Less Cycling, Less Blogging

I’ve been back in Panama for a while now, but I continue to reflect on my bike trip and think about the future. I would like to do more traveling but I think I’ve learned that shorter trips probably suit me better, maybe 2-3 weeks. I would like to see more of Central America next but there are no details in my mind yet about exactly where, how I would get to my starting point, or all those other arrangements and details.

I haven’t been cycling much since I’ve been back, and then just to go around town and do errands. When I’m not preparing for something, I’m not nearly as motivated but I still miss my bike if I’m not on it for a while.

I remember taking this picture of my bike computer shortly before I left because it had passed 6000 miles.

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I noticed a couple days ago that the computer has a few more miles on it now.

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That’s a gain of 717 miles, and very little of that has been since I returned.

I will probably continue to write here from time to time, just some thoughts of the moment about biking and traveling because I think it will continue to be a big interest of mine as long as I’m able to pedal down the road. Any of you all are welcome to follow along, but I’m not going to make an effort to publicize or promote this blog. It’s still mostly for my own need to record my own journey.

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The Homeless Traveler

I’m back in Panama, reflecting on my bicycle tour, and sorting out thoughts that I’ve had for a while now. I knew I would see beautiful places, face physical challenges, and be alone but I never expected to feel such loneliness. I’ve been alone on the road in Costa Rica and Nicaragua and felt fine, so why was it so different in the US?

We know that vast majority of people in the US are good people – kind, helpful, and respectful. But I was ignored even when I was requesting help. Have things changed in the US, or have my perceptions changed? Or, is it people’s perceptions of me? If I sat outside a store drinking coffee it was rare that someone would notice me, let alone return my greeting. If I was walking my bike no one asked if I was ok. I felt invisible, like I didn’t exist. When I mentioned this to a few people they said I probably looked like a homeless person. I don’t look like a typical bicycle tourist at my age and size, and my clothes and bike probably don’t look typical either.

I did approach many people and found a few willing to talk. The main things I heard were fear and drugs. As a tourist you see the beauty but you don’t know what is going on behind the scenes. I was surprised to hear of drugs, mostly meth, in the beautiful rural areas and touristy beach towns. You would think a gray haired lady on a bike is hardly threatening but everyone is looked at with suspicion. Even the people who talked with me were very hesitant at first.

I’m sad to see that this state of fear is so common in the US. It isolates, separates, and stresses people. Is it driven by reality? By the media? By what? When I lived in the US I knew people through work and other activities, but I remember it wasn’t common to interact with random strangers (though I don’t remember it being fear based, just the way things were). I was surprised and uneasy in Panama at first when people were so giving of their time and attention. It was so different and I couldn’t believe they didn’t expect anything in return. Now that I’ve become used to this culture, and then went traveling in the US where I didn’t know anyone, the contrast was astounding.

There are a lot of homeless people in the US and I saw them everywhere I went. Is this how they feel every day? No one wants to talk to them? No one wants them around? How sad. I had a choice. I could get off the street at any time. A homeless person usually has no choice. If it’s cold they still are in their tent, or if they are lucky in their car or RV (which no one wants parked in their neighborhood). How far are any of us from being in their shoes if our source of money dried up? How sad to be in such desperate circumstances and then be made to feel invisible as well. I know there are programs and people are trying to help but the problem obviously is far from solved. Of course there is poverty and people in desperate circumstances here in Panama as well, but there isn’t the social isolation which I think can be as damaging as the poverty.

I’m really glad I did my bike tour. I did see amazing places. I was happy I held up well enough physically. I didn’t like the cold, but as the days went by I got better at managing in spite of it. It was the loneliness that did me in. There are other places I want to see and I will probably set out again at some point, but not in the US. I am not happy with extended periods of solitude.

I am SO SO thankful! I am healthy, I have resources, I have family and people who care about me, and I am part of a community. It could easily be me living in a tent under a bridge where no one wants to talk to me. Of course I have done things to help myself but the vast majority of it is just circumstances, and somehow I got incredibly fortunate. Who would have thought it wasn’t the beauty, the challenges, the freedom, or any of the expected things that had the most impact on me, but it was the importance of community and connection.

 

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Wrapping Up the Tour

I had decided that I was probably done biking for the moment so the next few days were spent figuring out how to proceed. Again, times and places get muddled up in the life of no time or place so I will try to keep the details straight.

I could see on my maps that after Gold Beach, the first thing facing me was an 800 foot hill. Remembering the challenges of 600 foot hills, I started asking around for alternatives and learned there was a bus that left from the supermarket in town. The next day I packed up and headed in to find it. It turned out that this bus would only take me to Brookings, the next town, but it was past the hill and it was the place where I had already planned to land when I was biking.

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The hill was big and one of many so I was happy to be in a bus. The very kind bus driver also dropped me right at the Harris Beach State Park $5 hiker/biker camp area. I met a nice lady at the bus stop who shared a ton of information about the buses and the area. If I got up early enough I could take the 6:15 bus to Smith River, then the 6:45 bus to Arcata. If I was really lucky and Greyhound didn’t require me to box my bike, I could even catch the 9:30 bus to Santa Rosa!

