When we last saw Oregon, our hero was checking into a hotel, beaten and exhausted by the clogged coastal traffic, the endless stream of Airstreams, the angry locals, the tiny shoulder mined with nails and glass, nowhere to sleep, and zero in the way of bike-friendly anything.
How quickly things change!
After getting my bike purring, I blazed the 18-ish miles from Trout Lake, Washington, to the Columbia River and the bridge that takes you across the state line. But since bikes aren’t allowed on the bridge, and the skipper of my personal sailboat charter was still stuck in the horse latitudes off the Galapagos.
Worse, since hitchhiking in the age of the covids means your thumb will fall off before you get a ride, Dan drove to the border in his truck, loaded up the bikes, and carted us across the Columbia into Fort Hood.
Our first stop was the bike shop Dirty Fingers, where Mitchell checked the front brake and concluded that the only permanent fix was a new brake. Like hitchhiking, new parts in the age of covid means December … if you’re lucky. But he meticulously wrapped on new bar tape, swapped out a tar, and helped secure a campsite at Tucker Park, six miles out of town on the Hood River.
Dirty Fingers is an awesome bike shop beer shop and an example of the way that Hood River, like many other towns, has been transformed in the last 30 years by adventure outdoor recreation. Once a dying town on the Columbia, windsurfers discovered that one of the best spots in the world for their spot was the Columbia Gorge. Today this small city has the coolest of vibes, numerous bike shops, and is the world capital of wind kiting, the modern iteration of windsurfing.
Of course there is nothing that cyclists love more than wind, especially when it is screaming in your face at 20 mph, so the pedal out to Tucker Park was miserable until reaching the park. Set smack on the Hood River, it was quiet, mostly empty, and a good place for me to stop to recharge my batteries
After setting up camp I rode back into town for groceries and saw a very nice VeloOrange touring bike parked outside. I stopped to examine and photograph it, when a guy walked up and began talking with me about the bike, which wasn’t his.
His name was Jeff Brauss, he’d been in the bike business for forty years, and knew more about the bike and its components than I know about my family. His dog Buddy looked pretty knowledgeable, too. After shopping I went next door to the Ace Hardware to get more stove fuel, which they had sold out of.
Jeff was walking by with his groceries. “What were you looking for?”
“For your stove?”
“Come over to my shop. I think I’ve got half a canister left; you’re welcome to it. Never done any long distance cycling myself. Except that one time.”
“What one time?”
“I was in a bar in Portland and got into an argument with some jackass. He said there was no way I could ride across the country.”
“It’s a long way.”
“So I just said ‘Fuck you,’ rode home on my track bike, got my messenger bag, stuck a sleeping bag in it, and rode to New York.”
“On a track bike?”
“Took me forty days. It was horrible.”
“I can’t even imagine …”
“The flats were okay but the downhills you’d spin out so I’d just unclip and let the pedals spin. It sucked.”
“That is crazy fast. Where’d you sleep?”
“Next to the road.”
We got to his garage, and he found the gas canister, then pulled out the track bike. It was gorgeous, with a Phil Wood track hub in the back and a high-flange Campy track hub in the front. Then he showed us a book about the history of bike messengers, and there was a cool photo of him in the book. “If you ever need anything while you’re here, just hit me up!”
This, I thought, as I rode back to camp, “Is Hood River.”
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