This month I turn 45. As a gift to myself, I wanted to see if I could create an experience that would poke and prod at me in very uncomfortable ways. Some people like birthday cake and lavish presents. Me? I like to suffer. I can't explain these things. So, I signed up for the Steens Mazama 1000--a 1,000-mile self-supported, complete masochist of a bike race that would take me to remote stretches and peaks of Oregon I had never seen.
My only goals were as follows:
2) See how far I could go before my bike or body gave out.
3) Sponge every second of it in.
Doing 1,000 miles was never the end goal (cool if it happened, but not the focus). This was my ride and the finish line would logically present itself. Oh and it did, but more on this later.
So, I bought my first tent, borrowed some supplies from my wonderful friends, and packed up my bike for the July 6 departure. And then I went and did it. I lined up with some very serious athletes who meant business (months and months of training under their spandex), and my pal, Lee, who learned about it on June 2 and signed up a few days later. Underdogs. We were made to do this race together.
By the end of the first day, we knew that we had already won. A mad dash out of Portland to rural roads of Estacada, trudging alongside the Clackamas River with its borders defined by wild flowers and butterflies, and then finally descending into Detroit. We poached a camping spot in the dark and settled into what would become our rhythm for the next several days. Early morning wake up. Coffee time. Forage for food. Git on the road. Lee and I would begin our days together and then he would lurch ahead. We'd ride solo until he would magically appear to flag me down for catch up time, snacks, water refuel, etc. Repeat.
Philosophically, I knew I had to just keep pedaling forward, so I was truly terrible at reviewing the GPS for what was next. It really didn't matter, right? I was going to have to climb whatever it was anyways. Including the Santiam Pass. Um, how did I miss that I would be climbing the Santiam Pass? The first of oh shit moments quickly presented itself. I took a swig of water, wishing I still drank stiffer things, and began to climb. Slowly trudging up and up and up with traffic whizzing by. All sounds disappeared. All thoughts disappeared. My only purpose was to climb and that's what my body did until I reached the top, where I found Lee waiting for me to celebrate.
In the coming days, the Santiam would seem like a tiny hill in comparison to the other challenges, but it set the stage for what my body and mind could do. I was right, I just needed to pedal forward. There was nothing I couldn't do. When my shoe came apart after a climb out of Bend, I grabbed tube patching glue and electrical tape and McGyvered the hell out of it on the side of the road (BTW, it held for the rest of the trip). When I ran out of water and sunlight during the stretch between Bend and Burns, I sucked it up, turned on my light and kept going until I reached my destination. When my hobo camp was swarmed by fire ants and I had to find a new squatting spot in the middle of the night. When my neck fatigued (check it out: Shermer's Neck...it's a thing. Who knew?) and would no longer hold my head up in the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge, I walked my bike forward in the blistering sun and uneven washboard gravel of death. Forward. That was my only direction.
I contemplated many finish lines. What's good enough? When do I call it? And then I knew. It was when I could no longer hold my head safely during the climb up Crater Lake. I couldn't see and the entire point of adventuring is to see. To really see and savor. What a perfect place to finish: Mazama. To the top I went, straight into the restaurant where I ate all the cornbread and chili I could, bought some Wi-Fi, and messaged Dave. It was time to go home.
700 miles. 50,000 feet climbed. 9 days of seeing the world through a new lens, of priorities shifting, to the trivial disappearing, to rests in rivers and hot springs, to new friends who I will love and love forever. To many many realizations about myself, my family, and how deeply I love possibilities, especially when made into realities. And how deeply I despise fire ants. A story for another time.