The Biking Lifeby: Naomi Bloom 11/1/2009
Pam's Big Birthday Bash
When Pam Perkins of Mountain View contemplated her 65th birthday, she wanted to do something that was "challenging, exciting, invigorating, off-the-wall crazy, and proof-positive that the old 65 is the new 50." So she signed up for a 30-day, 1,413-mile ride with WomanTours. The Northwest Loop she chose went from Portland down the Columbia River, over the challenging Cascade Range, into a tiny bit of Washington, through Hells Canyon and the beautiful mountains of Idaho, down the Pacific Coast and back to Portland.
From August 1 to 30, 2009 Pam rode with 29 other over-60 women from throughout the U.S. They enjoyed the support of a luggage sag, a cook, motels and B&Bs, not to mention a rest day just about every week. Armed with a Blackberry, a small computer and a camera, she kept those of us back home posted with reports from every Wi-Fi-enabled locale.
Many of the women already knew each other from other WomanTours rides. "It felt a little like a sorority party," Pam commented, "and I was getting rushed!" But since the ladies roomed with a different person every might (30 women/30 nights), she got to know them all.
The first day was a short 26-mile ride, mostly on bike paths getting out of Portland. But Pam summed up the next day, as "The Agony and the Ecstasy" -- 56 miles of the Columbia River Gorge, "sheer beauty under cool, lush forests" followed by dry grass, hot sun and horrible traffic, not to mention steep and "bumpy" hills.
That pretty much set the tone for the entire month. Cool vs. hot. Beautiful scenery vs. ugly construction zones. Back roads vs. the Interstate highways when there was no alternative.
A Day on the Road with WomanTours"When the alarm goes off at 6," Pam wrote, "we jump out of bed, pull on the Lycra, fill up our water bottles, throw everything together in the suitcases, drag them out the door and load the van, pump our tires, wolf down oatmeal, yogurt, banana, and Fig Newtons, make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and pack a baggie filled with nuts, M+Ms for the day's lunch and off we go on our bikes at 7."
Once on the road, however, "I have nothing to think about except me and my bike. I don't have to think about what to make for dinner, what to wear, what chores to do, bills to pay, kitties to feed. I do think about my safety on the road, eating right, stretching, etc.
"Every night around 5:30 or 6 we gather around the van, where there's a cooler filled with wine, sodas, water, etc. and people chit-chat about the day. Then at 6:30 Linda, our guide/cook, sets out the most incredible dinner buffet, providing us with all of the nutrition we need to recover from the day and to prepare us for the next.
"And I mustn't forget Margarita night. A Womantours tradition is that every time you cross a state line, they serve margaritas. Well, on Tuesday we crossed the state line into Washington and then back into Oregon for overnight and then Wednesday we crossed back into Washington, so we crossed state lines two days in a row." Margaritas all around!
In addition to the sag and trailer, a Subaru wagon dubbed Miss Bo Peep, tagged along to provide water, ice and snacks every 20-25 miles.
Most days Pam rode with Penny, a triathlete from Hawaii. "She has a great sense of humor. When I was taking her picture, she said, 'Give me a minute to make myself look like the person I think I am.'"
Some of the agoniesSince there were many days with 100-plus temps, "we were instructed to ride with at least one other person, drink, drink, drink, eat, eat, eat, put ice cubes under our helmets, wet neck scarves, etc."
But that wasn't Pam's only problem. "I guess I was a little naive to think I might not get a flat tire on this ride. Picture this: I'm coming down a long hill, following a group of gals at a relaxed speed. Ahead of me on the road is a rock -- not a pebble, not a boulder but a rock. It looked menacing. I kept looking at it. Suddenly the rock smiled at me and said, 'Hit me.' So, I did. KABOOM #$**!! Man, oh, man did my front wheel shake, rattle, and roll." Result: a front-tire pinch flat of magnificent proportions.