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Of course with every person there is a story. Gold Beach is a beautiful tourist town on the scenic Oregon coast with many restaurants, hotels, and cute shops. You would never think it hides drug problems. The lady was in the process of moving to Brookings because her RV park was overrun with drug people and according to her, the whole town was in trouble. This isn’t the first time in my travels I’d heard about drug problems, or met someone who was afraid to talk with me at first because of all the problems she had had in the area.

But, this subject could be a whole other post. This afternoon my objective was to set up camp at the park, and set my alarm for bright and early in the morning so I could continue my travels. When I came back from walking around and hanging out in the bathroom (electric outlets, you know!)  I found another biker at the next campsite. He was going from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. When he learned that I was planning to take the bus the next day, I could feel the respect drain out of him and he was done talking with me. Ok, whatever.

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It was a good feeling to think that this could possibly be my last night in the tent. I kind of like the tent, like my own little cocoon, but I was very tired of being cold all the time and the thought of a warm indoor space was very nice.

To be continued…..

 

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A Few Thoughts

I have many thoughts swirling around in my head from my travels, so I will try to write some down and share them in upcoming posts.

The biggest thought – I am almost overwhelmed by all the support and encouragement. I never thought I was doing anything that special or it would mean so much to other people. I am very surprised and honored. If it has encouraged any of you to live your dreams, that’s really wonderful. People think I’m brave, but I’m not. I just refuse to buy into the prevailing culture of fear. I’m much more afraid of sitting in my wheelchair later regretting the things I could have done but didn’t, so I am doing what I can now.

This was my longest tour and the farthest from home so I knew many things would be new and unfamiliar.

At home I do the same routes over and over. But on a tour, nothing gets repeated. That really hard part, that big hill, you don’t climb it again. That really beautiful area, you won’t see it again except in photos. I had so many new experiences I can’t begin to keep them all straight in my head. Thank goodness for photos and blog posts.

I’m happy to say that most drivers were very polite and gave me extra space when they could. I especially appreciate the driver in the tunnel who followed me with flashers to be sure I got through safely. A big thank you to all the considerate drivers. It was noticed and appreciated. RVs and campers though, I don’t think they realize how big they are. They almost never move over and it’s intimidating when they whoosh by so closely. Trucks pulling trailers were often as bad. It must be even worse in summer when there are a lot of cyclists on the road trying to share the road with a lot more RVs.

I had a few spells of flat and level biking, but the vast majority of the time was hilly. There were some big, challenging hills but even the usual terrain was rolling hills, constant up and down. When I got tired of climbing the big ones I’d remind myself that what goes up must come down eventually. What looks like the top can be deceiving though. There may be more climbing around the next curve or after a small descent, and even if it is the top it is still farther away than you think. I wish I had trained on more hills! The steep downhills weren’t much fun either. I don’t like zooming down knowing that something in the road or a blown tire could cause a big accident, and I thanked my bike mechanic on every descent for my good brakes. With hills comes beautiful scenery though, and I appreciated those rewards.

When someone says there is an alternate route that avoids a big hill, do not believe them. Maybe it is a lesser hill, but chances are there is still a major hill. I learned that from experience. What is rolling hills to some bikers means eventually pushing the bike to this biker.

It’s also interesting to see what priorities rose to the top on the road.

Water! I only carried two bottles of water in this chilly climate but I still got thirsty. When the first bottle was getting low I was looking for a refill before I had to get into the second bottle, thankfully always successfully.

Electricity! My iPad and phone are my lifelines to navigation and communication. I can manage without them but I don’t want to. My solar charger doesn’t work well if it’s cloudy or there are lots of trees, so I always had my eye out for sources of electricity. I have spent more than a few hours in park bathrooms because they have working outlets.

Somewhere to sleep! I could find a hidden spot in the woods but I’d much rather camp in a legal and safe place. This was a big challenge in WA where most parks were still closed for winter, but there were a lot more open campgrounds in OR. I also learned a lot about checking availability. Camping usually means RVs and many parks don’t accept tents. Funny, my biggest freaking out subject when planning the trip was not knowing where I would sleep, and this indeed turned out to be the biggest challenge.

Wifi! I have a chip and data but I can go through it very fast if I’m not careful, so somewhere with wifi is always most welcome.

Then of course, food, but I wasn’t very hungry and towns always have places to shop. Laundry and dry clothes are almost a luxury, especially since I didn’t bring many clothes and I was usually wearing most of them to keep warm. Otherwise, barring emergencies or major bike breakdowns, you really don’t need much. It’s pretty cool to think you have everything you need to survive packed on your bike.

The bus people weighed my duffle bag with all my stuff – just under 40 pounds. No wonder my bike feels heavy. I could lighten that in a warm climate though.

I have run on enough for the moment. I still have some photos to share and other thoughts to write but of course now, that will have to come after enjoying my family and playing with the grandkids.

