No sooner did I get through complaining about the Oregon coast than a few miles into my morning pedal I was treated to mile after mile of amazing beauty that still hadn’t ended by the time I pulled the plug a few miles before Yachats. The traffic was still steady but not quite as hostile and the shoulder was a bit more accommodating.
I ran into a couple that live on their bikes, Curt and his wife whose name I forgot. They have a house outside of Denver “But we’re never there.”
They surmised that the traffic on the 101 was abnormal for the same reason it had been so heavy outside LA on PCH. People have simply fled their homes and are out in their cars and RVs, especially their RVs. Curt and his wife were on a tandem towing a trailer. “We’re headed for the southern border and will try to grab a flight to Thailand if that’s even still possible.”
The covids have wreaked havoc with everyone’s plans; they were planning on riding across Europe but were instead “stuck” on the West Coast, riding down from Seattle.
In Florence I stopped at the Safeway, grabbed some B&J ice cream and a half gallon of milk, then pedaled out of the parking lot find a place where I could eat ice cream, make a PB sammich, and brew a cup of coffee. I saw a likely curb in the sunshine when from up above a friendly voice called out, “Hi, there!”
It was an old man with a long white beard sitting on a curb in a parking lot up on a hill. It was sunny up there and there were also trees, so I rode up to the parking lot.
“Mind if I join you?”
“Not at all!”
His name was Steve. He’d been homeless, or retired as he called it, for six years. “Been out here in the Oregon Dunes forest the whole time.”
“What’s that like?”
“It’s great! You just make sure you move around every couple of weeks and nobody bothers you. It’s when you get too comfortable that trouble starts.”
“Do you live in a tent?”
“Yep. 9 x 11.”
“What do you do when it rains?”
“That’s most of the time up here, you know. It’s not a problem. You just have to tarp it up good so that the rain stays off the tent. I got my tarp set up like a house’s roof, strung over a rope between trees. Dry as a bone. Gotta pick your trees carefully, though.”
“You pick a widowmaker and they will fall and kill you. Had one fall on my tent while I was in the other half. Woulda squished me like a bug.”
“Do you like living without a fixed address?”
“I like the way that sounds! Better than ‘homeless’! Yep, I like it a lot.”
“For one, it’s a lot healthier. I have to walk a mile every day into town to get my daily beer, so that’s two miles a day. I stay trim that way.”
“You are pretty fit looking.”
“More than most people 67 years old. But it’s also good for my mental health.”
“No responsibilities so nothing to worry about. Some responsibilities are good for you, of course. They make you a better person. But most of them are bullshit and all they do is stress you out. People don’t need a lot of responsibilities. And of course work. Who the hell wants to do that?”
“Are there any down sides?”
“Oh, yes, the biggest one is getting old.”
“But don’t you do that no matter where you live?”
“You’ve got a point. Out here though if something breaks you can be in trouble. Earlier this year I got that damned covid and had to walk to the hospital. I was so sick I fell into a ditch and couldn’t get out. Would have frozen to death if I hadn’t had a cell phone and been able to call 911.”
“What’s the long term living plan? Keep living out here?”
“My long term living plan is like everybody else’s. Eventually I’m gonna die. Aren’t you?”
“I’ve heard something to that effect.”
“The only problem is it gets harder to move around, move camp, that sort of thing. It would be easier in an apartment, but then you’d be in the damned apartment all day and wouldn’t be very healthy.” He took a swig from his beer. “Where you going? North or south?”
“North, I guess.”
“Sounds like you don’t have any destination in mind.”
“I kind of don’t.”
“That’s not a bad thing, When I was fifteen I lit out and wound up in Woodstock, dropped acid when Hendrix played the Star Spangled Banner.”
“Yeah. Still like to go south every now and then, hang out in Arcata and smoke dope with the old hippies. But it’s a harder and harder trip. Not as hard as the time I walked here from Eugene. Took three fucking months.”
I looked at my watch. “Guess I’d better be going.”
“Nice talking with you!” I loaded up my junk and pedaled off into the late sunny morning, thinking about Steve’s sunny conversation.
By two o’clock I was kind of tired so I started scouting campsites. The state parks were all closed and the national forest service campsite was full. I could have pedaled another hour all the way to Yachats but decided to bivouac instead. Oregon has been lousy for camping.
I saw a nice trail leading up to a grove of pines, but after parking and clambering up to the trees I saw what looked a still active or recently abandoned encampment. There were still a couple of sleeping bags, and lots of shit-stained Kleenex here and there, so I scratched that off my list.
A few miles later I saw a trail behind a guardrail after a state beach, so I went behind that, pushed my bike up the trail, and found a very nice little forest. There were no signs so I figured I could stay until someone told me otherwise. It was just off the highway but totally secluded and invisible. I made an early dinner of sausage, onions, garlic, cheese, and French bread washed down with coffee. I’d bought a half-gallon of milk at the Safeway so my coffee was really good.
By four I was already sleepy so I crawled into my tent to check emails and texts only to learn that there was no service anywhere. I napped and was awoken by a man walking along with his dogs. At first I thought I’d be evicted, but he just walked on by.
I thought about Steve, camping out for the last six years. However healthy it was, it’s rough living. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
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