Portland was a perfect few days of rest. By the end part of me almost felt too lazy to load my bike up and get back on the highway, and another part couldn’t get there soon enough. Being a tourist in a city felt over-indulgent after about two days, eating rich food and being totally comfortable every night; after a while I think we both got a little antsy and occasionally a little fighty.
I did fall for the city, though, with its over-the-top courtesy to cyclists and ever-present indie culture; I saw signs for at least ten upcoming events that I wished I were staying around for, and I could easily imagine living in one of its little neighbourhoods. We drank kombucha on tap at the public library like we were in a Portlandia sketch; this city was beautiful.
On our last morning there we packed up our things, bought groceries at the hipster grocery store around the corner, and tried to make the house look like we’d never been there.
Timmi and Otis had directed us to Tryon Community Life Farm on the edge of the city (with the cryptic instruction, “Go to the Tea Whale.”) We looked up their open-to-the-public hours and figured we’d just swing by, have a look around, and then spend the afternoon getting far out of town.
And then we were late leaving the house, and then city cycling takes forever and part of our bike route was on the Esplanade and was packed with weekend market-goers, and then our map was limited and we took some wrong turns and the entire area around Tryon is full of steep, steep hills on country roads, and we were still getting used to riding with gear again. It was around mid-afternoon by this point and there was no way we were getting out of Portland.
It was such a pain to get to, but we never considered not going to Tryon; Timmi and Otis had said such beautiful things about it (and had met there), and organic farming is a part of both of our lives– we were so interested to see the set-up there and the community around it. It felt important.
We knew it was right next to a state park and figured we could stay there for the night, but we arrived to a ‘no camping’ sign and to find the woods completely surrounded by roads; ducking into the bushes to pitch a tent was going to be difficult there. We went onto the farm knowing we had to see it, not knowing what we would do that night, trusting that something would work out.
Tryon is magical. It’s tucked in behind the trees, and a dirt road takes you past tiny homes and a giant bike shed. You come in and there are goats, a labyrinth planted up with mushrooms, seating areas amongst the trees, a greenhouse, bonzai gardens, a big, outdoor kitchen with clay ovens shaped like animals, a yurt for meetings and metitation, a little sauna, a big swing, trailers and huts that people live in, a composting toilet. The Tea Whale is a whimsical open-air structure in the shape of a whale– it spirals in to a blanket loft and is lined with twinkle-lights, Persian rugs, and benches piled with blankets and cushions. The entire space was a perfectly balanced blend of simple practicality and artistic whimsy, coziness and hard work. It felt incredibly healthy.
We came in really awkwardly, as outsiders to a tightly-knit community. We approached the first person we saw, to make sure we were allowed to be there and to ask if there was camping anywhere nearby; there wasn’t, and Isabel offered to be responsible for us if we camped on the land that night.
(I can’t say enough times how lucky we are, for the spaces and the people who have been so good to us.)
Isabel took the time to tour us around the land and to show us where we could set up camp behind it, and it didn’t come up until then that we were on bicycles. It turned out that they had done the same route (just starting in Portland) a few years back.
It is always affirming and strengthening to talk to people who have done this. There are many other people who tell us stories of touring cyclists who have been hurt or killed on the roads, and it’s hard not to take those in and ride with them sometimes.
(Oddly enough, all of us seem to know, at the very least, one person who’s been in a car crash, and you don’t tell those stories to someone who’s going on a road trip.)
We found ourselves at the dinner table that night, eating burritos with the residents of Tryon, and doing a round of names/preferred pronouns/sharing how everyone’s day had been. There was a wide age range from children to silver-haired adults, a full spectrum of gender identities, and really honest sharing and listening; we were incredibly fortunate to be welcomed into this space. We left after dinner and before their private ‘Hearts Circle’ started, a meeting centred around more vulnerable talk about everyone’s lives.
We drank nettle tea in the Tea Whale, went to bed, and in the morning packed up to sounds of drumming and singing coming from the yurt.
Visiting Tryon was a glimpse into a good community and a very tenderly, thoughtfully-constructed space. I’m carrying it inside of me as an example of what is possible; of the sorts of lives that we’re capable of living, of what we can create.
From Tryon, we fought with twisting and turning roads, steep hills through neighbourhoods where we actually had to climb off and walk, and then finally suburbs and highway ramps. When we were finally on the 26 we pedalled like crazy until suburbs turned into towns turned into farmland, and then we were back to something familiar, those space-between stretches of highway.
