10th Anniversary | Portland to Portland in Search of Bill [From BA 42-200]
In the summer of 2008, sixteen men between the ages of 16 and 26 mounted their bikes in Portland, Oregon, seeking the eastern coast of Maine. An asterisk (*) below by the rider’s name means he rode a fixed gear bicycle; a squiggly line (~) means he converted his setup to one while on the trip. Everyone stopped in different places except six who finally dismounted in Portland, Maine (+).
The following is one rider’s journal kept in the days and nights along the way.
Day 1: 6/16/08
We rolled into Lewis & Clark State Park at about 9:00PM, around ten hours after we started today in Portland. People started to drift into Zach’s place throughout yesterday until we reached full capacity, all 16 of us: me, Zach, Kyle~+, Steve, Lorne, James, Sean*+, Sam, Nate*, Mike, Kai*+, Mark*, Andy*, Will*+, Eben~+, and Chris*+. It was a sight to be seen leaving Portland. Today’s distance was 90 miles, something I never thought I could do. I’m so tired, but could possibly still eat a seven-course meal, even after all of the food I have already eaten today.
Day 2: 6/17/08
I was eating sunflower seeds when one of the shells became lodged in between my molars. It was a game, tugging and tonguing at it until it came loose. It wasn’t annoying, but it passed time. I realized, however, that is what much of this trip is—trying to get something out of your teeth. We loiter in however many ways one can do so: at gas stations, mini-marts, anywhere with food, but not in a thumb-twiddling kind of way. No. This down time is all well-deserved and near triumphant. We reached Potlatch State Park today. It's beautiful, right on the lake—and just in time to see the full yellow moon cast over it in a way only imagined by most.
Day 3: 6/18/08
Today was the first day I felt significant pain. For me, my right knee was, in a word, excruciating. It was a shorter day on account of the significant climbing. Tons of construction: unavoidable. I got to Port Townsend and loitered with the crew for a few hours until the owner of the café we had overtaken, Jason, suggested we stay at his house. The place had everything and Jason could not have been more generous. At least the night had a positive twist. Ferry tomorrow.
Day 4: 6/19/08
Anacortes, Washington. The ride was beautiful. We took the ferry in the morning and then rode in. About three miles out my spoke snapped and I couldn’t get the sprockets off of the back wheel. Luckily, a lady came by and offered me a ride into town to the bike shop. Such nice people. Finished off the day with a burrito. Bad idea? We’re staying at Lacy’s house tonight, a girl who Sean, Zach, and Tim stayed with last year. We hastily turned the yard into a campground and settled in. We do this everywhere, it seems, just take over everything with our bikes and mere presence.
Day 5: 6/20/08
A whooping 30 miles up to sedro-Woolley, Washington. i think i rode about 5 mph the whole way, and it was great. Upon getting to the park, we planned to camp. We were told we would have to move to the motor home camp next door because, “if they let one group stay for free in the park, then they’d all wanna!” so, we relocated to the campsite and settled down for the night. most are hurting every pedalstroke. my knees were much better today, thankfully, and i’m praying they will hold up for tomorrow’s climb. This is my second day without showering. We are far from fancy here, however, so i think it’ll be okay.
Day 6: 6/21/08
There is never any fighting or squabbling amongst us. We ourselves are like a bicycle, built for fifteen (Andy peeled off at Port Townsend). No one is left to fend for himself. There are three sets of brothers on the trip, but we all treat each other as such. It's remarkable what a common goal can do in terms of unity in a group. I'd like to take the time to learn everything I can about each person’s story, and how they ended up in the same place as me. People can be so different, yet the same all at once. The New Halem campsite is where we set up tonight. It's lush green and right next to a river. Camping at its best.
