Day 8: Today we faced the wall. Since we started the trip we had tried to find a way around it, asking other cyclist if we knew they knew of an alternative route. A week in we had come to the realization that there was no other choice, that we would simply have to tackle it. Washington and Oregon are separated by the Columbia River which is connected by a 4.1 mile bridge. The bridge has small shoulders, crosswinds, 65 mile an hour traffic inches away and a huge summit. The bridge was designed to allow steamboats to pass underneath, and starting on the bridge I can see a virtual wall of a road in front of me. In the distance, with plenty of space between them I count twelve cars making the accent. I’m startled halfway up the peak by a van with bikes on the back, its horn is honking and I see arms waving, it’s the three girls from London. Today would be the last day we would see the girls, or Allen. Our paths had separated by noon. 38 miles today.
Day 9: The worst sign you can see on the ride is ‘Right lane ahead’. Those signs tell you that there is a climb around the bend, one that is so long and steep that it slows down the logging trucks enough that another lane had to be added to the road to keep traffic flowing. The elevation was listed at the gas station at the base of the hill and we climbed for over an hour, our forearms baking in the sun. When we all got to the peak we celebrated, we had risen in elevation over 800 feet, roughly the height of the Eiffel Tower. The celebration was short lived however; as we coasted down the hill, with our legs still burning from the last climb, we saw a sign on the side of the road; ‘Right lane ahead’... The second hill was more brutal, at every bend I hoped to see the summit, but again and again it was just another long steady climb. Leo was ahead of me, George and Brian were far behind. In the moments when the traffic died the only sounds I could hear were my heavy breathing and the mechanical noise of the peddles as I worked my way further up the hill. Finally, up ahead was the sign I was waiting for, ‘Right lane ends ahead’. Further than that I could see Leo waiting at the summit. Finishing the hill strong I calculated the elevation gain. 1250 feet, the height of the Empire States building. We waited for the others and coasted to a rest area where we camped for the night. 35 miles and 2 landmarks today.
Day 10: Today would be my last day of riding. We will rest in Portland for a day and then I will get on a plane and fly home. For the most part I rode alone, preferring the quiet, letting my thoughts settle. The mountains turned to hills, and then to rolling farmland filled with cheery trees, blueberry bushes and rows of corn. On a slow stretch, where the grass grows high next to the shoulder, I ride with one hand open above the grass, feeling the soft blades running between my fingers. Slowly the farmlands disappear and are replaced by houses, subdivisions and strip malls. The highway becomes congested, the speed limit increases, and it becomes hazardous for us to ride on 26 anymore. After one more climb, and its steep decent, we arrived in the heart of Portland. Winding through the city streets I took the lead until we arrived at our final destination, The Benson Hotel. After a brief discussion with the concierge we wheeled our bikes into the lobby. Surrounded by marble floors, Carrisian Walnut paneling, crystal chandeliers, and beautifully ornate plaster ceilings, we hauled our bikes onto the winding staircase for one final photo. My ride was over. Sadly. It was over. 45 miles.
Day 11: I’m sitting at gate E9 waiting for the overnight flight home. I packed the bike in a parking garage, had a final meal on Nob Hill, barely caught the shuttle and have checked my bags. Tomorrow I will land in Knoxville, take a shower, press my shirt and return to my cube with gray walls, recycled air and florescent lights. As I sit here, waiting for the plane, I am reminded of a wish that I made as a child. I had read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and more than anything I remember wanting an adventurous life. Three decades later I have learned how to walk a second time, I have held political office, I have written published comic books, I have been skydiving, and twice I have almost drowned. I have married the love of my life, and then watched as she slipped through my fingers. I have moved a three story Victorian on the bed of a truck, I have been on television more times than I can remember, I have hiked the Himalayans, and I have travelled the country slowly by car. I have told myself that I could do something that I knew I couldn’t, and then I’ve done it anyway. I have two beautiful little girls, Isabella and Sophie, who are absolutely everything to me. I am a father... I’ve gotten my wish. I have had an adventurous life. With my right hand I reach down and rub the scars on my stomach. Life leaves scars. But scars are only ugly if you let them be. Life is what you make it. Life is beautiful. My life is beautiful. 0 miles today, 498 total. [S. Bolen]

5 comments:

  1. Awesome reading! I hate that it has to end.

    Your Cube Neighbor..☺

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  2. Nice to see that you finally revised your opinion on the scars.

    - your nurse

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  3. Way to go Sean! A wonderfully rewarding experience that you will take with you forever. Your story, my friend, has proven to me that nothing is impossible.

    ~A fellow cube dweller on 9

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  4. I agree. This is great writing. Thanks for sharing, Sean.
    Your sister, Heather

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  5. Fantastic writing! I was able to visual everything you were writing about. Congratulations on your accomplishments!

    Cube dweller on the Arctic side of 8th floor

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