Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ssshhh, I'm riding.

One of the quickest and simplest ways to get into halfway decent riding from where I'm at in Portland is to head out Scholls Ferry Rd towards Sherwood and get into the country roads away from the main arteries of north-south traffic between Beaverton, Tigard, Wilsonville, etc etc. It's a bit ugly, as most of the riding here is, for the first 30-40minutes while getting out of town, there's big intersections and stoplights at maddeningly close intervals. Once you get out, though, there's an OK network of roads to pick your way around on, if you figure out what goes where and how to avoid riding down the worst of the busy roads.

Even when you end up out of town, though, you realize that the definition of a "quiet road" changes dramatically depending on what your baseline expectation is. Nothing exemplifies that more than the a routine event on any longish bike ride: a sudden need to urinate and a desire to find a quiet spot to do so where you are unlikely to see a car while you take care of business. Now, around Eugene that's pretty much anywhere. You just pull off, take care of it, and 9 times out of 10 there's no car in sight when you start and none go by when you finish. Not so around here.

Last week I rode out and tried a few different loops before ending up going out to Sherwood and finding my way though the tiny downtown looking for a promising pavement upon which I could stand and admire the local greenery while contributing various salts and minerals to the soil. This was not an easy task. In slight desperation I ended up climbing Ladd Road and finding a little turn-off from there where I could relieve myself in peace, and while I stood and observed how the blackberries were unfortunately past their prime I had a sudden realization: I had found silence.

Yes, just after the top of this hill, far out of my way and nowhere near what would be considered a "short spin" from SW Portland, I had finally found silence on my ride. Not the absolute kind of silence, mind you, but the kind of silence that you get when all human noises are removed and just the normal sounds of a planet going about its business remain - wind, birds, etc. For two weeks I rode with the sound of cars in my ears, even on the quieter roads, for a car was seemingly always in sight if not actually passing me on these quiet "country roads". Everywhere seems close to some relatively major thoroughfare, and if you can't find the privacy to pee you certainly can't find relief from the noise of traffic either.

Even looking out from the top of a hill, on the quietest road I had ridden on in my short explorations, it is not possible to escape the feeling that my post was a mere oasis, and that any direction would inevitably drop me back into cars.

By contrast, I was lucky enough to do two shortish rides around the lower valley this weekend, one in Eugene and the other around Corvallis and Philomath. In Eugene, Azul and I went climbing in the south hills neighborhoods and found what would pass for supremely quiet roads up here. We did some loops I used for standard training when I was short on time - Timberline, McLean, Chambers, Lorane, Blanton, Crest, Willamette. No cars brushed me or flipped me off or tried to right hook in front of me. It was amazing. Then, riding on Willamette at about 50th St, I noticed something else that I hadn't experienced in two weeks: animals. Two nice bucks, one fat doe, and dozens of turkeys. We used to see animals on every ride in Eugene. The most I have seen here is roadkill squirrel carcasses, and the occasional suicidal live one.

On Sunday I explored some of the small roads through the hills near Corvallis and then ended up riding down Hwy 34 a ways to get some steady state in. Again, it was quiet. I saw a few cars but nothing you would call "traffic". They gave me lots of room - they had lots of it themselves. I saw more animals. I stopped and took a leak. No-one drove by and saw me. I saw some forest, some timber, farms with goats and squash and cabbage and not just big "Pumpkin Patch! Corn Maze!" signs. I saw back yards open to the road. I didn't get a flat. It was very, very nice.

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