In Corvallis, OR Pam anticipated weather like back home in California. "WRONG!" she discovered. "I'm in Oregon where their mist is our rain. About three miles out of Corvallis, the mist got heavier ("it's raining" I muttered under my breath hoping no one would hear, and it was raining by California standards). Four miles later I could barely see as my glasses were wet and the rain/mist was dripping off my helmet down the back of my neck. My windbreaker was damp, and by mile eight I was soaked through two layers. I had all the right clothes but they were in my suitcase in the trailer. The roads were a mess and the traffic was awful. I kept on riding. The sag would be waiting for us at mile 20, and I knew that I could get in if it was really bad but I didn't want to do that. So, I had a little talk with myself. I dropped back behind Penny, put my head down and said out loud 'I can do this, I can do this, I can do this' to myself. And you know what, I did it. All 81 miles in some of the yuckiest weather, worst traffic and some pretty damn long hills. But by mile 30 the rain/mist cleared, and the weather for the rest of the day was fairly decent. There was no sun but at least there was no more rain and the temperature hovered around 60, so I dried off."
A few of the ecstaciesDay Four, riding to Umatilla, OR along the Columbia River featured fabulous tailwinds, but to Pam the best part of that day were the trains -- "some of the longest trains I've seen outside of Arizona and New Mexico, and if we were lucky to catch the front engine, we would wave and the engineer would push on the horn."
Day Eight was a 9.99 in terms of greatness, according to Pam's subjective rating system of 1 to 10. "We had beautiful scenery, well-graded hills, smooth pavement, a strong tailwind, considerate drivers, great riding company and a delightful temperature of 75 degrees." From Alpowa Pass they shot down "the most amazing 15-mile downhill on a smooth, beautifully paved highway."
What occurred the next day on heavily traveled and truck-ridden White Bird Pass was "enough to make one believe in God or the power of the Universe or whatever you want to call the big Kahuna in the sky," Pam wrote. Construction closed one lane on the ascent, blocking traffic while "we bikers were permitted to ride in the closed lane for the entire climb . . .. When we reached the two-mile summit . . .we had the downhill lane to ourselves."
On Day 14, the group rode through Idaho's Hells Canyon, the deepest canyon (5,900 feet) in the U.S. It gave Pam a sense of truly being in the wild, wild west, confirmed when they came upon a re-enactment of pioneer life on the Oregon Trail (covered wagons and all) near Baker City. By then the group had covered over 700 miles, almost half way on their route. "So it's very appropriate that we are now in Halfway, Oregon," Pam wrote at day's end.
"We biker chicks are definitely a hit everywhere we go. At Annie's Cafe in Baker City, a bunch of motorcyclists were dying to hear our stories. No one can quite believe that a bunch of 60-somethings are riding bikes for a month and covering almost 1500 miles."
Riding through some construction sites out of John Day, the woman holding the "slow" sign shouted out, "I'm so proud of you girls! I wish I could do that!" At the other end, another women yelled out "You go, honey!"
After a day off in Sisters -- treating herself to a manicure and a 90-minute massage -- Pam topped out on McKenzie Pass: "I was at the top of the world with a 360-degree view of lava fields surrounded by snow covered peaks."
Then it was on to Eugene (home of the University of Oregon), Corvallis (home of Oregon State University and all that "mist"), then over the hills to the Oregon Coast, through Neskowin, Manzanita, and Astoria in three days.
At the farewell banquet in Portland, everyone agreed they'd had an outstanding, challenging ride (including 55,000 feet of climbing) with an incredible group of women. One woman who has ridden across the country five times said that this was the most congenial group she has ever ridden with.
"I hate that this bike trip is coming to an end," said Pam. "I have not had one day when I've said I don't want to ride." Despite the agonies, from truck traffic-ridden Interstates to mosquito bites to headwinds, she consistently signed off each and every message with "P.S. I am still having fun!"
At tour's end, Pam felt she'd accomplished more than she anticipated. She summed it up herself quite neatly:
- Rode my bike for a month in some of the most beautiful and challenging landscape in our country
- Traveled with a group of strong, smart, kind, funny and awesome women
- Learned I'm a hell of a lot stronger both physically and mentally than I thought possible
- Experienced once again the power of the mind
- Valued the time riding alone when I could be inside my head for hours
- Listened to my body, slowed down, hopped in the sag and told myself that this is not a bad thing
- Appreciated that I achieved something that most people couldn't do or wouldn't think of doing
- Made new friends of a lifetime
- Missed my husband and friends more than I imagined.
Naomi can be reached at email@example.com