Spence here: I set out last Thursday on another bike adventure, thankful the weather was a calm, 60 degree sunny day in November. (Sometimes the West Coast wins!) I told myself I was going to go on this bike trip no matter what the weather. I sure was glad it wasn’t raining and 40 degrees, or I would have had to eat my hat.
I left Portland–taking the Max train out to the suburbs, all the way to the end of the line in Hillsboro. From there, an amazing scenic bike route on mostly wide open farm roads took me to the town of Banks where the Banks-Vernonia Rail-to-Trail started. I had read varying reports on the internet about how far it was from Hillsboro to Banks, however, since I took most of a scenic bikeway loop, i.e., the long way, I am pretty sure it was about 20 miles just to reach the trailhead. Without a fancy gadget to tell me, it is hard to say. Although, this trip I did take a map of the area and it came in handy!
Stub Stewart State Park is located about midpoint of the Banks-Vernonia Trail. Click here to see the brochure and map! The park has a neat set of mountain bike trails and a rather large, well-organized, quiet, private hiker/biker campground. I rode that first day to my hiker camp in the woods, luckily located above the creeks and valleys, (hilltops are somewhat warmer if not windy). It was a beautiful evening. By the time I got my tarp set up and dinner on the stove it was dark. I forgot camping in the winter months is a funny time warp, with darkness falling about 5:30pm. I finished my dinner with a headlamp and sat out on the picnic table for quite sometime. I watched the light fade from the hills, read a little of my book (Woman of the Boundary Waters, by Justine Kerfoot), and wrote in my journal. I was leery of all the rustling in the bushes, but it turns out the noises were only a few mice. The owls soon took over with their calls as the stars came out. I was the only one in the campground.
I had not yet used my new bivy sack and tarp set up, so I was a little nervous about how warm I would or wouldn’t be, and also, not having that perceived protection in the form of a cozy tent. I lamented at first about it… and missed my adventure captain, Billy. Once I settled down in my little ‘home’ however, I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable I was. It felt good knowing I could camp like this anywhere if I had to, and I had shaved a few pounds off of my overall packing weight. With food and water and some winter clothes, my total pack weight was only 18 lbs–much less than the trip I took this summer even. I found the biking with less weight much more enjoyable. Of course, not packing a six-pack of beer helped lighten the load.
In the morning I got up at first light–eager to make a warm beverage and finish the trail to Vernonia. I arrived by 9:30am and thought about going to a little cafe for breakfast. Vernonia, as well as Banks, is super accommodating to bikers since the rail-to-trail went in and there are plenty of cute cafes and breakfast nooks, as well as craft breweries. I was having such a nice morning though, just enjoying the sunshine, the riding and the scenery, once I made it to Vernonia, I just turned right around and kept riding. I took some breaks along the way, to see the chickens in the fields, the pigs with their baby piglets, nodding to numerous cows and stopping once to pet a horse. The riding was easy on the way back, mostly flat and/or downhill-ish and I made it back to the Hillsboro train station by 2pm.
The people in the small towns of Banks and Vernonia were so kind, as were the people driving (moving way over on the road and even slowing down!) People on the trail were commenting about the great weather, the autumn colors and in general seemed at ease. In the wake of this presidential election, I was happy to see so many people out enjoying the natural areas, getting exercise, running their farms, waving greetings and smiling gently. It reminded me not to lose hope as I gaze over the political map of the United States and see abundant red states. It left me to remember that kindness, especially during this time period is the best thing I can offer. It doesn’t take that much more energy to try and smile and wave and be friendly. I’m not naive; I know of terrible political upheavals, unfair laws in practice, hatred, environmental and humanitarian degradation–most recently hearing about the unjust ways First Peoples are being treated at Standing Rock–but for me to dwell on those things all the time is too much. It is overwhelming and can be paralyzing. However, it still seems possible to have an influence, maybe even a greater one, on a daily level with basic presence and gratitude towards strangers, loved ones and my immediate surroundings. I’m not always in the right mind to do so, but getting outside, either walking or biking or just getting out and doing different things, one’s perspective is changed and empathy hopefully can sneak in there. I get out to get away, but ultimately it is the chance to shake up my stubbornness, ease my set-ness and to have another chance at being a better person.