Coast to Coast Across America
By Frosty Wooldridge
“Tens of thousands who could never afford to own, feed and stable a horse, had by this bright invention enjoyed the swiftness of motion which is perhaps the most fascinating feature of material life.” Frances Willard, author of How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle, and suffragette. Willard was a contemporary and friend to Susan B. Anthony.
(Humans love to decorate everything from their Christmas trees to their toilets. You see everything imaginable on the backroads of small town America.)
While you and I think nothing of riding a bicycle, back in the 1800s, it became an instant phenomenon. Horses continued as transportation mainstays, but “something” attracted the public to the new “iron horse” that ushered a feeling of whimsy and freedom. That “something” brings humans all over the planet to the magic of riding a bicycle. It thrills your body, absorbs your mind and lifts your spirit.
Somehow, each day I jump onto a bicycle, the world’s troubles and mine fade in my rear view mirror.
We stopped by an old fashioned restaurant to eat breakfast with farm fresh eggs, quinoa, honey, potatoes and delicious toast with homemade blackberry jam.
“Dang!” Wayne said. “This blackberry jam tastes just like my mother used to can in Wyoming. I need to buy a couple of jars to keep me going.”
“Make yourself happy,” said Howard.
“Ma’am,” said Wayne to the lady. “Can you sell me a jar of this jam?"
“Right here,” she said.
(Pedaling along a country road allows flowers, hummingbirds, bees and birds to be your friends all day long.)
With fat bellies that looked four months pregnant, we shoved off into a 70-degree sunshiny morning. Route 20 east headed toward Lebanon, Oregon. We traveled on the old Oregon Trail that led settlers out to the gold fields of the West. Amazingly, they traveled in those prairie schooners at seven miles per day. Thank about that: maybe 35-40 miles a week. Hot, sweaty, miserably slow and achingly painful, bugs and weather. You must wonder what drove people to endure such hardships. Many did not make it. Look up “Donner Party Decision” at Donner Lake in the Sierra Mountains where they didn’t make the pass and lived to freeze to death and cannibalize each other during the long hard winter.
We pedaled through some flat farmlands with cows grazing in the pastures. Bucolic and peaceful beyond measure! Seeing it up close, the smells, the beautiful golf course green spring wheat fields vibrant against a blue sky, horses prancing along the fields to watch us. It doesn’t get any better than that.
We rolled quickly through Sodaville, Waterlook to Sweet Home. Old town America intrigues me. It remains in the backwaters of our country—almost unchanging. Stop signs and yields suffer shotgun holes. Coca-Cola signs and Dr. Pepper show 10/2/4 which meant they wanted you to drink it at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to keep your energy up during the day. Of course, it’s loaded with caffeine, 10 teaspoons of sugar, dyes and today, science has discovered that all soda pop causes obesity, heart disease and various dental problems with cavities. Of course, you can still see “Lucky Strike” cigarette ads covering the whole sides of barns and doctors touting the wonders of smoking along with athletes. At 450,000 deaths annually with lung cancer, perhaps smoking ain’t so hot.
(First transcontinental automobile race traced the same road we pedaled today. Correction, not 1935, but 1905.)
In those down, hardware stores with creaky oak floors, grocery stores with crowded isles, seed liveries, 5 and10 Woolworth stores, gas station, dentist, chiropractor shop, barber’s rotating candy-cane pole, Rexall Drug Store, bank, school and hospital. All on Main Street.
As we pedaled through Sweet Home, a half dozen murals graced the entire walls of buildings. This being Oregon, logging mills, horses, rivers and floating logs dominated the scenes. Really romantic. In reality, logging features hard men, hard times and hard work.
Out of Sweet Home, we rolled into deeper woods of the Willamette National Forest. Big spruce, Douglas fir and Ponderosa pines created a green mosaic against the sky. Pedaling through it created such wonder in my eyes and heart. I can’t get enough of the spiritual joy that pulses through my body as I travel through the Natural World. Birds flitting from branch to branch. All of them singing. Hawks soaring on their lunch patrols, ever watchful for a mouse, rabbit or chipmunk.
(We stopped at the “One Street Over” for a breakfast fit for a king. They tied the silverware up in a string with a bow. I carried it out to my bike and it’s still tied to my pack to cross America with me.)
We pedaled along the Santiam River that roared with white water along the highway. Raging white water roared through gullies and gulches lined with majestic pines, flowers and butterflies.
Ahead, the road began climbing. For the next six hours, we climbed 4,000 feet at four percent grade in 30 miles. The road curled like a giant lariat along the Santiam. We pedaled toward the sky.
Traveling at 4 mph, you see each tree, every hawk, many squirrels and tons of birds. You breathe deeply of the forest air that energizes your lungs. The incline lets you know you are live, you think, you work, you feel. Your body loves the exertion as every red blood cell races to feed your tissues.
As we traveled, a fellow in a pickup truck stopped, “You guys can pile into the back if you want a lift to the top.”
“Thanks man,” Wayne said. “We’re riding coast to coast so we have to pedal every inch of the way to make it legal.”
“I understand,” he said, speeding off. “Have a great ride.”
Once, in Australia, riding down the Princess Highway south of Sydney, a couple of guys passed in a flatbed pickup. One yelled, “Here’s a rope so we can pull you up the pass.”
“You guys are great,” I yelled. “But I’ve got to earn my ride around the entire perimeter of Australia.”
He said, “You’re riding around all of Oz?”
“You got it,” I said.
“Do you realize you’re going to be pedaling your pushbike across the Nullabor Plains?” he said. “Do you know what that means?”
“Adventure,” I said.
“Well, mate,” he said. “It’s 120 degrees Fahrenheit, blazing dry, nothing but sand, emus, camels, wombats and kangaroos for 2,000 miles. You will be so bloody miserable you can’t see straight.”
“Adventure,” I repeated.
“That proves one thing,” he said. “You friggin’ Yanks are dead from the neck up.”
As I pedaled into the deadly heat of the Outback, I never forgot that statement that I was “dead from the neck up.” And let me tell you, that ride turned out to be the toughest, most miserable ride of my adventures around the planet. But I wouldn’t trade a moment of it.”
This ride into the Cascades felt fresh, cool and total wilderness. Wayne, Howard and I pedaled into the raging wilds with smiles on our faces.
(We camped in the snow in early April in the Cascades. Soup and bread never tasted so good when you’re freezing your butts off.) Photography by Frosty Wooldridge
Henry David Thoreau said, “We need the tonic of the wilderness. To wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground.We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.”
We pedal with spiritual bliss into Thoreau’s magic words.
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