Archive for February, 2008

Climbing Into A Wet Gritty Sleeping Bag–I Hated That

February 23, 2008

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East Side Of the Costal Mountains, British Columbia

July 4, ‘80

Hi there journal. Looks like were struggling again. What a roller coaster ride we’ve been on lately. But wait a minute; this is way too happy a mood. Lets try this again.

After the weather turned bad—I could barley see the coastline from inside the ferry—I figured I might have to spend time in Prince Rupert, at least until things got better. It was pouring when I arrived, and at the boat dock, I didn’t find much encouragement. The hired help told me I had to get used to it, the rain that is. Apparently, Prince Rupert and rain were synonymous. They also told me that if I could have arrived yesterday I would have enjoyed the last of the longest drought on record–thirty-one days of sunshine. The forecast was rain, rain, and more rain. The optimist of the group, however, said, “It might get better once you get away from the coastal mountains, but doing that without getting wet wouldn’t be easy.” I hung around for a couple hours, and then I hopped on my bike and headed out; my new direction–east.

It was the worst rain I had ever bicycled through, four straight hours of it. When it finally quit, the sky remained dark and cloudy. The scenery was fantastic, though, at least what I could see of it. The mountains were much bigger then I expected and the river that cut through them was, at times, as big as a lake. Stop! I can’t do justice to the scenery. The ninety miles from Prince Rupert to Terrace had some great scenery, but I was (and am) too wet and miserable to do it justice. Lets just say that if the weather would have been good, I’m sure I would have experienced one of those incredibly rare highs.

After a wet night in the wilderness, sleeping on very rocky ground, I got up and biked into Terrace. I went straight to the Laundromat. Walking to the Laundromat, I must have looked like a drowned rat, which made it all that much more surprising when this guy started asking me questions. As it turned out he was part of a late night television talk show program that was looking for people to interview. He told me someone would be around to talk to me, and sure enough the woman who was the host of the show stopped by the Laundromat and asked me if I would tape an interview. I agreed, and after I finished doing laundry, I walked into the building next door, and entered the studio where Marge, the talk show host, had everything set up for tapping.

It wasn’t Johnny Carson, but even so, she asked the questions and I answered them. Questions like: “Where are you from? Where are you going? How many miles a day do you ride?” Afterwards, when I thought about the way I responded to her questions, I was not happy. Curious people asked me those types of questions all the time, and I would respond with habitual answers. Well, upon reflection, some of Marge’s questions required more than habitual responses, but that’s what I gave. She deserved better. If I had had more time to think about it, she would have got more than superficial responses to her honest questions. It was still fun, though.

The biking got better after Terrace. For a couple of hours the sun even came out, but then the sky got really dark around 8 p.m., so I automatically started looking for a place for my tent. When I was checking out what looked like a good spot, a black bear came running at me from out of the thicket. Fortunately, when the bear actually saw me, he turned and went in the opposite direction. I wanted to get back on my bike and ride, but the rain had already started to fall. I had no choice. I put up my tent just before the downpour.

The rain did not stop. I spent the entire next day bicycling in the kind of rain that if you were walking without a raincoat, you would be soaked in five minutes. That was a long day, and an even longer night because I had to climb into a tent and a sleeping bag that never had time to dry out from the wet night before. I hated that; I mean sleeping in gritty, wet conditions with no reprieve to look forward too. It’s a terrible experience. And, to make it even worse, the following morning I awoke to find a thorn in my bicycle tire. By the time I fixed the tire, packed up my wet gear, and headed out, I was totally depressed, not to mention cold and feeling sick.

It was another day-bike in the rain, which made it hard to make distance, and be anything but miserable. Around 7 p.m. the rain was coming down so hard I couldn’t even stop to put up my tent. In that kind of downpour everything would be soaked before I could get my gear off my bike. So I just kept slowly moving forward, hoping beyond hope that I would find shelter. I had managed to break free from the mountains, and every once in a while I passed what looked like farmland, so I kept my eyes pealed for a shed, barn, or broken foundation where I could rig a makeshift roof. Daylight was running out when I spied an old barn sitting quite a ways off the highway. There were no roads to it.

