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  • Writer's pictureBenji Pollock

Friends and Family

Updated: Jan 12, 2019

After leaving Vancouver Island, I got to Vancouver and my cousin Malca picked me up from the ferry to take me into the city. I spent the next three days visiting with family. We went for walks, for drives around town, for food, and relaxed. My uncle Michael had driven all the way in from Kelowna to spend the weekend with me, so it was really nice to get to spend some time with him, because I usually only see him at family gatherings where everyone is distracted and running around. Malca’s son Rayme lives in Vancouver, but drives to Mexico nearly every year with his wife and daughter, so they came over for dinner one night and he told me all about traveling in Mexico. My cousin Neil and his family also live in Vancouver, so I visited with them. Neil runs his own business, so I picked his brain a lot and got a lot of guidance, good advice, and inspiration from him. It was so nice to finally see familiar faces, and it strengthened how truly important my family is to me. I always thought I would love Vancouver, and have thought about living there because of its proximity to both the water and the mountains, but it’s such an expensive and busy city that I don’t know that I could ever actually live there.

I left Vancouver to cross the border on my way to Bellingham. After saying goodbye to my family, I was sad and out of sorts. Because I was on my bike, I had to go into the actual border control building. When my turn arrived, I went to the customs counter and handed them my passport. My last border crossings by bicycle were a breeze, so I expected a similar experience here. “What brings you to the States?” the officer asked. I explained my bike trip to him. “How long will you be in the States?” I explained to him that I had no idea because I had family and friends all over the coast that I was going to visit, and that it’s incredibly difficult to accurately predict a few months into the future while cycle touring. “How much money do you have with you?” I told him the little amount that I have, and explained that all I really spent money on was food, and I mostly ate peanut butter and tortillas so I really didn’t need a lot of money. “Well, we need an exact date you are leaving, because if you’re here for longer than 6 months, you’re here illegally,” he told me. The gears in my head started turning. “Waaaiiitt,” I thought. “I’m an American citizen, I wouldn’t be here illegally.” I’m traveling on my Canadian passport so that Central and South America are easier for me. As I was about to speak up to explain this to him, he noticed that I was born in Pittsburgh and questioned me about it. “Yes, I was born there and am also an American citizen, but traveling on my Canadian is safer for what I’m doing.” After having to search his database to confirm I was actually a US citizen (I didn’t have both passports with me because my other is at home in case anything happens to the one I have), he sternly said “next time you cross the border with a foreign passport as an American citizen, MAKE SURE YOU TELL THEM YOU ARE AN AMERICAN CITIZEN IMMEDIATELY.” I admitted how stupid that all was, apologized to him for the inconvenience, and thanked him for his patience. My previous border crossing was so easy because I was going into Canada with my Canadian passport. No shit. He then went to search my bike. By now he was probably incredibly suspicious. Marijuana legalization day was October 17th, and I was crossing the border on October 20th with just a bike, a few small bags, a shaggy beard, and barely any money to my name.

The officer came back after not finding anything and apologized in advance for the way he closed all my bags. “You may want to go and re-close everything, I don’t think I did it right,” he warned. He did not. Most bags were closed improperly, and the zipper on one was broken. “You know, you’re definitely the only person I’ve ever seen here who has locked up their bike,” he said confused. “You know the place is surrounded by armed policemen??” I explained to him that I do it out of habit so I don’t get complacent, and after he gave me a slip that said I was ready to clear the border, I left the building, laughing at how stupid he probably thought I was. On the way out, an officer came up to question me about my trip, and was so amazed by it that he personally escorted me over the border.

I crossed over into thick fog, and rode to Bellingham. On the way, I stopped at a state park on the beach for lunch, and then stopped again in the middle of farmlands to call a friend for his birthday. I stopped at REI to get more fuel and pump up my bike tires, and then continued to my host for the night.

When I stayed with Tiki in Delta Junction, she told me that her friends' son Quinn had ridden Alaska to Argentina in 2002. They had just moved to Bellingham, so she texted them to ask if I could stay with them if I went through. Rose jokingly responded, “is this what retirement is like?” When Tiki got confirmation she gave me their numbers. I added the names Brad and Rose to my phone, and they sounded so familiar. After a bit of thinking, it clicked that I had read those names in Suzette’s trip report from her ride from Deadhorse to the Florida Keys. It turned out that Suzette and her team had stayed with them in Delta. When I remembered that they were in Bellingham, I reached out immediately and they happily hosted me. The only thing I knew about Bellingham was that I apparently HAD to ride my bike on Chuckanut Drive – it was supposedly magnificent. When Brad texted back confirming that I could stay with them, he gave me the address which was on Chuckanut Drive. It was meant to be.

