We’re leaving together,
But still it’s farewell
And maybe we’ll come back,
To earth, who can tell ?
I guess there is no one to blame
We’re leaving ground
Will things ever be the same again?
It’s the final countdown…
Yes – we awoke to the glorious beats of The Final Countdown by Europe played through tinny iPhone speakers. Still – nothing could dampen our mood today, not even the incessant drizzle that accompanied us as we sped through our morning ritual of packing up camp. Normally we are pretty much silent machines in the morning, hardly uttering a word to each other as we all sleepily go about our packing and preparations. But today there was banter and excited discussion right from the start. Questions kept tumbling out. Would the 36 miles to Astoria feel long or short? Would we be ecstatic or melancholy? Would Astoria (which is after all the official end of the TransAmerica) feel like the end or would we only feel like we’d finished once we got to the beach at Seaside? Only time would tell, so for the last time we wolfed down our breakfast pop-tarts and hopped on our bikes. We were riding to the coast!
Mother Nature wasn’t going to make it easy for us though. We rode through some fairly persistent rain for much of the next two hours as we approached the coast. I kept thinking I could smell the ocean and hear seagulls. Route 30, which we had been following from Portland, had been re-surfaced recently along the last 5 miles or so into Astoria so we had a great smooth roll into town.
We were quiet now. I guess the others were thinking similar thoughts to me. This was it. 69 days. Over 4000 miles. Too many mountain passes to mention. Scores of kind folk who’ve offered us hospitality and help in other ways. I tried to remember each amazing moment along the trip but I couldn’t focus. There were so many thoughts flitting through my mind, but at the same time a real calmness. This wasn’t an exhausted, triumphant sprint down the final straight in front of an adoring crowd of onlookers. This was a gentle coast into a nondescript town where no-one knew that we’d been cycling for so long just to get here and that this was a momentous occasion for us. We pulled up at a busy diner, locked our bikes and went in for a celebratory late breakfast. We all agreed the real finish would be down the road in Seaside where we could actually reach the ocean ‘proper’.
Feeling brave and (more significantly) lazy, we decided we could ride along the 101 bridge which is fairly narrow and very busy. But it would save us about 8 miles and it was flat! So we breathed in, pedaled hard and raced across it. I can clearly remember thinking to myself ‘Well, I wouldn’t be sooooo bothered if I got run over now as we’ve officially reached the end.’ Obviously the long days on the road were starting to take their toll of my sanity.
Rather boringly we made it across without incident and immediately it felt like we were on the home straight. Rather than racing to the end we relaxed and cruised along. I can’t describe how satisfying it was, knowing that we were completing what we’d set out to do so long ago. Finally there was nothing left to plan for, worry about or decide on. My brain and my body could now relax – they’d done their jobs well!
The final road to the beach was perfect for a coast-to-coast ride – a quiet town road from the highway that ran perpendicular to the beach and ended abruptly at the sand with a glimpse of the ocean sandwiched between dunes. I swapped my cycling shoes for flip-flops and we pushed our bikes along a sand path through the dunes and onto the beach.
I stopped briefly at the crest of the dune as Matt and Pat walked on ahead. I was struck by how close we’d become over the last 10 weeks. Pat was a total stranger before the first day of riding but now, having shared so much, we would all be life-long friends. We’d always have this shared experience that no-one else would totally understand the way we did. And I realised how much I owed these guys for making the trip what it was. I would have hated to do it on my own. You need companions to share the experiences with, to motivate you and even sometimes to hold you back and talk sense into you. I thank God for bringing us together for this adventure. I’m constantly amazed that we formed such a good team. It cannot have been just coincidence.
We got a good few strange looks from other beach-goers as we struggled to roll our heavily-laden bikes 100m through the soft sand towards the water. The sun had come out (for which I will eternally be grateful!) and the Pacific looked beautiful – all the more so because we had been looking forward to this moment for so long. We took photos as we dipped our front wheels (and quite a bit more!) in the water. We stood there for quite a while just enjoying that sensation of not having anywhere to ride to. Then someone uttered the magic word ‘ice-cream’ and we all picked up our bikes and headed back to the road.
Ice-cream seemed the most appropriate way to celebrate as it had become a favourite reward at the end of a long day’s riding. It seriously is a cyclists best friend!
Just as we were finishing our cones and I was checking my now substantial beard (ok, facial hair) for any drops I’d missed, Pat’s mum Sylvia and sister Alexandra show up. They’d driven up from San Jose, CA (about 11hrs away) to pick Pat up and give Matt and I a ride back to Portland. Sylvia immediately insists on buying us all another round of ice-cream which obviously we don’t turn down!
The bikes were loaded onto the back and top of the car and we all piled in. I imagine some people develop a dislike of cars after doing such a long cycle trip. Not me – my appreciation for them has simply deepened! I’m so much more aware of how useful they can be and how much time and effort they save you. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still keen to see how long I can last without them when I get back to Cambridge. But I certainly have not become ‘anti-car’ as a result of this cycle trip.
As we drove back inland towards Portland the rain started again. Zooming up one hill we spotted a lone cyclist, fully loaded and wearing waterproofs, struggling up the incline. He appeared to be barely moving. I’d like to say we cheered him on as we swept past, but I’m ashamed to say our response was more of a Nelson Muntz (The Simpsons) “Ha ha!”. Oh the fickleness of the cyclist with a ride!
Sylvia had booked two rooms in a hotel in Portland with ‘points’. It was a great feeling to relax in comfort at the end of the journey (although the stench of drying tents literally dampened the atmosphere). We all went out to a steakhouse for a final meal together – a last chance to pig out before returning to a more responsible diet. I’m gonna miss the whole ‘calorie-loading’ aspect of the trip!
And then we headed to bed. Tomorrow Pat would be driving south to California and Matt and I would be catching a greyhound bus up to Seattle for a few days of being a normal tourist. The adventure was over. But we all agreed there was definitely another adventure in the pipe-line with our names on it. Perhaps South America…?