Very carefully I climbed over the barbed wire fence that was between the barn and me. Then I lifted my bike (around 75 lbs.) over the fence and carried it. I didn’t want to wake up with another punctured tire. After trudging through a field of knee high grass, I walked the last fifty yards across ankle deep mushy cow dung. When I arrived at the barn soaked from the waist down, I found so much water falling through the roof that I had to put up my tent anyway–inside the
barn. I actually had a hard time determining the driest spot to erect my tent. Finally, after shedding my wet pants and crawling into my tent, I realized that I hadn’t noticed the roosting pigeons in the barn’s rafters. Lying in my damp (almost wet) sleeping bag, and listening to a mixture of raindrops and pigeon shit slap the outside of my tent, I had finally arrived at day’s end, and, as such, I vowed I would never spend another night in the rain.

I’m sick of being in, riding in, and feeling rain in my face. Right now I’m going to take off this wet jacket and crawl further down into my warm sleeping bag (yes, goose down is still warm when wet) and block out from my mind this whole mind-numbing experience. And don’t give me that crap about “been there done that” because I’m wet and miserable right now. Goodnight!

July 5

Well, here I am, in a dry room, wet, and waiting for the train departure that will take me across B.C. to Jasper, Alberta, some 490 miles. In Jasper I will get off the train and bicycle down the Canadian Rockies to Banff, 300 miles south. I’m looking forward to that ride, but even more, I’m looking forward to leaving this rain behind.

When I packed up my gear, and left the falling down barn, I walked out into a heavy drizzle. I carried my bike back across the cow dung and through the tall, wet, grass. Soaking wet, and back on the highway, I had already made up my mind to check out a train ride as soon as possible. Three days of wet wilderness biking had taken everything out of me. After arriving in Smithers, the first question I asked was “What’s the weather report?” The ticket guy responded, “More of the same.” But then he added, “You should have been here three days ago. It was absolutely gorgeous.”

I spent the rest of the morning, after buying my ticket, cleaning my bike and getting groceries. Arrival time in Jasper was 5:30 a.m. Even though the train was running an hour late already, it would still get into Jasper before the stores opened in the morning, and I didn’t want to wait around to buy supplies. I found shipping my bike easy. Whereas back in Ottawa I had to “package my bike,” out here I just put a name tag on the handlebar. The baggage guy lifted it fully loaded into the boxcar and that was that. Everything was looking good except the weather. If it stayed that way, the shear beauty of the parks would have to become my sunshine.


Forecast Rain

February 16, 2008
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The forecast is rain. You can smell it first, after that you just deal with it. See blog below and next week’s blog.

An Indescribable High–A Bubbling Over High-A Nimpkish Valley Bicycling High

February 15, 2008
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Soaked By Morning Rain, I Vowed To Get An End Of The Day Hotel Room

Vancouver Island, B.C.

June 27, ‘80

Alive in mystery, I swoon once again

to the powerful rhythms

of churning greens,

dancing yellows,

and whitewater wisps.

I move in your presence and light.

Alive in mystery,

in warm and powerful rhythms,

in churning greens,

dancing yellows,

and whitewater wisps,

this moment

moves in beauty and light.

In your powerful rhythms,

shadows, light, churning greens,

dancing yellows, and whitewater wisps,

my heart is filled to overflowing.

In churning greens,

dancing yellows,

and whitewater wisps,

this poem needs a life.

Okay, so what’s new! This poem isn’t going to get written right now. It took two and half hours just to get this far, and it certainly isn’t the fault of my surroundings. I’m sitting on a rock overlooking the larger falls in Little Qualicum Park. I really love this place. I took a day off just to bicycle here. Twenty-five miles out of my way, and all I’ve got is this unfinished poem to show for it. In a very short time I will be heading back to spend $5.50 for a place to camp and a shower. As I take a deep breath and look around, though, I guess I’m pretty happy to be here.

It was a two-hour ferry ride over to Victoria and fortunately the rain let up some on the way over. Early evening, however, to avoid getting wet, I set up camp in the woods just off the highway. A park ranger spied my tent through the trees and paid me a visit. I was already sleeping. I offered to pay money, but that wasn’t acceptable. He told me the campground was three miles down the road, and I could camp there. “Swell,” I thought, “just what I needed— tear down my tent, ride three miles in the dark, re-erect a slimy, dirty, tent, and for what—just to give bragging rights to an inflated ego.” As I was rolling up my sleeping bag, the guy came back and offered me a ride to the campground. I declined his invitation. When he drove away, I found another spot to camp. That time it was off the highway, hidden by a very wet, black, sky.