Brad had started the ride with Quinn, and went all the way through Alaska and some of the Yukon with him. He thought he’d ride with Quinn until Quinn decided he no longer wanted to ride, and then they’d come home together, but Quinn loved riding, and Brad loved Alaska. So Quinn continued to Ushuaia and the family moved to Alaska from Wisconsin. We chatted all about their trip, and Rose warned me that this would change my life and there was no going back. Quinn, she told me, goes on big adventures often, and still hasn’t really figured out how to settle down. We spoke all night, and they told me more about life in Alaska. Because they live so far from a city, they have the right to a subsistence hunt each year – two caribou and one moose per person. They didn’t need that much, so they got a caribou, a moose, and a bunch of salmon and brought them down to Bellingham with them.

Rose and Brad had told their other son Jeff about me. Jeff had just moved to Bend, and, assuming that I was going down the coast, told his parents that it was a bummer that I wouldn’t make it through Bend, because he would have loved to host me. I had heard incredible things about Bend, and really wanted to visit.

My parents were in Australia for a meeting and visiting family, and decided to take an extended layover in Los Angeles to visit family and friends there. They wanted to see me, and offered to fly me down to hang out with them. I originally wanted to fly out of Bend to visit my parents, but didn’t know where I would store my bike. Excitedly, I told Rose and Brad that I was actually going to be going through Bend and would love to stay with Jeff and leave my bike with him if I could.

In the morning, my friend Gina from Bike and Build met me at the house. She was going to ride from Bellingham to Seattle with me, where I would stay with her for a little bit. She came in for a big breakfast and some great conversation, and then we hit the road together. At the last minute we decided to ride the Olympic peninsula using the ferries. Luckily, Steven, who I had met in the Yukon, had just moved to Port Townsend. I texted him in the morning asking if he would be around at night and if we could crash on his floor. He said yes, and we were all excited to spend the night together.

G and I rode a beautiful trail that reconnected with Chuckanut to a bunch of flat straight farmland where we were able to ride side by side and catch up for hours. While we were chatting, taking up a very fair amount of the lane of a two lane, barely trafficked farm road, a car with plenty of room to pass us honked at us, opened his window to scream at us, and then flipped us off as he passed. It was crazy to us that us happily enjoying our day with very minimal impediment on others pissed this guy off so much. Our actions probably ruined his day because of how angry we made him, but it was all because of his lack of tolerance. The funny paradox was that he was clearly trying to make us mad or upset, but his extreme anger probably brewed in him for the next few hours. Gina and I got over it and continued on with our ride within a few seconds. Anger only rots your heart and poisons your soul. So rarely is anger constructive. Especially when it’s uncontrolled.

After a bit of highway riding, we hopped on back roads. While climbing through a small neighborhood, a guy stopped his car at a stop sign, rolled down his window, and asked if we had somewhere to stay for the night. We told him that we were heading to Port Townsend where we would be staying with a friend. We were only about 20 miles into our 60 mile ride. “I just wanted to make sure,” he told us. “I’ve had cyclists camp in my backyard before.” We thanked him and continued. We turned onto the next road, and the climb got even steeper. We both sighed, joked about the steepness, and then heard someone shout from a house downhill to the right of the road, “don’t worry! It only gets worse!”

We stopped at Deception Pass Bridge for lunch. From the bridge, we watched fighter jets circle above us, clearly training. After some google searching, we figured out that there was a nearby air force base that was ramping up activity. While eating, we met a guy who had ridden 1000 miles across Scotland in 10 days without training. I asked him why, and he told me that 10 days was all the time he could get off from work. He told me his trip was amazing, “but not nearly as incredible as yours.” I’m doing nothing near what he did though. I think the quickest I’ve ridden 1000 miles so far has been about 25 days with breaks included.

People are so quick to compare. Some people put me on a pedestal for what I’m doing, and some people try to one up or match me with something that they have done. This gets quite annoying. I’m not doing this trip for attention, or for other people, or to compare myself to others, or to seem “cool.” This is my adventure. My journey. I’m doing it to learn, grow and share. My favorite interactions are the interactions that are more about sharing than comparing. More about compassion and learning than ego and pride. The deep, meaningful conversations. The “why” conversations, and not the “what” conversations. As soon as someone tries to put me on a pedestal or tries to one up me and compete with me, the playing field is no longer level, and the sharing and exchanging no longer flows as easily.

Gina and I continued. It rained on and off throughout the afternoon, and we ended up riding into dark. Luckily, we took wide open, dead quiet farm roads all the way to the ferry. No cars were around, and our lights seemed to illuminate everything. After the ferry ride to Port Townsend, Steven and his friend picked us up in his Honda Element, and we went to the grocery store for food and beer and then went home to cook and hang out. Steven had taken a job at a wine/cider maker. Their office was in an old brothel out in farmland, and Steven was able to rent out a room on the top floor while looking for a more permanent place to stay. The building was gorgeous and rustic. It was amazing to see Steven again, and to have Gina meet him. I love meeting new people on the road, but one off relationships and interactions get tiring, so it was nice to reconnect with someone that I had met and gotten close with on the road.

