It’s quite rare that you end up on a completely shoulder-less road with so much traffic anywhere near Portland, but the second the weather turns warm you can bet the roads of Sauvie Island are going to be swimming with young people desperate for the beach. And most of them will be in cars. In cars full of coolers. Full of beer.
This afternoon, I swung by on my bike to pick up my man. It’s Earth Day and it’s our one year anniversary. Since I hadn’t been riding much I told him to “take it easy on me,” and he assumed it’d be a short ride. When I got there I found he’d even put platform pedals on his bike. Oh, no, boy! Not that short. Not that easy, but still… “take it easy on me, I already just about died getting here.” Put your clipless back on! Who do you think I am?
We took the classic route out Highway 30 to Sauvie Island, with cars blasting by at 50+ mph but that nice double-wide shoulder. I start to remember just how much I love riding with this guy, even though we’re not necessarily riding together at the moment. He’s about half a mile behind me, grinning, pedaling like crazy. He’s on a singlespeed mountain bike. Yep. I’m also on a mountain bike, but I at least have gears, and a gratuitous skinny tire up front. We’re on a fat tire road ride. He’s back there popping wheelies. I slow way down and he catches up with me. We’re both having a blast already, and it’s really tiring. I start to think about food, and beer.
Once on the island we sit under the bridge and eat some sub sandwiches and watch the water. It’s just one of those idyllic moments when you’re out adventuring with a great friend, except I’m sitting on a black manhole cover and it’s burning my ass. I don’t notice it in time — sort of how they say a frog doesn’t notice if you put him in a kettle and turn the heat to boil. So, when it’s time to get back on the bike, my behind feels a bit like I’ve sat on glass shards. I think more about beer.
We get to the first market. No beer. The nice lady behind the counter pours me water from a gallon jug of distilled, though. That’s nice. My man changes gears. We are tired.
We get to the second market. A sign out front says “BEER.” We celebrate with hand gestures and some hollering. The market is closed.
At the beach. We have bonked. We lay there in the grassy sand and watch clans of very chubby teenagers stake territory and brag about how much beer they have. Some of them have so much beer their pants fall down and breasts threaten to fall out. We don’t have beer. I begin to grow more and more terrified at the prospect of leaving the beach at the same time as these revelers and sharing the road with them. The shoulder-less road. I am going to die. Without beer.
“If we make it off the island, let’s buy a growler.” And with that, we start a paceline off the island. Traffic backs up behind me and I frantically wave them past. Do not make other drivers angry at me by backing up behind me! It’s not my fault you cannot pass me! I hold a line. I go fast. Just pass, damnit! They pass, yet, traffic stops up ahead. What is it?
It’s a woman. On a bike. Going very slow and swerving. She has a rear view mirror and she is looking obsessively into it. It’s making us really nervous. Eventually all the cars are able to pass, then we are able to pass. She says, “It’s very scary riding on this road!”
I dunno if it actually is scary, that’s the thing. I’m thinking, you’re on the road, you must get from where you started to where you are going, and no matter what the road is like, you might as well enjoy it a bit. So, look down, look to your right, focus, move in a straight line, and if you can, move quickly. Get the hard parts over with. Swerving and spooking oneself just doesn’t seem to serve any purpose. I think that must be a horrible, horrible mental space to be in. How does one get into that mental space?! Get me away from this woman and her mental space!
When I’m pedaling along a highway – and I’ve done that quite a bit – it’s really the last thing I want to be thinking about: getting hit by a car. It’s always a possibility, but if it’s all I’m thinking about, that’s one hell of a strange ride. Why go on it? I hear from some people that they “always have an ear out,” but what is that ear out for? Is the car going to make a special sound before it hits, and even if it does, what can possibly be done about it from the saddle of a bike? So, to just ignore all that and go out and plot a path, one’s own little bike path, alongside a busy road, as oblivious yet focused as can be, is a great meditation. I steel myself, but not too much. For instance, I still have a tic where I turn my head right every time a vehicle passes.
All this said, I didn’t have that cold beer I thought I needed and so I’m sort of in that mental space. One of these teen reactionaries is going to careen off the road into me at any moment. But my man is ahead of me, plotting that little path, and I’m on his wheel, and we’re moving quickly. Deliberately. There is beer up ahead. And cars are moving clear into the other lane to pass us. Nobody is throwing anything at us. We are going to survive until we get that beer. And if we don’t, there will certainly be beer in heaven.