It was a cold gray morning in Castle Rock, WA, with thick cloud cover and a stiff breeze. After a couple of Subway breakfast sandwiches—way more appetizing than the Burger King greasestains we had inflicted upon our stomachs the morning before—we were off, around 9:30.
The chilly day started the way you don’t want a chilly day to start: a long downhill, which ended when we cut right to join a bike path populated otherwise by dog-walkers.
The weather warmed up some, the sun shone much of the time, but a steady 8-10mph headwind cooled us as much as it slowed us. We were grateful for a dozen easy miles to Kelso, which had the last gas station—for water, nuts, and bathrooms—for a while. The bike lane in Kelso was nothing other than a sidewalk, which we rode for a couple of miles, dodging men on riding lawnmowers and feeling six years old again.
There is a moment every day—in this pre-callused phase of the tour—when it’s none too comfortable to touch one’s butt to one’s saddle. That moment comes a little earlier every day. That’s where chamois cream comes in, a bum-lotion specially designed to reduce chafing….We’re not sure how much it helps, but we know it might help, and knowing it might help really helps. That said, chamois cream creates a moderately disconcerting sensation—think riding around in a diaper full of margarine.
Other aches and pains we never imagined: the numbness in hands, wrists and arms; the stiffness of the neck and shoulders; the runny nose and watery eyes from inhaling god knows how much roadside pollen. All this, including the above exquisitely described monkey butt, combines with the general weariness of the legs and sense of caloric deficit when peering down the road at the next big hill, spiraling up and over some forested ridgetop maybe 40 or 50 miles into a 70-mile day. Those hills always look, in the distance, like asphalt walls. We pretend to be undaunted, and pedal on.
Today, at least, the climbs were well-graded, 5 or 6%, and the highway shoulders wide and mostly smooth, especially once we were rolling along the mighty Columbia River, at first on the Washington side, then after a 30-minute ferry ride, on the Oregon side. Except for Kelso, very rural: small towns, long stretches of road with no services and little habitation, lots of logging trucks, and a few districts of elegant homes perched high above the river.
This was more or less the route taken 213 years ago by the Lewis and Clark expedition, who ended their westward journey with a miserably cold and rainy winter at Fort Clatsop, just south of here. We, on the other hand, got out of Washington without being rained on at all.
As we neared Astoria, still riding into that persistent headwind, signs of modern civilization increased along with the maritime haze signaling one of the world’s great land-sea convergences at the mouth of the Columbia River, spanned by a big bridge said to be very scary for bicyclists, so thank Wahkiakum County for the ferry, the last one to be still operating on this river.
Here in Astoria, where we sit enjoying the amazing view at Buoy Beer Co., the Columbia is as wide as a large lake, wind-whipped, lined with freighters and tankers bound upriver for Portland, and surrounded by hills which, alas, day after tomorrow, we will be climbing to get out of here and head down the Oregon coast.
Day 6 totals: 70 miles, 3596′ climbed, and–for the third time in six days– a riding time of 6:14.
Tomorrow is Day 7, and on the seventh day we rest.