Stephen

Back from Christmas

I have returned to Portland, Oregon after spending a week or so visiting my home town of Telluride for Christmas.  “Wait,” you say, – “Home already?”  Yes, if I have learned one thing on this bicycle tour, it is that your family is important.  In the case of my own family, we typically come together once or perhaps twice each year.  Having now realized that my family is important (Thanks Bicycle Tour!) I made an early return home by bus (Thanks Greyhound!) to visit them.  This all occurred immediately after my family had all just come out to visit me in Seattle upon my arrival from Japan.

The past two weeks have been good from a family and friends point of view.  Really, the past month has been good.  Ever since I met my friend George in Wuhan, China (and, in fact, my mother not too long before that in Chiang Mai, Thailand!) I have been meeting people on the road on a somewhat regular basis – after George, I met up with Ian in Japan, then my Aunt and Uncle Betsy and David in Seattle, and then an interesting bus journey got me home for Christmas – totally by surprise – to see my parents and my sister once again in Telluride.

The trip to get home involved a 27-hour ride on a Greyhound bus which began in Portland, OR.  I left my bicycle at a shop in Vancouver, Washington (immediately North of Portland) on Christmas Eve, all bags attached, and they agreed to keep it while I visited home.  The encounter was remarkably easy: “Would you be willing to keep my bicycle for a week while I go to Telluride?”  “Yes.”  “Thanks!”

 

As I walked away from the shop, still warm from riding for about 20-miles to get to Vancouver – a city which is, humorously – and sadly – taking loads of hotel reservations from ignorant tourists for the upcoming Winter Olympics, which are to take place in Vancouver, British Columbia – I felt giddy.  I also felt homeless, with mud on my feet, stubble on my face, a carton of milk in my hand, a plastic bag in my other hand, and a light shoulder bag on my shoulder.  I was headed for the Greyhound Station.  It is truly remarkable how much my sense of the world changed when I ditched the bike.  Moving much more slowly, but feeling much more free.  I took a sip of milk.  I wished that I had not left my box of Corn Pops in my right front pannier.  But I also was glad to not be carrying them.  I will buy more milk for the Corn Pops tomorrow.

I spotted a bus stop half a block from Vancouver Cyclery – that’s where I stashed my bike – and ran along after a bus that passed by just before I got there.  It stopped and let me on.  The woman driving told me that she would take me to another bus that would drive me to downtown Portland, about 10 miles away.  30 minutes later, I’d gotten a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and a ticket to Montrose, Colorado at the Greyhound station in downtown Portland.  The station was packed.

I had heard from various sources that Greyhound – aka the Dirty Dog – is one of the best places in the world to meet interesting and unsavory characters.  I walked into the station thinking, “I’m ready for anything.”  Thank God I’ll never get the chance to visit the Mos Eisley Cantina, because the experiences of the next two days taught me that there are some experiences and places that exist where I am not quite in my element.  And certain places and situations in which I encountered myself during the packed Greyhound Bus ride that began in Portland on Christmas Eve are definitely some of them.  However, I have now also decided that I will not be traveling by any method except for Greyhound because everything else is simply too boring.  Well…except bicycle perhaps.

The first – and most memorable – character from the trip was Candace the stoner.  She was right in front of me in the line to buy tickets in Portland, telling the people in front of her that she was getting out of Portland because there were too many cops, and too many nosy neighbors.  Her only luggage was a queen-sized inflatable mattress.  I believe that Candace had read the Idiot’s Guide to Being a Stoner.  By the time we reached the Idaho line, I had learned about several dozen things in her life that were hella legit, (her two cases of Swine Flu not being two of them) and had also learned about the various stores where she would go to purchase marijuana with her medical marijuana card (this was actually a story that I wound up overhearing several times on my Greyhound rides, though Candace was the first to tell it).