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Monday the 18th

I have started putting dates in the titles to help me stay more oriented. On the road it really doesn’t matter what day it is, what time it is, only that you get to a place to sleep before it gets too late in the day.

Yesterday I was still tired so I set my goal only 11 miles away, the place I would have gone to the day before if I had had the energy. This place advertised tent camping, wifi, convenience store, restaurant, and a tv room with a fireplace! As one who is always cold this sounded like heaven.

But, it’s too early in the season. They had camping, showers and laundry, oh and wifi, but no tv room with fireplace. The restaurant closed at 2pm and the one up the road was closed on Mondays. It’s probably just as well because you can go through piles of money eating at restaurants.

But, back to the day of riding. Short as it was (thankfully, because it seemed plenty long enough) there were interesting things along the way.

The route took me off 101 for a while through pine forests and then along beach front neighborhoods until it rejoined 101 just outside of Gold Beach. There was a large impressive bridge which I decided to walk, both for my own enjoyment and viewing pleasure, and to get me out of traffic since there was no shoulder at all.

I made it to my RV park and campground a short while later and got settled in.

I spent a relaxed afternoon showering, doing laundry, and hanging out in the laundry room where they had a table, chairs, and electric outlets. I should title one of these posts “will bike for wifi and electricity!”

As the afternoon got later though, suddenly the fog started rolling in and it was like someone threw a blanket of moisture over everything! I quickly retreated to my tent, bringing with me the few items that had been outside and were now quite damp.

By now, as all of you  know who read my last post, I had made the decision to get off the bike and look for other arrangements to get to my daughter’s home in CA. I asked around and found out there is a bus that would take me down the coast, so I peddled into town to the designated spot. It turns out this bus would only take me to Brookings which was my biking destination anyway. I could camp there though, and if I catch the early bus I could possibly make a lot of progress down the coast tomorrow depending on if I make good connections and if I have no trouble taking the bike on the buses. So, we shall see what tomorrow brings.

I sure was glad I bussed it today though. I knew I was facing a major hill, I think the highest I encountered yet and as the bus went along, I found out there were others as well. It would have been a very tough day! I had to wait a couple hours for the bus, but for $5 he took me, my bike, and another very nice lady I talked with all the way, and made a detour to drop me right at the park campground! How nice is that.

I will leave you all for the moment with another turkey photo. This morning there had to be at least a half dozen of them wandering around the RV  park and this one was puffing himself up and looking very much like a fancy turkey.

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I am not a solitary person

I set out on this bike trip having no idea how it would go and how I would feel. I have seen some beautiful and amazing places, and I have physically held up to the trip as well as I hoped.

Mentally though, not so much and this is not quite what I expected. I enjoy time alone. This is one thing I love about my daily bike rides at home, especially when I’m out in the countryside. But, in an hour or two I am back in town greeting friends, and then back at my house with my husband.

Being out by myself day after day, night after night is wearing on me and I am ready to go home. I have met a few people along the way but it’s a fleeting relationship and for me, no substitute for the friendships I have at home.

I shouldn’t be surprised. Most of my life I have worked with people. I gave up a good line of work because it was mostly solitary and I got tired of that.

I’m also very tired of being cold! Days are usually ok but every night it is a challenge to keep warm. I have a good sleeping bag and manage to keep warm enough to sleep but you can’t stick your hands out or they quickly get cold. I’ve even had to cover my face a lot of the time.

So, the amended plan is to make it to Crescent City by tomorrow night and try for a greyhound bus to Santa Rosa. If that doesn’t work because it’s only a bus stop and I have a bike, I’ll try in Eureka where there are bike shops to box my bike, and I think a bus station.

But, I don’t regret doing this. I don’t regret all I have seen and experienced, and all I have learned. I am also very thankful for my husband who has been so understanding of my need to do my own thing, including this thing. But, a good relationship is not something to be taken for granted and I will be very happy when we are together again.

So, that is how things stand at the moment. It sounds good to say I am biking back to Panama but I’m glad I never promised more than – we’ll see how it goes.

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Sunday, 17th, rolling along again

I woke up in the beautiful spot with the surf pounding, and figure I should walk over to the beach and check it out.

I took a couple videos but I can’t edit them into one on this iPad, so here they are as two. This is the pounding surf I heard all night, and still heard for a few miles down the road as I pedaled away.

I enjoyed the walk to the beach instead of rushing off. I wasn’t anxious to get back on the bike and at that point, I didn’t realize how tired I really was from the day before. But, I had an agenda so off I went.

Of course there were hills. There are always hills! But, with hills also come beautiful views.

The route then went through Humbug State Park, and I pedaled through beautiful pine forests and not too much climbing, at least for a while.

Again, the climbs that came later brought beautiful views.

It was beautiful, but a really difficult day. I was really tired from the day before and struggled to make my destination 33 miles away. There was no way I was going to try for the next possibility 11 miles farther down. When you spend more time watching the miles click by rather than looking at the area, that’s not good.

So, it was time to pull back a little and my destination for Monday was the place 11 miles away, and some downtime.

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