Oregon Trials

The Story of Two Men on Four Wheels

by Marc Auerbach

[This was originally written as a letter to my friends and family and is presented here in its original form]

At Apple we receive what is termed a sabbatical after each five years of employment. While it is not a holiday of tenured proportions, it is nonetheless six weeks of paid vacation in addition to one's normally accrued time. In the past, at any rate, hard working Apple employees might combine the two into as much as 12 weeks of free time. It is not unusual for these hard working souls to plan "journeys" far afield from their daily CRT-bound lives.

Jim Stoneham is one of those souls. He invited me for a portion of his sabbatical, the first week of a five week ride from Portland to the Mexican border. He found the ride in a book by a cycling enthusiast who was determined to recreate, as nearly as possible, the Pacific Crest Hiking Trail that runs from Vancouver, Canada to Mexico. Indeed, my friend Jim was originally talking of doing the whole ride, until I gracefully pointed out the folly of it saying, "what, are you nuts?"

The book consists of a series of two or three page descriptions of each days riding... for the author. Included for each day are two maps. One, a conventional route map; the other a profile of the ride showing the amount of elevation gain or loss. Many of these profiles resembled the printout from a Tanya Harding lie-detector test. Gains of 3000 feet in a day were not uncommon and several climbs were over 6000 feet. As if the vertical weren't enough the mileage averaged 60 per day with many "century" or 100 mile days.

Jim's assessment of his fitness for the ride came mostly from looking at the picture of the author of the front cover and remarking on the lanky and gaunt appearance. "If the guy on the cover could do it, well..."

There was an aggressive two month training regimen planned, which in the end deteriorated into one round trip to a nearby store. Jim had also purchased the required hardware to mount panniers (essentially saddlebags) to both the front and rear of his bike. A lover of toys and neat, small, cool things in general, he had also used this opportunity to purchase some new stuff. However, it was only one week prior to leaving that he loaded all his new stuff into his new panniers and then tried to lift his bike. A bit on the heavy side. The books advise riding the loaded bike up some nearby hills to get the feel for the weight. Jim had no time for that, he was heading out to Hawaii for a week long bask prior to his long two-wheeled trek.

Now I don't want to paint the picture of Mr. Stoneham as some sort of voluptuary. This he is not. I've biked with him several times both on and off road and his thirtyish, six-foot frame has propelled him right along. Jim is, however, fastidious about many things. He likes to make informed choices and smart decisions about the food he eats and things he buys. He is eager to tell you the difference one sort of food is supposed to have on one's athletic performance, or the bicycle component that provides a specific function at the lightest weight. It was the contrast of this meticulousness and the 20 pounds too heavy, under trained, coughing cyclist with this 100 pound bicycle that was to be the source of humor for the six days of our ride.

Of course, we were late getting started on our drive up to Portland because Jim had, as usual, unrealistically tried to squeeze in his daughter's birthday party the day we were to head north. At 5:00pm on a Saturday we left San Jose stopping after midnight near the Oregon border in a Motel 6 before proceeding on to Portland the next day.

On our first day riding we were to be accompanied to the outskirts of town by a university friend of Jim's, who is himself an excellent cyclist. That was until the previous Monday when he'd been hit by a car while biking, resulting in a brain injury that had left him dizzy. We visited him in the hospital. He looked fine and was quite coherent, but it would take some time for him to regain his sense of balance.

Oddly, we did not perceive this as some dire omen, which it wasn't.

It is easy to summarize our biking experience over the ensuing week. It was like spending eight hours a day, on a LifeCycle, in a shower, with no hot water. Every day it either rained or threatened to rain. The first day we biked out of Portland intercepting Mt. Hood national park well south of the park's namesake. Shortly after we entered the park we noticed a sign warning, "next gas 75 miles." I had been concerned about the food situation, but as the passenger on this trip, I had left my stomach's fate to Jim. It turned out that he was relying on roadside food stops to get us through and wasn't packing any camping food or a portable stove.

Thirty miles later it was getting on towards 4 o'clock, and it was clear we were going to camp with not much of a dinner and 45 miles to breakfast. As luck, if you can call it that, would have it, we passed a park ranger station just as they were locking up. We asked about food and they said, "remember crossing the Job Corp 'bout a mile back. Well they serve dinner there every night for $2.00." Our decision was made and back we went.