Having survived the night, but not very well, I tried not to think about Ranger Right. Biking in the morning rain, I vowed to get a hotel room at the end of the day. In Nanimo, some forty miles down the road, I looked for a room, but it was tourist season, and they were all full. By the time I reached Parksville, another twenty miles, my wet clothes had pretty much dried out. Upon entering a hotel, I went straight to the bar. The sun had tried, but failed to poke its head out of the clouds, but by the time I had finished my third beer, I had pretty much forgot what the old boy looked like. Outside, I decided to push on. Not far from Parksville, I found a spot for my tent and was able to let it dry out before I called it a night.

June 28

Just to tie up some loose ends: I wanted to go to Qualicum because I couldn’t pass it up. I remembered it to be just too beautiful, even upon repeated visits. Besides, I was feeling pretty spiritual, and I wanted a place to meditate. Under cloudy skies, I did find that special place. It was on a rock overlooking the step-down stream. The meditation experience was not that intense, however. Reaching those peaks of calm, especially when you’ve let your meditation practice slip, was never easy. Even though I was only partially “there,” I still managed to get a sense of the mystical, and I imagine the sight, sounds and smells of the rushing waters of Qualicum had a lot to do with it.

The ride back to Parksville was an enjoyable one. The rain had stopped. The camping experience, on the other hand, wasn’t so enjoyable. I paid $5.50 to pitch my tent, and then I found out campfires were not allowed. And, when I went to take a shower, I had to pay another fifty cents. The water wasn’t even hot. I was pissed.

Ferry Ride 330 Miles Up The Coast Of British Columbia

July 1, ‘80

Not too shabby; I’m sitting in the lounge, drinking a Labatt’s Blue, enjoying the view of the offshore islands. I’m on a ferry heading up to Prince Rupert. Through the windows across the lounge, British Columbia’s snow capped mountains are shinning in the sunshine. Most of the trip up to Prince Rupert, 330 miles, will be along this intercostal waterway—a route that twists in-between islands and coastal mountains—spectacular. Even getting here was sp

After Parksville, the ride to Campbell River was wet. In fact, I didn’t even make it to Campbell River. I got caught in a rainstorm just before I reached there. I went into a little store to escape the rain, and ended up standing on the store’s porch. I noticed the garage behind the store, so after I checked it out, I decided to put my tent up behind it. I suppose the deer and mountain goats new I was there, but I was totally out of sight of humans.

On Sunday, I bicycled into Campbell River and found that I had arrived on the last day of the Salmon festival. After thirty minutes of watching a bunch of fly fisherman fish the Campbell River from the bridge overlooking the river, I biked into town. It was a small town—all towns north of Nanimo were small, only this one was laid out so that the line of sight down Main Street pointed straight at a huge glacier. As the crow flies, the glacier was hanging atop the mountain at the end of the street–absolutely beautiful. After I watched the parade, I was ready to head out. I hadn’t gotten very far before I realized that I had lost the screw that secured the wrack that held my sleeping bag and bike panniers—my luggage—to the bike. I couldn’t trek into the wilderness that way, so I turned around and headed back into town.

It was Sunday and unless I could come up with the right screw I wasn’t going anywhere. At the last chance gas station–the hardware places were all closed and I had already covered the other gas stations–I came up empty. As I sat down on the sidewalk, an old guy asked me if I wanted to look in his toolbox. I didn’t expect to find anything in his fifty-year-old toolbox, but I looked anyway. There were a few rusty screws on the bottom, but nothing that came close to the metric screw I needed. In a word, I was screwed. (I had to say that because all day long everybody else did). Just as I was about to walk away, the old guy said here try this one, as he picked a screw up from out of his toolbox. It fit. It was magic. I was amazed.