In the morning, we rode out of town through old town PT, which is a super cute, Victorian era seaport coastal town on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. The town is full of funky small shops, art galleries, and cafes. We stopped at a cafe right on the water, and enjoyed some chai while watching the waves crash on the beach, birds flying up above, and sailboats and ferries cruising into town. We explored town more before continuing on our way to Seattle.

The day was beautiful, and we stopped along the side of a back road right next to the water. While eating, we realized that we were running late and had to rush to catch the ferry to get to Seattle in time to meet Ryan.

Gina and I were on the same Bike and Build cross country bike trip in 2015. In March of 2016, Gina was living in Vail and I took a road trip over my spring break with 3 friends from Pittsburgh to Utah for some climbing and backpacking. On the way there, my friends dropped me in Vail to meet Gina, and then we drove out together to meet my friends in Arches and Canyonlands. Gina hung out with us for a few days before returning to Colorado. On a hike together in Arches, we met two guys who we spoke to for a bit. All I remember from the interaction was that one guy was Navajo, and his friend was super excited to try his mom’s fry bread.

In 2017, Gina joined the Utah Conservation Corps for a summer of conservation work. One day, during her service, she texted me someone’s instagram account telling me to look at it. I then got a call from her. “Does that guy look familiar to you at all?” she asked me. “Yeah, but I have no idea why,” I responded. “Thanks! That’s all I needed to know!” she answered excitedly. It turned out that fry bread guy was on her UCC team. Gina thought he looked familiar, and saw on his instagram that he was in Arches and Canyonlands at around the same time as us. She needed confirmation from me before she said anything him. Gina is one of the strongest people I know. She’s had a lot of knee and ankle problems in the past, but loves the mountains and outdoors way too much to let her pain hinder her passion. As a result, fry bread guy remembered Gina as trekking pole girl. Fry bread guy ended up being Ryan, who became one of Gina’s really close friends, and who decided to visit her in Seattle at the same time as I would be there.

So we rushed back to Seattle, because we were both excited to see Ryan. We changed plans a few times to ensure we’d get in at the earliest time. When we got to the ferry, Mount Rainier was out. Gina loves Mount Rainier. Gina also really loves volcanos. Gina was so excited that I could see it. “BENJ!! LOOK AT IT!! MOUNT RAINIER IS OUT!! IN OCTOBER!! WE ARE SO SO LUCKY! ISN’T SHE INCREDIBLE??” In response, I yelled “BORING!” She was pissed off, but a random guy in the parking lot started cracking up. It was worth it. The mountain behind the city was truly a magnificent view though. Before even getting to the city, I understood why Seattle is becoming such a popular destination.

When we got off the ferry, we followed bike paths to Gina’s house through the dark. Ryan was awaiting us at the house with burritos in hand. We ate them, showered, and then went out to a bar to meet some other bike and builders and Katelyn met us there. It was great to meet other bike and builders, and so good to catch up with Katelyn.

A guy named Adam, a Bike and Build alum, met us at the bar. He worked at a bike co-op at the University, and invited me there to tune up my bike. I went the next day, and spent about 3 hours tuning and cleaning my bike. It looked brand new by the end. I then visited Gina at work at the the North Face, met her good friend and coworker Billy, ran a few more errands, and then went home to make a late dinner. I spent the night hanging out with Gina’s roommates Julia, Kelly, and Michael. They were all awesome people, and we had a really good time together.

The next day, Gina took Ryan and me for a hike at Wallace Falls State Park. At night, I grabbed tacos with my friend Kacey from Pitt. The day after, Katelyn took us hiking to Snoqualmie Mountain. Before starting this hike, my brother had called me from Guinea, West Africa, to tell me there was a shooting in Pittsburgh and to check that I and everyone I knew was okay. I continued the hike, not having fully processed what had happened. When I got home, I saw the news and friends' posts, and realized the gravity of the situation that Sam tried to tell me about. There was a mass shooting at a Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and I felt sick to my stomach.

A friend of mine lives in Parkland, Florida. When I learned how close she lived to the Parkland school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, I asked her what it was like to be so close. I was asking her from a place of empathy with the hope of understanding her situation better. None of me was asking her in preparation for it to happen in my own community.