Now who is it that works at Job Corp during the summer? I didn't know the answer until we pulled up to the dining hall and a small swarm of Generation-X looking youths approached us, eyeing our expensive bikes the way cats ponder the logistics of a caged canary. These were mostly young men and a few young women who had traded jail time for work in the forest. Jim and I called them Boyz in the Wood

.

There was the smooth skinned talker from Los Gatos, a San Jose suburb. We didn't know his story, but it was easy to make the connection between a rich neighborhood and a screwed up kid. His friend, the acne faced smoker, confessed of being to jail three times, once for robbery.

For all these kids, we had a common bond...our bicycles. In my day it might of been stereos, cars, or athletic equipment. For these urchins it was bike parts. "What kind of spokes you like?" and "is that an '93 Specialized?" were the questions that peppered us. It was Marlin Perkins meets the Maori. I was even able to dispense some sage advice to one kid who asked, "do you always where a helmet?" I related the story of our hospital bound buddy whose brains were only bruised and not splattered over some guys windshield because of a helmet. "You should wear a helmet and all your victims should too," I felt like saying.

We ate nervously as a staff member watched our equipment.

Five miles further down the road we camped in a National Forest Service campsite alongside the Clakamas river, which we were following. As a Monday two weeks prior to Memorial Day, it had been quiet on the road and the campsites were empty. In fact, it would be the beauty of the campground sites that would prove the most memorable scenes.

As Jim erected the tent for the first time it became apparent he wasn't kidding when he had described it as ample. I was later to dub it the Stoneham Planetarium based on the view of its luminescent hemispherical ceiling as I lay on my back just before sundown. Jim had purchased the tent of his dreams. In his usual manner he had found the right balance between affordability and a the quality of a North Face brand tent. He had always wanted a four person tent for two, so he wouldn't hit his head on the roof. Mind you the roof is pretty soft. We had room for all our gear and we even could have parked our bikes indoors if we'd cared to. The problem was weight. At 8 pounds it's an incredibly light and, when stowed, compact structure for four. But for two and eventually one intrepid traveler to carry up mountains, well it all adds up.

As Jim erected the tent for the first time it became apparent he wasn't kidding when he had described it as ample. I was later to dub it the Stoneham Planetarium based on the view of its luminescent hemispherical ceiling as I lay on my back just before sundown. Jim had purchased the tent of his dreams. In his usual manner he had found the right balance between affordability and a the quality of a North Face brand tent. He had always wanted a four person tent for two, so he wouldn't hit his head on the roof. Mind you the roof is pretty soft. We had room for all our gear and we even could have parked our bikes indoors if we'd cared to. The problem was weight. At 8 pounds it's an incredibly light and, when stowed, compact structure for four. But for two and eventually one intrepid traveler to carry up mountains, well it all adds up.

The second day was the first serious hill and the first real distance. About 2000 feet up, as I recall and a total of 65 miles on the day. We were living on PowerBars. A trademarked athletic food that looks like a not quite dried adobe brick, is about the size of a Nestle Crunch bar, and must be consumed with lots of water. It comes in a mylar package, is guaranteed chewable at any temperature and altitude, provides 350 calories of highly soluble energy, 100% of the RDA of nearly everything and costs $1.50 each. I had stashed 9 of them in my bag before leaving California and although they come in four flavors, I can only handle the one called Wild Berry, which bears as much resemblance to berries as bear scat.

We ate all nine of them on the 45 miles to breakfast which was more like lunch. Jim was getting the picture. On trips like this, you don't just eat whatever you want, you have to eat as much as you can. Burning between 4000 and 6000 calories per day is 2 to 3 times normal. Forget reading the label on the box, pour it in. More like stoking a locomotive than eating a sit down meal.

I had some experience at distance riding and was familiar with the altered state of mind you need to achieve to keep cranking out the miles hour after hour. If you make 10 miles/hr average saddle time you're doing well. So 60 miles is six hours of pedaling and probably eight hours on the road. Oregon made this more monotonous by being gray and threatening with few vistas and many signs of clear cutting shielded by a thin green line of remaining roadside trees.