It took five hours, but I was finally on the highway, pedaling north. Originally my destination was Kelsey Bay, sixty miles up island, but in Campbell River I found out that the ferry didn’t dock there anymore. It docked at the tip of the island, another 150 miles north. After they paved the gravel road to Port Hardy, the ferry’s home base moved there. That was both surprising and discouraging news. When, however, I found out the ferry didn’t leave until Tuesday, I felt a little better. That gave me just enough time to reach there.

I mentally prepared for the long ride ahead. A couple of hours later, I realized it was going to be a very long ride indeed. The people, towns, and even the traffic all but disappeared. When I finally reached Kelsey Bay, I found a solitary sign pointing in a different direction. It read Kelsey Bay 3 kilometers. I expected a gas station or a store where I could get a pop and chips, but that didn’t happen. I was on a tight schedule, so I unhappily pushed on. At least it wasn’t raining.

Around 8 p.m., a motorcyclist passed me heading south. He turned around and came back for a visit. He parked his bike in the middle of the highway, as we shared stories. He was pissed because it rained every day on his ten-day vacation. The only day it didn’t rain on him was today, and he was headed home. I told him I empathized. After we got through the introductions, the guy asked me if I could roll a joint. “Absolutely,” I said; so when he handed me his stash that he pulled from the bottom of his saddlebags, I rolled a big, fat, number. After a few hits off the weed, and standing in the middle of nowhere, the smiles started to pour forth from both of us, the ones that had been long suppressed. A bird even started singing, and my muscles stopped aching. After the last hit was gone, my friend went south and I trucked on north. We were both in a much better mood, and I was, luckily, bicycling in extremely beautiful country.

The next day, when I began my bicycling through the Nimpkish Valley, I found myself center stage in a beautiful dream. In the pristine wilderness of Vancouver Island’s peopleless north country, the songbirds offered up a delightful chorus, as the sun beamed hot on my bare back. With cascading mountain streams greeting me every few miles, and no traffic to break the spell, the bicycling was absolutely fantastic. Above me eagles soured. I even saw a circling vulture or two. On four different occasions I passed grazing deer. I hadn’t experienced that much beauty since that time in Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains when I coasted down into Ten Sleep Canyon. On that occasion, I experienced one of those “highs” that can’t be described–a bubbling over high. Bicycling the Nimpkish Valley was that kind of “high.”

In Port McNeill, around 8 p.m., I passed a friendly looking pub and went inside. On the backside of the pub, just outside the window where I was sitting, was a beautiful stream. At the bar, two guys were talking to the bartender. The conversation ranged from fishing, to fishing, to more fishing. Bad fishing meant small paychecks, and based on what I was hearing, times were tough. Too bad those fellows couldn’t appreciate what I was appreciating—great beer and a great view–whip cream on a great day.

That night I pitched my tent along the highway. I arrived in Port Hardy the next morning around 9 a.m. I bought my ferry ticket, some groceries, took a shower at a campground, and cleaned my bike, all before boarding the ferry. Riding the ferry up the pacific coast to Prince Rupert, I still hadn’t come down off my Nimpkish Valley “high.” Too bad life couldn’t always be this sweet!

1980 Bicycle Trip–Olympic Rain Forest Peninsula

February 9, 2008
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Picture: Eddy, back when we were living on the beach in Hawaii, the one sitting at the picnic table.

When I Look Up I Don’t See Ocean Surf Nor Beautiful Sky-I See Four Inch Leeches

June 19, ‘80

Last night I took a long walk down the beach and played my horn. It felt as if the ocean was playing me as the music effortlessly poured forth. Walking back to my tent, it felt like I was seeing the ocean for the first time. I had not had that feeling in a very long time. After coffee in the morning, I took my body to the showers. I was just a bit apprehensive, though, I was afraid that after the dirt fell off there wouldn’t be anything left. After that I was off to the Laundromat and grocery store. Bananas were ten cents a pound; I bought twenty-two. I’m eating one right now. Tonight I think I might walk to the tavern. That sounds like a good plan.

June 24

Tomorrow morning I will board the ferry for British Columbia. For the past couple of days I’ve been hanging out in the Olympic rainforest. I’ve been in Washington for quite awhile. Say goodbye to the sun Dave. Goodbye sun. I haven’t seen much sun lately, just a slice at a time. There she goes, in between the clouds first, and then behind them. She’s gone!

