• James E Aarons DVM

Bike Trip: Fear of Failure, Chapter 18


Reeling from my breakup with Martha I decided to bicycle from Seattle to San Francisco. A route was developed to celebrate America’s bicentennial following Hwy 1 from Canada to Mexico. I read about the route from my Sunset magazine perusals and ordered an official bike route guidebook, giving exact directions for the entire trip. On the left side of each page, there was a mapping of the elevation changes, which happen through each of the sections of the route outlined on the right side.

I planned on taking the Amtrak up to Seattle, Washington to follow the Pacific Highway south until I reached San Francisco. I was living at the flophouse, sleeping on the sofa, and jogging daily with Donald. It was a big trip; everyone at dinner was talking about it. One blonde lady, in her early twenties, was intrigued and wanted to come along. I wasn’t in the mood for company.

I told her I needed to be alone on this trip; I had to sort things out about my failed relationships, I would not be a talkative or companionable companion.

She was not deterred, offering to stitch together the breaks on my panniers. While I was finishing up my freshman year at Orange Coast College, I bought a second bike. This was the bike Martha used, and it was set up for bike trips, so I did have a way for two people to go on a journey.

I relented, “Okay, we can go together.”

We boarded the northbound Amtrak right in Davis and barely talked to each other throughout the next 18 hours. She became a different person in that period, first indifferent, aloof, then pouty, running a gamut of emotions over this long trip to such an extent I was already done with her before we pulled into Seattle. Probably I disappointed her because I was not talkative, but I warned her; I needed alone time.

Was she expecting me to befriend her, become her big brother suddenly… become her lover!? Thinking back we could have had the best time if only I had pulled my head from my ass, but nope, I was way too lost in reliving and recapturing phantom relationships.

We bought coach tickets, which meant we could only sleep on our upright airline style chairs. However we were on a train, there were many other places to go, the dining room, the lounge car where one could watch the landscape from bubble windows, and the downstairs of the lounge car where card games were played. To my recollection, this woman never sat with me and was always flitting about the train as if she were doing important tasks. Possibly she was hoping to influence me her way, but this was not a search for a liaison for myself, I needed to sort my thoughts. I still had my head too far somewhere to see what was in front of me.

When the train stopped in Seattle, we disembarked, pulled our bikes from their cardboard shipping boxes, and found our way to the hotel. Walking our bikes right through the lobby we checked in and loaded them up the elevator to the fourth floor. Leaving the bikes in the room, we returned to the ground floor for fast food. This part of Seattle was dark and a bit foreboding. The woman stayed close to me, we ate quickly and hurried back to the hotel. There was one bed in our room, which we shared. I felt it was kind of weird we’d been together over 48 hours by now, had hardly talked to one another, and yet were sharing the same bed. However other things in life are strange as well I thought as I fell asleep on my side of the bed.

The next morning we got our gear together and biked to the ferry terminal. Four ships disembarked from this terminal in Seattle; we boarded the ferry to Bremerton. Seattle was cold and damp and windy, especially traveling on the ship. Once we disembarked, we checked our gear and started southwest to intercept Hwy 101. We needed to bike just over 50 miles to get to the coast where the 101 intersected. I started on my way with my new little sister behind me.

I focused on my pedaling. I was trying a new technique called ankling, a way to increase the distance I could go on each rotation by leveraging my feet.

Hardcore bicyclists like me use foot cages, a place where the toe is jammed into a metal framework to keep it from slipping off the pedal, a way to secure the foot to the pedal.

With my toes secured I could manipulate my ankle up and down during the pedaling, pulling up on the pedal during the upstroke as well as pushing downward on the down stroke.

In this way, I increased both the downward and the upward forces during the pedal procedure, allowing me to travel more ground with each pedal rotation.

Occasionally I looked back to see where the little sister was. She did not keep up, and this irritated me. Evidently, my going ahead of her irritated her.

“Why don’t you slow down a bit?” she asked.

“I’m trying to go at a steady pace,” I told her.

“If you slowed down we could talk,” she said.

“It’s too hard to talk when traffic is zooming by and when the wind is at my head,” I informed her, thinking she had plenty and plenty of time to talk on the train or in the hotel room or on the ferry.

Now here she is trying to have a leisurely conversation as we are beginning our odyssey. I told her I would try to slow down, but this promise didn’t last more than half an hour. Soon I was ahead of her again. By the time we reached Hwy 101, the woman blew up at me.

“What is wrong with you? Why can’t we take this trip together, like we talked about?”

“We never talked about taking a warm and fuzzy trip together.” I retorted, reminding her “I initiated this journey with just me. I had this trip in my mind all about me. I told you this trip was one I needed to take by myself. You were the one who ignored what I was saying.”

We discussed the problem more during lunch.

Then little sis told me “Just go on without me.”

“I can’t do that,” I replied.

“There are a lot of other bicyclists here on the 101,” she told me, “and, I’ll find someone who wants a friend. Go on your way. I’ll be fine.” I assented, got on my bike, and started south on Hwy 101. I felt sorry we parted on harsh terms but looked forward to the peace and solitude I originally planned. I biked about another 30 miles south until dusk fell. I dragged my bike about 200 feet off the road and bedded down among a thicket of blackberries. I was content; this was what I had planned for myself.

The next morning I continued south, and by lunchtime, I was at the Columbia River. Rain started, I put my poncho on, and I still didn’t plan on stopping.

“Why stop in the rain and be huddled in a tent?” I thought to myself. I pushed on. The bridge over the Columbia River is almost four miles long, but I could not appreciate the magnificence of the crossing because of the weather. I kept my head down so the driving rain wouldn’t fall on my face. Continuing south below Astoria, Oregon I headed west, leaving the cities behind. The rain cleared, and my biking became enjoyable again. Most of the route through Oregon ran close to the coastline. There were some places, though where I had to bike inland and climb the heavily forested mountains. I was entering lumber territory. Lumber trucks barreled past me. These fellows did not give a hoot about a bicyclist. Many times I was forced to maintain my bike within four inches of the edge of the road.

Sometimes these roads dropped off a hundred feet below me. I was given no leeway, but luck was with me, and I never did lose the edge of the road.

After a couple more days I was at Gold Beach, thirty miles from the California border! I stopped and spent the night. The next morning I realized I had an intense pain in the Achilles tendon of my right foot. I couldn’t walk on that foot, much less cycle. I was devastated. Here I was on my bike trip, and I couldn’t bike anymore. Years later I learned the practice of ankling was discouraged because it causes a tendonitis of the Achilles tendon, exactly what happened to me. The constant flexion and extension of the foot at the ankle cause the Achilles tendon to become inflamed, and this inflammation creates intense pain whenever the foot is raised or lowered.

I packed my sleeping bag and tent and hobbled out of camp to Hwy 1, walking my bike instead of riding it, a terrible feeling for a bicyclist.

I thought I could get a ride if I hitchhiked to San Francisco, but my heart sank when I walked across the highway. A line of people was forming along the ocean side of the road, some in groups, most alone. I counted 18,19, 20, 24 people on the edge of the road thumbing for a ride in the same direction I was trying to go.

This was going to be a nightmare; I was thinking to myself as I laid my bike onto the guardrail and added to the other 24 thumbs in the air. I was the only cyclist, which meant I would have to ask someone to carry my bike as well as myself. I can’t remember how long I sat for a ride.

Last Chapter: Developing Sensitivity Next Chapter: The New Veterinarian


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