Friends of mine were on a middle school trip to the Holocaust Museum in DC in 2009. They got stuck in traffic on the way to the museum, and were running late for their 1pm tour that they were hoping to be early for. At 12:50pm, an 88 year old white supremacist entered the lobby of the Holocaust Museum and opened fire, killing one person before being apprehended. Some of these same friends, who managed to just miss this hate crime at the age of 13, were right down the street from the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, just narrowly missing another disgusting act of antisemitism at the age of 22. Only 73 years after 6 million Jews (including some of their family members) were murdered by the Nazis simply for the "crime" of being Jewish.

I’ve been going away from home alone for extended periods of time since I started going to an overnight camp at the age of 8. Rarely did I feel homesick. Today, after learning about the shooting, I was more homesick than I had been in probably a decade. It hurt to not be with my community during such a tragedy. I called everyone I could think of. I was a wreck, cancelled the plans that I had for the afternoon, and went for a run with Julia to blow off some steam.

I was able to get myself together in order to go to a Halloween party that we had planned on going to for a while. I really don’t like the waste of Halloween, so we went to Goodwill and made ourselves pirate themed costumes. We had two pirates, a parrot, a ship, an anchor, a crocodile, and a treasure chest in our costume group. The night was really fun, and I managed to get my mind off the shooting for a few hours. At the party, I met a bunch of Gina’s friends. Her friend Kelsey had just gotten back from cycling around Iceland, so I spoke to her about that for a while. I also met Anna, who I talked to about climbing and traveling for a while.

I was originally only planning on spending a few days in Seattle. When Gina told me about the Halloween party on Saturday night, I pushed my departure back to Sunday. When I learned that Ryan was staying until Sunday night, I pushed my departure back to Monday, and spent the day with Ryan and Julia.

On Monday, I woke up still an emotional wreck. I pushed my departure to Wednesday, and cooked a big dinner as a thank you to everyone in the house while they were at work. My friend Matt, who I went to university with and climbed with a bunch through the outdoors club at school, joined us. After graduating, he lived in a car for a while after school, climbing everything he could climb, and now works for a biotech startup doing really cool work. It was awesome seeing him and catching up with him. Kelsey came, and we talked more about cycle touring. Billy, who’s a big photographer, was also there, so we talked for a while about photography.

On Tuesday night, I went climbing with Anna and a few of her friends. We talked about getting into bike accidents. Everyone we were with had gotten hit by a car while riding. They were blown away that, with the miles I’ve ridden, I’ve never in my life gotten hit by a car.

On my way back from the gym, I rode in the rain along a bike trail with my lights blaring. As I was crossing a crosswalk on the trail, a sedan accelerated into a right turn, hitting me full force. I ended up on his windshield and then the ground, and my bike flew 10 feet behind me. He got out of the car screaming at me, telling me he had the right of way and that it was my fault that I got hit. Even if he was right about having the right of way, if a truck pulled out in front of him, he wouldn't have accelerated into it and blamed it on the truck driver. I was clearly visible, and he was clearly not paying attention to the road.

After about a minute of flipping out at me, he took a step back and said “I’m sure you don’t want to hear this now, but are you okay?” “I’m not sure,” I responded. I told him I have adrenaline coursing through my veins, subduing any pain that would be, but I knew for a fact that his driving skills weren’t okay. He didn’t really like that response, so he flipped out at me more, flipped me off, and then drove away. I got his license plate number, but didn’t feel like dealing with the cops from another state while traveling by bike, so I dropped it.

I got home later than I wanted to, and completely shaken. I figured out my handlebars and front rack were bent, so I fixed them as much as I could. They were still functional, so I didn’t worry about it too much.

I spent Wednesday being lazy and relaxing with Julia, who was off work for the day, making sure my body was healthy. I was surprisingly fine. Just a little sore, but nothing major. With the volume of the crash, I was blown away that I didn’t break anything. It sounded like a car hitting another car, but I guess I just heard the steel parts of my bike bending and hitting the ground. I guess I took the hit with almost perfect form, jumping onto the hood of the car and rolling off to minimize impact. Maybe I’ll be a stunt double after this trip.

I spent the night with Billy, Gina and Julia, and then left early the next morning.

When I was in Seattle, I got a text from my friend and old boss Steve. He said he saw that I was in Seattle, and asked if I would be passing through Portland in the next week. “I happen to be visiting and could try to hook you up with a hot meal and shower,” he told me. I originally told him I’d be in by the middle of the week, but after extending my time in Seattle so much, I was going to have to push to get there by the end of the week. He told me they would be headed to the coast for the weekend on Saturday morning, and checked that I would have a place to stay if I didn’t get there by Friday. They would be staying out at the coast on Saturday night and coming back on Sunday so Steve could catch a flight home Sunday night. He told me I could join them at the coast if I wanted.

