Jason Apr 28, 2016
“There is an intense but simple thrill in setting off in the morning on a mountain trail, knowing that everything you need is on your back. It is a confidence in having left the inessentials behind and of entering a world of natural beauty that has not been violated, where money has no value, and possessions are a dead weight. The person with the fewest possessions is the freest.” -- Paul Theroux
Backpacking is marvelous experience. That perspective of confident freedom concisely summarizes a key aspect of what I enjoy so much about it. Unfortunately, real world responsibilities make it unfeasible to spend as much time on the trail as I'd prefer.
However, long bike rides can sometimes evoke similar feelings and emotions. For April's Gran Fondo, I outlined a route that focused on rural, forested roads and passed through some of the Cascade range foothills. Salem is well-positioned for this type of experience, and I am continually surprised at how quickly one can travel from front door to forest. Another thing that aided this experience for April was absolutely ideal weather. Some days the weather is so perfect it's as though it was designed specifically for riding. Cool, but not cold; warm in the sun, but not too hot; no wind, yet occasionally the hint of a breeze so the air isn't stagnant.
Heading south out of Salem through rolling hills quickly deposit you in some of the agricultural fields that surround the city. These fields are particularly pleasant to travel through early in the morning when the air is cool and quiet, with the mist still rising off the fields. East of Stayton, the road pitched into a gradual but consistent climb through increasingly less populated areas. Eventually the road pops out on top of a ridge providing dramatic views of the surrounding area, with the Cascade foothills receding into the distance. The lack of wind added a dramatic stillness to the scene. A fast downhill descent through the forest dropped me out in Lyons where I took a break next to some large beaver ponds in a city park. Being off the main road made for a serene, relaxing stop with the stillness occasionally broken only by the loud splash of a goose coming in for a landing.
Afterward it was time to ascend the other side of the valley, climbing through a mixture of fields and forest. Climbing on days like this is a joy. When moving through a region under your own physical power, you feel a more intuitive connection to the landscape. Each rise and fall of the ground is felt through your legs, even as you inhale the scents of the gradually changing region. A bike is a perfect match for this sort of exploration: slow enough to observe and interact with the environment, yet fast enough to never feel as though you're not making progress. As I proceeded further northward, it was on a mixture of old and new roads. Even roads I've ridden before often have details I've not noticed before, and sometimes feel completely unique simply riding them a different direction or after a long absence.
In the final leg of the journey, as I spun through familiar routes to return home, there was the bittersweet feel of a journey nearing its end. The sadness of an anticipated adventure coming to a conclusion, balanced with the satisfying glow of completion and with a new set of experiences and adventures to share.