Trish and I both are pretty good planners. Organization is a sort of prerequisite when you’re a teacher or nurse, so naturally, when trying to wrap your mind around something as monumental as your first bike-packing trip, meticulous planning seems like it would be an obvious requirement. Since I would finish with school only days before we left on the trip, the vast majority of our route planning and night time accommodations was laid on the shoulders of Trish, whereas I was in charge of the less time-consuming role of making sure we had all the essential bike gear needed for the trip. However, Trish went about planning out our trip in a manner very similar to what I would have done, had I been charged with Trish’s task. Each day we had a clearly marked out route to follow, with a reservation at either a campsite, a hotel, or a warm showers host set up for each night.
Our first morning was full of mixed feelings. We had put so much of our time and effort into planning this first major bike trip, and invested our emotional and monetary resources into the prospect of enjoying this newfound and hopefully lifelong hobby. But what if we didn’t like it? What if our bodies couldn’t handle it? What if the mechanical failures were beyond our abilities, or we ran out of water, or we couldn’t make it to our campsite that evening, or a bear ran out on the road and attacked us, or…. the list goes on.
All of these anxieties had time to settle in and fester as we left our home in Salem at 6am and began our 5 ½ hour drive to Elgin, Oregon, a small town that is about an hour east of Pendleton.
Once we reached Elgin, we clumsily made our way to the town’s police station and asked them if we could park our car outside the station for a week. The friendly secretary said that that was fine and even assured us that it would be perfectly safe there; Elgin is a very safe town.
We then slowly began the methodical process of loading our bikes with our gear, checking tire pressure, making sure everything was secure, and wondering when we would get our first flat. This process would slowly become more efficient and refined as we learned little tricks during our seven days of riding.
Our bikes were ready, and it was already 1pm. We needed to start this journey in a hurry. The only thing left to do was find a random stranger to take a picture of us together with our awkwardly heavy bikes.
I had ridden my bike loaded before, but never with the amount of weight that I was carrying for this trip. My first sensation as I got on my bike was that even the tiniest movements made my bike feel like a 747 jumbo jet hitting turbulence. A slight turn of the handlebar made the bike’s heavy-laden front shudder, and that shudder made its way down the entire spine of my bike. At first I thought that I had loaded something wrong and felt myself swerving in the bike lane against my will, but after about ten miles the shuddering was not nearly as disconcerting and I began making the riding adjustments necessary to remain stable, feeling a growing sense of confidence controlling both the weight and wobbly factors.
And it was at this point that Trish and I began to soak in our surroundings. Fortunately, the first day was our easiest. The traffic was almost non-existent and the roads were absolutely pristine. It was even a bit overcast, so the temperature was perfect. Our ride took us through beautiful farmland, rising only a little over 1,000 feet in elevation, with a total mileage of about 44 miles. We did have our first route malfunction on the very first day, which led to about a mile of gravel on a deserted country road; the first tear in our otherwise seamlessly planned ride. But that didn’t really slow us down.
We went through a couple little towns, Summerville and Cove, before arriving in our final destination: Union. It was in Union where we had our first experience using Warm Showers, a website where touring cyclists can find hosts willing to provide a place to stay and a warm shower to use for free. It’s an incredible site and has hosts all over the world; definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in bike-packing.
Our hosts’ names were Judy and Mark Wing, and their son Adam, was also there when we arrived. Mark and Judy live on a 60 acre farm just outside of Union. Mark is a retired phone company worker, and Judy is a retired forest service worker. When trying to come up with a short but meaningful description of this family, I can’t help but draw on my religious background and say that these people are what you’d call the ‘salt of the earth.’ Mark and Adam greeted us from the porch as we rode into their driveway, and almost immediately Judy came out from the side of the house with a warm greeting and instructions for where we’d be staying that night. Judy and Mark have a bunk house for cyclists coming through Union, and it was nicer than any of the hotels we stayed in throughout ride.
Trish and I quickly unloaded our gear, took showers, and unenthusiastically got back on the saddles to make the two-mile trek into town. We asked Judy where we should go and she recommended a place called Brewskis. Brewskis was a cool little pub that served great pub food and local beers; a great place to people-watch the locals. Our appetizer was perhaps the most notable take-away from the restaurant: deep fried green beans. They were delicious.
When we got back to Judy’s house, we spent the rest of the night playing with her new Border-Collie puppy and talking to Judy and Adam. We learned a lot about Judy’s old job, her current interests, Adam’s job working for the Fire Service, and other topics that compelled us to be more and more attached to this delightful family. The farm life is something Trish has always gravitated towards, and this interaction only confirmed her beliefs that one day we’ll live a similar lifestyle to the Wings.
After saying our good-nights and walking back to the bunkhouse, our feelings of anxiety had greatly diminished. We had enjoyed ourselves immensely, our bodies were easily up to the day’s physical demands, our bikes had zero mechanical problems, we had more than enough water, and we made it safely to our chosen destination without one bear attack. Life was good, and our slight deviation from the initial planned route had only given us confidence that even if things didn’t work out perfectly as planned, it didn’t matter. The journey would create lasting memories for us, as it already had, not the destination.