I sure appreciated my Oregon stay. That memory is especially compelling right now since when I look up I don’t see ocean surf nor a beautiful sky, I see a leech slowly moving across the outside of my nylon tent. Did I mention that I’m in a rain forest? On my last evening camping on the beach, after the two beers I had at the tavern, I went for another long walk, and again my senses filled to overflowing with the smells, feel, and sounds of the ocean surf. The shine of the half moon full on the water was absolutely beautiful. Those two days spent walking the beach were the best part of this trip and could easily be the highlight of the entire trip.

After Oregon, I booked. I wanted to arrive at Eddy’s place, in the capital city of Olympia, by Friday. Eddy was expecting me. We had lived together on the beaches of Hawaii and I was really looking forward to seeing him again. It had been seven years since our last goodbye. The most notable event on my way to Eddy’s’ was crossing the Astoria Bridge. The wind on the big bridge made for some exciting biking. On the other side was Washington–lots of logging trucks, honking horns, people screaming at me, the apple core that just missed my head, and of course, the rain. Actually, Washington’s personality hadn’t changed much from the way I remembered it when I hitchhiked through there twelve years ago. There were no special rates for bikers at the Washington campgrounds, so I’ve been pitching my tent in the fields and woods.

After I left Eddy’s, and headed up into the Olympic peninsula, the biking got better. The weather got worse. I’m about fifty yards off the highway right now and last night I pretty much camped in a swamp. I woke up to a drenched tent with three four-inch leeches crawling over it. Hopefully, I won’t experience that tomorrow morning, but its possible because there’s a 100% chance of rain tonight—every night. In fact its rained everyday since I hit Washington, and up here on the Olympic peninsula it rains harder and longer. I wonder why Dr. Gill, my old philosophy professor never mentioned all this rain when he talked about his “magic spot” up on the Olympic peninsula. Oh, excuse me; I guess if it was magic that meant no rain.

Now to fill in the weekend; I saved that for last, but its getting dark and I’d like to have something to write about on the ferry on my way over to B. C., so I think I’ll wait until tomorrow to tell the Eddy Buss’s story.

The Absolute Worst Thing About A Painful Relationship Is That You Can Never Walk Away

Olympia, Washington

June 25, ‘80

Well here I am again, cold and wet, waiting to board a F
erry. The more things change the more they stay the same. This is a repeat of the Maine-Nova Scotia extravaganza of a couple years back. Last night it poured. My tent held. It’s a good tent! This morning the rain lifted long enough to pack up my leech-laden tent (they just love wet nylon), and after an hour or so of peddling through sporadic showers, I arrived in Port Angles. Following breakfast, and a trip to the currency exchange place to buy Canadian money (even after I bought my ferry tickets, I still had fifty dollars more than before the exchange), here I am, not wet to the bone, but still wet. It’s pouring outside.

Except for the obvious dirt and wetness, my bike seems to be holding up pretty well. I stopped at a bike shop and had it checked over. It received a clean bill of health and except for the weather we’re both ready for our long trip across Canada.

I phoned Eddy from seventy miles out of Olympia to make sure he was going to be home for the weekend. He didn’t sound very excited to hear from me, so I mentally prepared for the worst. By the time I arrived I was prepared for anything, everything except for what I found. Eddy hadn’t changed one iota. It was hard to believe, but true. He had always acted kind of stoically, so that explained his blasé attitude on the phone, however, once in his presence it was as if the seven years that separated us had never existed. He was the very same person I knew back in Hawaii. We went to Eddy’s favorite tavern and met Richard. And Richard, his buddy, hadn’t changed either. The three of us sat at the empty bar, telling the same old stories and drinking quarts of beer just like we used to back in Hawaii. For me, it was a mind-boggling experience, but a pleasant one.

