It felt like coming home, even if the real home was still to come. I was really looking forward to my nature and all the friendly Americans I would most certainly meet and was just happy to be back.
For me, the American West continues to be one of the most marvelous outdoor playgrounds in the world and I was simply excited to spend more time there.
Rick and Pat received me in Portland like a longtime friend, even though I had only stayed with them for a single day once before.
I went fishing with Rick. Serious fishing. Professional fishing. With a boat and lots of technology.
However, efforts and benefits were not really to reconcile, considering that we had caught only three fish by the end of a half day of fishing. But who cares it was simply fun and a great day.
While staying with Rick and Pat, I sold my rear rack and got new knobby tires. In addition, I was lucky and was able to buy a lighter tent at an REI garage sale (REI an American outdoor store par excellence). Now, I was all set for bikepacking properly. I also wanted to go hiking during my so-called break time which these last 4 months of this trip are supposed to be.
I did not have to worry about rain and cold for the next months and so it would be of no stress with an Ultra-Light tent and a good tent test for further adventures.
I left my laptop and lots of other equipment with Pat and Rick and had some stuff sent ahead for later.
Once again, I had a trail on my schedule, the Oregon Timber Trail. I wanted to start with as little luggage as possible, because the trail was supposed to be challenging terrain.
The Timber Trail lives up to its name – forest and forest and even more forest.
It was pretty. In addition, the trail consists mainly of single track and elevation gains and thus, as already mentioned, was not peanuts, but that’s how I like it.
Finally, I was able to sleep in a tent again, finally I had my freedom and finally the world belonged to me all alone again. Cities are so extremely oppressive to me, here in the wild I am free and can do as I please. It was just wonderful out here, as always in nature.
After only a few days I was feeling really good again. It was a sigh of relief – a feeling of security and belonging came over me again and again. I was accepted and understood when I talked to people I met. I felt really comfortable again and yes, I almost felt like I was at home.
In addition, I was glad to be out of the constant heat and knew it had been absolutely right to leave Central America.
Unfortunately, there was a strict fire ban because of the huge danger of wildfires and so I couldn’t enjoy my beloved campfires, I also could not use my hobo stove, but instead bought a gas cartridge to cook my “delicious” dishes.
Peanut butter was on board this time. I needed good calories on the trail. And of course, as always, lentils and rice. But also, pasta, ginger, dates, garlic and tuna. Then chocolate powder and oatmeal. Just like always.
The Oregon Timber Trail is actually designed to be ridden from south to north, but I took it the other way. Like I said it’s challenging and I had to push a few times. But I did not care, I had time, all the time in the world and enjoyed the forest and the great views without end.
As always on such trails every few days one comes to a junction or town where you can re-supply. Unlike other areas in the US, there were good shopping opportunities along the trail. Not only chips, chocolate and Coke, no, real food.
Mt. Hood, one of the many volcanoes in the Cascade Range, is truly dramatically beautiful and above all eternally visible, but unfortunately, there were so many fires around it creating so much smoke that the more distant volcanoes were almost invisible.
In one village I met two Germans. A couple who have been traveling for decades to places where there is the next solar eclipse to admire. Surprised by the meeting, I was glad to be able to get all the details I needed to know about the upcoming natural event, the 2017 total solar eclipse in the US.
There were only 3 days left before the eclipse would take place and I was by complete coincidence already very close to the so-called zone, where total daytime darkness would occur.
I had to still cover a few miles and altitude and didn’t actually like the thought of the stress of rushing to it. But the two persuaded me to speed up in order not to miss this natural event and to get as far as the zone to experience the spectacle properly, everything else would be just old hat in comparison, because outside of the zone is not the same experience.
The next evening, after pedaling all day and being really tired I searched for a flat spot for my tent when I met Bob & Dick (sorry I forgot their real names), who happily catered me. They too, like all the other people I met, wanted to see the solar eclipse.
In the afternoon before the event I pushed myself through the forest to make it to the zone in time. Luckily the trail went downhill a lot and the single track was simply awesome.
“Am I already in the zone?” I asked again and again when I met people, but either people did not know or I was still a few miles away.
But in the end, I met a group that was convinced that we were far enough south from now on. They had called the NASA’s site and navigated to it via GPS, so there was no danger of me missing anything even if we were at the very edge of the zone. But we were inside and that’s what mattered.
I met James & Scott who had their motorbikes and their camper in the forest as a base and immediately invited me to Spaghetti Bolognese and a shower. They had already walked the PCT, one of the three long distance hiking trails in the US. It takes about 4-5 months to hike from Mexico to Canada, so they immediately understood my huge hunger I had that evening.
And then came the spectacle. Surrounded by lots of nice Americans, the “show” started slowly but surely, because it was getting darker and darker. A completely unnatural light, not tender as before a sunset, no, a light that was almost ghostly, because it was so totally artificial.
Before that I was told that a shadow would appear, but we did not see one. Also, it was said the birds would be silent and the animals behave strangely. But the dogs of the group did not seem to be bothered.