I ended up deciding to fly to see my parents in LA out of Portland instead of Bend because it was cheaper. My flight was really early Monday morning, so I told Steve that joining them would be perfect, and then I would just go to the airport with him and hang out there until my flight. I would have to push to get there on time though.

When I left Seattle, it was dark, grey, and raining. I had to ride through metropolitan areas for hours, and I kept on getting stuck at red lights. I finally got off the road and onto an interurban trail, but the headwinds were slowing me down, and I was so sad to leave Seattle. Gina had showed me such a good time and introduced me to such amazing people. Good people have the innate ability to attract other good people. Surrounding yourself by good people offers exponential returns. And also makes it incredibly difficult to leave a city.

By the end of the day, between the red lights, headwinds, rain and sadness, I hadn’t gotten as far as I wanted to go, and after getting hit by a car, I had no interest in riding in the dark. I had to go another 15 miles to get to a place outside of town where I could easily stealth camp, but I found an area just off of the trail where I could set up camp. I made dinner, talked to people on the phone, and read. The next day, in order to make it on time for the beach, I had to ride about 115 miles. I put my alarm on for 5am so that I could get on the road really early, but when I woke up it was pouring. I went back to bed, and woke up again at 7am. Steve told me they were changing their plans and trying to leave town sometime around 4 pm to head to the coast. I wasn’t going to make it in time, so I rode for the morning, and told Steve I would cheat and hop on a train eventually to meet them in time. “I won’t tell if you won’t,” Steve told me. “I won’t tell until I post a blog about it,” I responded. So here it is.

I got into town and headed straight for Kathleen (Bean) and Cheryl’s house. When I got there, I quickly caught up with Steve, met Bean, Cheryl and their dog Hazel, and then took a shower. I was planning on bringing my tent with me. I didn’t realize until today that we were actually going to Bean’s uncle’s shore house, and there would be enough beds, couches, and air mattresses for everyone. Camping has become my default, and I forgot that normal people usually have roofs over their heads. We drove down to the shore together, through the mountains and forests. The drive was gorgeous. We got in, had dinner, and then hung out on the porch talking and stargazing.

The next morning, we went for a walk on the beach, I ran with Hazel for miles, and then we went back home to meet Bean and Cheryl’s friends Pat, Sarah and Kara. Once they arrived, we had lunch and then went for a hike at Cape Lookout State Park. At the lookout, I saw a whale breach. Everyone else missed it. Somehow I was just looking at the right place at the right time. It started raining, so we headed back to the house to hang out and watch a college football game.

The next morning, we all went for another walk on the beach before heading back to Portland.

I was so happy I pushed to make it in time for the coast. It was so good to see Steve, and Bean, Cheryl, Pat, Sarah and Kara were all incredible people. They all knew each other from high school, but I immediately felt at home and part of the group. They were inclusive, welcoming, and so much fun to be with.

Bean and Cheryl ended up being cool with me leaving my bike and extra gear at their place while I hopped down to LA, so in the afternoon I took a ride with them to go to the airport with Steve.

As I was walking to security, hoping to spend a bit more time with Steve before he flew out, I quickly realized that I had forgotten to take out my pocket knife from my backpack. I called Bean and checked if they were still at the airport, but they were already pretty far from the airport. When I checked in at the front, a woman named Joy helped me out and then asked me if I needed anything else. When I left, I told her no. I then came back with my tail between my legs, laughing, to ask her what she thought I should do about my knife. She told me the few places in the airport where I could ship it to an address. She then realized that my flight was in the morning, so I had a lot of time. She suggested I walk to the post office nearby, as it would be the cheapest option. I thanked her and left the airport.

As I was walking to the post office, I heard my name shouted from behind me. I turned around, and Joy was running after me. “Actually,” she said, “I have a better option for you.” She offered to put my knife in her locker, and then gave me instructions on how to get it back when I returned. She explained that she wasn’t really supposed to be doing it, but she wanted to help me out with my trip. She took me to the tourist info center in the airport and gave me different pamphlets to help me plan my ride through Oregon. I was really appreciative of her.

When I got to the airport, my parents were waiting for me at baggage claim. We spent the week visiting friends and family, met and had dinner with Bristish relatives on my mom's side that we hadn’t met before, and doing some touristy things like visiting museums and beaches. While downtown, I visited my friends Julia, Orian and Danielle at USC. We also got to visit with my mom’s childhood friend from South Africa, Linda. They hadn’t seen each other in over twenty years.

Linda’s daughter, Leigh, visited Pittsburgh last year on a business trip. We had never met before, but our parents put us in contact, so my brother and I took her around the city and hung out with her for the few days she was in town. When she heard about my trip, she was excited to return the hospitality when I came through LA. We went out for dinner together, and then I stayed at their house for the night so that I could go for a morning beach walk and swim with Leigh and her friend Beth.

