youth and senior programs in a main building/gymnasium. It is a great idea, and I hope it succeeds.
We declined a tour of one of the dwellings, loaded up on water, chocolate, and fruit and decided to get going. I made another PBJ for the road and off we went.
The Downhill Slide: biking without pedaling is awesome
I wish I knew how many miles we had come. It felt like 5,000, but was probably closer to 16. That last leg between Cathedral Park and the housing development was slightly uphill, which killed me. I would rather take a few seriously steep hills than a gentle, long, insidious incline.
Luckily, most of the leg between the housing development and the third stop was slightly downhill. We coasted along, enjoying the neighborhoods, Cookie occasionally smoking a cigarette and nipping at her gin and OJ. Joelf took off his sweatshirt and made a little pillow for his sore bum. This kept slipping so every few blocks he would have to stop and readjust. Cookie was kind enough to stop and wait with him, but I didn't want to stop coasting. It felt so nice to have the wind whip through my hair without me huffing and puffing to make it happen!
We crossed a street into a familiar neighborhood and I (almost literally) ran into a friend of mine! She was on her way to Mount Hood, so we hurriedly exchanged greetings and then off we went. Cookie and Joelf caught up with me as I was catching up with my friend, so off the three of us went.
Since I was familiar with this neighborhood, I knew we were getting really close to our next destination. Buoyed by this knowledge I egged Cookie and Joelf on--we were almost there! And thus almost done! Kind of!
Destination #3: The Columbia Slough Watershed and Witaker Ponds
Destination #3, the Columbia Slough Watershed and Witaker Ponds, was at the bottom of this fun little hill. And there, nestled amongst the shipping yards and industrial zone near the Portland airport, was this neat wooded area with a big pond in which lived a family of beavers. Wetland birds frequented the area. If you worked hard enough, you could almost tune out the big semis trundling down Columbia Blvd just a few blocks away. It was real nice.
We dropped our bikes, grabbed some chocolate and water, and I made another sandwich. Over on the edge of the pond was a gazebo with some picnic tables; we flopped ourselves on these as we refueled. There were ducks on the pond, and I envied them and their natural ability to fly. We had to huff and puff on bikes just to catch a small echoing moment of their grace.
We tried to stay as long as we could, still debating how much of this crazy ride we were going to actually do. When Mr. Yellow Jacket started giving us the stink-eye, we gathered our bikes and headed on out.
As I glared menacingly at the damn hill we now had to bike up, this van pulled up next to us and someone inside yelled out, "hey, do you WANT A RIDE?" Startled, we looked over to see a couple families that were doing the ride with us sitting comfortably inside, and Mr Yellow Jacket WAS DRIVING. Cheaters! Scoundrels!
So we yelled back, "NO THANKS! We're FINE!"
Famous last words.
The Worst Part of The Ride, and Maybe of My Life: insidious uphill torment
After watching the van disappear out of sight, we walked our bikes up the hill, across the busy intersection, over the overpass, and hopped back on to ride up 42nd Ave. This part was hellish. It was more than slightly uphill, there were no bike lanes, lots of traffic, and children running across the road. I kept up a mantra so that I wouldn't fall over and have a seizure: "...just keep biking. Don't stop biking. Make circles. Just make circles. Keep breathing. Keep biking. Circles. Kee--HEY WATCH WHERE YOU'RE GOING, JESUS! I ALMOST HIT YOU!! STUPID KID! ...circles. Circles...."
I had no idea how far behind me Cookie and Joelf were, and I knew if looked behind me to find them I would hit a kid, fall in the street, and get run over by a car. So I kept my head down, and made circles.
Eventually, after maybe an eternity, we turned off the main road onto blessedly quiet residential streets. And we weren't kidding about the quiet part. Throughout the first 2/3 of the ride, we would pass, and be passed by, other riders on the route. But during this stretch of will-breaking torture, we didn't meet another biker. There weren't even people out in their yards. It was eerily quiet.
The End of the Worst Part Ever: Joelf starts to cheerlead
Eventually we hit the end of the terribly long incline and with a short coast down to a very busy intersection, we crossed Sandy Blvd and made it into a very cute little neighborhood.
I realized that we weren't too far off from being close to my apartment, and that even though we had more than halfway accomplished our goal, we could just as well screw the bike ride and take hot baths while eating hot fudge sundaes at home. I tried to think about how many up hills there were between where we were and the apartment, and I came up with 2. One of which was very very nasty. I was trapped! I couldn't bike home and I didn't want to go on! Oh the humanity!!
Joelf began to put on bursts of speed, encouraging us to keep going as we were so near to being done. "Come on," he would cry, "we're ALMOST DONE!!!!" Cookie and I would lean into our bikes, demanding more output from our bodies, and off we sped.
The path mercifully veered away from what could have been another long uphill haul, and we biked on, the excitement of being nearly done propelling us forward through the drizzle and the protests of our poor bursting muscles.
OH NO, A HILL: laughing our way out of defeat in Laurelhurst
About this time we ran into several couples and families on the same bike tour. Nice to see you! We're almost done! Woo-hoo!!
The End: we're almost done, WE'RE ALMOST DONE
At this point I took over as cheerleader and powered ahead yelling, "WE'RE ALMOST DONE! WE'RE ALMOST DONE! COME ON!!!"
As we arrived back at Sunnyside Environmental Middle School (destination #4), I was afraid to stop biking. Would I collapse? Would I need to walk off major leg cramps? Would I burst into a heavy sweat? Would I have a heart attack? Would my legs finally give out and I need to be carried into the auditorium?
I got off my bike gingerly, and walked awkwardly and stiffly into the auditorium. Laughing Planet was giving away free burritos, and I think there was beer. I remember laying down on the floor for a bit. I think some of the students wanted to give us a tour. All I remember is laying down on the floor and dreaming of hot fudge sundaes.
Cookie's husband came to pick us up and he was very impressed we finished. So were we.
I was sore for a couple of days, and had sores for at least a week (Doc Martens are NOT good for a 28 mile bike ride). But the sense of accomplishment! The triumph over the "relatively flat" landscape of Portland! The camaraderie of our shared experience, and knowing that I would have given up without them! Was it worth it?