Except for the strange light and the totally tense people and the little party we had, it didn’t seem so special. But, of course, there was the shadow of the moon, which pushed further and further covering the sun and it was clearly visible thru the solar eclipse glasses.
But then it started …….
24 ultra-short seconds. But those were some of the most sensational 24 seconds of my life. Madness was that. Magic! We all cheered the sun and it almost had something of a godly appearance. Something extraterrestrial and spooky as one would probably say today. It was just great!
For days afterwards, everyone I met was talking about the event and everyone had their story to tell because everyone seemed to have experienced it differently.
The farther south I came the more smoke was in the air – Oregon was on fire and the haze was getting denser and the air quality getting worse and worse.
The famous 4279 kilometers long PCT trail, which I crossed or paralleled, was partly closed, as well as a few of my Timber Trail sections.
The hikers were all in a good mood. Many of them were pretty slim, but they had a lot to talk about. And I was surprised how many there were. Snowmelt had been a huge problem this year and a few hikers had even died in the Sierra.
From time to time there was the “trail box”, a box where hikers, cyclists or supporters left stuff that they no longer needed and others could just take what they like. There are also the so-called trail angels, who leave their numbers on some black boards and offer a car service if the PCT hikers need food or anything else. Just great and super kind of those people.
In Sisters, the smoke became so bad that I took a break for 3 days to see how the situation developed. Unfortunately, it was only worse and not better and after the prospects were not good at all and my trail was partly going through closed areas, I decided to pull out.
When it was raining ashes and when the other side of the street almost disappeared in smoke, it was time to push off.
I hitched to Bend and tried to find a place for my tent that night. Just before midnight, I had finally discovered a quiet place, in the middle of a residential area. I put my tent just behind a brick wall, which stood there as a screen for lots of trash containers. When my mat was inflated, my bike hidden in the undergrowth and I finally could close my eyes, then guess what happened? Well, the sprinkler started.
“Heike, how stupid are you” I scolded at myself. “How long have you been touring around in the US now, you know those things by now! Oh man, the Americans and their stupid sprinkler systems” was all I could shout out loud.
Such a great place, no one would have seen me, no one would have disturbed me and the next morning I would have been gone and no one would have known or ever seen that I had stayed there.
Escaping, I left the scrub, put up my drenched tent in the courtyard, tried to dry the sleeping bag and then packed up again. Of course, the sprinkler soon stopped, but from my experience it was most likely going to come back on for a few more minutes after another one or two hours had passed and I didn’t want to take that risk.
So, I pedaled out of Bend in the middle of the night to find another spot. I headed towards the road to the east which I had planned for the next day. I wanted to hitchhike to Utah. It was my break time, this time I just wanted to pick out the best pieces of the West and not ride all the great distances between anymore. I was a bit fed up with cycling.
At night the world is always exciting. It is so quiet and there is hardly any traffic, even on the main roads. It always is a bit like being a child when you sneak in somewhere so that no one discovers you. I really like that. It is a bit like playing hide and seek and pranks.
A few kilometers past the last houses of Bend, a church appeared and churches are always good places to camp. I walked out of the beam of light towards the dark night when someone in an extremely angry tone yelled at me. “Piss off you idiot” it sounded out of the bushes. But I did not see anybody, but he kept yelling, “Fuck off, leave me alone.”
Then I saw the tent and I said nothing, not wanting him to recognize that I was a woman. So, I pushed my bike in the opposite direction and didn’t use my torch, so no one could see me and the crazy dude did not know where I’ll end up camping myself.
When I woke up in the morning the smoke was even thicker, meanwhile it was really scary. As always, I had slept great and just pedaled the short hop to the main road. I kept my thumb out for under 15 minutes when the first car stopped. An elderly gentleman.
I introduced myself to him, “Hello I’m Heike from Germany and would like to go to Utah, of course you are probably not going that far, but maybe at least in that direction.”
And lucky as I was, John actually drove all the way to Utah and not just to the state border no, right to where I wanted to go, that was 900 miles in one go. Awesome.
Hitchhiking is no problem here in the remote west of the USA. The Americans with their huge 4×4’s always have space for such a bicycle and they are also completely easy-going people. But I do not want to encourage anyone to hitchhike, it’s a personal choice and I am always careful.
With John I was at ease from the first moment on. John was great. His dog Radar as well.
Through his son, we learned that not an hour after we left Bend, the road was closed because of another rekindled fire. The haze accompanied us to the city of Burns, that is 130 miles to the east. I was just glad that I was nowhere near the woods any longer.
In the evening we were allowed to spend the night with John’s brother in Salt Lake City and the nice people spoiled me with fresh vegetables from the garden for my ongoing adventure.
John and I listened to oldies and country music and told each other our life stories during the long drive. An interested, intelligent well-spoken man and I did not really like saying goodbye to him. Unfortunately, I recently learned that his dog Radar passed away.
Now I was back in the desert. In my sensationally loved desert. The Colorado Plateau is simply gigantic and I had another 3 months to let off steam here until I finally go home for the very first time.