The next day we headed for Bend. As we gained more elevation we started seeing snow capped peaks. Even when the sun broke briefly through, and us exerting millions of Joules of energy, it wasn't really warm. Bend is a small year-round resort town and we found a B&B to stay at. We passed on the $15 for two, bunk beds and went for the deluxe $37 setup. They had a locked basement for our bikes, a washer and dryer, hot tub, full breakfast and our first shower in 3 days. We had a great dinner that night. Food does taste better when it's well earned and needed.

By the next morning Jim was pretty sore. His Achilles tendons were bothering him even more than previous days and I don't think he was looking forward to the 3500 foot climb over Mt. Bachelor on a 75 mile total day. Did I mention in order to get to Mexico during the remainder of his sabbatical, Jim had very few rest days built-in? I coaxed him into trying the first hour, the time it takes me to warm up for a days ride. When we got an hour out, I suggested he adjust his seat and keep going. By the time he discovered adjusting the seat helped we were already well on our way out to Bachelor, albeit at a reduced pace.

 

It took nearly four hours to get close to the top of the 20 mile ascent. As we neared the cloud shrouded saddle at 6500 feet the weather became even more miserable, wind whipped and cold. When we were there, Bachelor with its 9500 foot peak had not officially closed for skiing, but the conditions were too much for skiers that day. We had hoped to stop at the lodge, get some hot chocolate and dry off before continuing on, but it was closed. At 6500 feet it was 34 F, wind in our face and raining with two feet of snow still standing by the side of the road.

We raced down the other side, traveling 20 miles in one hour before we couldn't see a trace of snow. We stopped, dragging our bikes into the woods, collecting deadfall and building a fire. While my torso was warm and my legs seldom get cold even in bike shorts in these conditions, my toes were frozen. I was wearing ventilated shoes and socks aptly named Coolmax designed to move moisture off of sweaty feet. They afford negative comfort when water soaked in near freezing conditions and a 20 mph wind chill.

Jim had made it over Bachelor without walking. He was getting stronger.

After thawing out we proceeded the 45 miles along slightly downhill roads to an extraordinarily placid and remote campsite on Davis Lake. Quite a good days work as the clouds parted briefly for sunset and we baked next to a kiln of a fire. In addition to one of the more secluded settings, the beaver placidly working in the outflow stream, Davis Lake stands in my book as the finest tasting well water I've ever known.

The next day we had to decide if we wanted to prepare to climb up to Crater Lake, a mountain top volcanic lake, by camping at its base that night. We were already forced to go around the normal back road route because it was still closed due to snow. As we biked south through more rain and cold, we could see the mountains to our right as they welcomed an endless flotilla of clouds.

The farther you get from your starting point the more interesting you become. As we neared the bottom of the state, the idea that we came all the way from far north Portland got more attention. One square jawed farmer, his eyes not visible under his black bulldozer cap with the yellow Cat logo, recalled, when we mentioned we might head up to Crater Lake, "Ya, I remember being there one jew–lie and there was two foot of fresh snow," he laughed causing the phlegm to percolate in his lungs.

On the basis of all this we baled out and decided to just keep going south. If the weather had been perfect, we would have made the climb, which is broken up into several easy sections, even though we would have been cold, even in the sun. But it will have to wait until Oregon warms up. Second week in August I think it is.

A long 75 mile day in the rain put us at our next stop. A neatly manicured state park with full hook-ups for trailers, including sewer, where we bought some firewood even L.A. fireman would have had trouble lighting. The next day we waited until noon for the rain to stop to fold up the tent (there is nothing worse than having to pack up in the rain) and headed the short 40 miles to Klamath Falls. That evening I left Jim for a 24-hour train ride back home, but not before Jim had given me about 15 pounds of gear to take back, including is full length and width Thermorest mattress in exchange for my own compact version.

It was a good ride. 360 miles of varied terrain in six days and a definite mental challenge. I'm in better shape now, I had a chance to live off the bike, something I've wanted to do, and Jim is well prepared to make a significant dent in his goal or even achieve it.

This is the third year in a row I've done a bike trip of a week or more. Getting to be bad habit.

Yours,

Marc