It was not my idea to dwell on the past. In fact, I was really interested in Eddy’s present state of mind. Who was he now? What had he become? But, that was just wishful thinking because Eddy was a walking encyclopedia of facts and events that occurred when we were together. For almost two days I listened to him ramble on about the “good times back on the islands.” Eddy had been back to Hawaii twice since ’74, so he had lots of stories, but that made it even more amazing that he could still remember all the stuff that we did together. I was in awe of the way Eddy carried his past around with him (literally too, physically he hadn’t changed much). But there was one thing that was missing from all the reminiscing. The spark that was so much a part of Eddy’s personality back in Hawaii had disappeared. His idealism, his excitement over being alive, his desire to expand his mind–which back then meant physically carrying around a huge volume Shakespeare’s completed works–all that zest for life seemed gone from his personality. Eddy said it best himself when in response to an argument he was having with his wife, he told her, “What do you expect; I’m a realist.”

When I heard him say that I couldn’t help but smile because realism was the very thing that prompted me to move back to CMU from South Dakota. CMU was the only place that I could realistically practice my idealism. Eddy still lived for his next beer, his next joint, his next whatever–but never for the next moment. The bubbling joy that was so apparent in his eyes and speech back when I knew him in Hawaii had all but disappeared. That special spark was gone. And, as I was soon to find out, it did not leave voluntarily. Eddy’s wife, Kathleen, told me that his health was not good. According to her, they had spent over $4000. in the past year on Eddy’s health. That side of him became more apparent when on the last night, after an argument with his wife, Kathleen handed him four Valium, which he downed with a gulp of the beer that he was holding in his hand. It’s pretty hard to keep the light burning bright when you’re always wearing dark glasses.

I guess I am doubly moved by Eddy’s situation because it was all too familiar to me. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. Kathleen and Eddy were not getting along. They were in one argument after another, and it never let up the whole time I was there. I wanted to leave as soon as I arrived, but I couldn’t. Both of my knees were hurting, so I had to stay. Fortunately, their arguments weren’t over me. Most of it was about money. Eddy’s unemployment benefits had just run out. Being there, for me, was like reliving old memories, memories I’ve tried hard to forget.

Eddy and Kathleen both were angry because they felt cheated. They felt they were putting more into their relationship than they were getting out of it and that made for a lot of anger. That was “ditto” for me in my past relationship with C.S. Watching Eddy and Kathleen fight was bringing back all those bad memories, except after my experience with C.S, I learned not to be so judgmental. Going into my next relationship, the one I had with Carin, I knew that keeping a relationship healthy required lots of give and take energy. In the end, that relationship didn’t work either, but not because of wasted energy, not because of arguments and bickering. I said goodbye to Carin with a smile on my face. Negative energy will doom a relationship. The absolute worst thing about a relationship saturated in negative energy is that it scars. You never walk away from it!

While One Eye Watered Out Ash The Other Kept Me On Course–Mt. St. Helens

February 2, 2008

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Nehalem State Park

June 18, ‘80

In the morning, waking to the effects of a few too many ‘lemonades,” I crawled out of my tent to find what appeared to be snow on the ground. It didn’t take long to find out that it was really ash from Mt. St. Helens erupting for a second time. Mt. St. Helens first eruption, the big one, took place a month ago. The waitress who handed me my coffee said, “The guy on the radio called this one a ‘belch.’ “That must have been some belch,” I said because the mountain was better than eighty miles away. The townsfolk in Lincoln City appeared to have gotten over the shock of the erupting volcano because they were making jokes about the new eruption. The waitress admitted that the ash was a nuisance, but she also said, “It’s a great novelty idem. Why don’t you send some to your friends back home?” She even pointed out the gift shop across the street that sold little bags of the stuff, plastic bags with a seal authenticating the ash as Mt. St. Helen’s. Before I left town I did just that. I sent the ash to Mike and Val, my old roommates, and to the three custodians that I worked with back at CMU. That task accomplished, I got on my bike and headed north.

It wasn’t bad at first. The already overcast sky made it hard to see the ash floating down. After I stopped at MacDonald’s and had a ninety-nine cent breakfast, things got worse. I found myself biking directly into a head wind, and on my bike radio the weatherman predicted 35-45 mile per hour winds by late afternoon. I don’t think I experienced anything worse than 25-30 mile per hour winds—what a break! Anyway, when the winds started to blow, the bright white sky grew darker. The clouds were not darkening the sky the ash was. I was actually leaving bicycle tire tracks behind me. As it grew worse, the green from the trees even disappeared. And then it became difficult to see period. What I took to be low hanging clouds turned out to be concentrated ash falling to earth. Every once in a while a round-silhouetted sun could be seen barely. It was an erry sight, weird and erry. I hope I never see the sun look like that again.