I also heard about the story of Alex, a Toronto native on his way back to Toronto after a messy relationship with his ex – everybody on Greyhound has an ex – in which he discovered that she was cheating on him, and he responded by, “beating the &#&$” out of the other guy.  When given the options of facing charges or heading home to Canada, Alex decided to make his way back to Canada.  By way of Boise, Salt Lake, Denver, and New York.

My seat mate, whose name I never learned, was a very quiet man who I felt sorry for after he told me about a heart condition with which he was having trouble.  I helped him out by giving him Advil for the pain and some water and food when we stopped.  When he told me that his chest was really giving him pain in Boise, I asked if I should get an ambulance.  He said yes – but first he wanted me to help him to make sure that a Greyhound employee would ensure that his ticket would be valid after his trip to the hospital.  I pulled our driver – unwillingly – from the bus to sort things out.  The driver marked up his ticket and had the ticket salesman call an ambulance.  When paramedics arrived, they found track marks all over the man’s arms.  So this turned out to be a bit of a sad story, though nothing too surprising I suppose.

Of course most of the people on the bus were normal people.  The guy who was sitting next to me on my return trip to Portland from L.A. could have been a clone of myself, except that he was tall and thin and using an iPhone instead of a Droid.  And he smelled like lavender.  Amazing.

I am just glad that I made it off the bus without being decapitated with a hunting knife by my seat mate and having my lips eaten.  This very thing happened to a Greyhound passenger about a year and a half ago.  Read about it here.  So…Greyhound…no joke!  Well…I am sort of joking.  It’s mostly normal.  Well…not really.  But seriously though, you’ll be fine.  But not really.

All of this time on the buses was worthwhile to get to and from my family in Telluride and Los Angeles.  As I wrote in the second paragraph, I arrived by surprise, because until I walked in the door on Christmas night at 7:30 in the cold and the dark, I really did not think that it would actually happen.  But to crash my own family’s Christmas dinner was a really wonderful experience.  My Mom and Dad and his friend Bonnie and my Sister Graef were all hanging out in the house, which was warm after walking in from 15-degree temperatures.  I felt, once again, like a homeless person, particularly crazy-eyed, wired, excited, and sketchy looking, wearing windpants and a down jacket.

After shocked introductions, I made my way to my room, and quickly changed into khaki pants and a polo shirt.  I was still wide-eyed however.  But at this point I was hanging out with my family.  My eyes did not calm down until about noon the following day.

We went out the following evening to watch the movie The Wildest Dream, a Conrad Anker movie about the search for George Mallory and Sandy Irvine on Mt. Everest.  It had some great footage of climbing Everest, as well as some great historical footage of Mallory and Irvine’s 1920’s expeditions.  I was trying to keep a low profile as I walked the streets in Telluride, not wanting to cause undue confusion in my home town where a newspaper story just a few days ago had listed my location as being Seattle, Washington.  “Wait…what are you…?”  “Actually I’m still in Oregon.”  “Oh!….”  It was great to see a few friends from school and also to say hi to people at Telluride Sports.  Returning to Telluride is always a bit of an interesting experience, because it is so powerfully like home, and also so small, that things and people always change there noticeably in a way unlike any other place I can imagine.  I wish that I could maintain an alter-ego (or a Surrogate) that always lived in Telluride while I remained free to go out an about to do other things so that I would not be quite so thrown by the changes which occur so quickly and so drastically there.

Bonnie and my Dad and I went skiing the day after The Wildest Dream on a sunny, crisp day.  I had not been skiing for quite a long while and it felt great to be on the mountain again.  I was on my old skis – I had sold the “new” ones to fund this trip last year – but they still felt great.  I was back in the groove of clipping into the chairlift with my harness, putting on my costume, staying warm, etc. before I knew it.  Skiing is pretty awesome, and I have never skied anywhere that I like more than Telluride.  An amazing place.  I am glad that my Dad wanted to go, because I may have been inclined to sit at home and make waffles and drink coffee and watch DVDs had he not been gung ho about the idea.

