Race face

The bad thing about wild camping is after breakfast you gotta do your business, so every morning starts with the Hunt for Brown October. I pedaled uncomfortably along the highway looking for a public bathroom, spied one, wheeled up and saw that it was CLOSED DUE TO THE COVIDS.

“Shit,” I thought, or rather, “no shit.”

I pedaled some more until I found a national forest campsite, dropped down a quarter mile and located the office. It was spanking clean and quiet and set amidst the trees.

Back on the highway I was approaching a bend and a man seated on some stones flashed a bike headlight at me from about a hundred yards off. I slowed and saw a guy holding a pretty nice MTB wheel with mostly new Maxxis tires.

“Hey, man,” he said. “Gotta tube? All I got’s fourteen bucks but I’m desperate.”

Way back in SLO County Rob Knock had given me a couple of extra tubes and so far I’d only had one flat. “Sure.”

“Fuck, man, I sat out here all day yesterday and not a single car stopped. People are so scared.”

“Well, it’s Oregon, everybody’s white, and you’re not.”

“Isn’t that the fucking truth? What the fuck are they so scared of? I’m gonna beat ‘em to death with a flat tire?

I laughed. “What are they scared of? The color black. That’s what they’re scared of.”

He laughed back. “Ain’t that the fucking truth.”

I handed him the tube and he tried to pay me for it. “Can’t take your money. Rob wouldn’t approve.”

“Who’s Rob?”

“He’s the guy who gave me the tube. I’m just passing it on.”

“Well you tell Rob thanks!”

“I will.”

The guy, whose name was George, hopped up and started walking back to the pullout a quarter mile up the road where he had his bike, tent, and sleeping bag.

With the exception of Chantelle, a black woman I met outside of Elk Prairie, I’ve seen no African-American bike tourists, and not many African-Americans along this coastal tour, period. The state parks are especially white.

I’ve worn a Black Lives Matter facemask the whole trip, and unlike in LA, not a single person has said, “I like your mask!”

The more north and the more redneck and the more Republican it gets, the more I can feel the distaste when I walk into a shop or an RV park asking for a tent space. I always wonder, “Am I going to be refused because of this mask?” And I also wonder, “Is someone going to confront me?”

Being denied services and receiving hostile reactions from strangers is a big part of racism. If it’s like this wearing a mask that I can take off or throw away and replace anytime I want, what’s it like when the mask is your skin? And of course even with a mask it’s still obvious that I’m white, white, white, male, and therefore people let it slide.

I got hungry in the afternoon and was riding through a little town. On the other side of the street was a hot dog stand. I turned around.

“Whacha want on it?”

“Everything!”

“Then you want the Sandy special!”

“I sure do. Are you Sandy?”

“None other.”

She and her husband sold hot dogs three days a week. The rest of the time they lived in their house overlooking the ocean up on a hillside. “Where you coming from?” she asked.

“LA.”

“Oh, goodness. That’s a good place to be coming from.”

“And a rotten place to be going to to,” a guy chimed in. He was older, excessively white, and ate way too many opinions with his breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Like Portland, only nowadays Portland’s worse than LA.”

“It is?”

“Oh lord, they’ve been rioting for the last sixty days. Full of antifas and whatnot.”

This was the first time I’d actually heard someone besides Jack from Illinois (not his real name) say “antifas.”

I got kind of excited, and halfway curious to go see one or two. I wondered if they looked more like Marx, or Lenin, or Freud, or Sasquatch. “They have? What for?”

“Hell if I know. Racism they claim. Which is a bunch of bullshit. Ain’t nobody here sees color.” I thought about the hundreds of cars that had passed George, unseeing.

“Well I hope they don’t start rioting here. Or if they do, at least not until after I finish my hot dog.”

He thought that was funny. “Only thing they’ll riot about in this town is if the Social Security checks don’t clear.”

I paid and ate the giant hot dog. It seemed odd that a few miles up the road a black man could sit for an entire day waiting for someone to stop and render aid, and these folks, who seemed pretty friendly and decent to me, couldn’t figure out why people were rioting about racism.

In the next town I saw the first black resident I’d seen in all of Oregon. She was homeless and pushing a shopping cart.

As the day wound down I started looking for a campsite. The state parks were all closed or “reservations only.” I got to Pacific City and struck out three places in a row. It is a sinking feeling to be on your last legs and have nowhere to stay. The power of the biblical story of Jesus and “no room at the inn” is mighty when you’re the one on the road and you’re the one being turned away. It must have been common then, too, only with fewer convenience stores.

A couple thousand years ago people knew what it meant to be in dire straits and nowhere to stay. It’s a good thing to experience, I concluded, looking for a place to bushwhack. Taking things for granted is the first step to not feeling.

I’d been directed to a state park that “was likely full” about “seven or eight miles up the road.” I loved it how people were so casual with distances. First of all, they were invariably wrong. Second of all, they acted like seven miles on a bike was about a seven-minute ride. I dropped down a long hill and saw a large expanse of coastline; off to the right was a thicket.

I dragged my bike up the path and found a very nice spot, albeit littered with tampons and wet wipes, now dry, that various people had used to spiff up various body holes. I never could figure out why after doing a dookey people set the little wet wipe on top, like the cherry on a sundae. Is it a warning marker? Or a simply a “Hey, look at what I did!”

It’s not especially glamorous picking up other people’s castoff sanitary goodies, but like a night spent in the ditch, it gives you something to measure the day by. Is all you had to do in order to not freeze to death pick up some trash? Well, then, pick the damn trash up.

And I did.

After that I cleaned and oiled my bike chain, ate dinner, curled up in my sleeping bag, and listened to the waves beat against the beach, a tattoo wild and raw and untamed, regular in its arrythmia, a churning of water, sand, and time that never gets old.

END


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13 thoughts on “Race face”

  1. Good to see the Newport bridge is still there. They have a small fishing fleet there and good seafood. But I realize that hot dogs can be more convenient when travelling on the bike.

  2. Your journey is making me think an industrial park crit may not be the path to self-actualization. Who would have thought? Thanks, counselor.

  3. This is the quote of the trip, so far, right here:

    “Being denied services and receiving hostile reactions from strangers is a big part of racism. If it’s like this wearing a mask that I can take off or throw away and replace anytime I want, what’s it like when the mask is your skin?”

    You’re in a part of the country, not unlike my own (Central VA) as we also have a broad mix in the soupcon of people here. I look forward to your missives every day!

    Stay safe, Seth.

  4. If we were to lay your selfie shots (during this “journey”) side by side, I believe it appears you are getting younger, ….looks like its doing you good!

  5. If I had realized that you were crossing the Newport bridge I would have directed you to the South Beach Fish Market owned by my friend who would have stuffed you to your gills.

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