Day 7: 6/22/08
By far the prettiest day yet. We climbed Rainy Pass and Washington Pass, a mile high—we were at sea level just three days ago. I have never done anything so physically demanding. By the end, the thought of a Clif Bar made me want to gag; I needed a real meal. I tried to have one at the top of Rainy Pass: I sat with a piece of bread on each thigh, while peanut-buttering up one of them. All i wanted was food not in bar-form. The little bird that landed on my leg, however, was hungry as well. He hopped up unflinchingly and grabbed my other piece of bread and flew off. I barely ate the rest of the day, but thankfully we ate at a restaurant at our destination: Winthrop, Washington. Best hamburger I have ever had. I also finally showered again and did laundry. I'm momentarily clean, a feeling I'm savoring.
Day 9: 6/24/08
Sprinklers were the wake-up call today in Omak. After a big breakfast, we said goodbye to Lorne, who decided to go back, so we had a quick 25-mile ride to Tonasket to meet up with the rest of the group. All of us are just hanging out in the little gravel courtyard next to the co-op where we are spending the night. Tomorrow is still up for grabs, but I'll take yet another trip to the post office to send more useless stuff home. I am learning more and more what is a necessity and what has little to no merit.
Day 10: 6/25/08
I’m sitting in a patch of grass/highway turn-around in Republic, Washington. James, Chris, Mark, Steve, Eben, Sam, Will, Sean, and I left from the co-op and climbed Wauconda Pass. I didn’t stop the whole way up—25 miles—so, I might be getting the hang of this thing. The patch of grass is on Ol’ Bill’s land. Bill told Eben and Steve we could stay there, and then we spent about an hour looking for him. It all worked out, and we’ve got another pass tomorrow. I wrapped Sean’s bike in tin foil last night.
Day 11: 6/26/08
We ended up in Colville. This time, shelter found us. Ol’ Bill came up to us at Super 1 Foods and said he owned a campground. It was going to be five bucks a tent, which didn’t sound appealing to the gang, so we rode around a bit trying to find a better deal. We gave up and rode to the place he described. It was basically a stable and the lady there told us she didn’t care if we stayed for free. The showers were also free, a commodity I have begun to relish. So, “B-squad,” as the subgroup of us has become known, slept under the stars...for free...and clean.
Day 12: 6/27/08
We decided to ride a century today. Not literally, though at times it felt like it. 100 miles to Sandpoint, Idaho, to meet up with “A-squad,” who was by then only composed of Kyle and Kai, and Zach (who was hitching there). We stopped in Chewalah at a bakery on the way and performed our new hit single: “Ridin’ our bikes from Portland to Portland/ Just about twelve days in./ Tarps and bungees, climbin’ up mountains/ Got a backyard to sleep in?” So now we have the traveling band gig going for us. We finally all reunited in Sandpoint and through Zach’s connections got another commune to stay at. Took a shower and slept in the yard. Comforting to know that a day off awaits.
Day 13: 6/28/08
Great day off in Sandpoint. Walked around town, hung out, and went swimming in the Pend Oreille. The girls we are staying with have a folk band, The Shook Twins, and we saw them play at a mall in town (with musicians at the commune, I’ve been playing guitar all I want, something I've been missing. It's strange staying put for an entire day and eating three square meals. It is also strange knowing that I have only 186 miles to Missoula, the end of my portion of the tour. A part of me is endlessly relieved, the other endlessly curious as to what the next 2,000+ miles could have held.
Day 14: 6/29/08
Another day off in Idaho. In about three hours yesterday, we had gathered four places to stay last night. It’s funny, picking and choosing which location will suit you. We settled on beachfront property. We made a feast down at a private dock and fell asleep in the sand. Zach woke me up to see the sunrise.