In the morning, Beth came to pick us up to go to the beach. She looked incredibly familiar, but I couldn’t figure out where I knew her from. In the car, she started telling us a story about her spacey little brother who once got a ticket from a red light camera for running the red light. The family knew that he had no idea he had done it, because in the picture that was sent to them with the ticket, her brother was calmly looking out the window as if nothing had happened. I had heard a similar story from a friend of mine, but couldn’t remember who had told me. I laughed.

Beth told us the whole family was like, “Joe, what were you thinking??” Then it hit me. “Beth, what’s your last name?” I asked. When she confirmed what I thought, I said “I love Joe. I was trying to make it to San Diego in time for Thanksgiving with your family.” She was shocked. Joe is a good friend of mine that I lived with this past summer. Beth and Joe look very similar, and Joe had told me this story. Their family lives in San Diego, and he offered to host me for Thanksgiving. Thinking I would make it in time, I said absolutely. I’ve been a bit slower than I thought though, so I wasn’t going to make it anymore. I laughed at how small the world was. What are the chances.

After a nice and relaxing week with my parents, I flew back up to Portland. My flight kept getting delayed, and the departure gate kept changing without them telling us. A few times I thought I had spaced out and missed my flight. The flight ended up being delayed 4 hours. I was pissed off, because I could have spent 4 more hours with my parents.

When I landed, I went to pick up my knife. Joy wasn’t in, so I explained the situation to someone else working at the check in counter. She looked at me like I was speaking another language, and then went back to Joy’s locker to check. She came out bewildered, telling me that this was the weirdest request she had received, checked my ID to make sure I wasn’t BS’ing her, and then wished me a good night.

I took a taxi into town with some of the most stereotypical Portlanders I could have asked for, I went out for drinks and dinner with my friends Alex and Haydn, and then crashed on their couch for a night. It was really nice seeing and catching up with both of them, because I hadn’t seen them in a while.

In the morning, Alex drove me to Bean’s house to pick up my stuff. Hazel attacked me with love. When I first met the dog, she was terrified of me and would constantly bark at me. Now she couldn’t get enough of me. I stuck around for a bit doing more research on the route I was going to take, and then headed out. I was on my way to Bend to stay with Jeff, so I had to figure out the best way to get there. I decided to ride some back roads through national forests and over the mountains.

I finally went shopping for food and then hit the road. I got weirdly nervous about starting. I've clearly gotten way too complacent, taking so much time off. I was nervous about the cold (it was supposed to be in the low 20s), I was nervous about the amount of sunlight remaining (I was starting later than I wanted to), was nervous about whether I made the right route decision or not (there was a ton of climbing over a short period of time that I wasn’t sure if I was physically ready for), and about making it to Thanksgiving (I was now planning on spending Thanksgiving at my cousin’s uncle’s ranch in Central California).

I barely ate but got on the road quickly and rode as much as I could. The first little bit was rough city riding. I got out to farm roads and some guy flipped me off for no reason while I was on the shoulder, which made me feel really shitty. I got to the Mt Hood national forest. The first bit of the forest didn’t allow backcountry camping for some reason (there were signs everywhere about no overnight camping), but there were a lot of established campgrounds throughout the forest, so I wasn’t worried about camping at all. All the campgrounds ended up being closed and gated, despite being told they were open. I ended up just going around a gate at one of them when it was getting dark because I had no other options.

I made dinner and was in my tent by 6:15. I felt sad and regretful and stressed. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I felt the way I felt, or where the feelings originated. I think I was so mentally prepared to go on my journey in the beginning, and after effectively taking off 2 weeks I didn't have the same mental preparation to get back on the road. I was ready for the cold and climbing and rough roads and solitude in the Arctic Circle. It was all I could think about for months. But with such a long break and spending so much time with people I love, I didn’t give myself time or space to get prepared again for the road.

I woke up at 7:30, and was on the road by 8:30. The day was absolutely beautiful, but about 5 miles in my other knee started killing me. I stopped to stretch a lot, and took anti-inflammatory painkillers, but it still hurt. I was still in a bad mood most of the morning. I was sad to be without the people I had spent such good times with over the past few weeks.

Then I got to the biggest climb of the trip yet (about 10 miles up). It ended up being way easier than I expected it to be - it was difficult and tiring, but in my bad mood I hyped it up so much to myself in advance. I noticed that my shifting was off, so I tuned my bike the best I could. I looked at my rear derailleur, and thinking that my derailleur hanger was bent from the car crash, decided I’d go to REI when I got into Bend to straighten it out, and make the most of the situation for now. When I reached the summit, I got a breathtaking view of the surroundings and of a magnificent snow capped mountain.

