I left Astoria in a hurry. My legs felt great, my bike felt light, and the road was gently rolling. After the tough climbing up and down the coast, it might as well have been flat.
Less than an hour into my ride I saw a guy with panniers standing on the side of the road. “Need anything?” I asked.
“Nope. Just taking a break.”
“What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you. Where are you going?”
“Best destination. I’m headed for Seaside. A woman called me and asked me to come work at her bike hostel.”
I looked him over. His hair was braided and he was wearing a t-shirt that said “Fighting Domestic Terrorism Since 1492.” It had a picture of native American chieftains on it.
His bike was tour perfect with nothing superfluous, although it looked heavy with the front fork panniers. “How long have you been out?”
“Four years. I’m a bike nomad. Everything I own is on that bike.”
“Where do you camp?”
“BLM and Forest Service land. It’s everywhere throughout Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. And it’s free.”
What started as a normal conversation soon digressed. He couldn’t stop talking about routes, destinations, destinations, routes. Each time I tried to steer the conversation back, he’d briefly touch on the question and return to routes and destinations.
Daniel was weathered and may have been blind in one eye; he was tattooed everywhere. He was obviously living on about 1/10 of a half of a quarter of a broken shoestring, but didn’t seem to mind too much, although it was definitely on his mind.
“This,” I thought, “is what you look like after four years of living in the woods.” It wasn’t very romantic and there were no deep truths solicited or exchanged. Just destinations, routes, routes, destinations.
Given his territory I figured he spent a big chunk of the year indoors, somewhere. Summertime in Washington and Oregon is lovely. Rainy season and winter? Gimme shelter. We parted and I started to wonder how long it would be before I looked and talked like Daniel. Or whether I already did?
I hammered all the way to Westport and then lost my time bonuses waiting an hour for the ferry to cross the Columbia River. A guy, Kumar, and his wife were parked at the ferry landing. Kumar lives in Austin.
“What part of Austin?”
“Manor.” He pronounced it wrong.
“Oh, May-Nor. Off FM 973.”
“You know it?”
“Rode it a thousand times on my bike with Fields before it became a freeway.”
They had left town due to the covids to visit their daughter in Ashland. Now they were meandering their way home. “Be safe,” he said.
I crossed the river with some Harley riders. One thing you realize about cars and motorcycles when you ride a lot of country roads, something you don’t realize on highways and in the city, is how fucking loud they are. Harleys especially. Loud and noxious and stupid. They looked so uncomfortable. The riders were obese and squeezed into these tiny seats. The women on the back looked miserable, saddlebags on saddlebags.
Silliest of all was the Harley insignia everywhere. Helmets, boots, jackets … more indicia of people who couldn’t satisfy the inside so they had to hang it all on the outside.
Over the river I was in Washington, on Puget Island, which was bucolic and Trump and beautiful. I had milk, oreos, pb, and bread then rode on. Somehow I was going really slowly and was really tired. Outside Longview I saw a sign that said “Fresh Peaches.”
I turned off and stopped at the stand. A nice young kid was selling the fruit. “How much are the peaches?” I asked.
“Three dollars a pound.”
“I’ll take a pound, please. Where are they from?”
“Yakima. My uncle buys them and we sell them all over. Where are you coming from?”
At that moment his uncle came squealing up in a mini-van. “That’s my uncle … the boss!”
A lively man in his forties hopped out with a big paunch and a giant mustache. “Hola, amigo! You like my peaches?”
“They are sweet and flat fucking delicious.” I’d already eaten the whole pound. My mustache and hands were dripping in peach juice. The uncle looked at the four dead peach pits and whistled.
“Damn right they are sweet. Where you coming from, amigo? You look tired and dead like an old horse. Must a pretty long way. Longview?”
Longview was four miles away. I laughed. “Yeah, but I started last Thursday.”
He laughed harder. “I believe it, amigo. You too old for a bicycle. You ever tried riding in a car? It’s a lot easier, amigo, and you go more than five miles every two weeks. You want to try this?” He handed me a small white peach. I bit into it; sweet as sugar.
“Yes, amigo, but you gotta be careful. You look at the middle of that peach just right and it’s gonna start looking like a panocha.”
“After three weeks on my bike, man, everything looks like a panocha.”
“I gotta have my panocha everyday, amigo, it’s my therapy.”
“There are worse therapies.”
“There’s none better, amigo. Panocha in the morning before breakfast and panocha at night after dinner. But no panocha in the afternoon. My old lady don’t like me getting no roadside snacks.”
I finished the peach. “That was incredible.”
“Here, amigo. I give you some more.” He filled a plastic bag with a couple pounds of bruised peaches. “You see these peaches, amigo?”
“You see they all bruised and ugly?”
“You know why they all bruised and ugly?”
“Cause they are ripe and sweet as a panoche, amigo. You know what is funny about gringo ladies, amigo?”
“They come to my place and they pay me three dollars for a pound of peaches that is beautiful, perfect, but is sometimes sour. You try to sell them a sweet peach with a little bruise, they don’t want it, amigo. They want it to look nice, cost a lot, and taste like shit. You know the difference between a gringo lady and a Mexican lady, amigo?”
“You give a Mexican a choice between a pretty sour peach and a bruised sweet peach and you know what she say?”
“She say she going to beat your ass for trying to sell her a sour peach.”
I couldn’t stop laughing.
“Here, amigo.” He handed me two ice cold bottles of water. “You got a long viaje, amigo, two or three weeks before you can make it back to Longview. You need this water bad and maybe some bath, too.”
I took the water with gratitude. “And don’t get in no trouble with no panocha when you make it back to Longview!” he shouted as I rode away.
Read this far? Then maybe it’s time to Go ahead and hit this “subscribe” link. Thank you!