Day 15: 6/30/08
We decided to do a short 54-miler to Trout Creek, Montana, today. We hoped a big breakfast would stave off the heat, but evidently we didn’t hope hard enough. It was *hot*. At Trout Creek we were napping outside a gas station when Gary Mackey rolled up and offered to take us to his “Church of Corona.” Bikes and all, we were loaded in his pick- up and taken to heaven. Ss if his cabin-style house, home-cooked venison dinner, and backyard lined only by the horizon wasn’t enough, he wants to drive us half-way to Missoula tomorrow because he and his wife are too scared for us to ride the next stretch of highway 200. It’s strange that all of us have parents for a night. Chris, Gary’s wife, is a retired librarian. He is a Vietnam vet, 10-year DEA agent, with a degree in criminal law and engineering, but his ponytail and handlebar mustache, as well as his tendency to emphasize every noun with “fuckin,” suggest a sweet home Alabama upbringing. Us in line, bowls ready for dinner—we are boys, after all, sustained only by hospitality.
Day 16: 7/1/08
The last 110 miles to Missoula just flew by...because we were in a car. Zach’s knee felt too bad to keep riding and upon hearing that he needed a ride to Missoula, gary offered to drive us all. We couldn’t pass that up, so we piled in his car once more. It took two hours, a distance that would have taken us two days. That is still mind-boggling to me. As we pulled into Missoula it hit me that I had completed my part of the tour: Portland to Missoula, and with three days to spare, too. I don’t know what to do with myself; us with ourselves. Just loitering, eating at Safeway, as completely unnecessary as it may seem. I’m in limbo right now, done with the tour, but still with everyone and in a way, still on it. We went to the adventure cycling association to have our pictures taken and the trip was suddenly complete: a photographic bookend to my tour.
Day 17: 7/2/08
Another day filled to the brim with loitering. It's by now everybody’s second-nature activity. Almost as second-nature as, say, riding a bicycle? I created a fresh new ensemble for $4.00 at Goodwill. I need to look sharp for the last day, by which I mean: a blue plaid shirt, khaki slacks cut into shorts, and beat-up, sun-washed black Converse All-Stars with orange laces. We went to a show at a bar in town where Brown Bear and Annie Palmer played. After a couple of beers, and three whiskey and gingers, I was ready for bed. We slept at Bike Doctor, courtesy of our friend Bradford. The bike shop is a quaint townhouse on spruce and Toole, an intersection I could not for the life of me recall at 3:30am. Luckily, a fellow cyclist rode by and offered to ride with me down there. David Merrill was as friendly as the 3:30am cycling crowd can get. He's the Executive Director of Global Warming Solution, a nonprofit organization in Missoula. He saw me off, and I hastily and sloppily set up my tent and fell asleep.
Day 18: 7/3/08
I woke up about 7:00am this morning to pack and box up my bike. At 9:45am, a friend of my dad’s picked me up and we went to meet the crew at the coffee shop. Not being on a bike, and having no more gear felt so strange; saying goodbye to my adoptive brothers, even stranger. To think of the amalgam of circumstances in which everyone ended up on this trip is astonishing. Anything and everything is fluid, always changing and tumbling in and out of place simultaneously. This trip taught me so much about people, this country, and myself. To think of even just one of the sundry kind souls we ran into gives me renewed faith in the generosity and ingenuity of humanity. Feeling every crack and crevasse and bump in the land, too, gives you so much respect for the pioneers and people who built this country. I feel so relieved to have witnessed so many different places outside of the Highland Park, Illinois, bubble from which I hail. Living simply, sustained by hospitality alone, I have learned the importance of having people in your life to count on. I found myself talking about my family time and time again with the group, only to continuously realize how lucky I am. After Republic, Washington, the running joke for the scramble for a place to sleep became known as “finding Bill.” We found Bill in so many towns. Bill was anyone who had a backyard, land, highway turn-around, anything. Sometimes Bill would find us. I’ve adopted this as a mantra, then, because that’s exactly what life is: “finding Bill.” Finding people who will support you and care about you without question or qualm; being lucky enough to experience such hospitality and generosity; and then being smart enough to appreciate it, and pass it on to someone else.
Illustration by Elliot Matson