I then had the longest descent yet. Descents after hard climbs are so rewarding. As I descended from altitude I felt it get warmer, but as I got deeper in the valley it got way colder because there was no sun exposure. The road was icy. It was so fun but by the end I couldn't stop shivering because of the cold wind. I pulled over at a gas station to warm up and figure out where to camp. I stayed too long because it took so long to warm up, and ended up camping at a random spot at the side of the road. I wanted to make it further, because the next day I had another massive climb over a mountain pass, and wanted to make the day easier.

A woman working at the gas station warned me that the pass was really icy today and there had been a few crashes in the past few days. I’m hoping my knee feels better after stretching and sleep, because there’s no way I'm climbing up an icy mountain pass on a bum knee. I made a quick dinner, journaled, read, and went to bed.

In the morning, I woke up to extreme knee pain. It even hurt to walk, but I hoped that warming up and stretching would make it better. I made breakfast, packed up, and then got on the road. I rode about a mile before my knee locked up and I couldn’t go any further, so I pulled over and tried to hitch hike. No one was pulling over for me though. I felt like such an idiot, because I could have made it into town the night before, and hitch hiked way more easily at the gas station if I had just taken that lady’s advice.

Finally, a friendly guy in a Subaru pulled over to check up on me. His name was Brandon, and he was a college women’s soccer coach at Oregon Tech in Klamath Falls. He was driving into Bend to spent the night with some friends there before heading to Klamath the next day, so he was able to take me into town. We broke down my bike and tossed it in the hatchback next to his fishing gear.

Brandon was such an incredible guy. He was friendly, caring, and such a sweet guy. We talked the entire way into town. About life, about fishing, about cycling, the outdoors, his coaching career, living in Oregon, and more. I was so happy I ended up hitch hiking because I got to meet this incredible guy.

He dropped me off at REI, gave me his contact info, and told me that if I needed anything or if I wanted a ride into Klamath Falls the next day to give him a call. I told him I should be fine but would definitely take him up on it if needed. I thank him and headed into REI. There, after looking at my derailleur more, I figured out the derailleur itself was bent. Replacing it would have been more money than I wanted to spend, so I hand bent it back and tried to tune the shifting to match the bend as well as I could. I then called Jeff to tell him I was 30 minutes away, and he told me he was meeting a friend at a brewery near REI in about 40 minutes, but I was welcome to join if I wanted. I decided to explore the trail along the Deschutes River and wait to meet up with them.

We hung out at the brewery for a few hours and talked about our travels, our lives, and Bend. Jeff’s friend asked what I was planning on doing after the trip. I told her I had no idea, so she told me about a really cool conservation volunteer opportunity in Africa that she did and that she thought I would love. I took a note to look into it further.

I then met Jeff back at his house. I ended up riding through sunset, and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees in my 30 minute ride. I got to the house and hung out with Jeff and his dog. Jeff cooked chicken and veggies for dinner. He was an amazing cook.

At night, I did some research into the coming section of riding. I was originally going to ride through Modoc and Lassen National Forests, but both had major forest fires and road blockages. On top of this, night time temperatures were forecasted to be in the single digits. This far north and this late into the year, darkness lasted for over 14 hours. Being out in the mountains, in the dark and freezing cold for 14 hours each night, with the threat of a forest fire blazing through, was not my cup of tea. My other option was to cycle south towards Mount Shasta and hop on the I-5 for 70 miles. This was both illegal and stupid. I could have hitch hiked that section of highway and then hopped back on my bike in the central valley, but I’d be riding right by Paradise and Chico, which were in the process of burning down. Roads in the area were in constant threat of being closed. My other option was to ride all the way back west to the coastal route, but I’d have to ride through Mendocino National Forest, which was also on fire, and would have to put crazy miles in to make it to Central California in time for Thanksgiving. I knew I wasn’t going to make it.

I sucked up my pride and bit the bullet. I texted Brandon and took him up on the offer for a ride to Klamath Falls so I could catch a train to San Francisco where I could avoid the fires and visit friends.

In the morning, Brandon came to pick me up from Jeff’s. Brandon gave me a tour during the drive, pointing out mountains in the distance, places where fires ravaged through in previous years, where good hiking was, and the history of the areas. He then drove me through the Oregon Tech campus when we got into town, and then dropped me off at a restaurant that was allowing me to stick around until my night train to San Francisco.

Outside of the restaurant were two touring bikes. I brought my bike in because I was going to be there for a while, and the two cyclists who owned the bikes outside called me over and had me sit with them. They had just gotten two electric touring bikes, and were out practicing riding with weight. They started asking me all about my trip, and told me to pick whatever I wanted on the menu – they were paying. I told them not to worry about it, but they insisted, and recommended a sandwich and the waffles, so I ordered that. They had to leave, but wished me all the best. I spent the afternoon working, and when I got hungry again, I ordered myself dinner at the bar.