I enjoyed watching Office Space with my Mom on DVD the next evening – the DVD was a gift from my sister a couple of years ago . . . Thanks Graef!  I was particularly enjoying it because my Mom is, herself, a manager at a store, and I could not avoid thinking about all of the things that must have been running through her head as she watched a movie about management and employment in corporate America.  I decided to get her a Swingline Stapler for her Birthday.  I don’t know if anybody has seen it.

Before I knew it, my visit to Telluride was over and Graef, my Dad, Bonnie and I were all loaded up in the Subaru on our way to Los Angeles, where my sister lives.  I was just being carted along to L.A. and would then make my way to Portland from there.  The family freeloader/hitchiker.  It all worked out well.  In L.A. I wound up spending the New Year with my Dad and my brother Philip and his wife Vicki at their apartment in Marina Del Rey.

While we hung out, I spent about two hours playing an iPhone game called Five Square, which my brother embarassingly told me was written by my nephew Carter.  Embarrassing in the sense that my 15 year old nephew can write this game and I cannot even win a single board when I play it.  Philip told me this right as I began to play.  Naturally, I felt increasingly compelled to win a game.  However, I also was fairly addicted to the game.  If I remember everything correctly, Carter and a friend invented the game, Carter wrote the software for the application, Phil (my brother) made various sound effects for it – I never got to hear what it sounds like to win a game – and now they are selling it for $1.99 in the app store.  Carter is 15.  I am 25.  I am going to win a game come the end of this tour.  That is one of my new goals.

As my tally of Five Square racked up, Phil, Vicki, my Dad and I were glued to the TV screen watching ESPN’s No Limits New Year’s event: Travis Pastrana in a Subaru Rally car, flying 260+ feet off of a ramp over Long Beach Harbor.  We spent about two hours watching this event, seeing video clips of motorcycle crashes, base jumps, etc. before ESPN finally showed us the jump.  This was, apparently, a new Red Bull record for the longest Rally Car Jump over water.  “He’s definitely on the Bull,” commented Vicki while watching Travis as he spoke to the camera in a sort of a manic craze just moments before take off.

The flight was nearly-flawless.  The car flew over the harbor just as planned, clearing the 250 foot gap without any problems, landing hard on its front left wheel before Travis put it into a sideways slide in order to slow things down before running into a Formula-1 fence that had been set up to prevent the car from rolling into the harbor after landing from the flight.  It all occurred very quickly, and the landing looks smooth and fast when watching the regular-speed video.  When watching slow-motion, it is sort of remarkable that the car did not crack apart on landing, or break through the fence on impact.  Check it out on youtube here.

So…if any of you out there had ever asked yourselves, “What is family life like behind the scenes?” perhaps now you will have a few more insights into the answer.  It was great to spend time with everyone during Christmas.

Tomorrow morning I will return to Vancouver Cyclery with a $20 bill (to tip the employees for keeping my bike safe…if, indeed it is still safe) and a carton of milk (for the Corn Pops).  Then I will get on the bike and start riding east up the Columbia River Gorge on the Lewis and Clark Highway toward the Idaho border.  I will make my way to Boise eventually, then Salt Lake, then Moab and Telluride.  I do not know exactly which roads will be involved, but my new Droid phone will help out when it has batteries, as will the various people who I encounter along the way who speak English – or Spanish! – which I am pretty excited about!

The bike is now in winter mode with front panniers, fenders, a hub dynamo, and a really bright light on it.  Inside the front panniers are winter boots.  I brought back a 0-degree sleeping bag, ski goggles, a thermos, ski pants, leather gloves, and more socks to stay warm.  The bike has changed from what was, initially, sort of a road bike in to what is now, essentially, a tank with various gratuitous junk and rattling things hanging off of it.  It will all make things easier for a cold winter ride though.  I think…all sort of an experiment as I’ve never ridden for weeks at a time during the winter.  Keep on checking in!

Stephen

p.s. Sorry for the lack of photos – this update was made from a pay-as-you-go computer at the Hostels International Hostel in Portland – I cannot seem to put up photos this time, but will put up pictures next time!

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