A Former BMX Pro Struggles to Gain His Stride on a Tour Down the Pacific Northwest Coast
By Taj Mihelich | Photography by Sandy Carson
Pacific City to Newport
At breakfast the next morning, the guys pushed coffee on me. I’ve always hated the taste, but I was desperate to find some energy. They told me it’s an important part of cycling and will make me ride stronger. I also experienced the odd, sticky, cold, tingling sensation of Chamois Butt’r for the first time, trusting their word that this wet-diaper feeling was a good idea.
We dragged our bikes out onto the beach. The morning was cold and misty, but Haystack Rock was looming in the bay and we couldn’t resist messing around in the water and taking photos.
At a rest stop, the rain picked up and I watched Sandy rummage through his large panniers to find warm, dry clothes. His voice telling me to only bring one change of clothes echoed through my head as I looked helplessly at my mini-bag, knowing I had no rain gear inside. I rode on, hoping to find somewhere to buy something warm, but the remote route we followed took us through a national forest with no stores or people. Like the day before, the guys were having a great time. I dragged myself behind them, wet, shivering and miserable. At one point, Sandy pulled me aside to say it’d be alright if I wanted to get a rental car and just meet them in San Francisco. I felt like a black cloud riding behind their party.
I struggled on. Finally, Nick and Seth ganged up on me, buying me hot chocolate and forcing me to drink it. They stripped off some of their layers and lent them to me before pulling me the rest of the way into Newport, Oregon, where I begged successfully for an end to the day’s ride. At only 55 miles, it had been the shortest ride of the trip, but for me that day of pedaling in the rain was the hardest of them all.
Newport to Coos Bay
Seth needed to head back to Seattle and his messenger job. But before we parted ways, he gave me some advice: “It’s like riding a vert ramp; you’ve gotta go up one side to get up the other. Just keep your own pace and you’ll keep up with everyone else. Get in your zone and you will find your stoke. Don’t worry, you’ll get pumped.”
It was still cold and threatening rain as we hit the road, but I still hadn’t found warm clothes. Although the sincerity of Seth’s pep talk warmed my heart, I was nowhere near being stoked. When Sandy stopped to suggest back-tracking and taking some random road up into the mountains, I snapped. “Why make this longer? We don’t even know where this goes!”
But then I realized I was being an ass and retracted my complaint as gracefully as I could. “It’s your birthday, Sandy. You lead. But when it’s my birthday, we’re just eating pizza and sitting around.”
Sandy’s detour rewarded us with an amazing descent down a smooth road with banked corners. I even picked up a draft from a dump truck that screamed by and noticed I was actually laughing as I passed Sandy and Nick.
But the weather didn’t get any warmer. In desperation, I pulled my jeans on and removed the soaking-wet toe straps that were making my feet numb. The jeans were so tight over my riding shorts that it was uncomfortable to sit and spin, so I shifted to a bigger gear and got out of the saddle. Suddenly I was on a BMX bike, standing up and cranking on flat pedals. Thirty years of BMX riding came back to me and I felt recharged. I started to feel warm from the extra effort and could keep up with the guys on the climbs. In fact, for the first time of the trip, I was the one setting the pace.
When we rolled into Florence, the promised Oregon Banana Belt effect kicked in, with the sun beating down on us. And just as it got hotter, we rode up to the first store we’d seen in days and I was finally able to buy warm clothes.
We kept cruising south along the spectacular coastline. For me, this is one of the most beautiful parts of the world, and when I was not suffering, I could actually appreciate it.
By the time we got to Reedsport, dusk was setting in, but we couldn’t resist stopping at a deserted cement skatepark. Carving a bowl on a road bike isn’t all that satisfying, but it just seemed wrong to ride by without stopping.
We rolled into Coos Bay after dark and found a restaurant willing to stay open late to serve us pizza and beer.
Finding the Stoke first appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of Paved. We’ll deliver the remainder of this feature article over the course of the next few days right here on pavedmag.com, but should you wish to see this story in its original format—or simply want gratification of a more immediate kind—the entire issue is available for download on the Apple Newsstand.