Every time a truck passed, a cloud of ash kicked up in my face. Everything became invisible for five seconds. When two trucks passed me, it turned into a horrifying experience. I had my bandana wrapped around my mouth, but I was still eating ash. In fact, the ash was plugging up my nostrils. I was blinking my eyes continually to protect what little vision I had. For the most part, I was running on one eye vision. While one eye watered out the ash, the other eye kept me on course. When the good eye plugged up with ash, I would open the teary eye. Thank god for tear ducts. It got to a point where all I could do was look straight down at the shoulder of the road. I was eating, breathing, and blinking my way through the ash, trying to stay on course, and, I might add, I was not happy about it.

The radio weatherman issued a warning—“stay in doors. If you must go outside, wear a carpenter’s mask.” I wasn’t too shocked by that news, but, the more I thought about it, the more disturbed I got. I did not know if the ash was harming me or not; after all, I had never met a person who had survived an erupting volcano before. The first little town I came to, I went looking for a mask. They were all sold out. When I passed some road crew guys on the highway, I stopped and asked if I could get an extra mask from them, but no luck there, either. “Tillamook,” the guy said, “Tillamook will have what you need. It’s a big town.” “Yeah,” I thought, “it’s a big town, but it’s down the road fifteen miles. By the time I reach there, I will have pillows for lungs.” It was time to dig deep, and reach for my secrete weapon. Loudon Wainwright lll was singing in my head the words that he had sung on my stereo many times before, “My father, he thinks I am a good for nothing–and that I won’t amount to much. But he’s not aware of my secret weapon. I can count on myself in the clutch.” I put my head down and for the next fifteen miles pushed through the wind and ash.

It was 3:30 p.m. when I reached Tillamook, and found a paint store with a face mask, and after that I found a Safeway store. Sitting on the sidewalk, under a protective overhang, eating a piece of pita bread with its crust smeared in peanut butter and jelly, I tried, but failed, to keep the falling ash out of the gooey concoction. There, beside me, on the sidewalk next to where I was sitting, was an ash coated bubble bee. It was slowly crawling toward me, struggling under the weight of an ash caked body. If the bubble bee could make it across the sidewalk and up against the wall it might survive. As I ate my ashen sandwich and reflected on the plight of the bee, I tried to imagine what it must have been like at Mt. Vesuvius where thousands died, and the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried. All of a sudden volcanoes seemed a lot less romantic to me, if that’s the right expression. When I got up to leave it was extremely quiet and gray ash was everywhere. Except for a few scurrying humans that were heading home and the one dead bumblebee that lay at my feet, there were no signs of life anywhere–no birds, no insects, just me and the gray falling ash. It was only a month ago that Mt. St. Helens exploded, killing 77 people and smothering the surrounding wildlife, forests, and even a river. I couldn’t explain why, but, standing there, I felt glad to be alive.

When I left Tillamook, it was still tough pedaling. Before I left town, I bought a pair of swim goggles. Biking down the highway, decked out in my Mt. St. Helen’s survival gear, I felt like a frog on a bicycle. I didn’t care
, I felt safe. Looking out on a dead or dying world, however, did provoke some more unpleasant thoughts concerning manmade pollution. It would be so stupid to bring this kind of pollution down upon oneself, but nothing is impossible for mankind. Twenty miles later, when I finally took off my protective gear and took in a deep breath of fresh air, I was so thankful, I even thanked the Lord.

When the sun finally poked its head through the clouds I began to see the full character of the northern Oregon coastline. It was homey and quaint. I felt so good I even stopped and drank three drafts at a tavern. I was having such a good time bicycling I didn’t even want to look for a campsite, but common sense got the better of me, and when I arrived at Nehalem State Park, I decided to call it a day. A mile and a half off the highway and close to the ocean, I set up my tent in the hiker-biker section of the park, and much to my delight found myself alone on the beach (and still am). I was only forty miles from where I would head east at the Washington boarder. The place was so nice I decided to stay on for another day.