We got poured on, but it was warmer this time, or we were used to it; it didn’t matter so much. We stopped at a roadside restaurant where we were the only customers, and then went across the road to a jerky/dry goods store (‘VEGAN JERKY’ on the sign was a reminder that we weren’t as far outside of Portland as it felt like we were).
There were absolutely no campgrounds on the 26 between Portland and the coast, so we knew we’d be ducking into the bushes that night. We took off up a logging road at the end of the day and climbed it high, away from the highway. Most of it was replanted land and didn’t look like it was being used, and we figured at 6PM the workday was well over anyway. Because of the slope of the land there was nowhere we could really hide from the road, so with wet, cold fingers we set up the tend beside it and resolved to be out early in the morning.
We had just finished setting up our camp and I was full of anticipation of getting into the tent and dry clothes, when a pickup truck rolled past us in the direction of the highway– the last guy there for the day. he stopped a short way down from us and Kini went down to talk to him; he was friendly, but had to tell us to leave. Our hearts sank and we packed everything up again, still cold and quickly losing light, ranting to each other about the irony of not being allowed to tread so lightly on land that had already been so thoroughly destroyed.
I think that night market to me the ways I’ve toughened to the level of this trip in the past two weeks. Cold and damp with the sun going down, I wasn’t despairing or worried; there was shit to get done and we had to do it fast. We were far from any town and we had everything we needed to set up a comfortable sleeping place; we just needed to get out of sight and get it done.
We got back on the bikes and went a short way down the road, to a forested spot that was almost definitely part of the same logging area, and threw our bikes and ourselves into the bushes. We found a place away from the road and had to carry the bikes and the gear up separately, over logs and through bushes until we were safely hidden, surrounded by moss-hung trees. We could see the glint of cars as they went past, and darkness actually came as a welcome cover.
We have an established routine at this point, of setting up the tent immediately, setting the sleeping pads up to inflate, and then throwing all of our bedding, books and light into the tent, separating out the food, locking and tarping the bikes, cooking dinner, doing dishes, and hoisting the food bag into a tree. There’s a comfort and security in it all, and there’s humanity in the hot meals and brushing my teeth twice a day. The tent has become a safe space in my mind, the cozy home where I keep the light on to read at night. I’ve been sleeping so soundly lately, wherever we are, all through the night.
I think you have to tell yourself myths of total safety to actually be okay in the world. I learned this back in the winter, when I got up and faced a creepy stranger in my kitchen in the early hours of the morning; in the aftermath the forcefield of security that I’d imagined around my home was destroyed, and it was challenging to build it back up, to sleep at night, come home to an empty house, or walk in the dark.
Even before leaving on this trip I was still creeping carefully around corners of the house at night and starting at every sound, and in the beginning the man in my kitchen followed me a bit on these travels; I was feeling incredibly prone to the world, and every time I imagined somebody approaching the tent I imagined them with his face.
We are prone in our tent-home, and we sleep with a sharp knife and a can of bearspray within easy reach. With each night that we go undisturbed, though, I feel the immense improbability of a person or animal coming across us in a way that would compromise our safety. Our tiny camp blends easily into a forest, it nestles into the dark, we are part of it, there is space enough for us in this world.
I’m going to probably misquote a writer whose name I can’t currently remember, but this is the most perfect thought I can imagine by which to travel, or to live:
“You did not come into this world; you came out of it, like a wave out of the ocean. You are not a stranger here.”
There is a strong tendency in our society to isolate in vehicles, houses, or digital spaces, and a certain type of individualism that keeps us separate from each other.
I think something I’m in the process of trying to internalize is that we are all made of literally the same material as everything around us, and we aren’t separate from each other at all; in a very close way, I am a part of the same world and living the same collective life as every person I meet.
Bicycle touring is an intensely beautiful way to travel. We are out in the open air, we’re part of the world, we experience the elements in a full-on, total kind of way, and we move through places slowly enough to really be there, to really see them. We sleep in woods and on beaches; we find our home in the spaces around us, not in the ones that are prescribed, formalized, indoors.
Being in the open air and doing something that attracts curiosity also opens us up for interaction and conversation. Anytime we stop anywhere, everybody talks to us. They’re kind and they want to hear our stories, share their own, talk about places, and give us their encouragement and their blessings. We are out here sharing space with strangers in a way that we wouldn’t be, travelling by car.