This weekend I embarked upon my first bike/train “practice trip” for my tour. On Saturday morning, I hitched up the trailer to the Brompton, with a suitcase inside, and headed down to Portland’s Union Station. The ride was about four miles, and in that time I got sprinkled on and decided to add the rain cover to the trailer (first time I’ve done that) and also realized just how heavy my backpack was. Normally, I’m one of the rare cyclists who actually prefer a backpack to panniers, but this time, with my lock and laptop in it as well as two full water bottles, my aching shoulders decided that I would stow it in the trailer for the “real” trip later in the day. (As well as, presumably, the real “real trip.” My practice-trip lessons had begun!)
At the station, I wheeled over to the baggage area, where I soon found myself in a conflict with the two attendants about whether I would need to pay a $10 baggage fee for the trailer. When I had taken a pre-practice trip just to the train station a couple of weeks ago—expressly for the purpose of talking to the baggage attendant about all the logistics and fees of carrying the Brompton and trailer on various Amtrak trains—she had helpfully explained to me that if I removed the wheels from the trailer, it would be considered regular baggage, and I could check it at no charge. These two men on Saturday, though, insisted that any “bike trailer” was subject to a $10 fee. I told them I was willing to pay it if I needed to, but I felt frustrated because the other employee had told me clearly that I wouldn’t have to. After going back and forth several times, I agreed to pay it; no need to have a big conflict over such a small issue. As soon as I agreed to pay, though, one attendant seemed to reconsider: “Well, I don’t care that much about it. If she told you it was no charge, I won’t charge you.”
I enjoyed the scenic train ride to Salem—a very familiar route to me from my prison-visiting days—but noted with some concern the rain that began falling soon after boarding. I really don’t enjoy riding in the rain if I can avoid it.
When I disembarked, the sky had turned to an off-and-on drizzle, and I put the rain cover back on the trailer and headed out to Infinity Room to grab the lunch I had ordered online from the train. When I arrived, I was struck that it was much more complicated to lock up my bike and go into a building with the trailer attached. I had my suitcase in it, and the trailer is not lockable by itself. For this particular stop, I trusted that it would be very quick, so I just grabbed my backpack out of the trailer and dashed in after locking the bike. There was a woman standing just outside the restaurant, and I asked her to keep an eye on it for me, which she graciously agreed to do.
Once I got in, I encountered another small obstacle: the food was packed in a cardboard clamshell, placed inside a grocery-sized brown paper bag. There was no way that would fit in my backpack, and I was concerned that if I tried to put it in the trailer, it might leak onto my belongings. I asked if they had a plastic bag available to secure the container. I avoid plastic whenever I can, and I believe that Salem has banned plastic to-go bags like Portland has, which is a good thing. But… in a situation like this, I had to admit it would be very handy. One of the employees went into the back to check, and returned with a small white plastic trash bag.
Perfect! Problem solved: I swapped out the grocery bag for the filmy plastic one. When I got back to my bike, I appreciated a new aspect of the trailer: a horizontal food package like that fits easily within it, whereas if I’m biking with just my backpack, it’s not workable.
I continued on my way, to Salem’s Riverfront Park, to enjoy the meal at a covered picnic table. The food hit the spot. (Definitely stop by Infinity Room if you’re ever in Salem: it’s the only all-vegan restaurant in town, and it’s run by wonderful people!)
After lunch, I managed to maneuver the bike and trailer into a restroom right near the table, too: what a blessing to have a restroom large enough to fit it all in (even if it did appear only borderline-sanitary.) I have definite concerns about the time, effort, and security issues involved in making rest stops along my journey.
I left the restroom—had to ask someone to help me hold the door open while I backed out the whole contraption—and refilled my water bottle.
I was ready to begin!
And then… two nearly simultaneous snafus threatened to ruin the trip before it began:
I had been looking forward to taking a scenic route out of Salem through Minto-Brown Island Park. I had visited this large nature park a couple of times before, and thought it would be a much nicer option than Hwy 22, which was Google Maps’ other recommended route. Minto-Brown connects to the riverfront park via a recently constructed bike and pedestrian bridge.
But… as I approached the bridge, I saw a barricade: “Closed for construction.”
I looked through the gate toward the bridge, and saw people walking on it. Were they scofflaws? Danger seekers? Or, perhaps there was another way of accessing the bridge? Another entrance?
I started walking the bike and trailer around to see if I could find another entrance. I thought I did find one… but it was similarly barricaded.
Ugh!! Was I going to have to take extra time to make it over to Hwy 22 now?
But that soon became the least of my worries. As I turned the bike and trailer around after seeing the second barricade, my trailer came unhitched.
What? How does that happen? This seems dangerous…?
I tried to reconnect the hitch. I couldn’t, because it had somehow become twisted around such that the connector wouldn’t fit on the ball on my bike.
Stress level rising.
A group of adolescent boys who had been talking nearby walked over, and one of them kindly offered to help. I appreciated the offer, and showed him my rig (he was duly impressed) but he left just as stumped as I was. He apologized for not being able to help, and they walked on.