There, I met a woman named Linda who was moving to Klamath Falls, so she was staying at the hotel connected to the restaurant while waiting for her house renovation to be finished. She recommended some food to me, and then we chatted for a bit.

I went back to my seat to eat and continue working, and when I went up to pay for my meal, she told me that she had already paid for me so I didn’t have to worry about it. I was in shock. Two meals, two different people covered my food without me even hinting at it. I was so appreciative. Later on, she handed me a letter. She told me to open it when I needed a pick me up. I thanked her again, thinking it was just a motivational letter or something. We talked a bit longer, and then she asked me to walk her back to her hotel room because it was dark and she had been harassed last week. I gladly walked with her.

I got back, packed up my stuff, and cycled over to the train station in the freezing cold. At the station, a sketchy looking guy in a trench coat kept talking to me. He was a Vietnam War vet, and kept telling me about all the guys he killed out there and the torture he endured. The stories he was telling me were so mind boggling that part of me thought they were lies or exaggerations. The other part of me didn’t believe that anyone could make up the stories, connections, and details that he was telling me. I tried to tell him that I had to go to the bathroom and fill up my water bottle, but he wouldn’t listen and kept on talking. I finally escaped his conversational grasp when the train came and I had to board.

I was given an aisle seat. When I got to the seat, no one was sitting at the window seat, so an Amtrak employee told me I could just move in. “I gave some guy the window seat, but I guess he didn’t end up coming onto the train.” Sweet! I get two seats for this overnight train!

I started watching a movie on my phone when out of the corner of my eye I saw the Vietnam vet walking towards me. He was drenched in sweat and breathing heavily. I saw him looking at the assigned seat he got on his ticket, and then the seat number on the overhead compartment, and then back. I could tell he was confused, so I offered for him to sit where I was, explaining the situation. He was okay sitting in the aisle. He sat down, and his trench coat pockets were full of heavy objects. I didn’t know what they were, but I could feel them resting on me as he sat there. I was really uncomfortable. He kept on getting up, taking all his bags with him, and then returning, sweaty and tired. I had no idea what he was doing, but I knew I didn’t want to sit next to him. I ended up falling asleep anyway. In the morning, he got off a few stops before me. I felt relieved.

I got off the train, and was heading to UC Berkeley to spend the day with some friends there. The sky was grey and smoky. The smoke from the forest fires ended up reaching all the way here, and was settling in the bay area. The smog reminded me of China. When I got in, I called my mom and joked around with her, saying “just got to Beijing!” She laughed, and said “are there really that many Chinese people in Berkeley?” I didn’t mean it like that, but she had a point.

I spent the day hanging out with my friends Adele, Ariel, Ariela, and Bria. I caught up with them, met their friends, and ate with them. At night, I took the metro into downtown San Francisco to meet up with my friend Aakash, who I was going to stay with. When I got off the metro. I saw him, gave him a massive hug, and then a woman came up to me to ask me about my trip. It turned out, her brother Scott had ridden Alaska to Argentina on a Surly, and wrote a blog about it. She told me it was called Spoke and Word. I knew all about him! As always, what a small world we live in.

I was planning on riding from San Francisco to the ranch in Paso Robles for Thanksgiving, but the air quality was so horrible that I could barely climb up a flight of stairs without losing my breath. Everyone in the city had masks or scarves over their faces, and it was recommended not to go outside. One day, the air quality was the worst in the world. Once again, I decided not to ride because of the fires, so I stayed in San Francisco for the week visiting with friends and would take a train down to Paso Robles where my cousins would pick me up.

In San Francisco, I stayed at Aakash’s apartment, and got to see my high school friends Jack and Andy whom I hadn’t seen in a while, saw my friend Madhur who left Pittsburgh for San Francisco a few years ago, went out with my friend Guthrie, and went to a Friendsgiving dinner with my friends Meital, Gianna, and Amit.

After the week in San Francisco, I hopped on a train then bus to get to Paso Robles, where I then got a ride to my cousin Sarah’s Uncle Bill’s ranch. I spent the week relaxing and laughing with family, went for a hike with my cousin Sarah, and went for a drive along the coast with DD and Sarah. They wanted to show me the beautiful views, but it ended up raining the whole time so we went to get yummy cinnamon buns and called it a day.

The people at the ranch wanted shout outs, so here goes! Big thanks to Uncle Bill, Sarah, DD, Jodi, Paul, Hailey, Stephie, Scott, Aiden, John and Ceecee for making the week so enjoyable and making me feel so at home.

The few days rain cleared up most of the smoke in the Bay area, so I went back up to San Francisco to get ready to get back on my bike.

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