August 12th, 2013
Mile post 286. I started walking at milepost 290, I can’t believe that was only four miles. I’m not even halfway and my feet are starting to hurt. It’s 10:30 at night and my body is physically tired but I’m mentally up for this. Just six more miles until sleep.
I got on the road at 8:00 this morning and I haven’t really stopped. I left from eastern Washington and rode several hours through the beautiful Columbia River Gorge. Dams, windsurfers, high up windy mountain roads overlooking the gorge, flying by the river right along the banks. The weather was beautiful and I was in no particular rush. It has been a week since I’ve been on the bike so it felt refreshing to be back.
It’s very dark out here and I’m holding a flashlight, not so much to see but to be seen. Cars and trucks are flying by me every few seconds and this little light might be the only thing between them and me if any should decide to pull over into the shoulder. Whenever I can, I walk on the dirt on the other side of the guard rail for extra safety. The loose dirt on sloped terrain with scattered bushes and trees slow my pace down though. I want to get this walk over with, I am tired and have a long day tomorrow.
I’ve been considering just laying down behind one of these guard rails and just turning in for the night right beside the freeway. I decided otherwise after almost stepping on somebody with the same idea just a few minutes ago. Just knowing that there are others doing this gives me the creeps and motivates me to press on, milepost 284…
This walk is really making me appreciate distance. I’m so used to riding the motorcycle that ten miles sounded like nothing before setting out on this walk. I realize how little I actually have been using my legs recently. I ride all day and only walk from my bike to the inside of gas stations, grocery stores and around my campsites. I spent the last week inside my aunt and uncle’s air-conditioned house watching TV as well so these last few miles have been a shock to my legs.
I separated with my motorcycle for the second time on this trip today. It’s resting in the backyard of someone’s house in a Portland suburb where it will stay for a few weeks. I don’t really even know the people whose house it is at but I trust them. They’re part of this online community called Horizons Unlimited which is a great website for people doing motorcycle adventures. I met the lady today and she was very kind and willing to let me leave my bike there for an extended time.
I arrived there, talked with her for an hour while I unpacked, locked up my stuff and packed just the necessities for this next leg of the journey. Three pairs of socks, camera and lenses, journal, juggling balls, flashlight, knife and sleeping bag. I took off immediately after into the unknown and uncertain. The bus ride into downtown Portland was a great introduction to the city. The bus driver was laid back, didn’t charge me full price and talked with me the whole 45 minute ride. he told me all about the city and himself and encouraged me to keep doing what I’m doing. He gave me food from his lunch box which became my dinner for the evening.
The second bus took me as far south from Portland as the public transportation system would let me which was 11 miles away. Uncertainty from that point on. I found the freeway heading south, walked to the on ramp and put my thumb out. It always feels funny at first to watch the first cars drive by looking at me weird. The majority of people here seem to be taken aback to find a guy hitchhiking on the side of the road. I’m not sure how common this is, never having done it in America but based on the looks of the drivers I’d guess it is very uncommon.
As usual, hitchhiking always seems hopeless until a car stops. It took about an hour before a car pulled over for me but it wasn’t exactly hopeful. Police. I wasn’t sure if I was breaking the law or not but I soon found out. Good news was that hitchhiking is legal in the state of Oregon, bad news was that standing on the road soliciting a ride is not. It is sort of a catch-22 but with enough loop holes to make it doable.
I was let off with just a warning but that spot was now officially burned and I needed to find a new place to hitch from as the sun was setting. I learned of a rest stop on the highway ten miles south and decided that I would have a better chance there and could use the exercise. Three hours later, here I am just passing mile post 282. Two miles more doesn’t sound so long but each mile seems to get longer and longer. I think the mile post signs must be inaccurate here in Oregon.
I’m sitting on the guard rail, listening to music and watching the half moon. Even though I’m tired and don’t know where I’ll sleep tonight, I feel great. I feel free, just me, out here on the road with my few things. I can sleep wherever and go wherever. I have the biggest home in the world with a ceiling of sky. I don’t feel a bit of worry. There is a quality about walking that magically manages to slowly drive away stress, anxiety and concerns with every step.
I continue and arrive at the rest stop just before 1 am. Looking back on the walk now it feels short and easy. It’s interesting how easy the mind can forget hardships, especially physical ones. I sit down for a while to let my sweat dry and rest my mind before I finally lay down to sleep. I eventually search around for a good hidden spot in the back of the rest stop far away from the restrooms and parking lot. I will sleep so well after a walk like that, it feels good to be exhausted.
After about an hour of sleep I wake up to footsteps. I’m far enough away from everything that nobody should have a reason to come back here but I see a silhouette of someone 20 or 30 feet away coming towards me. The figure gets closer and I see it’s a man. I say “hello” but not as a greeting or timid question. I say it in a way to make him aware that I’m there, that I’m wide awake, that he’s invading my space and if he gets any closer I will stand up and protect myself, no easy steal for him tonight. At the same time I’m not accusing him of anything or provoking a fight with words. He says hello back and pretends to have just come over here to take a pee. I say pretend, because nobody walks past the restrooms and all the way out to the edge of the dark woods to take a pee. i don’t know what he was planning to do but I’m sure me being awake foiled it and he turns and walks away.
I spend the rest of the night in one of these micro sleeps I’ve learned so well to do through many paranoid nights on this trip. I doze off, wake up observe my surroundings, doze off again and repeat. I do this for several hours until I am rudely awoken once again but this time by a more innocent source. Water sprinkles on my face from the automatic sprinkler system set to 5 am. I get up in a rush, grab my stuff and run through the sprinklers to the bathrooms. I spend the next half an hour drying my sleeping bag off the best I can under the hand dryers in a tired trance. I finally just sleep right there in front of all the parked cars knowing the sunlight is coming soon and I’ll be safe. I finally fall into a real sleep for the first time in the night.