The Last Rides of the Summer

Fall still life

I think this is going to be a more reflective piece than my usual sort of “ride report” although I’ll still embed the Ride with GPS/Strava routes I recorded and tell you some of the logistics. But basically, if you know me personally you know this has been a long hard year full of big overhauls. And as we move into Fall, so solidly felt here in Portland as the rain turned cold and the occasionally cloudy skies to flat gray, bike trips slow or stop.

This change of seasons in a way is welcome to me, as I feel like I’m really shedding some of the heavy things this Spring and Summer has had me trapped under, the heat as weighty as it is nourishing. Likewise, the dropping temperatures of Autumn have their own share of more universal, melancholy sadness, and I am not immune to that. But perhaps I can take at least some cold comfort in our collective grief rather than scream and cry alone trying to eke out any last bits of coolness of my kitchen floor, trying desperately to escape the oppressive heat before my body warms that area, smoke burning my lungs, and I have to crawl to a new, unheated spot.

But anyway, enough vague kvetching, I do want to tell you at least a little of my final summer rides. The first, in August, was a sizeable women, trans, femme, and non-binary 2 day overnight on some land with a pond out past Cornelius. As it approached I became very nervous. It was through a group called Veni Vidi Velo or V3, which is a really great local group, and I highly recommend anyone even a little bike-curious check them out. I had gone on their Pedalpalooza ride in June but otherwise knew no one at all. So I was nervous about that. But I was also nervous about the route that encompassed 45 miles with more elevation than I wanted through Forest Park terrain that I wasn’t looking forward to.

To be honest I almost bailed. And the reality was that it was really f***ing hard. I hadn’t really been biking much since that trip in May. This was farther than I had gone since Belgium and that had been almost entirely flat. But I was heartened when I saw my pal Leah who owns Gladys bike shop, and all the other folks, whether we had hung out at that previous ride or they were completely new, were all super friendly. It was genuine and we all struggled up that dirt road, finally collapsing into our lunches at a hot and hazy 3pm.

The campers seemed about half and half queer and straight and that’s a ratio that felt like a really nice contrast to my often intensely sexual, gossip mill lions’ den I like to call “home” or “community.” The 2-3 cis-men that drove the support vehicles really were only there to prepare our meals and generally serve us. It was magical.

We played with goats, ate good food, splashed in the pond and picked warm blackberries their juice bursting in our mouths and staining our hands, their smell permeating the air. I even got a free holistic (and rather existential, spiritual) chiropractic adjustment from the owner of Inner Essence Healing and Chiropractic Center, that read me and my tendencies like an open book. This mixture of therapy and bodywork kinda cracked me open and I’ve felt much freer, if also rawer, ever since. And while if you know me you might think you can read it all on my face (and I’ll tell you all the stories anyway) I tend to keep things fairly close to my chest in mixed company. But this woman brought it out of me and as soon as I have money again I’d like to go back and let her mess me up and fix me again…

The real last trip of the summer was just a few weeks ago now and completely opposite in that I was all alone. It was a hot week and I knew it would truly be our last. I thought about going to Stub Stewart because I had never been there but there isn’t any water to swim in and I thought it might be my last chance for a dip. So I chose Battleground Lake, a route I had taken 3 first time cycle tourists, including my long-term partner at the time, the year before with moderate success. Huh, I guess I never wrote about that one, which is kind of funny.

It was about 32 miles, which really is a little far for an intro, but I couldn’t find a good way to cut off any miles with public transport (damn you Vancouver, Washington, my hometown). But everyone had a great time for about the first 22 miles and I was so happy and proud as we scarfed down blackberry milkshakes at Burgerville. Then we got a flat. I’m not an expert at repair and we had only a patch kit, no new tubes, so it took us quite a while to get back on the road, roads that were now country highways with little shoulders and a lot of hills. It was scary and it was hard. Then we got another flat. It was late and we were tired and frustrated. So when we found out that one of the other rider’s partner was just getting off work and was almost there with the car, we shoved that bike in and continued on as a trio. Tempers flared but we made it and ended up having a truly beautiful weekend.

I thought about all this as I rode alone, at first attempting to make a different lunch stop then realizing that particular suburban strip mall had no bike rack. So I went back to the Burgerville again. I was both happy and sad. I was a bit faster but really the road still dragged long in front of me. The hills loomed large and anytime I took a break some big mean barn dog would come out barking and I would have to run, still huffing and puffing.

Battleground Lake

Still life with Octavia

When I got to the lake it was all worth it. The late afternoon sun warmed my skin and even the first several yards into the water. I languished with only one or two other families and mellow older goth couple. The lake was mine. So too, were the primitive campgrounds, a quarter mile down a path from the parking lot on a ridge beside the lake. Two groups were in the first spots so I set mine up several sites down, blissfully alone.

So you can imagine my chagrin to see that a huge group had set up in the site right next to mine, on the same side of the path, when I returned. Even that wouldn’t have been so bad but for the litany of inconsiderate behavior that followed. I didn’t expect them to turn in strictly at 10, though really they could have kept their music and voices as loud as they wanted all night without bothering anyone at one of the many more campsites down the path. Then their yappy little dog kept coming through my spot in the pitch black scaring me half to death when it barked right outside my tent. Humans also came much closer than I would have liked, shining their lamps into my tiny one person abode, which also made me nervous. When I learned the next morning when they did it again in broad daylight, bright white asses shining toward me, and I realized they were coming to my area to pee, I wasn’t sure if that made it better or worse. Once again, there were miles of forest and several pit toilets in which to relieve oneself just to their other side. As I lay in my sleeping bag at 1 am, 2, 3, 4, 5 I thought, “I’ll show them when I’m up at 6:30 making noise.” But alas, they were still up and never once, through all their shouting and terrible loud Europop, did they ever offer to share their drugs.

Even so, the chilly ride home was calm and still as I wove my way through the low slung fog. There was less elevation and the streets were emptier giving me ample time to stop for coffee and a cake pop.

The night had been so frustrating while it was happening, a mar on my perfect solo trek. But it hadn’t made the day before it any less nostalgic or thoughtful or beautiful, nor my morning return any less pleasant. And though this trip was a couple weeks ago now it seems to dovetail nicely with this week’s Love Lanyadoo horoscope that rang so true to me:

Beginnings and endings are sometimes hard to tell apart. When you’re at the end of one day, you inevitably find yourself at the start of another. This isn’t the time to focus on the sun setting; it’s time to look towards the dawn. Take responsibility for your choices, thoughts, actions, and reactions. These are challenging times, but even within these challenges, we have great potential and opportunity. Let the things that are most upsetting to you charge the creative flow of your energy.

A ride home with Nessy: Someone put a giant set of teeth and googly eyes on a log to make a fake alligator.

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