Anne woke up early and heated water for tea. She scurried around the church’s common room where I slept, getting her things together for her early morning bus ride. I leisurely awoke, knowing that today would be my first day of riding alone. Knowing that when she left, I would suddenly go from being part of a “couple of bikers” to being a solo woman rider. We spoke fewer words to each other that morning than we had during our entire trip. For the first time, we had different stresses on our minds and different plans for our day. At around 8 AM, Anne came up to me with the words, “Well, I’m going to go…” We hugged, pretended it was no big deal, and left each other.
It’s been a week since I’ve been riding solo. I started to talk to myself on day one. On day two, people started to tell me that I’m brave for riding alone. I realized that when alone, I lose a lot of my conversational skills and need to actively practice showing my personality rather than shutting people out. On day three, I went on a lighthouse tour, which was one of my personal “goals” for Oregon. Day four brought me to a park in which miles of dunes stretched out towards the sea. In this park, I shared the hiker-biker campsite with a cyclist named Brent. We shared hot chocolate and he reminded me how to throw a bear bag effectively and start a fire.
In the last few days, I have been forced to exercise more independence than I ever have in my life. After Brent showed me how to make a fire, I have even cooked meals over an open fire. (I am still in awe that my hands are capable of this act.) I have been hanging my own bear bag confidently rather than laying awake questioning if I did it right.
The hardest part of being alone, though, is not these physical acts, but rather making micro-decisions each day on my own. There are a plethora of choices that I have to decide between each day: when to stop and eat, where to camp, how far to ride, whether to go into the river, how far to hike, who to talk to and for how long. There’s no one else whose whims will influence the outcome. There is no one to talk to about the pros and cons. There’s no one whose grumpiness, or energy, will effect how far I go. It’s all me–how caffeinated I am, how strong my legs feel, how far I want to go forward, how hard I want to push.
I miss Anne immensely, but I find that for practical matters, riding alone isn’t actually harder. The biggest logistical drawback of not having a biking partner is that there is no one to watch my bike. Luckily, I have found a clever workaround: disengage the breaks. No one will get far with my bike without brakes!
Here I am, a week into Oregon, and I’m almost at Portland. I’ve already accomplished some of these, but here are the goals that I started with for Oregon:
1. Visit a lighthouse. I don’t know why I figured Oregon had a lot of lighthouses, but for some reason I figure Oregon would be the perfect place to go on a lighthouse tour.
2. Swim in a river. Some of my goals for this journey have to do with becoming more competent in life skills that I lack. I’m not a very good swimmer. I didn’t improve at all in California, but maybe Oregon’s rivers will give me a chance to improve.
3. Stand on a rock in the ocean or in a bay. On the way north from California, people have insisted that Oregon’s coast is full of giant rocks. In Northern California, I was able to hike out to a giant rock, stand on top of it, and feel the mighty winds attempt to push me into the ocean. I’d like to feel that in Oregon.
4. Learn 3 new things about my bicycle. Portland is known for its hipsters, hipsters are known for their bike repair skills. Maybe I can learn something new!
5. Go on a brewery tour. I know how to brew beer. I still love feigning ignorance as professional brewers give me an unlimited supply of fancy beer.
6. Visit a creamery. Frank, who hosted us in Santa Barbara, extoled of the delicious ice cream at the Tillamook Creamery. I don’t think that I will actually visit Tillamook, but perhaps I can find another creamery to satiate my dairy hunger.
7. Be in a space that is uncomfortably like Portlandia. I’m scared that Portland will be just like Portlandia (the TV show). I am aware that I might just hate Portland because of this.