Biking along the Pacific Coast Trail provided me with several hours of solitude, huffing and puffing up and down hills while enjoying ocean scenery. But those long solo rides also made me appreciate opportunities I’ve had to meet other bikers and hikers along this route, and to learn a bit about their lives. I’m still a relative novice at bike touring, but my guess is that the Pacific Coast trail attracts a wide range of fascinating people whose stories I would not have heard if we were not traveling together, if only for a few miles, on this beautiful trail.
In British Columbia and Washington state, I discovered that ferry terminals are ideal locations to meet fellow travelers because we’re all standing in line together while waiting to board. Chris and Heather, a retired couple from northern BC, had already been on the road for a month when I met them on the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, WA. Their bikes were fully loaded for their 7-month ride to Central America, where they had lived years ago, as did I in 1987-88. Their calm sensibility about being flexible during their long journey impressed me, since I’m the type of person who usually worries about the source of my next meal and where I’m spending the night. Both spoke highly of the people they’ve met through WarmShowers.org, a virtual organization where people can host bike riders in their homes and request to stay with others when traveling. They were experienced riders who also knew how to camp out in the field when no other options were available. Chris also had the benefit of working for for a year as an Adventure Cycling tour leader. “I think we’ll meet each other again,” he assured me as we departed the ferry, taking very different routes to the Pacific Coast. And I would be surprised if we our paths don’t cross again at some point down the road. See you again soon, Chris.
On the Washington State side of the Columbia River, heading toward the Pacific Coast trail, I spotted two riders on Bike Fridays, the same foldable cycle that I ride. Jerry and Peggy, another retired couple from Vancouver, also were heading south, but going all the way to California, much farther than me. I had previously seen them at a breakfast place that morning, but at the time I was feeling quiet and kept to myself, didn’t realize that we were pedaling in the same direction, nor that we shared the same preference for bikes. After we met on the road, Peggy suggested that we exchange mobile phone numbers in case our paths overlapped and we wanted to meet up at a pub later in the day. Jerry also told me about the Seaside Hostel, a friendly and inexpensive place to stay on the Oregon Coast. This became a very valuable tip when I hit rain and wind in Astoria, and decided not to camp out that night. Turns out that our travels did not coincide. I caught the Cathlamet-Westport ferry before they did, so our travels were separated by an hour and some steep hills. While we did not meet again in person at that pub, we kept in touch that day through texting.
The next day on the Oregon Coast Bike Route, I caught up with Rick, a slender man from New Hampshire who had recently retired and set out on the first big bike trip of his life. On June 1st he departed the Atlantic Coast and ventured his way across the Northern Tier trail to the Pacific Coast. When we met, he was slowly heading toward San Diego at about 10 mph. Rick’s rig was the heaviest I have seen on the road. He estimated that his bike weighed 35 pounds, with another 70+ pounds of gear. “People tell me that I brought too much stuff,” Rick mentioned, and it seemed like he brought a fair number of his life possessions with him. He explained how he rented out his home to his granddaughter for a year, since it was more affordable for him to live on the bike than to make house payments. We both agreed that the Cape Lookout State Park biker-hiker sites, which cost only $6 per night with free showers, were one of the most beautiful spots we’ve seen for riders on our journeys. Rick was one of the slower cyclists I met on the trail. Sometimes he would not arrive to his destination until well after sunset. But he was also the most determined rider I met, and I regret not having asked if I could take his picture to better remember his face.
That same day I met four different cyclists from Montreal, and the most memorable of them was an adventurous twenty-something who told us to call her Jazz, because her French name was too difficult for most English-speakers to pronounce. With youthful energy she pedaled a bicycle that looked older than she was, and I think she said that it belonged to her father. Jazz met up with a group of San Francisco riders at the Tillamook Cheese Factory in Oregon, and they invited her to stay with them in their lodging at Cape Lookout State Park. When they asked her what she was carrying inside her overstuffed bike bags, Jazz surprised all by pulling out her metal teapot and knitting needles. Not what I thought I’d see on the bike trail, but I have learned to expect the unexpected. This is one of my favorite photos of the trip, and I’m pleased that Jazz liked it too, and asked me to email her a copy.
While some cyclists carry their own gear on a one-way journey, others park a car at a campsite and ride day-long loops around parts of the Pacific Coast. Kandace from the Olympia WA region and I pulled into the campground at the same time, and she invited me to trade stories about bike adventures and to visit the yurt that she shared with her friend Karen. (This was my first time inside an Oregon state campground yurt, which had a bunk bed, couch, and skylight. Make a note to reserve one of these next time.) They told me about the 100+ mile rides they’ve done in Washington State and other rides they’ve done with their spouses. Kandace also asked about my BikeFriday, which folds up and fits into a suitcase, for possible future travels abroad. Of course, they kindly offered me a cold beer, and I was sorry to turn them down, since I don’t drink alcohol. But feels great to meet other friendly riders and receive an invitation to contact them when I’m biking in their area again, which I hope to do soon.
The next day I hit a trifecta of meeting very generous people, all within the span of a few minutes along the Otter Crest Loop on the Oregon Coast. Near the end of a long day of climbing up hills, I met up with Beth, a cyclist from Missouri. “Would you like a chocolate macadamia nut?” she asked, offering a bag that a friend had sent her from Hawaii. A minute later, an older pickup truck driver named John pulled over and handed us extra cold water bottles from his cooler, explaining that he had just finished his roofing job for the day. A few minutes later, at the top of the hill I pulled into a cliffside lookout and learned how to spot gray whales feeding in the ocean below, thanks to Beth (who, coincidentally, had just received a whale-spotting lesson at a nearby maritime center) and other visitors with far better eyesight (and patience) than me. Indeed, good luck comes in threes.
While most of the folks I met were fellow riders, I also met up with several people traveling the coast on foot at our shared hiker-biker campsites. One who stands out is Travis, a soft-spoken young man from Alaska, who served in the US military in Iraq and Germany. After sunset, several of us sat together at the campsite to trade stories about our travels. Like me, Travis grew up in a rural community where everyone said hello or waved in the street, and he missed that familiarity when passing through the big cities. For those of us bicycles, riding 60+ miles is a long day, but Travis had once hiked 20 miles in one day to keep up with a friendly group of two-wheeled travelers, with all of his gear loaded on his back.
Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned on this trip is this: Never underestimate the power of social ties that hold us together, especially when we believe that we’re traveling alone. As I write this, my solo bike journey is two-thirds done, and I’m looking forward to coming home to my family, with memories of the people I’ve met along the way.