I felt a twinge of desperation, but then found myself remembering a recent conversation with a dear friend, who has been following my adventure while taking one of her own. She had recently encountered a seemingly scary, “stuck” situation while on the road. She consciously chose to take a moment to relax and center herself, trusting that things could and would work out somehow. And as if by magic, as soon as she did this, her seemingly hopeless situation did indeed resolve itself quickly.
I thought, This is the same thing for me. I’m going to relax a moment, and count my blessings. (The sun has come out! I still have plenty of time. My hosts, Judy and Jeff, have made me a standing offer to come and rescue me in their car if I need it.) Then I will brainstorm solutions. There are always solutions.
I texted Judy, to let her know about these two apparent obstacles and the resulting delay. She reiterated her offer to pick me up. I thanked her, but declined: No way was I going to just quit this journey before even starting! If the situation turned more dire, I could reconsider.
My next step was to call Freedom Folding Bikes, in Boulder, Colorado, from whom I had purchased the trailer. They are the sole US distributor of the Dutch-built Radical Design Chubby trailer. Chuck, the store owner, answered the phone immediately, to my relief. I told him I was in need of some “tech support,” and hoped he could help. I explained the situation, and he seemed to immediately understand. He asked if I was calling from an iPhone.
“OK, let’s switch to FaceTime, and I’ll show you what you need to do.”
Whoa, the marvels of modern technology!
We switched over the call seamlessly—no need to even hang up—and he flipped his camera to show me his in-store demo model of the bike, trailer, and hitch. He showed me what I needed to do, which was to twist the bar to partially unscrew the end of it. I hadn’t even realized the end screwed in; I thought it was connected permanently, immovably.
Sadly, I didn’t appear to have the strength to twist it effectively. But he assured me that this was the only solution, so I thanked him, hung up, and surveyed the scene to find someone stronger to help.
My eyes fell upon a young couple in the parking lot straight ahead of me, unloading their bikes from an SUV. I tentatively approached them and asked if they could help with a bike problem. They agreed, so I sighed with relief and showed them the situation. The young man seemed to barely lay his hands on the connection and immediately loosen it. I was somewhat mortified, in a pickle-jar kind of way, but mostly, jubilant about this progress! I thanked them both profusely, and told them I was on my way to Corvallis as a part of a larger bike journey around the country.
The young woman’s eyes lit up. “Corvallis? That’s where I’m from! My whole family lives there!” She insisted on giving me her phone number: “If you need anything at all while you’re there, my relatives would be happy to help!”
I was so touched. This is the magic of the road, the journey, isn’t it? People really want to help if they can.
I handed her my business card with my blog’s URL on it in case she wanted to follow the journey (Rachel, if you’re reading this, thank you and your sweetie again!) and we parted ways.
I hopped on the bike with the now-attached trailer, and slowly began pedaling toward the other side of the park, where I could connect with Hwy 22.
Except! As I passed the barricaded path again, I saw that just beyond my previous field of vision was the actual entrance to the bridge. Hallelujah!! Those two barricaded gateways were actually leading to a very specific area of the park, adjacent to the bridge but not the path to it.
So I scaled the ramp, took a photo of the silvery bridge, and rode off into a beautiful field of wildflowers at the entrance to Minto-Brown. It was the perfect way to finally begin the journey.
The rest of the 38-mile ride was mostly beautiful. The early sprinkles gave way to sunshine and mild temperatures, and although I didn’t appreciate the slight headwind that seemed to keep me company for most of the trip, the scenery more than made up for it: lush pale-green fields and early-summer trees, including many beautiful oaks.
At long last, after four hours and 45 minutes, as the temperature was starting to drop and the light just starting to wane, I pulled my spent body and rig into the driveway of Judy and Jeff’s beautiful house and garden.
They were lovely and gracious hosts, and I enjoyed a relaxing shower and a wonderful home-cooked meal, and managed to stay lucid enough for a couple of hours of conversation about bicycling (they are avid cyclists) and traveling, before turning in to a comfy bed for a good night’s sleep.
The next morning, Sunday, we awoke in a leisurely fashion and enjoyed some oatmeal with a dizzying array of toppings, then hopped in their car for a brief tour of Corvallis, including First Alternative Natural Foods Co-op for some food and treats for my return trip (I always love to visit a local co-op wherever I travel) and a lovely small island that felt very reminiscent of Sauvie Island, just outside of Portland.
After I bade them farewell, my 13-mile bike ride to the Albany train station went smoothly, with more beautiful scenery along Hwy 20. I serendipitously avoided a brief rain shower toward the end of the trip by pulling over for lunch on a rock under a tree in a wooded park just before the train station. The boughs of the large old tree managed to shelter me entirely from the rain, much to my delight. I hopped back on the bike just as the rain stopped.
At the station, the attendant cheerfully checked the trailer as no-charge baggage, without incident.
This first practice trip was exactly what I needed: Enough beauty, pleasant weather, and warm conversation to remind me why I want to do this for a year, and enough challenges to keep my expectations realistic and give me some opportunities for learning and growth.
Next month: Seattle!
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